In today's culture, sending flowers has become a monotonous act that has lost some of its meaning; another chore to cross off the to-do list made easy through various methods: online sites, Whole Foods, even the bodega across the street. Trying to re-inject heart into the act of sending flowers in New York City is the new boutique florist Petal by Pedal. Long Island native Kate Gilman wants to connect customers with the farmers and will be offering hand-tied bouquets of farm-grown flowers (all sourced in NY) delivered to the door on Bullitt cargo bikes. By using flowers that have been freshly cut from nearby soil, instead of those that have made a long, tired journey (apparently some 80% of cut flowers in the US are supplied by Columbia and Ecuador), Gilman is making an environmental statement as well.
Gilman graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and was set to work at a litigation firm in midtown Manhattan. Frequenting farmers markets in the six or so months before starting her job, Gilman realized—as her start date grew closer—she was less and less excited about the job, and more intrigued by how long the fresh flowers she purchased were lasting. "The bouquets I was getting at the Greenmarket in Union Square were incredible—straight from the farmer, lasting twice as long. And I thought, there should be a way that people can buy locally grown flowers without having to go in-person on your weekend time off."
Doing some research into the floral industry, Gilman was shocked with the current practices. "They're dipped in pretty harsh preservatives—depending on the flower—kept at a really low temperature to keep them looking perfect and fumigated at the border because a lot of the growing practices, if it's abroad, aren't always sanctioned in the US," she explains. "So by the time you get your flowers and it's been in all those transit stages, it looks awesome—and then it dies on you." Thus, it made sense that the bunches she bought at farmers markets lasted almost twice as long as the ones from the florist or websites. "The simple fact is that you're getting them almost a week sooner than most flowers that you usually get, from the soil."
After becoming a trained florist (taking master classes at the FlowerSchool in Chelsea), Gilman began to build a platform for local growers, simplifying the process by having them sell right to her. Her pool of farmers have diverse growing practices; some are from Long Island, some are from upstate, and one of them is Brooklyn Grange (commercial urban rooftop growers who provide produce for Eataly and other restaurants) who just started a flower division.
Petal by Pedal hand-ties each bouquet with twine, instead of building them at the vase, like most florists do. Gilman says, "When you do them by hand and tie them by hand, it's a unified piece. When you're changing the water, you pull it out and you're not dealing with a completely undone bouquet." There is also very minimal packaging involved—no cellophane, no tissue paper, no Oasis (the wet non-degradable floral foam that most florists use). "Just give me the flowers, and let them stand alone," says Gilman. Petal by Pedal offers Mason jars as vases at an additional price, which can be reused for just about anything. For add a personal touch, Gilman types out the address and cards on an electronic typewriter.
"I think if we connected more with the process of getting flowers, we might use them more to express gratitude, or whatever you want them to do, [like] instead of bringing wine to a party," says Gilman. "I think the misconception is that it has to be some special occasion. You can subscribe and get great flowers every week in your apartment for less than you'll pay for your cable bill—depending on your cable bill."
"But basically, this can be something that does so much work in your home or your office. I found that even more than sometimes what I had on the walls, if I had great flowers around the apartment—it was kind of wonderful. In the city, I think you crave some of that connection to what's growing and it's so hard to find; I mean, we're in a concrete jungle more than anything else." When we brought back our rustic bouquet—assembled by Gilman herself—to CH headquarters, the atmosphere indeed brightened and wandering eyes locked in on this bright, living anomaly. And four days later, though the eucalyptus leaves have browned a little at the edges, no petals have fallen or drooped and the colors are still vibrant.
Petal by Pedal will officially launch in April; keep an eye on their website for updates. Bouquets will range from $85-140, with room for discount if bought in a package; deliveries will be limited to a specific area of Manhattan to begin.
Photos by Nara Shin