Try Some Unconventional Cut Flowers

P81214There is nothing like growing our own; whether vegetables, fruit or cut flowers. Most fruit and vegetables are grown to be eaten, so are not missed too much when harvested. Even colorful citrus fruit is better harvested than left out in the garden. No one wants to waste it. Flowers are not so simple. They are so colorful and fragrant in the garden, that it is tempting to leave them all out there.

Cosmos and many kinds of daisies are so abundant that there are plenty for both the home and garden. Gladiolus are not so fortunate. They bloom only once. Cutting the flowers to bring into the home deprives the garden of their color. What is worse is that cut gladiolus, although excellent cut flowers, do not last quite as long as they would in the garden. Roses at least continue to bloom.

Daylily can be a good cut flower, but individual flowers last only a day (obviously). This is not a problem in the garden because new flowers bloom daily to replace those that that have finished. Cutting stems not only takes flowers in bloom, but also takes the flower buds behind them that are waiting for their turn to bloom. However, not many, if any, of the unbloomed buds bloom once cut.

Many types of iris, except for Dutch iris, have the same problem. Attentive garden enthusiasts might leave iris to bloom in the garden, and might even groom fading blooms from fresh blooms on the same stems, and then cut stems to bring into the home when the last bud on each stem is just beginning to bloom. The last flowers are not as excellent as the first, but it is a fair compromise.

Cannas are not so functional. They are great in the garden for both flowers and foliage, but fade too soon in the home. Bougainvillea and crape myrtle stems likewise start to wilt and drop flowers immediately after getting cut, but for those who do not mind cleaning up after them, there are plenty of papery flowers to last a few days. The wilted tips of bougainvillea stems can be pruned out.

There are no rules to cut flowers. Lily-of-the-nile might seem like a silly choice, but works quite nicely for those who dare to try it. New Zealand flax flowers are not very colorful, but provide striking form. Zonal geranium and nasturtium work well with or without foliage attached. Lemon bottlebrush, photinia, New Zealand tea tree, bugle lily, various hebes, and all sorts of salvias are worth a try.

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Ranunculus

90403Their little tufts of tuberous roots that were buried late last year were not much to look at. They were more like bits of dried and shriveled sea anemone than something that would grow and bloom with fluffy anemone like flowers. Ranunculus do not bloom as prolifically as related anemones, but they do so with different colors and bulkier flowers that seem crowded with too many thin petals.

Ranunculus like what so many flowering annuals like. They want rich soil, regular watering, full sun exposure, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer. They start blooming early in spring, and can continue blooming with multiple flowers a bit longer than other early spring bulbs that bloom only once. They finish bloom as the weather gets warm, and their handsome parsley like foliage starts to yellow.

Ranunculus are probably best mixed with other perennials and annuals that will compensate for them as they go dormant later in spring. They can alternatively be grown in a cutting garden just for cut flowers. Mature plants are less than a foot tall and wide, even if the flowers stand slightly taller. The full and symmetrical flowers can be various hues of white, pink, red, orange, yellow or purple.

Gladiolus

60203The sword of a gladiator was known as a gladio, and it probably resembled the leaves or floral spikes of gladiolus. These narrow and pointed leaves stand nearly vertical, angling only slightly to the left and right of a single flower stalk that can get as tall as six feet. The floral spike supports several very colorful florets that are arranged to the left and right, but tend to lean toward the front.

The summer bloom can be red, pink, orange, yellow, greenish yellow or white, in bright or pastel hues, and often with multiple colors. Florets bloom upward from the bottom, so lower florets fade before upper florets open. Gladiolus is an excellent cut flower anyway. Taller blooms might need to be staked.

New bulbs should be planted about now, at least four inches deep, and about four or five inches away from each other. Gladiolus want well drained soil and full sun exposure.

Japanese Anemone

81128Here it is, three quarters of the way through November, and this Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis or Anemone X hybrida, is finally finishing bloom. It should have finished a month ago, but does not always stay on schedule here. Each cultivar exhibits a distinct responsiveness to the seasons, so others finished a while ago. The deciduous foliage will eventually succumb to frost.

Once they get going in a spot that they like, Japanese anemone slowly spread. Although not considered to be invasive, they can be difficult to get rid of if they creep into spots where they are not wanted. Because they bloom so late in summer and autumn, they get divided in spring. Even old colonies may never need to be divided, but can be divided if more plants are desired elsewhere.

The elegance of the foot high foliage seems contrary to its woodsy and unrefined compatibility with taller shrubbery and small trees, like rhododendrons, Japanese maples and hydrangeas. It is an excellent seasonal understory. The limber stems of the white or pale pink flowers get about twice as high as the foliage. The one and a half to two inch wide flowers are either single or double.

