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Nothing quite like a freshly picked bouquet

  • Nanette Londere
  • Not only did I grow up in the baby boomer era of flower power, I actually planted my first garden at age 5. I've have had a lifelong love affair with just about any kind of bloom ever since. Besides adding beauty to the environment — either outdoors or in — they just make me happy.

    I'm apparently not alone. According to behavioral research conducted at Rutgers University, flowers are nature's way of providing us with a simple way to improve emotional health. They trigger happy emotions, heighten feelings of life satisfaction and affect social behavior in a positive manner far beyond what is normally believed.

    "Is burying your head in a just-picked garden bouquet and inhaling its perfume a joy-inducing experience?" asks Debra Prinzing, author of "The 50 Mile Bouquet," a newly published book on seasonal, local and sustainable flowers.

    According to the Rutgers researchers, it certainly seems to be the case for many of us.

    "That clutch of gerbera daisies or tulips from the supermarket may appear picture-perfect, yet it feels disconnected from the less-than-perfect (but incredibly romantic) flowers growing in your own backyard," says Prinzing.

    Do you know where those store-bought blossoms come from? Sixty-eight percent of flowers sold in the U.S. are imported — Colombia leads the group, followed by Ecuador, Netherlands, Canada and Mexico. That's a lot of air miles for your bouquet of blooms, and it certainly isn't very "green" — especially when there are umpteen purveyors selling locally grown flowers. Better yet, you can do it yourself.

    Growing your own flowers allows you to stay in tune with and appreciate the seasons. In addition to being food for the soul, garden-grown flowers delight the senses with visual interest and heady fragrance.

    Some flowers can be used in cooking or preserved to savor for months to come. They can attract and support bees and other pollinators and provide food and habitats for birds and beneficial insects. One of my great pleasures is to share my garden flowers with family and friends, multiplying the enjoyment.

    The flowers you grow for cutting can be integrated into your overall garden, mixed in with your food crops or tucked away in an area dedicated for just this purpose.

    Most flowering plants need six to eight hours of sun daily to produce blooms, along with healthy soil and good drainage. Most importantly is selecting the right type of plant for your location.

    With a focus on plants that bloom in summer, some of the top performers fall into the following categories:

    • Stunning cut flowers: black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), clematis, dahlias, foxglove, hydrangeas, roses, sunflowers and zinnias
    • Long blooming season: Catmint (Nepeta), geraniums (Pelargonium), hydrangeas, lantana, nastursium, penstemon, Peruvian lilies (Alstromeria), red hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria), roses and sage (Salvia)
    • Attract birds, bees and/or butterflies: Asters, campanula, cape plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), catmint, clarkia, coreopsis, lamb's ear (Stachy byzantinas), lantana, lobelia, nicotiana, roses, sage and verbena
    • Low water use: Coneflowers (Echinacea), cape plumbago, coreopsis, lantana, lavender, sage, statice (Limonium sinuatum), windflower (Gaura lindheimeri) and yarrow (Achillea)
    • Deer resistant: Aster, catmint, coneflowers, dahlias, foxglove, lantana, lavender, penstemon, Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), sage and yarrow
    • Dries well: Hydrangeas, lavender, roses, scabiosa, statice and yarrow

    While roses don't fit into the low water use or deer-resistant categories — and they are prone (depending of variety) to some pests and diseases — they can produce blossoms nearly nonstop from April to November with little care other than watering and removing spent blooms. And, as deciduous shrubs, they can last for decades. That's a pretty good return on your investment.

    In general, floribunda, polyantha and shrub type roses produce lots of blossoms versus hybrid tea types, and newer cultivars are much more disease resistant. Some favorites are 'La Marne', a prolific bloomer with unique cerise pink blooms blushed white. 'Sally Holmes' puts out flamboyant trusses of blooms that resemble hydrangeas. Sweet-smelling 'Westerland' is adorned with a swirl of sunset colored blossoms, and 'Graham Thomas' is covered with bountiful lemon yellow cupped blooms, as is the powerfully scented 'Julia Child.'

    To keep your cut flowers looking great indoors, Prinzing recommends adding fresh, room temperature water to a clean container. Cut stems with floral shears or a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle (to increase the surface area that the flower can "drink" the vase water), and remove foliage from the portion of the stem that will be under water.

    Once you're satisfied with your arrangement, locate it in a cool area away from direct sunlight. Flowers will last longer if you change the water every day or two and re-cut stems a quarter to half an inch.

    So, go local and plant some flowers in your own garden; you'll be able to enjoy safe and sustainable blooms knowing exactly where they came from.