Tag Archives: plants for bouquets

All About Sweet Peas

Black Knight sweet peas

Between raking up redwood debris after recent windstorms and cleaning the roof and gutters I think we should all do something fun. The holidays are fast approaching and then we’ll have little time to play. Recently I got an email about when to plant sweet peas. This reader has collected seeds from the wild pea, lathyrus latifolia, and wanted to know when to plant them. Although the flowers of this perennial sweet pea are not fragrant, the culture is the same as all sweet peas. Now’s the time to plant.

Lathyrus latifolius or perennial sweet pea pods

The perennial or everlasting sweet pea we see growing wild is not native to our area. It has naturalized throughout the United States and Canada after having been introduced from the Mediterranean area in the 1700’s. It can be invasive but if it’s growing in an out of-the-way spot where you can enjoy the bright pink blossoms they require little care.

Mixed bouquet with sweet peas

Who doesn’t love old-fashioned sweet peas? A small bouquet will perfume an entire room with a delicious scent. They remind me of my Aunt Ruth who grew them every year and let me pick a bunch each spring whenever I went to visit. There are many new varieties and colors these days but back then her sweet pea vines were covered with the classic mixed colors of violet, blue, pink, peach and white.

Sweet peas have been around for a long time and many different countries claim that they originated there. One story is that a monk, Father Cupani, first harvested them in the wild on an island off Sicily in 1695 and sent the seeds to the Netherlands. In the 1800’s, an Scottish nurseryman named Harry Eckford began hybridizing and introducing larger varieties in a wider range of colors where they became quite a sensation. The most famous and perhaps the most important use of this flower was the extensive genetics studies performed by Gregor Mendel. Since they self-pollinate, their characteristics such as height, color and petal form could easily be tracked. But whether they came from Ceylon, the modern day Sri Lanka, China or Sicily, heirloom sweet peas are as exquisite in the garden and they are in the vase.

I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas in October or November. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer’s at the same time to extend your harvest time.

My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance of orange blossoms and honey is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. But maybe it’s Black Knight that’s my favorite sweet pea with those dark maroon strongly scented blossoms. You can’t go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer generally ignore sweet peas. Sweet peas are not edible and may cause stomach upset.

Growing Flowers for Cutting

Wild Blue Yonder and Golden Celebration roses with alstroemeria

Go ahead and bask in the beauty of your spring garden this year after so much rain. Then start planning and planting to add more cut flowers so you can bring the outside in. Even if you have a lot of flowers already for bouquets there is always that nook or cranny that can fit one more.

A friend of mine has a garden that has so many roses and other flowers that she can cut huge bouquets for her own tables and still have enough to share with friends. Admiring a colorful mixed bouquet of roses and alstroemeria on her table the other day I was envious that my meager shady garden produces only enough flowers for the hummingbirds. If you yearn for more flowers in your garden I have some ideas for you.

Comapassion rose

“If I only had one rose in my garden”, my friend said to me, “I’d plant ‘Compassion.” I can tell you after receiving a bouquet of this beautiful double apricot, copper and gold rose from her that she’s on to something. Exceptionally fragrant, this profuse continual bloomer is also disease resistant even in part shade. It can be grown as a large shrub but is more effective when trained as a climber where its fragrance can be enjoyed along a path near your doorway or alongside a patio or deck. The fragrance is a combination of honey and peaches. A small bouquet scented my entire house.

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 plant some of those also. Self-sowing annuals that have a long vase life are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, cleome and calendula. Zinnia, snapdragon, statice and marigolds also make good cut flowers.

For sunny spots grow perennial penstemon and kangaroo paw. Coreopsis attract butterflies and are long lasting in bouquets. Coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow also make good cut flowers. Penstemon are good for cutting and the tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.

Native flowers that last for a week or more in a bouquet include clarkia and sticky monkeyflower. Yarrow and hummingbird sage will last 4-6 days in a vase. Our native shrub philadelphus, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and will grow in some shade as well as sun.

Mixed bouquet of Oakleaf hydrangea with Marjorie Channon pittosporum

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. 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 with apricot scented blooms. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets. Oakleaf hydrangea foliage and flowers look great in bouquets during the summer and the leaves turn red in fall as an added bonus.

Foliage from shrubs such as abelia, breath of heaven, California bay, ornamental grasses, grapes and other vines, herbs, woody tree branches like smoke tree and Japanese maple also look handsome in a bouquet.

Compassion rose in a bouquet

To make cut flowers last, pick them early in the morning before they are stressed by heat. Pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase. 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 is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart 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 re-cut the stems every few days to enjoy your bouquet for a week or even longer.

Cut Flower Tips

Don’t have much space to devote to a cutting garden? No problem. Although we all dream of a dedicated spot in the garden set aside for growing masses of flowers and foliage for bouquets, it’s not a necessity. Many great plants for cutting can just as easily be grown in raised beds, containers and between shrubs. So whether your prefer formal floral bouquets or casual, deconstructed flower and foliage arrangements let your imagination run wild and grow plants that make either easy to put together.

Mixed bouquet at Filoli Gardens

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. First are the spires for height and architectural properties. Flowers like liatris, snapdragon, gladiola, salvia, Bells-of-Ireland as well as the strappy leaves of New Zealand flax or cordyline fall into this category. Secondly are plants and foliage with a round form for focus such as roses, dahlias, long-stemmed marigolds and peonies. Last are the lacy accents for fillers- ferns, baby’s breath, dill and foliage from shrubs such as abelia, breath of heaven, smoke bush, Japanese maple and ornamental grasses. Grapes and other vines and herbs are also good as accents.

A deconstructed arrangement separates each type of flower into their own vase or container instead of grouping them in a mixed bouquet. Vary the size and shape of the vases and containers and group them together to create a unique vignette.

In shady gardens, fragrant daphne odora is a wonderful small shrub that provides interesting variegated foliage as well as flowers. Sweet olive or osmanthus fragrans blooms 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, also called mock orange, has flowers that smell like oranges and will grow in some shade as well as sun. Pittosporum ‘Marjorie Channon’ will add white with a hint of lime to your bouquets.

Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos)

For sunny spots grow penstemon and kangaroo paw. Coreopsis attract butterflies and are long lasting in bouquets.
Perennial coneflowers, dahlias, gloriosa daisy, delphinium, foxglove, scabiosa, aster, shasta daisy and yarrow are good as cut flowers. Self-sowing annuals that have a long vase life are bachelor buttons, clarkia, cosmos, flax, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium, cleome and calendula.

Native flowers that last for a week or more include Clarkia and Sticky Monkeyflower. Yarrow and hummingbird sage will last 4-6 days.

Mixed spring bouquet

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. Cut non-woody stems on a slant for maximum water absorption. Woody stems can be cut straight across but smash the ends. Plunge immediately in a bucket of tepid water. Indoors, fill a container with cool water and recut each stem under water so an air bubble doesn’t keep the water from being absorbed.

Pull off any foliage or flowers that will be below the water level in the vase. 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 is 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart 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.