Today is one of those seasonally warm January days that provides hope that spring will come. I took a break from work in the middle of the afternoon to take my dog, Roo, for a walk along the trail that runs along the edge of our small town. He was exuberant to be enjoying the outdoors again instead of stuck in the living room attempting to learn new tricks.
I don’t normally enjoy winter, but I have embraced the seasonal slowdown of January to feel fully dedicated to one thing at a time. I finished up the seed starting plans for this year over the weekend. Planning for blooms all summer requires careful succession planning. I bounce back and forth between spreadsheets figuring out when each variety of flower needs to be sown and what quantity needs to be sown to fill the planned space. This is still a one-woman enterprise so I’m careful to expand the business slowly. I still have another job to do as a pattern-maker and technical designer. Growing flowers cannot be all consuming yet, despite my grand visions. I also realize my vision is of a garden that would actually require at least one full-time gardener to maintain. So, I place plants in online shopping carts and then abandon the carts knowing I can’t add everything at once. And honestly, what would be the fun in a garden that was created so quickly? The beauty in gardens is their evolution over time. Tiny seeds grow into beautiful plants. Perennial beds fill in slowly overtime until no ground is visible and the plants are arguing about who gets the most space causing some to push higher and others to sway out over the edges of the flower bed.
Plants spreading out is actually my dream. Last fall, I planted Delnashaugh daffodils in the backyard. My hope is they will look like they naturally spread themselves among the trees. Delnashaugh is a double narcissus with an apricot center. I prefer the quieter and sweeter colors over the bright yellow trumpet daffodils. I planted them in addition to all the bulbs added to my primary growing space. Hopefully next spring there will masses of narcissus, tulips, lilies, and alliums for everyone to enjoy. But those stems are plucked out of the field before they are even open so the flowers in the yard are my selfish indulgence. The previous fall I planted clumps of muscari (grape hyacinth) under the red bud trees. Hopefully, I can add new bulbs each fall giving me something new to look forward to over the winter months.
During the winter I refer back to my notes taken over the summer frequently. I keep both a notebook and a sketch book handy. When one fills up, I start a new one. During the season I try and keep detailed notes so I can look back and see what worked and what did not.
Garden journals are valuable for home gardeners also. They provide the opportunity to make seasonal observations and note improvements you want to make next season. Maybe you notice in the spring that you need more bulbs to fill in an area and want to remember where to plant them in the fall. I like to have a blank sketchbook handy (or use it as your journal) so I can tuck in sketches of future plant combinations or designs for new beds. I’m still getting to know my property so including details about which areas receive the most sun, are too wet or the areas the snow is the first to melt is helpful. If I find an image of a plant that I want to purchase in the future I’ll tuck it into the sketchbook so I don’t forget.
Do you spend winter planning? Do you have any special garden aspirations for 2022?
Narcissus (aka Daffodils) are underrated flowers. They require almost no care. They reliably come back year after year and naturalize producing more bulbs. Instead of cutting stems, you can simply reach down to the bottom of the stem and pull. The stem will snap off from the bulb and leaves will remain. There is one warning with Narcissus. Do not add them to arrangements with other flowers without conditioning the stems first. Narcissus stems produce a sap that is toxic to other flowers. You may notice the sap can also be a skin irritant. Wash your hands after harvesting or wear gloves. If you want to use Narcissus with other flowers such as tulips place them in water alone for several hours first. Then do not re-cut the stems when adding to your arrangement or bouquet.
People are astonished when I tell them cut flower tulips are grown as annuals. Tulips are harvested when the bud is first colored. When harvesting tulips for cut flowers I pull out the whole bulb. The stems get wrapped up and stored upright in a refrigerator. (I hope to have a walk-in cooler in the next couple years.) The bulb provides all the needed energy while in storage. When ready to use the bulb is snipped off, the stems are re-wrapped, and placed in water. Wrapping or putting the stems in a deep container keeps the stems straight as the flowers re-hydrate.
Lilacs have a notoriously short vase life reputation among home gardeners. Like many woody plants they can be difficult to hydrate.
Lily of the Valley
This is a shade garden staple here in the Midwest. While tiny, the blooms are beautiful and fragrant. Anyone who has tried to snip one at a time to enjoy indoors knows how tedious it is. Turns out that in the cut flower industry they are shipped roots and all. The flowers hold up during shipment this way but it is also far easier to harvest them by digging than by cutting one at a time. Since they spread easily in the garden, digging up the areas around a bed of Lily of the Valley can be a great way to keep them in check.
Did you know you can store peonies for a month? The key is harvesting when the bud feels like a fluffy marshmallow but hasn’t really opened. Wrap the harvested stems in damp newspaper and place in a refrigerator. Peonies have a short bloom season, so this can be a great way to save a few to use later.
