It may be the middle of winter, but summertime flowers are blanketing the hills of Dalat. And the show is only just beginning. Continue reading
It may be the middle of winter, but summertime flowers are blanketing the hills of Dalat. And the show is only just beginning. Continue reading
To prune or not to prune? That is one of the quintessential gardening questions. Continue reading
Regular deadheading ensures the blooms keep coming all season long
Have you ever been frustrated by a beautiful plant that suddenly stops blooming? It’s time for a haircut. Continue reading
New York City’s historic flower district
It’s not every day you visit a city and wind up in a tropical forest. But that’s exactly the case if you happen to be walking along a stretch of New York City’s West 28th Street in Manhattan. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of big city life, a vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers set up shop each morning, transforming the busy sidewalks into a bona fide urban jungle. Continue reading
A cactus dahlia blooming in my garden
Without some advance planning, fall often spells the end of the show in the garden. But I’ve learned from experience that if you plant dahlias in late spring, they’ll flower through autumn like it’s summer. Lately, I’ve been waking up to crisp mornings only to discover more and more blooms. Who knew October could bring so many fresh flowers?
In the casual opinion of most, dahlias may not be all that big a deal. But for me, the first time I saw the majestic, 10-foot flowers left an indelible memory. It was the 1960s, and I was a kid growing up in Delaware. Smack dab in the middle of suburbia, on the corner of two heavily-traveled streets, there was a small working farm. In the summer it produced fruits and vegetables. But in September, it transformed into a sea of dahlias.
And these weren’t your everyday dahlias, mind you. Many were the gigantic, dinner plate size; the kind that drives a kid mad with desire to jump out of the car just to be among them. Standing as tall as adults, they gently swayed in the breeze. I liked to imagine they tilted their heads in salute each time we drove by.
Craning my neck out the window, I’d watch until they gradually disappeared around the corner, dissolving one by one into a sea of rainbow colors.
And thus began my love affair with these beautiful flowers.
Dahlias are classified as tender perennials, meaning they may be annual or perennial, depending on the climate. They typically start blooming in August with other late-summer flowers. But perhaps the best thing about them is that they don’t stop blooming until the first frost, or roughly right around Thanksgiving.
And in spite of their reputation for towering stems and gigantic blooms, the plants come in all shapes and sizes. These can range in height from the very tall specimens of my childhood to just under 12 inches. Planting the tubers is easy. Just dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and drop them in with the ‘eyes’ facing up. I usually plant three tubers per hole for the most colorful effect.
Still, it goes without saying that the most notable feature of all dahlias are the flowers. These can range in diameter from 2 inches to almost one foot. And among these, there are standard flower types, each with its own specifications. For example, there are species with single, double and semi-double petals. And there are unusual shapes like spherical or cactus while others resemble flowers such as anemones, peonies or orchids.
Waterlily dahlia ‘Pam Howden’
Despite the variety, however, one thing they all have in common are their dazzling colors. Dahlias come in a seemingly infinite array, including all shades of pink, red, scarlet, orange, purple and yellow. Moreover, the flower petals often come painted with strips or tips of another color. (There are also creamy ones as well as many brilliant white species.)
In sum, with so many options to choose from, how do you decide? One way is to familiarize yourself with the most common types. You may be surprised to find that some don’t look like the ‘typical’ dahlia.
Single-flowered dahlias feature a single row of flat or slightly cupped ray petals surrounding a central disc.
Semi-double dahlias have two or more rows of petals surrounding a central disc.
Mignon dahlias are similar to single dahlias except their petal florets are rounded and their disc flowers have no more than two rows.
Mignon dahlia with burgundy/black foliage
Anemone dahlias have an inner disc made up of tubular shaped florets and an outer ring of one or more rows of flat ray petals.
Anemone dahlia ‘Polka’
Orchid dahlias are open centered flowers with just one row of ray florets surrounding a disc. The petals are often overlapping and curled for most of their length.
Collarette dahlias have one row of flat petals surrounding a disc as well as an inner wreath of shorter petals called the ‘collar’.
Collarette dahlia ‘Mary Eveline’ plum red petals with white ‘collar’
Ball and Pompon dahlias are ball-shaped and feature double flowers with rounded or blunt tipped florets. Pompons are slightly smaller than ball dahlias, which are known for their perfectly round flower heads.
Orange ball dahlias – notice the slightly flattened shape
The perfectly round pompon dahlia ‘Franz Kafka’
Decorative dahlias are doubles that feature flat, oval petals with tips on the end. Formal varieties have regular, evenly placed petals, while informal varieties tend to be arranged in a more haphazard way. Both varieties grow to over 40 inches.
Decorative dahlia ‘Lisa Dark Pink’
Cactus and semi-cactus dahlias have narrow pointed petals that roll back on themselves, giving them a spiky look. Cactus types are rolled for their full length, while semi cactus types include a mix of flat and rolled petals. Both are considered double flowers and reach an average height of around 40 inches.
