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Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

In Victorian times messages of love were sent with flowers, each type and color having its own meaning. Should someone send you a bouquet of red roses, they were speaking of love. Should the roses be yellow, they were saying they’re jealous.

Modern relationships are carried out differently – nowadRosesays, love is celebrated by sending flowers, candies, and text messages. “I lv U” has replaced floral displays, but sending flowers is still a great way to express passion for that special person in your life. With all of the new varieties of flowers, what would Victorian florists send in today’s world of modern love?

Roses are great if you’re already in a relationship. But what about the person who has a crush on the girl in the next office cubicle, and isn’t sure if she is interested in return? Try sending mixed wildflowers – they’re non-committal, casual, and not intense. Frightening people is a real risk in today’s romance scene, and wildflowers have less of a reputation for commitment.

Wildflowers can be grown in the garden for just such casual occasions. However, this does not mean picking weeds to give; save those for when asking for a divorce.

Unsure whether it’s time to take the relationship to the next level, or keep it casual? Send Gerbera daisies, tulips, and freesias. Together these make a unique mix with big flowers, bold color and soft fragrance. This step above standard bouquets sets the stage for better things, while leaving an “it’s just casual” safety net should the receiver become alarmed at the idea of closer involvement.

Occasionally people come together for brief romantic interludes.   In some cases those involved want to remain friends without continued entanglement, and carnations are an ideal choice to send. Inexpensive and commonly found in many retail stores, they soften the words without encouraging further involvement. Carnations say “Yes, I’m sending a flower to thank you, but I don’t really want anything more”.

Unless, of course, it was the interlude of a lifetime, one never to be repeated yet sizzling and memorable. The absolute must-send bouquet for this is made up of yellow daylilies for the fleetness of love, blue forget-me-nots for remembrance, and red Crocosmia “Lucifer” for the devil that made you do it.

Relationships may encounter a few bumpy times, and lovers have ways of communicating this, such as blasting Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” over the stereo. When this happens, hustling quickly over to the florists to choose unique flowers for one-of-a-kind bouquets is best. Hand-pick tropical flowers and orchids to show an effort went into the apology, a good thing to demonstrate to an irritated spouse.

Flowers can encompass the wide range of love found in our world. Close friends can be celebrated with unusual arrangements, such as floral displays placed in items that evoke unique interests or shared moments. Think outside the box when choosing both flowers and the vase to hold them. Often personal items, such as a bike helmet, can convey deep appreciation for friends and the connection you have together. 

For those who have no clue where they are in a relationship, the safest way to go is with traditional roses. They’re formal, standard, and are the best fall-back when you don’t want to risk not doing enough. But don’t underestimate them: due to their reputation as beacons of love they may help the receiver to feel more strongly about the sender. Especially if the roses are made from chocolate.

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In a time when water is low and worries are high, anguished gardeners watch helplessly as cherished plants succumb to drought: trees that shaded generations of family, heirloom flowers from ancestral lands, and perennial beds are withered and brown.  We need help, we need heroes; we need Superman.  Just in time, he’s back. 

Though things looked dire, our Superman didn’t withdraw to the Fortress of Solitude; western gardeners are made of tougher stuff.  What David Salman did was forge new partnerships, bringing High Country Gardens back from the ravages of its own kryptonite:  forest fires, drought, and the economy.  Teaming with American Meadows, the beloved source for tough, xeric plants is back in business, right here in Denver at Center Greenhouse.

“I’m excited about the future; in a sense, this is embarking on a new career.  I can spend more time and effort on plants, speaking, and writing,” said Salman, who is eager to work with the Vermont-based company.  “American Meadows is letting me continue my role as Chief Horticulturist; I’m responsible for the choice of plants in the catalog.  They have the marketing expertise; I’m still able to educate people, make the selections, and keep our eco-friendly focus.  Our catalog is a little smaller, but still maintains a good breadth of selection, still focused on unusual, unique, garden-worthy plants.”

