I have been a huge fan of Magnolia Journal since the inaugural issue. Like every project Chip and Joanna Gaines touches, the magazine is beautifully designed and every detail is thoughtfully and creatively executed. It is, hands down, the best magazine being produced today. Even though I have a subscription, I inevitably buy an extra copy at the supermarket just so I can rip out pages and tack them to my vision board.
I treasure those quiet moments when I am able to curl up on the couch after a long day and read the magazine cover to cover. Flipping through the pages always leaves me inspired and hopeful for our new farmhouse and barn. While “Big Brown,” the late-70’s era split level house that serves as our office and shipping hub, looks and feels very 80’s and the barn is a bit rough around the edges, I have a vision of what it could be someday. And many of those visions have been inspired by Magnolia.
Woven throughout the new summer issue are stories about living a life of curiosity and reflect what Joanna Gaines describes as a “deep desire to know.” One of the articles features Floret! The story outlines how my own curiosity has fueled Floret’s work to help other flower lovers “grow gardens, market businesses and tell their own stories.” It is such an honor to have our little flower farm featured among its pages.
After doing numerous interviews over the years, my conversation with Magnolia Journal writer Sarah Wolf was one of the best interview experiences I’ve ever had. Sarah asked thoughtful, original and meaningful questions. I appreciated the fact that they weren’t questions I typically get from most journalists. From the first contact with the magazine, to the final fact checking of the story, the Magnolia team was phenomenal. It definitely made me appreciate and love the magazine that much more.
If you’ve discovered Floret via Magnolia Journal: welcome! I’m so delighted you are here. Be sure to read Our Story, check out the Resources we’ve created to help you grow an abundant cut flower garden and be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
I’ll periodically send you some of my tried-and-true tips for growing great cut flowers, plus you’ll be the first to find out about our upcoming free mini courses and newest products in the Floret Shop. A few times a year we offer limited quantities of specialty items such as tulip bulbs and dahlia tubers. These treasures always sell out fast, so you’ll want to be on the mailing list to learn when we offer them.
Thanks for joining me on this flower-filled journey! Check out other major media about local flowers including a prime time ABC news feature, plus articles in Romantic Homes, and Elle Decor. The press is picking up on something I have known for a very long time – that local flowers have an interesting and beautiful story. And the heart of the story is the hardworking flower farmers and seasonally-based floral designers who are cultivating beauty all over the world. What a joy it is to watch the love for local flowers continue to spread far and wide.
May is here, which means Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Here’s a little roundup of some fun flower-themed gift ideas for your mom, mother-in-law or other special ladies in your life:
Flowers from your garden: Nothing tops a vase full of freshly picked blooms from your garden. Even though I’m surrounded by flowers all day, I still love it when my kids pick and arrange flowers just for me, especially on Mother’s Day. The wild, weedy bouquets they made when they were small have evolved as they’ve grown. Their creations now reflect their own unique personalities in so many subtle, wonderful ways. Thankfully my mom feels the same way. I try to bring her buckets of blooms every time we visit, but always create an extra special bouquet for her on Mother’s Day.
A bouquet or flower subscription from local farms: If more than a few miles separate you from your mom, consider connecting with a local flower farm or floral designer in her region who specializes in seasonal flowers. Look for local flowers via Floret’s Farmer-Florist Collective our online directory that now includes more than 700 listings. Many flower farms offer a bouquet subscription program, which is a wonderful way to shower your mom with beauty not just on Mother’s Day, but all summer long. Similar to a CSA (community supported agriculture) program offered by vegetable farmers, bouquet share/flower CSA programs provide a weekly mixed bouquet or straight bunch of seasonal blooms. Subscription rates and dates vary by region, but most run June through September.
For example, Bochner Farms in central Iowa is offering special Mother’s Day pricing for their seasonal bouquet subscriptions. Plus each purchase supports their GivingColor initiative which provides meals to needy families through the organization Meals from the Heartland. In describing the philanthropic part of the business, farmer-florist Lori Bochner explained, “We believe flowers feed the soul, so why shouldn’t they feed the world, too?” I am so inspired by this and so many other flower farms that give back to their local community or include some sort of philanthropic angle to their business. This confirms once again that flower farmers are some of the kindest, most giving people around.
Deluxe Mother’s Day Gift Set: Now through May 8th order a special limited edition Floret gift set which includes a signed copy of Cut Flower Garden, a 3-pack of our brand new, adorable notebooks plus 4 FREE packets of Floret seeds.
