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?