How to Buy Flowers

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Cut flowers have been a romantic gesture for centuries. While that continues to go unchanged, the way we get them – shipped from around the world, spending countless hours in refrigeration at warehouses – is dramatically different. What we end up getting are often poor excuses for plants that are sold online, at gas stations, or at the supermarket. You can do better. We talked to 3rd generation Dutch florist Remco van Vliet, of Van Vliet & Trap special event design, who is also the floral designer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, to guide us through the rules of buying fresh, interesting flowers. Here are his rules.

Don’t buy your flowers at the corner deli.
The flowers at your local deli or supermarket have most likely been sitting around in a gigantic storage refrigerator in Miami for months, after being imported from South America. Wholesalers pay a premium to have first-dibs when the flowers come in, so what’s usually left are the red, yellow, and pink roses. These are sold off for cheap – which is why the deli can sell two-dozen roses for $11.99. “They basically put the flowers to sleep. Then once you take them home, cut them and put in water, within an hour the necks droop,” says Vliet.

Also never order flowers online.
You can never tell what you’re going to get from an online flower shop – whether it’s from cold trucks or picked that day from a field. Besides, you should be putting more thought into your flower choices. “It’s more about the effort than the actual product, so if you take two minutes out of your day to order some ugly arrangement online, you didn’t put in the time and effort,” says Vliet. “I prefer to hand the person a bouquet of flowers myself so there’s a connection made.”

Think outside the box.
If your partner loves roses, that’s what you should get her. Otherwise, try something different – like anemones. These come in a wide-range of colors, the prices aren’t as extreme as those of tall red roses, and a lot of them are grown in the U.S. so you can rely on their freshness. Ranunculus is another good option that is in season and abundantly available throughout the world. Consider your significant other’s personal style. If they’re into yoga or a bit bohemian, surprise them with field flowers or wild herbs. If they read Elle, go with an all-white palette – a tight bouquet of tulips or white ranunculus, sweet peas, or calla lilies. “Europeans really like hand tied bouquets,” says Vliet, “and that can be a mixture of all different flower types – as long as it reflects your significant other.”

Get fresh flowers.
A flower’s freshness can be determined by its foliage, not the flower itself – this is especially true for roses. You can tell a flower is really old if the bottom foliage is dry or yellow. “The flowers don’t give away the age of the rose, but the foliage does,” Remco says, “and they should last a few weeks. If you go to a professional florist, you can tell when they’re in good shape because inside the store is a warmer environment.”

Don’t worry about allergies. 
Unless someone has extreme allergies, you don’t have to worry about a bouquet affecting them. In an apartment or home, there aren’t any winds blowing the pollen around, and because of such high-demand for fresh flowers, most hybridized varietals have evolved to not need pollen. But if you want to play it safe, Remco advises getting tulips: “I don’t know anyone who’s allergic to them.”

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