One of my happy places is the Los Angeles Flower Market downtown. You frequently can find me there at 2 in the morning — that’s when they open for wholesale business — bleary-eyed but beaming, carrying armfuls of fresh blooms. While the prices are great, what brings me back again and again is the selection, as I’ll find varieties and colors far beyond what is available in grocery stores and farmers markets.
What a lot of people don’t know is the L.A. Flower Market is open to the public. In fact, it welcomes your business. So whether you just love to fill your home with flowers, or you’re assembling floral arrangements for an upcoming event, you need to plan a trip downtown. To help you get over the intimidation of visiting this massive floral institution, let me give you the inside scoop on visiting.
Get the lay of the land
What we call the L.A. Flower Market is actually two marketplaces across the street from each other: the Original Los Angeles Flower Market at 754 Wall St. and the Southern California Flower Market at 755 Wall St. They are located between Seventh and Eighth streets, and together they house about 70 vendors.
Both buildings have their own parking structures on top, but the parking entrances are in the rear rather than on Wall Street. The entrance to the Original Los Angeles Flower Market’s lot is at 717 San Julian St., between Seventh and Eighth streets, and the entrance to the Southern California Flower Market parking lot is at 742 Maple Ave., between Seventh and Eighth streets. I prefer parking in the lot off of Maple Avenue because it’s the quickest walk to the vendors.
The hours vary depending on the day, so it can be a bit confusing. For the general public, the flower market is open from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays and Wednesdays; 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays; and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Whichever day you visit, try to arrive as early as possible for the best selection. Also, some vendors start packing up much earlier than closing time, so if you get there later, some of them may already be gone.
Public admission is only $2 on weekdays and $1 on Saturdays. There will be someone sitting at a table at the entrance of both buildings taking payment, and you’ll then receive a sticker to signify that you’ve paid. Be sure to place the sticker in a visible area on your clothing because they are very strict about checking for admission. The entry fee is good for both buildings.
I recommend making the rounds of both buildings to see what’s available before you make a purchase. The first bunch of flowers you’re tempted to buy may not be the best. Take a look to see which vendors have what you’re looking for, and then go back to the ones that interest you.
Ask for prices
Many vendors do not put prices on their flower bunches, so feel free to inquire how much they are. A question I’m often asked is whether the vendors change the prices depending on if they like you or not. From my experience, that’s usually not the case. Most of the vendors have standard price lists. The prices are in the computer, so they won’t alter what’s already in the system.
Pay with cash
Although some vendors accept credit cards with a minimum purchase, the preferred method of payment is cash. Bringing cash also will help you set a spending limit.
Check how fresh the flowers are
The inventory at the flower market usually is very fresh, but always inspect the blooms to make sure. The petals should be almost closed, as they’ll open up quickly after you get them home. And the telltale sign that the flowers are past their prime is when the bottoms of the stems are split, curled or slimy, and the leaves are spotted or brown.
Pick a color scheme
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the flowers. What do you buy when presented with so many choices? My game plan is to start with a color scheme. That helps me focus only on the flowers that are appropriate, so I’m not tempted to impulse shop. And whichever color you choose, remember to pick up some greenery. It helps fill in your arrangements, and green goes with every color.
Place an order in advance
If you have a big event coming up, work with one of the vendors to place an advance order. Bring pictures to show what you’re planning to make in order to give them a better idea of what you’ll need, and they can help you determine the amount of your order. This is preferable to wandering around aimlessly with a wad of cash days before your event.
Buy things besides cut flowers
The flower market is a great place to get deals on potted plants and succulents. You also can pick up supplies such as vases, ribbon and floral foam.
Invest in some buckets
When you get all your flowers home, you’ll want to give them fresh cuts and put them in water immediately so they’ll have a chance to drink up before they go into arrangements. Buy some plastic buckets at Home Depot for this purpose, and let the flowers sit loosely in them so the petals can spread.
Grab a bite to eat
You can work up an appetite shopping for flowers. Fortunately, there is a restaurant connected to the Southern California Flower Market called Poppy + Rose that’s known for its waffles and sandwiches. As an added bonus, it validates for $2 parking in the Maple Avenue flower market lot.
Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.