Friday, March 4, 2011


Is it possible that we are all so over roses that we look around at what else is available? Thinking about it, it would seem logical. I will get back to roses in due course, but for today I present a rather new item that arrived from Holland this week.
It seems that every summer, at least one customer but usually several come in and ask for flowers and foliages to recreate an underwater panorama. I imagine this is played out over and over for themed parties across the USA. Well here is a flower that fits the bill perfectly, resembling a bright orangey-red coral frond, with flowers, bracts and stems that resemble the skeletal structure of some coral growths. Along with the readily available supply of succulents, the creation of an undersea arrangement has never been easier, especially when you add in some leptospermum, lycopodium fern and lepidium.
The flower in question is a cultivar of Jatropha podagrica, a rather ancient plant in terms of cultivation by humans, but very new as a cut flower. It has several rather colorful names including "Guatemalan Rhubarb"; "Buddha Belly" and "Gout Plant", each of which refers to an attribute of this tropical plant.
This type of Jatropha is originally from Colombia, where it was used extensively by the indigenous peoples for its medicinal properties. It was collected by the Portuguese who then proceeded to disseminate it throughout India and Indonesia, and today it is found from Malaya and Fiji to Colombia and throughout Central America. It was used by the Europeans to relieve fevers as well as for its purported ability to cure gout. The plant itself has massive palmate leaves vaguely resembling those of rhubarb, which I suppose gave rise to the name Guatemala Rhubarb; and the trunk has a pronounced bulge at the base, technically known as a caudex, leading to the name Buddha Belly! 
 The flower has a fairly good vase life, and at present is only available in 50cms, although the stem length may get longer in due course.
So the next time you have to do a Bar Mitzvah with a "Yellow Submarine" theme or a sophisticated marine-based arrangement, you will have another asset to use. "And the Band begins to play..."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Not really raspberry, and not a beret; just a stream of consciousness provoked by the sight of these superb flowers that are available at the moment. They remind me of the motifs found in paisley shawls. with their strange curling teardrop designs. And of course paisley was so much part of the mid-eighties music, spearheaded by Prince and his "Paisley Park" recording studios. Paisley is name given to an ancient pattern that originated in former empires located in what is now Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The actual origin of the pattern is lost in the mists of time,  although many have speculated that it may be derived from cypress and palm fronds. Personally, I find the patterns far too intricate and beautiful to be drawn from such basic forms, and find the structure and petal displacement of the Eremurus as a much more inspiring and plausible candidate. The original species of Eremurii originate in the foothills of the Himalayas, and to anyone who saw them rising out of the harsh, rocky terrain in late spring, soaring to five, six and even seven feet in height, the effect must have been impressive and worthy of recording in design. Occasionally in Los Angeles the rather unwieldy Eremurus Himalaicus will make an appearance, but other hybrids have generally replaced these awesome specimens, being a rather more manageable 3'-4' in height.
Eremurus was referred to as "Foxtail Lily" for many years but the name too seems to have lapsed in usage, but a stem of fully open flowers with the curling twist at the end of the stem displays all the bushiness of a fox's tail. The thing is; has any one seen a fox lately?
These flowers are currently being imported from Chile, though they seem  to out of season, even for that country. Nonetheless they are a harbinger of the crop that will be available in California in about another six or seven weeks, And they really are delightful flowers: Dynamic line flowers with tremendous vase life in pastel shades of peach, pink, white, peach and yellow. They add height to any situation and should be considered for event work due to their massive scale.
So how did a kasmiri motif end up being called Paisley? It seems that British soldiers returning from tours of duty during the Indian Wars of the 1800's would bring home souvenirs for their wives and family. many of these ended up in the Scottish borders, renowned for their weaving prowess. The village of Paisley was one such center, and the arrival of the kashmiri shawls coincided with the arrival of the Jacquard looms, which were in effect the world's first "computer" applications. In the mid 1800s Paisley weavers were able to produce fabulous fabrics with these intricate Kashmir designs, and which became popular throughout Britain and the world. Ironically, while they produced things of beauty on machines, featuring as many as 15 colors; they still paled in comparison to the handwoven textiles from the Himalayan foothills with as many as sixty colors!
The design had waves of popularity, enjoying a massive revival in the sixties, and this was picked up again by fashionistas in the eighties. And I still see some now and again today.

Tip: In installations and weeklies, remove open or spent flowers at the base of the inflorescence. That will encourage the rest of the florets to open and extend the usefulness of the flowers significantly.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Wow, time has simply flown, even has I desperately try to gather as many rosebuds as I can! The climax of my Valentine's Day labors was followed by some downtime, some recovery time, some family time. Time to grieve loved ones who have left this earth, and cherish others who struggle to find their way. Especially, time with my partner, whom I love deeply. Her laughter, her quick, glossy eyes, her wit and grace. Most precious in our lives, in fact, turns out to be time: The gift of it for other people in your life, and the good use of it for one's own pursuits. Time to reflect.
Finally after some two weeks I am able to gird the tools of my new trade about me and prepare for our next endeavor; a petite flower farm in Southern Florida, dedicated to the production of specialty cut flowers and organic items for floral design that exhibit good sculptural values. My girlfriend and I are very excited and have been running hither and thither since closing on the farm last week. Yesterday I spent all day looking at tractors. We are starting completely from scratch. This weekend will be our first up on the farm and we are quite silly about the event. Pictures and story to follow soon. Watch this space.
I do hope that everyone had a productive Valentines, business-wise; and an intimate evening, amorous-wise.
Reports are that it was generally a good holiday around the country, mostly with some gains. I do hope this was the case for you, or better.
I can only speak for our household, but love was in the air! And still is....

