Monday, September 13, 2010

Floral Treasures

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Japanese immigrant farmers found the Southern California climate so good for growing flowers that by 1912, they had established a booming wholesale trade. They banded together and formed the Southern California Flower Market, which was located at 421 Wall Street. A few years later, another group of growers, European in ancestry, began the American Florists' Exchange, and opened a rival flower market in the same area, called the Los Angeles Flower Market.

With the water brought into Los Angeles County by William Mulholland's aqueduct in 1913, the region was able to support a booming floriculture business. Southern California became the supplier of fresh flowers for the entire nation.

Colombian roses

In the '60s, however, with faster airplanes and refrigerated trucks, competition from foreign growers with cheaper labor soon cut into the trade for California growers. Today, most of the cut flowers sold in the markets are imported from growers in Colombia and Ecuador.

Today, both markets face one another across Wall Street, in the 700 block. Together with smaller storefront dealers in the nearby streets, they make up the Los Angeles Flower District, the largest wholesale flower district in the United States. In the six downtown blocks between Seventh and Ninth Streets from San Pedro to the east and Maple to the west, over 200 wholesale dealers sell fresh cut flowers, flowering plants and florists' supplies.

Business starts early - the doors to the market open at 2:00 AM. The District offers a badge membership program to florists, designers, event planners and others for an annual fee. Members of the public can visit after the peak wholesale hours for an entry fee of $2.

Even so, you have to get up early. On Tuesdays and Thursdays public hours start at 6:00 AM.

The market is a huge, echoing warehouse space, with individual dealers carving out their own territory. White plastic buckets brimming with blooms are arranged in rows along the concrete floor. Don't stand around and dream, because all around you workers push huge carts filled with buckets or cardboard cases down the aisles.

Whether it's taking flowers off the trucks shipping them in, or loading filled orders from florists into vans, the whole place is constantly in motion.

Prices are sometimes posted on items, especially things marked down for quick sale, but often you can't tell the cost unless you ask.

But whichever dealer you buy from, your prices are going to beat prices in the stores!

You can also find unusual items, things you don't see just everywhere. These protea are pretty amazing.

There are roses of all colors - even some odd-looking ones. Here, some roses from Colombia in a strange grey-silver-lavender.

Or the trailing dreadlock-like blooms of amaranthus - here in chartreuse green.

Some dealers specialize in interesting foliage or berries.

This dealer offers potted plants, including succulents, which have become very popular lately for special event arrangements.

There are several dealers that offer orchids in bloom, this one with Miltonia and Oncidium species. One dealer was offering flowering Phalanopsis orchids for $8 a plant.

You can buy hydrangea plants in pots, or you can buy huge bundles of cut hydrangea in a variety of colors.

I love these spider mums, each blossom with its own protective netting.

If you were throwing a party, you could come down here and buy enough flowers to fill your house - for less money than you can imagine.

What I loved about it the most, though, was to get a glimpse into yet another side of Los Angeles - a bustling, early-morning world that takes place while we're still sleeping. It's worth setting your alarm clock for.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Truly a riot of sheer gorgeousness!

CaShThoMa said...

Floral treasures to be sure! What an industry. Flowers around make us feel better, don't they?

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Butterflies love 'em, too!

smalltownme said...

So beautiful, and I love to learn the history behind it, too.

shrink on the couch said...

Ooh these flowery photos really draw you in. One of my favorite parts of our summer trip to NYC were the flower markets. So many colorful blooms all close together are such a feel-good sight.

Gilly said...

That looks a fantastic place! I'd love to go there - just to look at the colours!

Glennis said...

You'd like it, Gilly, I thought of you while I was there.

Sue said...

I would just go crazy. Fresh flowers are my thing...I'd be in big trouble.

Anonymous said...

You take us to the most interesting places! Thanks, Aunt Snow. :)


I would go broke there AND my car would be stuffed.