Friday, December 31, 2010


Such is the nature of our society today that we hear an awful lot about female entertainers (more than I need to know), a few of whom aspire to be divas and quite a few more who are dubbed as such by the popular gossip rags and the paparazzi. While almost all qualify for the mantle due to their outrageous and demanding behavior, almost all fail as a legitimate diva because they simply do not have the talent, guts and wit. A few who can be considered to be true divas come to mind; Streisand; Madonna perhaps; Elizabeth Taylor certainly. I imagine that everyone has a candidate or two who I am sure deserves to be on a short-list of genuine "Divas". But I doubt that any can measure up to the fin-de-siècle French actress "Sarah Bernhardt" who combined a flair for the flamboyant and outrageous with arguably one of the greatest theatrical talents of all time. Her wit was widely appreciated, and when no less a person than Oscar Wilde politely asked at her salon; "Do you mind if I smoke?" she adroitly replied "I don't care if you burn".
Sarah Bernhardt was reputed to have many lovers in her circle, especially noted artists and painters, as well as being rumored to have had an affair with noted impressionist "Louise Abbema". Miss Bernhardt, who came to be known as "The Divine Sarah", was rumored to have slept in a coffin in order to immerse herself in the tragic nature of the characters she would play on stage. Certainly, she used still photographs of herself at repose in the coffin to great effect. However, what really stands her apart, and garnered the epithet - "The greatest actress of all time" - was her overarching command of her stage craft. Consider that, even after she had a leg amputated due to gangrene that infected her after a tragic fall in Rio de Janeiro, she was still able to fill theatres to capacity even though she refused to wear a prosthetic limb. Sarah Bernhardt's total absorption into  characters she played captivated audiences around the world, and her mellifluous voice, described by Victor Hugo as 'golden' and by many contemporary critics as 'silver', simply was unparalleled in the world of entertainment. The noted American author Mark Twain stated: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and Sarah Bernhardt.”  Almost until her death, a Sarah Bernhardt performance was a much sought after ticket wherever she played. She was renowned in Paris, London New York and Rio and this was before the advent of cinemas and the widespread introduction of movies. 
And yet, a mere hundred years after her golden years, she is almost unknown, an artist and celebrity who has become enveloped in the shrouds of time, and almost completely forgotten. In fact, apart from the world of theatrical archives and historians she would have vanished completely were it not for one seemingly minor event that occurred during her lifetime. Such were the accolades that were thrust upon this scintillating talent, from her peers and politicians alike, that the fact that a flower breeder in her native France would choose to name a peony after her as a tribute to her brilliance would probably be considered as a minor footnote in her career. How ironic that it is this occurrence that has kept the name "Sarah Bernhardt" alive and vibrant around the world for people who love flowers and plants, and in particular peonies. Yet little is now known about Sarah Bernhardt today, although some insightful biographies have been published recently - and even less is known about the genius who created the "Sarah Bernhardt" peony; Victor Lemoine.
The intersection of these two giants in their fields created a seminal occurrence; namely one of the most beloved plants in the world, with their stunning fully double, sweetly fragrant flowers featuring rich rouched chiffonades of glorious pink petals and which endure whether on the plant or in a vase. Paeonia "Sarah Bernhardt" truly is a masterpiece.
By the time Victor Lemoine created paeonia "Sarah Bernhardt" and introduced the dazzling bloom in 1907 he was already famous for the prodigious cultivars that he had introduced to the world. His work was not only prodigious in quality, but in the volume of output. I will chronicle his work at later date as he is truly worthy of review, but suffice it to say that this man created cultivars of peonies, lilac and hydrangeas, to name just a few species that he worked on, that are still in use and much sought after today!
What I find most remarkable is that, while we are incessantly and continuously inundated with new varieties of many flowers, especially roses, but also chrysanthemums, carnations, etc., (hell it seems like there is a new variety of gyp each year these days!!) the peonies we use in the cut flower trade are generally over a hundred years old. Now there are some notable exceptions such as the classic P. "Red Charm" 1947 and P. "Coral Sunset", but in general the really striking varieties such as P. "Duchesse de Nemours", P. "Festiva Maxima" and of course the aforementioned Sarah B are vintages of at least a century.
Given that we are in a fashion-based business, one realises that, now more than ever, the breeders have an incentive to churn out new "models" each year in order to harness royalties for the products. After an initial flurry of demand for this season's introductions, more often than not, the revenues taper off so the breeders must keep bringing out new items to stimulate cash flow. Once in a while a rose breeder will find a rose that endures thanks to a combination of market demand and desirable productivity. One notable example of this is "Vendela", which due to its performance for the florist, its color and shape, as well as very high productivity, and good shipping endurance, has made this one of the greatest commecial cut roses of our era. In fact such has been the popularity of this rose that the royalties are set to expire, which for a breeder means that this is now a non-performing asset. 
All this makes me wonder how many really great roses ( or other commercial species for that matter) may be on the trash heap of fashion or in the garbage pail of non-performing assets. More than a few, I suspect, and certainly there will be some that will become interesting from a growers' perspective as the marketplace orients toward demanding fragrant varieties. I have a book in my collection called "McFarland's Modern Roses", published in 1965 which has over 10,000 roses listed...then! I like to peruse this now and then to look up names as well as check out old varieties, and it can be quite entertaining.  I imagine there are are items in there worthy of a second look. How about this: "Grey Pearl" (aka "the Mouse") bred by McGredy and introduced by Jackson & Perkins in 1945. Double flower with large ovoid bud, 40-45 petals (which is excellent), high-centered tea (not-so-cool, but manageable) fragrant and the color is lavender gray shaded olive and tan!!! Sounds awesome.

