Friday, August 15, 2008

Flower happy

Express Staff Writer

Most people have a fondness and appreciation for a beautifully arranged vase of flowers. But many gardeners have a dilemma—whether to cut or not to cut. We grow gardens to create an outdoor palette but also to have flowers inside.

Amy Stewart's fascinating book "Flower Confidential" gets to the heart of the business of flower gardening, revealing that most of our florist flowers have been shipped from vast miles away, often from abroad.

So it's better to grow one's own flowers to cut, right? But who wants to decimate the garden you've worked so hard to nurture? Let's face it, a straggly, flowerless garden is pretty forlorn looking, especially in the middle of August.

I had a brother-in-law who was adamant about not cutting his flowers. His garden looked fabulous for a spell under this regime but after a while all plants need a little pruning to be healthy. If you're lucky you have a cutting garden that is full of annuals, and a perennial garden to admire in all its foliage and flower beauty.

Many years ago I watched as my late mother-in-law daily cut back her flowers to make colorful bouquets all over the house. She didn't have grand gardens, and in fact lived on the sea, so was limited in her flower growing. However, her zinnias, snapdragons, marigolds and hydrangea blooms were constant and healthy all summer, both inside and out.

Other flowers that do well in arrangements are cosmos and dazzling dahlias, should you be lucky enough to be able to grow the giant-headed ones.

As for perennials use your imagination. Certain flowering shrubs can be used for contrast with such flowers as roses, veronica, columbine, astilbe, valerian and foxglove. These should all have a vase life of about five to seven days.

When you're ready to cut your blooms, have sharp clippers on hand and a bucket filled with cool water. Immerse each stem into the bucket. Before putting them into a vase, remove any leaves that will be beneath the waterline.

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