Narcissus, Daffodils, Jonquil, Happy sights of Spring Delight.


Daffodowndilly
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

Few other sights shout “SPRING’s COMING!” better than  Daffodowndilly does with it’s bright and cheerful bloom. And she has done so since the beginning of time. Species of the Narcissus genus have been part of the landscape in the Iberian peninsula in south western Europe, for million’s of years. Both wild and cultivated plants have naturalised widely, and we know that some were introduced into the Far East prior even to the tenth century. Hence history reveals that Narcissi have been cultivated from the earliest of times, for medical as well as botanical purposes.

The word Narcissus is said to come from the Greek Narkao; meaning “to be numb”, one of the medicinal properties assigned to this bulbous plant.

90409Technically the large trumpet flowered Narcissus are usually referred to as Daffodils and Jonquil is a particular sweet smelling variety but people have used the names interchangeably for many years.  Daffodills became increasingly popular in Europe after the 16th century and by the late 19th century they became an important commercial crop, primarily centered in the Netherlands.
Narcissi are popular as cut flowers and as ornamental plants in private and public gardens. The long history of breeding has resulted in thousands of different cultivars. Most species are spring blooming but there are a few fall blooming varieties of which the Paperwhites are best known. Click here and here and here for other blogs on fall blooming  Narcissus.

In the garden

Preferring a place in the sun but also adaptable to a little light shade, Narcissus is an easy plant to grow for any North American gardener, except maybe in Florida. The flowers are rather conspicuous, consisting of six petal-like tepals surmounted by a cup- or trumpet-shaped corona, sprouting from a clump of smooth stems and leaves. The flowers are generally yellow or white, or a combination of the two but can also be orange or pink in some newer varieties. Different cultivars can sprout up anywhere, usually producing one flower, but some varieties produce anywhere from one to a multitude of flowers, up to twenty! daffodills in landscape credit Charlotte WeychanThese perennials bulbs are excellent for planting under trees. Some large gardens feature hundreds, and hundreds of Daffodils in a woodland setting, painting the floor in sunny colors. Smaller gardens often use this flower for clumps between shrubs or (later blooming) perennials. They can be incorporated in garden beds as well as pots, either for blooming outside in Spring or for forcing early blooms as an indoor harbinger of Spring.
Best to plant bulbs 1-½ to 5 times their own depth. Where winters are severe, make sure there is at least 3 inches of soil covering the bulb.
Daffodils will tolerate some crowding but prefer to be spaced 3 to 6 inches apart. If the weather does not deliver the needed rain during their blooming season, they appreciate a drink of water.
Rodents know to stay away from these bulbs so some gardeners mix a few Daffodils to their bulb mix, this will deter the rodents from feasting on your flower bulbs.
After blooming, allow the plants to grow until they die off. They need time after blooming to store energy in the bulbs for next year, so don’t cut the foliage until it has withered. This is a good time to add some bonemeal to  the soil around them for next year’s blooms.

Narcissus fresh cut

IMG_8384The first thing to know about using Daffodils in floral designs is the fact that these stems ooze a clear, stringy liquid that often clog other cut flower stems in the same arrangement, unless they are conditioned properly. So before you arrange these sunny beauties with other flowers, they should sit in a separate bucket for several hours (at least 6 hours) and let the liquid drain from the stems. When arranging, try  not to cut the stem again. If you do need to cut the stem again, drain it again until the oozing stops.
A common dermatitis problems for florists, “daffodil itch” involves dryness, fissures, scaling, and erythema in the hands. It is blamed on exposure to (calcium oxalate in) the sap.
Having said that,  Daffodils are a treasured addition to any early Spring bouquet, at a time of year when humanity craves sunny colors and cheery sights, this flower delights all kinds. Often seen arranged with simple bare branches, or any of the blooming fruit tree branches,  Tulips, Leucojum, Hyacinths. These are all good companions for Narcissus that bloom at the same time. Simple added to some cool greens or tucked into colorful spring bouquets, Narcissus brings out the sun in an arrangement. She can also stand all on it’s own and shine in a elegant vase or simple jar, whatever is on hand. DSCN2341

 

 

 