American Meadows, with its emphasis on wildflowers, was a perfect fit for purchasing High Country Gardens.  “We’re excited to have High Country Gardens as a brand, because it’s something I’ve looked up to for a while,” said Ethan Platt, President.  “We have no desire to change it; it’s too good a brand to mess with.  And David is really a unique resource – we’re eager to work with him.”

Maintaining a small research facility in Santa Fe, Salman and two of his long-time growers continue to develop new plants for the western landscape, sending cuttings and stock plants here to Center Greenhouse where the plants are grown.  With its roots in Denver firmly established, the 64-year old company is a leader in propagating and growing plants for wholesale to garden centers.  “We’ve increased staff by 10 employees just for this partnership,” says Brian Yantorno, Vice-President of Center. 

Center Greenhouses’ expertise is what Salman was searching for to take over care of plants as close to his heart as family.  “These plants need specific conditions to propagate them; you can’t do it in many places, not southern California, not the east coast.  I wanted to choose the very best wholesale growers to grow the best,” said Salman, who moved his production over the past month and a half.  “It was a huge move – imagine packing up a 2-acre house with thousands of plants, then getting them re-established in the new location.”

Celebrating their 20 years, High Country is offering 20 exciting plants, featuring their 2013 Plant of the Year, Phlox ‘Perfect Pink’ (Phlox nana).  The west Texas/New Mexico native is a showcase of the glory xeric plants possess: long blooming flowers of deep pink with a white eye on a tough, long-lived plant. 

Or snap up the new hybrid Skullcap ‘Dark Violet,’ (Scutellaria) with its masses of blooms in rich, seductive tones of reddish-blue.  “Thank goodness I’m not a dog, because if I only saw in black and white, I’d be poorer for it.  That’s what caught me about this plant – the color,” said Salman, who spent 5 years developing it for the catalog.

Hummingbird lovers will flip over Agastache ‘Desert Solstice’, a flower-packed powerhouse hybrid of blooms for our feathered friends.  The orange and pink, spikes sport 50-percent more flowers than its hybrid cousin, ‘Desert Sunrise,’ and tolerates the richer soils of amended perennial beds.

Check out highcountrygardens.com for more xeric plants, or contact them at 800-925-9387 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. mountain time.

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Getting your garden started seems simple:  you dream big, make wish list, then with warm weather, head to the garden center to pick out your plants.  But as those doors slide open to the warm, moist air of the greenhouse, a daunting tableau unfolds:  bench after bench filled with seedlings, rolling racks bursting with trays, containers crowding floors, until all that’s left is a narrow path snaking down aisles.  

At this point, gardeners react either in frenzy, gathering everything within grasp until their cart resembles a Dr. Seuss tower; or in fear, by turning on their heels and fleeing to a more orderly locale.   This is understandable: when facing an ocean of plants, how do you know which plants will work, or what to avoid?

“When I first started gardening and went to the store, I was in awe of what they offered; overwhelmed by the number of plants available,” says Diane Blazek, Executive Director for All America Selections, an organization dedicated to testing and recommending plants for gardens in North America (all-americaselections.org/).  “But most gardeners just want to know “what’s going to do well in my yard?”

Putting plants through rigorous trials since 1932, All America Selections winnows out the best of the best, finding tough plants that are star performers in almost every garden.  Capturing a coveted “AAS Award Winner” designation is like getting the Better Homes and Gardens Seal of Approval, says Blazek, because if they do well in 30 trial gardens across the U.S., they’ll probably grow in your backyard.

“The seed breeding world is competitive; everybody wants their products in front of gardeners.  There must be a way to ensure that they live up to their claims, if not, breeders can say whatever they want but it’s not always true,” she said. 

To put their claims to the test, corporations, individuals, and universities developing plants enter the yearly trials.  “We have plants from large seed companies, but we like to give smaller guys a chance too, like Gordon Smith.  He was breeding peppers in his Illinois backyard, entered and won – now we have Cajun Belle, a pepper developed in his home yard. “

Once the breeder has what they think is a winner, the journey from seed to celebrity spans a season.  Contestants are entered in November and seed is dispersed to gardens across the country for trialing the following summer.  The number of places a plant is tested depends on its category:  vegetables are trialed at 32 locations, cool season bedding plants in 25, and flowers in 42 gardens.

