How to buy flowers

Buying flowers isn’t complicated … nor does it have to be expensive to add a splash of colour to your home or make someone smile.

 

But there are some key points that will make your shopping experience that little bit better. Which is where our How to Buy Flowers guide comes in. A quick overview and some pointers on how to get the best. Because the world of flowers is fabulous and huge with a gazillion different ideas that are all so gorgeous.

 

And that’s even before we start talking plants.

 

So what we’ve done is give you a quick overview – we know you are busy people – and then given you links to some of our favourite flowery sites that are full of even more wonderful flower and plant ideas.

Where to buy

There is no right or wrong place to buy flowers. Production standards around the world means everyone can get Grade 1 flowers these days so quality isn’t the issue … range and price might be. We bring you a guide to all of the options.

Supermarkets

Supermarkets are great if a little boring, simply because they have to stick to tried-and-tested varieties. A specialist florist can pick and choose from thousands of different flowers.

Price-wise you’ll often find a good florist will be just as reasonable – it’s a myth you need a second mortgage to buy from a florist – so whilst supermarkets are great for a quick, stuff-it-in-the-trolley fix we’d always say ‘see what the florist shop or stall has got’, support an independent trader and have a more fun buying experience.

Florist shops

These are the best people when it comes to flowers. Open at least 6 days a week they offer same day delivery and can make virtually any design you could ask for. If it’s a really special flower they’ll need a bit of notice, but 24 hours is usually enough.

Most florist shops – and certainly our GFG shops – will be staffed by fully trained florists (it takes five years to pass the exams) who design brilliantly and know all the right conditioning techniques to make sure your flowers last.

Are all shops good? Sadly not. We’ve seen some dreadful ones and wouldn’t want you to touch them with a barge pole. But then that’s exactly why we started Good Florist Guide 10 years ago!

Street stalls

Many street stalls, especially in trendy cities like London, Manchester Edinburgh et al are now very hipster and on trend. As a rule they’re usually a little bit cheaper because traditionally their overheads are lower.

However, as rent and rates go up so more florists have moved onto the street and are offering a full service. Therefore don’t expect to pay far less unless it’s one of those stalls that clears old stock, piles it high and sells it cheap.

Studio florists

These are often fully trained florists who don’t want the overhead and responsibility of a 9 – 5 shop. They do everything a shop based florist does but won’t always have a walk in service, offer same day delivery or have a ready to go range.

However it’s also a name adopted by a lot of wannabe florists (see Kitchen Sinkers/Basement Betty’s) so you need to be careful you are buying from a proper studio florist. Best rule of thumb is to check out their website and look at the pictures.

Event florists

These are the florists that specialise in the sort of drop dead gorgeous design work you see at weddings, parties, fashion shows, product launches and film premiers.

Catering for the glitterati as well as us mere mortals these florists offer a completely bespoke service and will be totally dedicated to your special event so it will probably be ‘by appointment’ only.

Kitchen sinkers

Some wonderful florists have started from home, but they quickly moved into a studio or shop. However, along with bad shops (the ones who don’t appear in our GFG!) the bad Kitchen Sinkers are a group of people we want to save you from.

They work from home, often buy the flowers from supermarkets and their training can be just a few You Tube videos. While they think they know what they are doing, they often don’t, and can let customers down badly, especially on weddings. There are some good ones out there but in the main we would say avoid.

Petrol stations

Carnations and cheap roses that have been sitting in stagnant water for days! We aren’t even going to go there … and neither should you; especially if you’re a chap and wanting to make an impression.

We know they try hard but in our opinion the gift of garage flowers is desperation wrapped up in cellophane.

What to buy

Whatever the occasion and whoever the recipient (yes men can have flowers as well) there’s a floral gift that will fit the bill; ranging from tiny ‘Just Because’ tokens to gigantic public displays of affection and in every colourway you could imagine. Chances are you’ll have seen all the ‘by the mile’ designs on the big name flower websites but trust us; the scope with flowers is only limited by your imagination and the florists’ skill. So kick out all those boring designs and choose something totally personal and probably far better value as well.

Hand Tieds

As the name implies this is a collection of flowers, arranged in the hand and designed so they can just be popped into a vase of water. Usually they’ll be delivered in a water bubble so they stay fresh but they can’t stay in this wrapping for more than a few hours so if you get one make sure you unwrap it – over a sink to avoid spills. Hand tied are a great idea for most people but they are NOT suitable for hospitals, new mums, funerals or sympathy flowers.

Presentation Bouquets

Coming back into fashion and perfect for the person who likes to arrange their own flowers. Arranged in a flat style rather than ‘in the round’ like a hand tied, they are usually wrapped in a swathe of cellophane or Kraft paper and great for delivery to a private house. However we don’t recommend them for office deliveries, hospitals, or new mums as they are bulky to carry home and need to be put in water fairly quickly after delivery.

Vase Designs

These are a wonderful way of sending a profusion of flowers to a special person without them having to do anything. The flowers will be delivered in water but it will need topping up and it may be that the florist will line the vase with interesting leaves or textures. Great for office or home delivery, and, as long as an acrylic vase is used, hospitals.

Arrangements

Based in floral foam, which provides good moisture facilities, arrangements can be made into virtually anything; from baskets to funky tin buckets and all points in-between. You can even have a profusion of flowers made into pretty mugs, cool handbags or hat boxes so that there’s a prezzie to keep after the flowers have died. They’re perfect for every location … and HIGHLY SUITABLE for hospital deliveries. However basket designs are particularly suitable for funerals or sympathy gifts.

Planted Bowls

Well actually planted bowls, tins, baskets and boxes. If it can hold soil it can hold plants and are the perfect choice for green fingered people who like nurturing something. The choice of plants can either be all green or flowering or a mixture of the two! If you really want to be on trend this year go for succulents. They’re all the rage and a fab way to create a gift with loads of texture and long life.