Flower Events & Experiences: Look for local flower farms that may be offering special flower-themed events, workshops and unique on-farm experiences. For example, outside of Austin, Petals, Ink. is hosting a special Mother’s Day event on May 12th where moms and wee ones can have their portraits taken together by a professional photographer in the farm’s wildflower field. The experience also includes opportunities to create flower crafts together, visit with the farm’s adorable donkeys, plus take home a special bouquet. I totally would sign up if I lived closer.
Here’s another fun flower event: In Westport, Connecticut, Muddy Feet Flower Farm is hosting a mother-daughter flower happy hour workshop on Friday, May 11th. Plus, bouquets will be available for purchase at a special pop-up shop in the Anthropologie store that afternoon.
Spring has sprung here at Floret and the harvest of late daffodils and early tulips is in full swing. After so many gray winter months, it is invigorating to be surrounded with so much vibrant color.
Inside, my desk is currently covered with tattered seed catalogs, spiral-bound notebooks filled with field notes and an ever-growing stack of books. The book pile has grown considerably in the last month as I eagerly collect all the new releases of flower and garden books.
Even though so much of our business has moved online, I’m still very much a paper kind of person. I love the ritual of writing notes and lists on paper and holding a real book in my hands. When the kids were younger, we would regularly max out the book check-out limit at the local library. Before I could find quick answers on message boards and Instagram, my go-to source for garden-related information was always the library.
After writing Cut Flower Garden, I gained an even deeper appreciation for books. I now look at them with a totally different lens. I appreciate how much thought and effort go into each paragraph and photograph. I notice how many little details that I never would have before, like the way book chapters are organized and how page layouts are constructed.
I am regularly filling my Amazon cart with the latest flower and garden-related books. My latest shipment included a treasure trove of beautiful new titles including:
The Art of Flora Foragerby Bridget Beth Collins: From the touching dedication on the first page, to the final step-by-step peek at her creative process and every original imaginative piece of artwork in between, this book is a sheer delight. Every time I flip through the pages, I notice yet another delicate detail of the flowers, leaf and fungi used to create her gorgeous artwork. A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to meet the delightful Bridget Beth in person, interview her for the Floret Blog [read the interview here] and provide buckets of blooms for her to play with. Appealing to a wide spectrum of ages, this book is a follow up to Bridget Beth’s adorable journal and a prelude to a new Flora Forager journal and notecard set. I can’t say enough good things about this sweet little book.
Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bountyby Lisa Mason Ziegler: If avid vegetable gardeners aren’t already convinced they should tuck a few flowers in with their tomatoes, peppers and beans, then this book should definitely do it. Authored by fellow small-scale flower farmer Lisa Mason Ziegler this book dives deep into the benefits of planting flowers alongside your favorite garden vegetables. The book’s emphasis on beneficial insects, pollinators and organic practices is persuasive and super approachable. Her previous book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques, introduced innovative growing techniques and transformed the way thousands of flower gardeners grow hardy annual flowers; her newest book is sure to do the same for veggie gardeners.
Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering and Enjoyingby Martha Stewart and Kevin Sharkey: What I like about this book is the mix of practical growing advice combined with really pretty design ideas using vessels as varied as simple glass bottles to elaborate urns and artisan-made pottery. I recognized many of the images from past magazine articles, but even die-hard fans and readers will find a nugget of new information or inspiration from Martha’s impeccably manicured cutting gardens.
The Fine Art of Paper Flowers: A Guide to Making Beautiful and Lifelike Botanicals by Tiffanie Turner: If you want to take your flower obsession to the next level or simply need help getting through another cold and gray winter, be sure to check out this incredible book. Beautifully photographed and thoughtfully designed, each page will make you do a double take, as the flowers look unbelievably real. This is a fun book to flip through regardless of whether you want to try your hand at creating one of these intricate flower crafts. Hands down, my favorite book this year!
The Flower Book by Rachel Siegfried: Written bythe U.K. farmer-florist behind Green and Gorgeous, this book, released within the last year is big. Like, really big! It is 10 x 12 inches (25 x 30 cm) and 3.8 pounds (1.7 kilos) and makes most of the other new releases look and feel small. This coffee table book is filled with extra large, detailed photo profiles and quick tips for post-harvest care of cut flower garden favorites. This book is a real treasure.
After a long day of both harvesting and planting, I look forward to collapsing on the couch and curling up with a good book to unwind. I can’t wait to dig into these beautiful new books over the next few weeks. How about you? Do you have any new (or not so new) garden or flower books you’ve been reading lately? I’d love to know in the comments below.
