Cut flowers

A startling perennial sunflower

AmGardJulyAug2010 There’s a great overview of sunflowers in the latest issue of The American Gardener, the membership magazine from the American Horticultural Society. It covers annual and perennial sunflowers but one of the pictures leapt out off the page.

The tall stems of Helianthus maximiliani ‘Santa Fe’, lined with bright yellow daisies look amazing (left, click to enlarge). In particular, I immediately thought this plant would make a superb cut flower.

I vaguely remembered that I’d included the species in my Encyclopedia of Perennials – and there it is. And I find that the daisies expert who helped with the Helianthus entry gives its height as 10ft/3m! (Always wise to start by looking things up in your own books, that's what I say.)

So I next took a look at the “bible” on less familiar cut flowers - Specialty Cut Flowers by Allan Armitage and Judy Lauschman. And to be honest the small entry was not very encouraging. “The very tall plants (up to 9ft, 3m) can be used to lengthen the season. They… can be invasive.”  See what I mean? Not exactly a vote of confidence. And at 9or10ft/3m, that is one hell of a cut flower – what am I supposed to arrange it in, a pond?

The American Gardener article illustrates ‘Santa Fe’ but doesn’t actually say how it differs from the usual species. So I had a look online.55952

High Country Gardens sell it and they say that ‘Santa Fe’ “is our superior cultivar selected for its incredible flowers, stunning foliage and mid-fall bloom time”. So I’ve happily arrived at the nursery who raised it! And they’re based in, need you ask, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

You’ll notice that their picture (left, click to enlarge) shows a rather shorter plant with spectacular stems crowded with flowers.I think I’m going to order ‘Santa Fe’, and the two other forms they list, and see how they all do here at the opposite end of the country.

I see from the USDA website that Helianthus maximiliani grows all over the country – including our corner of north east PA, though I've never seen it round here. And the High Country Gardens website says it’s hardy to zone 4 – that would be -34C (-30F)! Can’t wait.

And since I started working on this piece a couple of days ago – it’s gone on sale! I’d better get my order in.

No sense in no scent

Malmaison carnation 'Marmion'. Image: ©AllwoodsI was at a funeral on Saturday and at the cemetery each of the mourners was handed a carnation to place on the coffin. The first thing almost everyone did was to the raise the flower and smell it. And the next reaction was almost always the slightest hint of disappointment. Perhaps it was more the absence of satisfaction at finding fragrance that I noticed, a kind of resignation.

One of the war cries of traditionally minded gardeners is that modern varieties have no scent. The truth is that some modern varieties of roses, sweet peas, carnations etc have no scent and some old and traditional varieties of the same plants are unscented.

One reason that modern varieties of roses and carnations developed as cut flower are often unscented, in spite of general opinion that scented flowers would bring higher market prices, is that there is thought to be a link between fragrance and short vase life.

Malmaison carnation 'Thora'. Image: ©Allwoods Imogen Stone, the florist delivery service, reporting the Flowers and Plants Association, says: “The scent genes are very strongly bound up with those for vase life and flower size - stronger scent often means shorter life or smaller flowers.” However A.M. Borda, T.A. Nell and D.G. Clark in their paper: The relationship between floral fragrance and vase life of cut flower roses report: “…fragrance can not be directly related with short vase life of cut rose cultivars. As an alternative, postharvest factors such as ethylene synthesis or sensitivity, may be more important for influencing the postharvest performance of fragrant cut rose cultivars.”

The Imogen Stone article reports these cut flower carnations as having a strong scent: ‘Bagatel’, ‘Gipsy’ and ‘Candy White’. But the carnations with the most powerful fragrance of all the old Malmaison carnations, from as long ago as 1857, rescued from obscurity by Jim Marshall, former Gardens Advisor to the National Trust in Britain and now the holder of the British National Collection of Malmaison Carnations.

Malmaison carnation 'Princess of Wales'. Image: ©Allwoods Unlike the familiar cut flower carnations, Malmaisons (four shown here) have a shorter season, the flower form is a little disorganised, but the colours are impressive and the scent can be staggering. And they’re being planted commercially again.

In Britain a good range of Malmaison carnations is available by mail order from from Allwoods. Anyone know an American mail order supplier?

And note for the far flung future: when my time comes, a few Malmaison carnations would be just thing thing.

Long life cut foliage

Heuchera 'Citronellle' and Heuchera 'Frosted Violet' Before I went over to England for the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – on 21 June to be precise – we had some friends over for supper and I picked a bouquet from the garden which consisted entirely of foliage. Different shapes, different textures, different colors: there were all sorts of things including ferns, iris leaves, physocarpus, hostas, hellebores, vincas and lots more – including the leaves of two heucheras.

And here we are on the 27 July and those two heucheras still look great. The two varieties are ‘Citronelle’, about which I’ve bashed on here more than once before, and ‘Frosted Violet’. (The other plant peeping into the picture is Vinca minor 'Illumination' which has also lasted well.)

‘Citronelle’ is one of the new series of heucheras derived from H. villosa ‘Autumn Bride’ by the French plant breeder Thierry Delabroye. They come in all sorts of new colours but ‘Citronelle’ is the best of those I’ve grown. ‘Frosted Violet’ comes from the pioneer heuchera breeder Charles Oliver and I especially like it for its jaggedly edged foliage (so many heucheras in this colour range have rounded lobes to their leaves) and the especially smoky haze to its colouring.

Garden to Vase by Linda Beutler I took a look in last year’s splendid book on cutting flowers and foliage from the garden, Garden to Vase by Linda Beutler, to see what she had to say about heucheras. “Leaves in vase arrangements can last more then ten days,” she says. Yes, three and a half weeks longer than ten days! Actually, this is a really useful book with bucket loads of good advice and none of it too technical for those of us – almost all of us at this blog (with two very honorable exceptions I know of)  – who are not professional florists although professionals will find it valuable too.

I especially liked her recipe for home made flower preservative. I’ll give it here as an example of the good practical advice you’ll find throughout the book. It’s so simple. Use it instead of plain water.

One 12oz can of non-diet lemon-lime clear soda
Three 12oz cans of water (use the soda can as a measure)
One tablespoon of chlorine bleach

In Britain, where everything is metric, I’m sure you can work it out – just don’t use a larger proportion of bleach. You’ll need to get the book to learn about which flowers are especially sensitive to bleach.

And that’s one of my two criticisms of the book: for a book that’s sold in Britain as well as the USA, it’s simply perverse that no metric equivalents to the old Imperial measurements are given. The other problem is the fact that the author seems to have no knowledge of the research on hellebores as cut flowers published in a book from the same publisher the previous year. But if you cut flowers from your own garden, set that aside and buy the book anyway.

Buy Garden to Vase by Linda Beutler in North America from

Buy Garden to Vase by Linda Beutler in Britain from