by Henry Homeyer
CORNISH FLAT, N.H. – Winter drags on, even though the days are getting longer. The sun is often lurking behind gray clouds, and on a good day we only get about nine hours of light. I do miss the colors of summer, so I keep fresh cut flowers on our table – even though I have to buy them.
Cut flowers are among modern America’s true bargains. For the price of a bottle of wine or a couple of cups of fancy coffee, you can buy flowers that will grace your table for up to three weeks. But there are some things you should know about getting good table-life for your investment.
First, you need to buy fresh flowers that have been carefully tended, and you can’t beat a florist for that. A floral shop has trained personnel who trim each stem in the store every other day and change the water to keep flowers fresh. Cut flowers need to take up water to stay fresh and healthy. Stems tend to scab over after a day or two, which means they cannot take up replacement water, or not much, so they suffer.
Here are some things you can do to promote longer vase life: cut off leaves that would enter the water in your vase. Leaves will rot, promoting growth of bacteria, which will impede water take-up. Cut off half to three quarters of an inch of each stem every few days, and change the water. Use the packets of white powder that often comes with flowers: it does help.
Keep your arrangement cool if you can. Putting it near a radiator or wood stove, or putting it in a sunny window will shorten its life. If you have invested in pricey roses or tulips, you may wish to move the vase to the entryway or mudroom at bedtime to keep the flowers extra cool during the night.
Some flowers are better picks than others if you’re on a budget and can’t afford to buy new flowers every week. Here are my recommendations for good cut flowers: lisianthus stems are tough to grow in the garden, they are perfect in a vase: I’ve kept them for up to three weeks; miniature carnations with each stem having two to four blossoms, coming in a variety of colors: mix dark red minis with red roses to make a bouquet of roses look fuller, and even after the roses go to Valhalla, the carnations will still be good; chrysanthemums come in a variety of sizes and colors, from the huge spider mums to little guys; statice. grown for use as dry flowers, which tells you that they really do last forever, even out of water, they come in blue, purple, pink and white; spray roses with two to five blossoms per stem, giving you more bang for your buck, and will last about a week or even more with proper care; alstromeria is one of the best for long life with each long stem having clusters of two-inch lily-like blossoms in pinks and reds, with yellow throats; orchids, while not cheap, orchids as cut flowers can last up to a month. I love dendrobiums, though they are not common, even in floral shops. Cymbidiums have bigger blossoms and also last extremely well; kangaroo paws, Australian natives are fuzzy and cute coming in pinks, reds, orange and brown, and last very well; Asiatic lilies: I recently got a bouquet of five nice stems grown in New Hampshire that was sold at my local co-op food store. For $12.95, they will bloom with great elegance.
You may wish to ask where the flowers you plan to buy are from. Holland, Columbia, Ecuador and Kenya are the world’s top growers and export much of what is available. Some foreign growers have been criticized for producing flowers using strong pesticides and poor labor practices. The Sun Valley group in California is an excellent major American grower of cut flowers, but there is still the environmental cost of shipping them 3,000 miles to us. If you can buy flowers grown locally in greenhouses, do it.
Everyone loves to receive the gift of cut flowers, even us guys. So treat your loved one, or yourself, to fresh flowers this winter. They’re cheerful, and can make winter less oppressive for gardeners.