Skagit Valley’s famed tulip fields are about to burst into a rainbow of color all around the valley. Every year over a million people from around the world flock to this region to witness the beauty and take part in the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
If you ever have the opportunity to experience this incredible show firsthand, you won’t be disappointed. If you want to make a day of it, I suggest that you come on a weekday, enjoy a farm to table lunch in the shade of Washington’s oldest beech tree at Seeds Bistro in La Conner, set aside a couple of hours to check out the hellebores, garden roses and other amazing plant offerings at Christianson’s Nursery & Greenhouse and then pop into either the Red Door Antique Mall and Snow Goose Produce on your way out of town.
Here on the farm, our own little flower festival is underway. The daffodils are putting on a spectacular show and our tulips aren’t far behind. We planted 100 new trial varieties last fall, so the next few weeks will be filled with lots of note and photo taking as we narrow down the list of top performing favorites.
After many months of gray winter days, seeing the cheery creamy white and yellow blooms are always a welcome sign of spring.
Yet, when you say daffodil in relation to floral or landscape design, some people cringe. Perhaps it is because they can only envision big, bright yellow trumpet bells. But trust me, there is a world of beauty beyond the common cultivars like King Alfred. Daffodils come in so many incredible shapes, forms, scents and sizes.
Narcissus and daffodils are such great flowers because they are easy to grow, will thrive in either sun or part shade, can bloom for many years and can multiply. As an added bonus, deer (and most other varmints) will steer clear of them, which is a huge consideration for many gardeners. These hardy, reliable blooms are a staple of the early spring cut flower garden.
To celebrate the official start of spring, I thought I’d share a little step-by-step photo tutorial for creating a simple tablescape featuring daffodils, tulips and other spring blooms from the garden. For this particular project, I created one medium-sized bouquet for the center of the display and combined it with a collection of mixed apothecary bottles with blooms at varying heights on either side of it.
To make this simple spring display, I gathered up some pretty creamy yellow double tulips, three different varieties of daffodils, a few stems of fragrant lilacs, some buttery primroses, a couple of handfuls of cute grape hyacinths, and some wild garden greens.
Note: Daffodils emit a clear, slimy sap after being harvested. Prior to using fresh-picked daffodils in mixed bouquets with other flowers, it is best to “condition” the daffodils first. Simply place daffodils in a separate vase with cool, clean water to allow the sap to flow. The sap can negatively impact the vase life of other flowers, so allowing time for them to sit in water separately is essential. After a 2-3 hour rest, daffodils can be combined with other flowers, but don’t recut the stem ends as the sap will just start flowing again.
Start by adding greens around the neck of a small vase and then a few more stems in the center. Next, place a few stems of lilacs in amongst the greens, leaving room to thread in other flowers in between them.
On either side of the bouquet, nestle in some large double flowered tulips, clustering them together for the most visual impact. Lastly, place primroses and daffodils into any empty areas.
Finally, place a handful of petite grape hyacinths into short, wider-mouth vases. Add single stems of daffodils, cut to varying heights, into the narrow-necked apothecary bottles. Grouped together with the centerpiece, these cheerful blooms are sure to brighten up your brunch table or Easter celebration. Enjoy!
It’s hard to believe that a whole year has already flown by, but at the same time it seems like just yesterday that I was signing the mountain of advanced copies in our garage.So many wonderful things have happened in the last year and the book was a big part of it all. To celebrate the 1 year anniversary of the book release, we’re throwing a little party here on the blog. I’m taking a look back at the past year, giving away some Cut Flower Garden goodies and giving thanks to the many people who helped make the book possible.
First, let me share a fun little infographic summarizing some of the incredible statistics related to the book:
I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to see that the book has been translated into German and to learn that a Korean and Russian version are in the works too. And it’s incredible to see the many far-flung places across the globe that this little book has traveled. That’s all thanks to you and this amazing international seasonal flower community!
The book also inspired an entire line of Cut Flower Garden gifts created in partnership with our publisher, Chronicle Books. Known as ancillary products in the publishing world, this beautiful collection of paper goods includes a daily planner, a wall calendar, a 3- pack of notebooks, notecards, an inspiration journal and even a fancy puzzle.
Longtime blog readers will likely remember that we decided to pursue a somewhat nontraditional route for promoting the book. That was not always the plan though. The Floret Team and I originally had cooked up the crazy idea of loading everyone up in the camper (including Jill and Susan’s toddlers) to do a wild cross-country book tour.
