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Episode 34 – Flower Farming, Forsythia, and Fabulous Container Design Tips with Renee Clermont

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Cut flower gardens are the new trend. Although visiting big fresh flower markets like Pike’s Market in Seattle is exciting, what could be better than a supply of fresh flowers from your own backyard? You don’t need to devote a lot of space for an entire garden. You can plant flowers for cutting in pockets throughout your existing landscape. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led many people to beautify their homes, inside and out. This has renewed interest in cut flowers and the trend of “flower farming” in your own yard. It’s a worldwide trend – as evidenced by this pick-your-own tulip farm in Italy

Peony tulips are an example of flowers that have become popular due to this trend. They’re not a new thing, but a lot of people don’t realize they exist. Typical herbaceous “perennial” peonies with their beauty and exclusivity are fabulous for cut flower arrangements but are seasonal (generally May and June). Some, however, have found a way to get the look of peonies for less. Peony tulips are going viral on TikTok for their pretty, fluffy, peony-like appearance. To get your own supply of peony tulips, mark your calendar to plant bulbs this fall for flowers in spring 2024. 

Looking for ideas of what to plant for cut flowers in your yard? Check out this Proven Winners ideaboard

Some of our all-time favorite plants for cut flowers include: Shasta daisies, gomphrena, zinnias, lavender, salvia (both annual and perennial types), coneflowers, hydrangea, heliopsis, roses, cosmos, the sky’s the limit! Remember, plant cuttings for arrangements can include annuals, perennials, herbs, flowering shrubs, bulb plants, tropical plants (think foliage of cordyline and bird’s nest fern), even vegetable plants!

You’ll need some focal point stems, support stems, and filler stems. Hydrangeas are an excellent choice for a cut flower garden. Consider ornamental grasses and their inflorescence for fun fall arrangements. Try “forcing” the blooms in late winter/early spring on woody cuttings like forsythia, plum, peach, mockorange, quince, etc.

Fresh flower arranging can be similar to the container gardening concept of thriller, spiller, filler. An arrangement doesn’t have to be a complicated masterpiece. Let the flowers do the talking. It could be just one type of flower in a vase.

When harvesting, do it in the early morning or late evening. Cut stems at an angle and put them immediately into water. Don’t allow foliage below the water line. Keep the water fresh and flowing up the “straws”/stems for long-lasting enjoyment!

And now, this week’s Lim-A-Rick:

A little cut flower prose

Fresh flowers are my thing, I suppose

Their beauty is my oasis,

Replenished on a vase to vase basis,

You could say I garden with my nose.

Why: At this time of year, the whole world seems to turn yellow with the cheery flowers of forsythia. Well, here in Michigan, at least – if you live in a warmer climate, this probably happened weeks ago, but the phenomenon remains the same. You realize just how widespread this normally non-descript plant is when it explodes into bloom in spring. And what better celebration to welcome the season than this durable, beautiful plant – especially when it pairs so beautifully with another harbinger of spring, daffodils? Forsythia’s ubiquity is due in no small part to its ability to withstand a huge range of soil and light conditions, and the fact that it’s pretty inexpensive and easy to find. But not all forsythia are equal – we selected Show Off forysthia specifically because its flowers are very densely packed along its stems, so each branch looks like a column of bright golden blooms.

Show Off forsythia is also this episode’s plant on trial because of our cut flower theme – and it makes an excellent one! Show Off forsythia is actually the largest member of a series, reaching 5-6′ tall, accompanied by Show Off Starlet (2-3′ tall) and Show Off Sugar Baby (1.5-2.5′ tall). While all of them are fabulous landscape plants, the large Show Off is most suitable for cutting, because your cuts are less noticeable on the larger plant. 

Who: The Show Off forsythia series came to us from Minier Nurseries in France, where they were selected for their densely packed blooms, and, of course, that range of habits. 

How to grow: As we’ve already said, part of the reason that forsythia is so ubiquitous is because it’s so easy to grow. It will grow in sun, shade, and anything in between, though in dense shade, its flowering will be diminished, and among the Show Off series, the blooms will not be as densely packed and the plant will be a bit more rangy as well. Forsythia aren’t the least bit finicky about soil and while wet soils should be avoided, occasional standing water won’t be an issue. Forsythia bloom on old wood – in other words, they create their flowers in summer for the following spring. As such, they should only be pruned immediately after blooming. They can be trimmed if you wish, though their natural look is quite attractive. 

