About Good Scents

The cut flower business ended in 2011 but I continue to post other items about gardening.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Seed Starting Update

Here are some pictures of the lisianthus, alchemilla and delphiniums sown in January. The lisianthus were seeded on 1/7/2008, the alchemilla on 1/20/2008. The delphiniums were planted on 1/14/2008 but they spent the first 3 weeks chilling in the garage so the plants you see are about 2 weeks old. The lisianthus are in 200 cell plug trays, and the alchemilla and delphiniums are in 100 cell plug trays - each cell is about the diameter of a quarter.

Lisianthus seedlings

Alchemilla mollis seedlings

Delphinium seedlings

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Eryngium (Sea Holly)

You don’t see sea hollies offered for sale everywhere but like many thistle-y flowers they make long lasting cuts. I bought some commercial cut sea hollies as decorations for a Christmas party and put them into little bouquets with statice. I hung these around here and there and they held just fine for a couple days without being in water at all. The flowers are small and clustered together on a little thimble surrounded by large, spiny bracts. The thimble and bracts are usually blue or gray. I like Patrick Lima’s description of them best when he says they, “seem more mineral than vegetable”.

Eryngium alpinum - "more mineral than vegetable"

I grew Eryngium planum for cut flowers the year after I started Good Scents but almost none of them made it into bouquets. The flowers and bracts were pretty but came in clusters that were too dense to combine easily with anything else. They are odd enough looking that 2 or 3 in a bouquet looks pretty cool but a whole bunch of them look too spiny to be really pretty. After a couple years I dug up all the Eryngium planum plants and threw them out. I hate killing nice plants of any kind but for the business I can't spare the room ofr anything I don't use. The commercial ones I bought at Christmas were Eryngium alpinum which has larger flowers and less dense clusters, so I am going to try starting some from seed this year. If everything works out they will start appearing in bouquets in 2009.

Sea hollies work nicely in a landscape because they are not only drought resistant but (listen up, Barton Hills) deer and rabbit resistant, too. The flowers are held in clusters on fairly long stems so they look better in a group, preferably with something dense in front of them to cover up the gawky stems.

Forcing Lilies

My friend, Melanie, says she prefers to say "coaxing" rather than "forcing" bulbs. I do see her point but still say "forcing" to avoid confusion. Whether coaxing or forcing, what you are doing is providing the bulbs with conditions that give them the opportunity to bloom out of season. How does that sound?Most people think of forcing spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils so you can have a pot of them blooming in the house in March. But, you can also force lilies all year around if you provide the right conditions. This is possible because bulb wholesalers store the lilies in coolers at a constant 28 degrees F and ship them to growers throughout the year. The bulbs are then typically planted in bulb crates and grown in a greenhouse.

Bulb crates with 300 lily bulbs

I force a few hundred lilies each year to help supply me with flowers in late May. I just got the lilies yesterday and will plant them in their crates today. The process is as follows:
  1. Line the crates with newspaper or landscape fabric. I use landscape fabric because I don't take the newspaper and it can be reused over and over.
  2. Fill the crates with a couple inches of potting soil. A commercial mix is better than garden soil because it is much lighter and these crates will be moved around quite a bit.
  3. Set the bulbs on top of the mix. You can usually fit about 20 or even 25 per 18'x24" crate. This is much closer than they would be planted outside in a garden bed but after they bloom they will either be thrown out or replanted outside so it is not an issue.
  4. Cover the bulbs with another 4-5 inches of grow mix and water them.
  5. Store the crates at around 50 degrees F until the lilies begin to poke out of the soil. This cool temperature is necessary so that the lilies will develop good root systems. While the lilies are sprouting the crates can be stacked to save space.
  6. Once sprouts appear the crates are moved to a greenhouse and grown on at 65-70 degrees F.

If the bulbs I planted today were moved to 70 degrees as soon as they sprouted, they would bloom in in about 10 or 11 weeks. Mine always take longer because I don't keep my greenhouse that warm. Hopefully they will begin blooming in late May.

