Tag Archives: cut flowers

Mixed Bouquets with Foliage & Flowers

Every year I vow to grow flowers to cut for those fabulous mixed bouquets I see on my friend’s tables and arrive in their arms to grace my own house. But alas, between the lack of enough sun, the soil and those annoying gophers, I have not been very successful in the cut flower department. The secret to a fabulous bouquet is not just the flowers but the interesting foliage and that is something we all have in our gardens. I’m still going to plant more perennial flowers this fall that are good for cutting but I’ll use them as accents in my bouquets and concentrate on more foliage.

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Smoke bush with Franz Shubert phlox paniculata

Great foliage plants come in all shapes and sizes. In shady gardens, fragrant variegated daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub for both flowers and foliage. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with blooms that smell like apricots. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets. Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets and the leaves turn red in fall which is an added bonus. Our native shrub philadelphus, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and it will grow in some shade as well as sun.

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Hydrangea Limelight with Marjorie Channon pittosporum

While just about any plant material that strikes your fancy will work in a mixed bouquet there are four types of plant forms that naturally look good together: Spires for height and architectural properties with flowers like liatris, snapdragon, gladiola, salvia, Bells-of-Ireland as well as the strappy leaves of flax or cordyline. Round for focus such as roses, dahlias, long-stemmed marigolds, peonies. Lacy for fillers- ferns, baby’s breath, dill. Foliage from shrubs such abelia, breath of heaven, Calif. bay, and ornamental grasses. Don’t forget grapes and other vines, herbs, woody trees branches and prunings from smoke tree and Japanese maples which also look handsome in a bouquet.

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Mixed bouquet- Filoli Garden

What can you still plant this time of year for cutting? Some flowers that lend themselves to cutting with long stems and a long vase life are:

Kangaroo paw- Low-water use perennial with unusual fuzzy tubular flowers of pink, orange, red or yellow.
Alstroemeria- showy flowers attract hummers and butterflies.
Penstemon- Tubular flowers attract hummingbirds
Coreopsis- Double yellow flowers attract butterflies.
Gloriosa daisy- Bold gold, orange and mohogany daisies 5-7″ across with a brown center. Pick when center is
just starting to get fuzzy. Double forms have a shorter vase life.
Coneflowers- Pinkish,white, orange or yellow flowers attract butterflies.
Snapdragons, planted now will bloom long into fall and provide spiky accent that attracts butterflies. Pick off lower
blooms as they wilt.
Pink muhly grass- Airy plumes of feathery, deep rosy-pink flowers on tall stems.

I have a great list of California natives that are good for cutting also. Email me if you would like some of these suggestions.

The best time to cut is early in the morning. Cut non-woody stems on a slant for maximum water absorption. Cut woody stems straight across and smash the ends. Plunge immediately in a bucket of tepid water. Indoors, recut each stem under water so an air bubble doesn’t keep the water from being absorbed.Then pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase. Fill the vase with lukewarm water. You can add cut flower food but I find that changing the water every two days, recutting the stems and making sure no foliage is under water works just as well.

Will Any Plants Thrive in Dry Shade?

daphne_odora_AureomarginataLooking out the window on a rainy day I forget that spot way back in the shade in the back of the garden will be bone dry come summer. It’s too far away to water conveniently very often with a hose and extending the irrigation for just that one area under the trees in the shade is not practical. I sympathize with clients when they ask me what will grow in a problem area like this. Believe me I know it’s a challenge to bring in some colorful foliage, texture or might I be so bold as to want flowers, too? Take a tip from one who lives in a similar area with the same problems. We’re in this together.

At this time of year when the plums are blooming and the flowering pears are clothed in white blossoms, I want something to extend this look out in the garden. There are several plants that bloom early in dry shade and fortunately they are also deer resistant. Later in the season when soil moisture all but disappears there are other plants that will take over center stage.

But first here are the candidates for early spring color and fragrance in shady gardens.

Fragrant Winter daphne is a handsome evergreen shrub and I especially like the variegated foliage of the variety ‘Aureomarginata’. This small, deer tolerant shrub is good looking year round and does well under the shade of small trees. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please. During the summer water it as infrequently as the plant will allow. This is usually about once per month. Little or no water in summer will reward you with clusters of fragrant purple flowers that start opening at this time of year. Cut them to bring inside with hellebore for a pretty bouquet.

For fragrant May flowers try daphne burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ which is also easy to grow and requires only occasional water as does daphne transatlantic ‘Summer ‘Ice’. Summer Ice produces sweetly scented flowers for an extraordinarily long time. Flowering begins in early April and can continue as late as November.