Narcissus folklore

Daffodills have long been considered the flower of chivalry, nowadays  the meaning is lasting friendship. Also rebirth, new beginnings and faithfulness can be the message when someone gifts this radiant flower.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was born to the nymph Liriope and fathered by the river god Cephissus. As a child he was adored by all, as he was a particularly beautiful child. Growing up, so admired for his looks, had it’s consequences for young Narcissus as this adoration did not benefit him but instead made him scornful to all who adored him. His parents grew worried about their child and inquired the prophet Teiresias what to do about Narcissus future? Teiresias saw into Narcissus’ future and answered that the boy would grow old ‘only if he did not get to know himself’. Narcissus grew into a handsome hunter and he attracted many admirers, including the nymph Echo, who fell madly in love with him and followed him into the woods. Handsome Narcissus soon became aware of someone following him and  sneered at the Nymph to leave him alone, he had no feelings for her and ridiculed her for her love for him. Echo was heartbroken and spend the rest of her life in glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.folklore-2-300x174
Nemesis, the goddess of revenge heard of Echo’s ordeal and decided to punish Narcissus for his callousness. She lured him to a pool to drink some water and for the first time in his life Narcissus saw a reflexion of himself and instantly fell in love with his own image. To possess that beautiful image in the pool became a burning but unattainable desire and it is unfortunate to learn that this handsome hunter was not able to stop gazing onto his own reflexion. His desire bound him to the water’s edge until he prematurely died from sorrow.
When his family tried to retrieve his body, they could not find it anywhere but instead found a clump of Daffodil flowers, precisely in the spot where Narcissus’ body had slipped into the watery underworld, where, it is said, he still gazes onto his own reflexion.

National flower of Wales 

Herbal and Culinary Use
The plant is poisonous, all Narcissus varieties contain the alkaloid poison lycorine, mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves. There are no culinary uses for this plant, however more than once was this plant mistaken for an union and victims of this error have suffered, sometimes severely. This is how people found out that the poison was swift and the heath of cooking did not weaken the effect of the poisonous properties. Merely chewing on the stem may be enough to cause a chill, shivering, and fainting. Daffodil can cause irritation and swelling of the mouth, tongue and throat.  Daffodil can also cause vomiting, salivation, diarhea, brain and nerve disorders. In extreme cases lung colapse and even death.daffodills2

As a medicine, Narcissus has long roots.
The bulb is the main ingredient in Narcissum, an ancient ointment that was used for joint pains and strains, skin wounds and burns, also the drawing out of thorns and such.

the powdered flower is said to possess emetic, cathartic, antispasmodic, and narcotic properties. It has been used in epilepsy, in hysteria, and other spasmodic affections.

Narcissus is also being studied as a medicine for Alzheimers disease.

In Homeopathy this remedy has been used in the treatment of bronchitis, coryza, diarrhea and whooping cough.

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Ranunculus


‘I AM DAZZLED BY YOUR CHARM’

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Fields, meadows and grassy places, bristling with golden Buttercups, can be found throughout the northern temperate regions of the world. Look for these lustrous  and delicate looking beauties near creeks, ditches, lakes or other damp places. Ranunculus is a genus of about 600 species including the Buttercups, Spearworts and Crowfoots.  Anemones, Delphinium and Clematis are also in the Ranunculus genus but that is a whole other blog, so stay tuned for that.
Ranunculus comes from the Latin word ‘rana’ meaning ‘frog’. Some references suggest that the name refers to the damp places Ranunculus can usually be found but I also came across a few sites that credit the name to the likeness of a frog’s foot, when examining the foliage. Whatever the case might be, Ranunculus it is.

In the garden

Only a few of the Ranunculus species have become popular garden flower. They are either surprisingly difficult to cultivate or too easy and become weedy. However some Ranunculus varieties have done well as a garden plants and are widely available in garden stores from Fall -Spring. img_1542

Actually a perennial, too much or too little water will destroy this tuberous root and thus Ranunculus are often treated like an annual. Not such a bad strategy as they are such prolific bloomers and  will give you many blooms for your buck when you have healthy plants.
Plant the tuber’s claw pointed end down and 1 to 2 inches deep, less in clay soil. Space jumbos 8 to 12 inches apart (at least one tuber per square foot), number three tubers about 4 inches apart two or three per square foot. See Prolific and Terrific Ranunculus.
Although found naturally in damp places, near creeks and such, most hybrid varieties prefer a well drained place in the garden. garden-arrangements-40They need to be watered regularly but don’t want their roots in constantly damp soil. They will bloom for several weeks but when the temperatures rise, production will stop. Stop watering at that time, they need to stay dry when dormant.
Ranunculus is hardy to zone 8, in mild winter climates they can be  planted in the fall for March-April blooms but in areas with harsher winters it is best to plant in early Spring for July blooms. Make sure to check for aphids, slugs and snails because Ranunculus are their favorite and try to keep the birds away when they first sprout.

