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How to Win Over a New Yorker with Bodega Flowers

NEW YORK CITY — Creating the perfect flower bouquet can be as easy as ordering an egg and cheese on a roll from the corner bodega — if you know what to look for.

That's the message from flower experts who want to teach New Yorkers the art of turning cheap deli flowers into bountiful floral arrangements that are sure to impress on a special occasion or smooth over a fight with a significant other.

Calvert Crary, executive director of Murray Hill's FlowerSchool New York, teaches a Bodega Flowers workshop to instruct students on the finer points of corner-store flower plucking.  

While the flower arrangements that appear in the storefronts of many delis in the city seem ordinary at first glance, if chosen with care, they can be recreated to make a unique bouquet that will wow any recipient, he said.

“There’s no such thing as bad flowers, just bad flower choices,” Crary said. “When you see flowers at a bodega, you see some terrible arrangements. The colors might not match. Whoever put them together might not necessarily have the style of a florist.”

So the best way to avoid the mismatched bouquet is to create one of your own, Crary said.

During the spring and winter months, delis are often stocked with plenty of ranunculus, fragrant hyacinths and tulips, said Rhonda Smith, owner of Violet and Chloe, a Brooklyn-based botanical and event-styling company.

The "shift towards seasonal blooms as they are local and more readily available” means shoppers will have more luck finding them in small stores and markets, she said.

Mother’s Day

Delis are brimming with blossoms during this holiday, which falls on the second Sunday in May.

During the Mother’s Day season, local floral availability is at its peak, and delis are better stocked, Smith explained.

“My all-time favorite [for Mother’s Day] is a handful of local grown lilacs,” Smith said. “A robust amount of tulips or spray roses come in second.”

For long-lasting beauty, opt for branches instead of flowers. Branches do not wilt as flowers do, and they make for a high-impact gift, Smith said.

Pussy willows and dogwood branches are often available at delis during the spring.

“I call these 'instant arrangements,' as they require low maintenance and are easy to arrange,” Smith said. “Once placed in a tall and sturdy vase, you instantly have a dramatic effect.”

Valentine’s Day

For those looking to kindle romance, think fragrance.

Instead of red roses, try a delicate fragrant flower such as freesias, Smith said.

If roses are a must, select an interesting color in the romantic color family of lavenders, fuchsias and pinks, she said.

In addition, many of the flowers that are available at delis are past their prime and should be tested for freshness before purchasing, Smith said.

"When it comes to roses, feel the bottom part of the head — as you would when buying fruit," she said. "If it’s not firm, then keep looking."

For most other flowers, the best test is to check for bruising, browning and discoloration.

Next, “select a small accent flower or filler such as the seeded eucalyptus to go with them so you are not just handing over prepackaged roses,” Smith said.

I’m Sorry

Avoid roses and be thoughtful when seeking forgiveness from a significant other, Smith said.

“As you have probably already offended the person, try not to make things worse,” she said. “Select a flower in a humble, not too busy tone.”

For instance, try two or three stems of hydrangeas or tulips when they are in season, Smith explained.

If purchasing a pre-packaged bouquet, remove anything that’s aesthetically offensive, she said.

“The biggest offenders are baby’s breath and leather leaf,” she said. “Nothing screams ‘I bought these at the supermarket and have no clue of what I’m doing’ like baby’s breath that is crispy and stiff.”

And steer clear of the common sprayed and dyed flowers.

“Daisies and carnations painted in neon colors must always be avoided,” Smith cautioned.

Sad Occasions

For sympathy or loss, go with something traditional such as lilies, Smith said. Keep the color muted and simple.

Avoid the mistake of mismatching colors by sticking to the same color family, Crary added.

Go for all lavender hues or all green. For a contrasting effect, choose two colors, but never go for more than two tones, Crary said.

Thanks You and Professional Gifts

In a professional setting, it’s best to think conservative and avoid loud colors, Smith said.

“When choosing flowers from the deli as gifts, simple and thoughtful is key,” Smith said. “Imagine having multi-colored mums and carnations in colors only appropriate for the 'Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' on your work desk.”

Instead, keep it tasteful by choosing a mass of a single variety, she said.

“When you go to buy tulips, don’t just buy one bunch — buy three bunches," Crary said. “It makes a big difference.”

When a bouquet is full and well-rounded, it looks far better, he explained.


For a celebratory occasion, there’s freedom to be more festive with your bouquet, Smith said.

“There are less rules to be broken here as the person will be busy celebrating,” she explained.

If going for a pre-packed bouquet, be sure to take the flowers home first.

Unwrap the stems from the plastic or paper, remove damaged petals and strip off the bad leaves. Then put them together loosely and rewrap them, Smith said.

“This is a much more thoughtful gesture than simply gifting a pre-packed bouquet,” she said. “They will never know you got it from the bodega.”