Another powerfully fragrant plant for dry shade is commonly known as sweetbox. Sarcococca may not be showy enough to give to your Valentine but the sweetly scented flowers attract hummingbirds and fill the winter garden with a delicious fragrance for weeks starting in January.

Sarcococca ruscifolia forms an upright bushy shrub about 4 feet tall. Another variety called sarcococca hookeriana humilus makes a great ground cover as it rarely exceeds 1 1/2 feet tall. Both plants have dark green leaves, attractive berries and are deer resistant.

helleborus_orientalisHellebores are another winter blooming plant with foliage that looks great, too. I have several varieties including orientalis, argutifolius and foetidus. My Golden Sunrise has large, canary yellow flowers. It’s been blooming for almost a month and will continue for several more weeks. Hellebores are often still flowering during the Christian season of Lent from which they get their common name, Lenten Rose. They are good plants for naturalizing under trees as they are low maintenance, survive with little water and are disease free.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Other plants that bloom at this time of year and require only moderate summer irrigation include Lily-of-the-Valley shrub, clivia, bergenia, mahonia and Pacific Coast iris.

As summer approaches other plants and shrubs will lend their color and texture to the dry shade garden.

Western Wild ginger and Pacific Coast Iris are great ground covers. Good shrubs include deer resistant Osmanthus fragrans or sweet olive. Their white flowers are tiny but powerfully fragrant. Bloom is heaviest in spring and early summer but plants flower sporadically throughout the year. This compact shrub grows at a moderate rate in full sun to partial shade and reaches 10 feet.

Heavenly bamboo are work horses in the shady garden. For a different look try growing nandina filamentosa or Thread-leaf nandina. This evergreen small shrub grows to 2-3 ft tall with very lacy, almost fern-like growth. New foliage is reddish in color and during the fall the leaves turn orange or purplish red. Pinkish-white flowers bloom in clusters in late spring and summer.

There are lots of other shrubs and plants that require only occasion summer water for those shady spots. Email me and I can share even more ideas and suggestions.

What Landscape Designers Grow in their own Gardens

alstroemeria_Inca-Ice.1600It probably won’t come as a big surprise to you that I have a lot of friends that are also landscape designers. We get together to talk plants, garden design challenges and plant problems while enjoying good food along with a little wine thrown in for good measure. Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of these friends and although I was only there briefly to pick up something I couldn’t help but ask about several of the beautiful plantain her own garden. Some of her favorites include those with interesting foliage and texture and that flower over a long season. Maybe some of these plant ideas will work in your own garden.

Being winter and all I was immediately drawn to the hundreds of soft apricot and creamy yellow flowers covering a 3 foot wide Peruvian Lily. This selection of alstroemeria, called Inca Ice, is much shorter and compact that the taller ones that can be somewhat floppy in the garden. Alstroemeria were named by Carl Linnaeus, often called the Father of Taxonomy, for his friend and student Klaus von Alstroemer. Native to South America, the summer growing types come from eastern Brazil while the winter growing plants are from central Chile.

Peruvian Lily spread slowly outward from rhizomes and grow in full to part sun. They are hardy to 15-20 degrees and can tolerate dry conditions although they look best with irrigation. The Inca series grows 2-3 ft tall and can be covered with flowers from spring to late fall or winter if the weather is mild. The flower stems are long enough for cutting. This variety also comes in light orchid, pale yellow and white with red and green markings. What’s not to love about this plant?

Tucked next to the blooming Inca Ice Peruvian Lily, a clump of bright, Festival_grass-leucodendron.1600burgundy red Festival grass complemented the soft yellow of a Leucodendron discolor and a variegated Flamingo Glow Beschorneria. I was not familiar with this variegated agave relative with its soft-tipped chartreuse striped leaves. I found out this beautiful plant is drought tolerant, hardy to 15 degrees and will bloom with 5 foot pink stalks with reddish pink bracts.

Other plants that boast more foliage color than flowers brought this winter garden to life. Several varieties of helleborus just starting to show pink, white and rose color were surrounded by the brilliant chartreuse-yellow foliage of sedum Angelina ground cover. A variegated Japanese Lily-of-the-Valley shrub grew nearby getting ready to bloom soon.

Beautiful bright pink, cream and green variegated Jester Leucodendron bordered the driveway. I’ve seen this plant also called Safari Sunshine in nurseries. With its smaller size of 4-5 feet this evergreen shrub has showy, rich red bracts that sit atop the branches now in late winter and lasting into spring. Drought tolerant like Safari Sunset and deer resistant, too, leaucodendron are hardier than other protea.

