Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where have all the flowers gone?

Over the weekend the Head Gardener and I had some time in that most dreaded of environments for a middle-aged man – a big city shopping mall filled with bright lights, trawling teenage girls and shops filled with garish colour. Seeking some respite, I went into a bookstore and had a look at the gardening books.  I was astonished to see that about 80% of them were about edible gardening – fruits, vegetables and herbs.  There were a few books devoted to design – mainly of the “Making your edible garden look good" kind – but there were precious few about growing flowers, and apart from one on roses, the only books on  specific plants were one each about Cycads and bromeliads!
I am as keen as anyone on the resurgence of interest in cultivating edible plants, but I am greatly saddened by the demise of flower gardening.  When I was growing up it seemed to me that most people had a favourite flower they cultivated assiduously  – various family members were fans of irises, roses, camellias, fuchsias and orchids, while organisations devoted to gerberas, carnations, dahlias and cacti all flourished. 
Famous New Zealanders were passionate flower growers. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was famed for his lilies, but few know that NZRFU president Ces Blazey, best known now as the name who guided the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand, used to devote his spare hours in summer to growing exhibition quality Gladioli.
This was brought home even stronger to me when I left the bookstore, drawn to a florist’s shop by the heady scent of some greenhouse lilies, and came across vases filled with spider chrysanthemums, in unnatural chartreuse shades.
At one time Chrysanthemums were ubiquitous garden flowers, treasured for their late flowering season, and appreciated especially for the autumnal shades they are often found in.  Apart from the potted plant version, popular with florists and supermarkets, they are seldom met with now, but can there be any plant with so much flower power at this time of the year?
I suspect that the few chrysanthemum plants that are grown in the home garden today are actually potted plants that have been planted outside when they finish flowering.  As long as a bit of care is taken with have a long life in the garden, but expect some changes!  In the nursery your potted mums will have been given a dose of growth retardant, and once they are out in the garden they will grow a lot more exuberantly – they will probably be about 1.5 metres high when they flower rather than the 60cm they managed in their pot. 
They will also tend to be a bit straggly growing – nothing terrible but a bit floppy, so it pays to grow them near a fence of some other support. You can pinch them out as they start to grow, and then once again as they have grown a little, which will result in more branching and more heads of flowers, although the individual flowers will be smaller.

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