Mmm...I think I have digressed from my original topic. I am struck by the fact that no matter how famous one may be during one's lifetime,  eventually the sands of time will erode the most magnificent personages, and what endures seems to be only that which is beautiful and true, such as great music, great paintings and great flowers. Especially great flowers; even the Peony is named for the pupil of the great Greek doctor Asclepias, a humble shepherd called Paeon. While today we recognise the Asclepia as a so-so flower, it is the Peony that today far outshines the teacher. 
Incidentally, Vendela was a well known model from Sweden who had a short modelling career in the 1970's, but whose name endures, her beauty personified to this day in the classic cream rose.
It is also comforting to realise that a somewhat mediocre rose, appropriately  called "Trump", appears to have a very short life expectancy.

 A happy, safe and prosperous New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Last week I tested a fairly new variety "Black Finess", which for all intents and purposes resulted in a two thumbs down for the product. Normally when a product fails, I would not mention it, but rather would recommend that we do not sell it as it is flawed. In this case I would like to use the "Fail" to comment on a couple of issues raised by this rose.
First of all, it is pertinent to point out that there is no such rose as "Black Finess", at least not one that has been registered by a breeder. De Ruiters, the company that bred the original "Finess" and holds the rights to the Finess series does not acknowledge any such rose. This serves to highlight a tactic used not uncommonly by growers, and sometimes breeders, when they run into problems marketing a rose: Change the name. The rose that I tested has some beautiful characteristics, including a rich velvet sheen on the petals, a very attractive, fruity red color and a superb structure. However the rose is deeply flawed, with excessive "bronzing" on the guard petals and on the edges of some interior petals. This is not Botrytis cinerea, the fungus that is often seen in roses and which cause petals to turn brown and mushy, but a genetic flaw often exacerbated in cold weather. However, it is not attractive and presents an appearance of disease, which is almost as bad. If it could be limited to the guard petals it would be alright (as in the case of Black Magic), but this 'bronzing' is prevalent on interior petals. My suspicion is that this is a variety that surfaced 4 or 5 years ago called "Black Lava", which failed for the same reasons. Given that the rose showed so much promise, it could be that the growers who have it in the ground with, or without the collusion of the breeder, attempted to resurrect it, with a new 'hot' name.
One of the most famous name changes of late, is that of "Bloody Mary". This rose was going nowhere fast, as it was (and still is, in my opinion) rather pedestrian, with an old fashioned high-centered spiral shape. It appears the breeder, latching on to a massive wave of patriotism in the USA, adroitly switched the name to "Freedom". I don't think I need to say more.
While I do not recommend either "Black Finess" and/or "Black Lava", I would like to underline the fact that, as we go forwards to Valentine's Day, if you receive a rose with brown on the guard petals, do not automatically assume the worst. The easy test to see if it botrytis or bronzing is to gently rub the petal: If it feels dry (and occasionally some brown dust is released on to the fingers like rust) then it is the bronzing; if it feels moist and perhaps mushy it is probably fungus. In either case, remove the guard petals and review the rose further - if the damage persists it may be cause to alert your provider of a problem. Remember the guard petals are there to protect the flower from these very issues, so no judgement should be made until they are removed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