We were going to turn our RV into a bookmobile on wheels. We even got the washi tape out and a plotted our course on a map, and planned to visit a ton of flower friends along the way.
Reality soon set in and we realized that there was no way we could pull that crazy idea off. So we scrapped our original plan and came up with a new plan that some people thought was even crazier: a book promotion tour…but without actually going anywhere. We focused the bulk of our marketing efforts on pre-release promotions.
Then, once the book was released, we launched a “virtual book tour,” and didn’t do a single in-person promotional event. Incredibly, and thankfully, our strategy worked! In fact, it was so successful, that our publisher has used it as case study.
Looking back, the entire process of creating the book was such a roller coaster of emotions.
There were so many highs. Like, the initial euphoria of inking the book deal with Chronicle Books. The excitementwhen ordering thousands of bulbs to grow exclusively for the book. The relief when turning in the final manuscript. The joy in holding the book in my hands for the first time. The excitement upon learning that the book had most pre-orders of any book, of any genre in Chronicle’s history. The thrill of seeing the book on the shelf of local bookstores. And the surprise when it was listed as a top seller on Amazon in the garden book category.
But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t quite a few lows too. Like, the dread of spending a beautiful day in front of the computer rather than in the garden. The fatigue and sleep deprivation during big editing deadlines. The frustration when Amazon displayed the book as backordered the day it was released because they didn’t order enough copies. Writing, planning, producing, editing and promoting the book was such a massive and difficult undertaking. But in the end, all of the late nights and 4 a.m. wake up calls were totally and absolutely worth it. No question.
But the most rewarding part of it all is learning that the book has inspired so many people around the world to get their hands in the dirt, plant more flowers and cultivate more beauty in their lives. I love hearing how the book prompted readers to grow cosmos for the first time or to try their hand at arranging summer blooms for party or to bring a little nature indoors to enjoy with friends and family.
A huge thanks to all of the independent book stores, garden shops and libraries for making this book available to local communities. Thanks especially to all who sent kind words, posted heartfelt reviews, shared personal stories, tagged #floretbook on Instagram and simply sent virtual high fives. Your enthusiastic support truly means the world to me.
In celebration of the 1 year anniversary around the farm and Shop, here’s what we’re doing:
All copies of Cut Flower Garden sold via the Floret Shop this week will receive 5 free packets of seeds plus a special surprise! To get the extra goodies, orders must be placed by Friday March 9th.
We’re also giving away three goodie boxes filled with Cut Flower Garden treats including a signed copy of the book, a deluxe assortment of Floret seeds, our brand new 3-pack of Cut Flower Garden notebooks (one is lined, one has graph paper, and one has blank sheets) plus lots of other surprises. To enter, simply leave a comment below. In your comment, share your all time favorite flower. We’ll randomly choose three winners next Sunday and announce them here.
Thank you for your steadfast support and for joining me in this celebration!
The days are finally getting noticeably longer and the change in seasons is on the horizon. I’ve had a terrible case of spring fever this year after spending the winter dreaming and scheming about all the possibilities for the acreage on our new farm.
On a recent morning walk around the property I spotted a few brave blooms pushing up through the cold earth: my treasured hellebores! As some of the very first perennials to bloom in my cut flower garden, they are always joyful sight and a sure sign that spring is on the way.
For years, come mid winter, all of my gardening friends would be crawling around in their flower beds, heads cocked to the sky, admiring the pretty nodding flower of their prized hellebores. I would usually get down in the mud too and halfheartedly admire the crop. But for some reason, they just didn’t have the same effect on me that they did other gardeners.
That was until I started growing my own. Now every winter you’ll find me crawling around like a fool in my shade garden, oohing and aahing over the delicate nodding blossoms too. If we have company, I’ll make them get down low and experience the magic with me. Then I’ll hack off a handful of flowering stems and send them home a big ole bouquet. I admit, I was late to join what I call the Hellebore Appreciation Society. Are you a member yet?
Hellebores, also commonly called lenten rose, are super easy to grow and extremely long-lived. These little beauties bloom from mid to late winter all the way through early summer. Hellebores come in a gorgeous array of colors in array of shades including pink, mauve, an almost-black burgundy, green, buttery yellow and creamy whites. Some of my favorites include those frilly double and those with delicately freckled blooms.
These perennial plants prefer well-drained, rich, organic soil. Hellebores thrive in the shade, making them a great choice if your garden doesn’t have full sun. Their rough, serrated leaves also make them resistant to deer and other critters. Hellebores take a few years to become established, so don’t plan on harvesting a lot of blooms the first year or two.