The varieites I am forcing for May are 'Salmon Classic', 'Courier' and 'Monte Negro'.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Leucanthemum superbum (Shasta Daisy)

Like Rodney Dangerfield, shasta daisies just get no respect. Because they are simple flowers whose relatives grow wild in fields, many people shun shasta daisies. This is a shame because simple, plain flowers like shastas are necessary in both a garden and a vase to really make the most of big showy flowers like peonies, delphiniums, lilies, and dahlias. A big bunch of lilies in a vase is lovely, as is a bed full of delphiniums, but to me both look better when combined with other flowers of contrasting shape and color. Because they are pretty without being attention grabbers, Shasta daisies are particularly good for this purpose.
White shasta daisies, yellow heliopsis and orange calendula complement blue delphiniums.

My favorite garden writer, Henry Mitchell, first pointed this out when he said that a bed of dayliles is greatly improved by adding clumps of shasta daisies between the dayliles. I tried this and really liked the contrast in color and form between the dayliles and the white daisies and it is a lesson I try to remember when making bouquets.

Shastas have been extensively bred since the first hybrids were introduced by Luther Burbank in 1901, and they now come in a range of heights and include fancy varieties with double flowers and quilled petals. There are even some varieties that are pale yellow instead of white. Their bloom season has also been extended so some bloom as early as late May with different varieties continuing until July. I already grow a couple of the double varieties along with some of the late blooming singles but decided to add some of the early flowering ones to help with the slow time in late May. I chose the seed strain ‘May Queen’ which is early but more prolific and larger than the field daisies that bloom near the same time.

Shasta daisies are readily available as 3" perennials. 'Alaska', introduced by Burbank more than a century ago, is the most common of the singles. It is also now easy to find the double, quilled 'Crazy Daisy' which bloom a little later. For still later in the summer a nice one is 'Becky' but it will cost a bit more since it is a not a seed strain and is only available by division. If you aren't fussy about the variety you can always ask for divisions from friends and neighbors. They are best divided in spring.

Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved Bellflower)

I was thinking about how to describe the a bellflower. The white ones have a shiny, waxy quality that makes them almost look like they are made of super thin, translucent porcelin. Bellflowers tend to be supporting players rather than stars in both bouquets and perennial borders, so it is one of those things that I only notice about them when I really take the time to notice them, if you know what I mean. It made me realize that there isn't one of these flowers I grow that I don't think is beautiful. The biggest difference is that some, like a peony or dahlia, are beautiful from 5 or 10 feet away while others only become really gorgeous and fascinating when viewed close up. Sitting here with the cold and snow outside I remember that one of the pleasures of growing and working with flowers all the time is that I have so many opportunities to appreciate them.

White peach-leaved bellflowers

There are many different bellflowers but the one I was talking about earlier is the peach-leaved bellflower, Campanula persicifolia. The 1-2 inch flowers are either blue-ish purple or white and come on stalks maybe 2 feet high. The petals are fused into an elongated cup or bell, hence the names.

In the garden bellflowers bloom in early to mid June but will merrily keep going if you have the patience to go out every day and pinch off any flowers that have faded. I read this someplace and tried it one season and it really works. Unfortunately, it isn't the kind of thing I'm really going to make a practice of doing, I'm just not that kind of gardener.

Bellflowers are easy to find in the spring in 3" pots or you can grow them from seed by surface sowing the dust-like seed. However you get them, it is better to have a good clump or at least 6 plants to make much of a show. As I said, the flowers are very pretty close up but in the landscape you need a lot of them to make that "drift of color" the garden books are always talking about.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Centaurea montana (Perennial Cornflower)

Centaurea montana is a perennial bachelor button. I always think the opened flowers look like the blue flame on a stovetop. They last quite a long time as a cut flower if they are cut when the blue petals are about a half inch long at the top of the bud. At this stage they kind of look like a thistle flower, but in the vase the flower will open the rest of the way and last perhaps a week.