Blog will now return to normal publishing schedule.

Monday, February 7, 2011


When you get right down to it flowers are the most appropriate metaphor for love as well as being an incredibly wonderful gift from one human being to an other. For thousands of years, and long before homo sapiens had evolved, flowers were an integral part in the sex life of trees, shrubs and plants. So old are the magnolia trees of North America, for instance, that they pre-date winged insects, and thus the wondeful white flowers evolved with stiff waxy petals that would support the heavy prehistoric beetles that would trundle across the flowers attracted by their sweet nectar. Thus the blooms would be pollinated, leading to sexual reproduction in the form of seed bearing fruit and the continuing survival of the species. It seems that it was not so much the fact that Darwin proposed the evolution of the species as a viable theory that the prudish Victorians could not abide, but that it was that the very survival of the species he articulated, revolved around sex in form or another!
Not surprisingly then, that the Victorians would come up with greeting cards for the holiday of the beatified St. Valentine. But that did not last too long, as even they succumbed to the charms of almost all flowers, and within their puritanical society a floral semiology was created that allowed them to send secret expressions of ardor and love to intimate friends.
These days we give flowers to loved ones, to friends, to bereaved family members, indeed for a wide variety of reasons, yet we ought, as well, to buy them just because they are.
Divine creations.

The supply of roses is till tight in Ecuador, especially reds, as shipments to Europe are being sent to the airport today through Wednesday.The Portugal-Corfu Rose Indicator shows less roses available today, although they did have two buckets of some rather sad mystery red.
My work In Ecuador is almost done for this year's Valentine's season and now the baton of these labors of love passes on to the wholesalers and florists in North America. I do hope that I have demystified many aspects of the rose harvest in Ecuador, and that you have enjoyed the posts from Quito.
Then finally, next Monday, February 14th, many lovers will buy their partners flowers as a tribute to love and, of course, the survival of the species. I do hope everyone enjoys them, but I also hope that we continue to purchase flowers throughout the year, not only for friends but just as importantly, for ourselves. Because really, in order to love other people we must first love ourselves, and as John Lennon said; "Love is all there is".

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Today I had anticipated that rose supply might loosen up a little but it still remains constricted. Boxes are arriving tonight from the farms and we are inching our way towards completing the pre-books. Some colors are completely unavailable, especially some pinks, but Mayesh has secured an impressive selection of Red roses; the current most popular red "Freedom" dominates the orders, with a close second in popularity "Forever Young". Mayesh has also secured the superb "Sexy Red", the classic deep velvet "Black Magic" (my personal favorite) as well as the new "Red Paris" which is very nice, "Tinto", "Luna Rossa" as well as a modicum of old school reds such as "Red Unique", "Classy", "Rouge Baiser" and "Charlotte".
Notwithstanding the high demand for reds, we are seeing strong requests for colored roses as well, perhaps in response to the female sense and sensibilities.

As a gauge of the availability, or lack thereof, of roses in Ecuador, I have created my own "Indicator" by regularly observing the supply, complexion and quality of flowers at the little flower stand in front of the "Corfu Cafe" at the intersection of Portugal and Shyris in central Quito. The Corfu Cafe is a very well-known, popular coffee and ice-cream shop for the "toute-Quito" and is located in the heart of a business distruict intermingled with rather ritzy condos. The clientele are well-to-do folks, and they also buy their flowers at the flower stand opposite.
Today the stand had very few roses, perhaps 8 or 9 buckets of pretty awful flowers, perhaps suitable for rose-petals, but even then some of the blooms were so mushy they might not even be viable as petals. Note the sign that states 25 roses for a $1, and most of them might not be worth that. Normally this stand has 20 to 25 buckets of pretty decent roses, so the PCRA indicator projects a continuing tight rose supply. They have no red roses for sale.


If you have been following the blog recently during Valentine's Day you will know that I have been driving to the north and south of Quito, capital of Ecuador, where the rose plantations are located. The road that goes north and south from Quito; south as far as Tierra del Fuego and north to the Colombia/Panama border, and thence, after some impenetrable jungle, from Panama heading north to the US border; is known as the Pan-American highway.
So I certainly feel like "Mr. Pan-American" at the moment. Indispensable is the radio, and, in a strange V-Day coincidental sort of way, currently blasting on all the stations ad nauseum is a song called "Pa Panamericano" which is kind of catchy in the "Macarena" vein. Thankfully they also play "Zombie" almost every day to compensate.

