When it comes to thanking a new client for a contract or celebrating the birth of her first child, a run-of-the-mill bouquet of flowers in a boring glass vase doesn't make the cut. But if a creative florist doesn't happen to be located nearby, use the phone and the Web to win over even your most discerning business associates.

Top-notch specialty florists such as New York City's Surroundings Flowers ( and Richard Salome (212.988.2933) may have relatively limited delivery areas, but they work closely with dozens of other florists both domestic and foreign. The result is that a bouquet you send to Greenville, S.C., through one of these New York establishments can be every bit as stunning as one sent to a SoHo loft.

You can also find a noteworthy florist in your recipient's city by calling the concierge of the top local hotel for suggestions. Concierge Laurel Gray at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago recommends the custom arrangements found at Bukiety ( Browse its website, then chat with a representative about varieties, colors, and special treatments for your order.

Once you've found the appropriate source, consider the recipient. Richard Salome, who designs dressing-room arrangements for recording artists at the Grammys, stresses the importance of the recipient's personal style. Hip young guys are game for exotic flowering plants, such as the bromeliad Guzmania (prices start at $65). On the other hand, an older, traditional woman might prefer Salome's airy English garden arrangement of orchids, roses, and lilies ($75).

If you're not sure about a female associate's style, go with a white phalaenopsis orchid in a terra-cotta pot (from $175), notes Surroundings' Ammiel Simon. Orchids, according to Simon, are surprisingly hardy and always in style. "It's fine to give men flowers," he adds, "but stick with blue, rust, or deep-orange shades."

Animal lovers with a sense of humor will appreciate Los Angeles florist Empty Vase's memorable elephant topiary ($99 at ). The store will box it for shipping; you'll need to arrange the FedEx delivery.

Out to make a grand gesture? Tony Polega of Chicago's Bukiety recommends his shop's mixed-color bouquet of 50 roses, bound with crisscrossed branches and stood upright in a glass tray (from $200). It's pricey and requires on-site setup -- which by itself will make an impression.

Of course, there are some "nevers": Red roses are too romantic; pink carnations are simply chintzy. And, above all, avoid lucky bamboo -- it's very 2002.

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