Want to have incredible flowers during our easiest gardening time of the year? I've got some plans for you! I drew up a plan for a 4 x 4 garden bed (nice inexpensive ones available from Gardener's Supply). I chose flowers from the "cut and come again" category of growers which means that the more you cut them the more blooms you'll get! These are my favorite things to grow! I've got seeds for this plan available for sale as individual packs or as the whole set (at quite a discount!). I have the plan (sadly, photos wouldn't load) on a google doc so you can copy it (and modify as you like). The google doc has names and spacing info too. When you are harvesting beautiful spring bouquets, lease share your photos with me :)
Here's the link to the google doc.
There are MANY wonderful native plants to use for landscaping. Here is a quick list of suggestions for the front of a residence. Natives are a great option for their drought tolerance and for the habitat they provide. Having a beautiful landscape is even better when you get to bird watch from your windows! This design should provide seasonal color as the plants come into bloom at different seasons.
*In lieu of photos, there is a link to a photo and more info about each plant included.
East facing Gray house, owners want landscaping to cover the base of the house and to add some color (yellows/oranges with pops of purple).
N bed has a bay window in the middle, and is approx. 15 ft. long by 6 ft. wide
S bed has a liquid ambar tree very close to the front and is 19.5 x 3.5 ft.
East facing is great for many perennials that want some sun but can’t handle the intensity of our summer afternoon sunshine. Plants that like more sun should be okay on the southern most part of the S bed. Only shade lovers for the N bed.
Consider several layers of growth – ground cover (a living mulch!), herb layer (grasses and perennials for texture and color), and a shrub layer. I will assume they don’t want plants to cover the windows for privacy as that would impede the view.
Ground cover - Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – has ferny looking foliage and yellow or white flowers in the summer and fall. 1-3 ft, tall and .5-1.5 ft wide. Likes sun so should be planted at the southern edge of the S bed. Shorter grower so it won’t make too much shade for the other plants in the bed.
Middle of the bed - Lion’s tail (Leonotus leonorus) 3-6 ft. tall, 4 plus ft wide
N side of bed (nearest to front steps)
Hooker’s Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata) 5 ft tall, 3 ft. wide
or something to fill the entire area (and not have too much shrub growth up against the house:
CA Goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. Californica) 1.5-5 ft tall, spreads over time
N BED - has a large bay window in the middle
On either side of the bay window:
Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) 3-10 ft. tall, 3-10 ft. wide (but I’ve never seen one more than a few feet wide) Has golden flowers in spring, followed by small red currant fruits
In front of bay window:
Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium) – 3.5-7 ft tall, 6 ft. wide, beautiful yellow flowers in winter and early spring, followed by grape-like fruits favored by birds.
Front of bed:
Interspersed between shrubs:
CA Fescue (Festuca californica) for textural interest
Ground cover of Ceanothus ‘Yankee Point’ nice green foliage and purple flowers, could be planted on the side closest to the entry. 2-3 ft tall, 8-10 ft wide
Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) – a low growing plant to add color in winter and early spring. 1-3 ft. tall (mostly shorter!) and 2-4 ft wide
There are SO MANY different kinds of ranunculus to choose from! It's hard to know why the price varies so much and what's up with all the different kinds. I'm going to share my experience with the varieties I am familiar with thus far. Please seek out the largest corms you are able to find when shopping for ranunculus. 5/7 (I assume that's the diameter of the corm in centimeters) is the a good size. TLDL: You get what you pay for, and size definitely matters!
First, I have to admit that my favorite line of ranunculus are the Italian ranunculus sourced from Onings America. In my warm climate where we grow in winter (that sometimes has weeks of 80 plus degrees) these perform beautifully. They are reliable, productive, have nice tall stems and come in a dizzying array of colors of petal shapes. Elegance is their more affordable line and is grown the old fashioned way. Their cloned lines are called Success and Pon pon (which I assume is Italian for pompom).
