Seasonal Flowers at Home: An Interview With Studio Choo

Garden Party

This time of year, no matter where you live, chances are you'll find a bounty of gorgeous seasonal flowers at your local farmers' market. Farmers' market flowers are generally inexpensive, and of course their freshness can't be beat. San Francisco florists Alethea Harampolis and Jill Pilotte of Studio Choo teach classes to help home "florists" find the loveliest blooms and arrange them with care. They've been kind enough to share some wisdom (and photos of their glorious work!) with us.
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Clearly the ladies of Studio Choo have a gift for creating bouquets with an elegant, breezy wildness. The first step to cultivating this kind of meadow-fresh look is learning to choose the right materials when they are in bloom. Jill and Alethea share some tips and thoughts on the subject below.

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Why do you prefer to use locally grown seasonal flowers?

The first reason is freshness; there is less time between the field and the market. We love the opportunity to buy giant dahlias from Half Moon Bay and amazingly scented garden roses from Petaluma that were harvested just the day before. The second reason mainly is that we love to support local farms and the environmental benefits of buying local. Oh, and they are usually way less expensive than imported flowers!

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What are some of your favorite flowers and foliage for each season?

Summer: garden roses, dahlias, veronica, scented geranium leaves, black plum branches, echinacea, chamomile, dusty miller.
Fall: liquid amber, privet, amaryllis, french tulips, cotoneaster.
Spring: ranunculus, tulips, anemones, narcissus, mock orange, fritallaria, peonies, foxglove, dogwood, viburnum, freesia, lily of the valley, muscari, hellebors, magnolia.
Winter: daphne, ilex, hemlock, juniper.

And do you have a pet peeve out-of-season flower? Something commonly used at a time of year when there’s no way it’s locally in bloom?

People always ask for peonies, no matter what the season. When we get them from our coast in the spring (mostly from Oregon) they are fluffy, lush, and fairly affordable. They are available almost year round now, though, with so many flowers being grown in so many different places globally. When a bride asks for them out of season they can be as much as $30 a stem!

If season were no object, what elements would you put together in your dream bouquet?

I (Alethea) have always been in love with scented night-blooming flowers such as datura, honeysuckle, moonflower, and white bearded iris. I also have an equal obsession with white single petaled flowers like garden roses, the rare ranunculus, anemones, white jasmine and clematis. My dream bouquet would be a wild and unstructured mix of night-blooming and single petaled flowers, perfect for a wedding at dusk.

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Can you offer a few tips for shopping for flowers at farmers’ markets? How do you look for the freshest stems etc?

We love to shop at farmer's markets for stems and always keep our eyes out for what we call "juicy" flowers: perfect, healthy, voluptuous blooms. The blossoms and leaves should be nice and firm. Try to get your flowers into water right away and always re-cut just before putting into water. Some flowers are more delicate than others; sunflowers and celosia can stand a bit more time out of water than dahlias or roses. Many stands will hold your flowers in water until you are done market shopping -- just don't forget to go back and pick them up! We also look for herbs and unique greenery that can be used for arrangements one night and cooking the next.

Any other sources you can recommend for local seasonal flowers? Favorite spots for foraging?

As kids that grew up in beautiful natural areas like Rhode Island and Marin County, one of our favorite things to do was pick local wildflowers in the woods or fields. As adults we don't have as much time to forage, and we're conscious of rules about picking on public land. Alethea's mother lives in Marin and has a huge backyard full of amazing plants and trees. Whenever possible we go to her house to forage for our favorite bits. We also use clippings from our own gardens in arrangements, even "weeds" like nasturtiums that invade Jill's backyard in Pacifica.

There are lots of local flower farms that are open to the public that we love to go to:
• Cypress Flower Farm - Moss Beach
• Repetto Nursery - Half Moon Bay
• Garden Valley Ranch - Petaluma

Thanks, Jill and Alethea!

To see more work from Studio Choo and learn about their upcoming series of workshops, visit their website and blog. If you live in the vicinity of San Francisco, they've got a new shop in the city, too, at 262 Divisadero.

Images: Studio Choo

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