The average dinner party chez  moi requires the following bouquets: three for the dining table, one for the la toilette, one for the balcony table, one for the bedroom, one for the console, and one for the coffee table.  That is EIGHT bouquets.  With most San Francisco florists starting at $65 per arrangement, one could easily spend $520 for a single dinner party – almost enough for an iPad or a Clic-Clac bracelet!  Instead, if you are willing to pull up your Dior bootstraps and muster some do it yourself gall, you can put together ALL of these bouquets for around $50 total.  I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ll take the Hermes, and make the arrangements myself.

Your first stop is the San Francisco Wholesale Flower Mart.  If you are not in the Bay Area, google “flower market” in your zip code, as many cities will have something similar.  Another suitable alternative is the flower section at Costco.  The SF Flower Mart is a grower-owned collective of 42 vendors who sell ridiculously inexpensive cut flowers of exceptional quality.  In fact, these are the very same flowers that you will find at twice the cost in the Whole Foods floral department. 

The experience can be a bit overwhelming, so it is smart to have an idea of what you want before beginning your mission.  For my latest venture, I knew that I wanted something girly and fun.  For a breath of fresh fleur, I decided to steer away from my usual beige roses/white ranunculus/white hydrangea combo.  Because the china for my dinner party was mostly pink, the placecards were yellow, and the menus were pale blue, I settled on a mixture of purple/white/green.  With the floral concept in place, I ventured out to the Flower Mart.

The best time to go to the Flower Mart is the morning.  This is when all of the vendors are open and will have the most to choose from.  I advise arranging the day prior to the party, which gives the flowers time to bloom together beautifully.  Unfortunately, the preparation of my multi-course dinner did not afford me the opportunity to escape from my house until the late afternoon.  Luckily, one of the vendors was still open.  I immediately zeroed in on several bunches of silvery-lilac colored roses.  And, as luck would have it, they were half off at $8 because they weren’t as fresh as the other roses.  After milling around the shop for a while, I paired the roses with green hydrangea, white texas bluebells, and white snapdragons.  I chose this combination after holding the roses up to different “filler” flowers to see what complimented the roses the best, while offering contrasting textures and shapes.

Once I got the gigantic bundle of newspaper wrapped flowers home, I separated them out on my kitchen counter by type, and cut the stems diagonally.  I started with the dining room bouquets – one large centerpiece and two smaller side arrangements – then used the leftovers for the rest of the house.  The stems had to be cut down significantly to fit in the vases.  A good rule of thumb for dinner parties is to keep the flowers below eye-level, so that they don’t have to be moved for guests to enjoy one anothers’ company.  Once I cut the stems so that the blooms were just peeking from the lip of the vase, I assembled in the following order:

1.  Hydrangea – the biggest flower will be difficult to add once the other   flowers are placed

2.  Roses – the showpiece

3.  Texas Bluebells – a soft flower with lots of taller pieces that add dimension to the arrangement

4.  Snapdragons – I used four of these in each bouquet, they are great because they elegantly drape over the sides of the vase

As Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa wisely advises – always add a few more flowers than you think you need, and if you are a novice, stick with different flowers in the same color until you develop an eye for arrangements.  xx tt