Cut Flower

cc-close-up There is much to love and enjoy about Ranunculus in the garden and beyond in the wilder regions of Mother Nature’s  reign but nowhere are they better loved than in the cut-flower industry. The best  variety for this purpose is Ranunculus asiaticus, or Persian Buttercup.
These beauties take their place right next to Peonies, Roses, Tulips and other Grand Dames of the botanical world. She is a remarkably versatile little lady and in reality not nearly as delicate as she looks. Ranunculus wows future brides with their sumptuous blooms of bountiful, tissue-like petals, swirling around and around like a crinoline petticoat. gera-150No one escapes their charm….no one! And for good reasons as they make a great cut-flowers. Stunning in any bridal bouquet but simply dazzling all by itself in a bouquet studded with the blooms.

dscn0446They  hold up in corsages and boutonnieres fine most of the year. I would not really recommend  Ranunculus for body flowers in July or August, although I have seen it done and it worked, but it was not such a sweltering day as it can be that time of year.

Ranunculus is phototropic (like many other flower stems) and should be kept upright at al time or their stems will bend upwards to the light and cause  the stem to be crooked. If Ranunculus goes limp, you can wrap them in damp newspaper, re-cut on a slant and allow them to stand upright for several hours in warm water and preservative. Their vase life is 6 to 10 days but keep in mind that it is important to keep the water clean.
The newer varieties grow up to 16-18″ tall which makes them so versatile in bouquets and arrangements, what’s not to love?  dscn3557
Ranunculus is available most of the year except maybe during the hottest summer months and they come in a myriad of pinks-, whites-, yellow- , red- and orange tones. Pair them with Forget-Me Not’s, Sweet Peas, Linaria, Snapdragon etc. for a charming and romantic mixed bouquet. For a stunningly elegant bouquet combine Ranunculus with Roses or Peonies, complimenting and repeating the bigger blooms in the bouquet. Your bride will love it, how can she not? She’s Dazzled By Her Charm!

Herbal/ Medicinal use.

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All parts of Ranunculus is toxic to humans and livestock and is known to cause severe blistering of the mouth when eaten by cows or sheep as well as bloody diarrhea, excessive salivation and colic. The taste is bitter so fortunately not many people or animals are tempted to eat it and will stay away from Buttercups. They have also been known to cause dermatitis, so maybe that is one thing not to love about them, but I have had no such problems myself.
Ranunculus is used in herbal medicine. Due to it’s toxicity level I want to stress the importance of consulting with a skilled herbalist or homeopath, which I am not, this is just a mentioning of the wide variety of uses Ranunculus has.
A Modern Herbal by mrs. M Grieve reveals Bulbous Buttercup possesses the property of inflaming and blistering the skin

Medicinal Herb Info. reports under medicinal uses: Counterirritant, anodyne, antispasmodic, diaphoretic; external rubefacient, epispastic.

In homeopathy  Ranunculus bulbosus is known to be a painful remedy, affecting nerves341749-homeo-1 muscles, eyes, serous membranes, chest, skin, fingers, toes and left side, according to Robin Murphy, ND

Folklore

Here in the Pacific NW legend has it that the mythological creature Coyote was tossing his eyes up in the air and unfortunately lost them to Eagle who flew by and snatched up those beauties in plain sight. Much of this story leaves me with many questions, and alas I can not answer these questions but whatever the case may be; Coyote found himself without any eyes. However he was a clever creature and what happened next: he simply picked up a few Buttercups (which he probably had spotted before he decided to play games with his eyes) and inserted  them into his skull exactly where his eyes had once been and Coyote was good as gold again. So  there, do not despair when you find your eyes are flying through the air, Buttercups can help you stare and life will be once again be fair. Now please do share.

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Pollinators

Sweet William


Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) member of the Caryophyllaceae family is as popular as cut flower as a garden plant. Usually grown as a bi-annual it will grow foliage the first year and then blooms the second year. Sometimes it’s a short lived perennial but when given a chance, it will reseed itself generously and behave like a long lasting perennial.