You can sometimes find hellebores at garden centers, but expect to pay premium prices. Most varieties will reseed, but since they are hybrids, you never know what you’ll get. Barry Glick (aka the Hellebore King) at Sunshine Farm & Gardens is a great source for hard-to-find hellebores.
Years ago I planted 50 baby hellebores on the north side of our greenhouses. It’s the perfect shady spot, protected from harsh wind and temperature extremes.
Each winter, before the flowers emerge I spread a thick layer of compost around the plants as an amendment. It also doubles as mulch, keeping weeds down for the remainder of the year. When new growth starts to emerge in mid winter, I go through and remove all of the tattered, ugly leaves so that floral display is more visible.
The number one question I get asked by flower lovers and designers, is how to get the blooms to last longer in the vase. Have you ever cut a handful of near perfect blossoms, brought them inside where they looked amazing, only to find them completely wilted and dead the next morning?
Well, here’s the secret for getting your cut hellebores to last in the vase: it’s all about practicing patience and harvesting them at the proper stage. I know this is hard! Trust me, I’ve broken this rule a lot, but every time I harvest them too early, the beautiful flowers rarely last more than a day. If you can just wait a little longer you be handsomely rewarded with long lasting cut flowers.
The key to telling a ripe hellebore from an unripe one is by checking the center of the flower. You’re looking for blooms that have dropped their stamens and started to produce seed pods. The more developed the seed pod, the longer the flower will hold.
You see the blossoms on the left side of the photo above? Those guys are “ripe” and the flowers on the right are not. I know, the ones on the right are prettier; but don’t be fooled, they won’t last like you think the will. The next two images show more examples of blooms at the proper stage for cutting.
I’ve heard from so many florists that the cut stems they get from their wholesalers are almost always unripe. Many have reported that they’ve had the flowers crash more often than not, and no longer want to use them in arrangements because they are too nervous.
Meanwhile, some farmer-florists swear by a method of post-harvest care for unripe flowers that involves cutting a long, shallow slit along two sides of the stem. Have you tried this method or do you have any special tips or tricks that you use to lengthen the vase life? Have a favorite hellebore cultivar I should add to my garden? I’d sure love to hear your experience with this flower in the comments below.
Earlier this week, I shared a newly expanded list of my top DO’s and DON’Ts when it comes to starting seeds. Today I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite hardy annual flowers that can be sown early inside to get a jump start on the growing season.
Among the many other benefits of transplanting plants that you started from seed indoors (versus direct seeding in your garden or field) is that it enables you to transplant strong, healthy plants exactly where you want them. Plus, established plants generally experience less pressure from weeds and pests.
If you have access to a greenhouse or an indoor space where you can rig-up some simple grow lights, there are a number of flowers that you can start indoors. For many varieties, you won’t want to start seeds until 6-8 weeks prior to your last frost. (If you are not sure of your area’s frost-free dates, you can enter your zip on Dave’s Garden site which will provide you with an estimate).
There are a number of hardy annual flowers, however, that you can start indoors even earlier, which is great for gardeners itching to get their hands back in the dirt this time of year. Hardy annuals (also called cool season or cold tolerant flowers) generally prefer cooler growing conditions and young plants can tolerate a light frost. Most can be transplanted prior to your last frost, typically as soon as the ground can be worked. Just don’t forget to harden-off your baby plants prior to transplanting.
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella papillosa): This versatile plant produces both beautiful flowers and unusual pods. Designers drool over the the black pods while I adore the green in mixed bouquets and arrangements. Pods can also be dried and look lovely in fall bouquets. Nigella seeds are most often direct seeded, as they dislike having their roots disturbed, but they can be started early indoors and carefully transplanted into your garden. Because their bloom window is relatively short, I recommend multiple succession sowings of these beauties. A few of my favorites are ‘African bride’ and ‘Cramer’s Plum’ and my Starry Night custom blend (pictured above). Another must-have for the cut flower garden is ‘Transformer’ which features airy, wispy foliage and small, golden yellow flowers.
Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis): Each and every Bells of Ireland plant churns out masses of beautiful, fragrant stems that make bouquets look lush and vibrant. Bells of Ireland seeds have a reputation for being hard to germinate, but the key is providing a cold treatment. To grow, we pre-chill the seed in the freezer or put freshly sowed trays outside for a few weeks before returning them to the heat. I know some growers that have great success starting their Bells of Ireland by first placing their seeds on moistened paper towel in a ziplock bag and then they stick the seeds in the refrigerator for a few weeks before sowing them in trays. Whichever method you choose, germination can sometimes be slow and erratic, so be patient.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus): For many years we would thousands of snapdragons for natural grocery stores and sell every useable stem in the patch! Madame Butterfly snapdragons are among my favorites. This gorgeous group of ruffled butterfly-type blooms is one of our most requested and best loved crops of the summer! Our buyers would always jump up and down clapping when the first bunches were delivered.
Snapdragon seeds are pretty easy to germinate and grow, but be forewarned: the seeds are teeny tiny and can make you feel like you are going crosseyed. Sowing them takes a steady hand and a bit of patience, but it is totally worth it when you see the pretty blooms later in the season. Be sure to barely cover them and water them from the bottom (see our Seed Starting 101 photo tutorial for more details) until they are big enough to withstand a heavier overhead drink.
Sweet Peas: These sweet little blooms hold a huge space in my heart and an even bigger space in my garden. My longtime favorites have been ‘Nimbus,’ ‘Mollie Rilstone’ and ‘Erewhon’ (pictured above). After recently expanding our line of specialty sweet pea seeds, my favorites list has grown considerably. New cultivars that stole my heart include ‘Mr. P ‘, ‘Promise’ and ‘Sir Jimmy Shand‘. A while back I wrote an in-depth Sweet Pea Roundup post with tons of information on how to grow sweet peas, so be sure to read it for some serious sweet pea inspiration.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea): My two favorite foxgloves are Camelot Cream and Dalmation Peach and unlike biennials, these two cultivars will bloom without any cold which means they can be grown as an annual. Like snapdragons, foxglove seeds are tiny and can be washed away easily, so be sure to plant in pre-moistened seed starting or potting mix or bottom water to protect this precious seed.
Dusty Miller (Cineraria maritima): One of the most productive and unique foliage plants around, this special Dusty Miller features tall, thick stems with large, smooth-edged silver leaves. Seed is sometimes slow to start; bottom watering is recommended until plants emerge. Seedlings do not look silver when very young but color up as they mature.
Iceland Poppies (Papaver nudicaule): The brilliant silk-like petals and citrusy scent of these beauties are intoxicating and they add a romantic element to any bouquet. There are lots of poppies to choose from, but some of my favorites include Champagne Bubbles, and Sherbet Mix. Poppy seed is tiny and can be washed away easily, so be sure to plant in pre-moistened seed starting or potting mix and bottom water rather than overhead water to protect this precious seed from being washed away.
Chinese forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum amabile): This unique crop is worth considering both because of their delicate flowers and the fact that they can be successfully grown as annuals. Best known for their blue hue (like ‘Blue Showers’, above left) they also come in a lovely soft pink color,(‘Mystic Pink’, above right). Be sure to get new seed every year since freshness is vital to good germination with this crop. Also, sow twice as many as you’ll need because germination can be quite irregular. Read my past Flower Focus post on this great flower.
Larkspur: This is of the easiest hardy annual varieties to start from seed. I particularly love ‘Earl Gray’ and our new Summer Skies Mix, a Floret custom color blend. Last summer I fell in love with Larkspur ‘Smokey Eyes‘ (pictured above) which has icy pale lavender petals delicately edged with green. I generally direct seed it into the field in the fall and then follow with two rounds of transplants that I start indoors, one in late winter and then one in early spring.
Dianthus: This workhorse of the garden is such an import crop for us that while it isn’t a personal favorite (too bright!) I still plant and pick row after row all season long. The Dianthus ‘Amazon’ and the ‘Sweet’ series are both consistent performers with great stem length and nice sized blooms. Unlike biennial Dianthus, neither require cold temps to set flowers so they can be grown as annuals.
Stock (Matthiola incana): One stem of stock in a bouquet provides a delicious spicy scent that will stop hurried customers dead in their tracks. Stock comes in a wide range of colors and will withstand cold temperatures, making them a great choice for late winter seed starting, even in cooler climates. This is a great flower for small scale flower farmers with season extension structures such as a hoophouse, high tunnel or caterpillar tunnel. Because stock blooms early in a protected structure, it can greatly expand your spring sales window. Stock comes in a wide range of colors, but my favorites include ‘Apricot‘ and ‘Malmaison Pink’.
