Friday, 5 May 2017

Sustainable Spring Bouquets

For the past couple of years I have become interested in growing flowers for cutting in addition to the vegetables I grow organically. The cut flower industry has the some of the highest use of herbicides and pesticides of all the agricultural sectors. So, notwithstanding the limits of our northern climate, there is a real imperative to provide a sustainable option in bouquets.

Two years ago I took an afternoon course on growing a cutting garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden. I then germinated many flower seeds to transplant into the garden here. Compared to vegetable seeds which tend to have a 98% germination rate if they are fresh or well stored over the winter, flower seeds tend to hover closer to a 60% germination rate. They also have a much greater variation in germination needs; freezing or scarification, not covered or lightly covered and sometimes a very long time needed to germinate. I did have some success with germination last year so I transplanted my modest crop of seedlings into the field. But with the busyness of the vegetable garden they tended to be overwhelmed by weeds in the absence of any attention from me.

This year I have a dedicated cutting garden bed. Josh helped me last weekend by loosening the soil and removing the weeds. Into it I have transplanted the Gloriosa Daisies, the only perennial I grew last year. Today, despite the rain and the possibility of snow tomorrow, I seeded five rows of hardy annuals which like cool temperatures; Nigella, Bachelor's Buttons, Stocks, Larkspur and the Verbena which has been sitting in the freezer for a year! I also seeded a row of mixed sunflowers along the top of the bed. Most of these were half rows - both to accommodate successive sowings and also because I think the weather conditions are really going to be quite challenging even for these robust seeds. The next few weeks will reveal how hardy they really are.

Once again I have germinated seeds in plug trays to start in the house, harden off and transplant in the next few weeks. And then there are the many annuals which are cold sensitive and need to be direct seeded after the last frost. So there will be lots more to add to the cutting garden in the next few weeks.

But until I have my own flowers I thought I would like to make a Spring Bouquet from what is at hand - flowering shrubs and trees, both my own and wild.

Normally at this time of year I am out foraging for ramps (wild leeks) and in a couple weeks, fiddleheads as well. Yesterday when I came up here just ahead of the predicted torrential rains, Scylla and I took a walk in the woods on the lookout for native and wild flora to complement the many daffodils I have planted at the farmhouse both in the garden and the meadow.
Two of the daffodil beds. King Alfred in the back and an assortment of single and double  daffodils in the foreground.
I was surprised to discover such a wealth of material once I started looking with a bouquet in mind.

Pussy willows in full bloom are really quite lovely and varied.
I love the citrus yellow of the blooms on the left and the whimsical appearance of the righthand flowers
A pussy willow in bloom
The small, individually modest white blooms of saskatoonberries glow in the otherwise green woodland.
The saskatoonberry just pops out of the somewhat gloomy background

 Red osier dogwood is as delightful in the spring for its red stems as it is welcome in the fall.
Amongst the rocks this red osier dogwood reaches it roots down to  gather the moisture it craves

The weather here seems to be about three weeks behind Toronto's at this time of year. So I brought the relatively voluptuous crabapple blossoms from the backyard tree at home.
The smaller creamy blossoms on the left are the saskatoonberry . The bigger white branches are from our Dolgo crabapple.

There is a row of currants that we inherited at the farmhouse. They never seem to produce fruit and are straggly and neglected by me. But at this time of year, when they produce an underwhelming small yellow flower, their almond scent fills a room and earns them a place in the bouquet.

Cedar grows so well here and the leaves are a beautiful bright green at this time of year and work well to fill out the bouquet.
Cedars looking green and well watered
The poor daffodils are taking a real beating with all this rain. But, luckily, the best daffs for cutting are the flowers that have not yet fully opened. These weigh less and are better able to withstand the rain.
As resilient as daffs are in terms of the vagaries of temperature, they really can't stand up to this onslaught of rain

I came across a newly published book about one woman's cut flower farm, Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein. Her farm, Floret Farm, is in Washington State so the climate and growing conditions are quite different from our's here in Ontario. But the book is very informative and has beautiful illustrations generally featuring Erin bearing armloads of different types of flowers.

The other aspect of growing flowers for cutting is the various types of arranging the blooms. I am starting to learn more about this aspect and it really does give a lot of scope for experimentation; choosing the plant material and flowers, the specific vase or container and the shape of the bouquet. Too little time, so much to learn!