I have found it fairly easy to take care of this colorful friend which I give a place in full sun. I usually seed them indoors in late winter as they transfer well after all danger of frost has gone. Springs brings plenty of rain here in the NW, so this early summer bloomer only needs a little water during a early, long dry spell. By the time the hottest days or August roll around, my Sweet William has gone dormant after producing copious amounts of seeds.

Possibly because I pick almost all flowers for cutting, my plants tend to bloom for several years in a row, so I leave them overwintering in the hope they will bloom early next year. When some plants turn yellow or look ragged I pull them up and add a little mulch to the area and sometimes seed a bit of Red Clover in these bare spots during the winter. I like using this cover crop, it is so useful as it fixes the nitrogen in the soil so it can be taken up by other crops. Simultaneously they prevent weeds from growing. The beauty of Red Clover in bloom should not be underestimated! Blooming occurs in this cover crop a little before the Dianthus starts to shoot up it’s own blooms, so I enjoy the show of bright red Clover plumes for a little while but I make sure to cut out these plants before they start producing seeds.

Crimson clover
Close up of beautiful Crimson clover ( Trifolium incarnatum)

Their roots however should stay in the ground for a while as this is where the nitrogen-fixing nodules are located, so let these little stumps die down naturally. You can plant new plants from the greenhouse in-between the clover stumps at this time.

 

 

Sweet William originally hails from southern Europe and was cultivated by monks as early as the 1100‘s and in the 16th century Sweet William was used in the gardens of Henry the Vlll’s Hampton Court Palace. It has now widely naturalized in Europe as well as North America. The development of this Dianthus for the floral industry came in the 18th and 19th century.
It was John Gerard a 16th century botanist and herbalist who first referred to Dianthus barbatus as ‘Sweet Williams’ in his 1596 garden catalog.

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The name ‘Dianthus’ comes from the Greek, ‘dios’ meaning ‘divine’ and ‘anthos’ is ‘flower’. The epithet ‘barbatus’ means bearded and all sources checked explains that this name refers to the fuzzy or beard-like growth at the flower’s center. However I have my doubts about that concept as this fuzzy growth in the center is nothing else but the stamen of the flowers. I rather think that  the beard-like growth that forms as the flower develops, is the root of the name. However I have not been able to find any reference to such a claim.

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The petal are considered edible and have a mild clove like flavor. They do well in fish dishes, marmalade and cold drinks, ice cream and more. They also shine in desserts, soups, stews, sauces or tossed in a salads and of course are perfect for decorating or adding to cake.
It is better to remove the white heel at the base of the petal, this part has a bitter taste.
Dianthus species contain flavonoids in their petals.

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Image courtesy of The Chef Mother edible flowers.

Medicinally Dianthus barbatus is used in Homeopathy as well a Chinese herbal medicine as a diuretic for urinary tract infections.

The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera such a Moths and Butterflies.

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Lupines and Sweet William

For the florist Sweet William can be stored at 34-36F for 7-10 days, both dry and wet storage can be equally effective. Sweet William makes a perfect mass or filler flower in many bouquet combinations. Pairing them in a seasonal bouquet with Snapdragons, Foxglove or Lupines and Allium, Roses and/or Peonies is always a winner. They might not play a mayor role but their intense colors stand out brightly  while offsetting the focus flowers with gusto. Their intricate flower clusters will draw you in for a closer look and then the faint clove like fragrance starts playing with your senses and all you can do is surrender to their charm.

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Florists like to include Sweet William not only to express finesse or gallantry but Dianthus barbatus also asks subtly for a smile, which surely will be granted, how can it not?
Was is smiles that Cate Middleton hoped to see at her marriage to Prince William or was the inclusion of this flower a nod to her gallant prince William? Who knows? The duchess of Cambridge has not elaborated on her choice of bouquet flowers. However we can conclude that she likes to keep the season, Lilly of the Valley as well as the Sweet William, was certainly in season that April in 2011.

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image courtesy of usmagazine.com

Sweet William can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or division, but keep in mind that seeds of cultivars will not breed true but can turn out to be a different color or pattern altogether. However Dianthus varieties do cross pollinate easily and hence many new hybrids have occurred over time.

 

Seed in your garden in late summer for blooms the next year or seed indoors in tray or small pots in late winter and plant after last frost. These plants may or may not bloom the first year.

