Gathering Bouquets Between Raindrops & Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

June 12th, 2011 § 7

Peony blossoms are of course my favorite cut flower, and by growing many cultivars, it’s possible to extend the flowering season for a month or more

After two days of steady rain, I slipped outside this morning to wander around the garden between raindrops and gather fallen flowers for fresh bouquets. Poetic as drooping blossoms look when tumbling from perennial borders, I can’t imagine leaving them on the lawn to be devoured by snails. Oh no. In fact, the main reason I grow peonies is for cutting, and I’ve planted many other perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs with fresh flowers for bouquets in mind. False indigo (Baptisia australis), iris, columbine (Aquilegia), fox glove (Digitalis), old-fashioned roses and  poppies (Papavar orientale), are some late spring favorites for the vase. I love all colors, but I am particularly fond of deep violet, blue and cerise colored blossoms. I also cut foliage for flower arrangements, including entire branches from shrubs and trees. Of course fragrance trumps almost all other considerations when it comes to fresh cut flowers, so lilac (Syringa), fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis), roses, lily of the valley (Convularia majalis) and of course peonies, will always be planted in excess throughout my garden…

My studio desk with blue, false indigo (Baptisia australis) cut fresh from the garden

Whenever I see tiny bud vases at flea markets, I snap them up. I also use old spice jars, recycled perfume bottles and salvaged medicine bottles for tiny bouquets

Peonies are, of course, kept as close to nose-level as possible. With blossoms as pretty as these, it seems like gilding the lily to add anything extra to the simple blue-green, glass canning jar

Simple Tips for Fresh Cut Flower Care

Cut flowers when it’s cool in the garden. Morning or evening.

Use sharp, clean pruners or shears.

Carry a bucket with you while cutting and place flowers in tepid water.

Cut flowers in bud or just as they are beginning to open.

Cut stems long, but take care to remember the rules of pruning; particularly when cutting roses, lilacs & other shrubs (revisit this basic pruning post).

Strip off lower foliage and side branches as you go (anything below the waterline of the intended vase).

Sear sappy/milky stems with a flame or boiling water (poppies, hollyhocks, etc).

Hammer the bottom and strip bark from woody stems.

Arrange flowers in a clean vase, filled with tepid water.

Add a tiny bit of sugar and a few drops of bleach (hydrogen peroxide based is fine) to the vase when you arrange flowers.

Check and change the water in vases every other day.

A combination I love: Blue Siberian Iris with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’ (read more about Physocarpus opulifolius here)

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’, and the branches of many other flowering shrubs are beautiful in arrangements

Beautiful Baptisia australis looks gorgeous atop a dark dresser or dining table

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ produces lovely cerise blossoms on strong branches (read more about this beautiful, tough shrub here)

Words & Photographs ⓒ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reposted, reproduced or reused in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Seduced by the Charms of Old Fashioned Flowering Weigela…

June 6th, 2010 § 4

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’ tumbles over the wall at Ferncliff, spilling blossoms into the Secret Garden below. Stonework by Vermont artist Dan Snow

To look at the voluminous cascade of crimson blossoms spilling over my Secret Garden wall this week, you’d never guess that this Red Prince (Weigela florida) is positioned in the toughest, most exposed corner of my blustery, ledgy site. Bearing the full force of the northwest wind as it blasts across the ridge straight from the Green Mountains, I fully expected my Weigela to perish in its first winter. Five years later, in spite of sub-zero temperatures, snow drifts, thick sheets of ice, and the doubts of a rather pessimistic mistress, the prince of my garden is once again greeting June cloaked in the most glorious red robe I have ever seen. As you can see, there he sits; sprawled out in the sun, high atop the Secret Garden wall, where his funnel-shaped flowers attract legions of hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and countless sighs.

Old-fashioned in both form and habit, Weigela florida has gone in and out of garden style for years. Because of its sturdy nature -rarely troubled by pests and disease- certain Weigela cultivars have become somewhat over-used in municipal landscapes. Once again a victim of its own success, many designers now consider this shrub a bit common – perhaps even a garden cliché. As for this hortimaniac? Please… Give me a break! I find the whole notion of garden fads more than a little ridiculous. Every plant has its place. And as they say – a thing of beauty is a joy forever. A knock-out in bloom and a fine green presence throughout the growing year, Weigela’s flower-show lasts three weeks in my garden, with sporadic repeats later in the season. And as if this generous floral display weren’t enough, newer Weigela cultivars, including maroon-leaved and dwarf selections, have expanded this shrub’s three-season design potential with stunning foliage. My collection of ‘cardinal bushes’ -as they are sometimes called- now includes ‘Java Red’, (see photograph below), ‘Variegata’, ‘Alexandra’, ‘My Monet’, and of course the ‘Red Prince’, among others…

Weigela florida planted in a woodland-edge setting for one of my garden design clients 3 years ago…

Weigela florida on the far side of my client’s garden, forming a cascading, flowering boundary between hillside garden and the shaded forest beyond…

