Monthly Archives: January 2015

More arranging in the deepest part of winter

Here in New England we are hitting a stretch of winter ( late Jan through mid Feb) that is cold, dark and snowy. Those of us who adore the climate here, relish the thought of a snow day , and get giddy over blizzards, are happy campers indeed, while others complain and are miserable . What used to be   “water cooler ” talk about the weather has become social media blitz so all the  whining about the cold, the shoveling and  snow totals is posted  round the clock via status updates , photos and shared videos.

Here in The Burrow, where there lives two knitters and thus  a plethora of woolly goods for warmth, two adorable corgis who rejoice when the snow is falling, and  people who generally don’t mind  the weather, you will find no complaining. Zero, Zilch. Nada.

And  here, in the comfort of this house we are enjoying seasonal delights including flowers from the garden. Winter and garden flowers may seem incongruous, but if you have been following along for any time, you know I cut stuff year round to bring inside. The months of January and February can be a bit of a challenge because deep snow will bury things and also make walking around out there difficult, but I have tall boots and  Yaktrax for traction when needed. Add to that a “can-do attitude and of course I agreed to pull together an arrangement for Flora in Winter at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston to promote my talk Feb 8th at 1   titled   “Grow It! Cut It! Arrange It!

I decided from the get go that it would be a mass arrangement. There are many cool ways to showcase what I can cut now, namely forced branches from flowering trees and shrubs, evergreens, and forced indoor bulbs, but  it made sense to me that showing a full arrangement of many things that are easily grown/found  would inspire people to try it on their own rather than a smaller and maybe more creative piece.

The theme given to the designers was “Rustic Elegance” which is thankfully  in line with my own personal taste.

Container first- I had an old wooden box that was my Grandfathers and I painted it in a  distressed- layered and crackled  finish , with  the base color being a deep purple that would echo the color of my magnolia and azaleas. The addition of fancy hardware rescued from a very old desk gussied it up a bit.DSC_0009

I used a whole lot of  stems to fill it starting with branches; some still bare, some with catkins or unopened buds, some evergreen  and some blooming.

In no particular order: chaemacyparis ( ‘Nana Lutea’ and ‘Sun King” ), magnolia,azalea,yellow twig dogwood,  flamingo willow, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick , unopened pussy willows, and forsythia.

The color theme was intentionally left simple.  Yellow, purple, green and white. I added ‘Kiwi” aeoniums and Firestick cactus ( which is really a euphorbia but I didn’t name it so don’t blame me for any confusion)  , which both have a yellow hue to them, euonynous’Gold Splash’ ( a favorite filler of mine )  and white birch bark curls and poppy seed heads for texture.

The only thing in it that regrettably did not come from here are the white hyacinths as I started them too late for this show …in fairness I was only asked to do this show  a few weeks ago so there was no long term plan. I do have hyacinths and tulips and crocus bulbs all being forced for use in the next few weeks but none that were ready  now so I had to buy some. Kind of a bummer,  and I wish I had known so I could say EVERYTHING came from here,  but alas, I did not.  I don’t think it takes away from the idea that you can and should use your garden and window sills to grow stuff to arrange year round, because it is possible with proper planning.DSC_0033

Over the past few days we have had a genuine full on blizzard with 34 inches of snow ….yes 34! The days have been gray and dark making photography difficult at best. I snapped  a boatlaod of pictures using every camera setting I could, but as Faith reminds me all the time , it is dark in here, ( well, I say cozy)  so they  are not great.  Once I get better light I will try again, or you could go to Flora and see it for yourself!DSC_0014 (2)

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The Slow Flower Challenge

For those of you unfamiliar with her work, let me introduce to you one of my flower arranging heroes, Debra Prinzing. Debra is a champion of what I call loca-flor and what she calls Slow Flower arranging, which is using material that is locally sourced ( either farm grown, garden grown, or roadside picked) to make beautiful seasonal arrangements for your home year round.

As she has done  in the past, Debra is carrying out a Slow Flower Challenge in which participants cut and arrange using whatever they have and post their work onto Pinterest.com.  ( this link will take you to my personal board). You can find all the official  details here.

I plan to add as many arrangements as I can throughout the year and also to spend lots of time enjoying the creations of others. What is so fun about it is that everyone has  different climates, and different taste in what they grow and cut, and therefore although you will see a few things you may grow, you will see many that you don’t ( and even some you immediately add to your ever growing wish list!)

My first arrangement was a little cheat. I found the gorgeously colored carnations at the local supermarket for dirt cheap and just had to make something with them. I scavenged outside and came back in with lavender and santolina stalks that remain as yet unburied by snow ( sigh),curvy  branches of Harry Lauder’s Walking stick with their fancy catkins hanging down, magnolia branches with fuzzy gray flower buds, a single stem of the reddish rosa glauca, and some branches of butterfly bush that remarkably  are still holding gray foliage.Seed pods of poppies, leaves of the arrow head plant ( a houseplant) and vines from a bougainvillea that is overwintering in my window finished it out. DSC_0138

As an added bonus, weekly misting of the magnolia will hopefully make those buds open to reveal  gorgeous purple flowers .

Even if you only follow along and enjoy the creativity and eye candy , it is worth checking out this year’s Slow Flower Challenge!DSC_0153

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A Nice Break? well not really ….

