Looking forward to flowers

The question I get asked more than anything else is what types of flowers do you grow? When I first started growing I would immediately launch into a long, enthusiastic list of all the flowers I grow, but soon realized that listing the names of the flowers I grow almost universally elicits a glazed over look in the listener. The reality is that even those of us who love flowers rarely learn the names of more than the most common blooms. Last season I grew more than 40 different plants and even though I spend so much of my time surrounded by flowers I meet new ones every single day. The world of flowers is a very humbling one. I love that they are constantly beckoning to us, inviting us to learn more about the plant world.

With the early bird signup for my weekly flower bouquets ending on March 31st this seems like the perfect time to introduce you to some of the beauties that those of you who are signed up for my weekly flower bouquets (aka Community Supported Agriculture or CSA shares) will be enjoying this summer. I am retiring some things that did not do so well last season, continuing to grow the blooms that have consistently been workhorses for me, and adding quite a number of flowers that I will be growing for the first time this season! I share the seasonal journey on my Facebook page and Instagram feed, so follow me there to see regular updates on what is happening on the farm this season.

Here are some of the flowers you can look forward to seeing in your CSA bouquets this season:

1. Zinnias.  Zinnias are one of my workhorses. They take a while to get going because they like it super hot, but once they get going they churn out bright, happy flowers week after week all summer long. Zinnias are cool in that the more you cut them the more they grow and bloom. The key to having constant supply is to make sure you give them good air circulation (I find they often get powdery mildew as the season goes on if there isn’t enough space between plants), feed them (I apply foliar fish fertilizer every couple of weeks all summer long to keep my plants strong) and finally cut, cut, cut. Even if you don’t need every stem, cutting deep and often will guarantee that fresh blooms keep coming. If do you do all of these things they will only start to slow when the weather cools off in the fall.

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2. Snaps (a.k.a. Snapdragons). Snaps are another workhorse for me. They get started in early to mid-July and then crank out consistently long-stemmed, bright towers of colour all summer long. Unlike the zinnias, most insects avoid them for some reason, so I rarely have leaf, bud or blossom damage, which is always a godsend. I have been told by more experienced growers that if you literally saw off your entire zinnia row once you have harvested they will grow back. Maybe it is the shortness of our season or maybe it is something I have yet to figure out but even though I cut these babies hard all season long I have yet to have a second crop from the same plant. Some growers pinch their snaps to encourage the growth of multiple stems instead of one larger, taller stem. I tend to pinch some and leave some so I have a variety of stem lengths and sizes to work with. The pinched flowers also tend to bloom slightly later so even though I have multiple successions to guarantee constant blooming all season I find pinching staggers bloom time too.

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3. Foxgloves. Also known as Digitalis because the bells can be fit over the ends of fingers like a thimble, I fell in love with foxgloves while interning at Field of Roses in New Zealand. They had lots of varieties that had re-seeded themselves and grown taller than me. I love how they are creamy and elegant on the outside but if you peek inside each of the “bells” hanging from the stem you enter a world of rich and vivid colour and texture. The leaves of the Foxglove are super soft and silky. I find that Foxgloves like consistent moisture and slightly cooler temps than we have had on Prince Edward Island the last couple of summers, so mine hung out for a good portion of the summer before finally shooting up and bursting into bloom in August. It was worth the wait as those who purchased some of these beauties from me at the farmers’ market can attest to. I’m looking forward to seeking out other varieties of these in the years to come. For an interesting read about the etymological origins of the name Foxglove, click here.

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4. Frosted Explosion. I simply love the name of this grass, and how perfectly it captures the way it literally explodes like a firework come summer. I plant and use a lot of this grass and it grows and grows and grows, all summer long. The focus in any bouquet is usually the flowers, but in its own way, Frosted Explosion is a showstopper for me, and I get lots of comments about it and how magical it looks in bouquets. You can see the dreamlike green spray from the Frosted Explosion in the arrangements below:

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5. Nigella. Also known as Love in a Mist, this flower comes in various shades of blue, pink, white and purple. The plant is very hardy, so if being direct seeded it can go in earlier than many of my other plants. It has lovely airy, star-shaped flowers but I find they shatter faster than I would like in bouquets so I mainly grow it for its seed pods, which are to die for, and add pops of colour and texture to late summer and fall bouquets that I couldn’t do without. There are a number of varieties. My favourite is Love-in-a-Mist Starry Night which is a combination of Delft Blue, Midnight and African Bride. Here is an up-close shot of a nigella seed pod, followed by a bouquet that has seed pods in it.