Judges are given strict guidelines for growing these plants: do nothing special.  “We insist that they treat them like an average gardener would so we’ll see how they are on their own.  Don’t spray them, fertilize them more, or treat them special,” says Blazek.

Throughout the season, contenders go through a litany of competitions, where contestants are judged against one another, plus two to four outsiders – ringers that excel in certain traits.   “Not a lot of trial programs have testing like ours.  We compare them against one plant for size, and another one for disease resistance; then they compete against a third plant to see which is earliest, or a fourth for bloom size.  An AAS winner has to be better than them all, in every category.”

Look for 2011’s AAS winners this year:

  Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ (Gailardia x grandiflora) , a blanket flower that blooms all summer

 Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’ (Brassica oleracea), for intense color that shows off in fall

 Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’ (Salvia coccinea), with brilliant red, early spikes of bloom

 Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’ (Viola cornuta), a pale blue, mounding viola for cool locales. 

The small pumpkin ‘Hijinks’ and two tomatoes perfect for containers, Lizzano and Terenzo, round out the winners. 

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A poster with twelve species of flowers or clu...

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I f the guests you’re expecting bring more stress than happiness, consider using your décor to keep them in line. Through the help of modern psychology and strategic arrangements, your gathering can be a civilized affair. But it’s not the seating charts or furniture that will save you; it’s your bouquets.

Two studies, one conducted by Nancy Etcoff of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the other by Jeannette Haviland-Jones, professor of Psychology at Rutgers, show that there really is power in flowers. Looking at the links between humans and blossoms, both studies suggest that human behavior can be improved by the presence of flowers. Here are a few of their findings to help you keep the holidays cheerful.

Place flowers in rooms where they’ll have the most impact: kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms. Their presence is enough to soothe the savage beast, or at least make them tolerable for an hour or two. By triggering the feeling of happiness, flowers increase connection between people, bringing them together in a positive manner.

In both studies, people felt less negative after being around flowers, and Etcoff’s study found that flowers improve compassion and kindness for others, something that should come in handy with judgmental visitors. Seat the pessimists near a display of brightly colored posies; perhaps they’ll overlook their feelings on your cooking this year.

Have someone who loves to argue in the group? Hand them a flower whenever they warm up to a topic; it will bring a smile and better behavior. According to Haviland-Jones, people entering an elevator — a place of social awkwardness — acted in a more socially positive way when handed a flower, as opposed to another gift or nothing at all.

At the very least, handing them flowers one by one over the event will keep their mind on your mental stability and off of debates.

Want to show off your antique end table without running the risk of careless water rings left by the drinks of distracted guests? Let a floral arrangement of holly provide protection for the table. The deep green, glossy leaves bedecked in berries look glorious in a winter bouquet, but a few nips from their razor-sharp spines will have your guests looking elsewhere to set their glasses (this advice is not part of the studies. It’s a trick I’ve picked up over the years).

For best effect, spread the holly along the lower and middle section of the display, keeping the size of the arrangement wide enough to discourage drinks but show off the table.

If you’d like to tamp down your guests’ baser instincts, whip up a few floral arrangements. Oasis blocks, found at local hobby stores, hold water and fresh flowers or branches when you’re not using a vase. Soak the oasis in water for a half hour before use, then place in a shallow bowl or tray.

Choose a variety of material from your garden and the local florists’ shop. If using fresh evergreens, snip the ends before inserting them into the oasis, cut stems at differing lengths to keep the arrangement interesting. Strip off leaves or needles from any part of the stem that will be inserted into the oasis.

When inserting anything into the oasis, take care to push the stem only once; avoid pulling it back out to reseat it. This causes an air pocket between the stem end and the foam, and the plant won’t get water from the oasis.

