EXPLAINER

How to turn $10 Trader Joe’s flowers into a fancy-schmancy bouquet

Fact: It's not just its frozen foods aisles we love

By Annie Quigley

Published January 15, 2022 4:29PM (EST)

 (Bobbi Lin / Food52)
(Bobbi Lin / Food52)

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Last weekend, I wandered into a flower shop to buy blooms for a friend's birthday. Everything was beautiful and lush and wild, and I was happily putting together a lovely bouquet — until I realized that peonies cost $14. Per stem.

I love the simple, everyday pleasure of flowers. I treat my apartment, each week, to a bunch of feverfew or ranunculus, or whatever's in season, and I think a bouquet makes an old-fashioned, charming gift. But I'm quite honestly tired of shelling out over $50 for the delivery of a standard-issue bouquet that I don't even really love. (I don't know about you, but it takes ages to sift through some pretty garishly assembled options just to even get to the handful that don't make my eyes bleed — those rainbow bouquets destroy me.)

One of my decisions this year has been to switch to more affordable, DIY options. I swing by my corner deli or supermarket, pick my own flowers, rearrange them, re-wrap them with some fun bits and bobs, and give them as a gift. (Or I just keep them — a nice-looking vessel can work magic!) This way, I rarely spend more than $10-12 on a bunch I genuinely like, and I also manage to get my weekly grocery shopping done at the same time.

I walked out of that shop and headed straight to the source for my weekly flower treat: yes, it's Trader Joe's (but it could be your corner deli). And, with a couple of simple flourishes, I whipped together a wild summer bouquet for $10 to present to my friend.

Here are my four steps to dress up flowers — from the grocery store, bodega, even the farmstand — to make them a bit dressier, for gifting at a birthday, shower, summer dinner party, or just because. It's genuinely possible to create a lovely, giftable bouquet for less — and to enjoy the creativity of doing it yourself, too.

1. Buy flowers in all one type.

The first step to an elegant-looking bouquet? Keep it simple (and safe). Either opt for one type of flower in one color or both. You can do just yellow tulips for instance, or pick a color, say, purple, and do an all-purple arrangement, with purple roses and lilacs (of course, the more you mix and match, the more you spend). Grocery stores often sell bunches of single types of blooms so it's a no-brainer really; it'll make your bouquet look effortlessly elegant and make your life easier, too.

To keep costs down, for my friend's bouquet, I opted for a single bunch of gerbera daisies (you could also go with roses or tulips) and then proceeded to add in a tall, wispy green leaf filler — for a grand total of just over $7. Speaking of fillers: When in doubt, fresh eucalyptus is always a great idea. In fact, if the recipient of your bouquet is so inclined, you can also put together a bouquet with just mixed greens as the main feature of the arrangement.

2. Unwrap, cut, and style.

When you get home, take all of the plastic wrapping and rubber bands off of the flowers (save the rubber bands for styling later). Before arranging the flowers, make sure to remove any extra or wilted leaves, and in the case of flowers like roses, the thorns. Then, arrange the flowers whichever way you like. If they're one type of flower, I prefer to arrange them at roughly the same height, with any filler poking out a bit higher. To adjust heights, re-cut the stems on the diagonal (it allows the stems to absorb water better).

If you're feeling braver than me, cut the flowers at slightly varying lengths to give the arrangement a more freshly-picked, farmhouse feel. When in doubt, always leave the stems a little bit longer than you think — that way the recipient can cut them to whatever size vase they have. Hold the arranged bouquet in place with the rubber bands.

3. Re-wrap.

The real trick to gussying up grocery store blooms? Giving them an upgrade from their plastic wrapping. Find a beautiful piece of paper: It could be a square of brown butcher paper (I personally love this option), old newsprint, a length of wrapping paper, or even — for smaller posies — a vibrant page torn from a magazine. For my friend's bouquet, I used a spare length of wrapping paper that I loved and had saved: a cream background with black checks.

Place the paper diagonally on a flat surface, then wrap it around your flowers in the shape of a cone and use clear tape or staples to secure it in place, at the top and bottom. I like to position the flower heads in one corner of the paper, then wrap, to help display and support them.

Pro tip: If you want to keep your flowers fresh and hydrated until you're ready to gift them, try wrapping the base of the stems in a slightly damp towel, a trick I learned here.

4. Add the finishing touches.

For an optional final touch, use some string, ribbon, or raffia (extra points for reusing and recycling) to tie around the paper. You can cut two unobtrusive holes in the back of the cone and thread the ribbon through to keep it from slipping off.

Voilà. A thoughtful, personalized bouquet (in my case, for under $10).


Annie Quigley

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Bouquet Explainer Flowers Food Food52 Grocery Stores How-to Trader Joe's