November 28, 2015


A selection of heirloom mums - spoons, Japanese cascades and anemone forms, combined with a few thistle, quill and formal incurves. I dare you David Stark - 17th century kimono meets October on Mount Fuji -Gold,  bronze, and pink? I say it works.

Also in the past two years,  I've noticed signs - an increasing interest in some very old fashioned flowers. My talks on how to grow many plants which were once so popular in the nineteenth century are attracting a broader audience. People under 40 are asking me about exhibition chrysanthemums, dahlias and my 'How to raise exhibition English Sweet Peas' classes are selling out. Some images of mine, particularly those on spider mums and sweet peas on flickr and Photobucket are getting hits nearing 50K. Something is happening.

There was a time, in the 18th and 19th Century when when local cut flowers were available 24/7. Although we've become dependent on imported flowers, revisiting some of these old fashioned flowers which are too tender to ship, or too seasonal, may be possible again - if local growers invest in new crops.

We can thank the wedding social media world so so much, from the 'good' to the 'bad' . They jump started the DIY/Michaels Craft Store make-over with the rush for galvanized metal anything, to blackboards and chalk. Wedding blogs re-defined wedding photography, making it an art form, than a job that old product photographers embarrassingly  retired to. Photoshop Actions shifted colors to unrealistic levels as bright teal and coral flowers emerged from simple bouquets which were -re-pinned in the thousands by eager brides-to-be. 

As far a flowers are concerned, the social media world has created it's champions which we can now recite as common as any brand name - 'Cafe au Lait 'Dahlias , 'Green Trick' Dianthus, not to mention long-stemmed English Sweet Peas, and the White and black 'Panda' Anemone's - did I forget the 'Billy Button'? 

Along with cool and epic mustaches, beards on the groomsmen, to the use of Mason jars for everything. Factor in farm tables, paper flag banners, chalk boards, succulents and air plants  - and that whole - Jumping the Shark thing - yeah, when it all moved beyond Target and Michaels, we have a problem. Now that social media has successfully redefined the formality of what a wedding originally was  - -  and within a couple of years turned what was so disruptive and original into mainstream? What's next?

So as a plant-guy, this has my day job as a 'futurist' factoring into what I do at night. What will we dare to kick-start next in regards to wedding trends? OK - Flower farms take note, I am sharing some secrets and predictions.

An heirloom chrysanthemum blooms in my greenhouse. Many of these flowers have been in bloom for 3 months now.

1. Old Fashioned Chrysanthemums - OK, No surprise here, at least for me, except that so few people can actually find any of the old varieties that this trend may peter out before this trend ever takes off. Some may say that it's beginning though - as we all realize that chrysanthemum means more than hardy mums in the garden. Here, an entire world awaits which once captivated many cultures hundreds of years ago.  I am getting so much interest from flower farm owners to individual growers who want to try raising these somewhat time-consuming plants, that I am overwhelmed by the lust for these flowers. Not the easiest to grow, since they bloom in October and November, many flower farms are just starting to raise them again. And it's just in the nick of time, as the old varieties are almost extinct.

Buddleja asiatic, a fragrant winter-blooming shrub that was once a useful winter cut flower before air travel made flower importing possible. Regional markets in the North Eastern US needed to rely on greenhouse shrubs like this.

2.  Buddleia asiatica - This may be new to you, but there was a time, in the mid 1800's when no winter wedding was complete without orange blossoms, asparagus fern and arching, fragrant sprays of Buddleia asiatica - a cool growing, winter blooming greenhouse shrub. This is the plant that made Logee's. Logee's.  You see, back in the mid nineteenth century, boxes of cut branches of this fragrant white winter-blooming buddleia made it from the historic New England greenhouse we all love, to the New York and Boston flower markets. cut back every spring, the shrubs, which were planted in the ground would produce an annual crop of arching branches by Christmastime, blooming until March, when few plants flower with size. This Asian buddleia is just waiting to be rediscovered by flower farms looking for an authentic, Victorian wedding flower that has disappeared from our visual palette.

