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What is the Best Flower?

sulfer butterfly on pineapple sageAdd Color to Your Life

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference!

Your landscape is installed. All the trees and shrubs are in place. The walkways and furniture are there. Now, for the fun part!  You can stop right now and enjoy your new outdoor space, or punch up the volume and appearance with flowers. Follow these mentoring tips to get the look that matches what you see in the catalogs and magazines.

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Professional results don’t come easily, so make your efforts worthwhile. You’ll end up spending about the same amount of money doing things the right way as you would the wrong way.  Read on to find out which flowers work best in the landscape for professional-level landscape planting plans for public, commercial, industrial, and high-end residential sites.

Let’s get started. Let me know the look you are trying to achieve, and your great ideas for what works best for you.  Here’s a link soon to the soon-to-be published draft version 0.0 of a new Advanced Guide to Flowers, based on years of experience working with the pros and evaluation of thousands of landscape projects. 

Flower Shows

Experiences from an Industry Insider

flower show tipsFlower show are competitive events for displaying floral design, garden design, and horticultural specimens. The National Council on State Garden Clubs continues to be the standard for local flower shows. Some horticultural society flower shows have large participation and attendance, and they motivate commercial entities and organizations to create large display gardens. Two well-known flower shows are The RHS Chelsea in Chelsea, London and The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, both sponsored by horticultural societies. These large shows require corporate sponsorship and huge venues. I’m afraid they are becoming too difficult to stage and finance, since priorities are changing from gardening to video games. A more typical flower show is run, top to bottom, by volunteers interested in the thrill of garden design and plant material.

I’ve participated in a few large-scale flower show displays. The image above shows the setup for a display of hundreds of forced daffodils in bloom. It was fun to construct and quite beautiful for the brief moments it was in place. Everything must be set up and taken down within a few days. The amount of work is arduous, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone try it without trucks, a crew of heavy-lifters, and access to large props and masses of plant material. After creating a few displays, I have to say, the process not fun unless you really love to show off. The real fun is in seeing the display gardens built by other groups.

Church Floral Decorations

Respectful Creativity

church floral arrangments, church decorations, altar guildDecorating a church service is a careful, respectful process. Before doing anything, you should contact the local Altar Guild to check on specific requirements. Arrangements for the altar require a reservation. There may be height and width restrictions. There may be special, water-proof coverings required. There may be special restrictions on how and where you can place floral decoration. You may not be allowed to hang arrangements on the edges of pews or in windows. There will almost surely be restrictions against using nails or glue to affix items to the structures in the sanctuary! Don’t assume anything.

Most churches frown on the use of artificial material. There are practical reasons Christmas wreaths and garlands must be artificial, since they will be on display from late November to early December, but even when artificial greenery is allowed in certain areas, it may not be in all. Many churches do not allow artificial, taped music, much less silk flowers. Typically, anything beyond the altar rail must be live of dried, real plant material—no plastic!

Lighting and candles can get tricky, too. Most altar guild members have stories to tell about damaged caused by candle wax or flames. The simple act of blowing out a candle can cause molten wax to spew across priceless furniture and expensive fabric. If you plan on using candles or electrical receptacles, check first with the altar guild, and be prepared to explain how you will protect items nearby.

Advent Wreaths

Live Materials Only

advent wreath, advent wreathsCreating an advent wreath that will last through five worship services over several weeks can be a challenge. Typically, the wreath materials beyond the altar rail must be only live greenery and flowers or dried, live material. Advent wreaths can be purchased with an oasis ring for foliage, but they are expensive and the ring is often small and dries out quickly. Here is a solution for an advent wreath that can go the distance.

Use an artificial wreath with fairly long greenery stem wire and fits the display pedestal or table. Use cleaned and prepared pine cones along the base of the wreath, wrapping the wire greenery stems around each cone to secure it to the wreath. If the stems are wrapped tightly, they will not be visible under the scales of each cone. The wreath in the picture has three tiers of cones that hang over the brass pedestal, and the top tier rises above the oasis to hide it from view. Bend any remaining stems at the top of the wreath flat to form a platform for oasis. The artificial wreath acts as the structural base and attachments for the oasis and live plant material.

I used black plastic bag pieces to line the platform before adding the oasis, to keep any additional water from leaking through the wreath onto the ground. The advent wreath will need to be refreshed with water every five to seven days to keep the greenery alive. Even so, you will probably need to remove some spent foliage and add a few fresh stems every two weeks.

