Some folks are good at making a business grow, and others grow beautiful gardens. In St. Francisville, Louisiana, Michelle Roth’s entrepreneurial nature rivals her passion for beautiful bouquets. As one of the local farmers market’s founders, she has nurtured her cut flower business along with the weekly event’s success. “When we started the farmers market 10 years ago, there was a lady bringing cut flowers to sell. Then she moved away. None of the other vendors wanted to mess with them, so I decided to do it myself,” Michelle says.
Growing Food for the Soul
Occasionally Michelle is questioned about her decision to fill this niche. “When people ask me why I’m not growing food, I tell them I am. I’m growing food for the soul,” she replies.
Michelle’s experience has taught her which flowers are customer favorites. “My number one sellers are hydrangeas. People love them, either fresh or dried,” she says. In addition, she grows the most popular annuals and perennials in abundance.
Besides flowers, each bouquet contains bright foliage for texture and additional color. These materials are often referred to as filler. “Over time, I’ve sharpened my vision on what makes a good filler as well as a nice landscape plant you can whack on to use in bouquets,” she says. “Nandina is my favorite--it’s such a versatile plant seasonally.” Pittosporum is another top contender, with its rounded, slightly waxy leaves.
Cut Like a Pro
A fresh bouquet can last a week, or it might succumb after a day. One of the tricks to longevity lies in the time of day flowers are cut, as well as how they are treated immediately after harvest. “I try to cut in the evening after sunset,” Michelle says. Blooms perk up after the day’s heat has vanished and cut without wilting. “I condition them overnight and then do my arranging at daybreak,” she adds. Here are her tips to make flowers last.
- Take a bucket of water into the garden with you. Cut flowers, and immediately put them into the water.
- When done, recut stems and place them in buckets filled with tepid water and floral preservative (available from florists or www.afloral.com). Spotlessly clean buckets are a must.
- Let the flowers rest overnight in a cool, dark place.
Grow Your Own
To begin a cutting garden, use Michelle’s list as a guide for plentiful blooms.
• Summer phlox (Phlox paniculata)
• Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)
• Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)
• Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)
• Garden gladiolus
• Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia)
• Spider flowers (Cleome hasslerana)
• Wheat celosias (Celosia spicata)
• Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus)
(sun and shade selections)
• Sprenger asparagus (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’)
If you don’t grow your own flowers, purchase what you need from a local market. Follow Michelle’s steps to put together a wonderful bouquet.
1. Choose several stems of the same flower for the biggest impact and to direct the color palette. Here, she began with summer phlox.
2. Holding them in your hand, surround the blooms with foliage. Michelle used Persian shields for additional color and asparagus fern for texture.
3. Cut the stems straight across, all the same length.
4. Wrap an elastic band around the base to keep the flowers in place.
"Bountiful Blooms" is from the August 2008 issue of Southern Living.