Sweet William likes a place in in full sun to part shade, plant about six inches apart, in loamy, slightly alkaline soil. You can crowd them a little but not too much, else they become leggy. A good tip is to add some lime into the planting soil for stronger plants.

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 3-9.

Well that’s all for now folks, go out there and pick a few flowers.

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Snapdragon struggles.


During the second half of Spring, when my daily garden walk leads me eagerly to the row of Snapdragons,  I keep my fingers tightly crossed in the hope to find strong healthy shoots that will have ample strength to keep upright those beautiful inflorescence which hopefully will soon appear. Snapdragon’s raceme-inflorescence are composed of many broad tubular florets that are shaped like the jaw of a dragon and so this flower’s name comes from the delightul trait that the florets snap open their ‘jaw’ when one gently squeezed it from the sides. How fun!

If I pinched back the terminal bud when the plants were about 4-6” tall, I’d expect to see a crown of shoots coming up from the base but if  I didn’t pinch back I will probably find a somewhat taller, single shoot. Either way it’s always a happy sight when I see them close to blooming and still standing upright, lush and green.

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Snapdragons Rocket variety

But I have struggled with the Snapdragons and I still do, but I love them in my arrangements so I keep on trying to grow these beautiful flower stalks. However growing strong, tall, healthy and beautiful plants has proven not to be so easy for this Snapdragon lover.

I started out buying starts at the local box store but that was a mistake for several reasons; for one these places are not locally owned companies with an interest in the community, and for another, the starts were typically a dwarf variety, and they’ll cheer up a sunny yard or garden quite nicely, for floral arranging you want taller varieties. I have found better starts at the local nursery stores, the taller cut flower varieties. They were also healthier and stronger, so I learned that it pays to shop around at a reputable nursery store.
I also tried growing Snapdragons from seeds, this way I knew at least that I’m off to a good start with the right variety to grow beautiful elegant flowers. Still I did not have much luck with them for a while. Many of the stems were too thin and started flopping over under the weight of the flower heads, or the wind would knock them over. I have tried staking them but phew….. that was a lot of work and really not that successful either.  A few stems did turn out OK but once I arranged them in a vase they seemed to drop their florets prematurely and didn’t last as long as the stems I bought at the flower market. I have since learned that in the case of Snapdragons, if pollination happens, the florets will likely drop prematurely. This is the reason why field grown Snapdragons for the floral trade are often grown in high tunnels, to prevent pollination and thus assuring a longer vase life.
The location of my gardens and also time constraints prevents me from growing flowers in high tunnels so another solution needed to be found.

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Snapdragons Chantilly variety

 

I may have found a good solution in growing the Chantilly variety seeds. The Chantilly looks a little bit different, this Snapdragon keeps it’s mouth  open, so these can not be ‘snapped’ but they look beautiful opened like that  and actually makes the florescence look bigger.  More to the point; pollination and thus the presence of pollinators on and  around the plant does not affect the bloom’s longevity, and THAT is a plus for all you flower arrangers and the bees too!
So this year I had a pretty nice stand of Snapdragons, the Chantilly variety did well for me. Of course there are improvements to be made but I feel I have made progress.

picture of Marianna and Chantilly Snapdragons
That is me with  the first straight and healthy Chantilly Snapdragons.

 

A few things I have learned about Snapdragons: They do better in a full sun location, when there is too much shade the stems will grow thin and by the time the flowers appear, many will have collapsed and grown crooked. These stems can still be used in an arrangement, they often look nice at the bottom, hanging out of a vase but they are not the elegant stems that beckon you to stand tall, like they do.

I have not had many issues with insects on my Snapdragons but rust (Puccinia antirrhini) has been a problem that I still struggle to overcome.

picrture of plant with rust on leaves
Rust on my Snapdragons

Giving the plants room to grow and assuring airflow around the plants is a must, but even then your plants can become infected with the airborne virus. Although I have had some issues with rust on the Chantilly as well, overall this variety has done pretty good as long as I give them enough space, sun and airflow.
Spraying Neem Oil every other week can be an aid in preventing an outbreak. You want to cover the leaves and stems thoroughly, especially on the underside of the leaves. I purchased a spray-bottle with a wand attached, specifically for this purpose.
Once the rust has infected a Snapdragon plants, I have been unable to rectifying the problem entirely. Spraying Neem every 7 days or so (more often when the weather is rainy and less often when it is sunny) does help arresting the infection somewhat, but I have not been able to get rid of the rust entirely once it was established.

