By Tyler Calder
December means it’s officially winter. Officially winter usually means less time outdoors in nature – but this year we refuse to settle for that. We’ve recently been on a plant and flower kick, trying to figure out how to bring some of their restorative powers indoors to get us through chilly days and long winter nights.
Enter Cecilia Tran, Floral Products Lead at UrbanStems, who was kind enough to take us under her wing and teach us a thing or two about the flower world. In case you were wondering, yes, we did go out and buy a bouquet immediately after sitting down with her. What once seemed intimidating – taking care of another living thing (and keeping it alive for more than two days) – all of a sudden felt so attainable, with the help of her know-how and wealth of tips.
How did you land your current role at UrbanStems?
I grew up in California around flowers because my mom is very much a gardener. At first, though, I went a very different route with my career – I was a policy wonk, and I worked in foster care policy. Most of my day was not very creative and it was hard emotional work, so I started doing wedding flowers on the side when my friends started getting married as a fun creative outlet. It was great to provide consultations for them and work with my hands. At some point, I realized I loved that a lot more and wanted to make that my full-time work. That’s when I found UrbanStems and made the move from California to D.C.
So what does a day in the life look like?
I think we’re unique in the sense that we’re a flower company but we’re also a startup. I get to spend a lot of time not only designing the bouquets, but talking to our farms about what’s available, designing recipes, doing product photo shoots, and working with marketing. There’s no typical day. My ideal day would be crafting out a recipe on paper, then getting some loose stems delivered so I can play with them and see what makes sense, checking in on the bouquets in our fulfillment center to make sure everything looks good, and then spending some time with the awesome photographers we work with to photograph them and get them up on the site.
What flowers are you loving right now?
That’s like picking a favorite child! I think carnations get a really bad rep because they’re so readily available at grocery stores, but there are some stunning novelty carnations that I’m always trying to sneak into bouquets so people gain exposure to them. The reaction we always get is, “Wow!! What is that?!?!” and when I say carnation people freak out a bit. I like Antigua Carnations, Terracotta Caramel. There’s a bunch. There’s one called Merletto Bishop that’s gorgeous too. And then there are peonies – everybody loves peonies.
What’s your ideal flower to keep at home?
I love anemones – there’s something really cool about how delicate and floaty they are. Their centers have a tint of charcoal blue, and they almost look like a poppy, but that center is really special looking.
What flower-arranging tips do you have?
Whenever I teach a class, people usually like this quick and easy tip: Think of your flowers like Destiny’s Child. You’re always going to have your Beyoncé flower – the stunner, the one your eye goes to, like a peony or a garden rose. It’s the one you’ll put front and center. Then you have your also-beautiful flowers that are in more of a support role. Those are delicate, smaller and interesting. Like an anemone or sabiosa. Something very unique but maybe a little smaller and more calm in color. Then you have your backup dancers that are not really a flower, more of foliage or thistle to add texture and interest.
What advice do you have for home-arranging for hosting an event or just in the interest in having flowers around?
It’s helpful to have colors in mind ahead of time. When you walk into a grocery store though, you want to look for freshness first and foremost – check for any signs of bruising or discoloration first. Then you want to touch the base so you know they’re firm and not soft. That lets you know they’re going to be good for a while. Then, once you’ve brought them home, remove all the leaves that have touched water. If it rots in water, the stems will drink from that. Cut the stems at a slant so there’s more surface area to drink from. Then re-cut them as often as each day and change out the water at the same time. It’ll add days to your bouquet’s vase life.
Tips for decorating in an attainable way?
One funny tip is that I collect bottles – I’m a bit of a bottle hoarder. Whenever I purchase beverages, I look at the bottle. I have them at all different levels and heights and I enjoy taking a few simple, low-maintenance stems like craspedia (also known as billy balls), lavender, and thistle, and using them in the bottles like bud vases. They’re interesting-looking and dry out well. They retain color and are just great to have around the house.
Do you have any great flower-sending stories? Two things that I love about UrbanStems are that we’ve found that the vast majority of our customers are women sending flowers to other women, and that there’s a regular set of self-senders that will send themselves a bouquet with a note of encouragement like “You’re a badass!” It’s really lovely and inspiring.
What does self-care mean to you, especially as someone who’s around beautiful things all the time?
Giving yourself the permission to pause. For me, my fear initially was that I’d be around flowers so much that I wouldn’t love them anymore. So self-care for me is to remember to bring home bits and pieces of flowers and have an afternoon to myself where I’m not making something to sell.
Do you have any self-care practices that you’re loving right now?
I’ve gotten really into Korean face masks. There’s nothing quite like putting that thing on after a long day and just hanging out with yourself.
What’s a self-care goal that you have?
Exercising more regularly! It’s always something I appreciate when I make time for it. So just signing up for that spin class or going on that run and fully committing to that.
First thing you do when you get home? Put on my loungewear.
Any books on your nightstand right now? I’m in a book club! So right now Homegoing.
What are you binging right now? Stranger Things and Orphan Black.
Most recent indulgence? Powder dips and manicures, which now I’m addicted to. I got a holographic one recently and I’m obsessed [Editor’s note: I saw it on her Instagram Story and it did, in fact, look amazing]. It looks like a unicorn manicure! This world of manicures is so new to me. I’m used to breaking my nails and getting them dirty with flowers. It’s created a monster.
Your ideal day of relaxing? Getting a manicure, taking some time shopping, cooking something delicious and inviting people over to share it with me.
This story is sponsored by UrbanStems. Use the code “GNI” for 20% off your first order!