We still have a long way to go before we appreciate cut flowers as aesthetic necessities the same way as the Europeans do. The floral locavore movement that is currently running strong in United States has done much to elevate the beauty of cut flowers, as well as their seasonality, although we still import a large number of flowers from Central and South America. Cut flowers can dramatically animate and enliven an otherwise drab room – I purchased three dozen white tulips from Whole Foods last week, and watching them assume a different life in their fluidity towards light was an experience that brighten the dark mornings.
Perhaps the way the supermarkets and some florists market their flowers can use a styling revision inspired by the small floral boutiques in Europe. In warmer months, the floral bounty is let loose, flowing out of the storefront onto the street where the scents, colors, and shapes entice pedestrians to linger and even walk spontaneously into the store to explore more. It was a successful ploy I fell for several times in London, Paris, Stockholm, and Copenhagen.
Copenhagen was one city where the florist storefronts seduced me over and over, and the Danish Martin Reinicke’s Blomsterskuret (“flower shed” in Danish) may be modest in size, but seems larger when spilling forth with container plants and cut flowers styled in that enviable Nordic way. Located in the hip Vesterbro district, Reinicke’s actual shop is a black shed adorned with gooseneck light fixtures.Stand alone shelving appears salvaged from different sources and placed around the shore, and every imaginable plant and container are crammed on the ledges as if the shed is literally growing.
Once you step through the doorway of the store, the light-filled interior is lined with shelves of different containers and vessels, and a central table is crowded with tiers of cut flowers, each grouped in its individual vase for function and comparison. Light is natural, and the artificial illumination produces a flattering cast on the flowers and plants. How many times do we see cut flowers in the lurid yellow light of the produce section in supermarkets here? It doesn’t help that the colored cellophane wrapping look garish. Lead by example of how the cut flowers would look at home in natural light, and sales then may begin to materialize. The female shop assistant, while preoccupied with making a bouquet, did not hesitate to smile and strike up a friend conversation. It is not simply adequate for a store to create a strong aesthetic impression, as friendly service helps heighten the initial interaction outside. I left Blomsterskuret, wanting to be a patron shall I boldly uproot my life and move to Copenhagen. ~ Eric
Some flowers stand well enough on their own to make a statement, without the addition of other foliage and flowers. These Sweet Williams, Dianthus barbatus, enhance the simple but beautifully adorned Portuguese pottery. Taking the same flower and just mixing with other varieties of itself proves successful. Hope you have enjoyed this Floral Friday…- James
“The many varieties and wonderful colors of the modern dahlia make it a totally different flower from the one our grandmothers knew. The names are descriptive of the different varieties, and as there are so many of them, and they bloom from early in June or July until frost, a garden of dahlias might be very interesting.” ~ Helena Rutherfurd Ely in The practical flower garden
No picking or cut flower garden is complete without dahlias, which have enjoyed a renaissance from the local cut flower movement, and Mrs. Ely was right to enthuse about their shapes and colors. The survival of the Meadowburn dahlias is largely due to the three generations of Furman family who painstakingly dug up and overwintered the tubers, divided and replanted them in spring, and staked the plants unfailingly with cedar posts.
Top Row (Left to Right): ‘Helena Rutherford Ely’, ‘Meadowburn Byba Vincenza’, ‘Jane Cowl’
Middle Row (Left to Right): ‘Meadowburn Albert Furman’, Assorted varieties, ‘Clara Ellen’
Third Row (Left to Right): ‘Danny Bea’, ‘Meadowburn Walter DeVries’, ‘Meadowburn Old Tweet’
For more information regarding these varieties, please visit Meadowburn Farm’s page on dahlias.
Tubers of these varieties can be ordered and dispatched for early spring delivery as soon as weather permits. Please contact Quill at firstname.lastname@example.org availability and ordering information.
Your post on daffodils reminded me how late spring has been this year in eastern U.S. Winter has been behaving like a dinner guest whose welcome has gone beyond stale, hence our ‘Tete-a-Tete’ and ‘Ice Follies’ have not flowered as they usually do at this time. The daffodils are only emerging, buds intact and tightly sheathed against the elements. However, their resilience has always reassure that winter has relinquished its grip, ushering in spring without delay. I long for warm days, with snow having lost its novelty. My friends’ photographs in the Pacific Northwest already show Corylopsis, rhododendrons, and various spring ephemerals in full glory.