Begin at the bottom of the display, layering greenery in a circle as a foundation for the design. Work around the arrangement in an upward circle to place material into the foam. If arranging for the center of a table, keep the design low to avoid obstructions to conversations with those on the other side of the table. Mist your arrangement daily.

This post was previously published in the Boulder Camera, Longmont Times-Call, and Loveland Reporter-Herald.

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Christmas cactus

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Did the spiky showoff with brilliant pinks, purples, and reds catch your eye as it dangled from a hanging pot in the local greenhouse?  If you’re the proud owner of a flowering cactus, you’ll find they’re carefree plants that add color to grey winter days. 

 “The three cactus types, Thanksgiving (Schlumbergera truncata), with pointed “teeth” on the stems, Christmas (Schlumbergera x. buckleyi), with rounded tips, and Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri), are actually epiphytes.  They live in trees in their native Brazil like orchids, but we grow them in pots here,” says Dr. Steve Newman, Greenhouse Crops Specialist with Colorado State University Extension. 

Although they’re cacti, they don’t grow dry; water yours weekly as the top inch of soil gets dry, and provide it with half-strength fertilizer each time you water.  Every third week, give it clear water instead.  “Because no one likes to stain furniture or carpeting, most people water without letting it run out of the bottom, and salts build up in the soil.  Put the pot in the kitchen sink or bathtub every third watering and let water run though to flush salts out,” said Newman.

Avoid drafty areas for your cactus – chill blasts aren’t good for it.  “But the challenge for large Christmas cactus is keeping it out of traffic areas.  Sections fall off whenever people brush against them.”

The good news is that these sections are easy to root by placing them in a glass of water, and when the roots come out, pot up the section in sterile, everyday potting soil.  While young, the small plant should be guarded against overwatering, so before you give it a drink, check the soil to be sure it’s not wet.

To have your cactus bloom for Thanksgiving or Christmas next year and each year thereafter, mark your calendar for September 19 as the date to begin the reblooming process.  “Living around the 40th parallel as we do, that’s the date to start stimulating plants so they’re blooming in time for Christmas,” says the 25-year veteran of greenhouse growing.  “Poinsettias and cactus – two popular flowering plants – are treated this way.”

 A combination of cool temperatures and darkness is the cue these plants need to bloom, so move the cactus to a place with cool, 60-degree nights and only nine hours of sunlight daily.  After approximately six weeks, Thanksgiving cactus will flower, and after two to three months, Christmas cactus blooms. 

 The secret to eye-popping color is reducing water to the plant after flower buds have formed, says Newman.  Water weekly until after the flower buds begin to swell, then cut back on the water slightly, letting the cactus dry out between watering without getting bone dry.  Blossom color intensifies if the plant dries once flowers start, he said; many growers finish flowering plants this way during the last two to three weeks before they go on sale.

Be aware that too dry will abort the flowers, so to avoid it going too far, get to know your cactus soil by inserting your finger in it up to the first knuckle, just before watering.  Note that moisture level; as you dry down your cactus, check the soil to gauge when it’s a bit drier but not parched. “This is the best water meter ever invented,” says Newman, holding up his hand and indicating the tip of his index finger. 

As flowers unfold, move it out into the room where you want to display it, keeping it in bright, indirect light.  A cool room is best; too much heat can cause flowers to fade and drop quickly, and if the leaves wrinkle, the plant is too dry or too warm.  There’s no need to feed it during blossom, but after flowering, return the cactus to normal care of fertilizing at half strength and watering weekly.

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If you let your heads hang in our warm and lingering fall and the local wildlife is starting to take an interest, it’s time to harvest your sunflowers.  Here’s how: 

Sunflowers signal their readiness in several ways.  The easiest to see is that the ripe seeds start falling out.  Pick up a few and split them open to see if the seed is plump with meat, or watch the neighborhood squirrels – they never miss an opportunity for an easy meal. 

Bagging the head with perforated plastic bags will help keep birds and squirrels from pilfering, but if you want to harvest before you start losing seeds, look for the heads to be droopy and down turned with the back changing from green to yellow/brown. Petals will be shriveled and falling, leaving the plumped seeds exposed.  