OMG...mmmm, well rather OMSOG seeing as its Christmas. "Oh my son of God" in other words! Where have we gone so wrong in our approach to flowers at Christmas? I have been expressing my concern, as well as a disdainful eye on the work of many florists for not employing their considerable talents to simply put a stop to the madness.
Flowers, and if you are religiously inclined, and any religion will do, flowers, are one of God's most spectacular creations. All of them, not just the red ones, or the white ones, or the coniferous foliage's. So at Christmas-time surely there is a way to celebrate this, to create arrangements in diverse colors other than red and white, and yet make something Christmassy. Or Xmassy if you prefer.
Why are we still slaves to a corporate creation of the Coca Cola company sometime way back when, which somehow instilled the idea that Red & White are traditional Christmas colors? If there is a traditional color it is that of gold, as a reference to one of the gifts presented by the Magi to the infant Jesus, and which traditionally denoted royalty and therefore befitting the "King of Kings". The idea of Christmas, in my opinion is one of spirituality, and yet most of the time these days we settle for a gross and vulgar denial of spirituality, and love, and compassion and tolerance of others. I am fairly certain that a gift of flowers given to a loved one, to an associate at work, or to someone as a way of saying "Thank You for being there" would be welcome in any color combination.
"Yes, but its traditional", one can hear the Christmas Chorus a-crying, while overlooking the 40lb, 6 ft. actual tree in their living rooms, covered in ornaments in every hue of the rainbow, and some that are not even in the rainbow as well. A lot of gold, silver, iridescent blue, viridian green, yellow, turquoise, purple, and in almost every texture from matte to mirrored. A few red ornaments too, but you get the idea.
I have been pointing this out for years, and mostly falling on deaf ears it would seem, so it is rather refreshing to see a couple of voices in the industry (that I am aware of, there are probably many more - I would like to hear from you) pointing out a desire for change.
I noticed on the blog of "Miss Pickering", a designer based in Stamford, England, recently expressed the desire, namely "I Want to Break Free" ...from the red! And yesterday she posted an item titled "Fairy Lights" with wreaths featuring jewel-like or 'fairy light' type berries and balls. No red in sight, and yet retaining a Christmas feel.
Even more in keeping with a traditional "packaged American Xmas" were delightful compositions at "Sprout" whose shop is in Worcester, Mass. Almost all the visual elements of a consumer-oriented Christmas are there, from ornate packaging and high production values, and yet most items, other than flowers, are recycled. Again no red to be found!! And the author created a delightful slogan for Christmas, which although quite secular, is endowed with far more spirituality than most tributes I have seen in many a year.
"Re-Use; Recycle; Rejoice".

Image 3 and Image 4 from Miss Pickering's Blog,
the use of whose images I am grateful. Great blog too.
Image 5 and Image 6 from Sprout, great site also. I am grateful for the use of her images. The stockings were made from recycled sweaters from a Thrift store.

I love it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


A fairly useful item for the florist are the various members of the Ornithogalum family. For years the variety that we have come to accept as "Star-of-Bethlehem" is what is actually classified as O. Thyrsoiides, and in fact this unwieldy name is becoming more prevalent in everyday usage. This is due to the fact that there are several other varieties that are being grown commercially and which are now available as a cut flower, and some of the terms were becoming ridiculous , especially "Arabic Star-of-Bethlehem". 
On top of that the flower that is called "Star-of-Bethlehem" by the rest of the horticulture world (as distinct from the cut-flower industry), is a species known as O. umbellatum, a rather lank flower with small, thin petalled flowers and which is not particularly attractive. Furthermore, before the flower received a rather modern makeover of it's nomenclature, it was referred to as Dove's Dung:                                     

"And there was a great famine in Samaria: and behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the  fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver."
2 KINGS 6:25

The name apparently arose from the spectacle of the white flowers glistening upon the open fields of Palestine which apparently and, rather unpoetical, was said to resemble bird droppings. A lot of them! Certainly the Greek word Ornithogalum is more genteel, and is translated as "Bird's Milk". In biblical times the bulbs of these flowers were used as a foodstuff, either roasted or dried and conserved. They were frequently used by Muslims on their pilgrimages to Mecca.
The varieties most common today are the pure white O. Thyrsoiides with the flowers clustered in a terminal raceme or spike; the tall O. Arabicum with creamy flowers and almost black ovaries clustered in a corymb; O. Saundersiae which is very similar to the Arabicum; and the brightly colored O. dubium which until recently was available in Orange and Yellow. A new cultivar O. dubium "White" has been introduced to the commercial cut flower markets, which is a welcome addition to the family. The flowers are distinctly larger than other Ornithogalums with some dark markings at the base of the petals, creating an 'eye' when the flowers open. In the middle image the new cultivar is juxtaposed with the O. Thyrsoiides to give a sense of the relative size of the petals and the flowers. The flowers themselves are loaded on terminal racemes, and when fully open create a generous display. In the vase test the comported themselves very well and proved to be long-lasting and very hardy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


It seems the Christmas season is in full swing, and even down here in Miami, Florida, a cold front has brought very chilly but seasonally appropriate weather. When one is bundled up with sweaters, jackets scarves and hats one can't but help feel in the mood. Christmas lights adorn many of the houses, along with a trend I could do without, which is that of the inflatable lawn decorations. In Miami there are clearly rivalries developing as to who can have the most inflatables in front of their house. I suppose the owners mean well but they are hideous. And large. But hey, its Christmastime.
In the floral industry many people are busily engaged in selling hard goods and Christmas greens, trees, wreaths and garlands. Cut flower sales are somewhat limited at present, but over the next couple of weeks sales will increase. Unfortunately, the focus is entirely on red and white flowers, which is somewhat perverse, because flowers come in all colors and hues, and consequently there is a dire shortage of some flowers in these two colors with correspondingly high prices, and an almost criminal oversupply of pastels tones and bright primary colors. But hey, its Christmastime.
One thing that always becomes scarce at this time is the supply of red roses, and this year is certainly no exception. This is because demand is very high during this time, and it also coincides with the "pinch" of the red rose plants by growers for the Valentine's Day holiday. (For an explanation of the "pinch" see article below). Combine the high demand, with the Valentine's pinch and sprinkle in the rather inclement weather in Colombia and Ecuador, and we may see red rose prices rival, and even surpass, those of Valentine;s before the season is out. Varieties such as the currently popular "Freedom" and the august "Forever Young" are extremely scarce so you may want to look at some other, lesser known varieties. This is also a good opportunity to familiarize one self with new red varieties prior to V-Day as well.