Islands seem to be flush with daffodils – the Isles of Scilly off the southwest coast of Cornwall, UK, and Tasmania. Warm sunny summers and cold moist winters on the islands create optimal conditions for growing bulbs. The mild climate in the Isles of Scilly allowed the islanders the bragging rights to the first daffodils of the UK, as well as a head start on the cut flower industry; large quantities of cut daffodils were dispatched by boat and then transported on the rail from Penzance to London. In fact, cut flowers formed the cornerstone of the Scillionian economy for over 130 years. The majority, if not all daffodils grown are tazetta-types, which produce up to 15 highly scented flowers per stem. Tazettas need dry warm summers during dormancy for successful flowering, and the long season of Isles of Scilly from May to August, combined with sandy soils, makes a significant difference. Another crucial factor in the industry’s success was the use of windbreaks, an absolute necessity on the gale-exposed islands. Growers depended on two salt-tolerant and wind-resistant New Zealand shrubs, Pittosporum crassifolium and Olearia traversii.
Daffodils are popular in Tasmania where the Tasmanian Daffodil Council promotes them. You can expect at least three months of daffodils if varieties selected for different bloom periods are planted, and the cold nights certainly enhance flower longevity. The nucleus of Tasmania’s daffodil industry began in the 1920s when several enthusiasts imported bulbs from England and started breeding programs themselves. Their work was exhibited at the Hobart Horticultural Society’s annual daffodil show. Dr. Tim Jackson, one of the early enthusiasts, eventually started a business still going strong today. Evidently his passion rubbed off on the second generation, and one of the Jacksons who fought in the World World II even kept a pot on the British naval warship HMS Wanderer. A cousin, a warplane navigator, was once invited to a country estate near his airfield where the owner boasted a new daffodil, exclaiming: “You’ll have never seen anything like this before”. One only can imagine the owner’s surprise when the cousin recognized the hybrid and credited its origin to his grandfather.
On a blustery gray day, my friends and I drove out a hour away for an open day hosted by Jackson Daffodils near the Southwest National Park, a scenic area. Their bulbs can be bought from an Oregon firm who sells them for a princely sum. They are not the ‘bulk bag’ types one can purchase inexpensively at the local home improvement center. The fields were resplendent with varieties in whites, yellows, oranges, and pinks, and the gusts played up the flowers’ robust gaiety. Even my friend’s dog was excited, recharged by the new scents of the landscape. Who knew how much glee these flowers imparted? Forgetting the dull skies, we left smiling from the simple pleasure of seeing them.
Across from my friends’ coastal property used to be a commercial bulb farm that exported bulbs and cut flowers to the mainland. Although the majority of the bulbs were dug up and sold before the operation ceased, surviving remnants still sprout defiantly each spring. I learned from my friend that flowering bulbs can be dug up and transplanted without problems, taking out the problematic guesswork that accompanies dying or dormant bulbs. The bulbs need to be planted deep. After obtaining permission, he was able to replicate those naturalistic groups of daffodils without that hodgepodge effect. At first I was skeptical, only to be convinced the following spring when the same bulbs returned to flower. They look terrific under the vibrant green drapery of silver birches.
No matter how many bulbs we dug up, there were always more. The sandy loam soil made it easier to retrieve the entire plants, bulb and all, easily from the ground. Occasionally we did accidentally cleave a bulb, but once you gained experience, you were able to gauge how deep and what angle your spade went in, teasing out the plants out without much damage.
The Iberian peninsula (Portugal and Spain) is considered the centre of diversity for Narcissus. Several years ago, I remember seeing wild white daffodils growing in wild scrub near the Spanish border – we never disembarked from the car to identify the species. Perhaps one of the days you will have a chance to drive to northern Spain and bear witness to fields of wild daffodils. Sad as Narcissus and Echo’s fates were in Greek mythology, a love affair with daffodils is hardly narcissistic.
Sometimes it’s the flowers that set the idea in motion, and sometimes its the container, which happened to be the case for this. I filled this bread-roll shaped ceramic container with water and then gathered as many blooms of Viola × wittrockiana as I could from my window box. Always seeing them outside, I wanted to bring them indoors and once completed, they gave a light fragrance once they adjusted to the warm room. But there was something about it that made me laugh…
Maybe it started with this weeks quote about missing all the fun, maybe it was a slight aversion to writing something about love today, maybe it has to do with the winter and causing me to think of warmer temperatures, maybe it started from thinking about the Winter Olympics, I don’t know where it came from, but inspiration comes from interesting places sometimes. And I hope it makes you chuckle like it did to me, we could all use it sometime… Enjoy your weekend my friend. – James
My name is Emma Seniuk and I am the cut flower and vegetable gardener at Chanticleer in Wayne Pennsylvania.
Tell us a bit about your background.