Off the Wall

Or on the wall, from the ceiling and all points in-between! Flowers and plants are every bit as trendy as fashion and there are a mass of non-traditional designs your florist can suggest to make your flowers different and stand out from the crowd. They won’t necessarily cost any more than the traditional (and dare we say it) a tad boring hand tied but they will look different!

What to spend

Gifts

When it comes to gift bouquets, as a rule we think £30 (€40) + delivery is the minimum to spend if ordering on line. If you can deliver it yourself and go to a shop or stall, you will often get far more bang for your buck by taking advantage of daily and seasonal specials or choosing flowers that make a big statement without breaking the bank! For example three stems of longiflorum lily and bear grass looks amazing gift wrapped in clear cellophane and raffia but shouldn’t cost much more than £25 (€30) or so while bundles of Hyacinths, tulips, or other seasonal varieties wrapped in Hessian are a gorgeous gift idea that will come in at around £15 – £20 (€20 – €25).

Funeral Flowers

It really depends on what you order. You can find out more in our Funeral section but as a general rule of thumb a decent, well made letter tribute like ‘Mum’ will cost about £120 – £150 (€150 – €200) depending on the flowers used, a highly personalised tribute  will probably cost around £280 (€370) whilst an elegant heart would be in the region of £75/80 (€100 – €105). However it is perfectly possible to say that all important final goodbye for a lot less. For example a beautiful spray of seasonal flowers will be around £35 – £40 (€45 – 50) or you can simply take a single rose or Longiflorum Lily.

Wedding Flowers

It is virtually impossible to quote for wedding flowers as every bride is different and it depends on the choice of flowers. For example Lily of the Valley are expensive and because they need individual wiring to make sure they last, and are so tiny, you’ll need at least 100 stems for a decent bouquet. So you’d be looking at around £300 (€400) just for the bouquet. Choose another flower and you could reduce the cost by at least half.

Some florists offer packages which starting at as little as £150 (€200) for a bouquet, 2 x bridesmaid, four buttonholes and one table arrangement but they will be small and limited in flower content with no colour choice. They are fine but remember that your wedding flowers will be seen in virtually every single photograph so it isn’t something you should skimp on.

Buying online

Bottom line is that if it looks too good to be true it usually is. Flower prices have shot up over the last couple of years and unless the florist is working for nothing, or using old/low grade flowers, expect to pay £30 – £35 (€40 – €45) for anything good and if you want special flowers budget £40 – £45 (€50 – €55) plus delivery which should be in the region of £4 – £6 (€5 – €8) depending on distance and day, more if special requests are made.

Tricks of the trade

There will always be someone charging less or making a special offer to lure you in to spend on something else like chocolates or champagne. We would say be careful if online offers start going below £20/£25 (€25/€30) and remember Free Delivery usually isn’t free – it just means that they have spent less on the flowers.
Other online tricks are charging you to use a credit card or offering a range of sizes – small is usually very small!

Beware the deceptive order gatherer

And finally be very beware of the deceptive order gatherer. These are companies who pretend to be local shops but are actually simply call centre/order gathering websites who take your order and then pass it on to a real local florist for delivery, often taking anything up to 30% commission for the privilege. It may take a few more minutes to find a real shop but the difference in what you get could be HUGE!

Looking after flowers

Chances are you’ve read articles in the paper that have recommended all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to keep your flowers alive. Trouble is they aren’t wonderful …just weird.

Because behind the scenes of the global flower industry are a team of boffins who spend all their time developing ways to make sure your blooms stay alive for as long as possible and it is actually all very scientific as to what your flowers need. And that’s flower food. Not a gimmick. Not a way to sell your something, most florists will give it to you for free, but because it’s proven to work.

As soon as flowers are cut they are beginning to die. Flower food ensures they continue to receive food and growth regulators, stimulates water uptake and reduces the pH of the water. All of which generates an improvement in the development of stems, leaves, petals, size colour and scent. In fact trials have shown using proper flower food can extend the vase life of flowers by more than 60% compared to water alone.

Why not use home remedies?

Chlorine/Bleach

This is an aggressive product for plant tissues, clothing and human skin. Dosage must be very precise in order not to damage both flowers and leaves. Even if applied properly, its effect is very short-lived because household chlorine stops working after half a day, while the cut flowers require support during their entire vase life.

Copper coins

Copper only affects the vase water and because the release rate of is very slow it is totally ineffective. In addition UK & US copper coins no longer contain copper but a copper coloured steel alloy so there isn’t any to release!

Soft drinks

The quantity of food supplements in soft drinks is too small to support natural leaf and flower development. Any positive effect of this remedy is because of the sugar content and the pH level. While the citric acid keeps the water “somewhat fresh” and the sugar feeds the flowers, this mixture actually encourages bacterial growth, which harms the flowers.

Sugar

Sugar is actually a dream come true for micro-organisms who love to feast on it and guarantees quick contamination in vase water. This remedy is too one sided to be effective for normal leaf and flower development.

Vodka/Gin

Cut flowers, like many people, can only tolerate small amounts of alcohol, up to 8%. The solution needs to be diluted and overall is an incredibly pricy and ineffective way to look after flowers … our advice is keep it for yourself!

What does work?

In Meerkat language it’s simples

1: Clean water mixed with the right dose of flower food … one sachet per half litre
2: Always use clean vases to avoid the risk of cross contamination
3: Cut about 3cm off the bottom of your flowers at an angle using a sharp knife or scissors before you put them in the vase – don’t use blunt tools as that will damage the cell structure and reduce the water take up
4: Top them up with flower food treated water after a few days

And that is really it. Enjoy the flowers and the vodka!