Hartley Magazine

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Tips for Better Bouquets – unusual plant materials make arrangements pop

Summer’s horticultural bounty makes it easy to decorate your home with the contents of your garden and greenhouse. But annual and perennial flowers are not the only candidates for the best displays. Alongside your favorite black-eyed Susans, lilies, and bunches of sweetly scented roses, consider adding colorful foliage, boughs and berries from shrubs and grasses to create a polished look. For advice on fabulous arrangements, I’ve turned to a professional—Charles Little, a farmer whose crops are destined for the West Coast cut-flower market. A few weeks ago, I spent a morning walking his vibrantly blooming fields outside Eugene, Oregon.

I met Charles when my garden writing colleague, Debra Prinzing, invited me to the regional meeting of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Debra is researching her next book A Fresh Bouquet – Seasonal, Local and Sustainable. Later, I’ll let you know where you can obtain this must-have reference. In the meantime, here are a few tips I gleaned from my farm tour.

  • Consider the multi-colored foliage of herbs. Handsome herbal leaves stand up to summer’s hottest days and are long lasting in a vase. Charles Little’s farm had rows of variegated pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’), golden sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Aurea’) and golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’).
  • Use bushes for bouquets. I was surprised to walk through fields of familiar shrubs like Spirea ‘Snow Mound’ or the American holly Ilex ‘Morgan Gold’. Because most of the woody shrubs that grow around your home can benefit from some shaping, you can prune in early summer and sturdier new growth will follow by fall.
  • Seek out bracts and berries. Add the bright orange-red bracts of Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ or the golden berries of Viburnum ‘Michael Dodge’ to enliven a cut-flower collection. Charles also cultivates rows of snowberry (Symphoricarpos x chenaultii ‘Green Pearl’ and ‘Red Pearl’) as well as Rosa glauca.
  • Harvest flowers and foliage from grasses. The airy inflorescences and strappy leaves lend zing to floral arrangements. The cut-flower farm featured rows of variegated Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ and upright Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’.
  • Look for the overlooked. In my garden, I’ve always clipped off and composted the stems of gray-leafed lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantia). Not anymore. On the shelves in Charles’s cool room, I saw vases holding neat bundles of the woolly pink-purple flower stalks. Now I value the blooms of this profligate seeder for my own arrangements.