Cut Flowers Are a Frugal Luxury

– Posted in: Book reviews, Flowers on the Brain

June 2008

I had long considered flowers from a florist to be a frivolous expense. You couldn’t plant them, and had nothing to show for it when they finally shriveled up and died. Spend the same amount on groceries, and at least you’ve fed your family, even if it still seems like you’ve got nothing to show for it.

Bouquet January 2009

January 2009

Then, a little over three years ago, I read Michele Owens’ article, “The Healing Power of Flowers” in the November 2006 issue of The Oprah Magazine. Michele referred to a study done at Rutgers where 100% of the women presented with flowers broke into a genuine smile, as did 90% of the women who received a fruit basket and 77% who received a pillar candle.

2009 birthday bouquet

April 2009

My mind flashed back to the times people had bought me flowers. Yes, it made me happy to get flowers. Disproportionately happy. I had always attributed those positive feelings to pleasure at having received an unexpected gift, with the surprise of it and the implicit expression of good wishes and yes, the impractical luxury of it, the cause of such good feeling. But in that study, the women who received flowers were happier than the control group a couple of days later. Could it all be attributed to the “Flowers! For me?” factor?

Shortly after that, I read Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart. She makes the inner workings of the cut flower industry a fascinating read. It never occurred to me that cut flowers came from all over the world, that pesticides were heavily employed in their production, or that how they were cared for from the time they were cut, while they were in transit, and even after you place them on your table affected how long they would last. Amy claimed, with proper care, they would last a week in your home.

Violets in tiny vases

May 2006

I started looking at the cut flowers that I came across in various stores more carefully. I spied a bunch of burgundy carnations reduced for quick sale, four bucks. I thought they might be on sale because they were getting kind of old, but even if they only lasted four days, that was still no more expensive per day than a modest chocolate bar, the only other grocery store mood-lifter I occasionally indulged in. They became the subject of a low risk experiment.

early fall 2007 bouquet

September 2007

I took them home and followed Amy’s pointers diligently. Reader, they lasted three weeks. (It was winter, so my house was on the cool side, and I’m sure that helped.) Furthermore, they were not expensive, no one got them for me, and they still cheered me up. For three weeks. In the dead of winter. They were less expensive, and certainly less fattening, than a candy bar per day, and far less expensive than a prescription antidepressant. I began to see that cut flowers, properly cared for, were a fairly economical way to cheer oneself up.

Lemon lilies and Siberian irises

June 2003

Amy writes in her introduction that she would have gladly spent the grocery money on the flowers she saw in the San Francisco flower market. I would feel too guilty to regularly spend even a small chunk of the grocery money on flowers, but now that I’ve persuaded myself that flowers are good for me, and not all that extravagant if properly cared for, I do permit myself an indulgence or two when flowers are not available from my own garden. The cost of a florist’s arrangement is still too high for my pecuniary soul, but bunches of flowers from a warehouse store or a better grocery store are priced at a level my conscience can live with.

2007 Birthday Bouquet

April 2007

I will usually find something blooming to bring home between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, that dark, dreary season when the sun might not shine for weeks and social events are frequently postponed because of snow storms. Flowers can see me through those dark times, a tangible reminder of the spring that is still months away. I’ve also taken to buying flowers for my birthday, even though by then there are daffodils I could cut for the house (and I do). The flowers I bring home from the store, more varied in color and form than what’s growing outside at the time of the year, make the festive occasion a bit more celebratory.
Small nosegay with handwritten note

For the mail lady. A small nosegay created by a child, neither elaborate or expensive, can still brighten a grownup's day.

