I’ve Got Blooms on the Brain: Tips for Snipping & Clipping Fresh Cut Flowers…

June 27th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Fresh cut, country-casual flowers on the kitchen island. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Is there anything sweeter than waking up to the scent of fresh flowers? I love setting a vase of blossoms beside my bed every evening, and my kitchen and dining room table are always dressed for dinner with a fresh bouquet. Of course growing your own flowers in a cutting garden —and in my case this is simply part of the vegetable patch— makes indulging in the luxury of fresh cut flowers easy and affordable throughout the growing season. Flowers make great companion plants for vegetables, attracting beneficial insects and sometimes –as is the case with many herbs– warding off pests. Sweet peas, lily of the valley, peonies and roses are probably my favorite cut flowers for fragrance, but I also adore stock, and pinks for their spicy clove-like scent. For bold color arrangements I grow zinnia, dahlia, marigold, cleome and sunflowers. To cool things down I plant plenty of classic blue-violet saliva, daisies, bachelor buttons, Bells of Ireland and Queen Anne’s lace for fresh-cut arrangements. And recently, exotic-looking painted tongue, (Salpiglossis), has become a favorite cut flower…

Rosa de rescht, Valeriana and Cotinus catch the light in a vase by Aletha Soule. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Of course, when the garden is looking a bit picked-over, I am never above taking cuttings from shrubs and trees to fill out a vase. Raspberry and other brambles, complete with fruit –as well as all kinds of vegetables– always add drama to table-top arrangements. And foliage, including ferns and ornamental grass, are beautiful both on their own, or when combined with flowers. Bare branches and drift wood, picked up on long walks, can also add structure and character to floral arrangements. I try to keep my eyes open and experiment with found-objects – including rusty junk!

For more fresh-cut arranging ideas – travel back to last summer’s article on flowers just for cutting here.

Helianthus ‘Autumn Beauty’ in my cutting garden…

Tips for long-lasting, beautiful, fresh-cut flower arrangements:

Harvesting:

1. Cut when it’s cool in the garden. The early morning, just as the sun is rising, is the best time. I carry a florist’s bucket into the garden with me and I harvest just after dawn.

2. Use clean, sharp pruners and/or rugged household shears.

3. Cut flower stems longer than you think you need in order to give yourself flexibility when arranging later.

4. Immediately place the flowers in water.

5. Strip the lower leaves from flower stalks. Anything that might go beneath the water should be removed now.

Zinnias – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Conditioning and Preserving:

1. Recut stems and remove any leaves that might be submerged beneath the water. Remove any unsightly foliage or faded blooms. Check and remove tag along insects or slugs (eewww)!

2. Sear sappy stems –such as poppy, artemesisa, and hollyhock– with a match or by dipping in boiling water for 30 seconds.

3. Although some say it isn’t necessary, I have found that pounding woody stems with a hammer to help with uptake of water actually works.

4. Support delicate stems in the vase with branches or wire, or bind groups of flowers together with rubber bands, wire or twine.

5. I usually add a few drops of bleach and sugar (or some use an aspirin) to vase water. Some people prefer to buy fresh cut flower ‘food’, which simply alters the pH, holds down bacteria and provides sugars for metabolism. A bit of environmentally-sound bleach substitute, and sugar stirred into the vase water will accomplish the same thing.

6. Check vase water at least every other day and add or refresh water as necessary.

7. Try to place flowers in a cool spot. Avoid hot southwestern windows.

Dramatic Floating Dahlia – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Arranging:

1. Be experimental and creative with vases. Start out by trying old soda bottles and tin cans, canning jars, milk bottles or cartons, teapots, glass bowls, desk accessories -anything that holds water. I like to hunt around in old foundations on my property for long-lost medicine and whisky bottles. I think recycled items add charm to flower arrangements.

2. Pay attention to proportion. Flowers rising two to three times the height of the vase is a good ratio to shoot for. But again, don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s a flower arrangement for heaven’s sake! It should be fun.

3. A single, dramatic vase or several vases filled with one kind of flower can make a space seem more dressed up. Clustered vases filled with informal ‘wild’ flowers grouped on vanities or consoles can make a room appear more casual.