Hardy at least through zones 4-9, (certain selections offer a greater hot/cold hardiness range), and tolerant of many soil types, (Weigela prefers slightly acidic, moist, but not wet soil), this is a perfect shrub for gardeners in cold, moderate and mild climates. When positioned in full sun to partial shade, Weigela rewards the gardener with a cascade of flowers from late spring through early summer. Spectacular spilling over walls or embankments, larger cultivars are also perfect for the center or back of sunny borders and for creating informal hedges. Dwarf selections, such as ‘Minuet’ are ideal for smaller gardens and tight garden situations, including containers. With dozens of handsome cultivars to choose from, including many with spectacular, variegated and mottled foliage, (such as the knock-out introduction, ‘My Monet’), there is a Weigela suitable for almost any temperate garden climate. Yes, my ‘Red Prince’ Weigela may be old-fashioned, but he sure knows how to charm…

The ‘Red Prince’ Weigela florida Atop the Secret Garden Wall in June. Stonework by Vermont artist Dan Snow

Weigela florida ‘Java Red’s  bright fuchsia colored blossoms are a  favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees…

Weigela florida ‘Java Red’ takes center stage after Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’s’ blooms have faded…

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Calling all Bargain Hunters: It’s Time To Scoop Up Great Deals On Shrubs And Start Your Fall Planting!

September 15th, 2009 § 2

Weigela florida ‘My Monet’ & Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

Pst… Want to know a secret? I really must confess. I have been having a bit of fun lately with other people’s money. No, no. It’s nothing like those scoundrels on Wall Street that you have been reading about. Permission has been granted. You see, for several weeks now, I have been shopping for my clients’ new gardens. Day in and day out, I have been oohing and ahhing, ogling and caressing, row upon row of ornamental shrubberies. OK, OK, I know. Don’t roll your eyes. It’s not everyone’s idea of a guilty pleasure. But as you may have noticed, I am a little horticulturally obsessed. To me, wandering around nurseries for weeks on end is pretty close to bliss. And while I am shopping for all of these soon-to-be installed gardens, you know of course that I am also scooping some things up for myself.

So, I really must let you in on my pleasure. And do you want to know the best part? It’s the sales. Seriously. Get out there my friends! There are some shocking deals and discounts to be found at garden centers in late summer. And now is the perfect time to take advantage of slashed prices on trees and shrubs – during fall planting season.

September is usually a super busy time for gardeners. The weather has started to cool down, and there are things to divide, move and cut back. This is also the ideal time to fill in newly designed and renovated gardens with perennials like peonies and all of those gorgeous spring blooming bulbs. And best of all, if you are in the market for some garden structure, it’s prime time for planting ornamental shrubs. Other than very early spring, autumn is really the safest time to plant, (or move), shrubs in cold winter climates like New England. Fall planting should be carried out when temperatures have cooled, but at least a month before the ground freezes. In New England, I usually begin my fall planting in early September. I use September 30th as a cut-off date for planting most evergreens or conifers, and October 31st as a last planting date for deciduous shrubs, (some years, the temperatures are more flexible than others). In the more southerly parts of the United States, the planting and moving of shrubs can begin later in fall and continue throughout winter, (as long as the soil remains frost-free and workable). Why plant shrubs in fall? As temperatures cool down and the growing season draws to a close, woody plants begin to go into seasonal dormancy. Shrubs planted at this time of the year, (early autumn in the Northeast and longer, into early winter in other regions of the US), have weeks or months left to settle in before the ground freezes. With energy no longer directed toward above-ground growth, early fall planting gives shrubs plenty of time to develop strong root systems. And as an added bonus, many garden centers and nurseries begin to mark-down shrubs in September, in order to reduce stock before winter. The selection may be a bit diminished, but if you keep an open mind, there are fabulous deals to be found! So, if you have been coveting some new cultivar at the local greenhouse, or if you would like to add a bit of season-spanning interest to your garden design, this is the perfect time to consider a planting plan and to shop for bargains.

Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry viburnum)Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry viburnum), at a nursery, showing hints of fall color

Now that I have stirred up the pot, I should give some fair warnings. Before you run out the door with checkbook and credit card in hand, it is very important that you have a close look at your garden. Remember that shrubs and trees are more permanent additions to the landscape than annuals and perennials. Once a shrub is settled in, it is difficult to move. So, spend some time thinking about your available space, light and growing conditions. If you think you see a good spot for a new addition, take careful measurements of the space and stick a reminder in your wallet. Now is a good time to note other conditions as well. Is your garden protected from or exposed to wind? Is the site sunny, shaded, or somewhere in between? Do you know your soil pH, (is it acid or alkaline or neutral)? Make time to do a soil test if you are unsure. Are you familiar with your USDA hardiness zone, (see NGA’s map here)?  And last but not least, consider your garden design. What is your landscape missing? Do you want to add vertical interest to a relatively flat topography? Do you need to blend your garden into the edge of a woodland, or to create a background in order for your perennials to stand out? Is your garden lacking season-spanning interest, (in the form of flowers, fruit, foliage, bark, varied shapes)? Whatever your garden-design needs, shrubs have a lot to offer. It is easy to get overwhelmed in the middle of all those gorgeous plants. Thinking clearly about what you want and need before you head out to bargain-hunt is a really good idea.

