Color Outside The Spectral Lines

Infrared and ultraviolet are humanly invisible.

Green is the most common floral color. It only seems to be rare amongst flowers because almost all green bloom relies on wind for pollination. Thus, neither color nor fragrance is useful to get the attention of pollinators. Actually, green flowers do not get much attention at all. They are easy to ignore in the wild, and generally unpopular within home gardens.

Most showy green flowers such as zinnia, chrysanthemum, hydrangea and gladiolus are progeny of unnatural breeding. Showy but naturally green flowers such as hellebore and orchid are merely incidentally green, as they employ infrared or ultraviolet color to attract pollinators. Although people can not see infrared or ultraviolet color, many pollinators do.

After all, flowers bloom only for pollination. Many customize color as well as fragrance to appeal to preferred pollinators. They are merely incidentally appealing to people as well. People breed flowers to be more appealing to people, even if unappealing to pollinators. Nonetheless, even breeding is limited to characteristics that initially attracted pollinators.

It is impossible to identify the most common color among flowers that rely on pollinators. Pollinators are regional. Therefore, red and orange flowers may be more common where hummingbirds who prefer red or orange are more common. Purple flowers may be more common where bees or certain butterflies who prefer purple are the dominant pollinators.

Yellow seems to be the most common natural color of flowers of North America. Red and orange are very common as well. Although common, pink is merely a tint of red, so is not a real color. Neither is brown, which is a shade of orange. Although very common among flowers that rely on wind pollination, it is quite rare among flowers that rely on pollinators.

Blue is the rarest natural floral color. Many flowers that seem to be quite blue are actually purplish. Purple is uncommon, but not as rare as blue. Ultraviolet and infrared get almost no consideration since they are invisible to people. However, both are common amongst most showy flowers, particularly white and maybe red flowers. Red is invisible to insects, though infrared is not.

FLORAL FRAGRANCE IN THE GARDEN

The most fragrant flowers are generally smaller and less colorful than less fragrant flowers. This angel’s trumpet is an exception.

Attracting pollinators is serious business for flowers that do not rely exclusively on wind for dispersion of their pollen. Many flowers attract pollinators with flashy color. Some reward their pollinators with sweet nectar. Many prefer to use fragrance. Most flowers use a combination of two or more of these tactics.

Fragrances are designed by the flowers that use them to appeal to the discriminating taste of specific pollinators. Most are sweet. Some are more perfumed. A few are even quite objectionable to people because they are tailored to flies. Fortunately, flowers with foul fragrances are rare in gardening.

The most fragrant flowers are often less abundant than flowers that rely on wind for dispersion of their pollen, or less colorful than flowers that rely on visual appeal to attract pollinators. Yet, the fragrant flowers of wisteria vines and lilacs are both profuse and colorful. The surprisingly big and fragrant flowers of ‘Charles Grimaldi’ angel’s trumpet are bright yellow.

Mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) conforms to the stereotype of fragrant flowers a little bit better, with somewhat small white flowers that are incredibly fragrant. The small pale pink flowers of daphne are even less impressive and nearly hidden among their foliage, even though their fragrance can not be ignored. The sweetly fragrant flowers of Japanese honeysuckle vines are abundant but not too colorful. Star jasmine vines likewise bloom fragrantly and abundantly, and their bright white flowers contrast better against their glossy green foliage.

Night blooming jasmine is not appealing enough for prominent placement, and is not even fragrant during the day, but will be unbelievably fragrant on warm summer nights. Just as fragrances appeal to specific pollinators, nocturnally fragrant flowers specifically appeal to insects or bats who are active at night.

Freesia, hyacinth, lily,narcissus and some types of iris are very fragrant as well as colorful now that they are blooming for early spring. It is unfortunate that their flowers do not last long, and that there are not any comparable flowers later in the year. The same annual sweet peas and stock that bloom about now can be planted again later for autumn bloom. Sweet peas are easiest to grow from seed. Stock is easiest to grow from cell packs, and since it is actually perennial, sheltered plants can survives through warm summer weather to bloom again in autumn. Annual sweet alyssum can bloom anytime while the weather is warm.

Dried Floral Material Worth Recycling

Yucca bloom produces interesting floral stalks.

Gardens might be colorful throughout the year here. There is not much time between the latest of the autumn flowers and the earliest of the spring flowers. Winter flowers are glad to compensate for the lapse. Of course, there are plenty of flowers in spring and summer. Nonetheless, dried flowers are more popular now that there are fewer flowers for cutting.

The quantity of flowers blooming within a particular season might not be proportionate to the quantity of flowers available for cutting. Flowers that bloom through winter, even if as abundant as spring or summer flowers, do not develop as fast. Harvesting too many bird of Paradise flowers depletes the limited supply before something else can replace them.

Deciduous foliage that provides spectacular color through autumn is no substitute for cut flowers. Nor is the majority of colorful bark that becomes more prominent through winter. Some colorful berries can function like cut flowers, but only if there are plenty to spare in the garden. Conventional dried flowers that grew last summer may be useful about now.

For the venturesome and resourceful, unconventional dried flowers and other dried plant parts can also be fun. Such items, unlike statice, straw flower, lavender and other familiar dried flowers, might be byproducts of gardening. They might be derived from detritus that should otherwise go to compost or greenwaste. Some might even be products of weeds!

Pampas grass, both garden varieties and the invasively naturalized type, produces bold blooms that dry quite well. Because the leaves can cause such nasty paper cuts, flowers might be easier to harvest from a distance, with a pole pruner. Hair spray can contain the fuzz, so that it does not disperse indoors. Cat tails, if still intact, are compatible with them. 

Floral stems of lily of the Nile, New Zealand flax, and some species of Yucca are striking even after bloom. After deadheading, they can become flowerless dried flowers. Fruiting structures are no problem to remove. If within reach, some palms may provide distinctive bloom trusses. Floral design can be as imaginative as gardening and landscape design. 

Improvise While Flowers Are Scarce

61123thumbMuch of the color in the garden through autumn and winter is provided by foliage. Some foliage turns color as the weather gets cooler. Some had been blue, gray, gold, red, bronze or variegated all year, and just happens to get noticed more now that there is not much other color provided by flowers. There are a few flowers that bloom now or even later in winter, but not nearly as many as there were in spring and summer.

Coral bark Japanese maple and red twig dogwood display colorful defoliated stems as the weather gets cooler. The colorful berries of firethorn (pyracantha), cotoneaster and toyon will ripen about the same time, providing bright red color until the birds get them. Otherwise, there might not seem to be much more to cut and bring into the home to substitute for cut flowers, and add to all the colorful foliage, twigs and berries.

Well, this is where things get less horticultural, and more creative. All those old flowers and flower stalks that should get pruned off, and maybe a few old leaves, might be good for more than compost. Blooms of hydrangea, Queen Anne’s lace and lavender can be cut just as they begin to deteriorate, and hung upside-down to dry. They lose much of their color, and shrivel somewhat, but are nice options to fresh flowers.

Old flower stalks of New Zealand flax and lily-of-the-Nile have striking form once plucked of tattered flower parts and seed capsules. New Zealand flax stalks are tall and straight. Lily-of-the-Nile stalks are like star-bursts on sticks. If the natural color lacks appeal, they can be spray painted! Seed capsules of red flowering gum (eucalyptus) dry in loose clusters with stems that are long enough to arrange like cut flowers.

Pine-cones, magnolia grenades (seedpods) and sweetgum maces (seedpods) that fall from their stems can be drilled, and attached to sticks. There are no substitutes for real flowers, but there are no limits to creative and even weird alternatives.