A Christmas Perennial: Rutland Beard at Ruxton Station

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Okay, this is the year you’re going to be ready for the holidays. You can easily wait to get the tree, but not to start the planning.  A wreath or two? A big statement with greens?  Magnolia branches and fruit, Southern style?  Garlands, ropes of pine, floral centerpieces…whatever it is, Rutland Beard — a family owned florist who’s been at its Ruxton location since 1921 —  has a long history of getting it done, beautifully.

Floral designer Alison Webb. AIFD, who also answers to “Lee,” listens as well as she decorates. “So much of it is understanding what a client wants,” she says. “If they have an idea, we’re happy to collaborate.” And if it happens, as it sometimes does, that a client has really no idea at all? “Never mind,” she laughs, “we have plenty of ideas.”

She does suggest picking up the phone fairly soon. For a big job, like decorating the whole house for Christmas, she likes to schedule a time for a designer to come to the house. They’ll look at the rooms, and see what a client has in the way of containers, and what would look best in the home (it’s part of the florist’s at-home service…there’s no extra charge for it either). “Using your own things makes a huge difference. It really personalizes an arrangement.” Holidays, she thinks, are “the time to get out the family silver, the important china,” because “if you don’t use it now, when will you?”

An order of fresh greens and flowers will not take you from Thanksgiving to New Years, she points out. A week or two is the most you can expect from an arrangement, depending on how often you change the water and how warm you keep your house (the warm, dry environment of indoor heating is hard on cut flowers). Generally, she advises ordering early, but installing the arrangement as late as possible. Rutland Beard, like most florists, does not do Christmas trees or lights.

Roses usually last well, she says, “we go through a tremendous amount of red roses at the holidays. Also white hydrangea, white lilies, and winterberry last beautifully. We have masses of fresh winterberry in the store now. Longest lasting? “Hmm … probably Star of Bethlehem. I had an elderly lady come in one day in March to show me a Star of Bethlehem still blooming from an arrangement we’d delivered before Christmas.” She’s especially proud of fresh baskets of Maryland grown winterberry, as well as locally grown amaryllis and cyclamen arriving “any day. I’ve seen it, and the plants are big and beautiful. I really love to support our local farmers”.

One urban legend she would like to put to rest. “Poinsettias are not poisonous. I’m not saying they are a food item, but they are completely safe for children and pets.” Has she heard that vodka in the water will stop amaryllis and paper whites from blooming too fast? “Now that’s one I haven’t heard, but I would worry that the wrong proportion would kill them outright”. Seems that keeping them cool is the officially recommended way.

Floral bouquets and arrangements, for homes and for gifts, are still the biggest part of holiday business at Rutland Beard, according to Ms.Webb. But floral decorating, “outsourcing,” as well as holiday gift baskets and custom silk flower arrangements that last for years, are increasingly popular. The store, which is cozy, but not large, is spilling out the door this Satuday afternoon with flowers and people. And not just because every Saturday, all cut flowers are half-price.

A tall brunette is finalizing her wedding flowers. Deliverymen are coming in and out. Ravens decorations are selling like hotcakes. And someone wants “a large centerpiece for tonight.” No problem. “The store has been really busy. I think people are just relieved the election is over and we haven’t dropped over the cliff yet. They’re ready to celebrate. And of course, if the Ravens start looking like they’re heading for the Superbowl, we’ll start stocking purple flowers like mad.”

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