Japanese anemone wants rich soil, partial shade and regular watering. It can be happy in full sun exposure if it does not get too warm and dry.

Zinnia

81121The same cooling weather that is initiating fall color is what finishes the zinnias that bloomed so colorfully through summer. Like tomatoes, they can stay out in the garden until they succumb frost if they continue to perform, and if the space they occupy is not needed for something else. There should be no guilt with replacing them sooner. After all, they are technically warm season annuals.

Some of the more popular types of zinnias are identified as Zinnia elegans or Zinnia violacea. Most are known merely by their variety name. They have been bred so extensively than it is difficult to assign any of them to particular species. Most are susceptible to mildew if crowded or watered from above. They want full sun exposure and rich soil. Seed can be sown immediately after frost.

Zinnias are crazily variable. Some get more than three feet tall. Others are less than a foot tall. They can bloom in every color except blue. Some resemble other types of daisies, with distended centers. Others are as fluffy as African marigolds. Some bloom with small but profuse flowers. Others have fewer but bigger flowers that are wider than three inches. Most are excellent cut flowers.

Vahz, Vawz or Voz

P81020‘V-A-S-E ‘ is probably how it is spelled, just like that which is pronounced exactly as it looks, or ‘vays’. ‘Vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’ just sounds fancier, . . . or bigger.

That is how I learned it. ‘Vays’ is the smaller version that is designed to contain one or only a few flowers and maybe some foliage. ‘Vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’ is the much larger version that is designed to contain entire bouquets or ‘floral arrangements’. Those that contain only dried flowers and foliage do not even need to hold water.

I learned this from those who were experts on the subject. My Aunt Betsy and her best friend Cathy were ‘flower children’. They rented an apartment in a hip and trendy neighborhood in western San Jose back in the early 1970s. The neighborhood was so trendy and hip that the neighbors were known as ‘hippies’. Aunt Betsy and Cathy outfitted their apartment accordingly, with wicker, shaggy rugs, and a big spider plant hanging from beaded macrame.

Of course, there was also a rather big ‘vahz’, ‘vawz’ or ‘voz’. It was cheap molded plaster painted glossy chocolaty brown. It contained a billowy abundance of only two species of dried cut flowers, cattails and pampas grass, that had been sprayed with hair spray to prevent them from sharing their seed. It was as gloriously hideous as it sounds, and more than adequately expressed impeccable cultural refinement and a keen appreciation for the remarkably distinctive and exquisitely tacky style of home decor that was so prevalent at the time.

The cattails might have been collected on the side of Highway 80 in Auburn, near the home of Aunt Betsy’s Great Aunt Mamie. The pampas grass might have been found in Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos.

Chrysanthemum

51021thumbIt is impossible to fit enough information about chrysanthemums into just a few sentences. Centuries of breeding have produced too many cultivars to document. Flower color ranges through many shades and hues of yellow, orange, red, pink, bronze, cream, lavender and almost purple, as well as white. (True purple is purportedly lacking.) Many have yellow centers. The deeply lobed leaves are strongly aromatic.

Flower form is as variable as color is. Some are small domed buttons that bloom in sprays of many blooms. Others are round pom-poms. There are all sorts of daisy types. Spider mums have weirdly elongated ‘petals’, (which are actually ‘ray’ florets). Those that bloom singly are bigger than those in sprays. Some of biggest and most billowy seem to be too heavy for their own stems!

If they get what they want, chrysanthemums can be surprisingly reliable and easy to grow. They do want regular watering, regular application of fertilizer, and richly organic media, such as potting soil. In fact, they are popularly grown in pots because they prefer potting media to garden soil. Potted plants can be brought in while blooming, and then retired to the garden between bloom phases.

Chrysanthe-Mum Is The Word

51021Only a few decades ago, when horticulture was taken more seriously, potted blooming plants like chrysanthemums, orchids, azaleas, hydrangeas, lilies and even poinsettias, got the respect that they really deserve. Now they are more commonly purchased in full bloom, enjoyed only as long as their bloom lasts, and then discarded as their blooms deteriorate.

Some get put outside, but often die before they actually get repotted or planted into the garden. Many of those that do get planted, die when their sensitive greenhouse-grown foliage gets scorched by real sun exposure. Others succumb to desiccation before they can disperse their roots. Only orchids want to stay in their original pots for a while, but they rarely get the attention and regular watering that they crave.

Chrysanthemums happen to be in season now, both as potted plants for the interior of the home, and as autumn annuals in the garden. Yet, they are quite sustainable as perennials that can live for quite a few years. They only need to be groomed accordingly so that they can bloom in season, and new stems can replace the old. When they get planted into the garden, multiple plants in a single pot should be separated.

