Forget faux or fiber optic -- and don't even think about flocking. If you really want to deck the halls, you need the real thing to give your home that authentic Christmas vibe. OK, so Angelenos can't walk outside and gather English holly at will, but they do have an affordable option: easy access to the largest flower district in the country.
Even Ebenezer Scrooge could not resist the scent of pine that is undeniable a block from the Los Angeles Flower District on Wall Street between 7th and 8th streets downtown. The original flower mart -- the Southern California Flower Growers Inc. -- was opened in 1913 by a group of Japanese flower growers and sellers. Around 1924, the Los Angeles Flower Market opened on the northern side of the street.
In December, attendance as much as triples because of the holidays, says Frank Reyes, manager of the L.A. Flower District Assn. While the stalls open as early as 2 a.m. to the trade, the public gains access at 6 a.m. or 8 a.m., depending on the day.
Shopping in the district comes with one eternal caveat: "Buy it now. It won't be here later," a cashier warns a woman unsure whether she wants to spend $32.50 for an elegant living succulent wreath at Kobata Growers, one of more than 80 vendors. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, the wreaths are all gone. Kobata's shelves burst with amaryllis in all colors, sizes and stages of maturity. Narcissus in moss are ready for gift-giving in elegantly arranged wooden boxes and ceramic pots. A poinsettia bush looks ready for a hotel lobby. As little as $3.50 buys a purple heather plant, while a miniature rosemary tree costs $9.
Nearby, at Rios Florist, the selection of evergreens is dizzying. Swags of silver fir, noble fir, huckleberry, lemon leaves, juniper berries, incense cedar and holly branches are heaped in boxes, ready to grace a mantel or tabletop. Wreaths ranging from $10 to $16 line the stall. Five-foot winterberries mask a plastic tub where sweet bouquets of baby-blue hydrangeas lie soaking upside down in water.
A show-stopping yet simple wreath made of magnolia leaves hangs at Villa Growers, which is filled with unique wreaths priced around $25 to $28. On an earlier visit, wreaths laced with miniature pumpkins and peppers stood out colorfully in bright hues of orange and red.
A mind-boggling number of items compete for attention at the Orchid Affair. Berry wreaths hang from the rafters. Shoppers weed through sparkling butterfly and beaded garlands that twinkle from the ceiling. Jeweled Christmas trees, dried flowers, orchids and plastic fruit take up every inch of space in the shop.
"We're known for anything unusual, outrageous and trendy. We're usually two years ahead," orchid grower Jamie Fang says of the shop's home decor stock. "We do a lot of custom work and make a lot of gifts."
Some clients bring in pictures of mantels or other holiday decorations that they would like to replicate. Over a 30-day holiday sales period, Orchid Affair will sell about 5,000 amaryllis.
Across the street at the Los Angeles Flower Market, Mellano & Co. is in serious Christmas mode. Boxes of narcissus, poinsettias and wreaths priced at $6.75 to $33 contribute to the enticing aroma permeating Wall Street. Wreaths, swags, snow-tipped pine cones and a handmade garland of western cedar add to the festive mix.
Ted's Evergreens is hard to miss with the evergreen garlands framing the corner shop. Exotic mixes of greens are boxed on the floor and are complemented by crabapples, berries and pine cones ready to take home in plastic bags. A seasonal list, posted on the wall, includes the intriguingly titled Chinese lantern, winterberry, Dusty Miller, Lamb's Ear and Snow-on-the-Mountain. Unique wreaths made of Oregon boxwood, an evergreen shrub commonly used for hedging, are striking -- and a deal at $12. Nearby, Choice Flowers also has a unique assortment of greens, including peppers, eucalyptus and lemon swags.
Some shoppers may equate paying for parking and a small admission fee to the price of a bouquet from Trader Joe's, but a visit to the Flower District is really not just about buying flowers. The bustling environment is like being transported to another place. Paris maybe.
While amaryllis and narcissus are the flowers of the moment, it's hard to resist the elements that contribute to the market as a whole: the delicate scent of freesias that serve as a reminder that spring is on its way. Giddy shoppers pushing cartloads of flowers. Anthuriums and banana leaves at Tropical USA. Orchids everywhere -- even a strange purple and blue tie-dye variety that catches the eye and makes the eyebrow go up. Boxes of Gerbera daisies, ready for a bridesmaid's bouquet. Roses by the dozens in bundles and boxes and bags.
Strolling through the Flower District, holding cuttings swathed in newspaper and twine, is really about experiencing the sights and smells of something visually striking and exciting -- something a lot like the holidays.
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Where and when to go
Location: Southern California Flower Growers Inc., 742 Maple Ave., downtown. Los Angeles Flower Market, 754 Wall St., downtown Los Angeles. Open to the public from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 6 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Holiday hours: Open until 1 p.m. Dec. 17- 23; 8 a.m. to noon Dec. 24; 8 to 10 a.m. Dec. 31; 8 a.m. to noon, Jan. 3. Closed Sundays.
Admission: $2 weekdays, $1 Saturdays. Paid parking, accessible from San Julian and Maple streets, is $3.25-$4.50 -- but it fills up early. Most vendors only take cash. A few accept credit cards. There are ATMs on-site.
For more information: Call (213) 622-1966 or (213) 627-2482 or go to www.laflower district.com.