Last week I did a vase test on "Red Paris", a recent introduction from Dutch breeder OlijRozen. First impressions were that it is a very robust product, with excellent stems and strong, but graceless, peduncles. The thorns are quite prominent, especially lower down, and do need to be cleaned with care. This rose will not fail you in terms of arching or bending stems, nor even drooping heads, provided the flowers have been properly hydrated. The rose itself opens in a promising way, but stops at about halfway from what I would consider a full reflex. "Red Paris" is a rich dark red, with a glossy, light velvet finish, and very reminiscent of First Red. It would appear to a very useful rose for production work, as it is strong, but it lacks the grace and flair that I look for in a flower.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It seems the name for the "El Nino" climate phenomenon was coined by fishermen from Ecuador and Peru in the 17th century, because it seemed to always occur at Christmas time. "El Nino" is the hispanic term for Jesus Christ, and is literally translated as "Little Child" or "Little Boy". My understanding of this phenomenon is that it occurs when the normally warm surface water of the Eastern Pacific Ocean is blown west and the cold water is allowed to rise to the surface, aided by the Humboldt current which brings cold water from the Southern Pacific. Then tropical winds blowing eastwards, in contrast to the usual direction of the South Pacific Trade Winds, drives water from the ocean which results in unusually large amounts of precipitation in the Andean nations of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Or is that "La Nina"?
I have been researching the unusual amount of rain occurring in Colombia which has resulted in massive flooding that continues into December, and which is repeatedly attributed to be a result of the "La Nina" phenomenon. Not one single source can provide a succinct and unambiguous definition, as all the explanations end with caveats stating words to the effect of 'no one is really sure' about these effects, and on top of that many of the meteorological sources are frustratingly vague.
Not to worry, lets just gloss that part over, as I can report that around the world in 2010 unusually powerful winds from the Northern and Southern hemisphere were meeting at the equatorial belt, causing massive updraughts and moving spectacular amounts of water into the atmosphere. And as we have seen on news reports on all media, equally spectacular amounts of precipitation have caused disastrous flooding in Pakistan, Thailand, Colombia and Nigeria, to name a few. During the month of November in Colombia floods  caused 161 persons to lose their lives, 1.3 million people have lost their homes or sustained significant damage to them and an estimated $2.5 billion in total losses is said to have occurred. 

In stark contrast, unusual climate changes occurring in Siberia are such that this November was the warmest that has ever been recorded!

I highlight this problem, particularly with respect to our upcoming Valentine's Day in 2011. Throughout our industry there has been much discussion and opinion about the shortage of some flowers as well as their reciprocal increase in prices. I outlined the main reasons for this in an earlier article (October 18th read here) and certainly weather has been one of the problems, but going forward from now until February it seems that a wet, rainy and cold climate will engender many problems for the rose supply, as well as that of gypsophilia and most flowers grown in Colombia, and to a  lesser extent in Ecuador.
The good news is that there is almost a zero probability of a freeze this year.

The principal problem that I foresee for this Valentine 2011 will be that of quality, rather than one of supply, although issues with the former will have some effect on the latter. But the fact that quality will most likely be compromised leads one to some troubling conclusions, not least of which is that many Roses entering the marketplace will not be of export grade. But lets look at why the products from many rose farms will be compromised:
Many rose plantations are experiencing dire cash flow problems due to a variety of reasons attributable to the poor economy, as well as because the Colombian Peso remains fairly strong against the US Dollar. Quite a few farms had been promised loans by the Colombian Dept. of Agriculture but this aid was withdrawn after a scandal involving monies furnished to Falcon Farms and Florandina by the Colombian government was used in an allegedly fraudulent manner.
Without adequate financing, amicable agreements with vendors and suppliers and/or good cash flow the ability of farms to grow and maintain healthy, vigorous plants is circumspect. Realise that the rose plants projected to be used for Valentine's production, which will be all the reds, most of the pinks and a few select colors (minus those required for standing orders), have all been pinched* and will produce three, maybe four stems of roses for the holiday. To effectively produce three times as many flowers as normal, the plant will need a commensurate amount of fertilization, as well as more labor to care and groom the plants as necessary. And this is in a good climate.
Given that it has been raining in the Sabana of Colombia for what seems like months on end, and it is forecast to keep raining through February, the rose farms now face two more issues for which they need money: First of all, with the almost permanent layer of cloud cover obscuring the sun, the luminosity that the plants would normally enjoy is seriously compromised, which leads to a drop-off in productivity. This can be partially offset by feeding the plants more than normal, which should result in a yield more or less commensurate with expectations. Unfortunately, even though the fecundity of the plants may be satisfactory, without sun the rose stems tend to stretch as they reach for light. As such, plants will produce roses with 70cm stem lengths but with a stem diameter and strength appropriate to the quality parameters expected of a 40cm rose. An exigent and quality conscious rose farm will, of course, cut these stems down to the appropriate length. As well as issues with stem length, the low light levels cause the stems to 'wander', resulting in crooked and twisted stems. Furthermore these same atrocious conditions of will also negatively impact the head size, and may diminish the petal count. Usually, both these defects would cause a rose to be graded out for domestic consumption and would not enter the export inventory. Usually!
Secondly, with the copious amounts of rain and continued cloud cover expected in Colombia and Ecuador during the entire three months the roses are in production for Valentine's, the low luminosity and high humidity create the perfect environment for diseases and pests to wreak havoc. More pesticides and anti-fungal fumigation's need to be applied than usual, with extra vigilance needed as this is the most valuable crop of the year. Because of the pinch, wherein three months of production was sacrificed to ensure that an increased yield will flush at the end of January, the plants are functioning under stress in less than an optimum environment. Again, the increased amount of vegetative growth means that more labor is needed to be vigilant for incidence of disease, especially for Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and Botrytis and also infestations of Spider Mites.

