Psst! I'm going to tell you a secret. If you want to know the very best place in Seattle to buy unusual and stunningly gorgeous cut flowers, check out the vibrant Seattle Wholesale Growers' Market - Seattle's own wholesale field-to-vase cut flower market - which also welcomes retail customers on Friday mornings.
When I visited last week, the tables were heaped with flowers and foliage. Bundles of ethereal love-in-a-mist vied for attention with buckets of pastel campanula and nodding bleeding hearts; armfuls of lush foliage were dripping with unripe blueberries and tubs were filled with sprays of coral pink cherries, chosen not for their taste, but for their radiant looks.
The delicately hued and fragranced old-fashioned roses were very different from the anodyne hothouse varieties you find in most supermarkets, while peonies of every hue nodded their fat heads, like so many grannies in swimming hats. If, as I do, you love creating flower arrangements, you'll feel like you've died and gone to a particularly beautiful and sweet-smelling heaven.
It can be difficult to get good flowers here in Seattle, particularly if you're looking to create a lot of arrangements for an event or celebration, or just want something more unusual. Supermarkets, not surprisingly, tend to have a limited selection - hothouse roses, gerberas, lilies and carnations, with a few peonies, tulips and dahlias thrown in depending on the season. You can buy more interesting blooms at the farmers' markets, and particularly at Pike Place Market, but again the range tends to be limited to the product of a handful of farms.
Housed in a gritty but spectacular space in Georgetown's Original Rainier Brewery, the SWGM brings together flowers from fourteen different hand-picked specialist growers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, together with a selection of flowers from California and Hawaii. During the local growing season the majority of flowers are from Washington and Oregon, to ensure absolute freshness. When I was there, I was struck by the old-fashioned roses from All My Thyme, unusual and gorgeous specialty bulbs from Choice Bulb Farms and the stunning array of peonies from Ojeda Farms.
The market was opened in 2011 as a co-operative venture between a dozen local farmers, with the aim of supporting American flower farmers and giving florists and consumers in the Greater Seattle area better access to American grown blooms - currently around 80% of cut flowers sold in the US are imported. The market provides its growers with the staff and infrastructure to market and sell their flowers, thereby allowing the farmers to focus on producing top quality blooms. So far it's been a huge success, with 2015 sales increasing 55% over the year before. Last year the market served over 500 wholesale customers, including studio florists, shop owners, stores, restaurants, event planners and designers. Wholesale customers have to show their business license and pay an annual $35 buyer's card fee. Retail customers are welcomed on Friday mornings between 10 am and noon.
The market is open year round and the product is ever changing, from hellebores in the early spring to berries and evergreens in the winter. Peonies and roses are the current stars, accompanied by all manner of summer annuals and perennials, while Market Manager Molly Sadowsky is excited for the imminent arrival of the market's almost 200 varieties of dahlias, which should start becoming available from July onwards. A comprehensive guide to what to expect from month to month at the market is available here.
The market is open Monday to Friday from 6 am to noon for wholesale customers. Retail customers are also welcome to attend on Fridays between 10 am and noon (retail prices charged).