History of Antirrhinum:
The name Antirrhinum derived from the greek word ‘anti’ which means ‘like’, ‘rhis’ meaning ‘nose/snout ‘ and ‘inus’ meaning ‘of’ or ‘pertaining to’, thus we assume that Antirrhinum refers to the florescence shape ‘like a snout or nose’.
This herbaceous tender perennial is considered native to rocky areas in North America, Europe and North Africa but likely originated around the Mediterranean basin. She now grows practically throughout the world, in many areas as an annual.

Uses
Snapdragons are widely used in the gardening world for beddings, rockery gardens, herbaceous borders and container. They thrive in temperate regions of the world and do best in an area that receives full -to part sun.

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Produced in large quantities in Europe as well as in North America, Snapdragons are a major player in the specialty cut flower Industry, their linear shape and long vase life make them a sought after ingredient for floral design.

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As far as edibility goes; the plant is not toxic but the taste is very bitter, so it is not really used culinarily except maybe as a garnish. The seeds however produce a very good oil and for this use, especially the people in Russia have cultivated the plant for centuries.

A green dye has been produced from the plant, dark green hues as well as a golden tint.

Antirrhinum has also been used as an herbal medicine for centuries. The flower and stems have anti-inflammatory properties and are  bitter, resolvent and a stimulant. It has been used as a poultice on tumors and ulcers and has also been effective on reducing discomfort due to hemorrhoids.
Woman throughout the ages have been known to boil the Snapdragon flowers and leaves in water and after straining it applied the resulting concoction to their face, ensuring a beautiful and youthful appearance.

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The Roman’s and Greek thought that the Snapdragon had the power to protect against witchcraft and the physician Pedanius Dioscorides wrote that protection would be given to a person when Snapdragon was worn around the neck.
In the middle ages European castles were protected against evil when Snapdragons were grown near the gate and during the Victorian era it was believed that when one received Snapdragons in a bouquet, a proposal was in the works. Continuing in that vein, during those days, hiding a Snapdragon in your clothes was thought to make you fascinating and alluring.

In the Victorian Language of Flowers Snapdragons can sometimes mean deception, so  giving a Snapdragon in combination with a truth telling flower such as a Hyacinth, it could mean: I am sorry! However Snapdragons also stands for graciousness and inner strength during trying times.

Snapdragon use in Floral Design.
Snapdragon is a linear flower and lend itself perfectly for creating hight in an arrangement, this makes her a beautiful addition to a bouquet of form- and mass flowers. Originally just blooming in purple and white, nowadays they are available in many colors outside of the true blue- and green range; pink, orange, yellow, white, bronze, purple, magenta and red are all available for the flower lover.
Vase life can be up to a week when properly conditioned, which means you want to cut your stems in the cool morning hours when approximately one third of the florets have opened. Cut the stem at a slanted angle and immediately place upright in deep water  (which has been infused with a good flower food) for at least an hour before arranging in a vase. Like most line flowers Snapdragons should be kept perfectly upright in order to keep the stem straight while conditioning. Even letting them lean against the bucket for an hour or so tropism will set in, meaning the stem will start bending in an upward angle thus creating a permanent ‘crook’ in the stem.

That’s all for now folks, not because there is no more to tell about this fascinating flower but I simply can’t wait any longer to pick a few more Snapdragons to fill my house, my vases, my orders with these beauties and in the meantime I’ll make sure to hide some in my negligee…..and you should too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Thousand Flowers A Day


 

Did you know that a Hummingbird has to visit one- to two thousand flowers per day to get the nectar it needs for survival?  Some sources put the number even higher at up to four thousand flowers. Now you see why there should be flowers everywhere.

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Hummingbird in Weigelia

Hummingbirds use their specialized beak and tongue to get to the nectar and they visit many different colored flowers but it is well known that Hummingbirds are especially attracted to a range of red, orange and pink, often tubular flowers. These flowers produce nectar in larger quantities. It has also been suggested that the reason for the focus on flowers in this narrow  color spectrum could be that  these Hummingbird-pollinated flowers are less attractive to most insects, the nectar is relatively weak and contains smaller amounts of glucose and fructose and higher proportions of sucrose.

picture of nectar robbing carpenter bee.
Nectar robbing carpenter bee

Insects pollinated flowers produce a more concentrated nectar that is dominated by fructose and glucose so this renders  these flowers also less susceptible to damage from insects (or birds, or mammals). Sometimes critters that do not possess the specialized adaptations needed for the tubular shaped flowers then ‘steal’ the nectar by  biting or piercing a hole in the corolla, pollination is omitted in this process and is thus called ‘nectar robbing’.