4. Soften an arrangement of bold blossoms, such as sunflowers, by adding lacy flowers, ferns or ornamental grass.

5. Pair the mood of the flowers to the mood of the room. In general, I like sunflowers and zinnia in the kitchen, and roses beside the bed. But I don’t believe in hard and fast rules.

6. Keep the option of ‘floating’ blossoms in glass bowls in mind. And never underestimate the power of a single flower…

Dahlia in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bachelor Button (Centurea cyanus) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Painted Tongue (Salpiglossis) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Marigold (Calendula) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Dahlia in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Zinnia ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Zinnia ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Dianthus in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Audrey Hepburn with blooms on the brain – Photograph – Howell Conant

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Article and photographs, with noted exceptions, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Flowers Just for Cutting…

August 11th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

a bouquet of annual dahlias and calendula Walker Farm

~ A bouquet of dahlia and calendula brightens my windowsill ~

One of the great pleasures of successful flower gardening is, of course, the access to seasonal, fresh cut flowers for the dinner table, desk and elsewhere in the home. I also really enjoy bringing an exotic bouquet to my host or hostess when I am invited to a dinner party, or to a friend as a surprise. Earlier this summer, in my posts about designing a potager and companion planting in the vegetable garden, I mentioned the horticultural benefits of growing flowers in a kitchen garden. But as an artist, I have many reasons, way beyond the practical, for a cutting garden. Flowers are a great inspiration; the extraordinary colors and amazing geometric forms can shift a mood, spark a creative impulse, or simply add a touch of beauty to the day. Know someone with a bland office cubicle, or sterile waiting room? Imagine what a few colorful zinnias would do to change the atmosphere. It’s amazing really. That old 1960’s slogan “Flower Power” couldn’t be more accurate.

zinnia and dahlia, c. Tim Geiss 2009

Zinnia and Dahlia ~ copyright 2009 ~ Tim Geiss

Growing annuals for cutting can be as simple as sowing seed or planting six packs in the vegetable garden in spring. I grow my cutting garden in well drained soil enriched with compost, and I fertilize with Neptune’s Harvest or whatever fish emulsion I have on hand. My own cutting garden varies in size each year depending upon my available time, space and budget. This year, I purchased common annuals in six packs from Walker Farm and a few of the specialty annuals they are known for. I chose dahlia, zinnia, cleome, cosmos, verbena bonariensis, specialty calendula, (French marigold), and moluccella laevis, (Bells of Ireland), among others. I also grow some perennials in and around my vegetable garden, including early bloomers like bulbs and peonies and late-season favorites such as coreopsis tripteris, physostegia virginiana, liatris ‘Kobold’, veronica ‘Goodness grows’, rudbeckia, echinacea and solidago, (golden rod), to name but a few. Native goldenrod is a great addition to flower arrangements. Sadly, although solidago is a prized perennial in much of Europe, this native flower is shunned by many North American gardeners who mistakenly believe it to be a cause of hay fever, (ambrosia artmisiifolia, or common ragweed, is usually the culprit). I always buy my annuals locally in spring. But you can also find bulbs and plants through online retailers, including my two of my favorite sources for summer bulbs, Swan Island Dahlias and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Combining perennials and annuals in casual arrangements is one of my favorite ways to bring the garden indoors, (see photo below). I like to play with contrasting colors like orangey-yellow and purple, or bright blue and reddish-orange to enliven my kitchen table. When creating bouquets for the bedroom or bath, I often soften the mood a bit, and combine flowers in more complimentary hues; using tones of blue and green, or shades of lavender and rose. Whatever I create with flowers from my garden, the arrangements have a way of making the whole house look brighter.

In order to get the most life from cut flower arrangements, I try to harvest the blooms in early morning, before the heat of the day, or in the cool of the evening after the sun has set. I choose flowers with swollen buds or petals just opening. With sharp scissors, I cut the stems long and at a slight angle. Immediately, I place them in a bucket of lukewarm water kept in the shade while I make my other selections. Certain flowers, such as poppies, will need to have their stalks seared with a match in order to seal the stem. And most early bulbs, such as daffodils, prefer cool vase water. Cut flowers will stay fresh longer when you add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, about a tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of bleach to each quart of vase-water. Changing the vase-water every couple of days will extend the life of your bouquet and keep the flowers looking fresh longer. Bacteria is responsible for that nasty flower-water slime and smell when you forget to change the water for a week. I try to avoid that olfactory experience at all costs!

