Plant Profiles

Hydrangeas and celosias


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There are lots of flowers in my cutting garden right now, including hydrangeas, celosias, carnations and lisianthus. Most are easy to grow; lisianthus not so much. They are prone to damping off, and flower initiation is often reliant on climate. I’ll write more on propagating lisianthus another time as there is a trick to getting them to grow well.

In the meantime, mix flowers and foliage from your garden to make a summer bouquet. This makes a lovely, unexpected gift to take to a friend when visiting.

Try a trollius


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Here’s something different to try: the globeflower, or trollius. This perennial plant likes moist conditions and part-shade, and shows its vibrant-coloured blooms in late spring and early summer. It’s a great cut flower – just look at these! – and it’s one of the few cut flowers that will grow in shade (they’ll grow in sun too). Pick the flowers when they are just starting to open.

Make sure you position your plants in soil that won’t dry out over summer. Add plenty of compost before planting to maintain moisture levels. Having said that, you don’t want them to be sitting in water over winter, or you might kill them, so choose your spot carefully.

The 7 Most Expensive Flowers in the World

Gloriosa rothschildiana - Flame Lily. Illustration by Denise Ramsay http://www.deniseramsay.com/flamelily

Gloriosa rothschildiana – Flame Lily. Illustration by Denise Ramsay http://www.deniseramsay.com/flamelily

In her non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean mentions the mystery ghost orchid, which charmed flower poacher John Laroche. This character can be called one of the most famous flower collectors of the modern world, but the first person who started collecting flowers (that we know of) was the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. She sent botanists to Somali to retrieve the olibanum (frankincence) tree to plant in Egypt – and they were successfully planted at her mortuary temple complex.

However, the most notable period of flower collecting was during the 1630s in the Netherlands. People caught in the grips of Tulip Mania gave away their family estates to purchase rare bulbs.

But the fever existed only up to the beginning of the 18th century. In 1700, the planting of flowers in greenhouses in the Netherlands was established. Now any florist like Reids is able to order and receive tulips, roses and lilies to sell in his/her shop straight from that country.

While roses and lilies are the bases of the flower industry, there are a great number of expensive and rare flowers that you might not have realised were so expensive. Here are seven of the world’s rarest and most expensive flowers.

glory-lilyGlory lily (6-10 USD per flower)

Also known as the fire or flame lily (Gloriosa superba, aka Gloriosa rothschildiana and Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’), this striking flower is as beautiful as it is poisonous (all parts of the plant are poisonous) and can be fatal if eaten – not that you’d want to do that.

But the high cost is because this spectacular plant, native to tropical Asia and Africa, is not often seen in shops. It’s also because harvesting can be tricky. These plants are climbers and can grow up to 5m in their native soil.

Tulip ‘Semper Augustus’ (10,000 guilders per bulb)

Tulip-Semper-AugustusHarking back to Tulip Mania, ‘Semper Augustus’ was originally grown in Holland in the 17th century. It was especially valuable because of its rare, fiery vein-like patterns on its white petals. Shortly before the Tulip Mania period was over, one ‘Semper Augustus’ bulb cost 10,000 guilders (about 5700 USD). In those days for the same amount of money you were able to buy a huge house in Amsterdam or supply a whole family with food and clothing for half a century.

Saffron crocus (1200-1500 USD per 500g)

crocus-saffronThe bright red stigmas of Crocus sativus are the source of saffron, which is the world’s most expensive spice. Each flower produces only three stigmas, and each bulb produces only one flower. To make up 500g of spice, you need more than 80,000 flowers, which, as you can imagine, amounts to an incredible cost. Another way to put it: about 50-60 flowers produce 1 tablespoon of saffron. The plants also need specific soil and growing conditions to grow well.

Rothschild’s slipper orchid (5000 USD per plant)

Paph._rothschildianumPaphiopedilum rothschildianum, known as the Gold of Kinabalu orchid, was discovered in 1987, after which it came close to extinction due to the increased interest of smugglers. Thankfully, the population was restored by scientists, but the flower itself is still hard to reach. Wild species can be found only in the Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia, and from planting to getting the first flower, a number of years are needed.

Shenzhen Nongke orchid (202,000 USD per plant)

Shenzhen-Nongke-OrchidYou won’t find this orchid in the wild. It was cultivated in the lab by the Shenzhen Nongke Group – and it took the Chinese agricultural scientists eight years to develop it.

In 2005, it was sold at auction to an anonymous buyer for 1.69 million YUAN (about 202,000 USD). It is the most expensive flower purchased… ever.

The orchid blooms only once every four to five years.

‘Juliet’ rose (5 million USD)

juliet-roseOK, so the rose itself doesn’t cost that much, but it’s what it cost famous rose breeder David Austin to develop it. ‘Juliet’ was the first David Austin rose to be cultivated specifically for the cut flower industry and it took 15 years to create.

And it’s a beauty. When fully open, the blooms reveal neatly arranged petals nestled in the heart of the flower. Gorgeous!

In 2006, at the Chelsea Flower Show, UK, it attracted thousands of florists and rose lovers.

Epiphyllum flower (the price is not determined)

Kadupul-flowerEpiphyllum oxypetalum grows in Sri Lanka and blooms very rarely. When it does bloom, the petals open only at night, making this a very elusive yet beautiful flower. The flowers wither again before dawn.

In their native wild, the flowers are pollinated by bats and large moths, hence there is no need for them to be open during the day. Being white, the flowers stand out at night.

Gardenias


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I spied some gardenias in my local garden centre this weekend, with their beautifully pristine flower heads and gorgeous scent. If the fragrance of flowers could be measured by a scentometer, gardenias would career off the charts. The perfume is intoxicating, a sultry mix of jasmine and bubblegum with a soft fruity note.

Gardenias are a much-loved garden plant but they have a reputation for being difficult to grow. That might be because they’re prone to yellowing leaves, or chlorosis as it’s called, which is caused by lack of chlorophyll. Why that happens could be any number of reasons, including poor drainage, damaged roots, high alkaline soils (gardenias like an acidic soil), wet or cold conditions, or nutrient deficiencies. Iron and magnesium deficiencies are the most common, but you need to look closely at the leaves to determine which deficiency your plant has. [Read more…]

Lungwort


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Lungworts (weird name) are great for the shaded garden, providing both attractive leaves and pretty flowers. The leaves may be a solid green, spotted or blotched, or silvery, depending on the cultivar.

The silver lungwort shown here is Pulmonaria ‘Silver Bouquet’ – quite the stunner, with its silvery green leaves that are more mildew resistant and heat and humidity tolerant than silver pulmonarias of the past. Its large coral, pink and violet flowers (they change colour as they age) appear in winter and spring.

Though lungworts grow well in most soils, they thrive in fertile, humus-rich soil, so dig in plenty of compost before planting.

Cymbidiums in bloom


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I picked my first cymbidiums this week. I used to think these plants old-fashioned but nowadays there are some gorgeous hybrids to choose from.

Cymbidium orchids are the beginner gardener’s best friend. They are one of the easiest orchids to grow. They need little care – just a repot once every three or four years when they’re climbing out their pots (do it in spring once new growth has begun and the flower stems have been removed) and protection from slugs and snails. These slithery critters love to munch on the fresh buds and blooms.

Your potted plants should also be brought under cover when in flower, as heavy rain and hail will pockmark the blooms.

I feed mine occasionally with an orchid fertiliser, then in midsummer give them an application of Epsom salts, a teaspoon per 5 litres of water, to facilitate spike initiation for the following season. That’s really all the attention my cymbidiums get. And look what they give me in return!

Seal of approval


Solomon's Seal

For a shaded spot, here’s a plant that pulls out all the stops. Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum x hybridum) is a woodland dweller whose sublime green-tipped bells march four by four along graceful, arching stems. The plant peaks at around 1.2m high (a shorter version is Polygonatum multiflorum, which grows 60-90cm high), forming an attractive clump of rich green leaves.

Bloom time is late spring to early summer, and the tall stems can be picked for the vase. Pick when most of the flowers are open.

Solomon’s seal is a hardy, herbaceous perennial, dying back in winter, and reappearing around October in the Southern hemisphere. It does best in cool, dappled shade in rich soil with good moisture. Top-dress each year with compost or aged manure then leave it to its own devices; it doesn’t deal too well with disturbances.

Photo credit: M Tutschner

Caring for cymbidiums

Cymbidiums and dendrobiums
Orchids have something of a reputation for being delicate and difficult to grow, but with a few simple measures, cymbidiums will last a lifetime. They like night-time temperatures of between 10 and 15°C, although they tolerate temps down to 5°C, or slightly lower. Mine live outdoors year-round, but if the temperatures in your area are cooler, grow them in a greenhouse or bring them under cover of a porch or sunroom in early winter. Mine also reside in pots. That’s so they can be moved to a spot with overhead protection when in flower, as rain and hail have more than once damaged the flowers. Slugs and snails also like to munch on the flowers, leaving them with pock-marked petals, so put out bait if you want to keep these slippery critters away. [Read more…]

Plant Now: Proteas


Divine protea in wedding bouquet
protea dinner tableproteas in wedding bouquetTable design with proteas
Head down to your local garden centre and you’ll see a range of proteas in store now. Many of these large beauties bloom in winter, so it’s a good time to pick one up. They’re fussy plants – they like full sun and excellent drainage. Don’t bother if your soil is anything but free-draining. Plants won’t survive long if their feet are sodden. Slopes, raised beds or growing on mounds is ideal. Plant in an open position where they get plenty of air, or wind. A windy spot at least allows for good air circulation which in turn keeps humidity levels down and diseases away. Proteas much prefer poor acidic soils than fertile soils. They’ll tolerate sandy to clay soils, so long as drainage is good.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: Southbound Bride; The Pretty Blog; Meredith Perdue; 100 Layer Cake.

Dahlia deluge


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My dahlia patch has gone berserk. After what seems like weeks of rain, the sun has finally put in an appearance, and so too have my dahlias. Previously the odd bloom was seen poking its head out amongst the sweet peas and achilleas, but now they’re running riot. Seen here are a mix of pompom and cactus dahlias. The red cactus dahlias are a mighty 22-25cm in diameter!