It does not take much to figure out that the top rose farms with good management, a sound financial footing and professional integrity will be generally impervious to the issues outlined above, except for the problem of filling all their orders. But how many of those farms are there, really? Not enough, that's for sure.
Rose farms in Colombia and Ecuador will be doing the very best that they can, and with no malice aforethought, but the facts are that with out sufficient financial resources strict fertilization and phyto-sanitary programs cannot be maintained. And this will lead to a serious compromising of quality. Most of these lesser quality products will come to the USA as, unfortunately, the US flower industry is generally considered to be a largely uneducated marketplace with an overemphasis placed on price.
Rose growers will be shipping their best roses to their most knowledgeable clients, as well as those paying the best price. In Ecuador this means a lot of these will be going to Europe and Russia, as well as some select importers and wholesalers in the USA. This is because Ecuadorian roses are considered among the best in the world. Of late, only 29% of all Ecuadorian roses on an annual basis come to the USA, although at Valentine's percentage-wise it is a little higher. Colombia sends a little under 90% of its rose production to the USA, so one can see that given the litany of problems in Colombia, it appears inevitable that the overall quality of roses available to US consumers will be compromised.My conclusion is that there will be a good supply of roses, but that good quality products will be quite scarce.

Therefore, I urge you to consider your flower purchases with diligence, not just for Valentine's Day but for the rest of the year. Learn about the products that you work with, ascertain what the internationally recognised grading standards are for the flowers that you use, establish meaningful relationships with wholesalers, vendors, growers and such, who can provide you not only with products but with knowledge.
Yes, roses, carnations, peonies, hydrangeas, in fact, probably all flowers will cost a bit more next year, so it behooves you to buy them from a company or individual who can provide you with provenance** and knowledge. And a fair price, too!

*Pinch - Term used to denote the cutting back of rose canes to promote a vigorous flush of several stems of roses at a later date. The lower one cuts on a rose plant, then fewer stems are promoted but they tend to be very long and of high quality. The higher up on the plant one cuts the rose back, the more stems are produced but are shorter and of lesser quality. Therefore the 'pinch' is a compromise of yield balanced with quality. While the bush is pinched there is no production of roses on that plant until harvest. Also note that after Valentine's the plant is effectively 'pinched' again, which explains the dearth of product in February and March. Ecuador is pinching less and less, in order to have high quality roses year round - another factor contibuting to the scarcity of top quality products for Valentine's Day.