I decided over the holiday season to try to simplify things a little this year. There is always the usual load of Christmas activities; shopping, wrapping, baking , decorating, and my plan was to cut myself some slack in the work arena ( blog, presentation writing, social media upkeep etc)  and enjoy the season. But this year we added in to the holiday stress the arrival of a new niece and  in some ridiculous trick of karma, the worst case of the flu any of us ever had. I was well on my way to a happier more relaxed season ,enjoying  puttering around decorating and menu planning and wrapping to Christmas music on the Sonos. I thought I had it all figured out. This was great, no pressure , only one day of real work ( a workshop in Natick) and I was ahead of the game shopping because I was prepared for new baby to arrive  and I would have  my sweet little niece Scarlett while her mom and dad were in the delivery room. It was all good.

And then, the baby didn’t arrive on time. She finally arrived late on the 23rd, just at the exact time the worst flu  ever was starting to hit our house. Wil got it first, or should I say, brought it home. Let’s place blame where it belongs ;)   then one by one we were all stricken. Sore throat, then fevers aches and chills. The congestion, coughing  and sneezing and wheezing. Then , as if that were not bad enough  a mean trick was up it’s sleeve and for two days each and every sufferer had bloodshot swollen eyes . All of this happening in waves as we all got sick on different days. Wil usually  takes his vacation time around the holidays, which this year he spent mostly in bed or on the couch. We missed parties and gatherings. I saw the new baby the night she was born, and then not again for almost two weeks.

I  did not work, no photos taken, no blog posts, no presentations written. I vegged on the couch, slept, and then slowly recovered.  The  workshop I did in  Natick  sat unfinished for two whole weeks…so unlike me! When we all felt up to it we made little outings to try to have some fun, and then napped from the exertion.

Now that we are recovered,  I am playing catch-up. I actually worked this week in  North Andover with a group of delightful ladies, and am busy getting ready for a crazy February. In addition to a bunch of  lectures all over the state, I will be at Tower hill  Botanic Garden  on February 8th at 1:00. The presentation there  will be on  growing cutting and arranging “stuff” from your own garden  year round and without decimating the view outside. In tandem with that I will be doing two demonstrations; one on floral arranging without floral foam ( oasis) which I abhor

- ( an aside rant:  how can anyone use and sell this stuff loaded with proven carcinogens and  completely non-biodegradable.? Why has no one taken up the course to invent and sell an better alternative?  In the UK  a biodegradable and non-formaldehyde laden product is just coming to market but by the time it crosses the pond all our florists will dead from poisoning.)

…and back to the demos, one on Forcing Branches. The dates and times for those are still being worked out, but all of the above will be free with admission to Tower Hill.  To get ready I  have been venturing outside cutting  and  the whole left side of the living room in adorned with vase upon vase of twigs and branches, misters , and  watering cans.  I  was also asked to design an arrangement for their annual Flora in Winter display on the weekend of the 30th.DSC_0169

I have cut two different forms of honeysuckle,  cherry ,pussy willows, flamingo willow, quince, , rosa glauca, azaleas, magnolia, filbert, lindera,  viburnum, pear ( which looks so lovely from a distance but smells awful)  two kinds of forsythia, and  yellow and red dogwoods that are mostly for branch color. It is very early for a lot of it. The closer to when something blooms that you cut it , generally the more successful you are at getting it to flower or leaf out. Some things are wrapped in plastic, some covered in trash bags  and all are being misted and monitored for bud swelling and  breaks of color.DSC_0161DSC_0163DSC_0162

Some things, like pussy willows and forsythia are beyond easy to force.  every year I  cut forsythia branches on a weekly basis so there will always be some  sunshine in the house until spring arrives. other branches are more difficult. Here are some general guidelines.DSC_0166

- most shrubs form their buds in fall and need at least 6 weeks of cold to vernalize and then break dormancy to  flower/leaf out again. Watch the weather  so you don’t cut too early.

- Try to cut branches on a warmer day ( above freezing) . It has been so cold here that I have been immersing everything into a bath of warm water for a few hours after cutting to get them going.

- re-cut the branches right before they go into water indoors and either split the bottom or shave some bark off very gently with a vegetable peeler…never ever crush with a hammer as you will disrupt the very pathways you need to get water up to the buds

-change the water on a frequent basis to ensure good water uptake , cloudy water with decomposing material in it will block the water from reaching the buds.

- keep containers out of the sun and away from a heat source so the buds don’t dry out. After they come into bloom and hot and sunny location will also shorten their vase- life considerably

-mist buds daily if you can. with forsythia this is unnecessary , but with something like magnolias, invaluable!DSC_0167

-make note when each shrub you want to force comes in to bloom.  If you look at timetables offered by many extension services and arboretums that will tell you generally what to cut when, keep in mind that there are many varieties within a plant species and they all bloom differently.

Take  lilacs, syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, comes into bloom very early and if you follow a timetable of three weeks before to cut for optimal forcing  that would be mid February-ish. But here I have lilacs that span the whole of spring and for the later bloomers ( like Miss Kim  and Donald Wyman) that would be way too early.

-Try everything!  What have you got to loose? Make note of what you cut and when and see what succeeds and what does not. After time you will learn which shrubs and trees from your garden  will force reliably , then you can plan great displays all through the dreariest part of winter.

As for me, I am under the gun , and have no choice but to dunk and mist, and pray, that somehow the timing will work out and I will not have everything come into bloom to early and thus need to be moved to a really cool location to keep it going, or too late and not have a decent showing .  The stress almost makes me miss laying on the couch shivering and sniffling.DSC_0170

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