How to Dazzle with Trader Joe's Flowers

Why spend $75 on flowers to make your Christmas happier—or the New Year merrier—when $4.99 will do.

You’ve got the presents wrapped, the house tidied up, the table set but—oh no!—what about the centerpiece?

Never fear, you’ve got until 6 p.m. tonight, Saturday, to pick up a bouquet at Trader Joe’s and 8 p.m. for a bundle of blooms at . Worried that that $4.99 floral spray might lack the dazzle you’re after for your Christmas tableau?

We were, too. So we asked two local stylemakers— owner and graphic designer Patricia Neale Vuagniaux and boutique owner Leanna Lin of her eponymously named —to show us quick and seamless ways to transform cheapie blooms into a million-dollar bouquet (well, at least a $50 one).

Here’s how they did it:

Both our designers like a challenge, so we went to Trader Joe’s and choose blooms that were just on the other side of blah. We gave Patricia a $4.99 Trader Joe’s “Brighten the Holidays” bunch—a collection of maroon daisies and white daisies and lilies. “I haven’t had daisies in my house for two years,” she said. “They’re maybe a little too cute for my tastes.”

She spent the next hour arranging them in twee vases and hated every arrangement. Then the revelation struck. “I realized I was trying to please the flowers instead of myself,” Patricia said. “They were lacking my essence and I kept saying to myself, ‘This is not me.”

So she started over by grabbing her favorite vase—an oval asymmetrical crystal vessel she scooped off the clearance table at Cost Plus—and then she scoured her yard for things she loved—things that would make the bouquet hers.

She found sprays of bamboo and flat black river stones—an aesthetic she attributes to “growing up in Gardena with a lot of Japanese Americans,” where, she added, she learned to “love all things Asian.”

She explained why: “For me, the bamboo and these perfect stones brought harmony to this bouquet.” And putting together all the elements was largely a matter of “listening to my essence” and choosing to go with “what I liked”—a simple enough process that took all of five minutes.

“To me, it now looks like a $75 bouquet you might get at Rita Flora,” said Patricia. “It’s definitely going on my Christmas table.”

Patricia’s Tips for Infusing a Bouquet Your Own Style:  

Never cut flowers with a pair of scissors—use a sharp knife instead. “My Swiss mother-in-law taught me that scissors dull the stems and create a tourniquet, preventing the water from flowing through the stem. Cutting them with a sharp knife keeps them fresher longer.”

If you’re working with grocery store daisies, try pulling the leaves off first. “Daisies tend to have these complicated leaves that don’t really match their symmetry. It’s like putting an ugly dress on a beautiful woman. Pull them off and clean them up. The daisies will ‘pop’ that way.”

If you have a low-lighting fixture hanging over your dining-room table, start with a low vase. “That way you can see across the table when you want to talk to your mother-in-law.”

Look around your yard—or your neighbors’ yards (with their permission of course)—for simple, graphic leaves that you can add to your bouquet. Palm branches, banana leaves, fig leaves all look cool, woven into a cheapie floral arrangement.

Raid your aquarium supplies: Patricia used flat stones from her garden, duly rinsed, but she also likes to place alongside her blooms the flat glass marbles you might see at the bottom of a fish tank. Such accessories not only add visual interest, they anchor blooms as well.

Add a few feathers for textural attraction (optional).


Knowing the Japanese pop sensibilities of her Eagle Rock Boulevard Boutique, we gave Leanna a small bundle of nine dark-red Gerbera Daisies—which inspired her immediately.

“Gerbera Daisies have a real graphic feel, so I looked around my shop for a vintage ceramic vase in a color that would look good with deep red,” she said. She found two cool-looking teal grey blue vessels from the mid-century.

“Daisies feel kitschy, so the 1950s connection of the vases worked well,” Leanna said. “And the blue vases, with the dark red of the flowers, is unexpected.” She took a simple approach, splitting the bundle into two. Seven daisies went into a tall cylindrical vase, two into a bulbous one.

Leanna then held them up to each vase, eyeballed the length and snipped the ends. “I like arrangements that are asymmetrical—I don’t like things matching or perfect,” she said, adding: “That’s more the way you find flowers in nature.”

Leanna, who’s heading to her brother’s minimalist Zen-like house in Culver City for Christmas, says she’s going to bring her arrangements to his house as a gift. “This is one of my favorite gifts to hosts,” she says. “I just grab a bunch of Trader Joe’s flowers and arrange them in a cool vase. Who wouldn’t love that in their home?”

Leanna’s Tips for a Simple, Graphic Bouquet:

• Try Color Blocking: “Go for simple flowers in one color,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s lowly carnations. If there hot pink, I’ll take them! Just arrange them in a cool vase and they’ll look great.”

Go for the ‘Imperfection of Asymmetry’: “When something’s too perfect, it doesn’t feel modern,” she says. Besides, “nature isn’t manicured—nature is wild. Try to capture that in your arrangement.”

Try feathers on their own in tall white or copper-metallic vases. “Perfect for a table centerpiece.”

Bob G December 25, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Plant some leather leaf fern in your yard. It is the easiest thing in the world to grow (in the shade). Supplementing just a few flowers with stems of fern really magnifies the impact of just a few flowers.
Bob G December 25, 2011 at 08:11 PM
By the way .. yes, it is true, the best deal on loose flowers is Trader Joe's. But, if you want to send a set arrangement to someone, you want it to be really special, and price is not a concern, try Pollen. This florist has a distinctive style that is awesome.
Allison December 26, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Thanks for these tips, Robert! So helpful. Sounds like you love arranging flowers. I picked up two TJ bouquets -- Brighten the Holidays and the nine red Gerbera Daisies -- and my brother-in-law and my 9-year-old daughter arranged them at our Christmas party. They added five towering peacock feathers and place the whole concoction in a tall white vase. It really does look like a million bucks.


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