by Tina Haver Currin
photograph by Nick Pironio
You might remember the ice storm that hit Raleigh on Feb. 13, 2014, the one that shut the city down in its tracks. A photograph of a distraught woman surrounded by spun-out cars on Glenwood Avenue went viral, appearing on national news outlets from CNN to Gawker. All the while, a less obvious, but also dramatic scene was also unfolding…at the Triangle’s flower shops. The following day was Valentine’s Day, and floral deliveries scheduled weeks in advance had come to a screeching halt.
“It was a really big deal,” says Steve Taras, who opened The Watered Garden Florist in Raleigh 16 years ago. “We talk Valentine’s Day strategy every year. But last year, everyone’s strategy went for naught. A lot of people lost a lot of money that day.”
Deliveries are just the tip of the, ahem, iceberg when it comes to the complex business of flowers. At The Watered Garden, Taras and his six employees pick up boxes of bulbs, orchids, and other exotic blooms at RDU airport twice a week, receive branches from the mountains twice a month, and pluck fresh flowers from what’s known as a “bucket truck” each morning before they even start creating.
“If you’ve got an arrangement that has lilies, hydrangeas, calla lilies, and roses, then there are flowers from the local market, from Holland, from Colombia and California, all in one vase,” explains Taras. “We get flowers from Hawaii every other week, and one time, we had to tell a bride that she couldn’t have orchids for her wedding because lava was headed toward the farm!”
Which brings us, of course, to cost. “People always ask, ‘Why does it cost so much, when it’s just a flower? My grandmother can grow that,’” says Deb Taylor, who designs arrangements alongside Taras. “But with all the energy and work it takes to get that flower to you, it’s amazing that it’s as cheap as it is.”
Although the shop’s roster includes clients like The Umstead Hotel & Spa, SAS and Angus Barn, the Watered Garden’s ability to produce creative arrangements to fit any budget is a point of pride.
“We’ve done weddings from $200 to $100,000,” says Taylor. “And we get to know our brides. We’ll often make arrangements for their anniversaries, or for their first baby. That’s always really neat.”
Personalization and flexibility is what separates The Watered Garden and other locally-owned shops like Kelly Odom, The English Garden, and Davenport at Five Points apart from chains and online retailers, which often make templated arrangements to sell in mass quantities.
“We’re very different than the typical cookie-cutter place,” explains Taylor, who managed a traditional flower shop for 25 years. “We’ll pull out containers, talk about a client’s event, even the color and type of linen they’re using. We learn their style and what they like. It’s custom design.”
They’ve also got some custom advice for anyone shopping for flowers this Valentine’s Day, wherever you may go. If you’re set on roses, be sure to check the freshness by squeezing the head of the flower right above calyx, where the rose meets the stem. If there’s resistance, then the rose is strong and fresh, Taras says. But if the rose is soft or mushy, it’s best avoided. To keep your arrangements fresh, cut the stems as soon as you get home, and change the water as often as you can.
During the week of the 14th, rose prices are so inflated that The Watered Garden often recommends nontraditional designs, like tulip, orchid, or mixed arrangements to make the most of their clients’ dollar.
“We’re known for unusual, different things. But if it’s roses, sometimes we’ll push anything but red. That’s what’s expected,” says Taras, cracking a smile. “Being unique keeps things fun.”
The Watered Garden
530 Pylon Drive, Raleigh. (919) 828-2600
Kelly Odom Flowers
102 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh. (919) 829-3888
Davenport at Five Points
2007 Fairview Road, Raleigh. (919) 834-0336
The English Garden
6308 Angus Drive. 919-341-6650