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Smart Money - May 7, 2007

Organic Bouquet voted #1 Mother's Day flowers by Smart Money

By Kelli B. Grant
Smart Money - May 7, 2007

SENDING FLOWERS TO Mom on Mother's Day won't earn you points for creativity, but a beautiful bouquet is usually appreciated. And ordering online makes the whole process a snap.

An increasingly popular way to order online is through grower-direct sites. These sites, which ship blooms in a box directly from the farm or grower—skipping the local florist altogether—claim that the flowers have longer staying power since there's no detour to the local florist. They also tend to be less expensive. A dozen yellow roses is $60 from a local florist at 1-800-FLOWERS, and just $50 from the site's Grower's Picks section. Other big names who have embraced grower-direct flowers include Martha Stewart, Hallmark and ProFlowers.

Grower-sold flowers are also admired for their consistency. A 2005 study by Consumer Reports found that orders made through a florist network like FTD or 1-800-FLOWERS don't often resemble what the sender originally ordered. Grower-direct flowers, which are shipped from one or two locations, keep arrangements consistent.

So are grower-direct flowers the way to go? We put five to the test to find out.

The Challenge

To find the best buds, we ordered mixed-flower bouquets valued at $100 or less (including tax and shipping) from four big-name sites and one specialty upstart. We graded the flowers received based on their quality upon arrival, their ease of arrangement and how they held up over the course of the next four days.

It would be an understatement to say we were disappointed. With the exception of the order from Organic Bouquet—which was gorgeous—we'd be embarrassed to send Mom any of these arrangements. Dying and crushed blooms, and unopened buds abounded.

Here are the five bouquets we ordered, in order from best to worst:

Organic Bouquet

Organic Bouquet Mother's Day Lily Bouquet ($71.90-$58.95 plus $12.95 shipping) White and pink Oriental lilies (eight stems), eucalyptus, bear grass and lemon leaf greenery, presented in a ribbed glass vase. The site's flowers are certified organic and sustainable, which means they are grown pesticide-free in a way that's healthy for the workers and the environment.

Initial Impressions:
Easily the lushest, prettiest bouquet. Although only a few of the lilies were open, everything was fresh, firm and fragrant right out of the box. The arranged bouquet needed just a few quick snips to freshen the stem ends.

Subsequent Days:
Wow! The lilies opened as soon as they were in water. By the next day a dozen plate-sized blooms were perfuming the office.

Our Verdict:
A. The best possible combination: Great value for you, gorgeous flowers for Mom and a good deed for the earth.

1-800-FLOWERS

1-800-Flowers Grower's Choice Premium Bouquet ($66.09-$49.99 for the bouquet, $5.11 sales tax and $10.99 shipping) A mixed bouquet created with "rare and exclusive" fresh flowers.

Initial Impressions:
Lovely. Certainly the brightest bouquet, with every bloom in peak condition. There was just one thing missing—a vase. ("That particular arrangement is not offered with a vase," says spokesman Yanique Woodall. Nearly all other options on the site offer that choice.)

Subsequent Days:
Staffers thought this arrangement, with its mish-mash of flower varieties, looked cheap in comparison to the other themed bouquets. Flowers held up well, however, and were delightfully fragrant by day two.

Our Verdict:
B. Consumers know 1-800-FLOWERS for its arrangements created by local florists, and that's the better choice. These grower-direct flowers, though pretty, were in need of a florist's critical eye for a better design.

ProFlowers

ProFlowers Spring Awakenings ($62.97-$39.99 for the bouquet, $9.99 for the vase and $12.99 for shipping.) Orange Oriental lilies (two stems), blue irises (six), pink and yellow tulips (12) and lemon leaf presented in a garden green vase.

Initial Impressions:
Did they forget the flowers? Delicate pink and yellow tulips and a lone open iris provided flashes of color in a forest of green leaves and buds, made worse by the similarly-hued vase. So many unopened buds, and so much green made arrangement difficult. (ProFlowers did not respond to requests for comment.)

Subsequent Days:
Slow going. On day three, the first of the lilies began blooming, and several more irises were open. But by then, the yellow and pink tulips were wilting, several blossoms drooping out of the vase. Some buds hadn't opened at all.

Our Verdict:
D+. This late bloomer may yet be pretty, but took far too long to open up.

Martha Stewart Flowers

Martha Stewart Flowers Terra Cotta Bouquet ($88.81-$54.99 for the bouquet, $9.99 for the vase, $16.99 for shipping and $6.84 sales tax) Terra cotta roses, red hypericum, and orange snapdragons (25 stems total) presented in a frosted glass vase.

Initial Impressions:
Bruised terra cotta roses were nearly brown, while the only snapdragons that weren't crushed had yet to bloom. Arranging this bouquet was a craft project worthy of Ms. Stewart. Long stems needed to be chopped in half. Vague instructions to "cut the flowers at various lengths...combining them with sprigs of foliage in a relaxed cascade of color" were no help. ("We take great care to ensure that the flowers are beautiful upon arrival," says spokesman John Murphy, who noted that the company provides a refund or replacement for inferior bouquets.)

Subsequent Days:
Even worse. The roses were dead and drooping by day three, and the snapdragons had yet to bloom.

Our Verdict:
F. Skip it. The site touts, "Trust Martha to send a Mother's Day bouquet so lovely she'd send it to her own mother." Perhaps the two have a strained relationship? This bouquet was a disaster from the beginning, and an awful gift for a hardworking Mom.

Hallmark

Hallmark Bold, Bright & Beautiful ($70.94-$59.95 for the bouquet, plus $10.99 shipping) Light and dark lavender roses, blue delphinium, limonium, and magenta stock (23 stems total) presented in a flared square vase.

Initial Impressions:
Bold, bright and beautiful? No way. The roses' washed-out petals were browned at the edges. Those stalks of delphinium and limonium not crushed had dried, browned buds. A mildewy smell pervaded the bouquet. Also, while we had not requested a card to be included, a mysterious blank holiday card came with the bouquet. What, we wondered, would Mom have made of that? (Hallmark responded swiftly, the only site to send a replacement bouquet. Fewer than 5% of orders request replacements and most involve delivery problems, says marketing manager Jay Waddell. Our odd card was a warehouse mix-up, he says.)

Subsequent Days:
No better. As one passerby noted, it looked like someone had tried to revive an old dried-flower bouquet.

Our Verdict:
F. Skip it. First impressions count for Mother's Day, and this bouquet wasn't up to snuff. (Unless, of course, your relationship with Mom has withered, too.)

Originally published online in the May 7, 2007 issue of Smart Money