3. Lily of the Valley - Why this flower has not been reintroduced confounds me. At one time ( around 1900) ,  hundreds of thousands of pips of the choices selections (Berlin and Hamburg) were kept in cold storage so that cut flowers could be had every month of the year. What happened? This easy to grow, easy to force flower which today can only be found at great cost, and, during perhaps 2 weeks of the year, is just waiting to make someone rich. I mean - talk about romance! Who doesn't love the scent of Lily of the Valley? I force many each year, simple by digging up my own pips in the garden, which I just did yesterday.

4. The Scented Violets - Like the lily of the valley, the Parma or Imperial violets would be such an economical crop that again, if I had investors, I would start a business raising these plants for cut flowers. All one needs are cold frames, or better yet, hot beds with manure. Of course, one would also need a crew with good backs to pick these short-stemmed fragrant flowers, but they were once so popular that florist magazines dedicated entire issues to their production. They were once more popular than roses at Valentines Day. A hundred and fifty years ago, thousands of violet nosegays complete with wax paper cones which protected the delicate blossoms, were hand-tied, placed in wooden crates and set on trains which would transport them to cities like Boston and New York from their growing areas along the Hudson River. Today, imagine baskets of scented violets at a wedding? These would indeed be 'slow flowers' which are sustainable and yet rich with history. They deserve a second look by flower farmers.

5. Gladiolus - (what?!!)
Yeah. I sense a rise in interest in Gladiolus. If you aren't seeing it, just wait.  I don't mean those glads we see at the market or the florist, or at funerals even, but the amazing exhibition varieties sold only at small specialist nurseries like Pleasant Valley Glads (they have Dahlias, too). No pics on their site, but just Google a few of the names and see what a chocolate colored gladiolus looks like. Rusty, ruffly, violet eyed - you name it, the varieties that we are not seeing in catalogs are the ones I am talking about. Summer candy just waiting to be rediscovered.  Glamellas anyone? Go ahead, Google it.

6. Winter Camellias - As we become more conscious about 'slow flowers', these one-time common greenhouse plants found in every florists glasshouse in the north is long due a comeback. Their only drawback was shipping, and perhaps stem length, but shipping today is more of an opportunity and a selling point than anything else. Add in that they thrive in unheated or low heat greenhouses and hoop houses, and one can see why the Camellia is just waiting for its comeback. Winter blooming, low cost, trees that get better every year - there was no greenhouse in New York or New England that didn't have a bank of camellia trees growing at the back of it, often with beds underneath them with anemones, ranunculus and calla lilies growing directly in the ground.

An advertisement for Camellia corsages from the 1940's.

 A Nineteenth Century greenhouse full of Mignonette ready to be cut.

7. Mignonette - Mmmm, Mignonette. What the Hell is Mignonette anyway? (I don't know, but I want it, right?). A classic greenhouse cut flower from the Victorian era, Reseda odorata has been tucked into wedding bouquets for decades until it fell out of favor. Pots of this fragrant herb with flower which are anything but pretty, have been added to conservatory displays and botanic garden displays to add fragrance, but today - just try and find it. Hence the romance.  Any proper Nineteenth century cold greenhouses on estates and in large Eastern cities often kept plants of Mignonette in pots If one could re-market pots of Mignonette again, imagine what a game-changer it would be for the wedding industry?

Mignonette illustration featured on a cover from the 1892 Sutton's Seeds catalog.

8. Giant Calla Lillies - No longer the flower of death, these are the grande dam of Hollywood film stars and early 20th century weddings. Just look at your great grandparents wedding pictures, and surely you will see Calla Lillies somewhere in the shots. Low cost, back of the greenhouse bulbs, the tall, old fashioned varieties can still be found if you look carefully. 4-6 feet tall,as ours are, they are covered with giant, white callas every March - May. Come-on flower farms, leave the 'Cafe au Lait's' to the common growers. Let's bring back glamour.

Carnations from the mail-order source, Florabundance. Not your typical carnations.