Like most gardeners, I’ve loved plants since I was a child. Over the years I have worked at a variety of jobs- nurseries, landscaping, beekeeping, helping to manage a Christmas tree farm but once I was introduced to public horticulture I was drawn in, hook, line and sinker. I worked at Mt. Cuba Center as a seasonal, Longwood as a student, volunteered at Chanticleer over the years, had a year and half long studentship at Great Dixter and now am fortunate enough to be full time at Chanticleer.
What was your first gardening experience?
I remember picking the bulbils out the leaf axils of tiger lilies and snatching sugar peas from my Mom’s garden.
The arts or horticulture? Horticulture
Who do you consider to be your mentors?
Fergus Garrett, Executive Director and Head Gardener of Great Dixter, undoubtedly my greatest gardening influence and just about the coolest guy you could ever meet.
What is your typical day at Chanticleer?
I am a list maker and am always trying to organize and plan the garden in my mind but ultimately so much of gardening is about reacting, reading the garden and the weather and jumping in with both hands when the time is right.
Given that you had spent 2 years working at Great Dixter, how do you reconcile their philosophy with that of a different climate and garden at Chanticleer? In what ways do you anticipate the evolution of your style?
Great Dixter showed me what is possible in a garden. It has been gardened with love for over a hundred years and, in that attention and dynamic style, I can see what is possible with my continued dedication to the craft. Good gardens are made up of plants which do well in each individual situation. They must sit right in the space as well as flourish culturally, so instead of trying to grow everything grown at Great Dixter, I am trying to find the right plants for each of my garden sections at Chanticleer.
We often look towards United Kingdom as the primary source of inspiration and professional enrichment, and few of us venture to continental Europe (France, Italy, Belgium) to see what gardeners are achieving there as well. What are some of the gardens or techniques you found refreshing or inspiring in continental Europe?
While living in England I became enchanted with France and spent a good many weekends tooling around Normandy visiting gardens, staying in Paris and traveling to the Loire. My most treasured garden experiences in France were visiting and getting to know Le Jardin Plume, a gracious and already iconic garden in Normandy. Also, I fell for the private garden of Creche Pape in Brittany, where I saw shrubs and and stone work creating ribbons and waves of volume, and a garden festival in the Loire, called Chaumont-Sur-Loire, composed of annually themed garden installations.
You mentioned that your approach towards selecting and combining plants is very similar to that of a fashion designer. Can you kindly elaborate?
Because I work so much with annuals, I am able to alter my display considerably throughout a single growing season. I generally try to work with a theme each year and this helps me give parameters to plant choices and color combinations.
You’re very involved in propagation – most gardens now have staff devoted specifically to propagation and nursery areas, or the staff tend to order plants in. What is it about propagation you find very appealing (despite the demands your garden makes on you)?
To grow and propagate a plant is to know it fully. Also, with my reliance in annual displays I have control over the quality of the plant. So many of the plants bought these days are grown in a peat based medium and when planted in the garden the root system sits in the peat, unable to acclimate with the surrounding garden soil. At Chanticleer I have been using a mixture of screened compost and grit to grow my annuals and when I plant them in the garden they don’t miss a beat.
If asked to describe your garden in one or two songs, what would you pick? Why?
Tough one. I prefer to relate plant choices to emotions and, at heart, I’m a terrible romantic.
What guidance or advice can you give to young people interested in horticulture as a profession?
Look to your elders and support your peers.
You’re highly critical of what makes a good garden plant, as you confess how you don’t have time to mollycoddle them. Can you name some of your favorite plants and their outstanding features you admire?
Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ for its tall stature, persistent seed heads, and over two month bloom time in the heat of the summer. Ammi majus and visnaga for their white umbels, ferny foliage, and dreamy appeal. These plants are good for a beginner grower and a rewarding late spring surprise. Verbena bonariensis, an annual which self sows when in good spirits and has a way of dancing through the garden, punctuating displays with its purple flowers which last well into the season. Wiry but sturdy, graceful but impactful, it has a steadfast charm, which will constantly capture the imagination of gardeners.
What is your desert island plant?
Two Cocos nucifera with a hammock strung between them.
Mirror mirror on the wall, am I deceiving your eye at all? Whether for a large space or small, mirrors can enhance any size space through its clever placement. In Alfies Antiques Market in London, what could have been an otherwise drab set up, this indoor garden in a corner next to a stairwell was made more interesting and four times larger than it could have been. This trick can be adjusted for smaller situations such as propping a puny bouquet against a mirror just the same and receiving the same results. Mirror tricks are good but keep it clean.