Viburnum sargentii 'Onadaga'A nice Viburnum sargentii ‘Onadaga’ specimen at a local nursery

When shopping for woody plants, I would like to offer you some advice from years of end-of-the-season buying. I know all to well how tempting those slashed prices can be. But. Does the shrub should look healthy? Really check it over. Look for evidence of new growth, (shoots of soft wood from the summer), and healthy foliage. Of course we have to be a bit less critical in the latter part of the year. Some brown or dried leaves are to be expected on deciduous shrubs in autumn. However, a pot filled with weeds, suckers and exposed roots indicates that the plant was not well cared for at the garden center throughout the summer. Think twice about scraggly looking shrubs. Certainly, if you find a rare-gem at an absolute fire-sale, or favorite cultivar you have been seeking for years, you may want to gamble. (Full disclosure: I have found some great plants in compost bins). Just keep in mind that acquiring a diseased plant can bring trouble into your healthy garden, so proceed with caution. Any plant infested with insects or fungus isn’t worth the risk. Once you get your shrubby new treasures back home, it is important to immediately begin caring for them. Never leave your shrubs in a hot car or in the middle of your driveway. Place your new plants in a cool spot, water them thoroughly and try to plant them as soon as possible. When you are ready to begin planting, thoroughly water your plants one more time and set them aside while you prepare the site.

unteased root ball of shrub and planting hole dugDig a wide planting hole (at least 2 to 3 times the size of the root ball), as shown here

Dig a good hole for your shrub, (see photo above). You are preparing the ground where your plant will spend the rest of its life. Be sure to dig deep and wide. Remove rocks, roots and sticks. Never try to cram a shrub into an inadequate space. You want loose soil beneath the plant, and on all sides. I never add commercial fertilizer to planting holes, nor do I feed shrubs during fall planting. I like to add slow release fertilizer to my new shrubs in early spring. However, I do add a bit of high quality compost to the unearthed soil before returning a few inches to the bottom of the planting hole and the remaining backfill for the plant (I also top-dress the soil with a layer of compost once planting is complete).

Now you are ready to remove the shrub from its pot. Carefully examine the plant’s roots and ‘tease’ them a bit if they are exposed and matted at the edges of the soil (see photos below). If the roots are very dense and tangled, (pot-bound), you may need to cut (root prune), the roots with a knife. Make small vertical slits in the root-mass, (about 1/4-1/2″). This is very important. In order for the roots to move out and down into the surrounding garden soil, they must be unbound or they will strangle. Next, set your shrub into the planting hole. Be sure that the top of the root ball is even with, or ever so slightly below the top of the hole. If you are uncertain of planting depth, ask your retailer for guidance before you leave the nursery. Adjust the soil in the base as necessary.

unteased root ballA season’s worth of tightly bound roots. These need to be loosened by ‘teasing’

teased root ballRoots loosened with vertical slices, then ‘teased” free with fingertips

Once a plant is properly positioned and ready to be settled in, I like to add water to the plant and the planting hole as I back fill with soil. This helps to avoid hazardous air-pockets without compacting the loose dirt. When I reach the top of the hole, I create a low soil-berm around the plant, and I fill it with a water. If I have the time, I will allow the soil to settle for a couple of days, and then check for air pockets and add dirt if needed before I spread a thick, (2-3 inch), top-layer of mulch over the root-zone. Unless you receive regular (twice weekly or more), soaking rain, it is very important to water your new plants regularly (provide large shrubs with at least an 5 gallons or more of water, twice per week), until the ground freezes. I can not stress this enough. More shrubs die from dehydration than any other cause.  Protect your investment by installing a soaker hose on a timer if necessary.

planted viburnumNewly planted Viburnum plicatum ‘Newport’ in a hillside grouping

Check your plants regularly to be sure they are adjusting well to their new homes. Watch for insects and fungal infections and address any symptoms immediately before they grow into larger problems. If you live in a cold climate with long, harsh winters, it is wise to double check mulch at the root zone of your new shrubs and replenish if necessary. Some shrubs may also need protection from gnawing rodents, (such as wire-mesh base-collars for example). Your new shrubs will benefit from a slow-release fertilizer in spring (follow manufacturer’s instructions), so make a note in your calendar if you think you might forget. I hope you will take advantage of the bargains out there if you can. There is nothing like a great deal, and the memory of springtime’s magic, to inspire a fall planting-spree. Good luck, and have fun out there !

Viburnum trilobum 'Bailey Compact'(American Cranberry Bush Viburnum)Viburnum trilobum (American Cranberry Bush Viburnum), ‘Baily Compact’

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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