Hopefully, this allows you to enjoy your spring blooms a little longer.
You really only need flowers, a vessel and water to bring beautiful flowers into your home. But there are a few basic supplies that will elevate your arrangements. I like to have supplies handy so I can concentrate on creating rather than spending my time gathering materials. This list is focused on the basics. I'll be adding another post on additional supplies I love for wearables or adding special touches.
I use the same snips in the flower field and when arranging flowers. They can handle most stems but the ends are pointed enough for more delicate, precise cuts.
I often see dreamy photos of floral arranging scissors modeled after bonsai snips. Someday I'll give a pair a try but I know I will likely revert to my comfy handled snips.
I do also keep bypass pruners (2) handy for woody stems. They make easy, clean cuts through woody branches such as forsythia or lilacs.
Floral Netting or Chicken Wire (3)
Many florists are recognizing the downsides of wet floral foam. Floral foam is petroleum based plastic and it is not reusable. Instead you can use netting (chicken wire) folded into a ball inside your vessel to secure your stems. So what's the difference between floral netting and chicken wire? The wire marketed as floral netting is usually coated in green vinyl and comes in 12-24" wide rolls or pieces. The coating is supposed to resist rusting better. I find both the vinyl coated wire or regular galvanized chicken wire both work. Both hold up to multiple uses before rusting. You do need to recycle or dispose of the wire once it is rusted. The rust particles could clog up the flower stems preventing water take up.
There are a few different types of floral tapes so be sure to grab the right one depending on the end use.
Stem Wrap (4) is the tape you often see at the end of a boutonniere. It's also used with wires to create faux, bendable stems in some bouquets and arrangements. You pull the tape to activate a waxy coating that will adhere to itself. It's easy to find this tape in the floral section of craft stores but it's not needed unless you are venturing into fancy bouquets, corsages, or boutonnieres.
Waterproof tape (5) comes in clear or green. Clear is handy for creating a grid at the top of glass vases to hold stems in place. Green or clear works to secure balls of wire into vessels when creating arrangement.
There are a few vases and containers I like to keep on hand but be creative! I like to have a tall, simple cylinder vase for branches or to plop a bouquet in when I'm short on time. I also keep smaller clear vases or even pint size mason jars for when I want to take a small arrangement to a friend. The secret is that they fit in the cup holder in the car which makes them easy to transport.
When decorating the dining table I like to use shorter vessels. You want to be able to see over the top of the arrangement. Small pots or compotes are great. Another alternative is to use many small bud vases to create a tablescape.
I save the tall pitchers or urns for side tables.
Do you always need flower food? No, changing the water frequently is more important than flower food. Treating the water does help many stems pull up water more efficiently and keep the water clear. Flower food has sugar which helps to feed some flowers. Some treatments also have acids or bleaches that clarify the water because some flower stems have a bad habit of creating stinky, murky water after a few days. If you don't have flower food common alternatives are to add a bit of citrus based soda like 7Up or a tiny bit of bleach and sugar.
Let's face the fact that many of us will be staying in for Valentine's Day this year. So how do we make the day extra special? I believe we can make the day great and support small businesses and arts organizations.
Flowers and Plants
The hard truth is flowers don't grow outside in Iowa in February. Any flowers purchased this time of year will be imported from somewhere. An alternative is to gift a bouquet subscription for flowers when they are in season. Many flower farms like mine offer subscriptions for flowers during their growing season. By purchasing flowers in advance you help fund seed and supply purchases for the season. I'm trying out a 4-week bouquet subscription for the first time this year.
Want flowers to give right now? Chat with your florist about what they recommend. Stock, ranunculus, anemones, tulips and hellebores are easy for florists to source this time of year. Be adventurous and put some trust in your floral designer. Try a dried arrangement like this gorgeous one from Wild Flower Des Moines.
Gardeners might be more interested in plants more than cut flowers. How about a gift certificate to their favorite greenhouse? Or they might love a houseplant from a florist or garden center.
Rather than the traditional chocolates how about a dessert from your local bakery? Small businesses can certainly use our support right now. I love the pie from Pies and Such here in Leon, Iowa. Plan a take out meal from a local restaurant for a date night.
At Home Theatre
Date night options are limited right now, but there are a number of performance art organizations holding virtual performances. Joffrey ballet in Chicago is streaming a performance of Bolero for free at 7pm on February 12th. You can go to the ballet without leaving your home. The Des Moines Symphony is presenting a ticketed virtual concert on February 11th. So, search out your favorite performing arts groups and check out what they have going on virtually. Get dressed up, plan that take-out or delivery order and a special dessert.