Pull two of the wreath stems up from the platform area at equal intervals along the top of the wreath, and use them to tie down and secure, wet oasis blocks. Oasis is heavy when it is wet. The wreath in the photo used blocks sliced in half around the rim. Half-blocks are more substantial than purchased advent wreath oasis rings. Full blocks would require a very sturdy wreath pedestal! The wire stems can be joined and twisted around the oasis. Any wire stem excess will be hidden by the foliage.

Halloween Decorations

Boo!

Halloween decorations, holiday yardsMy neighbor goes over-the-top with his Halloween decorations. He does such a good job, adjacent homeowners get a bit nervous! The all-out, outdoor display includes a large cemetery, Frankenstein, Dracula, Witches, Werewolves, Zombies, and Children of the Corn, all life-size in carefully authentic depiction of horror. People drive from far and wide to slowly cruise past the elaborate, “dead-like” light display, complete with dancing skeletons in the windows and singing pumpkins. My neighbor passes out free candy and collects money for his favorite charity each Oct 31st.

Garlic Chives

Architectural Flowers

garlic chives, architectural flowers, herbsGarlic Chives are very useful. They come back year after year and provide clean, white blooms, clustered at the top of strong (relatively), single stems in late summer/early autumn. They can be used for cooking. They can be easily seeded to fill in empty spots in a perennial bed, and they make a perfect, knee-high edging plant for a long border. They are architectural because they have strong structure and the blooms remain a reliable, uniform height.

This is an easy-care plant. It can tolerate Zone 3 cold, and will remain evergreen in Zone 8. Even though it is invasive in Australia, you can control it without much trouble. The seed heads open late in the season. They are held compactly at the top of the stems. If you catch them before the seed clusters dry and the large, black seeds start popping out, you can control its spread. All it asks for is sunshine and water.

Making Sweet Grass Baskets

sweet grass basket how-toLeave it to the Experts

When I visited the open market in Charleston I was drawn immediately to the sweet grass basket weavers. The stacks of baskets next to the women had a refined quality not present in any other hand woven basket I have seen. The wrappings looked like strips of veneered wood and the bundles of stems they secured had smooth uniform diameters. Picking up and handling the baskets was a surprise. The feel was solid and strong. Then I noticed the prices. Yikes! $50 for a medium sized basket and $25 for a token souvenir. I left without a basket.

Later, I found out that the baskets are made with common marsh grasses that grow in the swamps. Very few people sell the finished baskets online. When they do, the prices are sky high. I also learned that the swamps were full of alligators. The extreme prices began to make sense to me!

I have since seen exquisite examples of sweet grass basket weaving. The beauty of the contrasting light grass bundles and dark, woody windings appealed to me. I began to so some research, hoping I might be able to make a basket on my own. I wanted to duplicate the examples or even create innovative new containers using the same technique.

Hellebores

Promise of a New Year

winter blooming perennial

At just about the time I have given up on life and the land, the Hellebores begin to perform. How does such a broad-leaved species not wither in the deep freeze? Instead, the foliage takes on new life and sends out blooms! No wonder it is called a Lenten Rose. My faith in a returning spring is renewed.

If you are lucky enough to have a few Hellebores plants, save the seeds to make even more next year. Because new plants can be easily grown from seed, you need to be prepared for variations in the results, from deep purple to almost white. More is better, because you will want to use the flowers in arrangements. The purple-tinged chartreus blooms go with every color scheme. The flowers are long-lasting and substantial in size and turgidity. The weight of the blooms causes them to nod on their stems.

The blooms hide from you, hovering under the foliage. It is such a nice surprise to discover them each January or February! The foliage is evergreen in the south, staying under two feet tall.

There are a lot of hybrids that offer reliable color choices. 

What to Do with Old Holiday Lights

Continue the Cheer Year-round

old holiday light sets reusedDo you have a bunch of old, outdoor holiday lights that are languishing in boxes? It’s hard to throw them out, isn’t it? You can give them new life as an outdoor light sculpture. String them along a garden fence to turn them from obsolete to artistic—your own light-infused Jackson Pollock! Use chalk to draw your lines and wrap the strings around screws or nails to create cheerful, linear, garden illumination. Tuck away and secure any sections that won’t light (That’s probably why they were stored away in the first place). Run only a few sets per extension cord to avoid blowing fuses. Creating an outdoor light sculpture gives useless, old strings of light a new purpose. The wires remain untangled, in case you ever decide to use the light sets again, and they are no longer taking up space in closets. When the time comes, and it will, when the final bulb fades to darkness, you can throw the sets away guilt-free, knowing you have used them to their fullest potential. Recycled lights can have one last moment of glory as free-form fence art.  what to do with old holiday lights

 

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