the Valentine’s day haze of 2012

I close my eyes and see…flowers.  Soft pink tulips tinged with veins of green, the cheery pom-poms of chartreuse snowball viburnums, light lavender sweet peas so papery thin, luscious flesh-colored stock that exudes a sweet-spicy scent, a stab of bright blue-purple delphinium, and roses upon roses…roses the color of a wild sunset or a rosy tangerine, roses the color of peaches edged with soft green, lipstick red roses, and Deja Vu roses standing at attention on their 3-ft long stems, a clear concise yellow that says, Hello You.

check out the scabiosa seedpod amidst the garden roses, tulips, viburnum, and rice flower

peachy green roses, astrantia, calla lily, viburnum, seeded eucalyptus mmm

Yesterday turned out to be one of my favorite days of all time, and I’m not much into Valentine’s Day.  Well that was BF…Before Flowers.  I went into the shop on Monday to help prep the roses (oh yeah, like 700 of them!) and to get some bouquet-making lessons from my beautiful boss lady Peicha.  I left with a price list to study and a sour ball of nervousness percolating in my stomach.  Would I be able to arrange quickly and confidently and add up prices in my head at the same time?  Would I choose the right “color stories?”  Would the stress of a lot of retail interaction be too much for me?  (The needy masses hungry for brilliant arrangements queuing up to watch me fail.)

wake up and smell the roses!

Valentine’s Day 2012 arrived with the Tarot Card of Death in an email. I don’t know why I subject myself to these emails that are supposed to tell me how my day will go.  Like somehow getting the Knave of Wands randomly generated  by a computer means I’ll have an adventurous day.  But the Death Card…uh oh…how is that interpreted at 7am? Maybe I’ll impale myself with a rose and die…or get in a car accident on that Big Road called City Ave…or simply die of shame.  I dressed in what my brother calls my ‘riding boots’ and a bright red blazer (Anthro of course) and hoped that this geranium red would give me some kind of confidence.

smooches from emily!


When I arrived the ladies were in full swing, in fact Peicha had been there since the crack of the ass of dawn, making the pre-ordered bouquets and arrangements (in vases.) She was feeling ‘ahead of the game.’  Dear Emily, an ever-bubbling font of positivity, set our mood to Happy.  Go Team Falls Flowers! Give me an R…O…S…E!  We set into motion together, taking orders from customers, creating bouquets, answering the phone, tying ribbons around the pink tissue that gets wrapped around all the bouquets, and saying “Here you go.  These are your flowers, your Valentine will be so pleased.”

flesh pink stock, rice flower, beigey garden rose, viburnum, lisianthus

Earlier in the day, I took a phone order from a gent who was on business out West.  He and his family live right down the street from Falls Flowers.  He was scared he wasn’t going to get his order in on time, and wanted 4 arrangements (in vases): 2 for his little girls, one for his wife, and one for his mom.  AW.  Peicha let me choose all the flowers for these, and I had a ball doing it.

3 vday arrangements for lucky ladies down the block


grandma's arrangement: tangerine roses, hot pink hyacinth, brunia, waxflower, hypericum berry, frilly orange tulips

And at the end of the day, after all the madness and yes, making a few mistakes here and there and having to use a calculator as I chose blooms, I got to deliver the 4 completed arrangements with Peicha’s husband Mark, who god love him was out all day delivering our product all over tarnation.  The door opens, and a little girl holding a Hello Kitty doll answers.  There we are, with flowers popping out of our heads, what must we look like to her? Her face lights up.  Delivery for Lila! I say.  Mom/Wife comes to the door to see what the ruckus is.  HER face lights up.  We enter, placing the arrangements around the room, and Grandmom/Mom sees the goods and HER face lights up.   I say that Dave/Daddy wanted all of his Valentines to have a very special day and that’s why we made each of you your own special arrangement.  Shock and awe.  This guy just racked up points that will last him all year.  As we’re leaving, little Lila says, “Hello Kitty says Goodbye!” And that’s the end of Valentine’s Day.

me with RED ROSES mixed with waxflower bouquet...POW! photo courtesy FF and emily

Or is it?  After spending the day in nonstop motion, working in tandem with 2 very talented and delightful creatures, and using my head heart and hands, I feel fulfilled on so many levels.  But a little sad, because where is MY Valentine?  Who loves ME enough to give me flowers? When I get home (well my parent’s house because that’s where I’m staying right now) my 2-yr old niece is there for dinner.  She is all smiles, sitting in her big girl chair and gobbling up her dinner.  We jokingly eat each leaf of the salad separately pretending to be Peter Rabbit.  Fun.  And after dinner, a very special surprise for Auntie Ann.  My very own Valentine with dragonflies, frogs, caterpillars and lady bugs made especially for me by niece.  She gives me big hugs and giggly Eskimo kisses to top it all off.  L…O…V…E!