There are just a few more days for my task here, and then the madness starts for all of you in the USA and indeed wherever you are on our beautiful planet, if you are in the floral industry. Good luck to everyone...and enjoy some silly music!

Friday, February 4, 2011


I have referred to roses being pinched many times in this blog, and pinching for Valentines specifically, and Cathy from Sprout suggested I explain exactly what that means. I think it is a great idea, and is definitely germane to the current conversation on Valentine's roses.
I will keep this as brief as possible, but as a quick background sketch it is important to distinguish the different types of flowers that we use in the floral industry in order to highlight the importance and the risks involved in "pinching" roses.
Crops derived from seeds, which are generally annuals (need to be resown every year)  and in some cases perennials (after plant is established it will flourish for several years) can be be planned and timed as to exactly when they will produce flowers. So if you want red zinnias for Christmas the grower knows when he will get the harvest, and plants the seeds accordingly. Similarly with bulb crops, the cycle from planting the bulb to harvesting the flowers is pretty much predetermined. The economics are fairly straightforward.
However, shrubs and bushes such as roses produce flowers on mature plants, but these plants need to be established permanently in order to have year round production. Some shrubs like peonies and lilac will only yield one crop per year, while others such as hydrangeas will flower freely for most of the year until it becomes too cold for the plant. Rose shrubs originally only yielded one flush per year but through human intervention and breeding the modern rose now blooms repeatedly throughout the year, as long as they do not endure a prolonged freeze.
Commercial roses plants will  produce roughly one flower per plant per month. Some roses, such as "Vendela" have almost double that output while a rose such as David Austin's "Patience" is about a third of the average. As a general rule of thumb the more expensive that a rose is, then the less productive the variety; and vice versa.
However, if an increase in productivity is desired such as for the Valentine's holiday then the grower needs to make an economic decision: Should the production of three months worth of flowers be sacrificed in order to have peak harvest during a one to two week period. On the face of it, you might say that the answer is obvious given the high returns on roses during Valentine's, but it is really a huge gamble with upsides and downsides. But in order to get a surge in prodcution, a "peak" as it were, at a given time, the rose bushes need to be "pinched."
The term originally comes from usage in control of plants with softer vascular structures such as chrysanthemums andd tomatoes. New shoots that are not desirable were literally "pinched" between thumb and forefinger , and thus removed from the plant. Through continued use in agriculture and especially horticulture, it has come to mean removal of plant material to acheive a desired effect. In this case it is cutting the rose canes at lower part of the plant to produce a defined flush at desired time. Each rose variety is managed slightly differently so the location of the cut is carefully assessed on a by-variety basis, as well as the decision to pinch the entire plant or just one or two canes. "Freedom" plants may be entirley levelled for Valentine's while yellow varieties may not be pinched at all.
The pinch is made at the desired height just above a leaf axil, where the leaf joins the stem. After some days a tiny tumescent pink bulge will appear in the axil, which will then form a budding eye, and thereafter develop into a red stem. In some 65 to 90 days depending on the variety and the altitude of the farm, a flower will develop ready for harvesting. That's the theory.
As with many aspects of our lives, economics plays a big part in the decison to pinch.
And lately, growers have found that they can get good prices on a year round, which provides less incentive to pinch for Valentine's. And remember, when a grower harvests everything in a short time, it is like another pinch, meaning less yields for another few months, and maybe another peak when there is little demand, eroding the gains made at Valentine's Day.
Also consider that if the weather is not consistent with historical data then the pinched roses will arrive too early if it is hotter than normal, and too late if it is cooler and darker than normal. Either of these scenarios is undesirable and results in an almost wothless harvest, as there is little demand for roses in January, or after the 10th of February (at farm level).
So the lower availability of roses this year is a combination of much less pinching than in years past and really bad weather. And I mean dreadful!
Looking ahead, I foresee a couple of outcomes: Either there will be even less pinching, with prices for roses being much, much higher at Valentine's as a result of the market forces of supply and demand; or florists/wholesalers/importers will need to place orders in September with the growers, secured by some kind of financial instrument for a specific quantity of roses that will be needed for Valentine's Day. I do not think that it is tenable that floriculture sector can continue as it has for the last twenty years. Surely, we all need to make a profit, including the growers. Especially the growers!

Today was a long, drawn out day spent visiting farms in the south, encouraging, coaxing and pleading with growers to fulfill the orders. It has been exhausting as there are few flowers available as tonight is the peak shippindg day into the USA. Peter the buyer has somehow managed to complete our air cargo allocation from Quito to Miami to the maximum, even as some farms are reporting shortfalls. This holiday in Ecuador has been one of the craziest in the lasy eight years, and with a threatened strike by the Indians on Monday it has the earmarks of an old school Valentine's Day.
Notwithstanding the above, through today all our roses have moved out of Ecuador with no delays at all, and our numbers are matching the Mayesh projections.
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