Gardening July 2021

From Mélie’s Garden

This spring was a lovely one on Fishers Island, possibly nature rewarding us for getting through a year of Covid anxiety. My lilacs were simply lovely and I cut some to bring into the house. Remembering that they were particularly tricky as cut flowers, I turned to my treasured little book “Plant Materials for Flower Arranging – the conditioning of Plant Materials” by Joanne Lendon. Joanne is a talented Garden Club of America flower arranger, who has exhibited her creative arrangements all over the country for years. Her expert advice on lilacs kept them fresh in my house for a number of days.

In looking forward to summer, I thought I would share a couple of flowers picking hints from Joanne for flowers we commonly grow in our Fishers Island gardens.

To start Mrs. Linden always recommends cutting your flowers either early in the morning or early evening.

“Cut in the cool in the late evening or early morning. Evening is preferred to condition the flowers over night in the dark – except when the weather is very hot. Then the plants seem to have been refreshed in the morning by the morning dew.”

Conditioning is a term given to preparing plant material to give it as long cut life as possible.

Joanne suggests to “Cut stems on a slant using a sharp knife, scissors or clippers so that the stems do not crush. Remove excess foliage and place stems immediately into a clean container of deep warm water. Keep the container of flowers in a cool place out of the sunlight AT LEAST ONE HOUR or overnight if possible before arranging the flowers.” After they are arranged frequently add fresh water to their containers so bacteria doesn’t build up in the water. She recommends putting flower preservatives into the water, but if you don’t have a packet, she suggests “a combination of half Sprite and half water and about a tablespoon of chlorine bleach” or “Water and Alcohol – 1tsp of alcohol to 1-quart water. Gin is especially good for this – the flowers – not the arranger!”

Below are some helpful suggestions from her book on how to condition a few specific flowers we grow on Fishers Island. Most flowers will be absolutely fine with the instructions above, but a number do better with some of these methods.

Buddleia – Butterfly Bush
Cut sprays from this shrub when 1/2 of the flowering spike is open. They won’t last more than a couple of days. To condition, as well as possible, strip off most of the leaves and put the stems in boiling hot water for a minute and then into deep cool water overnight. If they wilt try the hot water method again.

Dahlia – Tuber
Cut just after the flowers have fully opened. Remove foliage that will be submerged. Condition in cold water overnight. Some say to put the cut stems into a little boiling water for just a bit and put in cold sugar aspirin overnight. Others suggest cut in hot water and then soak the stems in deep water overnight.

Golden Rod – Solidago
Cut into a bucket of warm water, strip lower leaves, and recut to arrange.

Hibiscus – Mallow Rose
Pick before completely unfurled and float in a bowl of water – should last two days.

Hydrangea
Cut the flowers when “out” and put several inches of the stem into boiling water and then into cold water. Flowers if cut while forming are kept for arrangements by dipping the stems in hot water and dunking up to the flower for several hours. If cut very green, the heads should be misted and covered with wet paper overnight.

Lilium – Lily
Cut stems on a slant into warm water for a couple of hours. (Be careful not to bruise the petals – cut when most are in bud for longest performance) and always remove the pollen it stains!

Daylily – Hemerocallis
Do not last more than 24 hours if cut but if you do cut on a slant when they are in bud and give them a good drink, They will open and then fade after 24 hours.

Queen Anne’s Lace – Daucus 
Cut into water when the flowers are benign to open – they will last at least a week. Fill the container up to the flowerhead (Don’t get the flowers wet) and stand in a cool place overnight to strengthen stems.

I hope these hints will be helpful. I am trying to see if Joanne Lenden’s book is still available. She updated it in 2007 and I found a used one on Amazon for $31.65. I will continue my search, but I am sure there are other books available on flower conditioning, but hers will always remain my personal favorite and if I find a source to buy it I will pass it along.

Joanne Lenden Booklet form

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