PHILADELPHIA — Ron Mulray describes his flower shop as "an everyday, bread-and-butter kind of place," and it's true. You don't see many like this anymore.
At the moment, Mulray is gearing up for prom season, catering to a mostly traditional clientele.
Generally, though, requests for prom flowers at Mulray's Philadelphia Flower Co., a family business in the city's Parkwood section since 1987, have followed one trend to another with comfortable convention.
In the '80s, the rounded nosegay ruled, followed by the cascading bridal look and "the Miss America phase," when everyone wanted an arm bouquet.
The '90s brought an explosion of imports from the Dutch flower market, which married nicely with what Mulray calls "the Martha Stewart stage," a trend that divided floral designers into anti- and pro-Martha.
The antis were upset that Martha gave away trade secrets for free. The pros, Mulray among them, embraced Miss M for demystifying design and opening consumers' eyes to the variety and artistry of flowers.
"We could never sell 36 open roses in a hand-tied bouquet before Martha. That was really what she did," he says.
It's no surprise, then, that Mulray is OK with sharing his secrets in prom season or any other time without fear that it will hurt business. "It's all about promoting flowers," he says.
In his hands, simple bouquets, the current favorite of his prom- and dance-going customers, take five minutes to make. It may take amateurs a little longer.
But Mulray says that if you buy your own flowers, avoid the rare and super-expensive, and pick up ribbons and accessories at craft stores like Michaels, you'll feel like an artiste and probably save money. This, as Martha says, is a good thing, considering that the average prom couple spends $1,800, including flowers, which can range from $15 for a corsage to $175 for a bridal bouquet.
Here's how Mulray does it.
First, he removes all the leaves from his flower stems because foliage can bulk up a bouquet. Then he rings yellow and white alstroemeria and 'Million Star' baby's breath with something green like pittosporum. He wraps the stems with florist tape, followed by a chartreuse double-face satin ribbon.
He cuts the ribbon at an angle at the bottom, sprays the arrangement with a clear sealer called Aqua Finish, and sprinkles ultra-fine glitter on the lot. Fini!
For a second bouquet, he wraps baker fern, used for filler, around a spiral of 12 red roses. The stems are taped, and covered in red ribbon and a rhinestone brooch.
For his third act, Mulray attaches gold butterflies and a floppy Tiffany-blue bow to three blue hydrangea mopheads.
A fourth bouquet begins with three white hydrangeas, into which he inserts roses, alstroemeria, baby's breath and pittosporum.
Then he goes diva, tying it all up with red ribbon and dotting the roses with rhinestone hat pins.
"Everything I use is available every day of the year," says Mulray, who believes in "anything goes" color and flower combinations. Only one "must": Cut all stems under water. Otherwise, air bubbles can prevent water from getting in.
And that, Martha would agree, is not a good thing.
Melinda Moritz isn't a professional florist; she and her husband have a public relations firm.
But it's fair to say this botanical illustrator, flower-show competitor and Greene Countrie Garden Club enthusiast, who gives workshops on flower-arranging, couldn't imagine a flora-free life.
Working with flowers, she says, "can be a very meditative thing, and it's fun." Which would be good reasons to go the do-it-yourself route for prom, rather than any desire to save money.
"If you do it yourself, you're spending the time, you have to store the flowers … the convenience of having a florist do all that for you can be a good thing," Moritz says.
Still, she likes to do it herself, starting with the freshest possible flowers, whether from florist or grocery store. Before the big night, Moritz might even have a trial run at whatever she's making to ensure the flowers are right.
Moritz chooses whatever speaks to her. "You might want to be conservative — or wild, and go with tropicals," she says.
For prom, Moritz would consider roses; carnations, especially newer colors like green and purple; pink and white waxflower, and limonium or statice. For fillers, she'd turn to baby's breath ('Million Star' again), pittosporum ("pitt"), Italian ruscus, even bear grass or liriope from her garden.
Moritz creates a boutonniere from a single pink rose, purple limonium, and "pitt." She wires and tapes the stems, shapes a curlicue at the base, and advises making it a few days ahead and storing it in the fridge in a sealed plastic container.
(Sealed is the deal. Ethylene gas from fruits and vegetables can turn a boutonniere to compost.)
Now comes the wrist corsage, an old-fashioned floral bracelet that Moritz describes as "rustic." Hers is an oval made of an aluminum frame and thin wires, measuring 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, that, when finished, will be bent to fit the girl's wrist.
With a glue gun, Moritz attaches three (stems-removed) English ivy leaves — at last, English ivy redeems itself! — to the frame, adding three white dendrobium orchid blossoms, a couple of buds, and a bow of narrow white ribbon. The orchids hold up surprisingly well.
And so to the nosegay, really just a small bouquet. Moritz does something interesting here. Using a wide sheer purple bow, she drops three pink rose stems, three purple and white alstroemerias, and three baby's breath into the bow loops, wrapping the stems with waterproof tape and then more ribbon.
Moritz clips the stems, sets the nosegay in water, wraps it in plastic (ethylene alert), and into the fridge it goes. Cooled and hydrated ahead of time, these flowers will stay fresh for 10 to 12 hours on prom night.
That's important, and not just to the glamour girls and boys in high school. Parents have quite a time on prom night, too. Sometimes it seems like the longest night of the year.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.