Every interesting garden has good bones. It has focal points, texture, repetition and unity among other elements. My friends garden is no exception. A lovely caramel colored New Zealand Wind Grass dominated another area allowing my eye to rest for a while. I wish they would quit renaming this plant that used to be stipa arundinacea but is now anemanthele lessoniana. The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but the effect is beautiful in the garden. I’ve always called it Pheasant Tail grass but I could find no reference as to why this common name is used. Life used to be simple before DNA sequencing!

So if you’re in the mood to add a couple of interesting plants to your garden, take a tip from what a landscape designer grows in her own garden.

Good Cut Flowers to Grow in Shade or Sun

mixed_bouquet.2048I have a shady garden so each flower on a shrub, tree, perennial or annual is a precious commodity. I wish I had more so that I could walk out into the garden and gather armloads of fresh flowers to decorate the dinner table with big bouquets. Most flowers last longer outside on the plant that when cut and I haven’t planted enough for cutting and to enjoy in the garden, too. This year I’m going to do something about that. There are beautiful flowers to grow in the shade as well as the sun that are also long lasting in the vase.

For starters I can take some tips from a bouquet that recently graced a friend’s table. It magenta_clematis.1600probably won’t come as a big surprise to you that many of my friends are also garden designers like I am. The beautiful mixed bouquet I admired was comprised of both flowers and foliage. White calla lily, magenta and white clematis and wisteria along with branches of blooming white spirea and viburnum snowball were the stars of the bouquet. Lacy spikes of coral bells and lilac columbine filled in between. Mauve colored hellebore and tulips rounded out the arrangement. Clearly I was impressed.

If you are looking to increase your cut flower potential like I am here are some suggestions. For starters it’s always good to grow perennial plants that come back every year but self sowing annuals are also great so don’t forget to plants some of those also.

In shady gardens, fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with blooms that smell like apricots.  Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets and the leaves turn red in fall which is an added bonus.

Our native shrub philadelphus lewisii, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and it will grow in some shade as well as sun.

Cooke's_purple_wisteria.1600In sunnier spots I’m going to plant carnations and dianthus because I love their intense clove fragrance both in the garden and in bouquets. Chocolate cosmos is always on my list. Who doesn’t love the smell of chocolate? Lemon verbena and scented geraniums are other great bouquet candidates.

Penstemon are good for cutting and the tubular flowers attract hummingbirds in the garden. Kangaroo paw don’t require much water to grow their unusual fuzzy tubular flowers. Coreopsis attract butterflies as are long lasting in bouquets. Used to be that coreopsis only came in bright yellow with maybe a bit of brown as an accent but now they are available in pinks, white, lilac and palest yellow.

Add more coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, mimulus, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow to the perennial garden so you have extras for cutting then look to self sowing annuals that are easy to grow. Some that make good cut flowers are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, spider flower and calendula.

Annual flowers such as zinnia, lisianthus, snapdragon, statice and marigolds are great in containers where you can make every drop of water count and are also good for cutting.

To make cut flowers last,  pick them early in the morning before heat stresses them.  Flowers cut in the middle of the day will have difficulty absorbing enough water.  Take a bucket of tepid water with you and place stems in it as you cut.  Indoors, fill the kitchen sink with cool water and recut each stem underwater. The pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase.  You’ll be amazed just now long your flowers will last when you cut them under water.  It’s worth the extra step.  Now fill a clean vase with 3 parts lukewarm water mixed with 1 part lemon-lime soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and a crushed aspirin.  Another recipe for floral food to add to the water is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar , 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 qt water.  The sugar helps buts open and last longer, the acid improves water flow in the stems and the bleach reduces the growth of bacteria and fungus.  Change the water and recut the stems every few days to enjoy you bouquets for a week or maybe even two.

Rose Tips and Tricks

The_Mystery_RoseSurrounded by roses of nearly every color in the rainbow I smelled vanilla, spice and honey. The sun peaked in and out of the clouds allowing the vivid hues of the petals to change with the light. I was enjoying the garden of rose aficionados Mark and Lane Maloney of Scotts Valley. Among their 40 rose bushes I was to learn how an expert cares for these beauties.

The oldest roses in the garden are 60 years of age. Mark dug them from his mother’s collection when she died in Atherton 5 years ago. He starting collecting most of his other roses 20-30 years ago when he and Lane moved to the Scotts Valley property. Because he seldom has a rose die the only new rose in the garden is a double blooming red variety called Legend and named after Oprah. It was just starting to open on the day I visited this amazing rose garden.

I asked Mark which rose is his favorite. It was hard to pin him down to just one. The Distant_Drum_rosegarden is divided into two separate beds. One bed is devoted entirely to roses while another blends roses with other perennials. I admired a large shrub covered with pinkish flowers and he replied “this is one my most beautiful roses. It starts out a deep dusty rose then fades to lighter shades as it ages”.  Most of the roses in the garden have large ornamental name tags that he purchased online. The sign at the base read Distant Drums.

