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Valentine's Day flowers reflect a trend toward the ‘untamed’ in Sonoma County

Ask Chris Neve about how his Petaluma wholesale flower business is doing heading into the Valentine’s Day holiday, and his reply is almost instant: “Blooming,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to be a good holiday.”

The National Retail Federation expects spending on Valentine’s Day to be near-record breaking, with Americans likely to lay out $19.6 billion on gifts for loved ones Wednesday, including some $2 billion on flowers alone.

That trend holds true for North Bay flower businesses, as well — from florists, to wholesale operations and growers like Petaluma’s Neve Bros., which Chris Neve co-owns alongside his brother and dad.

Neve reported a recent shift in floral preferences, too. Red roses are out. Unusual is in.

In fact, of the Neve Bros. 750,000 square feet of greenhouses, just 15,000 square feet is designated for growing red roses these days, he said.

“It’s not that profitable of an item,” Neve said. “In the past two years, you’ve seen more of a shift. People are buying other items. Other colors. Different things. People are looking for something a little bit different than roses and baby’s breath. People’s parents bought that.”

People, instead, are trending toward flowers one might find in the wild: flowers with textures and looks that are outside the traditional arrangements of decades past, especially locally, he said.

“It’s Northern California; it’s not the middle of Kansas,” he said.

Those trends fit perfectly into the ethos of the Sonoma Flower Mart, a wholesale flower retailer in Sebastopol, and Sonoma florist Paul Stokey, who owns Tesoro Flowers. Both businesses cater to the creative buyer and to those interested in supporting local growers — Tesoro and Sonoma Flower Mart are each clients of the Neves.

“It used to be we couldn’t talk these guys out of ordering a dozen roses, but now they’re letting us do it a little more creatively,” said Stokey, who this year is celebrating Tesoro’s 25th anniversary.

Often, he’ll send clients to his Instagram page, @tesoroflowers, where he posts photographs of floral designs the shop has done. This Valentine’s Day, he’s doing a lot of color blocking, using in-season flowers like anemones, ranunculus and poppies, and incorporating elements like kumquats and other fruits to keep things fresh.

“Think Dutch still life,” he said, referencing paintings that feature arrangements of flowers plucked from fields or gathered from country gardens. “We can play a little more.”

Instagram has provided a launchpad for the up-and-coming Sonoma Flower Mart, too, where they’re @sonomaflowermart. The wholesale business, which opened inside The Barlow last year, focuses on providing an outlet for local flower growers to bring their product to market, said manager Jessica Hole. Like at Tesoro, she’s noticing a trend toward the “untamed”— flowering branches are particularly interesting for spring, she said.

“I think we’re in the era, in this age where people really want to know what sources things are coming from — whether it be food or flowers or clothing,” she said. “It’s more of a human connection when you know who grew the flowers that you’re buying. In our little niche, that seems to help.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.