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Adding joy to your world with flowers

Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers on flowers to help brighten the home during self-isolation

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By The Washington Post | April 9, 2020 | Gardens

Christina Stembel launched Farmgirl Flowers from her San Francisco apartment and now ships bouquets and plants nationwide. Christina has tips on creating unique bouquets and making blooms last longer. Flowers can add joy to our homes during the days we are self-isolating.

During a time like this when many people are down, what's the benefit of having flowers and plants in your home? 

Before I started my company, I thought flowers were a waste of money. Ever since starting the company, I almost always have fresh flowers in my house. Even if my house is a mess, flowers make me feel like I have my life together. One of my favorite things to do on the weekends it to take a bucket of flowers home and create something beautiful. Having a creative outlet is so important, and having something beautiful to show for it really improves my mood, especially when you're cooped up and can't experience that beauty outside of your house. 

If you could arrange a dream bouquet, what types of flowers would you incorporate? 

I would definitely include a king protea, tree peonies, Hanoi ranunculus, blush anemones, pink anthurium, astrantia, mascot tulips, scabiosa, Italian ruscus (my favorite green), some eucalyptus and, if budget isn't a barrier, some lily of the valley. I'd also add some tuberose for scent. 

How can you make your bouquets have longer life indoors or in a vase?

The No. 1 thing you can do to help keep an arrangement looking fresh is to change the vase water daily. As the stems age, they will begin to decay and release bacteria into the water. The flowers drink the bacteria-filled water and can't hydrate properly. I also recommend giving the stems a trim while you're changing the vase water. A small cut will do - about a quarter inch - and it will ensure the stems continue to hydrate efficiently. Keep your vase away from light and heat. Being near a sunny window or even a heater can cause your bouquet to begin wilting much faster than it would if it was in a cooler location. Remove stems as they begin to die. In a mixed bouquet, you'll have a range of blooming times for different flowers. Pull out the stems that are wilting faster than the others to prevent them from causing all the flowers to decay.


My apartment doesn't get a lot of great natural light. Do you have flower recommendations that are best suited for this?

You're in luck: Cut flowers don't love light. Your home is a great option for cut flowers as long as you can keep the temperature cool, so pick your favorite and enjoy. Your space might be more challenging for plants, though, so if you're looking for a top pick for a houseplant, you'll need to find a heartier green plant, such as a snake or Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ) plant. These are both really tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions, such as low light or infrequent watering.

What's the best way to dispose of spent flowers? I feel terrible throwing them in the trash.

If you have the access to compost, I would recommend composting them. This helps us feel a little less guilty. Also, a lot of varieties look really beautiful dried. Take them out of the vase as soon as you begin to notice they are wilting, and hang them upside down. Turn them into a dried wreath to give them a second life.

What kind of flowers last the longest once cut from the stem?


Carnations. If they're in a cool space, I've seen carnations last up to four weeks. I love them, and they come in such beautiful colors. I know everyone who is reading this is probably thinking of the overly bright colors they've seen in markets, but there is so much more out there. Look for the muted tones and the antiqued varieties for something that feels subtle and sophisticated. Tropical flowers, specifically orchids and anthurium, are another great option with longevity. I also love greenery. A vase with a few branches of tropical foliage or some beautiful ferns will give you a long vase life. 

Is it better to buy flowers from the grocery store that have already bloomed, or ones that haven't yet bloomed? I'm assuming the flowers that haven't bloomed yet are best to buy because they'll last longer, but is that right?

Absolutely. If you're seeing open flowers at the market, they're probably pretty close to being ready for the compost bin. Finding the tightest buds you can will ensure you get to enjoy the full length of their bloom life. The only exception that I would mention is that if you're having a dinner party and need something extra beautiful as soon as possible, buy something fully bloomed. That way they'll be at peak beauty for your party. Just know these will probably last only a day or two after they're purchased.

I find Gerbera daisies particularly prone to drooping. Is there a way to prevent this?

Some of them ship with plastic straws on the stems - leave these on. Cut the stems lower, so they don't poke up too far above the vase (so you won't see the straw). Also - keep them cool and keep changing the vase water.

Are there any trends in florals you're tired of seeing? I love peonies, for example, but I don't need to see another Instagram post of a single vase full of them in a monochromatic, white room.

Same. I'm also getting tired of seeing the arrangements that are curated purely for Instagram and the styled shoots where it's clear that what's in the photo only lived for the 15 minutes it took to get the photo. I deeply believe that flowers bring joy to people and their lives, and to do that, the arrangement needs to last longer than the photo shoot.

Is there a way to force open blooms (say lilies, for example) if you need them to be ready for a certain event, such as a dinner party?

Yes. If you can't buy them early enough, cut them as short as you possibly can and put them in warm water. The shorter stems allow the warmer water to get to the bloom and encourage blooming faster. Place them in a sunny spot in your home. Keep adding warm water until right before the event, then move them to your table. 

I won't be able to celebrate Easter at church or with my family as I do usually. My maternal grandmother died last August, and it will be our first without her. What would be a nice plant to send my mother and her sisters in remembrance of Mema? Should I send an arrangement to my uncles, too? 

Do you know what your Mema's favorite flower was? If it comes in a plant form, I always recommend sending this for sentimental reasons. My favorite plants are gardenias and jasmine. Their scents are such a beautiful way to create a memory - or bring one back. I also love to send a sapling tree, because it can be enjoyed indoors and then moved outdoors so you can visit it and think of the person. For your uncles: Men love plants, too. In my experience, they tend to enjoy greener varieties (not the floral ones), so I think the tree would be a great option here as well. 

Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

I love fashion. Most of my inspiration for colors comes from what I see on the runways. I also get a lot from nature. I am lucky enough to live right by the beach, and I get a lot of inspiration from sunsets. The thing that I've been amazed by is that I've never seen clashing colors in nature. It amazes me every time. Every color goes together in a sunset and in a forest. In real life, this isn't the case, but nature just knows. 

What kind of flowers do you suggest sending for a guy's birthday, and what colour?

After almost 10 years, I've learned that men are pretty much the opposite of women when it comes to taste in flowers. In my experience, women tend to prefer bigger-headed blooms in more muted colors, such as blushes and light corals. Men tend to prefer more linear flowers, such as snapdragons, tulips and calla lilies, and brighter colors. I've never heard of a woman point out a snapdragon in one of our mixed bouquets, but I've heard this a lot from men. Conversely, I've never heard a man say they love a peony in a mixed arrangement, and this is definitely where most women look first. 

What do you recommend we send our mothers this Mother's Day, as so many of us are separated due to the coronavirus pandemic? I'm looking for something new and special.

This holiday is going to be so hard, because so many of us won't be able to see our moms. I would be remiss if I didn't say flowers. Mother's Day is Farmgirl Flowers's biggest holiday every year, and we don't think there's any better way to tell your mom that she's loved besides flowers. We've been affected by the same transportation and supply issues as the rest of the floral industry, so our product mix will definitely change (and I'm sure it will change again), so if you're looking for something at Farmgirl, I would recommend one of our signature burlap-wrapped bouquets. My mom's favourite thing is plants, so I'm also working really hard to get plants up on our site soon, because I know she will be sad if I can't get her one for the holiday.

This article was originally published on The Washington Post