The largest wholesale flower district in the country, the L.A. Flower District downtown is composed of dozens of wholesalers selling imported flowers, as well as California-grown flowers and live plants, and for a $2 admission ($1 on Saturday) the public is welcome. For $10.99, you can get three times the flowers you'd buy at Trader Joe's — which is already pretty cheap — and prices drop near closing time. It's worth paying the tiny entrance fee and getting up early, and remember it all closes down at noon, daily. Pay cash, and park in the $5 flat-rate lots. A favorite with Hollywood party planners, the Holland Flower Market, one of the many shops inside the huge complex, actually flies in roses four times a week. Bridezillas in the know, or their wedding consultants, clamor for blossoms from Milagra Floral Imports, where Dutch tulips and fragrant peonies are their most popular summer flowers. Word to the wise, let the staff handle all flowers. Grabbing bunches out of the buckets of water is gauche. The Orchid Affair is especially welcoming to neophytes, and if you long for a white phalaenopsis, but are afraid your black thumb will kill it, Jaimie can answer all your questions, even selling you a special pot with the correct holes for drainage. Family owned and operated since 1925, the Mellano shop grows its own flowers near Carlsbad and San Luis Rey, and you can even take a road trip to see their giant ranunculus fields in bloom. Their current selections of chrysanthemums, sunflowers, yellow and orange cocarde and golden wheat make you think fall is in the air, even if it's hot and smoky outside. The best buys are in tropicals and more perishable varieties not sold by the grocery and other big-box stores. Tayama Greenhouses stock wildly exotic blooms: heliconia, red ginger, orange pincushion protea, anthuria — and they'll pack them for shipping. They also sell lovely leis. If you're buying a large amount, feel free to haggle. At Christmas, the vendors go wild with multicolored poinsettias, garlands, wreathes and swags. To get cheaper, you'd have to find a forest and chop pine boughs yourself. The surrounding streets are packed with additional floral supply places and florists. DIY addicts can stock up on ribbon, pebbles, foam, wire, candles and holders, baskets and vases at Moskatels (actually part of the Michaels craft store chain, but still a destination for crafters. 754 Wall St. (between Seventh and Eighth sts.), dwntwn. (213) 622-1966, Opens early, closes by noon.

—Kate Coe

LA Weekly