Orange cactus dahlia
Semi-cactus dahlia ‘Aloha’
There are many other varieties, including peony, waterlily and stellar, not to mention the celebrated ‘Dinner Plate’ which falls under numerous categories. The Miscellaneous Dahlias category alone includes hundreds of varieties.
Ready to add dahlias to your garden? Every year, among the ten top things I want to achieve or change in my garden, I resolve to plant more. Here’s how.
Dahlias are sold as tubers and need to be planted after the ground has warmed up and there’s no danger of frost. I usually plant mine in the late spring just around the time my tulips have faded. Plant the tubers in well drained soil in full sun for best results. You can also pot them up indoors a couple weeks beforehand to give them a head start.
Dahlia tubers need to winter indoors in a cool, but not cold, space
Considered hardy outdoors in USDA zones 8 to 10, dahlias are considered tender in my neck of the woods (Zone 6.) Once they’re done flowering in the fall (or right after the first frost), I dig them up, label them and store them in a dry spot in the basement.
Want to learn more? Visit Longwood Gardens’ annual dahlia show, held each year in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Looking for a great place to buy tubers? Check out the beauties at Eden Brothers, one of my favorite online sources.
It’s that time of year again when we all head out to buy annuals for our containers. And the flowers always start out looking gorgeous. But, in no time the blooms fade and the stems turn long and leggy. As a garden designer, I find this is one of the most frequent questions I am asked: How do I keep my potted plants in shape all summer? Continue reading
The bells of lily of the valley
Years ago I was living in Paris when I was awakened by a knock at the door followed by the sound of running footsteps. Opening the door, I discovered a basket of tiny white flowers on the doorstep. Little did I know, I had just received my first gift of lilies of the valley, a flower exchanged each year in France on the first of May.
In France, lily of the valley (or muguet in French) has been given as a gift for centuries. Legend has it that the custom began in the mid 1500s. This is when, on May 1, 1561, King Charles IX received a sprig of the tiny flower as a token of good luck.
As it turned out, the King so liked the idea that he decided to start a tradition. From that day forward, on the first of May, he presented a bouquet of lilies of the valley to each of the ladies of his court. And thus began the Fête du Muguet, known in English as Lily of the Valley Day or May Day.
Portrait of King Charles IX
An early spring bloomer, lily of the valley is one of May’s most celebrated flowers. Depending on the climate, it typically blooms in mid- to late-April and retains its blossoms for the better part of May. Small in size but big at heart, it produces a single stalk of sweetly-scented white or pink bell-shaped flowers enfolded in a pair of glossy, tongue-shaped leaves. The foliage stays deep green all season and pairs beautifully with other shade-loving plants.
Once upon a time, the very first lily of the valley was in love with a nightingale. Every night the nightingale would come to the garden to sing. However, the lily of the valley was shy and hid herself from the bird. So after a while, he grew lonely and flew away.
Alone in the garden, the lily of the valley waited in vain for the nightingale to return. Eventually, she grew so sad that she stopped blooming. She resumed flowering only when the nightingale reappeared (in May) and her happiness was restored.
In the early 20th century in France, men often gave bouquets of lilies of the valley as tokens of affection. They presented their gifts, in accordance with tradition, on the first of May. In their absence, they sent romantic postcards featuring pictures of the flower accompanied by wishes of good luck. The card-sending ritual is still practiced today.
A vintage Fête du Muguet card
Since it coincides with National Labor Day on the first of May, Lily of the Valley Day is a public holiday in France. Sprigs and bouquets of the flowers are sold everywhere from thousands of roadside stalls that spring up all over France. And while sales of flowers on public streets are normally forbidden, they are permitted on this day in honor of the long-standing tradition.
Easy-to-grow lilies of the valley are indigenous to temperate climates and are believed to have originated in Japan. Spreading by tiny rhizomes underground, they naturalize easily and can quickly become invasive in the garden. Unless you’re up for continually digging them out to control them, it’s best to plant the flowers in their native woodland or in a contained area in the yard.
Naturally shade-loving, these tiny plants prefer moist, well-drained loamy soil. Don’t plant them in full sun. If you do, their bright green leaves will lose their color and turn ugly shades of brown.
You may be surprised to know that all parts of lily of the valley, if ingested, are toxic. Therefore, when handling the flowers, it’s best to wear gloves to prevent any residue from being transmitted to food. Symptoms of lily of the valley poisoning include stomachache and blurred vision.
Flower staging at Aalsmeer FloraHolland in Amsterdam
Today is Valentines Day, the annual festival of romantic love when many of us will be sending flowers. And even though we’ll be buying them locally, most of the blooms will have only just arrived from overseas. Ever wonder how flowers cut fresh in Europe, Africa and Israel can wind up for sale in America the very next day? The answer lies in the wonders of the Dutch Flower Auction.
