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.

Bouquet's of rented Violets- not your garden variety, but a fragrant treasure from the past - once were so popular, that shipments were made from farm to large, East coast cities every week during the late winter and spring.

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. 

A cold frame of scented violets in Rhinebeck, NY circa 1910

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.

A few violet colored varieties of gladiolus photographed in the fields of Pleasant Valley Glads near us.

5. Gladiolus - (what?!!) Really.
Here I go, dangerously out on a limb, but 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 loads of Dahlias, as well). 

A striking new cross at the Western Massachusetts Gladiolus show. Ordering glads from a breeder will ensure that you get varieties not available anywhere else - remember, the Dutch only grow a select few - those that ship well, or propagate well for them. If you want 5 for tall stems with a dozen flowers open at once, you need to see these.

No pictures on their site, but please overlook it. If you want to order, do what I do, and just Google a few of the names. You may see what a chocolate colored gladiolus looks like which will convince you that there is an entire world here which is undiscovered. 

The show gladiolus come in most every color in the rainbow. Again, these are not available from any main-stream catalog, you must order the new crosses directly from the breeders themselves.
Rusty, ruffly, violet eyed, pie-crusted edges - you name it, the varieties that we are not seeing in catalogs are the ones I am talking about. Gladiolus are like a summer candy just waiting to be rediscovered.  Glamellas anyone? Go ahead, Google it.

Camellias were even considered a Christmas flower in 1900, which is no surprise, as many of my trees are coming into bloom right now, in the greenhouse.

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. 

A formal rose form camellia blooms in my greenhouse. Perfection.

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. 

Vintage print of old florist Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus)
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 - Indear.in

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.


  1. thank you for this great post. I totally agree!

  2. I'm not sure I'm ready for the marigold to rise from the ashes, but I have been planning a Gladiolus revival in my garden, particularly the smaller varieties. Back in the old days (the 70's) in Southern Cal you could buy Carnations in 6 paks. I never had much luck with them;the plants looked a tad crappy and the flowering was stingy.

  3. OMG!!!! Glamellias!! I remember making those way back in my Floral Arts class in High School! Please don't bring those back again!
    Your soft flesh-pink colored Chrysanthemum is just gorgeous.

  4. Going to England anytime soon? John Barrington at Newport Mills has some beautiful carnations. Apparently, it's OK with the USDA to bring cuttings home. I may have to jump the pond myself as my wish list is growing. My mini carnations, Chaubaud, are all safely tucked in an unheated greenhouse for next years flowers.
    The chrysanth bed will be expanded this year with the results of this years test subjects. A huge success! I'll try the reseda alba and see how it does. Thanks for the tip.

    1. You still need a phytosanitary certificate and a declaration that they are virus free. See page 2-17 of the USDA Plants for Planting Manual (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/manuals/ports/downloads/plants_for_planting.pdf)

      The APHIS small lot of seed program is probably a lot cheaper than a pond-hop, but wouldn't apply to those carnation cuttings, sigh. Bring me too when you go?

  5. Anonymous10:53 AM

    I've wanted to get my hands on Malmaison carnations for a long time. Pretty with a great fragrance? Awesome. The flowers are a little looser and relaxed looking compared to the tight cushions of the modern florist carnations.
    I agree with you on the marigolds, too. There are some large, single petaled African types that might make good bouquets. You can keep the stiff, dwarf fully doubled ones in the vegetable garden though. Not crazy about those.

  6. Love all of these, and not just for weddings!

  7. oh yes. oh yes. oh yes. OH YES! ruffley glads without those horrid serrated edges please! much as some hate to do it, credit has to go to martha stewart (living) on whose discerning pages the millenials were weaned and also to that amazing young woman at saipua. love that first image. great post. hope this trend lasts more than 20 minutes.

  8. Anonymous2:48 PM

    It is definitely not legal to bring cuttings from England into the US...unless you have a special permit. I tried to bring anemone corms in. They were clean, in packages with all the info from the UK nursery that grew them and they were *still* all confiscated. Ridiculous but true.

    1. Hmmm. I spoke to someone who had no issues bringing in cuttings. Unrooted and no dirt, which I think is the key. We bring in flowers from all over the globe and are rather familiar with the USDA. I'll certainly check with them, of course, before planning a trip.

  9. Anonymous4:57 PM

    Lovely post, and I love the first image - such an explosion of prettiness!

  10. I love this post! Mums are the best. I have always enjoyed using most of these mentioned, and grow some of them for my own use. I am intrigued by the Buddleia, sounds really interesting. And carnations! They've always been a fav of mine too. The antique shades you pictured are so interesting, I use them in my designs as often as I can get ahold of them.

  11. Wedding without gorgeous flowers just seems impossible. Flowers in wedding always add an extra charisma to wedding. Love the lillies so much for wedding bouquet. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Anonymous10:30 PM

    If I recall correctly the parma and scented violet industry collapsed when a virus invaded all their carefully selected clones. The disappearance of some of these flowers is also probably due to changes in technology replacing human labor. Short stems (violets, mignonette) and short shelf life in transit (orange blossom, buddleja) spelled doom for many of these. Marigolds also need laborious processed by hand into long strings.....not an issue in India but who would volunteer to grow, pick and thread them for wages in proportion to what people will pay for the finished product in the west?

  13. I planted mignonette 18 years ago, when I first moved to my farm, and it has reseeded every year since -- the first annual to bloom in spring. It's not showy, but the fragrance is divine.

  14. Marigolds! I'm so with you on that one! :) I grew a bunch this year, when I thought I might be doing flowers for a friend's Indian wedding (before the inevitable happened and it became way too big). I spent all of August, September and October making beautiful bouquets with yellow and orange giant African marigolds, and pink and while zinnias. People were loving them, nothing is more cheerful!

  15. stephanie4:42 PM

    When I saw the title of the post, I wondered if Stephanotis would be included! My parents had it in the wedding arrangements in 1970 and it was a nickname my mom sometimes called/calls me.


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