The Cloni (sometimes called Clooney by florists) line is produced by tissue culture (cloning) and has either the Success (for the more common petal forms that resembles a rose) or Ponpon for the ruffly petals that sometimes are mixed with green and make a pompom looking ball. They are quite expensive and make larger flowers. They are distinct and fantastic! Fiesta is their more affordable version of Ponpon but only comes in a few colors or mixes.
These are a more recent addition and are more wildflower looking. They don't have the ruffly petal-filled flowers that the more common ranunculus have. They are bigger plants with tall stems and multiple flowers on a stem. They are wonderful mixed in a vase with regular ranunculus.
These are more affordable than the Italian varieties and are fairly heat tolerant - important for our climate. The flowers aren't as large as the Italians but they come in all the colors people want so these are a great way to try out ranunculus and figure out your techniques without risking so much money. I don't have photos that I feel confident are Amandine varieties but if you google some "Amandine ranunculus" you'll find lots of beautiful colors. Chamallow is a blush pink, Juliet, a bright pink, and Purple Jean a soft lavender.
I'm still not sure how I feel about these. The photos are incredible but in my trials last year (I tried 10 of Maillane or Maritime (can't recall which) and only 2 of them grew. In the facebook group for flower farmers I read that the company that produces these harvests their corms earlier than other companies and that might be why they aren't as reliable. That's definitely a con HOWEVER they have colors that you don't see from other lines. I'm giving it another try this year with a lot more varieties and will report back on how they did. So far in the pre-sprout stage I'm not very impressed. Maybe they are just slow? I'll keep my fingers crossed because the corms are quite expensive.
These are super affordable! That's a great thing if you just want some lovely flowers to look at in your garden. If you want sturdy stems to harvest you might want to pass on these. They can be fine but they aren't bred for the flower farming market so the focus isn't on making plants with sturdy stems. They are a GREAT line to practice with until you have your growing technique solid.
Why to grow ranunculus
Because they are so incredibly beautiful!
Well we did it. My partner of the last 12 years or so and I got married. We had a small intimate ceremony in the backyard and had 20 friends and family present (less than I would have liked, but we had to be able to squeeze everyone in). As is often true for me, I ended up doing a lot at the last minute (or not doing it at all). I've never made a floral wrist corsage before and figured out how to make one at 6 am the morning of the ceremony. I like how it turned out! I had cut a bunch of things that have a tendency to droop if not well hydrated (hello basil!) and had to cut a lot of the shrubs around the edges of our lawn area to allow more chairs to fit. It is foliage that I use often in arrangements so I striped the lower leaves and stuck the stems in buckets for potential use later. I'm SO GLAD I did this!
The morning of the ceremony we were racing around preparing our space for a possible switch to indoors because it had been drizzling since 5 am and everything was wet. Our house was really not going to work with that many people all in one spot but it seemed it might have to. I'm very happy that the drizzle stopped around 10:30 (people started to coming over at 10). Since I had just hopped in the shower at 9:40 and wanted to put a little bit of effort into how I looked. I was delighted when one of my dear old friends took on making the spread of empty vases and buckets of foliage and flowers into something presentable for me. Another friend brought a gorgeous flower crown and boutonierre so my beloved and I had matching florals to wear. While I primped the flower power duo turned a hodge podge of stems into an amazing array of flower art. Truly stunning!
My point of writing this blog post isn't to brag about how great the flowers at my wedding were. It's to share the power of foliage! Don't discount shrubs when you are trying to choose stems for inspiring your designs. You'll see in the photos that the foliage ties everything together and really works to create a unified design. I have a good size collection of oh flora vessels (a guilty pleasure - they are quite an indulgence!) and that also helped create visual coherence. Overall I was blown away by the talents of my two friends (neither of whom are professional designers but I swear they both could be!) and how well my beloved flowers and FOLIAGE!!! showed up for me. In fact, I didn't cut very many flowers because my beds aren't very abundant right now. I had some dried hydrangea stems and several other stems of dry material and they also helped fill out the designs. Once again, key point here is DON'T FORGET THE FOLIAGE! and USE YOUR SHRUBS! They really came through for me and helped to make it a wonderful and beautiful celebration!
