Garden Q & A – Floral Arrangements
CNPS Garden Q & A with Richard Hayden, Garden Director for the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto
Floral arrangements and photos by Cynthia Gingerich
Q: What can I plant during the fall planting season for great floral arrangements in the spring
A: Many California native plants are great for arrangements. By bringing a little piece of the garden indoors, we get to have a sense of place and seasonality in our homes that other cut flowers just can’t provide.
A wide variety of native annual wildflowers can be planted by seed in the fall and ready for the vase come spring. Among the best are the Clarkias, which can last for several weeks as a cut flower. Two outstanding varieties are farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) which has large showy flowers, and elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata), a taller inflorescence that makes a great vertical statement. Both have blooms in shades of pink and purple. The annual phacelias provide wonderful flower and foliage interest, including lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), which has fuzzy lavender flowers on tall sturdy stems that smell like honey. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), although not the longest lasting flower in the vase, can provide a wonderful punch of orange to any arrangement.
Remember to cut flowers in the early morning while plants are most hydrated, and plunge into deep cool water for at least an hour before arranging if you can. This will help acclimate the flowers and provide more long lasting blooms.
Many California perennials and shrubs also make for great cut flowers and foliage, and while they may take a year or two (or more) after planting before they’re ready for harvesting, they will provide opportunities for years to come. Monkeyflowers are long-lasting and come in shades of pink, yellow, orange, and red. With a long bloom period and some shade tolerance these are great additions to any garden. The tall flower spikes of perennial penstemons are a strong upright addition to the vase, and the violet flowers of showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis) are a beautiful example. Other great perennials for cutting include asters (Symphyotrichum chilense), goldenrod (Soldigo spp.), buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), and bush mallows (Malacothamnus spp.) and desert mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).
Some California natives to consider for their handsome foliage include sugar bush, (Rhus ovata) with glossy green leaves and wine red flower buds. Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), coyote bush (Baccharis sp.), and giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), all provide great texture and a lush look. Finally, our native grasses can be standouts for floral arrangements, adding a delicate airy feeling. Canyon Prince wild rye (Elymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’) and the shade-tolerant California fescue (Festuca californica) are great examples.
Natives are great for cutting and bringing indoors! Have fun and experiment to see what works well in your part of California.
Enjoy responsibly. Always harvest your flowers from your garden not wildlands.
Richard Hayden is the Garden Director for the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, CA. He has been an advocate for native plants since he served as the head gardener for the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. Previously, he enjoyed a 25-year career as a Los Angeles-based landscape designer. He currently serves on the boards of the Pacific Horticulture Society, Western Horticulture Society, and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers Bay Area District.