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nigella

6. Poppies. My relationship with poppies is an ever-evolving one, but the more I learn about these beauties the more I plant. Poppies are interesting in that they have to be harvested when they are just beginning to open and long before the flamboyant unfurled phase, which, if I am doing my job well, should happen after they get home with you in the vase. Another trick of making sure that poppies have a vase life is to singe the bottoms of the stems. I use a blow-torch, but for a smaller quantity a lighter will do the trick too. When I do this they can get a vase life of a full week before dropping their petals. I have tested out a few varieties. The ones that do best for me are Icelandic poppies, which look like whirling dervishes in arrangements. I also grow a Breadseed Rattle Poppy. It looses its petals too quickly to use in arrangements, but its enormous seed pod is a great addition to my late summer and fall bouquets.

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7. Ranunculus. I have been wanting to grow these for a while, and 2019 is my first foray into finally doing so. I have yet to find a Canadian source for Butterfly Ranunculus (my favourites, and one I will most definitely be adding to the mix at some point) but this season I am growing a few ranunculus that those signed up for my CSA are going to love. The multiple layers of fine petals in many ways remind me vaguely of small roses, and the variety of hues is truly breathtaking. This year I am growing Elegance in a range of colours including Salmone, Viola, Pastello, Bianco Sfumato and Bianco. Keep your fingers crossed for this new adventure! I cannot wait to share these with you once the weather warms! this is a photo of me holding some of Kori’s ranunculus this spring.

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8. Mums. When we hear the word Chrysanthemums in Atlantic Canada, most of us think of the humdrum bedding flowers we see in pots at Home Depot. This past fall and winter I have been volunteering at Dawn Creek Farm, owned by Kori Hargreaves. Kori is an heirloom Mum whisperer, and spending time with her has introduced me to Mums that I never could have imagined existed. I have been in search of a Canadian source for heirloom mums ever since and finally placed an order this week, so if things go well I will have a beautiful crop of fall heirloom mums to share with you this year. Below are two photos: one of me holding one of my favourite varieties (River City) at Kori’s farm and another of an arrangement I made with some of Kori’s mums.

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9. Sweet Peas. I have had a long-standing love affair with sweet peas ever since Erin at Floret introduced me to them back in 2013. Having grown up in the Mediterranean, this was not a flower I had been familiar with until then, but now that I live in a climate that is conducive to growing this vine I have been growing an increasing number and variety every year. Last year we had a very cold spring so my sweet peas really struggled to get started. I had just barely started harvesting them when it got so hot that they basically stopped growing. They did very little for the remainder of the season, but then in September as the temperature cooled they started blooming again! I had never planned on offering fall sweet peas, but this year I have two sowings planned — one in the spring and a second in the late summer. Fingers crossed you will see sweet peas in your bouquets in September as well as in June!

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There are so many other flowers that will be blooming in the garden this year, but I will share more about them in future posts. If you have any questions about the plants I have mentioned above, about my CSA, market bouquets or individual arrangements please leave me a comment below this post or send me a private message. I hope some of you will join my CSA this summer by signing up for either five or ten weeks of fresh local flowers! You can do so in the online store. Remember: Early-bird prices end on March 31st!

1 Comment

  1. Oh how I wish I were able to sign up. Thanks for whetting my appetite for the flower CSA I do belong to, which is through Bullock Lake Farm on Salt Spring Island where I live. And for enlightening me about all the flowers you are growing. I am amazed at the nuance of your process as a flower farmer and how much skill and attention it takes to grow these beauties.

    Inspired by you always,

    Ahava

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