About Good Scents

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The latest daffodils

A few more daffodils are in bloom now and appeared in Yesterday's bouquets.

Going from top to bottom:
  • 'Stratosphere' - the stem on this daffodil was actually 18 inches long. I had to cut it to get it in the picture with the others.
  • 'Stainless' - a very pretty pure white.
  • 'Tahiti' - yellow and orange double.
  • 'Gay Kybo' - white and orange double. These are huge and really gorgeous. It looks more like a gardenia than a daffodil.
  • 'Cool Flame' - this is the large one with the pinkish cup. You won't see many of these because the stems have been disappointingly short.
  • 'Geranium' (white with orange cup) - quite late and a nice fragrance, though it has a hint of that paperwhite scent to it.
  • 'Quail' (yellow, bottom right) - I really like this daffodil. It is fairly late, fragrant and a strong grower. The stems are bit short for cut flower purposes but it is very nice.

Tulips for 2008

Tulips are great cut flowers. They come in a whole variety of colors and shapes and they last a long time in a vase. They do have drawbacks, of course. Deer and rabbits love them and they generally weaken each year they are left in the ground. To have a nice display of tulips you really have to treat them as annuals.

It is standard practice among cut flower growers to pull the entire bulb when harvesting a tulip to gain the extra few inches of stem length. I tried not to do this the first couple years I was in business because it seemed wasteful and expensive. However, if you want to cut a tulip and have it come back next year you need to leave two leaves on each tulip so the bulb can regenerate itself. This often meant I was cutting tulips that were barely taller then the jar I was putting them in. I may try to experiment with certain varieties again sometime but for now I have started to just pull them.

The tulips this year have been very nice but with the unseasonably warm April weather they blasted through nearly the entire tulip season in less than a week. Tulips should be cut (or pulled) when the bud is fully colored but before it has started to open. Darwin hybrid tulips should be cut a little sooner, when the the bud is only half colored. In warm weather tulips mature very rapidly, so for the past week I have been checking them every few hours and cutting all of them that are ready. I strip the lower leaves, wash them and then store them in the cooler until I need them.

Last fall I ordered about 2000 tulips from ColorBlends. ColorBlends specializes in selling bulbs in packages that bloom at the same time and look good together. The names for the combinations are cutesy and drive me crazy but the quality is tops and the prices are reasonable. I am not a good enough photographer to do justice to these tulips and I always cut them before they are fully open anyway, so I am going to show pictures and links to the ColorBlends website.

Best Purple

Banja Luka

Pinky Shears

Semper Maxima

Big Apricot

Tang Dynasty

Best Red

Miss Confection

Cool Out



Flame and Fortuyn

Green Day



Mamma Mia

Best Pink

I only ordered one or two hundred of each so not everyone will see all of these in their homes.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bouquets for April 28th, 2008

Bouquets this week contained more different kinds of tulips, primarily various Darwin Hybrids. If you got flowers today, your bouquets was either "hot" or "cool". The "hot" bouquets had yellow, orange or red tulips and forsythia; the "cool" bouquets had pink, purple or white tulips and red twig dogwood. All of them also had boxwood greenery and daffodils. The daffodils in the "cool" bouquets were mostly white - I don't like to combine pink and yellow, but in a few cases I had to do it because I didn't have as many white daffodils as I did pink tulips.

Bouquets for April 25th, 2008

I had hoped to be posting things more regularly but have been super busy trying to keep all the seedlings watered, start planting new perennials and so on.

All the bouquets for last Friday contained white, yellow or orange "Emperor" tulips, daffodils, forsythia and yew. Most looked something like this:

In addition to 'Marieke', some other daffodils appeared by Friday. From left to right they were: 'Actea', 'Passionale', 'Ceylon', 'Serola' and 'Barret Browning'.
  • 'Actea' is nicely fragrant.
  • 'Passionale' is supposed to be pink. What this means is that the cup appears kind of apricot when the flower opens like the one above, and fades so the overall effect is of a cream colored daffodil.
  • 'Ceylon' is a particular favorite of mine. The blooms last an exceptionally long time outside. I am not sure if they last longer than other daffodils after being cut.
  • 'Serola' is just a pretty daffodil, bright orange cup with yellow.
  • 'Barret Browning' quite an old variety but is still popular.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bouquets for April 21, 2008

I delivered the first 2008 bouquets today. They all contained about the same things - forsythia, red twig dogwood, tulips, daffodils and yew for greens. The daffodils I used are pictured below:

The solid yellow is 'Marieke', the yellow and white is 'Ice Follies' and the one with the apricot colored split cup is 'Cum Laude'.

This is a lousy picture but this is what most of the bouquets looked like.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Alliums (Ornamental Onions)

There are many different ornamental onions and most of them make good cut flowers but I only regularly grow two. The first is Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'. The flower is a medium purple 2-4 inch sphere that is actually composed of many tiny flowers. There are many other hybrid alliums like 'Gladiator' or 'Globemaster' which produce huge 6-10 inch spherical flowers. These can look kind of fun in a perennial garden but are too large and expensive for me to use in my arrangements.

'Purple Sensation' alliums with lilacs, coral bells and double columbine.

Bulbs for 'Purple Sensation' are planted in the fall and bloom the following year in mid to late May. The first spring each bulb usually produces one large flower and in following years the flowers will be smaller but more numerous. After a few years you can divide the bulb in the fall and re-plant the pieces to propagate it, but the bulbs are cheap enough - around $35 for 100 in 2007 - that I have never bothered.

The other allium I use is Allium sphaerocephalon, or drumstick allium. This allium is smaller and dark rose-purple colored. The flowers appear in July and are shaped like little 1 inch eggs on top of 2 foot stems. I don't use this flower as much as I used to just because there are usually lots of flowers available in July.

The cut stems of these alliums will smell a little oniony, but the flowers themselves are not pungent. This is not true of all of them. I used to grow a third one called Allium bulgaricum. It is sometimes listed as Nectaroscordum siculum. It is really striking with clusters little crimson bells each edged with pale yellow. You can see them in the picture below in the center and upper right. These are really pretty and I would still use them except that when the stems are handled they give off a really strong skunky garlic smell. The smell fades after a bit but I decided they were too risky to send into someones house. They are not expensive and would be great in a perennial border. I'm sure that deer and rabbits leave them alone.

Iris, coral bells, and that cute little stinker Allium bulgaricum

Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart)

Dicentra spectablis (Bleeding Heart) is another one of the perennials I think every garden should have. It is one of the first large perennials to begin blooming in the spring. Individual flowers are heart shaped and are borne on foot long horizontal stems, about a dozen flowers per stem. Each heart shaped flower has a tiny white droplet hanging from the bottom of it, hence the “bleeding heart”. Each plant will produce dozens of these wands of flowers over several weeks beginning in May and lasting into June. The mature plant creates a stunning tiered effect that is delicate but at the same time imposing. There is a pure white form as well as the usual pink form, and to me they are equally beautiful.

Pink bleeding hearts with Brunnera, tulips and white daffodils.

I grew Dicentra spectablis for years before reading that they make good cut flowers. The only trick is to lightly scrape the bottom couple inches of the stem with a knife or your clippers after cutting it. This will help the stem take up water. I think the white is a little easier to combine with other colors than the pink, which is a really 'cold' pink. It looks great with purples and blues but clashes with many of the warmer pinks that are common in the spring.

White bleeding heart with Virginia bluebells, 'Angelique' tulips and daffodils.

Bleeding hearts are plants for partial shade. They will survive in deep shade but really look their best in either light dappled shade cast by trees like locusts or dogwoods, or beneath trees limbed up high enough to allow direct sun in the morning and afternoon. They can even tolerate full sun but will tend to burn up and go dormant sooner in the summer. They prefer the shade lover’s evenly moist, humus rich soil, but will grow pretty well in any decently amended garden soil you have.

White bleeding heart with yellow Leopard's Bane and 'Spring Green' tulips.

Bleeding hearts sometimes self seed a bit, but never enough to be a pest. If new plants do appear, though, there will always be people waiting to take them. If you are growing both pink and white varieties, you can easily tell the white from the pink even when they are not in bloom. The white plants emerge bright green and mature into a medium green. The pink plants emerge a pinkish green and the leaves mature to a darker bluish green than the white form.

Pink bleeding hearts look terrific with blue flowers. The most classic combination is with Brunnera macrophylla. The Brunnera has large heart shaped leaves, true blue forget-me-not like flowers and it blooms at exactly the same time as the bleeding heart. You can also just combine them with forget-me-nots or even grape hyacinths. The white form looks nice with almost any other color, and planted alongside blue hostas is a classic choice for the all-white, semi-shady garden.

Dicentra spectablis is an easy plant to find, either packaged bare-root in early spring, or in containers at garden centers and the Farmer’s Market. Even large plants can be moved quite easily, especially if it is done in early spring before growth really gets going.

Given all their great features, it is easy to forgive the bleeding heart its one fault - it tends to go dormant (that is, the foliage dies back) in midsummer. How early this happens seems to vary some from year to year depending on heat, moisture and how much sun the plant is getting. In my gardens it usually happens by late July or early August.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Doronicum orientale (Leopard's Bane)

I don't know why Doronicum orientale is the Bane of Leopards. I read somewhere that the roots were used to poison arrow tips, which I assume were used to fend off leopards. Whatever the reason, it is one of my favorite common names - so much more fun than one like 'Bell flower'.
Leopard's Bane was one of the first perennials I ever grew. I had read about it in Patrick Lima's The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden and bought plants at Plymouth Nursery along with a number of other perennials. I don't remember any of the other things I bought but I remember Leopard's Bane because of the name and because it was the first of those perennials to bloom the following spring. I cut one of the flowers and excitedly showed it to a non-gardening friend. He couldn't understand what I was so excited about, saying, "It's a flower", like he was talking to someone who'd never seen one before. Right then I realized there is a fundamental difference between gardeners and non-gardeners.

Yellow Doronicum with tulips and white bleeding heart.

Doronicum orientale is a yellow daisy about the color of a dandelion and is fairly ordinary looking. It is useful as a cut flower because it blooms in May and appears before any other daisy-like flowers are around. If it bloomed in the summer when yellow daisies are everywhere it would merit little attention, at least from me.

Unlike most other cut flowers, Leopard's Bane will grow in partial shade. They grow better in moist soil but will tolerate some dryness if they have shade. You can usually find plants at Coleman's in Ypsilanti and they are easy to start from seed. Most Doronicum plants you find now are from the seed strain 'Little Leo'. It is around 12 inches tall and is shorter than the other seed strains. The cut flower varieties are 'Finesse', 'Magnificum' and 'Goldcut' which are usually 12 to 18 inches tall. The flowers of all these strains look very similar except 'Finesse' has needle shaped petals. All the cut flower strains will tend to flop a bit if they aren't staked which explains the popularity of the shorter 'Little Leo'.

10,000 Daffodil Bulbs

Has anyone seen the Image/Align art installation at Nichols Arboretum? It was created in 2003 and is a half mile long line of 10,000 'Marieke' daffodil bulbs. You can see pictures and watch a video about it here.
I first saw a picture of this in the John Scheepers catalog a few years ago and maybe this year will remember to run out there and see them in bloom. I grow 'Marieke' and it won't be blooming for another week or so. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Signs of Spring - Daffodils and a Hellebore

The weather has been so nice for the past few days that I've been busy working outside and have not had time to write anything. It is colder today so I'm back at the computer.

My first daffodils opened yesterday, April 8th. I don't grow any dwarf ones which bloom even earlier, but of the trumpet daffodils, the first one for me is always 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'.

There is nothing special about this daffodil other than it being the first one out of the gate in spring and I guess that alone makes it fairly special.

Besides the daffodil, I also have a Hellebore niger blooming really well.

I will write more about hellebores another time, but will mention that one of the things I like about them is that they do not grow from a bulb but still bloom really early when mostly only bulbs are flowering.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ageratum houstonianum (Floss Flower)

I have never heard anyone refer to Ageratum as anything but Ageratum but catalogs sometimes say floss flower so I will include that name, too. You see Ageratum sold everywhere in the spring in packs as a bedding annual. The flowers are usually powder blue with a hint of purple, but there are white, purple and pink varieties, too. Each flower is made up of many short, thread-like petals. The flowers are only a 1/4 or a 1/2 inch across but are held in clusters that are 2-3 inches across. The overall effect is soft and fuzzy. You can see them dead center in the picture below.

The bedding varieties only grow 6 or 8 inches tall but there are also a few tall strains of Ageratum that grow a 18-24 inches tall. The most common cutting varieties are 'Blue Horizon' and the 'Dondo Series' which comes in blue, violet and white. There's also a reddish purple one called 'Red Sea'. All of them are easy to start from seed but are tall enough that they usually need support.

I grew the white ones once and found they quickly discolored so I have not tried them again. I also tried 'Red Sea' and didn't care for it. The buds are more red and the flowers more purple but you see both in the same cluster. It looks like it can't decide which color it wants to be. The color also somehow loses some of the softness that I like in the blue, so for now 'Blue Horizon' is the only one I grow.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Echinops (Globe Thistle)

Four years ago a friend of mine gave me about 20 starts of white Echinops for Good Scents. Most often when you see Echinops it is blue and I am not sure exactly what variety these white ones are. There are several species used in the garden, the most common being Echinops ritro. These white flowered plants seem larger than the blue flowered ones I have. They are very large, 4-5 feet high when in bloom, and the flowers are between one and two inches. They are fun to add to bouquets because they are perfectly round and have an interesting texture.

Echinops have very coarse, thistley foliage. I am not sure how I feel about them in a perennial border. When they are not in bloom they are not ugly, but they do look like a thistle.

Bees seem to be extremely fond of the white ones. When I cut them and put them in buckets, the bees hover around the buckets and will even follow me when I carry the buckets to my car. People like them too, and always ask about them. Whenever some asks me the name of the flower that looks like a disco ball, I always know which one they mean.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Signs of Spring

The cool thing about early spring is that because so few things are growing you really notice every little change. Today I saw that some Crocus chrysanthus have started to bloom in the big perennial border along my driveway. All things being equal, these should be the first crocus to bloom, but these are in the open so they are blooming after the Dutch crocus on the south side of the house.

The other big news is that the first shoots of a bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) have appeared.

This is exciting to me because bleeding heart is the first non-bulb perennial to start growing at my place. Non-gardeners will have trouble sharing my enthusiasm over something like this, but I think most gardeners will understand.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Signs of Spring - Iris reticulata

In another sign that spring really is coming, my first Iris reticulata started blooming today. Iris reticulata are a spring bulb I wish more people would grow. They are at least as easy as crocus, maybe easier - squirrels don't eat the shoots and flowers of these iris as they do crocus. Pretty much all you have to do is push them into the ground and you have them for years and years. They bloom just about the same time as crocus, perhaps a day or two later.

Most of the time they will gradually clump up so a single bulb or two will become a cluster in a few years.

These little iris are actually several different species, the most common being Iris reticulata. In catalogs and books they are sometimes called rock garden iris or bulb iris. The blue one pictured above is 'Joyce'. There is also a white called 'Natasha', and a pale blue one called 'Cantab'. I had a dark purple one at my old house which was really striking but I can't remember the name. A second species you often see is Iris danfordiae, the only one I know of that is yellow. For me it multiplies more slowly and is earlier than the others. It is a really bright flourescent yellow with green markings.

You can find these bulbs in the fall at Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor or Coleman's Farm Market in Ypsilanti. For better selection and prices, however, you need to mail order them. I have had good luck ordering these and other bulbs from John Scheepers. As bulbs go, these iris are not very expensive. Last year you could get 100 of most kinds for between $15-$20, about the same price as crocus.

Because they multiply, I like to plant the bulbs singly 3-4 inches apart, in drifts. They take up almost no room and you can even plant them on top of other bulbs like daffodils.