Tag Archives: cut flowers

music for the eyes

Here’s a fun one: My local community/university orchestra will be premiering a new piece this weekend. Stanford University composer Mark Applebaum has composed a work for orchestra with a special, unusual soloist: a florist.

The Concerto for Florist and Orchestra riffs on the traditional notion of a concerto, where one or more virtuoso solists duke it out musically with an accompanying ensemble. In the new work, the orchestra will play and the florist will…presumably array flowers and leaves virtuostically all over the stage. Some musical concerto soloists have reputations for being high-strung individuals, and to my mind the new piece also riffs on the idea of florists sometimes having a reputation for being just as high-strung.

The work’s soloist will be James DelPrince, Associate Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences with a specialization in Floral Design and Interior Plantscaping Design at Mississippi State University. On his campus biography page DelPrince writes, “The aesthetics of horticulture involve recognition of the intrinsic beauty of plants and flowers along with the practiced skill of floral design and interior plant placement. I enjoy and value the opportunity to bring understanding and appreciation of floral and plant design to people.” And this weekend’s performance–the second time DelPrince has worked floral magic with Mark Applebaum’s music to accompany him–seems like a great way to bring some of that appreciation to a different sort of audience than people looking for something to decorate their wedding.

If you want more traditional fare, the all-concerto concert opens with Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, with Hannah Cho, winner of the orchestra’s 2009 Youth Artist Competition. Closing the evening will be another “conceptual concerto,” Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, a concerto with no soloists at all other than members of the orchestra, all of whom will have to work pretty hard to play the score.

One of my music profs from many years ago, Robert Erickson, was famous for shutting his eyes when listening to performances. He wasn’t bored; he just didn’t want the visuals to get in the way of truly hearing the music. You won’t want to shut your eyese for Saturday’s and Sunday’s performances.

The La Jolla Symphony performs. Steven Schick conducts.

almost red white and blue natives

We had some people over to view the local fireworks yesterday. To mark the occasion I threw together some of the blooming natives from the garden for a pastel rendition of the red, white and blue theme of the day.

White was the easy color. Several white buckwheats were blooming, and I picked some stems of the flat-top buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum. Its broad, open umbels also look a bit like fireworks.

For red, the dark rose colors of San Miguel Island buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubsescens) provided a reasonable stand-in. If I had some Delphinium cardinale in the garden, it would have really provided a bright scarlet kick. Maybe next year…

For blue, the pickings got pretty slim. The blue-violet whorls of Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’) were the closest I could come up with. As with the white buckwheat, the structure of the stems seemed a bit like fireworks, with whorls of little tubular flowers exploding out from the stem.

The result was a lot less subtle than floral fireworks, but I liked how it marked the occasion and celebrated a Southern California sense of place.

Many of the people who showed up knew I was a plant nut, so two of the hostess gifts were colorful florist bouquets. One of them marked the occasion by including red, white and blue flowers. But even florists with all their international resources sometimes have problems with the color blue. This florist’s solution? Why not dye white flowers blue? The results don’t look much like anything in my California garden so the gift flowers and the local posies weren’t intermixed, and the different bouquets have their own places around the house.

I hope you all had a great fourth!

it came from the florist


Not long ago one of John’s friends, a florist, stopped by the house for a visit. She brought with her a single long-stemmed red rose in a tall vase. When I came home there was the flower, huge, red, perfect and scentless, sitting on the counter.

As you might guess from my title, there’s a good chance I might have an uncomfortable relationship with flowers from a florist. If you go to someone’s house and want to give them something special, do you stop by the grocery and pick up a pound of tomatoes as a host or hostess gift? Of course not. You’d pick some from your garden and share something special, something seasonal, something that gives of yourself and your garden. For me a store tomato has always shared something with a florist’s rose. What you hold in your hands might be cosmetically stunning, but it leaves me with a question…what is this thing, anyway? Is it botanical? Or maybe some industrial product?

It just so happened that a couple nights before I’d finished reading Amy Stewart’s 2007 book, Flower Confidential. If you don’t know her as an author of books, you might know her as the woman behind the blog, Dirt. And if you don’t know the book, it’s basically a look inside the cut-flower industry and reveals it to be just that: an industry. The three big sections of the book, “Breeding,” “Growing” and “Selling” may well explode any warm and fuzzies you might have about the florist trade, and show it to be possibly worse for the environment, workers and public health than the part of big agribusiness dedicated to food crops.

Here are just a few snippets:

[U]nlike imported fruits and vegetables, flowers are not tested for illegal pesticide residue. After all, they’re not going to be eaten. That creates a situation in which growers have an incentive to use the maximum amount of pesticides to eliminate the possibility of a single gnat turning up in a box.

The complaints about labor and environmental problems have been part of the flower industry’s legacy for as long as it has been in Latin America. Although the situation has been thoroughly reported by investigative journalists, it doesn’t appear to have changed American’s buying habits. Every year, a greater share of flowers sold in the United States come from Latin America. Over the last decade, sales of domestically grown roses have dropped from almost 500 million to just under 100 million. Meanwhile, imports of cut roses have increased to over 1.3 billion stems a year.

At the grocery store, I can buy organic wine, fair-trade chocolate, and hormone-free milk from a local creamery. But the flowers in buckets by the cash register are unlabeled, unmarked, entirely undifferentiated. There’s no basis on which to compare and choose, except for price… The anonymity of cut flowers has made it impossible for customers to demand anything different.

There’s a lot more to the book than rants against the trade, and it’s a worthwhile read if you’d like to know more about what you find at the store.

Several days after the perfect florist’s rose finally passed on to the next plane in the way that florist’s roses do–without opening up, without showing the stamens and pistils that are a flower’s very reason for existing–Linda showed up at the house with a bouquet of roses from her garden. Even before I saw them I knew there were roses in her hands. There was a breeze coming in the front door, and there was scent of roses coloring the air.



Over the next days the roses proceeded to do what roses do. They opened. They continued to release their scents. And in a couple more days they’ll start to drop their petals and fade. They participate in a natural process in a way that their more primped runner-up in a beauty pageant relative does not, and I appreciate them for that.

all stems

Speaking of cut flowers, I often think that the most beautiful part of what’s in the vase isn’t necessarily the blooms. Photographer Lee Friedlander, whose work often exhibits a droll-to-bratty iconoclastic bent, did a book just a few years ago that was titled Stems. (The Photo-Eye online bookstore uses the BookTease feature that lets you take a look at some of the images in the book.)

Stems book coverAs you might guess from the title, it’s almost exclusively photos of plants in vases where the flowers have been cropped out of the picture. It’s a little willful, for sure, but I think many of the images are really beautiful. See what you think…

sage as a cut flower

In the past I’ve occasionally cut flowers from the garden, only to have them wilt immediately and disintegrate into a pile of organic matter on top of a table I wanted to look nice for company. Last weekend I was trimming back the ivy-leaved sage, Salvia cacaliaefolia. At first the stems went into the greens recycling can. But they looked too pretty there and I wondered how well they’d do as cut flowers. So into the house they came, making a big, informal bouquet/science experiment for the dining table.

Cut flowers of ive-leaved sageThe verdict? The flowers looked great through day three, with only the occasional flower falling off the stem. Then after that the ends of the stems where the flowers live started to droop. By day five, although the leaves still looked perfectly presentable, the flower ends were totally wilted, blooms had dropped off the stems, and there was a dry, black, granular something or another (pollen? seeds?) littering the table surface. Time for the greens recycle bin.

That was no worse than the lifespan of many of the more classic cut flowers, so I’ll be treating myself to vase-fulls of ivy-leaved sage the next time I cut it back.