A few of my favorite things

I have found it quite beneficial to read blogs from other gardeners and flower farmers around the world regarding their favorite flowers to grow, so I thought I would take a stab at writing about a few of my favorites – some of the more unusual flowers that might not get as much attention – and share my successes and failures, so that others might be able to learn from my experiences. Each year I select a new flower to test – only growing a few as I have limited real estate – and will incorporate these into my list. Most of my seeds are purchased from either Johnny’s Seeds, which I love because it is company owned and has phenomenal instructions on the seed packet, or Floret Flower Farm, which is a little more expensive given the quantity of seeds per packet, but provides an abundant selection of unusual flower seeds, and I’ve also purchased from Hudson Valley Seed Company and Seed Savers.

BELLS OF IRELAND (moluccella laevis) – These beautiful, light green flowers have an incredible scent reminiscent of mint and apples (which is not surprising given they are in the mint family). I have found the seeds to be a bit finicky with regards to germination, but once they take, they seem to be pretty hardy. A trick I learned was to place the seeds between a moist paper towel inside a ziplock bag and kept in the refrigerator for a week to ten days before planting. Make sure the seeds receive light to germinate. These flowers act as a great filler in my bouquets, although they do not grow as tall as I have seen in other photos, my understanding is that they can gain height if they are allowed to grow year after year. I don’t have this luxury, so my flowers will continue to be about 12” tall.

CLARKIA (clarkia unguiculata elegans) – A member of the Godetia family, this was going to be my ”flower of 2020”, so I took special care to grow as many as possible, but for reasons that are still unclear to me, only a few made it to the yards. Tray after tray of my Clarkia either failed to germinate, or died after early blooming, and I can only conclude, after much research, that perhaps I was overwatering. Listed as a cut-and-come again flower, I did not see any further growth after the first cutting of stems, and I found it difficult to determine the proper harvest time, which was listed as when the lower set of blooms is just beginning to open. While I was, for the most part, able to do this, many of the lower blooms quickly turned brown and shriveled up, leaving very little of the beautiful color that attracted me to this flower in the first place. I did find that the closed blooms would eventually open, although not to full capacity, and the tendril like stems created a beautiful added dimension to the bouquet. These stems also lasted much longer than most flowers – similar to a closed ranunculus. I have not given up on this flower just yet, but may limit how much real estate I devote to it in the coming years.

Cut Clarkia from Spry Flower Farm

LANGSDORFFII (nicotiana langsdorffii) – Also known as Flowering Tobacco, this specimen is being grown as one of my test flowers, and I am loving it! This variety has small, pale green flowers with rather tall stems (around 36”). I have planted different varieties in the past and have found that they really add an unusual element to bouquets. I have yet to harvest the first stems on this year’s crop, but my understanding is that these will produce several stems from one plant. Stay tuned for more on this flower as the season progresses.

CHINA ASTER (callistephis chinensis)- What’s up with the China Aster?! I have tried growing this flower during all three seasons, and each year it gives me trouble. Either the seeds barely germinate, or when they do the flowers that grow from the plant are either too short or all the blooms seem to be on one stem. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I started to wonder whether I should bother at all. I finally read someone else’s post that also admitted to having difficulty growing these beauties. But China Asters are a hot commodity, and often they go for a higher selling price, so if you can get these to grow, you have a bigger profit margin. This year, I managed to germinate more than I have in the past and, while they have yet to bloom (China Asters have approximately 110-120 days to maturity), I am hoping it will be worth the wait.

China Asters growing in one of the yards. These should be netted as the weight of the flowers will cause them to fall. I will do this next week.

Zinnia Queen Red Lime (zinnia elegans) – I love all zinnia really, but this one is extra special, even if it is becoming extremely popular. The colors are a almost a deep salmon pink edge with a key-lime pie center – the combination is a great accent to a variety of other flowers. These are fantastic for cut-and-come again growers, and a great succession flower as the days to maturity are around 75. A must have in my garden.

Gardening through a pandemic.