At this point – before the seeds start falling – cut the head off the stem, leaving one foot of stem attached. Hang them upside-down in a warm place until dry and the seeds separate easily.  Then use this stem to turn over and hold the head upside down while rubbing the seeds out by hand.  Dry and store them or roast them in a 300 degree F oven for 15-25 minutes.

If you prefer your seeds salted, soak them overnight in a brine of 2 tablespoons of salt to 1 cup of water. Boil the brine, seeds and all, for a few minutes, drain, then spread them thinly on a cookie sheet and roast in a 200 degree F oven for 3 hours or until crisp. Roasted long enough, they’re easy to shell.

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 In a city where millions pine for green space but budgets are tight, getting a garden is often a dream.  Though some have the cash to build parks, those that struggle are left with empty lots and cement, unable to afford the costs of greening up.  What they need is someone with the means to invest and the vision to see the beauty and peace gardens give to urban areas.

For New York City’s Harlem that visionary was Bette Midler.  In 1995, the accomplished performer/author founded the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit devoted to bringing gardens and trees to an asphalt jungle.  Disturbed by the difference between the west side of Manhattan with it’s lush parks and lawns, and the east side where cracked cement was the only offering, she purchased property to transform into gardens and created an endowment to fund the organization’s goal of greening the city. 

“These are places to come out and feel safe,” says Akiima Price, of the NYRP, “one of the reasons people don’t come outside is that they don’t feel safe out here.  We offer a variety of programs; workshops on cultivation of the garden but also yoga and cooking.  In general a garden implies a place to grow things, but to us it’s where we get out.”

Providing all the seeds and plants for the gardeners plus a space to call their own, the NYRP and their corporate partners work with neighborhoods to bring the residents what they need and will use.   “We look at who uses the space, and how, then plan to make it better,” said Barrett Robinson, landscape designer with NYRP.  “We sit with the community and invite them into the planning by asking what they need and what is the best use of the space.”

  The community is consulted throughout the design process, said Robinson, as he pointed out the Target Garden’s wind turbines, solar panels and rainwater collection systems that power and water the plot.  Raised beds with vegetables are tended by community members, who often share the bounty with other gardeners and families without gardens.

“We meet with garden members in spring to talk about what types of plants are possible, like heirloom vegetables and plants that can work well.  But they choose whatever they want to grow and we provide it,” said Robinson.  In the zone 6b gardens, ears of corn in tassle supported vines of beans, while tomatoes and carrots were getting ready for the summer show.

“It’s not just about the gardens, but about the areas around us as well,” says Price, so the NYRP works to overcome obesity in a place where people lack access to fresh vegetables and fruit.  Many of the children believe their food starts at the bodega, a small grocery store carrying mostly packaged foods.  “Food habits are hard to change.  People shopping at the same bodega all their lives have habits; they want the same food.  Getting them to try new vegetables is hard.”  Once the children learn to garden, they often succeed in getting their fresh vegetables onto the dinner table. 

Donte Taylor, Garden Manager, was raised in the city and knows the value of having growing things around him.  Managing a two-person crew to care for the 12 gardens in Harlem, he takes pride in the plants they tend.  Looking at the cypress, dogwood, hostas and ferns in the Home Depot Garden, he spoke of the care NYRP has for the people who work for them. 

“I started with them through Americorp working one year, then a second, on their projects.  At the end of those terms I got a staff position.  They see the potential in so many people,” said Taylor, “they saw it in me and brought me up.”  Gardens small and large are cared for by his crew, who keep them clean and plants healthy for the residents to enjoy.

“Each garden is set up to be unique,” said John Douglas, who works for Taylor maintaining the gardens.  “It gives me peace of mind to work here and the tangible reward of knowing that when I’m finished, my work keeps growing.”

Both Taylor and Douglas, with their hands in the soil and surrounded by green, believe that their biggest reward is that the people of Harlem enjoy the gardens.  And by tending these plants, the New York Restoration Project is growing the people around them. 

Like Bette Midler, that’s simply divine.

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