Both of the above are fantastic summer focal flowers but I prefer one for reasons I will go into below.
Dahlias were my first flower love. I used to see visions of their petals like fireworks when I would close my eyes. Dahlias will absolutely stop me in my tracks. They are extraordinary flowers!
and, I'm Team Rose.
It took me several years to come to this place, let me explain myself.
Dahlias in arid zones are not very happy. They evolved in a climate with high light, mild temperatures, and lots of humidity.
I have successfully grown peonies in hot, dry Pasadena - even the herbaceous peonies that are so popular!
I'll share some tips but first, some general information to help you better understand peonies: There are three main types of peonies, Tree peonies that grow continuously (sounds scrumptious, not sure I've ever seen one in person), herbaceous peonies that die back at the end of the season, and Itoh peonies that are a hybrid between the two. Tree peonies have a greater heat tolerance and apparently get quite large. Herbaceous peonies need something to cause dormancy so they can rest and set buds. If you don't have chill then a dry dormancy *can* initiate bud formation (though it's far less ideal than having a cold winter do it for you). Peonies generally get listed as good for up to zone 8. Pasadena is solidly in zone 10. Because we are on the weird west coast (at least according to the general horticultural wisdom) we can get away with zone 9 plants fairly easily (my hellebores area testament to that) but zone 8 is pushing it. I make sure to plant peonies where they are sheltered from afternoon sun and always aim (though space issues don't always make it possible) to put them in a spot that gets a few hours of morning sun or at least part sun. Then it's all about patience. Disbud those plants for the first 2 years. By the third year, if they are going to bloom, they ought to HOWEVER maybe not here in our hot climate.
So here I am telling you that YES YOU CAN! and your next question should be "But should I?" The answer to that is a bit more complicated. I have a deep love for peonies and a real tendency for pushing the horticultural edge. Peonies don't take up a lot of space per plant but there are things you could plant in their place that would be much more rewarding. If you want lots of flowers, plant a rose bush! They are incredibly happy in our hot and dry climate! If peonies have your heart, then listen carefully. Some put ice on their plants in the winter to mimic chill. I don't advise that. First, it's a waste of energy. Second, a plant that needs that much maintenance is very likely to fail as you will get busy and forget. Third, how much ice? How often? Without some clear guidelines it's a crap shoot (and a waste of time and energy). Don't expect miracles. This year was we had a wonderfully cool winter and a lot of rain. I have more peony blooms than I've had in years past. When it hits 80 degrees for a spell they will probably be done but I'm crossing my fingers for a couple more Itoh peonies to bloom. This is a many year investment. These plants can potentially live for longer than you (though not likely in this climate). Don't count on having blooms every year. After four or five years, once plants are well established then you'll have a better idea about how they perform. WHO HAS THE PATIENCE FOR THAT?! You have to be a real nut to do this. If you don't already know this then prepare for some serious sticker shock when you go shop for roots. New and highly desired peonies can run more than $300. Even less desirable ones are likely to be at least $20 (and those might not even be worth it to try and grow here). Peonies are EXPENSIVE. And not guaranteed to succeed. Did I mention this is a bit of a fool's errand?
Now, if you are still reading and still want to try, don't say I didn't warn you. Here are my tips for success (keep in mind that's really "success"):
Location: Choose a spot that gets zero afternoon sun and is sheltered from the extreme heat of afternoons. If you have a frost pocket in your yard (plant nasturtiums in January and see which ones die from cold - sometimes you can identify this from topography, cold air moves like honey and flows down slope at night).
Varieties: Onings has a list of "Latina" peonies that they grow in Italy in zone 9. These are mostly early blooming varieties. Choose early bloomers for best chance of success. This takes a little research.
Buy big: Get the biggest healthiest roots you can find. That means spending more money but imho wimpy roots won't make it here as our conditions are pretty extreme for peonies.
Planting: Don't bury the eyes. Many planting guides will tell you to put the eyes a few inches under the soil but that's for places that freeze hard. Our chill doesn't penetrate the soil so keep the eyes at the surface to grab any chill they can. Make sure to mulch them to protect from the summer heat.