We are now into our second month abiding by New York City’s stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19. Early adopters of social distancing practices, we cancelled outings in order to quarantine at home after learning of our direct exposure to the virus. We received a text from our former neighbor – an Italian currently living in Italy – who rapidly texted to us the dire state of his country’s situation. You may recall, the U.S. watched as Italy fell prey to the virus before it reared its ugly head in a similar manner in New York. “Be prepared to stay inside. People over 60 should not go out for any reason, no physical contact with the outside world. Please warn your friends and family.” As the week went on, and more and more people were getting a grasp of what was happening, I called my parents to beg them to stay home. They, too, had been watching the news and, thankfully, cancelled a trip they had planned out of town. We felt confident that our decision to quarantine early was the right one – we heard from friends who had contracted the virus and from others working in hard-hit hospitals. This was unlike anything we had seen before.

The Old Stone House – originally built in 1699 – and the site of one of my flower plots. The J.J. Byrne playground was shutdown during New York City’s Covid-19 stay-at-home orders.

In the beginning, it was easy to stay focused and remain vigilant – our living situation was better than so many others in New York. Early on, we felt strongly, and still do, that it was our duty to stay home to protect not only ourselves, but also those who might not be able to fight the virus should they be exposed. But now, with no end in site, no strategy on how to re-engage, and no real idea of what this virus is, or what it can do, doubts have begun to creep in. Our small savings are dwindling – the local flower shop where I was working has closed and my PR projects have ended – my husband is feeling pressure to go back to his “non-essential” job, and there are people all around us completely dis-regarding the social distancing requirements. And with the repercussions of this pandemic at one moment seeming completely real, and the next contradicting that, the questions keep going through my mind: what is the difference between now and one month from now; why should I wear a mask when so many of my neighbors are not; are we the only ones taking this seriously – should we be; would it be better to just expose myself rather than constantly wonder if I’ve been exposed; when will I be able to see my sister, my parents, my friends? The rest of the country seems to be experiencing less of an impact, and there seems to be an attitude that New York is an anomaly. It feels really lonely.

I have to remind myself that, at the time of this writing, over 80,000 people in the U.S. have lost their lives to Covid-19, and the number continues to grow. Thankfully, and so far, all of my immediate family members and friends are still healthy. Now that I’m no longer working my two other jobs, I’ve been able to focus predominantly on my flower farming, not to mention the creation of this website. While my spring harvest was essentially lost from a financial aspect – I didn’t want to risk potentially exposing anyone to Covid – I took detailed counts of how many flowers bloomed, and when, which has enabled me to better plan for next year’s spring season. I can determine how many flower subscriptions to offer, how many more flowers I might need to plant in the fall in order to supplement, and what to plant to ensure I have a crop for Mother’s Day next year. I have one area of a yard where I farm that gets shade beginning mid-spring, so I’ve been thinking about what might be a good supplement to my tulips and daffodils. My mind keeps turning to hellebores – there are so many varieties that I’ve come across recently, and I’m excited to learn more about them. I’ve also had the time, this year, to research the many types of chrysanthemums, a flower that, growing up, I never appreciated (in fact I hated them). However, after eyeing tall, bright, spider-like yellow chrysanthemums growing in someone’s front yard in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, I was hooked, and this year I was able to order somewhat unusual varieties from Bluestone Perennials – a family run greenhouse based in Ohio. With names such as Chrysanthemum Cheerleader, Red Carousel, Ivory Pinwheel, and Fred Stone, I’m hoping to have quite a spectacular selection. I’ve read that, due to uncertainty of the flower market, there is a chrysanthemum scarcity this year, so I feel especially lucky to have been able to find these. (I’d love to hear from others on where they might be sourcing their chrysanthemum plugs).

The next several weeks, if not months, are going to be difficult. I have to struggle to find the silver lining during this pandemic, but when I look, I find I have many. Some days seem completely normal, others surreal. In the meantime, I’ll continue to take it day by day and hope that we can all come out of this together and with a stronger perspective on what truly matters in life.