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Cut Flowers
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

October 13, 2002

I never knew that displaying flowers was such an ordered affair. I recently enrolled in a Floral Design course. The standards of this course are such that graduates will be able to take and pass the first level of certification in commercial floral design. This is no easy thing. Our instructor, Connie Smith, has a very simple rating system: would she sell our creations in her shop? Connie has very high standards as my marks demonstrated.

Over the years I have been a tad disappointed with my cut-flower gardens. I should qualify that: when the flowers were still in the garden they looked fine but as soon as I set them into a vase they didn't. In fact, they were a sorry looking sight. It seemed a shame to produce such lovely flowers and not be able to properly display them in the home. There are so few places that a fresh flower doesn't enhance its surroundings. So, when this course was made available, I enrolled.

One of my failings, as with many gentlemen my age, and perhaps a few gentlewomen as well, is a complete lack of colour sense. My colour nomenclature includes dark red, red and light red, sometimes pink, dark blue, blue, light blue and sometimes purple and so on. The idea of shades, tints and hues all having specific and measurable meanings was completely beyond my ken. For me, a properly comprehensive colour wheel is invaluable. Floral design really puts your colour sense to the test.

I thought a listing of some of the simpler things that I've learned might be helpful. Hopefully, these tips will save time, money, and help you produce a work of art that will last more than one or two days.

It really doesn't matter where your cut flowers come from, a florist shop, your garden or a gift, the steps are always similar. Decide how you will display them, in a formal arrangement using floral foam or as a bunch in a vase. Prepare the container before you start with the flowers. Use a preservative, such as a proprietary formulation available at your favourite nursery, florist or garden centre. You can cobble up your own as long as it contains a bit of food, a touch of mild acid, and a bit of bactericide. The acid, usually a citric such as lemon juice helps the nutrient solution "slip" up the plant more readily and the bactericide slows down the rotting of the foliage. Pennies, aspirin, even a popular numbered soft drink have been featured in home remedies. For myself, those little packets of powder are the tickets.

The water that you use can be tap water as long as it is not ice cold. Without ascribing too many human feelings to plants, they don't like cold water shocks any more than we do. Some people like to let the water sit overnight so that it can achieve room temperature.

Now you're ready to set them into the vase or insert the stems into the foam. Recut them as they have been laying about for a while probably exposed to the air. The first thing a plant tries to do, when it has been wounded, is form a callus or scab. More than that, whole rafts of cells are busy turning into roots and stuff. Sort of neat, really. Somehow, the plant knows that it needs a new bottom and gets busy making one. By recutting, we remove the dried out bits and those busy cells. By putting them into our solution quickly, the plant takes much longer to realise it needs a lower part. The result is an arrangement that will last much longer.

P.s. Always cut roses under water, they are very susceptible to forming an air pocket which prevents them from drinking. Flowers with milky or latex sap ( such as daffodils) are best kept away from other stems until you are ready to set them into the arrangement. Some folk recommend searing the ends using a lighted match to seal in the sap.

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