Bachelor’s Buttons (Centaurea cyanus):I have a love-hate relationship with these guys. I love their pretty wildflower blooms in early summer bouquets but I confess that I really hate picking them. I love them. I hate them. Then I love them again because they bloom when most of the rest of the field is still bare. No cutting garden is complete without at least a little patch of Bachelor’s Buttons, especially ‘Classic Fantastic’ or ‘Classic Magic.’
In you live in a mild climate, many hardy annuals can be direct sown in the garden in late summer/early fall, typically 6-8 weeks prior to your first frost. The plant will form foliage that will overwinter and then send up flower spikes in the spring and bloom much earlier than tender annuals. If you live in a cold climate and have limited space to start seeds indoors, I recommend learning more about winter sowing techniques.
If you love hardy annuals, be sure to snag one of our special Hardy Annual Seed Collections available exclusively in the Floret Shop (but hurry–there are only a few left!). This special collection is packaged in a cute reusable gift tin and includes a great grouping of six easy-to-grow cool summer annuals.
Whether you are ready to start seeding today, or simply looking for inspiration to round out your seed order, be sure to add a few of these favorites into your fields and cutting gardens. After the dark gray days of winter, your spring harvest of beautiful, bountiful blooms will be that much sweeter!
Every year around mid February, I am ready for winter to be over and I yearn to get my hands dirty and to dig in the soil again. While most of the field work is still several weeks away, there is plenty to do in preparation for the season ahead. First and foremost on the late winter to-do list: sow seeds.
Starting your own seeds is a great way to get a jump on the season. It also gives you access to hundreds of specialty flowers that you won’t find at your local nursery or big box store. Plus, it is the most affordable way to fill a cutting garden fast.
I start roughly 90 percent of my seeds inside the greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse, don’t worry. A simple wire racking system rigged with lights will work just fine. The first few years I grew flowers, I didn’t have a greenhouse and I started all of my seeds in the basement, on shelves, under lights. It was easy, inexpensive and a great way to grow lots of plants in a small space.
Starting seeds indoors allows me to transplant the flowers as larger plants once the weather has warmed. It also helps cut down on weeds, since I’m planting established plants that have a better chance of contending with the weeds and crowding or shading them out.
I’ve learned a lot about seed starting over the years and I’ve found some pretty lame ways to waste expensive seed and lots of creative ways to kill baby plants. There’s nothing I hate more than seeing trays of beautiful little baby flowers go downhill before my eyes because I overwatered, underwatered, or got too excited about transplanting and didn’t properly harden them off. Learning the hard way isn’t the most fun way to start seeds, so hopefully you can avoid making these same mistakes.
I’ve put together a list of some Do’s and Don’t when it comes to seed starting. This list of quick tips is meant to complement other resources we’ve created (be sure to read to the bottom for links) plus help you learn from some of my greatest seed starting blunders.
DO tamp down the soil into your containers or cell packs. Then pack it down a teeny bit more. By pressing down on the soil, you not only eliminate air pockets that little rootlets don’t like, but you also make it so much easier to remove your baby plants once they are ready to transplant. I remember mangling a whole mess of baby snapdragons because I had been sloppy about filling the flats with the soil. When it came time to transplant, instead of popping the plants out with a nice solid chunk of soil attached, the soil separated from the roots and I ended up with a crumbly mess and traumatized plants.
DO use fine vermiculite to cover seeds. Rather than use regular potting mix to cover seeds that need darkness to germinate, I prefer to use fine vermiculite. Potting soil often forms a crust on the top of the tray, which can wick water away, rather than soak down in.
DON’T forget to moisten the seed starting mix prior to adding your seeds. If you add your seeds to dry potting mix and then try to overhead water, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll send your seeds floating to the corners of the container. If they are really tiny like Iceland poppies or snapdragons, it is easy to wash them away.
DON’T start your seeds too early. In the rush to get growing, it is easy to fall into the trap of starting all your seeds all at once. If you read the seed packets or catalog descriptions, you’ll note that it is recommended to start some slow-growing flowers earlier (10-12 weeks before your last frost) than others (4-6 weeks). If your frost-free date isn’t until mid-May, for example, you’ll want to start your foxglove now, but hold off on fast-growing, heat loving zinnias until later. One year I totally jumped the gun and planted zinnias way too soon and I had plants busting out of their pots, becoming root bound because they had no where to go. They were ready to be transplanted outside, but the spring frosts hadn’t yet passed, so I had to throw them all away.
DO use bottom heat to get your seeds started. It is amazing how much faster and how much better seeds germinate with a little heat at their feet. Propagation mats work great for this. If you are a home gardener or small scale flower farmer you can get by with just one or two mats. Leave your seed starting trays on the heat mat only until they germinate. Once sprouted, move the tray off the heat and make room for the next seed starting tray(s).
