Sunday, April 3, 2011

Growing a Floral Bouquet

Clematis look wonderful  tumbling gracefully out of a pretty vase.
This is Clematis jackmanii 'Superba', a vigorous climber to about 15'.
Try growing it through tall roses in the garden and picking both for indoors.

I love being able to stroll around the garden on a summers day, pruners in hand and gather an armful of flowers to place in the home. It’s the very essence of bringing the outside in – fragrance and beauty filling vases large and small, from grand arrangements in the hallway to little posies on the windowsill. Arranging cut flowers gives us the opportunity to combine colors, shapes and textures without being concerned about growing conditions such as the amount of light each plant needs in the garden. Ferns and roses are quite happy snuggled together in a vase for example while outside the ferns would struggle with the amount of direct sunshine that roses require.

As many of you know, my current garden is a work in progress so selecting suitable stems takes a little more searching and creativity. I’ll reminisce instead about some of my favorite perennial cutting flowers that I enjoyed in my last garden. It wasn’t a large plot of land and so a dedicated cutting garden wasn’t an option. 

Fleabane (Erigeron sp) is an underutilized perennial.
It thrives in poor soil with minimal water, rewarding
you with months of daisy flowers  in shades of pink
or lavender.The taller varieties are the most suitable
for cutting; Erigeron speciosus hybrids

Instead I designed the entire front garden as an ‘English garden’ filled to overflowing with roses, shrubs and as many perennials as I could squeeze in, all set back in a series of terraces so I could easily get in to snip and tidy. There were plenty of bouquets for our home as well as gifts for our friends and neighbors and I loved being able to share my garden with them.

Roses and sweet peas are obvious candidates, but here I want to focus on those cut flowers which are perennials, returning each year bigger and better than before.
'Magnus' coneflower with 'whirling butterflies'
are a perfect duo in the garden and vase.

For a big blast of color think tall spires of delphiniums, cone flowers* (Echinacea), black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), phlox* and foxgloves. Good 'fillers' include false spiraea (Astilbe),yarrow (Achillea), iris, gayfeather (Liatris) and bellflowers (Campanula). To add a delicate touch to the garden and arrangement add a scrim of whirling butterflies (Gaura) or tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis). From the shade garden gather the forget-me-not like flowers from Siberian bugloss (Brunnera), hosta* blooms, a few arching stems of Solomon's seal (Polygonatum) and long stemmed primroses. For additinal fragrance look to the vanilla scented bugbane* (Cimifuga), especially those with rich dark foliage as well as hyssop* (Agastache) if the hummingbirds will share them with you! Another hummingbird favorite are the crocosmia with multiple blooms along slender stems in shades of orange, red and yellow. Even the humble heuchera can offer delicate wands of flowers which last for many days in a vase.

* some varieties are fragrant
Sea holly 'Sapphire blue' (Eryngium)adds a metallic blue
accent with its spiky bracts.It loves hot sun and
minimal watering.

Hostas and Siberian bugloss (Brunnera) can add substance to an otherwise wispy design with their large, bold leaves. Feathery texture can be provided by ferns or the foliage from bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) and corydalis, looking especially pretty with larger flowers such as delphiniums and roses. Blades of tall grasses provide a nice accent amidst a floral bouquet while herbs such as rosemary*, parsley (biennial), and mint* add surprise, fragrance and a snack!
Heuchera 'Peach flambe'; my favorite 
for foliage color also boasts delicate
sprays of white flowers in May and June

  • Shasta daisies – they smell terrible!
  • Flowers from bleeding hearts; they turn very pale and instead of continuing to display their beautiful arc they seem to turn inwards and look very strange
  • Euphorbias  - the sap is a skin irritant
  • Daylilies – they only last for a day...
'Mardi gras' Helen's flower (Helenium)
stands out in front of dark foliage such
as this ninebark 'Diablo' (Physocarpus).
These bloom for months in the 
garden and last many days in a vase.

Special shrubs to include for their foliage.
Leucothoe does double duty as an evergreen. It pairs well with hellebore blooms in late winter and adds substance to delicate summer arrangements. In fact evergreen foliage is not only the backbone of good landscape design it is also invaluable to the flower arranger. My favorites include box honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida), many conifers, pittosporum (especially the variegated forms) and Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata). Curly willow is also great for adding height and a softness to designs. Bare stems in winter are as useful as those clothed in soft green leaves.

A few tips for the home;

Now bear in mind that I have zero skills as a flower arranger; that genetic lineage seems to end with my Mum who still wins awards at 82 for her designs! I just put flowers in a vase and call it good; I don’t worry about cutting stems underwater to avoid air bubbles for example although I’m sure it is important. I just follow the ‘prune and plop’ school of floral design. That being said I can offer you a couple of basic tips here.

  • Remember to change the water daily in vases.
  • I like to add decorative glass pebbles to the base of vases to help stabilize stems.
  • Those who are more adept at flower arranging then I am may like to weave a network of flexible willow stems to form a mesh through which other stems can be anchored. (Mine end up looking more like a 'cats cradle' gone wrong)
Hosta 'Sagae' unfurls its dramatic leaves
  • Use large leaves such as hosta to ‘hide’ stems in a glass vessel. Place the leaf actually into the water and press it against the wall of the vase. Now you’ll see the attractive foliage rather than the cross-cross of stalks and stems.
  • When using woody stems, cut up the length of the stem about 1” to improve water uptake.
Now is the time to look at your garden and see if you have room to add a few more perennials to expand your tapestry. Remember a single 6" pot will take a couple of years to give enough blooms both for cutting and garden perhaps you'd better get three. See what great excuses I give you?

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