Centerpieces usually require something in the way of flowers–not necessarily, but usually. So where to get flowers if you can’t just sashay out to your garden and cut them?
Yep, there’s your friendly neighborhood florist, who will gladly order anything if you know its name, and the staff will coach you if you don’t. There’s also Costco, where you can always find great flowers for reasonable prices. I must say, however, that some Costcos have to be watched, in that they might keep their roses a day or two too long. Do the pinch test: Take a rose between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze. If it’s loose, leave ’em! Even if they’re exactly the color you wanted. And that brings me to other part of “don’t count on Costco.” Their choices are whatever they get the killer deal on to pass on to their customers. Not necessarily the color you need for the party you’re planning. My neighborhood Costco’s floral manager tells me they can order ahead if they know exactly what you want and if it’s available. They have even held flowers a day for me when I didn’t have room in my own cooler.
Then there’s your local farmers market–always a great choice but, again, limited. If you’re good at adjusting your expectations, either Costco or the market is a great choice. You can count on the farmers market flowers to be fresh and locally grown. Look for seasonal flowers. Right now, among other things, you’ll find dahlias, mums and an array of colorful and unusual greens.
My very favorite flower place is 30 minutes away: the floral mart in downtown LA. It’s open to the public several days a week but only for a few hours. Most large cities have floral marts; check on-line to find the locations and hours of the one nearest you. And know that most vendors in the mart only accept cash. You can get, literally, anything that’s grown commercially somewhere in the world, even if it’s out of season here. The hardest part of the mart is sticking to your budget. I regulate myself by bringing exactly enough cash for my purchases and parking. If I run out of cash, I’m done. And I plan pretty carefully; you can bet your first trip will be over your budget, because you’ll keep finding another perfect addition!
I have been known to under-purchase and have to cut greens from neighborhood shrubs. (Confession: Once I went to a business park and helped the gardeners trim the birds-of-paradise for a huge tropical arrangement.) And I let my backyard shrubs get a little larger than they should because their greenery is a great floral filler. I am also “blessed” with the morning glory from hell, courtesy of my ex-next-door neighbor; my sister Hellen, an artist with flowers, says it gives a wonderful drapey look to arrangements. (Yeah, you’re right, Hellen, but what about the rest of the time? It’s taken over my Datsun roadster and is heading for the garage. Should I be afraid?) The point is that sometimes even a noxious weed can be a great–and cheap!–addition to a centerpiece. Be imaginative; don’t be afraid! You can make a stunning centerpiece without paying a stunning price.