9. Border Carnations
I know, right? But if I ever dreamed that so many people - professional flower farm people to plant geeks who have written to me admitting that they have a secret desire to raise the old-fashioned long-stemmed exhibition varieties or border carnations, you wouldn't believe me. I have been craving these plants for some time now, but in the US they are virtually un-obtainable. Most of the nicer exhibition types - those used for shows are in the UK, and the rest, which are commercial, are in India and Columbia. Some serious smuggling will need to be done to get some cuttings into the States, but whomever gets there first, will surely reap the rewards because we ALL want them!

Most of our great grandmothers' enjoyed orange blossoms in their wedding bouquets

10. Orange blossoms - Or any citrus blossom. I can't imagine flower farms raising these, unless they are in California or Florida, but citrus flowers in wedding bouquets were once as common as Jasmine and Stephanotis in the 1960's (Hmmm - I wonder if Stephanotis should be re-added to this list again?). There was a time when branches of orange blossoms were as common as babies breath in wedding bouquets, and why not - dreamy scent that can't be matched, and much are winter blooming in northern greenhouses. Sure, they are hard to ship, but again, we're talking local crops here. Seasonal for certain, but if one is looking for distinction, this old fashioned flower would do the trick.

Strings of marigolds at an elaborate wedding in India. Source -

Bonus Prediction - Marigolds

Think about it. 'Eat, Pray, Love', 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' franchise, even the Day of the Dead. The marigold is on the cusp of a comeback. String of marigolds, a curtain of strung marigolds - the effect could be stunning at an autumnal wedding.
The idea of marigolds in any garden scheme may seem odd but as a secret, closet marigold fan, I've been noticing its comeback arriving in a big way. Easy to grow, water-wise, a late summer beauty with brilliant charm - the marigold may just be experiencing a rise in popularity never experienced before.

November 17, 2015


The espalier apple trees are fixed for the long winter ahead with their fruit removed for the season.  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, November marks a transitional time in the garden between outdoor chores, and greenhouse play.

I love November. Really, I do. It means that winter is coming. OK, stop it. Listen, I can like winter and like gardening at the same time. This is the time of year when gardening chores slow down, become more focused (since they are limited to my greenhouse projects which I enjoy more),a nd in other ways, they just become more cerebral - time to read, think, plan and dream.

These gray, autumnal days, albeit shorter than summer, are hardly what William Cullen Bryant calls "the saddest of the year".


I would think that distinction might go to March.

On the back porch, heirloom apples from the espalier apples in front of the greenhouse gifted us a few dozen fruit this year. These have been making their way into tarte tartin and oatmeal  for breakfast. Not perfect, since we didn't spray, they are still clear inside even though the skins are imperfect. Yes, that is a tomato!

The great poets seemed to appreciate little about November.  I can't find many positive stanza's or even phrases which don't include the words 'dreary' , 'dull' or 'bleak'.

(Robert Frost goes further to describe it as "sodden", whilst (yes, I said whilst) Sir Walter Scott penned out - "November's sky is chill and drear…", but dear Emily Dickinsen went further with:

 "November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."

 Whah? !

There has to be a story behind that….. because I love Norway, as well.

In the vegetable garden, the beds are cleaned up, with only hardy herbs left out along with a few carrots.

It's all happening in the greenhouse, right now. Chrysanthemums, the first of the cymbidium orchids and lots of South African bulbs.

Speaking of South African Bulbs - The Nerine sarniensis varieties are in full bloom, and rather spectacular.

Also known as Guersey Lilies, Nerine sarniensis are rarely seen today outside of a few collectors and private collections.

These relatives of the common Amaryllis are smaller and more delicate looking, but grow in a similar way, from a bulb which sits halfway into the soil in a pot. They require a hot, summer rest with no water, and a long, winter growing period with moisture and bright light, which limits who can grow them well to those with cold greenhouses.

My collection of about 100 bulbs has about a third of them blooming every year, they are a bit shy. Many of these varieties date back to the early 20th Century, and all hail from the UK, mostly the Exbury hybrids.

Outside, the gardens are cleaned and spotless because of a photoshoot last week. Even the boxwoods have bee sheered. I know, I could have centered the strawberry pot better!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Most Popular Posts