25 Jul 2010

Floral Preservative – Don’t Skip It

Iris Abstract

[Iris Abstract]

Unless you are using primarily tropicals or orchids, one simple tip to increase fresh-cut flower longevity is using the proper portion of floral preservative and water.  Grab a few extra packets at the floral vendor.  One packet is never enough and will make a weak solution that will actually accelerate flower demise.  Typically, the packets make a half-quart solution, and your average vase is one quart in volume.  This means you will probably need at least two packets.  Look at the back of the packet, it should tell you how much volume of water to use, so take the time to pick-up enough bags of preservative to accommodate your container.  Using too little preservative is worse than using nothing at all, so if you don’t have enough preservative, it’s better to use none.  If you have extra solution, use it to top off your water level or for water changes throughout the week.

What is floral preservative and what does it do?
Floral preservative is usually a concoction of sugar, a mild acid, and an antibacterial agent or biocide. Fresh-cut flowers need acidic water, food (sugar), and the prevention of bacteria build-up (the biocide). Basically, floral preservative meets all those needs in a balanced formula and in my own home-tests, it increased vase-life by a week or more.

Making your own floral preservative solution:
Considering how convenient and full-proof it is to use commercial preservative, I really would not waste my time making a home-made preservative; but if you absolutely must, you can mix 1 part (1 can) of regular lemon-lime soda (this provides sugar and citric acid), 3 equal parts of water, and a tablespoon of bleach (the biocide).  You’ll need to scale those proportions to the volume of your container.  If the concoction only fills a quarter of your container, you can’t fill the remainder with water and expect good results because you will make a weak solution.

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23 Jul 2010

Hydrangea Color: Not Getting Purple or Blue Hydrangeas Anymore? How to Change Hydrangea Color


[Color changing hydrangea… on it’s way to fully pink.]

If you’re like me, you gleefully bought blue hydrangeas from the nursery and a year or two later found that the blooms’ color changed from blue to pink.  Your soil pH (a pH of 6. or above, usually a poorly draining, clayey-type of soil) is the cause.

So how do you get back blue hydrangea flowers?  Basically: lower the soil pH, and you’ll get the blue back.

Go to the nursery or big box hardware store, buy a soil pH kit and test your soil so you know what you’re working with.  You’re going to need to create and maintain a pH of 6.5 or lower to see blue hydrangea blooms.  A general rule to lower soil pH is to add sulfur; but in particular, aluminum sulfate has been proven to work the best in changing hydrangea color from pink to blue. (Ditch that myth about burying a rusty nail next to your plant; it’s  not going to give you results, and it is just not smart to add a such an unfriendly thing to an area where unwitting people or pets may be harmed if they encounter the nail.)

Try to isolate the soil, grow in pots or a raised bed;  using good quality potting soil, and lots of compost.  One alternative to adding alum is to add copious amount of organic matter to amend your soil. The best method for this is to create raised beds with a good quality topsoil and then to consistently amend the soil with A LOT of compost.  Adding organic matter helps lower the pH, and if you have clay soil like I do, compost has the added benefit of helping with drainage; it also helps lessen the need to fertilize.  You will not typically need to fertilize as much (if at all)
because the compost helps plants unlock the nutrients in rich clay soil.  If you are still struggling to get blue flowers, try adding alum. But before adding it, be sure you get that soil pH kit from the nursery and test your soil.   You need to know what you’re working with and have a goal. Adding too much aluminum sulfate (or alum) can be lethal and could decimate your plant, especially if it is not yet established.  Consult with a nursery professional or horticulturist if you need help figuring out how much to use for your growing situation.  Below, I tell you what worked for me.

My experience: I’ve tried changing the color two ways with plants in ground and in pots.  By far, pots were easier to maintain, and had more consistent color results.  In ground, I started with a soil pH of about 8.5 and it took about two seasons of mending to get the the pH to 6.0 using a boat load of compost.  Flower colors were varied, not uniform.  In pots, I started with a good quality potting soil, lots of compost, and added a weak solution of aluminum sulfate just before the plants begun blooming.  Soon after I saw buds, I applied another solution of alum and within one growing season, I had flowers that were turning from pink to blue:  by the next season the pot growing hydrangeas in pots were a uniform blue.  (Over the years, I’ve stopped fighting nature and let the blossoms go back to pink. Seems I’ve converted: it’s best to accept pink flowers and just let nature do its thing.)

Applying Aluminum Sulfate
Generally, you can apply aluminum sulfate once or twice during the blooming season.  Once early in spring, when you see
flower buds, but before buds break; and then again, in late summer if your cultivar is a repeat bloomer.

  1. Water your plants very well before adding alum.
  2. Thoroughly mix (dissolve) 1TB of aluminum sulphate (alum) in one gallon of water.  (Tip: use an old one gallon orange juice, milk or tea bottle so you can really shake the solution.) A one gallon solution should be enough for a mature hydrangea bush.
  3. Carefully apply your mixture to the soil at the base of the bush.  I’m not sure about any negative effects on nearby bushes, mine were planted next to coleanema and boxwood, and I saw no visible effects.  If you have a smaller, less mature bush, try a solution made from 4 cups of water to 1 teaspoon of alum.

How long will this last?
Keeping the flowers blue will depend on your situation and strength of will.  The easiest route is to grow your hydrangea plants in containers or in a raised bed. The rougher route is to leave them in the ground because you have less control over what influences your soil.  Considering that adding alum may overtime build-up to toxic levels, I wouldn’t choose it as a long-term solution.  I used it for a couple of seasons and then
eventually let nature take its course.   For the last two years, I’ve had mostly pink hydrangeas, and I’m getting used to them.

Final Words:
If you’re the contemplative kind, you might want to consider the motivation behind why you want blue colored hydrangeas and why you are going to fight nature.  Do you have something to prove about your gardening skills?  Do your neighbors only have pink and you want to be the one with blue, are you doing this because you want the rarity of the blue in your area? Or, is it for nostalgic reasons– perhaps you grew up around blue hydrangeas and can’t stand that the reality of your pink ones clashing with memories…   If you decide to use the aluminum sulfate solution, you may want to reconsider why you’d want to create bad soil by adding salt to it (essentially what you’re doing).  And, you may, like me, decide it’s not worth the the sustained effort and damage.

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20 May 2010

Letting things unfold

Crazy, windy day when I took this.  Weather patterns haven been chaotic this year: gusty cold winds a couple days, then a blazing hot day followed by a dark rainy day.  Just can’t find a rhythm to sink into.  This weeping cherry blossom tree lay dormant for a longer time than usual, blooming late.   Of course, it doesn’t think it’s late; it simply responds to what the weather dictates….

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28 Apr 2010

Bouquets de Art – A few more pictures from the 2010 show

Agave Boat:  yes, white lilies are clouds.

Like the creative use of fungi to rep the craggy mountains.

Giant allium (I think) transformed into paint splotches.  Also like the use of clear tubes to give the palette an interesting plane.  I think the floral correlate is actually more interesting than the painting!

So very well balanced and interesting Mitsumata branch.  More, images here: http://floraphilia.net/?p=294 and here: http://floraphilia.net/?p=837.

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25 Apr 2010

Bouquets de Art – San Francisco

Entryway Arrangement

I wonder when floral designers will become broadly respected and regarded more as artists.  Maybe because the trade is so locked into commercialism, it will never get the love, well, except from brides and floraphreaks.
Forgive the bad cellphone image quality in this post, just wanted to post a few pics from the 2010  Bouquets de Art exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco.
Large Composite Entryway Design[Large Composite Entryway Design]

Golden Gate Park was packed the day of the visit, and once inside the De Young, it was near impossible to get shots I wanted without being rude.  I opted to be polite and move on.  Generally, artists went for large-scale, full-on massive designs.  Architectural materials: anthurium, protea, amaryllis, and palm leaves showed up a lot and I wonder about the cost and sourcing of the materials.  When you’re trying to create a piece of art, I suppose the cost of your design should be of little concern.

Palm & Fiddleheads Design[Palm & Fiddleheads Design]
Detail of of pleated palm leaves
[Detail of layered palm leaves]

The cellphone camera couldn’t cope with the poor light issues in the image below but, I love the minimalism and constructivism too much to exclude it from the post.  Choosing hard, metallic materials to emulate the waves is most striking.  The painting correlate is by Arthur Dove, “Sea Gull Motive (Sea Thunder or The Wave).”  If interested in learning more about the painting, there’s a fascinating blog post about the vertical orientation of this painting at a blog called art fever: http://artfever.blogspot.com/2007/03/de-young-museum-installation-error.html

Design inspired by Arthur Dove painting in background
[Design inspired by Arthur Dove painting in background]

Below, rolled ti leaves at the base pick-up the billowing forms and provide a nice contrast in textures to the rock materials.

Detail of black and white design.[Detail of above design.  Rolled black ti leaves, lava rocks, and slate “container.”]

More from the exhibit here:  http://floraphilia.net/?p=837 and here: http://floraphilia.net/?p=306.

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03 Oct 2009


Aquilegia Columbine

Re-sprung after two days of cold heavy rains.

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08 Sep 2009

Calla Line

If given only one choice of flower to shoot, it would be hands down, some form of calla.

I’d like to do a reshoot, but may have to wait another year; even then, I’m not sure I’ll ever find this kind of line again.

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01 Sep 2009

Iris at the Best Time of Day

Evening sun backlights the pale lavender falls of an Iris that was purchased last spring at a floral market. I think I had this in an arragement with fuschia dendrobiums, palm fronds and monstera leaves.

If you’re into irises, check out flickr’s iris cluster:


or the American Iris Society pix:


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31 Aug 2009

Outside Lands & Callas

Definitively: the Calla is the floral shape of sound.

SF’s Outside Lands needed flowers, needed in-and-out privileges (confinement is always bad) and shady, smoke-free places to sit and eat. Oh, and uh, some quiet places to veg. Strangely, going to a music festival made me want a quiet place: after a couple of hours you get beat-down by the sun, the peace pipers, the sweaty smelly throngs.

31 Aug 2009


To be, to have, to want….
Poppy captured at night

19 Mar 2009

For Flora Lau

for Anaïs, metaphor, Li-Young Lee, Faulkner, Alan Williamson, Louise Glück, Duras, Tori…

18 Mar 2009

Dark Shadows

Perhaps a little unbalanced, shadow heavy; yet if you squint, light saturates.
orange ranunculus

"Proceed from the dream outward." (Anaïs Nin / Carl Jung.)

27 Oct 2008

Apple Blossom Camellia

Camellia sasanqua. ‘Apple Blossom’

From my mother’s garden.  Image is close to life-size, about that of an average woman’s palm.  I was surprised to see she had replaced rose bushes with a whole new collection of camellias in her front side yard.  All the new bushes and trees of the same variety were loaded with dozens of buds, blossoms.  Each has the fragrance of a fine tea and finishes with a hint of faded jasmine.  My good luck: she gave me two tiny saplings she had come across by chance.  I’m so excited to see what comes!

21 Oct 2008

Peony Glow

From a cutting, with a wilted, floppy head. There’s nothing worse than waking to wilted peonies the morning you are to use them in an arrangement. The house heat (around 80 degrees F the night before) and probably poor conditioning did this particular flower in. You’re looking at the outer layers of a bomb type peony. I think it could have been a ‘Moonstone’ cultivar as it was pale pink on the outside and creamy white inside.

Another cause to the problem may have been that the night before, I had removed most all the leaves since I detected black spots and feared fungus would spread. If using peony in an arrangement, you should not remove all the leaves. Any leaves not in water should be left in tact because they will continue to feed the flower and enable the petals to develop color as the flower opens. I still needed the flower for mass, so to support the large wobbly head, I wired and taped it the way you would for a corsage, then placed the stem centrally within a large bouquet. The tight, layered center concealed the wire perfectly.

17 Oct 2008

A cup by which to receive

Peony… Enjoy your Sunday!