**Provenance - A term generally used in the Art World, and especially that of Antiquities, to denote that an item has a traceable history and/or a clear and legal origin. I use it here to emphasize that it should be part of a flower buyer's routine to ascertain origin of a product, the grower perhaps, how it was shipped, when it was shipped, when it was harvested, was the cold-chain maintained and so forth. Professional wholesalers will be happy to be engaged in a process of edification, as after all they are really partners in your success.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Imagine, if you can, that just one hundred and one years ago plastic was invented (and I am talking about the material, not the financial vehicle!), and since then the evolution of technology has grown at a mercurial and Moore-ish rate. Consider, that just prior to this seminal event Einstein published his "Theory of Relativity"; Freud published his "Theory of Sexuality" and Ford produced the first Model-T automobile, all in 1905. In 1906 Kellogg's introduced cornflakes and in 1907 Picasso introduced Cubism along with Georges Braques. It is quite staggering that in two or three generations we have moved so far and so quickly in every realm of human endeavor.
In contrast, one might conclude that our industry, based on recent history,  has only recently has access to the esoteric and unusual ingredients one now sees in contemporary floral design. Yet this could not be farther from the truth.
I am an avid collector of flower books, and on my last trip to Great Britain I picked up a copy of "British Floral Decoration" by a certain Robert Forester Felton, published in 1910. Judging from many of the pictures in the book, Mr. Felton appears to have been the Preston Bailey of his era, having executed many elaborate decorations for various members of the Royal Family, as well as decorating Claridge's for Royal visits by such luminaries as the Japanese Emperor.
Some of his observations are sobering, especially when he states that: "It is fitting that the greatest of modern Empires should be represented by a flower which has taken all the world for its province, and is itself the monarch of flowers". I mean, that was only written one hundred years ago, and not only has Great Britain been eclipsed as a world power, but there is talk that the USA, which coincidentally has also taken the rose as its national flower, may be witnessing the sun setting on its world dominance.
Just as sobering, and also showing how ephemeral the things that we create really are, he also writes: "Neither has the Rose been forgotten in the world of song: hence we find, among many more or less popular airs taking Roses for their theme, 'The Last Rose of Summer,' and 'She wore a Wreath of Roses,' two songs which will live forever. (My italics!)
FOREVER? I used to think that Elvis and the Beatles songs would last forever, and now I see them decomposing in the manure of history and fashion. It is the way of the world, and each successive generation embraces new inventions, fashions and styles, and quite rightly so. However, it is patently obvious that after a few generations, that which has been forgotten is often introduced as novel and original; distinct and daring, especially in the arenas of fashion, art, science and music. And this applies to the flower industry, as we are in fact entirely influenced by the whims of fashion.
Anyway, please share in my surprise when I encountered this floral arrangement from 1909 featuring;
Gloriosa Rothschildiana;
Gloriosa superba;
Japanese Honeysuckle*;
Lily of the Valley;
 Francoa ramosa;
Buff carnations;
Caladium argyrites
and Lonicera japoonica "variegata".
One hundred and one years later, most wholesalers would struggle to procure most of these items, yet they are surprisingly at the height of current fashion. Honeysuckle vines are becoming much in demand, especially for their divine fragrance, although the flowering one illustrated here looks more like *Lonicera sempervirens than L. japonica. Also of note is the use of the trailing variegated cultivar. "Buff" carnations (yellow-brown) would also pose a problem, because while this color is very much in demand I am not aware of a cultivated carnation filling this bill, although roses such as "Combo" come close, Francoa ramosa is a very cool flower but which is hardly cultivated at all these days. It is a native of Chile, and I have asked some growers there to do some trials. We shall see. It is a beautiful upright line flower with white flowers along the stems like a cross between liatris and veronica. Back in the day it was called "Bridal Wreath", which gives you an idea as to it's romantic nature.

I leave you with the opening paragraph from "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens which so succinctly shows us that while many things change, human nature does not:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Oft repeated in our industry, though probably not investigated enough, is the quizzical exclamation "What's in a name?" In this case I am dumbfounded, as this rose, which is a brilliant, bold yellow, would have been better suited to the name of fellow painter "Van Gogh". Could it be that the breeder Alain Meilland was intoxicated by Lautrec's prints of the dancers at the Moulin Rouge, especially the one illustrated here, or could it be a tribute to the sun of Southern France, whence Lautrec was originally from? Who knows? And why do I frequently associate the most fecund flowers with burlesque dancers?
Certainly, there is something rather alluring in flowers like the classic peonies and the masterpiece garden roses, in their demeanour and above all their disposition when they are most mature.
Perhaps the rose is a tribute to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's broad appetites and epicurean tastes, not to mention being a rather auspicious mixologist, almost a century before the word was created. His most lethal concoction was one he called "The Earthquake", and if it doesn't move the ground you walk on, it will most certainly have your skull spinning on your spine! Take four parts Absinthe, two parts red wine and add a splash of cognac! And, please, no ice. It is no coincidence that Toulouse-Lautrec died at the tender age of just 36 years.
This garden rose from the House of Meilland in the Cap d'Antibes in Provence, France, is a magnificent part of the "Romantica" collection, which also features the fabulous "Yves Piaget", and continues the intoxicating legacy of it's namesake, featuring a beguiling perfume rich with the sweet notes of citrus and grape and hints of lilac. The rose develops in a magnificent way, holds it open form in a most practical fashion, and the fragrance continues to issue throughout the time the roses are in an arrangement.  
Speaking for myself, and therefore not entirely objectively, this is my favorite yellow rose that is available commercially. It has a fairly organized center which resembles an old-fashioned bourbon rose with a generous amount of outer petals forming an attractive cup. While the blooms open quite rapidly, as is common with most yellow roses, the flowers tend to set when they have fully reflexed and the overall effect of these roses, simply massed in vases, is stupendous. Rich. Feminine. Exquisite. Billowing like the petticoats of a chorus line doing the "Can-Can".
OK. Now I get it.

