Tag Archives: cut flowers

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.

Cut Flowers on a Shoestring

It’s rewarding to grow your own fruit and vegetables, but more and more of us also want to grow flowers that can be cut and , too. Growers are taking notice of this trend and there are more cut flower varieties available today than ever before. Now you can create your own landscaping masterpiece, a Monet’s garden, with a little planning and some jumbo packs. Here are some new and old favorites to try this year.

Ageratum Red Sea. Showy, burgundy-red flower clusters bloom summer to fall on long stems. Grow in full sun to part shade. This beautiful cut flower reaches 30" tall by 15-18" wide. Ageratum Blue Horizon is another great variety.

Celosia Spiky Purple. Deep purple flowers are crowded onto terminal spikes, opening slowly from the base. Blooms all summer long in full sun. 12-16" tall. Spiky Pink is a beauty, too.

Calendula Pink Surprise. Ruffled 1" flowers are orange at first and then take on a tinge of pink as they age. This plant grows 18" tall in full or part sun.  Great in containers or the flower bed as well as a cut flower. Often reseeds itself.

Larkspur Giant Imperial mix. If you want long spikes of soft lavender, blue and pink in your flower arrangements, grow larkspur. Flower stems are long and dense on 36-48" tall plants. Grow in full sun. Also good for drying.

Crespedia Billy Buttons or Drumstick Plant. This offbeat Australian daisy sends up 2 ft tall stalks topped by globes of bright yellow flowers. Bloom may occur at anytime of the year. Flowers are good fresh or dried in arrangements. Self sows freely.

Bachelor Buttons or Cornflower. The Centauria family of plants also includes Dusty Miller among other common plants. Blue Boy has double blooms in a stunning shade of deep blue. Great plants for the cutting garden or flower border, this wild flower is well suited for cutting, drying and pressing. Self sows. Did you know this plant’s common name, cornflower, refers to the fact that it was once typically found growing amid corn in Europe? Other plants named for their association with grain fields are corn cockle ( agrostemma ), corn poppy and corn marigold.

Aster Matsumoto. The Matsumoto series is known for disease resistance and superior cut flower quality. Semi-double blooms are borne on long, strong stems that are very long lasting in the vase.  Blooming begins in mid-summer and doesn’t quit until late fall. And the best part is, the more flowers you cut, the quicker new buds arise. The large, yellow center is surrounded by layers of bright purple, pink or white petals and is eye-catching even from across the garden. They thrive in any sunny garden spot or container. 24" tall.

Gomphrena Las Vegas mix. Draw hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden with this heat tolerant cut flower. The pink, purple, and white clover-like flowers may also be dried quickly and easily, retaining color and shape for winter arrangements. Plant this 16-20" tall plant in a container for a long-lasting living bouquet.

Statice Supreme Blue. A hardy, low maintenance annual, this deep blue cut flower is drought, heat and pest resistant. They even thrive in poor soil conditions and bloom continuously from late spring until first frost. Cut statice just after they have begun to open for the most vibrant, lasting color. Ideal for dried arrangementslike celosia and gomphrena.

These are just some of the affordable and easy to grow cut flowers available. Think of all the bouquets you’ll be able to  make this year from your own garden grown flowers.


Bouquets from Your own Garden

A gardener’s life:  water, prune, plant, rake, weed, stake. Repeat as necessary. Then smell the roses, harvest the vegetables and It’s great to be out in the garden among your beautiful plants. Reward yourself and bring the outside in.

Have you ever seen the spectacular arrangements made weekly for the mansion at Filoli Gardens in Woodside? They are truly breathtaking, composed of whatever plants and flowers happen to catch the eye of the harvester. You can have this too for your own dining room table, kitchen, bedroom or bath.

Until about 100 years ago, one of the most important areas of any large garden was the cutting garden, where flowers were harvested like a crop and taken inside for display. Today our lifestyles and tastes are reflected in bouquets that are more casual. The bouquets you make from garden grown flowers, interesting foliage branches, grasses, vines and even herbs always seem to have more personality and cottage garden softness than ones bought from the store.