So, if you keep all that in mind and want to give it a try please let me know how it goes! Consider it an experiment and give it five years before you decide. Then you too can join the Lunatic Gardening Fringe :)
As an organic grower, I make this joke all the time. Here's the answer: If you find a bug on a flower that likely means the flower isn't full of poison so it's both a bug AND a feature of organic growing. The idea that food and flowers are expected to be 100% unblemished is a relatively new notion. My grandparents didn't have any problem cutting the bruise out of an apple and eating the rest of it without complaint. My kids act like I've served dirt if I offer them fruit that isn't perfect! Since the advent of petrochemical intensive agriculture, people have gotten further and further removed from the fact that ecosystems are what grow things. In my garden there is a plethora of bugs. Many of them are pest bugs but there are untold numbers of predatory bugs (aka beneficials) bugs just waiting to snack of them. It's taken a few years to build up decent numbers of beneficials but it's what makes sense to me.
It's all about balance. As a farmer I'm also focused on raising flowers to sell so I don't just let bugs wreck havoc on my plants. I recall once seeking advice on social media about whether a caterpillar was a "squish or save" and a bunch of friends were incensed that I would propose squishing a bug. I expect that those same friends wouldn't be at all interested in purchasing flowers that were full of holes and frass (insect poop). What I was seeking was whether or not this caterpillar was the larva of a beneficial or a pest. As with most things, knowledge is power. A solid understanding of local entomology can go a long way in understanding if you are under siege from a pest and need to step in to take action or if predator prey cycles are working themselves out without needing your involvement.
Yesterday I was out fussing among the rose bushes that are full of buds at this time of year. Aphids are having a field day with all that tender new growth and I was wiping them off and squishing them. I noticed a small green caterpillar and removed and squished it (I find gloves help a lot with this). Today on social media a woman posted about little green caterpillars on her roses being the larva of hover flies that prey on aphids. She showed some photos and they looked EXACTLY like the ones I squished yesterday. In my anxiety about the bugs on my roses I had upset some of the predator prey cycles that were already working themselves out. What a great reminder to first OBSERVE and EDUCATE oneself before taking action!
Back to the original question - is it a bug or a feature? As someone who has taught environmental science for decades, I strongly believe (and I can provide a lot of references to support my position) that overuse of pesticides, along with other things, has lead to a dangerous decline in the biodiversity of local insects. I don't want to contribute to that. On the other hand, I have a flower farm and no one wants to buy bug riddled flowers. My compromise is to focus on building healthy soil so plants aren't stressed, to choose biology over technology when a pest population becomes problematic (use predatory bugs to combat the pests), and to use mechanical methods (squishing or using the hose to spray bugs off) when needed, and, only as a last resort, use the most gentle insecticide that I can (like Safer's soap spray). I believe that farming/gardening should be a life affirming activity. Part of what makes my flowers glow is that they are nourished by healthy soil as part of a healthy ecology. I won't risk that by using insecticides. Life is too precious for that!
Growing flowers to sell is a humbling experience. I was at the Farmers Market this past weekend and their flower vendor had prices that were less than my wholesale prices. The flower quality was also markedly different from mine but there were still plenty of people buying them. If you are accustomed to buying flowers from the local grocery store or a farmers market you might not be aware that there is a higher grade of flower. With ranunculus there is a huge difference in cost and product of the different kinds of corms (the tiny octopus looking things that grow the plants). The most costly corms are cloned varieties that come with a patent fee and a price that is 4 or more times the cost of the corms you can find at Home Depot garden section or other gardening store. They have been raised until prime conditions and are guaranteed to be free of disease, grow the largest flowers you can grow, and come in forms and colors that are otherwise unavailable. I go into this more specifically in the previous post about Ranunculus.