Many chrysanthemums get tall enough to require staking. If left to perform naturally, they bloom profusely. Hobbyists who want to grow larger flowers remove axillary flower buds (sideshoots) to concentrate resources into single terminal (top) flowers that most effectively display their distinctive colors, textures and forms. Sadly, many of the most impressive chrysanthemums have become rare as more profuse bloomers have become more popular.

The Chrysanthemum Society, which can be found on Facebook, is one of the most reliable resources for anyone wanting to grow some of the rare but really fancy exhibition types of Chrysanthemums. The internet makes it possible to get involved with regional chapters well beyond their designated regions. Chrysanthemum fanatics are more than happy to show off and talk about their favorite flowers.

Gilley’s

P80930Immediately after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, nothing was open for business downtown on North Santa Cruz Avenue south of Bean Avenue. As buildings were inspected for safety and cleaned up, sections of cyclone fence that had kept everyone out were slowly and systematically moved out so that businesses on the east side could open for business. The same slow process was repeated on the west side, moving south from the corner at Bean Avenue, but did not get very far. The old Los Gatos Cinema, as well as the several other building between it and the seemingly destroyed old La Canada Building on the southern corner of the block, were too badly damaged for the fence to be removed.
Right there next door to the Cinema where the fence stopped moving, Gilley’s Coffee Shoppe happened to be one of the fortunate businesses that was able to open for business again, and serve breakfast and lunch to those so diligently reconstructing downtown. It had always been there, longer than anyone can remember. Older people knew it as the ‘Sweet Shoppe’, a soda fountain that was very popular with those who cruised North Santa Cruz Avenue. It was the last of the first business that that moved into the old Cannery Building when it was converted to retail stores. Gilley converted it to more of a coffee shoppe and named it after himself in the 1970s. While everything in Los Gatos changed around it, Gilley’s remained about the same. Everyone knows Gilley’s.
I had not gone there more than a few times prior to the Loma Prieta Earthquake. I was away at school for the second half of the 1980s, and just did not go downtown much while in high school or earlier. I stopped by on the way to work early one autumn morning in 1990 because it was the only restaurant that was open in the recovering downtown neighborhood It instantly became my place to go for breakfast, and sometimes for lunch. It was nothing fancy, but it was what I wanted.
For the past twenty eight years, Gilley’s was where many of my work days started. I used their tables to sketch out irrigation systems and small sections of landscapes. I met clients there rather than at my home office. Back when I was able to write about local gardening events in my gardening column, I conducted interviews there. Readers sometimes brought me pieces of plants for identification, or for diagnoses of a disease. When Gilley’s sold and was prettied up a slight bit in the early 1990s, I procured small potted bromeliads, and later, cut flowers for the tables. Before permanent succulent were installed into the big pots flanking the door, I cycled flowering annuals for a little bit of color out front. A whole lot of horticulture went on at Gilley’s.
Sadly, nothing is permanent. Los Gatos is always changing, just like it has always done. By the time you read this, after 3:00 on September 30, 2018, Gilley’s will have closed for the last time.

Flowers Might Be Getting Scarce

70830thumbIt makes sense for flowers to bloom in spring. Winter is too cool, windy and damp for both flowers and the insects that pollinate many of them. By summer, successfully pollinated flowers have faded, are busy making seed to disperse in autumn. Some plants produce fruit to get birds and other animals to disperse their seed. There are certain advantages to blooming early in the spring.

Native plants that are endemic to chaparral climates are quicker with bloom, so that they finish before the air gets too arid. Desert plants might bloom for less than a week. Some tropical plants might bloom whenever they want to because they do not understand the concept of seasons, but they are not the prominent plants in our gardens. Therefore, flowers get scarce this time of year.

Besides the few perennials and annuals that bloom as long as the weather stays warm, there are not many plants that bloom reliably so late in summer. Belladonna lily, which is also known as naked lady, might be one of the flashiest, as its bright pink flowers bloom on top of bare stalks before the low basal foliage develops. It was actually dormant through the warmest part of summer.

Billowy and bold pampas grass flowers bloom this time of year, but are uncommon. The boldest type of pampas grass is too big and difficult to manage for home gardens. The smaller type has dingy tan flowers, and is so invasive and weedy that it is unavailable in nurseries. Those of us who have it in our gardens did not plant it. Other grasses with nice late flowers are not very colorful.

Russian sage has become one of the more popular late blooming perennials. More traditional Japanese anemone, goldenrod, lion’s tail and showy stonecrop all seem to have lost popularity over the years. Mexican blue sage should bloom best late in summer, but often finishes sooner than expected. Yarrow often blooms later than expected, until summer ends. Marigold, blanket flower and some sunflowers bloom until frost. Chrysanthemums, whether grown as annuals or perennials, are just beginning late in summer.