Click on each flower arrangement for a larger image and a description of the flowers. Flower Confidential was a review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Andrea Twombly March 10, 2010, 6:46 pm

I just bought flowers as a hostess gift for a friend. I never buy flowers for myself, because my budget rarely allows is, so I am sure to plant lots and LOTS of zinnias throughout my yard, which keeps me happily in color for a long season. The return on the cost of a few packets of seeds which will produce cutting flowers at least until Thanksgiving is almost immeasureable, and it allows me to be lavish in my generosity as well. In the winter, I make due with the geraniums we have managed to keep going on our cool porch.
.-= Andrea Twombly´s last blog ..Civic Minded Gardening? =-.

bavaria March 3, 2010, 6:45 pm

Sometimes I purchase 3 or 5 blooms and then add other plant material from my yard to make a bouquet. In the winter, there is always several different evergreens and red twig dogwood to snip. And from the house, I add greenery from the houseplants and the herb pots to the flowers.

Providence Acres Farm - Sheryl February 21, 2010, 4:20 pm

I grow many flowers for cutting. I truly miss them in the winter and am considering buying bulbs for forcing this year. I love fresh flowers from the garden in the summertime. I have a lot of space to garden and am going to plant a cut flower garden this year, near the road, to cheer those passing by.

Craig @ Ellis Hollow February 17, 2010, 8:26 pm

I forget the exact figures. (Maybe they’re in Amy’s book?) But per capita flower purchases in Europe are multiples of purchases here. Just another way they are more civilized than we are.

commonweeder February 17, 2010, 11:47 am

I forgot to mention that you are one of the people who has inspired me to get a twitter account. Now I have to figure out how it really works.

commonweeder February 17, 2010, 11:46 am

This is a thought provoking post. I almost never buy cut flowers, for exactly the reasons you first mention. After I read Flower Confidential I became even more aware of the problems that can come with cut flowers. Fortunately, our local farmer’s markets sell local flowers in season which makes them guilt free. In addition, I’m starting to think of annuals that I can plant specifically for cutting, to give away informal bouquets, and to bring to church. I love the way you handled the photos and flower id. You always have a technical trick to teach us.

Lynn February 16, 2010, 5:30 pm

Kathy, I feel there really is something in the flowers that makes the happiness last. A great pleasure I had while living in San Antonio was going to the great indoor wholesale market to smell and touch and take some home for me. I’ll never forget the way tuberoses filled my apt with fragrance for the first party I ever had there. It still makes me smile. And I consider a handpicked bouquet a beautiful gift to give.

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove February 15, 2010, 10:10 pm

When I lived in England, I found that Europeans would consider the purchase of weekly flowers the same as bread or milk, a necessity. Here in North America, it is a special treat. But it brings so much pleasure, why do we only purchase flowers as gifts for others, are we not just as important?

Tracey McBride~Frugal Luxuries TM February 15, 2010, 2:08 pm

We count flowers amoung our favorite frugal luxuries as well!
Tracey McBride

Julie February 15, 2010, 11:46 am

Dear Kathy,

A terrific account of how you made the turn into treating yourself (and others) to cut flowers. Your arrangements are beautiful — and putting cut flowers together is a special delight, don’t you think? One doesn’t need to be a pro to experiment with shape and color, and handling flowers in this way makes me pay each blossom the attention it deserves.

Thanks, and happy belated Valentine’s Day.


Kathy Purdy February 15, 2010, 11:53 am

I just want to point out that not all the arrangements pictured were made with cut flowers. Many were made with flowers from the garden or wilder areas near our home. I more often think of flowers from my own garden as a gift worth giving than I used to.

Carolflowerhill February 15, 2010, 11:28 am

Lovely Lovely flower arrangements sprinkled throughout your post. I agree that flowers have a way of bringing smiles to our faces and hearts. The more one knows however about the floral industry … certainly it is getting better and I love Amy’s book too… the more pause and questions asked when buying florists flowers. The amount of pesticides and truly abusive treatment of workers has made me stop buying certain flowers for many years now. We can find alternatives but alas at the grocery store most likely not… maybe Whole Foods but not sure… not a big fan of yet another corporation. I tend to love flowers more in the garden these days. Locally grown freesia and camellia’s are the exception! Maybe you have some growers nearby that you could buy less expensive flowers from … sometimes I love one or two flowers too. Then there are our gardens and the farmers markets … coming soon! Great post!