I was drawn to the Double Delight as I know it’s one of the most fragrant. Another rose with an incredible scent is Dolly Parton but on this day it hadn’t opened yet. Mark described it as “big and pink”, which seems appropriate.

Strike_It_Rich_roseDouble Delight, like many roses, blooms in cycles. They set buds and bloom for a month, rest for a month, then set another round of blooms. Mark said he usually gets about 3 cycles per season. One of his favorite roses will bloom all summer non-stop. Strike it Rich lives up to the name with lovely sherbet-orange flowers.

Mark also likes Black Magic with deep, reddish-black blooms that last 2 weeks in the garden as does another of his favorites, Fame, with pink flowers so bright they are nearly iridescent .  With deep yellow blooms Gold Medal caught my attention. But then I saw St. Patrick with those cool greenish-white blooms. Mark told me that in the white rose department he thinks White Lightnin’ is a beautiful rose as is the classic, JFK.

The roses in the Maloney’s garden are lush and healthy. What’s your secret I asked? Mark Perfect_Moment_rosesmiled and handed me a Rose Garden Calendar he had prepared on his computer for me. In a nutshell this is how he does it.
Late December- prune heavily down to about 24″ tall.

Early January- spray roses with dormant spray and again in early February.

March 1- fertilize and repeat each month through September.

Mark uses a systemic fertilizer which keeps insects at bay. He also uses an acid fertilizer once or twice a year as well as putting banana peels on the surface of the soil for potassium. I laughed when he told me his banana peel tip. I was nearly standing on a blackened peel with sticker still intact when he shared this info.

His other “secrets” include picking off diseased leaves regularly, pruning lightly throughout the year, mulching with several inches of chipped wood and watering with 1″ of water per rose each week applied in a trough  surrounding the shrub.

Mark is a member of ARS (American Rose Society) with he suggests as a good source of information and also rose recommendations for different areas and climates. He also maintains the roses at the Scott House at Civic Center. So when Mark talks roses, I listen.

Christmas Heather, Erica or Calluna?

Any plant that blooms during the shortest and darkest days of the year is a sure bet to get my attention.  Even when the weather is cold and rainy a Christmas heather will brave the elements and keep on blooming. Along with their relatives the true heathers,  they are great additions to the garden. You often see this variety grown as a holiday gift plant because the flowers last for such a long time.

Technically Christmas heather is actually a heath from the family ericacaea  which includes our native Western azalea, gaultheria, madrone and manzanita. Sound confusing? Is there a difference between a heath and a heather?

Heath or erica are mostly native to northern and western Europe. There are a few varieties from South Africa but these are not as hardy for cold temperatures. Christmas heather ( erica canaliculata ) is an evergreen, deer resistant shrub reaching about 6' tall and 4' wide. They tolerate heavy soil with little to occasional irrigation and do best if not over irrigated in the summer. Rosea is a popular winter-flowering pink variety while Rubra blooms with deep pink flowers. They are good on slopes.

Scotch heather (calluna vulgaris ) generally start blooming in mid-summer. The buds never open so remain colorful from August until hard frost. They are often grown close together in rock gardens making a colorful display of patchwork color.  Fields of mauve, pink and rose can be found all over Scotland and England where the shrub grows wild. There are over 700 cultivars now available with foliage colors of chartreuse, yellow, russet or grey being as showy as the flowers. Colors intensify in winter and provide as much visual impact as the summer flowers.

Heathers are not too particular about fertility but need good drainage. They are a good choice for the top of  retaining walls, banks or in raised planters where the soil drains well.  Acidic soils around the edges of a conifer grove would be ideal. They blend nicely with grasses for wild gardens and do well in large pots.

Where heathers grow wild they were used to create brooms and dusters. They were also used to pack crates of whiskey and other breakables for shipping and so were spread around early on and found their way to North America along with traditional brooms.

Flowers of all heaths and heathers make good cut flowers, lasting for weeks, whether or not the stems are immersed in water.

Both of these species have shallow root systems so be careful not to plant them too deeply. Good drainage is important and if your soil is heavy clay amend it with compost and peat moss or create a raised bed. Otherwise they prefer rocky or unamended soils and little fertilizer. Water regularly during the first year until the root zone has become established. Top dress with wood chips or other mulch.

To prevent them from becoming leggy and woody, prune right after they finish blooming be careful not to prune into bare wood but right below the dead blossoms.

By choosing varieties of both heaths and their close relative heather you can have color year round but the sight of the delicate blossoms in the drabbest months of the year is a most welcome addition to any garden.