Designing with Flowers: Where to shop

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Where to Buy Flowers (when you don’t have access to a wholesale market)
By Natalie Brookshire of Natalie Bowen Designs

I know that I am incredibly fortunate to live in San Francisco, where there is a world-class flower market less than a mile from my studio. But what if you don’t have a wholesale market nearby? Where do you get high quality flowers to work with? I get asked this very questions quite often and I’d love to share my insight.

The first thing I want to share is that the flowers at the market are not that much less expensive than those in a grocery store. The “wholesale” market is not the key to world’s cheapest flowers. The market offers a much wider variety of blooms and the chance to not pay tax. That’s about it when it comes to scoring a major discount.

Here are some tips for alternative places to look…

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Get to know your local florists.
When the flower market is closed and I am in a tight spot, I often go to Urban Flowers in San Francisco. In a time when flower shops are a dying breed, this storefront has a great variety with great pricing. The owner once worked at the flower market, and I still often see him there in the wee hours of the morning. He knows how to choose a great flower and often buys direct from the source, so he doesn’t need to mark the blooms up as much as some shops do.

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Don’t be afraid of grocery store flowers.
Flowers are expensive. Very expensive. Grocery stores know this and have found a way to get beautiful blooms in the store to keep you shopping and happy. If you have access to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s close, you have a source for pretty flowers.

The quality of flowers that many grocery stores get is fairly good and because they buy in bulk they are able to purchase at a much lower price which means that don’t have to mark it up as much. In fact, Trader Joe’s actually takes a loss with their floral department as a way to keep prices low and quantity up. Anyone who has been at TJ’s during peony season probably has a hard time leaving without a bunch in her basket.

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Break up pre-arranged bouquets.
When buying pre-packaged bunches, always opt for the single varieties. A mixed bouquet often has one of every flower and none of it goes together. By keeping colors streamlined and varieties complimentary, you will be mimicking the same shopping approach you would take if you were at the flower market.

However, if your only option is to buy a pre-mixed bunch—or if a guest brings you a mixed bunch of blooms—break it up! Pull out any single stem of flower that does not go (think: that one stem of purple iris—there is always one!), and put it in a small bud vase in your powder room. Don’t worry that the bunch is smaller, it’s better to have a pretty arrangement than a huge rainbow one!

[See some of Natalie’s tips for arranging here.]

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Explore local farms and farmer’s markets.
Flower farms are located in every state. I suggest doing a little research to discover if there is one close to you and whether they give tours. The more you can learn about supporting local farms, the better! Those guys are the true hard workers and are the backbone behind the “shop small, shop local” side of the floral industry. If you have a farmer’s market close to home, look out for any flowers that may be for sale. Because they are coming straight from the farm, you can often get varieties that are not available in grocery stores and you know your money is going directly to support the working folks.

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Finally, don’t forget to pick up some fresh flowers when you’re traveling. My Grandmother would do this every time we took our summer trip to Mendocino and it made such an impression on me: When I was in Belgium last year, I bought flowers for our room even though we were only there for three nights. It was the perfect little touch and made it feel like home.

Thank you so much, Natalie! I’m inspired to see what’s at the farmer’s market this week! 
Photos courtesy of Natalie. Visit Natalie Bowen Designs.

P.S. Read about Natalie’s career path to floral designer. And the first in this series, on Getting Started.

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