Perennial cornflowers begin blooming in late May and continue for about a month. If they are dead-headed (or if all the flowers are cut for the house) they may continue blooming even longer. The leaves are fuzzy and silvery like lamb's ears. In good soil they may grow a couple feet tall or more, but in poor dry soil they stay more compact. They are a bit weedy, so staying compact is not a bad thing. They are easy to grow and self-seed a easily, too, so they are not for fussy people who only want rare and difficult plants.

It is quite easy to find these plants in 3" pots in the spring at places like Coleman's in Ypsilanti, but they can also be started easily enough from seed.

Trollius chinensis (Globe Flower)

Trollius ‘Golden Queen’
Trollius is another nice flower for the late May slow time. When I first started Good Scents I bought a few trollius plants but I wanted to find more when I saw they bloomed in late May. You don't see trollius offered very often as a small perennial, usually a sign that they are difficult from seed. However, I saw the seed available and decided to give it a try. Surprisingly, they germinated quickly and easily and so this year I will be starting more.

Trollius flowers are 1 or 2 inch, semi-double, shiny and bowl shaped - kind of like a ranunculus but smaller and without so many petals. The variety I started is ‘Golden Queen’ although it is really more orange than gold.

Orange trollius with globe allium, blue columbine and yellow loepard's bane daisies

Trollius, along with astilbes and lysmachia and ferns are one of the few nice cut flowers that grow well in filtered sun or partial shade. Unfortunately, they also all require consistent moisture to do well. If you are one of those lucky people who has a spot in your yard that is “consistently moist but well drained” (where do those conditions naturally occur?) then this is a great plant to include in your garden. If, like me, you are not blessed with these magical conditions, you can try artificially creating them the way I did - see Constantly Moist Soil.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Aquilegia (Columbines)

Columbines bloom during the May Slow Time and they make quite nice cut flowers but I have had problems growing them. During a trip to England in 2000, I fell in love with some beautiful hybrid columbine I saw at the Chelsea Flower Show. The flowers of these columbines had white centers contrasting with intensely colored petals of burgundy, royal purple, red and several shades of pink.

Aquilegia 'Swan Violet and White'

They are sold as the Swan and Songbird series in the United States and when I started Good Scents I knew these were the columbines I wanted to grow. These hybrids are easy enough to grow except they are particularly susceptible to attack by the columbine saw fly. These tiny pests are easy enough to eliminate by hand picking or using insecticidal soap but they are nearly invisible and I often don’t notice they have arrived until suddenly the columbines are half defoliated.

Last year I was more vigilant than I have been in the past so hopefully my customers will be seeing some nice columbine in May 2008. However, to hedge my bets for 2009, I am going to start some other columbines this year that seem a little less bothered by the saw fly. The first is the Barlow Series.

Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow'

These are sometimes sold as individual names like Christa Barlow, Blue Barlow and so on. Except for the leaves, the Barlows don’t look much like what most people think of as a columbine. The flowers are double but also smaller and spurless. They look more like a wild flower and depending on your taste may seem plain or exquisitely refined when compared to the flashy hybrids. The second columbine I’m glowing is called Lime Sorbet. The flowers also small, double, spurless and supposedly green(ish) but white with green centers will be fine with me.

Aquilegia 'Lime Sorbet'

The leaves of these columbines are thicker and a little more leathery than the hybrids and seem to be less susceptible to attack by the saw fly.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Plants for the Late May Slow Time

Mid to late May is still spring but for cut flowers it is a bit of a slow time. During this couple weeks the daffodils and tulips have finished but the early summer flowers like delphiniums and peonies have not yet started. The medium height iris bloom at this time and I also force some lilies and these both help to provide large flowers, but I seem to always be struggling to find other, smaller flowers to complement them.

This year I'm going to be either adding to or starting new plantings of the following to try to deal with this time:

Trollius chinensis (Globe Flower)

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy)

Chrysanthemum coccineum (Painted Daisy)

Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved Bellflower)

Centaurea montana (Perennial Cornflower)

Seed starting information and other details to follow!