Bouquet of cosmos candy stripe, calendula pacific beauty mix, echinacea purpurea, physostegia, goldenrod, liatris and veronica goodness grows

Annual Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’, Calendula ‘Pacific Beauty Mix’, Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ here with perennial Veronica ‘Goodness Grows, Liatris ‘Kobold’, Echinacea purpurea and Solidago Canadensis Gunmetal Glazed Pitcher by artist Aletha Soule

double rudbeckia "Goldilocks" (small), cutting garden

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Goldilocks’ produces 18″-24″ stems with 4″ double orange blossoms… perfect for late summer bouquets

To add a little something extra to my bouquets, I often add ornamental grasses, (such as miscanthus), foliage plants, (including ferns and perennial plant leaves), vines, (such as bittersweet), and branches from trees and shrubs. Shrubs with darker foliage, including physocarpus ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’, and weigela ‘Java Red’, among the many choices, add a nice contrast to floral arrangements in complimentary hues. When adding woody plants like these, as well as flowering hydrangea and lilac to an arrangement, it ‘s important to “smash” the woody stems with a mallet in order for the cut branch to absorb water, (see center photo below).  In addition to beautiful color and texture, woody plants add structure to a vase, and can help support both delicate flowers and heavy blooms, especially those with a tendency to flop.

cleome, zebra grass and weigela java red foliage

White cleome, zebra grass and weigela florida ‘Java Red’ foliage in a vase by  Aletha Soule

pounding woody stems

Flowers harvested from shrubs with woody stems must be ‘smashed’ as shown, to help them absorb water

Ninebark,(Physocarpus) 'Diablo', False Indigo, (Baptisia foliage) Foxglove, (Digitalis davisiana),Queen Anne's Lace'(Anthriscus sylvestris Bells of Ireland, (Moluccella laevis)

~ A beautiful raku vase by Vermont artist Richard Foye ~

And from the garden: Ninebark, (Physocarpus), ‘Diablo’, False indigo foliage, (Baptisia), Foxglove, (Digitalis davisiana), Queen Anne’s Lace, (Anthriscus sylvestris), and Bells of Ireland, (Moluccella laevis)

Hydrangea paniculata 'limelight'

~ Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in a small vase by artist Aletha Soule ~

When it comes to choosing vases, I am a big believer in experimentation. Although I have a nice collection of vases from Vermont artisan Richard Foye and California’s Aletha Soule, I do not limit myself to traditional vessels for holding fresh flowers. I am just as likely to stick a bouquet into a rusty tin can when the orange-brown contrast strikes my fancy. Old mason jars, drinking glasses, perfume and liquor bottles, beach buckets, cookie tins, soda bottles and milk cartons have all served as vases in my household. In fact, pretty much anything that holds water is fair game. Floating flowers in a shallow bowl with candles makes for a memorable center piece at a dinner party, and the low display draws attention to the structure of larger flowers such as dahlia and sunflower. I also like the look of one spectacular blossom filling the top of a thick glass, as photographed by artist Tim Geiss below.

floating dahlia copyright 2009 tim geiss

As the seasons change, I like to bring autumn leaves and bare branches into the house for my larger urns. And early autumn vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, make dramatic additions to flower arrangements as well. When November and December come ’round, I will bring in winterberry, (Ilex verticillata), and dried grasses from the garden by the armful. Do you have any favorite additions to your floral arrangements? I will be featuring more articles like this one in the future, but for now, please feel free to share your ideas and add comments for others here on the forum. In a world filled with chaos, stress, uncertainty and pressure, we could all use a little beauty to brighten our day. Sometimes, even a milk carton of roadside daisies will do!

zinnia on a table copyright 2009 Tim Geiss

~ Freshly cut Zinnia, copyright 2009, Tim Geiss ~

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~ Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his beautiful flower photographs as noted ~

~ Article and other photos copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden ~

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