DON’T seed more than one type of flower in the tray, especiallyif you plan to use a humidity dome. Germination rates vary by variety so it is best to have all the cells filled with the same flowers, that way you won’t be forced to remove the dome too soon for a row of early germinators or too late for those slow to germinate. Plus, having variable plant heights in the same tray makes adjusting the height of the lights over the trays difficult (shorter plants within the tray can get leggy when light is adjusted for the taller plants).
DON’T forget to label your seed tray. Avoid the curse of the “mystery plants” by making sure to always write the name of the flower you are sowing and the date it was sown on the back of a waterproof plant tag (avoid wooden popsicle sticks) with a pencil, grease pencil or super-duper strength Sharpie marker. I always stick the label in the same corner of every seed tray, so they line up uniformly.
DO remove the plastic humidity dome after your seeds germinate. Domes are really only used on the trays until the seeds germinate, which for some varieties may be as few as a few days. Once your plants have popped up, they need lots of air and light. Left on too long, domes can kill seedlings. Note: some gardeners recommend “weaning” their trays from a humidity dome by propping the dome open for a day or two before fully removing it. Similar to the process of hardening off more mature plants, this gradual acclimation to the heat and humidity outside the dome can reduce plant shock.
DO water your plants from the bottom when possible. Standard seed starting sets contain three pieces: a humidity dome, a cell pack layer with drainage holes, and a tray that serves as a liner for the cell packs. By nesting your cell packs (or whatever container you choose to use) in the waterproof tray, you can then add water to the tray which allows the soil to essentially siphon or wick up the water. This keeps water off of your leaves, helps prevent problems with fungus and disease, plus it focuses water where it is needed most, at the root level.
DON’T underestimate the amount of light tiny plants need to grow. If you use grow lights, be sure to adjust them so that they are no more than three inches above the tops of your plants. When I was a newbie, this was not intuitive to me. At all! As a result, I grew lots of gangly, leggy plants because they weren’t getting enough light.The bulbs were simply too far away from the foliage canopy. Once I realized my mistake, I adjusted the lights to about an inch or so above the top of the leaves (it seems really close, but trust me this is better for the plant). Once I had the lights adjusted, I found that the plants grew so much better, with nice strong stems.
DON’T underestimate the amount of attention your young plants need. Like a newborn baby, your baby plants are going to need more care, feeding and attention than you anticipate (but without the dirty diapers or late night feedings). Going away–even for a short weekend trip– will likely mean finding a reliable “plant sitter” who knows how to properly water your plants, remove humidity domes if necessary and otherwise care for your babies while you are gone.
DO invest in automatic timers. If you are using grow lights to start your seeds indoors, you’ll want to invest in an inexpensive timer that will automatically turn on the light for a preset amount of time each day. Otherwise it is too easy to forget to turn on your lights and turn off your lights at the same time each day. Ideally, you’ll have your lights on for 14 to 16 hours each day.
DO “harden off” your plants before you transplant them. I am embarrassed to admit just how many plants I fried because I didn’t do this key step. In my excitement to transplant my baby plants into the field, I didn’t give them any chance to acclimate to their new outside environment. “Hardening off” is simply a process of allowing your plants time to gradually adjust to their new environment.
Think about it: your little plants have been in a warm and cozy, temperature-controlled environment for weeks, or months. If you suddenly take them from that space and expose them to bright sun, wind and temperature swings in the open garden, it is stressful to the plant. This step often requires lots of moving plants around, but trust me, transplant shock is real and deadly and taking the time and effort to allow your starts to adjust will make for happier, stronger plants and more flowers.
DON’T beat yourself up if you make mistakes. This is probably THE most important tip. Seriously, unless you are super lucky or already have a magical green thumb, you’re probably going to kill some plants. $#!+ happens. It is totally ok! If you follow these tips, you are sure to make FAR fewer fatal mistakes than I did during the early days. Just know that mistakes are inevitable. That is part of the joy in gardening is learning what systems work well for your situation, growing system and your climate.
Starting your own seeds can be intimidating for new gardeners, but once you get the hang of it there’s nothing to fear and it can be great fun. One of my goals here on the blog is to provide you with the best information, to help you grow great flowers and hopefully dispel the notion that success is only possible for professionals.
In addition to some of the tips I’m sharing today, I want to make sure you know about a couple other sources of info here on the Floret site: