Monday, March 24, 2014

Winter Hellebores as cut flowers and how to make them last

A plate of hellebores from Northwest Garden Nursery
March is peak Hellebore season for us in the Pacific Northwest and there's so much to love about them in the garden, but the temptation is ALWAYS there to cut them to bring inside for a vase. The trouble is, once hellebores are cut, they often have a hard time actually taking up water and in a matter of minutes, their heads are drooping and look unflattering. So to enjoy them, most people will just float them in a shallow platter like the O'brynes did above.

First, I want to write about the different types of hellebores one would encounter at a large garden center. There are two main types that are distinguished by their growth habit:  stemmed (caulescent) or stemless (acaulescent).

Caulescent types emerge from the ground and have a prominent stem with attached alternating leaves and the clusters of flowers up top. H. argutifolius is an example (the green ones in the photo on the right and all the foliage you see is attached to the main stem with the flowers up top)

Acaulescent hellebores do not form a stem with foliage, but instead, all the foliage and flowering stems emerge from the base of the plant. The "orientalis" type of hellebores are the most common. (the pink flowered ones on the photo)

Now, between the two basic growth habits, there are hybrids between the two types creating varieties that possess some of the qualities of both resulting in vigorous and hardy garden plants.

Helleborus x ballardiae 'Pink Frost'

I've found that all types of hellebores have a difficult time standing up when cut for a vase. There are many tricks that have proven to be effective such as:

1. Dip cut ends in hot boiling water for a few seconds.

2. Flame the cut ends for a few seconds to supposedly "seal in" the moisture

3. Slice bottom end lengthwise an inch or so to maximize water uptake. (Mentioned by Val Easton on her blog. She wrote a book called "Petal & Twig")

4. The age of the flowers play a very important role in the longevity of a cut hellebore. Wait until the ovary begins to develop when the stamens, anthers and nectaries have fallen off and the flowers are a little "greener" and they'll last for about 10 days when cut (according to Diane Szukovathy of Jelly Mold Farm)

I've primarily been playing with the "Orientalis" types (very uncommon to get the true Helleborus orientalis species). They are botanically referred to as Helleborus x hybridus because they're far more plentiful in bloom along with some of the complex hybrids out there like 'Pink Frost' above, 'Merlin', and 'Cinnamon Snow'.

So recently, I chatted with Linda Beutler at the Yard, Garden, and Patio Show in Portland, Oregon who wrote the book, "Garden to Vase: Growing and Using your Own Cut Flowers."

Linda advised me to try the following solution to condition Hellebores for arranging:

2 tablespoons of alcohol to 1 quart of regular tap water 
1 packet of flower food (optional)

Keep Hellebores in a cool location as they soak up this solution overnight (I never found out how long, this is how long I soaked mine, but it's probably less than that) and then they'll be ready for arranging.

So, I used a combination to maximize the longevity of these precious cut blooms (and also to tell each of the people I've consulted about hellebores that their technique worked! LOL!)

I've noticed that Hellebores need to be kept cool and hydrated as if they've never been cut. So, I bring a bucket of water out to the garden that will have at least half of the cut stems submerged.

As I select stems to cut, Linda recommended that one should wait until the very first bloom to mature (meaning having the stamen, anthers, and nectaries naturally fall off). Diane will wait for all flowers to loose their central bits. 

Then I used Linda's solution to condition the flowers and remarkably, they stayed perky and held up pretty well for 2-3 days inside the house. Then I noticed a few things:

1. A few wilted sooner than others.
2. Re-cutting the stems seems to "uncondition" them.
3. The shorter the stems (mostly submerged in the water, the longer they seemed to hold up. 

A bright and gorgeous Golden Sunrise hellebore just cut from the garden. Noticed the first flower to open and mature at the bottom.

Split the cut end to maximize water uptake

Immediately submerge in fresh water or in a conditioning solution.

CONCLUSION:  This alcohol solution seems to work and is simple, cheap and highly effective if flowers are harvested at the right stage. 

*2 tablespoons of alcohol to 1 quart of water and a packet of flower food if you have it.

*Always keep them as cool as possible (again as if they weren't disturbed by being cut) and the shorter the stems, the better.

*The "green" varieties seem to hold up much better than the others.

And no, I'm no afraid of heat or fire, I just haven't gone that route because I have an issue of physically damaging plant tissue when it might not be necessary.

Debra Prinzing, author of "Slow Flowers", with split-stemmed, alcohol/flower food conditioned hellebores from UW Botanic Gardens/Washington Park Arboretum she took with her on a plane to New York to help promote American grown flowers for a very special wedding! They held up VERY WELL and designers drooled and fought for them!

Can you spot the hellebores??  Arrangement lasted about a week in a cool room indoors and the Akebia vine opened is scented blooms!

A very tiny centerpiece with a "conditioned" hellebore that lasted only 1 day before it curled up. Maybe if I used an "older" bloom.

Pink hellebores with flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). I kept this arrangement outside. Most of the conditioned Hellebores held up for about 5 days, but one variety in the foreground is still "plump" after about 9 days.

A very short arrangement using parrot tulips and the bloom head of H. argutifolius which did not hold up as an entire stem when conditioned and put into plain water inside the house. So I cut the flower head, conditioned the short stem in the alcohol before arranging this and they still look good after 8 days.

Again, shorter stems hold up longer and you can use lovely grape hyacinth with them!!

More hellebores and Muscari latifolium

Black hellebores with the silver/green cardoon foliage is stunning together with sprays of Osmanthus delavayi for fragrance

Older blossoms of 'Pink Frost' hold up well and much longer than the delicate Epimedium in the foreground

Green and chartreuse mean SPRING!!

"I'm ready...." it says...


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A collaborative design: Northwest Flower and Garden Show 2014 Floral Competition

While I was relieved not to have done a show garden at this year's Northwest Flower and Garden Show, I still wanted to take part and it was actually the show manager, Cyle Eldred, who called and recommended that I enter a floral arrangement for the floral competition after seeing some of my work posted on Facebook and Instagram.

I seriously considered designing on my own, but I saw another opportunity present itself when I learned that floral designer, Nicole Cordier, wanted to collaborate on a project. Thanks to our mentor, Slow Flowers ambassador and garden writer Debra Prinzing, who planted the idea in our minds, we set forth and planned out an arrangement that would reflect our aesthetic and showcase the love for what we do.

Throughout our entire process, it seemed like that was the underlying goal: to have fun and create something that we knew people around us would absolutely love. Yes, it was a floral competition with a cash prize and all, but just to participate and have fun working together was important for Nicole and I.

I might have mentioned Nicole a few months back when I talked about teaming up with young floral designers who were aspiring to be urban cut flower growers. A native of Colorado, she was drawn to the lushness of the Pacific Northwest and made Seattle her home for the past few years. Having recently married and now expecting a baby boy come April, life couldn't have moved faster for Nicole this past year, but she's handled it well!  Working for the Seattle Wholesale Grower's Market and then a local floral shop in West Seattle, Nicole has been profiled by garden columnist Valerie Easton and has made many friends and contacts in the industry.

As experienced and talented as she is, Nicole is a lot like me in that she's not very good at tooting her own horn. Hehehe. While I thought I was poor in marketing myself, Nicole didn't even have business cards as we began brainstorming ideas for our display.

I began to anticipate that this display would be Nicole's coming out party. It would be her chance to really get her name out there and I simply had to step back and just assist in any way I could. During one of our meetings, we brainstormed ideas for her business name and I strongly felt that her last name "Cordier" (pronounced kor-dee-yay) sounded classy, high-end, and could easily stand alone.

For the show, she went with Cordier - Botanical Art and, most recently, I fantasized for her having a lavish studio that would be referred to as "The Botanical Floral House of Cordier".

"Botanical" is the key phrase that made me so enthusiastic about working with Nicole.   She has a fondness for natural flora; forest elements such as moss and ferns captivate her.

Using as much seasonal and local material we could source, we moved in and looked as if I had planned another show garden with the quantity of materials we gathered. From Camellia foliage and buds from her garden to potted pitcher plants from a local grower, locally forced bulbs and branches, and even moss and lichen from work comprised of our display we entitled, "Enrapture".

With a suspended manzanita branch (Arctostaphylos sp.) above with illuminated tips as the central vein of this display, the idea was the branch would pull a botanical tableau from the mossy ground unveiling a colorful and unique palette of earthly delights.

Bright red Ranunculus grown in Oregon with Cymbidium orchids from Canada and blackberries from California.

Saraccenia (Pitcher Plants) with Peterkort roses from Oregon, Nicole's Camellias surprisingly opened to our delight and matched the colors perfectly and the silver Brunia adds a lovely texture.

Scented hyacinths from British Columbia, Helleborus x Cinnamon Snow from my garden and the dramatic leaf of Anthurium clarinervium)

Another batch of stunning Seraccenia

We found out the results of the judging the following day and were a little bummed that our display didn't place, but our satisfaction was obvious regardless having left the convention center after we put the finishing touches on before judging. Nicole saying she had fun was our first place ribbon!

Throughout the show, groups of people would stop and take their time and admire our work. The feedback we got was so positive and I was relieved that Nicole had finally gotten a stack of business cards because she would constantly run out.

The day before the show closed, I get a text from Nicole saying a shiny purple ribbon appeared on the table! We had won the "People's Choice Award"!!

The remnants of our display loaded back in my truck with the other remaining flowers shared with passerby show attendees as we dismantled our display. It's a little tradition I have that I'm glad Nicole embraced as she wholeheartedly handed roses to anyone who'd take them as they exited the show.

There goes a wonderful talent and kind heart. Until her next masterpiece...