The same scenario applies with other kinds of plants though maybe not so dramatically. Tulips bulbs have a wholesale cost and a retail cost. Wholesale is always going to be less than retail but if you are a small scale grower you might not buy sufficient quantity to get the wholesale prices. You need to grow at least 100 of a specific variety to purchase wholesale (and have a business license). If you grow at a large scale, you get bulbs (and soil, and water and everything else) at a much better rate. Small scale growing is in a weird spot between wholesale and retail. Many of my bulbs or plugs I purchase through wholesale distributors but most of my supplies (soil, water, and everything else) I buy at retail prices. This automatically means I need to charge more to cover my expenses. One of the benefits of growing at a small scale is the time I can spend with the plants. I can identify pest problems when hand picking still works reasonably well. I have a relationship with each of my plants. My hands touched every one of them, either from the time they were seeds or plugs to transplant out in the beds. I take my time with my plants. Part of what you are paying for when you buy flowers from me is that I'm slow :) That's not entirely a joke. I tend my soil and my plants with great care. I'm not doing this from an efficiency standpoint. I'm doing this to create a flower inspired ecology of beneficial insects and lizards and birds, soil microbiota, and plants. It's a different measure. It might be possible to do everything with the least amount of time and the least amount of money as possible but that isn't what makes the petals on my tulips glow or gets a highly curated collection of unique flowers together. The price of my flowers might be higher but the cost (to ecosystems, employee well being, soil health, etc) of those less expensive stems is much greater.
It's probably not a huge surprise that I am enamored of flowers. I'd be lying if I said that I love all flowers equally. I'm not trying to knock anyone's appreciation of flowers and it bears saying that nothing beats flowers that you harvest from your own garden or that come from a local flower farmer. Most flowers that are available for purchase (to consumers or florists) have been harvested at the best stage for longevity in shipping and transport. This is a careful science and often involves some fairly advanced chemistry. A huge number of these flowers are grown in countries where labor costs are extremely low (a real mixed bag for the foreign employees - nice to have a job but not so nice that so much of the profit from the industry goes to others) and environmental safety standards are also extremely low. They can use chemicals on the flowers they wouldn't be able to use here. Sometimes these flowers are given an extra fumigation to prevent insects from hitching a free ride along with the stems. The entire picture is kind of impressive from an efficiency and operational standpoint!
It's not what I'm looking for in a flower at all. When I grow flowers I take great care with each seedling or bulb. I don't harvest flowers at the first opportunity because I enjoy how the flower matures. When I cut flowers to arrange for myself, I like flowers at their most full expression. When harvested early, they never achieve this size or openness. Something that I've observed over the years is that many of the flowers I grow actually sparkle in the sun. A florist friend told me this is a result of the petals being fully hydrated. Flowers are meant to shimmer! I've never seen this on a flower at a store. There is a range of color that petals can't approach when they've been harvested at the first opportunity, held in cold storage for weeks (the case for tulips, narcissus, and peonies), and transported through a variety of means before being available for purchase. Sure, you can recut the stems and help freshen them up but it doesn't rejuvenate them to the same point a freshly cut mature bloom gets. The picture above isn't the best from a photography perspective but it shows the sparkle of the tulip petals that I'm talking about. No filter! The glow of the petals is honestly how they look.
As I've grown in my flower farming, I've also grown to appreciate the entire life cycle of the flowers. I'm not yet to the stage where I harvest seeds (except accidentally in the case of things like Orlaya, celosia, cerinthe, and a few other self sowing wonders) but I have no doubt I'd be doing that if I had more space. My favorite way to enjoy flowers these days is in the garden. Cutting them for arrangements is a pleasure too but different than watching them interact with the wind and the bees and the sunlight. That's part of why I am a very vocal advocate of growing your own. Not everyone can do that, and I believe it's better to have any flowers than none at all. If you are able to grow your own Just Do It! If you aren't, the next best thing is to support your most local flower farmer. You will get the freshest blooms and they will enjoy your support.
Given that my last post was a little bit of a rant against the idea that fresh flowers ought to last forever, I thought it was appropriate to explain some strategies to get your beautiful ephemeral flowers to last as long as they can. Key ideas: water, location, and choosing the right stems.