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bloomin’ fun

My first day at Falls Flowers – Jan 19th, 2012…a quiet Thursday in East Falls.  I started by processing flowers that had been hydrating; and I learned a lot today!  For example, when flowers first arrive, they should hydrate for an hour minimum – if you don’t, their little heads could droop beyond rescue.  Some flowers are more prone to wilting than others; but initial hydration is a big must for everything.

you won't find these flowers in most shops, feast your eyes

The proprietor, Peicha Chang, gets her flowers from a variety of Philly vendors, who get their stuff from NYC or local growers when possible, and the NYC flowers come from Holland, Japan, South America, and beyond.  For Christmas and Easter, she’ll go up to the NYC flower market herself.  I guess there’s no way around being slightly uncomfortable at the environmental impact shipping flowers all over the world has, and if there were a way to stock only locally grown flowers, she would be doing this, but for the kind of variety she wants it’s just impossible.  Not sure how I feel about this part of the industry, as flowers are not a ‘necessity,’ really.  It would at least be nice to know if the farms that are growing your flowers are growing them sustainably, not just for the soil’s sake but for the workers and their exposure to chemicals.  More on this later as I dig deeper.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'

gloriosa lily - exotic and toxic

Meet the Gloriosa lily.  This gorgeous lily is actually a climbing vine, and looks as if she’s throwing her petals back from the exertion of the journey.

And hello to you, French Ranunculus.  I have never seen the likes of you before.

french ranunculus (but grown in Holland)

My other favorite of the day is the Astrantia, a cut flower I believe she said was Dutch grown but I’ve seen growing quite happily in gardens in the Northeast.  The stems have a purplish tinge to them and so do the leaves and as you gaze at this plant’s structure you may be reminded of Queen Anne’s Lace, or Fennel, or Dill…all members of the Carrot Family.  Oh, I love you Starflower.

astrantia (A. major) member of carrot family, starflower. LOVE

Now for some how-to, so I can remember what the heck I did:  in processing flowers, the key is to remove any leaves/thorns that will be sitting in water.  It’s important from a ‘rot’ standpoint but also super important when you’re in a busy floral shop to be able to pull a stem easily from it’s container without it tangling up in others.   This is something I hadn’t really thought of before.  Removing 2/3 of the lower leaves also creates a cleaner visual impact, something that most people don’t do when they bring a bouquet home from the grocery store, and it makes all the difference in the world to me.  After removing the leaves, I cut the stems at a 45 degree angle for maximum drinking potential.  Some of the woody stems (Quince) are also cut vertically to create more surface area for the water to climb.  I mostly used pruners, but lots of floral pros use knives to trim thorns off of roses and cut the stems.  There is an art to it, for sure.  Check out the quick video of my first KNIFE LESSON!

I then changed the water out of all the containers on display, which she does once or twice a week or when the water starts to look cloudy.  Flowering branches like Quince make the water cloudy more quickly. Vases are washed once a week on Saturdays.  We cleaned out the walk in fridge together (keeps below 40deg F,) discarding flowers that were past their prime.  At this point Peicha began making little sad noises for each of the flowers she had to toss.  To her, flowers are not just “product.” These are living items she chooses carefully and spends a lot of effort trying to preserve for as long as possible. Meanwhile, I was saying things like “off with their heads,” and cutting them up into smaller pieces for the compost pile.  (All of her vegetable matter waste goes to a local grower for composting…more on this later as I get more details.)

i was in heaven making little labels for everything

One of the areas I really need to learn more on is vase expectancy!  When I made labels for the display items, we put the number of days you could expect the flower to thrive after bringing it home.  Some were 3, others were 14, others were ∞ because they were dried (Protea, Everlasting, etc.)  She just rattled off the numbers! This is a very important piece of the puzzle I’d like to learn.

the master makes a quick bouquet, showing me how to hold stems vertically so they spiral together naturally

The quick bouquet lesson at the very end of the day was probably the most fun to watch for me, because Peicha’s experience really shined.  I like to think I have some skill with flowers, and I may have more than the average person, but when you see a master working, you’ll be blown away.  She confidently chose an array of materials for two different bouquets, but I only took a pic of the second one.  She used the South African Leucodendron as her base, following by the flaming Gloriosa Lily, ‘Gold Rush’ Roses, some Billyballs, and even a few evergreens which I thought really made it work (salvaged from the holiday buckets in the fridge.)  She likes to work with odd numbers as they’re “more dynamic,” but if you have to go even use 2…or 6 I think she said. In the end she was holding a $40-$50 bouquet of unusual and beautiful flowers.  I have so much to learn!

I’ll leave you with this plum beauty, the showy Anemone grown from a tuber…

anemone (A. coronaria) - dive into pure plum! grown in Holland