Love Is in Bloom
Discover the joys of a garden of flowers meant to be cut and welcomed indoors
Ah, June … the height of the garden season and wedding season, when all the world seems to blossom. And who doesn’t love flowers? According to a Rutgers University study, a gift of flowers is universally received with a genuine smile. So perhaps we should all spend more time cultivating happiness by cultivating flowers. As love and luck would have it, June is the perfect time to get started with a flower garden.
Growing a Cutting Garden
Most suburban gardeners incorporate flowering plants in the landscape, whether annuals, perennials or ornamental shrubs, but not as many devote a special space to growing flowers intended to harvest for floral arrangements to bring indoors. According to area experts, cutting gardens don’t require too much trouble or expense to produce a beautiful crop.
Richard Hentschel, horticulture educator for University of Illinois Extension in St. Charles says, “Any soil where you can grow a vegetable will make plants strong and healthy and produce a lot of flowers.” That means a spot that receives full sun (six hours or more) and is well drained with a “good level of organic matter, such as compost or peat moss.” While you could devote an entire garden bed to flowers for cutting, it isn’t absolutely necessary. “You can actually grow flowers right in your vegetable garden. You don’t have to have a special bed,” says Hentschel. He suggests planting a row of flowers to brighten the vegetable garden and staggering the time of planting so that the flowers keep coming.
“The easiest thing is to start seeds of annual flowers like zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos,” advises Candice Hart, also a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension. “Plant seeds right in the ground. They germinate fast and you can keep cutting all season long.” She favors using raised beds for flowers in her own garden, but says you can just devote a container to cut flowers, if space is an issue. In fact, seeds are the best way to grow annual flowers for cutting because they cost so much less than potted plants.
Choosing What to Grow
Horticulturist Nina Koziol, who teaches gardening classes at the Morton Arboretum and the Chicago Botanic Garden, says that just about everything in your garden can be cut and brought indoors to turn into a floral arrangement. She plants for a harvest that lasts all the way from early spring with its bulbs and flowering branches through late summer and fall with perennial flowers such as asters. For flowers intended for indoor arrangements, she shares a list of favorites, including prairie flowers such as liatris and purple coneflowers. “Everybody loves sunflowers and it costs $3 for a big package of seeds,” she adds.
To harvest cut flowers for maximum freshness, Koziol recommends taking a bucket of water outside so you can put the cut flowers and foliage into water immediately. In her own home, she usually has a bouquet from her garden at all times, such as sprigs of lavender in a small ceramic vase. “I use a lot of herbs in my arrangements,” she relates. “Dill and fennel blossoms are beautiful.” Hosta leaves and ferns often serve as a base for larger arrangements. If you don’t have your own flowers growing, Koziol suggests buying a bunch of flowers at the farmers market or flower shop and augment the bouquet with foliage from your garden. Flowers, she says, “make it so much more welcoming in the house.”
Heidi Ong, who owns Petals Farm with her husband, grows two fields of organic flowers — one on a five-acre farm in downtown Huntley and the other on the 24-acre family farm outside of town. At the Oak Park Farmers Market, suburban gardeners often ask her for tips on how to grow the flowers she sells there. Among the most popular varieties are peonies in spring and hydrangeas in late summer. She likes to combine Limelight and Tardiva hydrangeas in a bouquet. Also favored by suburban buyers are sunflowers, larkspur, zinnias, and dahlias, the latter of which come in pompom, decorative and dinner plate varieties. She sells bunches of individual flowers as well as bouquets made on the spot.
In case you have wondered just how fresh those flowers at the market might be, Ong says, “We pick them the day before, bunch them up and put them in the cooler at about 4 p.m. We start loading things up at 3 a.m.” She notes that the freshness of locally grown flowers means they should last a long time in a vase.
Designing with Flowers
If you are inspired to try your own hand at flower arranging, Hart says the easiest way to start is with a hand-tied bouquet that you create outdoors while picking flowers and foliage from your garden. “Gather a bouquet in your hands, cut the stems and drop it in a vase, as opposed to creating something in a vase,” she advises.
For more elaborate arrangements to use in your home, area florists make designs to order. At Phillip’s Flowers & Gifts in Hinsdale, store manager Allison Kapa observes that their clients’ design preferences depend on where they live. “In the Hinsdale area, they appreciate the lower style of arrangements . . . in cylinder vases or boxes,” she says. “Other areas want tall and airy styles.”
The trend in flowers for home arrangements mirrors that of interior design, says Kapa. “The color trend is leaning more neutral — peaches, blues, greys, whites, and yellows — for the interior of homes, as well as all white or all whites and greens.”
To keep floral arrangements fresh, Kapa recommends preparing your vase or container in advance with floral preservative packets and water. Then cut off any foliage that will be below the water line and give flower stems a fresh cut before placing them in the container. Change the water every few days to keep bacteria growth down and flowers looking fresh.
Among her personal favorite flowers are hydrangeas and roses, along with snapdragons and larkspur “to give height to the arrangement.”
At Andrew’s Garden in Wheaton, owner Andrew Parravano, who was trained in landscape design, finds his inspiration for floral design in the garden itself, especially the style of English cottage gardens. “The flower beds themselves are very structured, but within that structure, it’s very loose. Flowers form their own boundary,” he explains. In floral arrangements, Parravano uses multiple layers, based on “how the colors and textures play off each other.” He sees a trend away from the traditional florist flowers like carnations and hybrid tea roses of the last 30 to 40 years to more “garden variety” flowers like coneflowers, black eyed susans and lilacs.
Parravano personally selects all of the flowers, which are displayed in abundance throughout the store, European style, rather than in the coolers found in most American shops.
Parravano offers regular floral arranging workshops for novices, including one coming up on June 21 called Summer in Your Own Vase, where you can bring your own container and fill it with flowers under his tutelage. Private floral design parties are offered for small groups as well so you can share your love of flowers with friends.
Smitten by Flowers
You might say that the family passion for flowers started in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and has come full circle.
Flower farmer Heidi Ong is the daughter of parents who grew up in Logan Square and later moved to the country, buying a farm in Huntley, where she grew up. When Heidi went away to college, her mother developed an interest in flower gardening, took horticulture classes at College of DuPage and started growing flowers.
Her hobby soon turned into a small business, selling to local farmers markets. Heidi caught the love for both flowers and farmers markets, as she helped her mother, but pursued a career in state government. After her daughter was born, and, as she puts it, “9/11 happened,” her thoughts turned to finding a new career path. She and her husband decided to try to grow her mother’s startup into a bigger business that would support their family. Ong says, “We wanted to live a simple, happy life.”
They bought their five-acre, in-town farm in Huntley and started there. As the business grew, they expanded their flower fields to her family’s original 24-acre farm. Sadly, her mother passed away three years ago, but her father is a partner in the business and her brother and sister-in-law help out, too. Ong sells her flowers at farmers markets in Oak Park and in Chicago at the Green City Market, Wicker Park and, quite naturally, Logan Square. “We like a family member to be at any of the markets,” she explains. “Customers want to know the farmer.” Flowers are also available by order through Petals Farm.
“I just love being out in the field,” she says of her life as a flower farmer. As for her product, “Flowers just seem to bring some sort of peace of mind.”Edit Module