If you want to attract Hummingbirds to your garden you have a choice of many different flower varieties to attract them. Myself being a cut flower grower I gravitate to these type of flower and there is no shortage of cut flower varieties that attract Hummingbirds as well. The pink Weigelia in my backyard has been the main attraction for the little birds these last few weeks but now that the Columbine is starting to bloom they are the favorite now.Soon Foxgloves and Lupines will play center stage for the Hummingbirds in the garden as well as in the bouquets created at Petal Passion. Later in the summer I look for Hummingbirds around the Penstemon, Kniphofia, Salvia’s, Crocosmia and Beebalm.

During an economic downturn such as we recently experienced, many more people are motivated to start a garden to provide for- or compliment the  family meal. Much information and resources are readily available at garden stores, and community centers to help the home gardener grow fruits and vegetables to eat. Raised beds are build, laws are dug up and most people really get into it, growing bigger and better gardens each year. Others start of enthusiastically but eventually gravitate to keeping a bed of weeds after it becomes clear that just because you build a raised bed does not mean the weeds won’t find it. Flowering weeds can be appreciated though, however there is that nagging thought of how to not leet it take over so for that look that fills your senses pull out those commoners and plant yourself a Fairy Wand instead.

 

 

Flower gardening on the other hand seem to have taken a backseat for many, if not most gardeners these days. Sure we’ll see beds of Salvias or Candytuft and other landscaped flower beds. Big box stores and nurseries supply a steady stream of Pansies, Petunias and other perky looking, dwarf varieties of already blooming flower starts but compared to the popularities of vegetable gardening, flower gardening has taken an hiatus of late.

picture of vegetable bed
Raised Bed Vegetable Garden, no Hummingbirds here.

When we forget to leave some space for the flowers one thing we are neglecting to do is to grow the foods for our souls, which is  blazingly apparent when we look at the amount of uppers and downers it takes to keep this nation happy but that is a blog all on it’s own for another time. This blog laments the missing flowers that are needed to keep our pollinators alive and thriving. The plight of the Bees has been the topic of many articles and programs whose knowledge far surpasses mine, but the message is clear; we have to safe the Bees! The occurrence of colony collapse disorder has increased manyfold since 2006, the reason most likely is a combination of issues facing the Bees. One of these issues however is the disappearance of  of  the multi-culture habitats that include patches of nectar producing flowers on which the Bees depend. So get a cracking and plant legion, hordes, myriads of flowers, there can never be enough.

But back to the hummingbirds; If one Hummingbird needs to visit two-thousand flowers and day, her life literally depending on a cluster of fresh flower every ten minutes or so, we can not keep those flowers gardeners sitting on the back burner  waiting for the Master Gardeners to come up with a course on flower growing. They do not seem to be too interested in setting a trend but rather cater to demand.  So let’s start planting those flowers now, next to the beans or next to the bushes, dig up some lawn or leave out that zucchini (your friends will give you some anyways) and head out to that flower-seed stand today. Or let Petal Passion send you some seeds! Nothing will fill your senses as a stand of bright blooming flowers can.
Waiting any longer to indulge our senses and Hummingbird’s bellies will just burn our gardening buts.

hummingbird image

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What is your favorite flower?


In the floral industry we get asked that question quite a bit and no one in their right mind will answer with just one favorite flower, simply because in the flower world there is simply too much beauty to behold. The colors, the shapes, the smells, the wonders, the legends, the secrets and promises, the magic of flowers,  they  are like a kaleidoscope of favorites presenting a plethora of beaux flirting with your heart.

