Frugal Flowers: How To Choose Flowers at the Supermarket

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Living in the Midwest means that there is little fresh greenery to be seen outdoors during the long, cold winter. So we feel that cut flowers are a small yet necessary luxury to brighten these dark days. But we still want to keep our little weekly indulgence as frugal as we can, which means we buy our flowers from the supermarket and arrange them at home. We know that many of you do the same.

We're no professionals when it comes to flower-arranging, but here a few more tips on choosing the best grocery store blooms to bring your arrangements to life.

I'll deconstruct the arrangement above, which is sitting on my dining room table this week. This was a slightly more expensive splurge on my part, since the roses were a bit more pricey than the flowers I usually buy. But they were so beautiful I couldn't pass them up, and the cost of the entire arrangement was still only about $16. Actually, I got three arrangements for that price; I have two smaller bunches in other spots.

This isn't the only way to buy flowers, of course; sometimes I love a simple arrangement of just one sort of flower. But this is how I approach a slightly more involved arrangement.

1. Avoid the pre-mixed grocery store bouquets. It's fun to break up these bouquets into smaller arrangements, but I find that the pre-made grocery store bouquets are often less fresh. They seem to wilt faster. Also, they are usually padded with a great deal of unnecessary greenery. I just like to pick out my own single varieties, unless there is something really extraordinary in one of those pre-made bouquets. It's rare, though.

2. Choose the most beautiful flower you can find. This can be anything you think is beautiful. Crimson roses? Fragrant freesia? Blowsy ranunculus? Pick out the focal point, the flower you want to look at all week. In my case, it was these old-fashioned roses, creamy with just a blush of pink. They were so different from the usual over-colored and oversized roses I usually see that they caught my eye instantly.

3. Look for the freshest bunch. Avoid any flowers that are fully open. Look out for slimy stems, brown leaves, or wilting petals. I passed up a couple bunches that were already open and found a large bunch that still had some time left.

4. Find something green. I wanted to offset these roses with something green and interesting. Roses are very conventional, and as lovely as they are, I wanted to play them up with an interesting piece of greenery. I chose this variegated pittosporum, which is hardy and long-lived. It also had just the right shade of cream in its leaves to complement the roses.

5. Find something spiky, edgy, or slightly offbeat. These roses made me think of hothouse flowers, lush and romantic. I knew they would mass into a tight, creamy bundle of petals, with the greenery as background for their pale colors. That could have been enough, but I wanted one more piece to cut against the romanticism and provide contrast. I chose a bundle of Safari Sunset -- another hardy grocery store staple that is exotic and interesting. Its burgundy color, however, beautifully complements the pale pink roses, and its shape is echoed by the sprays of pittosporum. I tucked it into the sides and back of the arrangement, where it shoots off and draws the eye into negative space.

Finding such complementary elements at the grocery store was a lucky accident; each of those elements complements and balances the others. Well, at least in my opinion. Flower arranging is deeply personal; I believe you should do it to suit yourself and not some arbitrary standard of design principles. This is my personal style: something very pretty and romantic with greenery next to something offbeat and even slightly ugly to set it off. I'm a big fan of loose, casual arrangements with a touch of something weird or exotic; I like to work in some negative space.

But all that's up to you, of course. We just recommend you do look for the best flowers you can, at the best prices that you can find, while still remembering this is a small price to pay for some real beauty in the darker evenings of winter.

Oh, and when you get your flowers home (which you should do as quickly as possible), dunk them in some water then follow these steps to keep your cut flowers looking fresh.

Related: Beautiful, Frugal Flowers: 3 Ways to Use White Carnations for Holiday Arrangements

(Images: Faith Durand)