Over the past century, the Dutch have perfected a trading platform that can rapidly move millions of cut flowers around the world, making what until recently seemed impossible – delivery to North America within 24-hours from overseas.
How have they done this? By creating hi-velocity supply chains to accommodate flowers’ perishability and by establishing central distribution points for trade. In other words, the Dutch flower auction eliminates the middleman so buyers and sellers can deal with each other directly.
The story begins with the arrival each day of millions of flowers to FloraHolland, a superpower in the floricultural world. The company runs six auction houses throughout the Netherlands and accounts for 90 percent of the Dutch floral trade. According to the latest statistics, in 2015 the Netherlands ranked first in the world in total flower bouquet exports by country, accounting for roughly 40 % of total flower bouquet exports worldwide.
With daily sales of well over 20 million plants and flowers, FloraHolland’s auction houses together comprise the largest flower auction in the world. In addition to the Netherlands (which is itself a major producer of cut flowers), more than 10 countries, including Europe, Ecuador, Colombia, Israel, Ethiopia and Kenya all use the Dutch auction as a gateway for distribution.
When your business is moving millions of cut flowers daily, keeping the product fresh is the primary concern. To meet the challenge, the Dutch have created lightening-fast logistics. The whole process begins with a collaborative effort undertaken by Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, ground shipping companies and the Dutch government.
Workers loading trolleys at Aalsmeer Auction House
Nicknamed Hub Ways, the approach works to improve traffic flow both to and from the airport and between the six FloraHolland auction sites. And it’s serious business. At times, Hub Ways has even gone so far as to widen rural roads to facilitate the flowers’ distribution.
To be sure, the largest and most famous of the six auction houses is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Often referred to as ‘the New York Stock Exchange for Flowers’ it occupies a massive building measuring an astonishing 10.6 million square feet (243 acres, or roughly two football fields). It is the largest flower trade center in the world.
Photo credit: www.hollandfoto.net / Shutterstock, Inc.
On a busy day, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction Hall sells millions of cut flowers to around 2,800 wholesalers and exporters. The buyers arrive at 6 am (midnight EDT) in the morning to bid.
While the supply chain ensures the flowers arrive quickly, the Dutch Auction Method speeds the transactions at the points of sale. To accommodate their products’ perishability, Dutch flower auctions run on a system that is the flip side of traditional auctions (in which bidders push prices up from below.) Also known as clock auctions, the unusual format is designed to ensure the highest transaction speed.
However, these days there is no longer an actual clock. Instead, the auctioneer operates a digital circle. Buyers connect to the clock of their choice by means of a headset. Then they submit their bids electronically.
Dutch auction clock/ Click here to see how it works
Each auction begins with the auctioneer setting a high price on the ‘clock.’ Next, the price is rapidly lowered by increments as indicated by a moving red dot on the circle. The first buyer to press the button and stop the clock is the highest bidder. Generally, the whole process takes around five seconds.
Flowers ready for auction
Adrienne Lansbergen, spokeswoman for Bloemenveiling Aalsmeeran, describes the process this way:
“It is really stressful. If you wait too long, as the flowers are passing by, they may be bought by your competitor. If you push the button too quickly, you may pay too high a price.”
Clearly, speed is the king of the auction.
Once the transactions are made, the flowers are electronically labeled and placed in buckets. Next they’re sped away on electric carts to the distribution center. Upon arrival, employees in mini electric trucks pull the buckets and redistribute them to new trolleys. Then the flowers proceed onwards to their new owners’ processing areas.
Flowers heading to the distribution hall at Aalsmeer
Depending on the species and where they are going, the flowers receive different packaging to keep them fresh as they travel. This may include insulated cardboard boxes, ice packs to provide cooling, and/or flower mats, which absorb humidity and prevent mildew growth. Finally, the flowers are sped by truck back to Schiphol Airport, where they are loaded back onto planes for delivery overnight.
FloraHolland estimates that around Valentines Day, they trade over 300 million flowers. Of these, roses, tulips and chrysanthemums are the three top selling blooms. Nowadays, most of the roses come from Kenya. Such a long race to get here — something to think about when arranging your Valentine’s Day blooms in the vase this year.
Black bat flower, Tacca chantrieri
In painting, black is the deepest hue, achieved by bringing any color to its darkest value. Black gives structure to a composition, creating the illusion of depth by drawing the eye. And in the garden, black (or almost black) flowers attract attention, too, while creating dramatic contrast with other colors. I often incorporate these elegant plants into my designs just to pump up the volume. Continue reading
(Updated March 2019)
We all see color differently, but it’s rare to find someone who can’t see white. That’s because white, like sunlight, is composed of all the colors of the visible spectrum. In the garden, white plants reflect light, instantly brightening a shady spot. And an all-white garden is a symphony of light, where flowers and foliage join together in a succession of harmonious arrangements. Continue reading