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 togetherSpires for height and architectural properties ( liatris, snapdragon,gladiola, salvia, Bells-of-Ireland),  Round for focus ( roses, dahlias, long-stemmed marigolds, peonies), lacy for fillers ( ferns, baby’s breath, dill ) , foliage ( abelia, breath of heaven, Calif. bay ), and ornamental grasses.

Here are some unsung beauties to grow and add to your arrangements.
* Love-lies-bleeding ( Amaranthus caudatus ) Long, to 18", pendulous ropes of red flower clusters. Handsome mixed with bold companions like zinnias and sunflowers. Good dried flower.
* Bells-of-Ireland ( Moluccela laevis ) Showy, apple-green flower spikes, long lasting in either fresh or dried arrangements.
* Transvaal daisy ( Gebera jamesonii) Perennial, long-stemmed varieties bloom nearly year round with peaks in early summer and late fall. Prized cut flower. Split stem end, dip in boiling water and stand in deep water with sugar for long vase life.
* Lisianthus. Perennial grown as an annual. Flowers resemble roses in shade of purplish-blue, pink, and white. Blooms all summer on strong stalks.
*Pink muhly grass ( Muhlenbergia capillaris) airy plumes of feathery, deep rosy-pink flowers on tall stems. Drought tolerant.

There are so many plants to use in bouquets. Don’t forget grapes and other vines, herbs, woody trees branches and shrub foliage look great, too

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, fill the kitchen sink with cool water and 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 and making sure no foliage is under water works just as well.

If a plant isn’t working our or is spent in your arrangement just remove it. The main thing is to have a garden that you love both inside and out.

Cut flowers

One of the greatest pleasures of gardening is to stroll out, bucket in hand, and cut richly colored, fragrant bouquets for your own home or to give to family or friends. Having a bad day? Walk outside and cut some flowers. Having a really bad day? Cut enough blooms for every room and snip a bunch to give away. The more blooms you cut, the more flowers will be produced by your plants. It’s economical to grow your own bouquets and because they’re fresh from your own garden they’ll be long lasting.

Flowers that lend themselves to cutting ( long stems and a long vase life) can be incorporated into any spot of the garden. if you really enjoy cut flowers indoors you may want to consider setting aside a small bed primarily for an old-fashioned cutting garden. A seldom used side yard would be an ideal place as long as it receives at least a half day of sun. Or how about that narrow bed along the fence you never know what to do with? if your never planted in the soil of your future cutting garden, amend the soil generously with organic matter or compost. Then water to germinate weed seeds and hoe them off. Don’t turn the soil again as you’ll bring up more weed seeds. Now you’re ready to plant.

Perennial flowers are among the most prized of all cut flowers. Many annuals are good as well as grasses or the straplike leaves of flax or cordyline. Prunings from the smoke tree, oakleaf hydrangea, grapes and Japanese maple look handsome in bouquets, too.

What can you still plant this time of year for cutting?

  • Roses- Many colors and fragrant. Attract butterfly larvae. Buds open best with sugar in the vase solution.
  • Foxglove- ‘Foxy’ blooms first year. Attracts hummingbirds.
  • Delphinium- vivid shades of blue. Pick spikes when 3/4 of the buds are open. Attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies.
  • Kangaroo paw- Low-water use perennial with unusual fuzzy tubular flowers of pink, orange, red or yellow.
  • Alstroemeria- showy flowers attract hummers and butterflies. To pick, pull stems gently to break cleanly away
  • from the rhizome.
  • Penstemon- Tubular flowers attract hummingbirds
  • Coreopsis- Double yellow flowers attract butterflies. Watch for flowers going to seed. remove spent flowers to prolong blooms.
  • Dahlia- Huge showy blooms, all colors
  • 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 or white flowers attract butterflies.
  • Snapdragons-Provide spiky accent that attracts butterflies. Pick off lower blooms as they wilt.
  • Zinnia- Pompons 1-5" across in a rainbow of colors. Pick when flowers open but before pollen shows. Buds don’t open well. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

These are just a few of the many flowers that are good for cutting. Marigolds, cosmos,and lisianthus are other annuals to try. Perennials like coral bells, scabiosa, gerbera, mimulus, hosta, aster, yarrow and shasta daisy can be planted now,too.

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 buds 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.