I’ve received many flowers in my life in India. People here love to give bouquets. At birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and house-warmings – flowers are a standard gift. Yet, though everyone loves to buy them, few people seem to know what to look for or how to choose them.

Hence, this Public Service Announcement.

At a recent Special Occasion, I received 27 bouquets. Each one contained a minimum of 15 flowers. That’s at least 405 flowers. And, I am not kidding, only 40 of those flowers were worth keeping. Less than 10%.

When you walk up to a florist in India and ask for a bouquet, they have seen you coming. They know in advance that you want a “BOUQUET“.  That you aren’t going to be picky and that you will probably take whatever they give you.

Believe me. What they give you will be worthless. Absolutely not worth keeping, let alone giving.

Flower stems, covered with cello tape

They will be lashed with quantities of cello tape, so tight and plentiful you will not be able to liberate the blossoms without sharp knives and scissors.

They will be held up with toothpicks, wires and more tape, in an attempt to disguise the fact that they are long past their prime.

Flowers propped open with cello tape

They will be “augmented” with filler so plentiful and abundant that when you remove it all (and you must, because all the filler is rank and stinking and coloured with dye which will stain the water you put the flowers in), there will be almost nothing left.

Flower bouquet "filler" - piles of useless crapLook at all the filler I threw away after a recent “occasion.”

So here are some tips for getting nice flowers which will last more than a day or two, and which will delight and uplift the person to whom you are giving them:

  1. Choose the flowers yourself. The flower seller wants to sell his flowers. If you aren’t discerning, he is thrilled. He will give you all his old stock and smirk as he does it. Smarten up! Select each blossom yourself. The more wide open they are, the shorter time they will last. Choose flowers which are tight and not too open. If there is a toothpick or wire on the stem, leave it for someone else. Choose only those flowers which can stand up on their own.
  2. Never buy a pre-made bouquet. These are carefully assembled from all the oldest, worst flowers and somehow contrived to look fresh with liberal use of sticks, tape and greenery. Many of them are bough in the evening on the way to the wedding or the party when people can’t really see what they are getting.
  3. Say no to filler. Filler is meant to make your bouquet look bigger, but what it actually does is smell bad and look stiff and ugly.
  4. Absolutely no cello tape! Indian florists LOVE tape. They lash bouquets ferociously with scads of tape. For a bouquet to breathe, it needs to be loose and free and the person to whom you are giving it will need to hack away at all that tape before putting it in water. Spare them! Tell the florist you don’t want tape at all.
  5. If you must bring flowers, a really thoughtful gesture is to bring them already in a vase. At the occasion mentioned above, those 27 bouquets lived in buckets until I could get to hacking into the tightly-bound bundles. Had most of the flowers been salvageable, I would never have had enough vases to put them in. Think ahead and think differently. Is a wedding really a good time to give flowers? 400 other people will have the very same idea.

One or two beautiful perfect roses (with no plastic wrappers, no toothpicks, no cello tape and no dead green filler) say more about your love than all the bouquets your florist might foist upon you. Say no to ready-made bouquets! Avoid plastic! Stay away from toothpicks and tape! Learn to recognize a fresh flower!

Red and white garden flowers in a square glass vase.

And remember: nothing you can buy can ever match the beauty of flowers plucked from your own garden the same day you are presenting them to your friend. Even a few sprigs grown in a pot can be beautiful when arranged sweetly and given with love.

Good luck.

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