Winsome Wil of Willits Flowers
By Renée Tillotson
When your one and only daughter is marrying the man of her dreams, and you get the chance to create all the floral pieces for her wedding, you pull out all the stops. At least I did. I found the nearest florist to the wedding location (still 45 minutes away over a dirt country road) and ordered the perfect flower varieties, ornamental grasses and greenery well in advance to make all the floral pieces we would be needing. I had no idea at the time how invaluable Willits Flowers and its owner Wil Gonzalez AIFD (American Institute of Floral Designers) would be to the entire process of our floral creation.
Wil is a man devoted to his craft like no one I’ve met before, as you will soon learn.
I faced only one hitch that I knew of going into this endeavor: I would have no refrigeration available at the wedding site for storing the flowers, and we were anticipating temperatures over 90 degrees in the foothills of Northern California. I just couldn’t see my way around that problem. Oh well, I thought, I’ll do my best with the situation.
I had no idea what a can-do man I was working with when I decided to get my fresh flowers from Wil Sanchez. As soon as he received my elaborate, 50-line spreadsheet of all the flower kinds and colors I needed, Wil secured with his suppliers the necessary flowers, berries, greens and grasses I would need for our daughter’s Saturday wedding.
“Now, when will you be picking your flowers up?” Wil inquires.
“Would 8 am on Saturday be too early for you?” I wonder.
Wil asks, “When is the wedding?”
“Well, it’s at 5 pm on Saturday,” I reply.
“What? You can’t do that!” Wil objects vehemently. “There’s just so much that can go wrong! You’re making a cascading bridal bouquet, and 7 bridesmaid bouquets, plus a couple dozen corsages and boutonnieres, and four large wedding arbor arrangements? All on the same day as the wedding?!? That is simply not enough time!” (Dear reader, I hope that I am adequately conveying the passion this man has for his trade. He is ardent.)
“Well,” I explain, “Emandal is a farm, and we won’t have access to refrigeration for our flowers. It’s not the way I like to do it, but I don’t really have any option but to start early and work fast on the day of the wedding.”
Here’s where the magic comes in. “Allow me to make a suggestion,” says Wil. His voice has gotten low and very steady. “How about if you come to my flower shop on Friday and put all your pieces together here? You can store everything in my walk-in cooler overnight and come pick up the finished flowers the next day for the wedding.
Since he is talking to me over the phone, he can’t see my eyes almost bursting out of their sockets in surprise. “You would let me do that? Really?” I manage to squeak out.
“Of course!” he assures me. “We’re in a small town. I get farmers calling me at 6 in the morning sometimes, saying, ‘You gotta help me! It’s my 25th wedding anniversary and I forgot to get anything for my wife.’ Then I ask what the guy wants to order, and he says, ‘Let me call you right back! I gotta go feed my pigs first.’ Then we take care of him, and his wife is happy. So now your daughter is getting married. I’m honored to be providing you with flowers for such a special occasion, and we want them to look their best. I’ll have one of my employees meet you in in our shop on Friday at 8 am.”
And indeed he does just that. Wil’s employee SuuZe (short for Suzanne) meets me and my dear friend Marta at the shop on Friday morning. SuuZe takes us into their walk-in and wows us with the lovely array of flowers Wil has picked out for us from his professional suppliers at the San Francisco Flower Mart. Really the best of the best. All the flower heads are at the perfect stage of development to be open just enough, and not too much, for our daughter’s wedding the next afternoon.
Even though he runs a second shop in the town of Ukiah, Wil arranges to be in the Willits shop himself that Friday in case we need any help beyond the excellent service that SuuZe can give us. That turns out to be another godsend.
As Wil deftly selects and arranges his flowers, we get to see how truly devoted he is to his art and the people he serves. He is making the funeral flowers for a man he has known well and long. As he works on his flowers and Marta and I begin working on ours, Wil tells us warm stories of this gentleman and his wife. Wil counsels us on how important it is to think of the people whose flowers we’re arranging. (Sooze tells us later that Wil was shedding tears at his workbench the whole time he was making that gentleman’s floral display.)
By the time we’re ready to make the corsages and boutonnieres, my sister-in-love Karin has arrived to help us. At this juncture, I have a big question: How are we going to pin boutonnieres onto men’s suspenders? I’ve never faced that challenge, but I’ve purchased a lot of different supplies in advance, certain we’ll figure out a clever solution. I am glad Wil is there for advice.
As I pull out my options of oversized safety pins, electrical clips, and lengths of elastic, Wil is vigorously shaking his head. “No, no, no. None of that is going to work. This is a wedding. You need something that is going to be elegant.”
At this point I’m mystified. I was sure we were well provisioned to handle the suspender problem. Now I’m feeling lost.
“What you really need to do is make floral jewelry,” he informs me.
Floral jewelry? Never heard of it. I’ve done the flowers for lots of friends and family over the decades and never seen ‘floral jewelry’.
Wil is both eager and impatient at the same time. He has plenty of other things to accomplish in his workday, but he just can’t bear to let us make a mess of perfectly good flowers.
“Let me see. Let me see,” he mutters as he rummages through his worktable and cupboards.
He pulls out a roll of thin metallic ribbon, some sticky tape sheets, and a can of special glue, all the while explaining to us that the floral industry has made technological advances that only cutting-edge floral designers know about. He happens to be one of them. Of course. This man is top-notch.
With a set of pincers, he shows us how to cut and roll the edges of the metallic ribbon to create a tiny platform for our jewelry. He asks for the key floral elements of our wedding design – a small ivory rose, a sprig of olive and another of seeded eucalyptus, a dollar eucalyptus leaf, a stalk of wheat, some hypericum berries, a stem of rabbit tail grass, and a streamer of amaranth. These he quickly snips and clips into the proper dimensions, artistically affixes them to the metallic platform, and voilà! A BEAUTIFUL piece of floral jewelry that we can adhere directly onto the groom’s suspenders and ladies’ dresses.
After that single 7-minute lesson – which he would normally give as a much longer $200 workshop – Wil sweeps out the door to deliver his funeral flowers, leaving us with a brilliant method and supplies to complete all of our boutonnieres and corsages in high fashion!
Wil leaves SuuZe in charge to help us finish up the rather complex bridal bouquet, for which he gives us engineering tips since floral supply lines have prevented me from buying the normal bridal bouquet holder.
We then discover that we have used so many greenery pieces to complete our arbor arrangements, we don’t have enough in the right shape to cascade down the bridal bouquet. Big oops! “No worries,” says SuuZe, “I have an olive tree in my yard! I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Off she pops, returning with an armful of graceful olive branches from her own tree to donate to the cause. Another act of big-heartedness in this small town of Willits. Together we finish the difficult bridal bouquet, plus one to toss, and 6 bouquets for the bridesmaids. Gorgeous!
Whew, 11 hours after arriving at Wil’s shop, we say goodbye to SuuZe and leave with all our floral beauties tucked away in the walk-in cooler. I can only imagine the stress we would have endured trying to accomplish all that work on the morning of the wedding, not to mention the flowers wilting in the heat.
Thanks to Willits Flowers and their over-the-top generosity and support we were spared that ordeal. And as Wil predicted, the flowers were beautiful, elegant, and truly stunning for our daughter’s wedding.
Wil Gonzalez with Willits Flowers
242 S Main Willits, California
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