There are three universal truths, according to Santa Fe florists: Women love flowers, for the most part; men buy flowers for women, for the most part; flowers from florists are way better than flowers from supermarkets, always.
"Women, when they see flowers, it makes their fallopian tubes vibrate," Fred Palmer, owner of Artichokes & Pomegranates, says, relating a story from fellow florist Jessie Baca, who in turn heard this revelation from a "hippie" friend. The pair concedes that, at the very least, an endorphin rush from the scent of flowers is responsible for women's attraction to them.
Across town at Rodeo Plaza Flowers & Gifts, owner Nora Ramsey calls flowers the "ultimate" gift. "If you bring me a jacket for Valentine's Day, I'll say, 'Forget it, I want roses,' 'cause that's what girls want."
I understand Ramsey's respect for roses as a Valentine's Day tradition, although as I shiver near the walk-in door under the frigid stare of dough-eyed teddy bears, a coat doesn't seem too bad an idea. More inclined to think of flowers as a would-be casualty of second-wave feminism or as products marketed ad nauseam as something all women want—eg diamonds, chocolate—this sort of pageantry makes me nervous. I'd once regifted to a similarly initialed aunt a diamond-accented "R" necklace—a clear signifier that I was misunderstood and that my relationship with the original gifter would never work.
Apparently, I'm in the minority. According to Canyon Road Flowers Floral Designer Campion Dechant, "Women like to feel like their significant other is running through the paces, is right there for them, appreciating them. They also really like the bragging rights at work, being able to carry a big dozen or dozen and a half roses out of the office."
My fears aside, this year is expected to be a bit of a bust. Those gentlemen out there who want to cater to their girlfriends' need for envy might not get the chance, considering the Holiday of Extravagance lands on an out-of-office day and, according to Ramsey, "When Valentine's Day lands on a weekend, on Saturday, sales are 25 percent less" than when it lands on the optimal Wednesday.
Add to that the current state of the economy and it would seem that Valentine's flowers would be best left planted firmly in the ground this year, as most of the florists I visited are prepared for a slumpy season.
"Flowers are mental. It's not physical where you need vitamins, you need food, you have to pay your gas. You don't need anything here but you want it," Jon Gurrola, owner of Canyon Road Flowers, points out while also pointing to graceful white orchids as a way to spice up (without driving up the expense on) a bouquet of roses.
To contest the high price of roses and the high cost of economic downturn, the florists are offering small bouquets—a mix of roses and other flowers and accoutrements set in vases—for under $50.
Less expensive, however, does not mean less interesting.
Palmer festoons flowers with offbeat items: unripe blackberries, stark snarls of curly willow. "People may not want to spend as much money, so we're trying to accommodate that and still give them something nice that lasts for a while," he says.
And last they do: upward of two weeks and way longer, according to the florists, than if bought on the cheap at a grocery store. "Flowers that come from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, they just don't last as long," Palmer says. Regardless, flowers do last longer (and, in Santa Fe, are cheaper) than a fancy meal. They can be more personal too.
Gurrola believes the personalization licensed to floral arrangements shows that the gifters "spent time and ordered as opposed to [buying a gift] off the rack." And the artistry involved in preparing floral arrangements is inarguable.
Carol Rose, owner of Amanda's Flowers, liked the shop's name so much she retained it after the previous owner, Amanda, moved to California. With that same sort of willfulness, Rose, a visual artist who tellingly coined her business' logo "Santa Fe's Living Art," became a florist with no formal training.
"It is an art. Not everyone can arrange flowers," Rose says, fingering an arrangement aggrandized by alstroemeria, tree fern and a giddy loop of lily grass. "It takes a design sense."
So if flowers are art, do they really need a defense? I mean, the tendrils and twigs and gossamer petals, do they deserve my misgivings? Probably not. So I was sold, sort of.
But for the diehard practical among us, there's always Edible Arrangements, which opened this November. The axiom is every girl's heart is through her stomach, right? So goes it with me. Valentine's bundles of chocolate-covered strawberries on skewers (Sweetheart Bouquet, $34-$74) are not exactly shish kebabs (not until I run the idea by owners Stacy and Warren Fulgenzi, at least), but arranged sensually in love-themed vases, they are an appetizing and attractive little treat.
Economy and ego be damned, go out and get your loved one something pretty, if not permanent, this year.
Santa Fe blooms with florists. For this story, we talked to the following floral (and other) artists:
Amanda's Flowers 1606 St. Michael's Drive, 505-473-9212
Artichokes & Pomegranates 418 Cerrillos Road, Design Center, 505-820-0044
Canyon Road Flowers 423 Canyon Road, 505-983-9785
Edible Arrangements 825 Cerrillos Road, 505-989-9770
Rodeo Plaza Flowers & Gifts 2801 Rodeo Road, Ste. A-2, 505-471-3200