First Image - Lithograph by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec "La Troupe de Mlle.Eglantine".
Images Two, Three & Four - Rosa "Toulouse-Lautrec" available here

Monday, November 15, 2010


In the world of flowers there are many terms that have been created to define flower shapes, patterns, petal structures and so forth. Quite incredibly, especially in this day of information at our finger tips, many of the succinct descriptive terms used to precisely define a flower have faded into the background. Even if one does know many of the terms, they are almost redundant as many people in our industry have no clue as to what you are talking about. Fortunately, we have access to thousands of images on the Internet which are worth many trillions of words, based on the assumption that one picture is worth a thousand, which may make many of them obsolete.
However I came across one such specific term recently which absolutely delighted me with its pertinence and perspicacity.  It is used to precisely define a type of herbaceous peony: "BOMB"! The epithet refers to the structure of a peony that has a dense compact center composed of many 'inner petals'; petals that are actually dramatically transformed stamens and which are so densely packed that they form a ball, often obscuring the guard petals, or appearing to sit on them, as if on a plate.
A classic example of this, as well as being one of the greatest herbaceous peonies of all time, is the seminal "Red Charm" which was hybridized by nurseryman Lyman D. Glasscock in Chicago in 1944, and which was awarded a Gold Medal by the American Peony Society. "Red Charm" is a double Bomb form and is the standard to which all red peonies are compared to, not just in form, but also in its true red color. It is unfortunate, but almost all other peonies that are classed as red are usually a shade or two into deep pink and while almost red, to the human eye they are not.
Incredibly, the name is derived from a classic frozen ice-cream desert that was perfected by none other than Escoffier. In the 19th century an elaborate dessert was formed in exotic copper and porcelain molds, and filled with frozen ice-cream, which in turn had another filling within. At the dawn of the 20th century Escoffier refined the desert, making the shape much simpler, using large mixing bowls for the form, filling them with a frozen ice-cream outer layer and then inside with frozen custard and syrup. The large frozen dessert that resulted when two hemispheres were put together resulted in a large solid orb, that resembled the explosive device of Russian anarchists. It seems the name for the dessert was borrowed from this device and became known as "La Bombe", a name which has endured into the 21st century.  In turn, during the 1920's the term was appropriated to describe this relatively new class of peonies, which had been developed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ironically, the term has now become a popular part of the vernacular and is used to refer to something that is "off the charts", outstanding and awesome!! The Bomb!
And the term, especially in the modern context, really does apply to the American Classic; "Red Charm" It is available right now, for about two or three more weeks, so don't miss it.

Paeonia "Red Charm"
Images One & Six have had the guard petals removed

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Well, I have been cutting down on TV as of late, but in case I was missing anything, my girlfriend and I did a little channel-changing last night. First off, it just seems that the commercials go on for ever, and they are excruciatingly torturous. I mean awful. Second, given that there are hundreds of channels, it is amazing how many are unwatchable. Anyways, "The Arrangement" on Logo caught my eye. seeing as it was about, of all things, arranging flowers. But it is following the insidious competition formula started by the Food Network. In fact have you noticed how the Food Network has gone from being a cool channel with neat shows (I see Mario Batali has jumped ship! Good for him) to being a a channel about competitions involving foodstuffs.So much so they have created another channel for the cooking shows, which is ironically called the Cooking Channel (I think). It is like MTV's evolution from music channel with music to a music-channel with no music!
Anyway, I digress. "The Arrangement" is hideous, or at least this episode was, with so many ghastly puerile double-entendres about homosexuals, it made one's skin creep with embarassment. I mean are the producers of this show along with "Logo" trying to reinforce the stereotypes that already exist about the male part of the homosexual community? Because they are doing a good job of it, and giving the gay community and the floral industry short shrift in the process. And please, who designs flowers like this anymore? Aren't the days of contrived and tortured manipulations of floral products so 2000 and late?

This is doing more damage than the awful bouquets in most of the supermarkets. Surely, the time for a simple, heartfelt approach to flowers - such as you can find at any of the sites on the Blogroll, or indeed at so many florists around the country who treat flowers with respect and retain the intrinsic integrity of God's special creations - is now?

I think it is time to start a "Don' Be Cruel to Flowers" Movement!

Image from Saipua's excellent blog.
Casual, considerate and very cool. The way flowers ought to be handled. IMHO.

Monday, November 8, 2010


What the devil are we talking about? Two varieties of a flower named after a rather elusive yet tragic damsel from one of Virgil's pastoral poems. Yes, that Virgil...the one who penned "The Aeneid" , the classic history of Rome.
I have always been rather fond of Amaryllis, who kept her virtues and her beauty hidden below ground in a cave, and yet so brilliant and alluring was her beauty that even the obscurity of the depths of darkness found within the cave could not cloak her intense beauty. The name is derived from the Latin word for "sparkling" which is amarysso.
And yes, she has many admirers, although as usual she was stricken by a love she could not have, unless she brought to him a flower that was hitherto unknown to the world. Plunging a knife into her bosom, a flower appeared on her chest; a metaphor that appears in "Green, how I want you Green" by Llorca. (See post in September). Aah, those tragic poems!
Linnaeus, famous taxonomist who developed the system of naming plants that is used to this day elected to give this name to the class of flowers that we now call Hippeastrum, based largely on the fact that these fabulous flowers on erect, stiff stems appear suddenly from under the ground, where the bulbs have remained dormant for many months. The inflorescence is impressive and the variety of colors is beguiling.
Featured in the pictures are:
"Liberty" - a deep, rich red, a Burgundy really, with large blooms and a slightly glossy petal surface. It is in season now.
"Naranja" - a fully saturated orange flower, brilliant on the showy petals, and a matte coral/peach on the backside. Look for both of them now, at the peak of their season in Chile, as opposed to the forced blooms starting to arrive from Holland. While this is a new crop for Chile, the outlook appears to be very good, as the flowers are large, long-lasting and have stout stems. In vase tests the flowers have lasted very well.

