Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Amaryllis by Any Other Name...

Yet another popular Christmastime flower, the Amaryllis, is actually not an Amaryllis at all, but Hippeastrum, which is native to South Africa. The true amaryllis, from Peru and Chile, is a very similar plant but growers chose to lump them all together thereby confusing us, the buying public!

These beautiful giant bulbs can be purchased anywhere this time of year, from garden centers to Walmart to the gift section of your grocery store. They are among the easiest bulbs to force, as they require
no further cooling period...just remove from the box, plant in the medium, water and stand back! In no time at all, green strap-like leaves will appear, then seemingly overnight, the bud will appear. Once the gorgeous flowers make
their appearance, they are quite long-lasting. (Keep them slightly watered, and out of harsh light).

Hippeastrum boasts colors ranging from pure white to peach and pink, to deep reds and burgundies. Some of the South African specialty varieties are absolutely stunning. One in particular, called Jade Serpent sports an unexpected lime green color.

I always have at least a few bulbs started in time to
assure flowers for Christmas. One I'm trying this year is called "Fairy Tale" and it promises to be a beauty with it's striped petals!

Florists use cut Hippeastrum in arrangements for the holidays, making a very dramatic statement. Can't seem to grow them yourself? Get your beauty fix by checking out the time-lapse videos on YouTube!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Now, where did I put my Quintal?

Vase. From the Latin vas, meaning 'vessel'. There are so many more ways to display flowers than in a simple vase. Centuries ago, flowers were difficult to come by. (Have you heard about Tulipmania in Holland?). During the 17th century, flowers were a commodity available only to the rich, so owning containers made specifically for displaying flowers was a show of your affluence. During that time, European potters created a five-fingered vase called a 'quintal', and its popularity hasn't waned since, though these days perhaps a bit more difficult to come by. You may have inherited one from grandma, and wondered what it was called.

The five-fingered vase made it's way to America during the Colonial era, and was then adopted by potters in Georgia who then called the vase a 'wedding jug".

Other floral 'helpers' have existed for centuries, as well. And you no doubt have a few of these kicking around your house-the flower frog. Though there are many incarnations, such as glass, plastic, or metal, their purpose are the same: to reside at the bottom of a container, helping to hold up stems of flowers. They can be as simple as a metal base with sharp pins (also known as kensan and used in Ikebana design), to fanciful porcelain, stoneware or glass examples.

No one really knows why they became known as frogs,
but the common thought is that because they reside underwater and are hidden by leaves, they bear a
resemblance to their namesake. They are so popular
there is even a website called Flower Frog Gazette, and a very comprehensive book called Flower Frogs for Collectors. Jackie Kennedy had a large collection of frogs, which was later sold at auction.

My own collection is , ahem, somewhat smaller than Jackie's, but I use them constantly!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Those Shocking Rosarians!

You would never believe it, but the Victorian world of horticulture was quite cut-throat! Over the centuries, many intrigues have occurred in the name of the rose, so to speak. Here, a few stories associated with some of the roses you may have in your own garden.

"Gertrude Jekyll": This master gardener was known for her garden designs-so many of which are still going strong today. Each spring, she would gather 11,000 flowers to make potpourri for her home. The Arts & Crafts master William Morris was acquainted with the prominent Jekylls, as was Robert Louis Stevenson, who borrowed their name for his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"Lady Banks": This popular Southern rose was discovered in China by
botanist Robert Brown, and named for Lady Dorothea Banks. It blooms well before most other roses. Lady Banks loved diamonds and dishes, prompting her husband to call her "a little china mad". She filled her barn with the world's finest collection of porcelain and china. If you are a true Southerner, you no doubt have this rose in your garden.

"Constance Spry": The world's first celebrity floral designer, she lived by the mantra "flowers are for everyone". Unforgettably fragrant, this rose was introduced by the legendary rosarian Graham Stuart Thomas (who also has a rose named for him!). It launched an English rose craze that's still going strong today. Martha Stewart beware: Constance Spry Ltd. is still operation.

Many, many other historical figures have roses named after them, and with equally compelling stories: Napoleon, Jeanne d'Arc, Jacques Cartier, Goethe, Mozart, Rubens, to name just a few. And of course, our beautiful modern roses are named after such luminaries as Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Princess Diana (my personal favorite), Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, and Queen Elizabeth.

'Who' resides in your garden?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Science of Flowers and Feelings

While channel-surfing a few weeks ago, I happened across an interview with one of those famous-for-being-famous gals. Having had a bad year, she was asked what she does when she needs cheering up. With a straight face, she replied that she had a drink (or three!) It got me thinking: with the times being what they are, and everyone having multiple worries, isn't this exactly when flowers are called for?

Researching this, I found many studies that have been conducted over the years by universities and scientists alike, and all have arrived at the same conclusion: Flowers can help decrease depression! Nursing homes have known this for years, finding that their elderly patients (men and women alike) are less stressed when they can experience flowers in their surroundings.

Americans have a vastly different outlook on flowers than Europeans do. There, buying flowers for one's self is as accepted, and expected, as buying the daily loaf of bread or carton of milk. In the U.S. we have unfortunately convinced ourselves that flowers are an indulgence, an extravagance, a luxury that we do not owe ourselves.

Flip through your favorite home decorating magazine. You'll notice that virtually every room will have at least one flower arrangement, possibly more, be it a few simple stems in a pitcher, or a full-blown arrangement taking center stage. Why? Because designers know that flowers make a room feel warm and lived-in. Though I occasionally have a bride who tells me she 'doesn't like flowers', can you imagine a wedding without them? How would you feel at a funeral void of flowers? Funeral directors have known all along the power of flowers to comfort. And when a friend is ill, don't you bring flowers?

In this time of stress and worry, of too many holiday commitments, you do deserve flowers! (And it's much less expensive than redecorating!)

I wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Sweet Smell of....Perfume?

The word 'perfume' comes from the Latin per fume, meaning "through smoke". The first scents were burned much like incense, and thus the aroma arrived "through the smoke". The Egyptians invented glass and the perfume bottle was the first use of glass, around 1000BC. Jumping ahead to 17th century France, perfumed gloves were popular, making it easier to mask the unpleasant scents of rotting meats and, shall we say, less than adequate public hygiene. Eau de Cologne was invented in the 18th century, and became a revolutionary advance in perfumery. In the 19th century, chemistry came into play, and a multitude of new scents were 'invented", rather than mixed, as they had been previously. Perfume was becoming ever increasingly popular, and in France, there was even a fragrance called "Parfum a la Guillotine". Apparently, you would not want to meet your maker smelling unpleasant!

The town of Grasse in Provence established itself as the center of raw materials with it's orange, rose and jasmine growing trades. Paris itself became the center of the perfume industry and spawned the creation of such perfume companies as Houbigant, Loubin and Guerlain, all still producing perfumes today. In 1921 the fashion designer Coco Chanel launched her own fragrance, Chanel No. 5, so named because it was the fifth scent presented to her by her fragrance designer Ernest Beaux.
(It was the first "grownup" perfume I received and I have saved the bottle all these years!)

The 1930's saw floral scents take the forefront, with the introduction of Worth's Je Reviens, and Jean Patou's Joy, both still popular today, and continue to be two of the most expensive on the market, especially when presented in limited edition cut-crystal bottles.

Today there are over 30,000 "designer" fragrances on the market and perfume is no longer reserved for just the wealthy. Witness Paris Hilton's recent introduction of fragrances; Elizabeth Taylor and her highly successful line of perfumes named after her favorite jewels. Even rappers are coming out with their own scent.

Do you have a favorite scent?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Art Nouv-OH!

I've always loved jewelry. Gold, silver, precious or costume, I love it all. Recently, the Boston Museum of Art launched a beautiful exhibit of Art Nouveau and Art Deco jewelry, popularized at the turn of the last century. Oooooo! And wouldn't you know it...many of the pieces include flowers in their design!

Rene Lalique was the most renowned of the Art Nouveau artists. His large pieces were often made of unusual material such as horn, enamel and glass. He was especially known for his technique called plique a jour enameling, which means "open to light". This gave his pieces a lightness not previously seen.

Other renowned designers, such as Georges Fouquet, preferred gold and semi-precious stones. He later joined forces with a master enameler, who would sometimes etch the surface of the enamel with acid, creating a shimmering effect.

One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is a beautiful art deco necklace purchased in
Prague a few years ago.
It's a striking design executed in sterling, centered with a moonstone, and it never fails to elicit compliments whenever I wear it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

True Flowering Carpets

I recently came upon these fantastic photographs of Brussels' live Flower Carpet, which they set up in the main square called the Grand Place. One million begonias are placed directly on the cobblestones of the main square mimicking a medieval carpet design called Savonnerie. Grass and bark are used to fill in for the brown and green, dahlias for the blue. The total size is an incredible 3200 square feet and is only on display for 4 days! At night, a light and sound show is staged, creating a magical evening, especially if you are fortunate enough to view it from the balcony of City Hall.

I visited Brussels some years ago, and was treated to a fabulous dinner at La Maison du Cygne, located right in the Grand Place. www.lamaisonducygne.be
There was no Flower Carpet there that evening, but it was still the experience of a lifetime!

Last month, I saw North Carolina's own little version of the Flower Carpet, at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, much smaller in scale but certainly still impressive. We arrived to a light rain, with the soft light making the flowers just jump out at us!

Congratulations to Erin Boyle, the October winner of a Bloomers' Gift Certificate!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Razzle-Dazzle, it's Zazzle!

I'm hooked on this new site I discovered recently, called Zazzle. There, you are able to design your own Keds sneakers. Being a shoe fanatic, AND a flower fanatic, I thought I would try my hand at it and see how it works.
You be the judge!

There are several other items you can design, such as mugs, t-shirts, and tote bags. Once you are happy with your creation, you post it, allowing anyone else who sees it there to buy it. You get a small commission every time your item sells. Sadly, none of mine have sold yet, but it's just a matter of time, I'm sure!

Try it yourself at: www. zazzle.com.

I'd love to see your designs!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Horses! The Flowers! The Hats!

scot. The very name conjures up images of immaculately coiffed and attired upper classes strutting their stuff along with the horses. I just love the witty hats, especially the floral ones! Ascot is England's most famous racetrack, but it's also a fashion show for the elegant and eccentric.

The Royal Ascot races date back
to the days of Queen Anne, in 1711. Ladies' Day is also known as"Hat Day", a true fashion lover's extravaganza of over-the-top hats, the latest designer outfits and outlandish accessories.

Royalty is always in attendance at Ascot.
(After all, it's THEIR day!)

Hobnobbing is the order of the day.
Therefore, there are many rules that must be adhered to:

-No gum chewing.
-Brown shoes are banned
-Bare legs are frowned upon, though Princess Diana did manage to getaway with this a few times.
-Convicted criminals are still banned.
-Tradition holds that as soon as the Queen finishes eating, everyone else must stop as well!

Other interesting statistics: 75,000 bottles of wine and 120,000 bottles of champagne are consumed, as are 550 gallons of cream (the English do love their cream!) and 4.5 tons yes, tons of strawberries.

Outlandish costumes notwithstanding, the raison d'etre for Ascot is the high stakes horse race, with a purse this year of more than 2 million pounds. (about $3,500,000). Which is very nice for the winner.

But really, isn't it all about the hats?

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Boo"tiful Blooms

alloween is perhaps not a traditional "flower" holiday, but there's so much out there to use in your seasonal decorating that it's a shame to not include flowers!

Almost everyone succumbs to the temptation to buy a pumpkin or two when the air turns crisp. Most will be content to seat it on the doorstep until the time comes to carve it into something ghoulish. Why not bring it inside, and with the help of some fall-colored blooms, turn that pumpkin into something you can enjoy at every meal!

You can forgo the traditional orange color for the lovely cream ones so popular now. Elevate on a
footed silver stand, enhance with a few sprigs of ivy,
and suddenly that lowly gourd is elegant! Even better, no carving involved.

This fun pumpkin looks great and is quite easy to do. Simply cut your pumpkin in half, scoop out the inside, stash a block of soaked floral foam inside, and then begin inserting your stems. A fall palette of colors would work well; favorites are mums, berries, herbs and even some branches still holding their fall leaves. Instant centerpiece. (Green Tip-toss the scooped insides into your mulch pile!)

Of course, if you just have to have more
than one, make a 'tableau' with your finds, and use one or two as the vase, decorating the rest with painted designs. Vary the colors and shapes of the pumpkins and gourds for added interest.

Here's a scary little guy you can get your kids to help you with!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fabulous, Flavorful Flowers

lowers and food have been a natural combination since as far back as biblical times. You probably have something in your pantry right now that can trace it's roots back to some flower or other.

Flowers and chocolate-a classic combination, but even more interesting when combined into one! You can find a myriad of online companies offering artisanal chocolates infused with rosewater, lavender, orange water, even chilies!

To spice up your Martini time,
you can add floral-infused essences such as
Rose petal, or French Lavender Essence.

I even found a company that will send you a scrumptious cake decorated with real flowers, packed in a beautiful box decorated with silk flowers. Whew, talk about indulgent!

To make your tea time truly unexpected, try the"blooming tea" (which you can find at Bloomers), a small ball of tightly wrapped tea which, when steeped, magically turns into a beautiful 'flower".

There are any number of jams made of rose petals, orange blossoms, lavender. You need never settle for plain ole' grape jam again.

If you would like to decorate your own food item, you can buy
real sugared rose petals. (Easy to make them yourself:
buy organic, non-sprayed roses. Dip each petal in egg white, then dredge in sugar. Let dry on a rack, and you're done!) You can do the same with pansies, too.

I found a recipe for making ice cream with rose essential oil. (I love roses, but I'm not sure so about using them this way.)

Of course, there are dozens of flowers that can be eaten on their own...the one that comes to mind most often is nasturtium, which has a peppery bite, and is often used in salads. Stuffed zucchini blossoms are a popular item on restaurant menus, with a myriad of filling options such as crab or cheese. Chive blossoms have a light oniony flavor. You can find an entire list of edible flowers at: www.whatscookingamerica.net

Doesn't it seem that flowers always always seem to be a part of our lives?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Reel" Flowers

I'm a movie fanatic, and love nothing more than settling in some evening with an entertaining movie. (Best if Sam Elliott is in it, but that's a subject for another blog...)

While poking around an antique shop recently, I found an old poster for the movie Please Don't Eat the Daisies, (from 1960, starring that perky Doris Day and David Niven,) and it got me thinking: How many other movies have flowers in the title? Turns out, there are lots of them!

Steel Magnolias: Started as an off-Broadway play in 1987, and made into a movie in 1989. With an all-star cast of Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine.

The Rose (1979) A tear-jerker starring Bette Midler, loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin.

The Black Dahlia (2006) Film Noir starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlet Johansson, and Hilary Swank about the investigation into the "Black Dahlia" murders.

Send me No Flowers (1964) Comedy starring Doris Day, Rock Hudson
and Tony Randall, (who does not play the hypochondriac in this one!)
Based on the earlier Broadway play of the same name.

Lilies of the Field (1963) Sidney Poitier as an ex-G.I, and nuns! Sounds like an improbable combination, but somehow, it works.

The Black Orchid (1958) Sophia Loren was 23 years old when she played this role, only 10 years older than the actor who played her juvenile son.

Iris (2001)
Broken Flowers (2005)

Flowers in the Attic (1987)
War of the Roses (1989)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
White Oleander (2002)
Bread and Tulips (2001)
Flower Drum Song (1961)
The Name of the Rose (1986)

Oh dear! My NetFlix queue is growing by the minute!

Here's a test to see if you're paying attention: Send the name of another movie with flowers in the title, and receive a coupon good for a FREE Vazu!
(send to: bloomersflorist@yahoo.com). I"ll post the winners in next week's blog.