Rick Phillips doesn’t want to dislike a plant. The Cebolla Fine Flowers greenhouse designer loves all greenery, but he says he’s on the fence about poinsettias.
“They’re not one of my favorites, let’s just say that,” he says coyly.
The traditional Christmas-time plant, native to Mexico, is poisonous to pets. Plus, it doesn’t do too well in the cooler Dallas weather (the leaves are susceptible to curling), Phillips says.
“They’re finicky. But,” he admits, “they are gorgeous. I have seen pictures of some that are 20 feet in diameter in a huge bush. But that’s in the natural habitat, of course.”
Phillips says he prefers more funky, unique flowers to deck the Yuletide halls, like succulents or orchids, and mixing in pinecones, Christmas greens, and other ornaments to add a little flair.
“That way you’ve got something for your house that’s ‘holiday,’ but it’s not screaming red poinsettias or glitzy bows or anything like that,” he says. “It’s a lot more natural. It has a lot more impact.”
We chatted with the 35-year floral shop veteran about his favorite winter plants, easy ways to dress up a garden, and how to make the perfect arrangement with flowers from the grocery store.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Are poinsettias as poisonous as people say?
They are poisonous. That is a fact. And there’s a lot of plants that will upset cats and dogs.
Are there any other poisonous flowers common this time of year?
What I do, if there’s ever a question, I always Google it and look it up.
What are some cool winter flowers other than poinsettias?
There’s all kinds of bulb flowers. Amaryllis comes a huge bulb, and it’ll end up in three stocks, and those will have three-to-four big, huge blooms that’ll open, and we only get those this time of year.
Also, as far as plants go, there is a Christmas cactus that’s really, really pretty. And I know those are kind of old school, but they’re kind of fun. Their colors are hot pink and white and a dusty rose color that’s really pretty. We don’t use those all the time either.
What’s a simple way to dress up my flower vase?
You can add all kinds of glittery sticks and make it really, really impactful. And I got beautiful ribbon I can add on. You know, that’s what we do this time of year.
How can I make my current garden more festive?
I do a lot of gardens for people. So, if they want to do a little bit of decorations for the holidays, that’s really easy: just stick in some ornaments. Like I want to do some frosty white, little bitty balls mixed in with some succulents to give it that feel. Then once the holiday’s over, you can take them out.
What advice do you have for someone making a last-minute arrangement with grocery store flowers?
I think that the easiest thing to do is to start small, rather than trying to make some big, tall, huge arrangement without having experience. Because I think people have this vision sometimes in their head, and then when they get the elements, get home, and start doing it, it doesn’t work out.
OK, I’m going small. How should I build my arrangement out?
Get some Christmas greens, get some cedar or pine, and start with a base. And just kind of build on that. You kind of want some flowers in that are going to take up some real estate. You know what I mean? You want some that take up some space in your vase. As opposed to a small rose, amaryllis are quite large and gorgeous. Hydrangeas are always really, really good. Tulips, even—just a mass of white tulips mixed in some Christmas sticks, silver or green, kind of metallic-y, look really, really classy. …
I like to bunch things. I like to use them in a bunch. You have them in your hand, you have them in a bunch, and you cut it like that, you can build on that. You have them in a group. That’s another good way to make arrangement.