However there is one that is on the tip of my tongue, always, even as I swallow the name in order to tell you how this question can not be answered with just one flower.  She is blue and shy, cool and oh so sweet when her racemes uncurl and tiny 5 petaled flowers, carried on even tinier pedicels,  look up and reflect Summer’s happiness in the miniature sky blue umbels. You will not forget her once you’ve met.

picture of Forget Me Not
Forget Me Not

Forget Me Nots or Myosotis sylvatica (meaning Mouse Ear of the wood) is a member of the Borage family  and probably the flower closest to my heart. Her modest demeanor appeals to me. Happy with a place in shade but freely adapts to a much sunnier place as long as Spring rains keep it hydrated. I love this tiny flower mostly I think because it mirrors the blue summer sky like no other flower can. But also poignant in my mind is an long ago conversation I had with my Mother now more than two decades ago. She introduced me to the name and we talked  about the flower’s simple beauty and demure quality. I did not know at the time that it was one of the last flower talks we would have together. She passed away only a short while later but these flower have bloomed, moved with me and re-seeded in my Oregon garden(s) ever since that beautiful day in Virginia, reminding me of my dear Mother who inspired me to love  the flowers.

Forget Me Nots are prevalent with meaning. In the language of flowers they symbolize endurance, fidelity and loyalty. When Henry the IV was exiled  from England he adopted the flower and preserved it until he came back a year later.
Forget Me Nots also signify remembrance during parting and being apart after good times.

forget me not clipart

In floristry the flower is not that commonly in use. A shame really as it can be a very good cut flower when properly conditioned.

picture of a week old vase arrangement with Forget Me Not.
Forget Me Not after a week in a vase.

I pick them when a cluster of tiny flowers have opened, clean off the lower leaves and other debris. When all cleaned up I lay the whole flower in a lukewarm bath properly conditioned with flower food, covering the whole stem and flower for about an hour or two. After which I will put them upright in a jar full of water and arrange as usual,  taking care that the stems do not get crushed by other, more substantial stems in the process. They look great around the neck of a vase or tucked in the middle of an arrangement lower towards the water source where they are a sweet surprise not obvious at first glance.

Picture of vase arrangement including Stock, Chrysanthemum, Muscari and Forget Me Not.
Forget Me Not combined with magenta Stock, Muscari and two varieties of Chrysanthemums.

vase with forget me nots

The blossoms can be added to salads as a garnish and make excellent candied blooms. However, the plant does contain some pyrrolizidine, a chemical not to eat a lot of so use only occassionally and not to excess.

The whole plant is astringent and it has been used in herbal medicine as an effective remedy for several eye conditions, including conjunctivitis. It is also a handy first aid herb to help stop bleeds when applied externally, fresh or in powder (dried).

Forget Me Nots are pollinated by  Lady bugs, small flies and other hymenopterans.

The easiest way to get Forget me Not’s started in you garden is to buy some seeds (available at Petal Passion) and scatter them a few weeks before last frost date (now) in your area for blooms in fall or next spring.  Or scatter the seeds in early fall for spring blooms. Once established they will reseed easily, just make sure you recognize the seedling when you are doing your spring weeding.
Forget me Not’s are also available as a plant ( at Petal Passion available in one gallon pots as well as 4″pots), they are a bi-annual but usually behave as a perennial. In my garden their foliage start appearing in fall and by the end of March I harvest the blooms.

tatoo of forget me nots

There is a story in the name, there always is. This legend tells of a German Knight who was walking along the steep bank of the a river, picking flowers for the love of his life who was accompanying him on this day. The heavy armor he was wearing, (why? The story does not tell) brought him off balance while reaching for the tiny flowers and he fell down to the swift river below that was swollen with spring rains. He threw the Myositis to his lady and shouted: Forget Me Not my love and so this became the name of the Spring blooming Myosotis. After the  knight plunged into his watery grave, the maiden then wept big tears of sorrow onto the soil on which the blooms had landed and from then on the spring blooming Forget Me Nots have forever thrived.

Or maybe before this tragic story even happened, in the beginning of time when the creator gave out names to flowers, one tiny one was forgotten in the shade and she cried out: Forget Me Not, and so the creator said: That shall be your name and so it was. Then a bit later when that creator got around to painting all the flowers he had named, he did not notice this tiny thing in the shade but she was not to be forgotten as her name implied so courageously she brought up the issue with her creator who gladly corrected the matter and went back to the painting shed. But as fortune would have it, no colors were left except a tiny smidgen of blue. For a tiny flower such as the Forget Me Not, not much paint was needed so the creator decided to go with it. He spread out the lick of blue as far as it would go and thus Forget Me Not ended up in blooming in the hue of a the blue summer sky.