Friday, November 5, 2010


"Dutchy". Bold. Brassy. Big. Bright. And very orange. Very, very orange. This new rose for 2010 is starting to appear on our shores, although why it is called Dutchy we are not sure. Presumably it has something to do with Holland. Perhaps it is a vernacular term of endearment for a native of Holland, seeing as their national color is bright orange? Or maybe it is named after a water pipe, often seen in the coffee shops of Amsterdam? Your guess is as good as mine, but one would have thought the Dutch breeders had already created enough orange roses to last at least until all the foreclosures in the USA housing market have been sold off!! Apparently not. While the color is exceptional, with an incredible saturation in the petals, I find the pointy, rather 1960's high-centered disposition rather unattractive and very old-fashioned.
But if you like the look of it, please do contact us. It certainly is the flavor of the month.

And have a terrific weekend.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


WHITE O'HARA, with apologies to Scarlett O'Hara. Or should it be Rhett Butler?     Clearly, all our harangueing of rose breeders as well as impressing on growers both in Ecuador and Colombia that fragrance is an extremely important component is finally starting to pay off. In association with those pleas, our desire for more romantic flower forms are also being addressed and now we can see that roses with characteristics of the old damask, bourbon and gallica roses are finally appearing in commercial cut flower production. At Mayesh we have reiterated these concepts like a broken record for the last twenty years, so it is gratifying to see the market finally catch up to our needs and wishes. And lets be clear, these are not original ideas but simply the manifestation of what our customer have been telling us for years.
For almost twenty five years, Mayesh has been selling fragrant garden roses in its Los Angeles location, and were the pioneers in Southern California for this esoteric product. We purchased them from Ray Ridell's rose farm in Northern California, a man who was certainly way ahead of his time.
The problem with garden roses is that they are bred to be enjoyed on shrubs in the garden, and thus generally do not have a good vase life. However, the fragrance and the romantic rosettes are simply too alluring to be ignored and slowly the marketplace demanded these products and the obvious flaws were tolerated fro many years. Nonetheless, it was obvious that this could never be anything more than a niche market, as issues with weak peduncles, debilitating diseases, especially downy mildew and aphid infestations, made them an item only for the most esoteric designers who were determined to capture the look and feel of sumptuous "Belle Epoque' rose garlands and arrangements. 
Today however, we can now count several roses that have been bred specifically for the commercial cut flower industry that have delightful fragrance, many of which have the double petal forms that are so much in demand but which deliver the critical floral pre-requisite of performance for the consumer.

Of course we are now familiar with David Austin's roses that he created specifically for the cut-flower industry, the most notableof which is "Patience" a spectacular white rose with a  fully double, quartered rosette that is a destined to be a classic. "Patience" has a delightful light sweet fragrance and overall is reminiscent of the exquisite garden rose "Felicité Hardy". "Vitality" is another exceptional white rose from the breeder De Ruiters, and although it is a somewhat high centered tea rose, it opens to a rather attractive aperture and is divinely fragrant. It has an exceptional vase life.
A few years ago, the French breeder Delbard introduced a delightful pink rose called O'Hara, which featured many attributes of a garden rose but is in fact bred for the commercial cut flower market. It has a disarmingly casual habit and opens somewhat loosely, liked a ruched silk scarf. It has a sweet aroma and is a delightful flower. And this summer, its companion "White O'Hara" was introduced to the marketplace.
The introduction of this rose, along with "Vitality", represents a seminal moment in the rose industry as several breeders have now demonstrated that it is possible to produce a vigorous, viable product for the cut flower industry that combines the desirable aesthetic attributes associated with garden roses with the hardy and abuse-tolerant  aspects of a commercial cut rose.
After doing several vase tests, we are of the opinion that "White O'Hara" will be a much sought after rose for weddings and events in 2011. We observed the following charcatersitics which we shall share with you here:
In the stage at which is shipped the bud is somewhat indifferent and resembles a rather bland hybrid tea. Removal of the guard petals is recommended, and probaly necessary, as they do sustain some bruising on transit. As the rose starts to open, a pink hue will be observed in the heart of the rose, and rather characteristically some will appear more pink than others. At the half way stage many of the blooms will reveal a formation of double and more typically triple hearts which are not particularly attractive, but this is just a phase. Shortly thereafter the rose develops into a very informal rosette which resembles, likes its cousin "O'Hara", a gathered handful of the finest creamy white silk. The pink hues fade away, and the result is an oustanding casual double rosette, very American in its loose disposition, and which holds in the vase.
Of course, while it is undoubtedly beautiful to look at, the coup de grace is the superb sweet scent, echoing sweet vanilla pods with notes of peach aroma and the fragrance of lilac.
The grower has assured Mayesh of a substantial supply of these roses for 2011 and beyond.
In fact we have his word on it!

For more information on this rose and all the Mayesh products please contact your sales associate or click here.
Related Posts with Thumbnails