A few fun facts before we move on: Forsythia is hardy only to USDA zone 5, though in cold climates that experience reliable snow cover during the coldest part of the year, you might be able to get away with growing Show Off Sugar Baby, since its petite size remains under the snow, providing insulation and protection to preserve the blooms. Next, in the UK, this plant is pronounced fors-EYE-thia, not for-SITH-ia, as it is named after botanist William Forsyth. But as we say in today’s episode, “correct” pronunciation isn’t that important – what is important is walking out of the garden center with the plant that you came in for, and if you were to say fors-EYE-thia here in the US, I’m not 100% sure that would happen!

If you’d like to add Show Off forsythia – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Before we dive into this week’s listener questions, we wanted to share this comment from a YouTube viewer describing her garden: 

I have more than 100 containers in my tiny front garden, over 100 water vessels all with plants in them in my 26′ x 26′ back yard and too many pots to count..  I live in a villa, house must be 6′ narrower than the land, the two 3′ concrete paths either side are full of hanging baskets and container plants.  I live in the hottest, driest city on earth, Adelaide, South Australia.  It rarely gets to 0°,Celsius here in winter, we don’t have the freeze thaw issue.  I’ve never even seen snow in my 6+ decades of life.  I am an avid gardener and am finding this YouTube channel very useful and interesting.

If you’d like to see what it’s like to garden in hundreds of containers in Australia, check out Kerry’s Instagram page, @kerryjeanharvey.

It’s natural to assume that when something isn’t flowering, the issue is fertilizer. And that is sometimes the case. But when it comes to flowering shrubs like snowball viburnum (V. plicatum var. tomentosum), the issue is most often due to pruning at the wrong time. Snowball viburnum bloom on old wood, so they should only be pruned immediately after they flower, or would have flowered. Pruning at any other time could remove flower buds for the current or following season. In your case, it’s also worth bearing in mind that your plant is still pretty new, and the guideline for new plants of all types is: first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap. In other words, trees, shrubs, and perennials usually don’t start putting on their best display until their third full season in the ground. So, provided you aren’t pruning, you should see flowering this year or next. And if you wish to fertilize, we’d recommend Plant Tone or Rose Tone.

Great news, Marlo – baptisia, also known as false indigo, is actually native to Texas, so you should have no trouble at all growing it there! Of the Proven Winners Decadence varieties you mention, I would recommend Lemon Meringue – I grow several different colors and this one is always the most vigorous and reliable. The other ones will probably do just fine for you, though. As for the tap root, that will only be an issue if you try to move your plant, so be sure you pick a spot that you can commit to for the long run. And in terms of finding it at a local garden center, check out the Proven Winners retailer locator for locations near you that sell our plants. Even if they don’t have the plant you want in stock, they should be able to order it for you from the grower who supplies them with Proven Winners perennials. 

Barbara includes this photo with her question, which is very helpful:

A clematis plant with several blue floweres showing signs of virus in its yellow and green mottled foliage.

While the symptoms that Barbara describe sound a lot like clematis wilt, which we discussed on our clematis show, the photo reveals a far bigger issue: virus. That yellow and green mottled foliage is a classic sign of virus, and there’s a particularly nasty one that clematis can get called chlorotic mottle virus. Either the virus is leading to the wilting, or its weakening the plant and making it more susceptible the fungus that causes clematis wilt. Unfortunately, there is no cure for plant viruses, so as much as we hate to be the bearers of bad news, we recommend that you remove and destroy this plant. Leaving it in place just increases the possibility of the virus spreading to other clematis in your community, which happens through insects like thrips, aphids, and leafhoppers, as well as mites. You certainly could try planting another clematis in this spot – virus doesn’t usually persist in the soil – but definitely keep your eyes peeled for any signs of it on a replacement plant, and take swift action if it develops. 

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above.

Branching News - Rick

Our guest today is Renee Claremont of Second Nature Designs on Martha’s Vineyard island, Massachusetts. Renee is a landscape designer and garden coach, and she shares with us her tips on creating fabulous container plantings. Watch our video below, or listen on your favorite podcast platform so you don’t miss her valuable advice as you get ready to head out to the garden center this season!

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A hydrangea in a low decorative container covered in pink and purple mophead flowers.

Episode 96 – Garden Regrets

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