My amaryllis/daffodil/hyacinth/cyclamen/spring bulb has finished flowering – what do I do with it?
You can throw it on the compost, plant it out in the garden, or encourage it to flower again indoors next winter. Keep on watering and feeding the plant for about six weeks after flowering, and then reduce the watering until about September, when you stop. The leaves should die back during this period of their own accord. Put the plant somewhere dry and frost free; in the spring the bulb will put forth shoots. Then you should start watering and feeding again.
Bear in mind that some bulbs prepared for Christmas flowering can exhaust themselves putting on a spectacular show earlier than they would normally. The next year’s flowers may not be as large or numerous, while the bulb replenishes its resources.
Which plants are best for an office?
Indoor plants can reduce fatigue and cold-related illnesses by more than 30%. They also alleviate stress, help us relax, and increase our general wellbeing. They suck harmful chemicals from photocopiers and traffic fumes out of the air, and improve humidity, making it easier for us to breathe.
The best plants are easy-care foliage (green) plants – We recommend ivy, dracaena, palms, peace lilies and spider plants. If you want a bit of colour on your desk too, pot chrysanthemums and gerbera are perfect.
Will the plants in my bedroom suck the oxygen out of the air while I sleep?
Simple answer – No. Plants do give off carbon dioxide at night, but they absorb it during the day, giving off oxygen and improving the air we breathe. So at the end of the day there is a balance. Besides, you would have to sleep in a bright airtight room crammed full of plants before you noticed CO2 levels rising enough to affect your breathing. The plants are also absorbing harmful chemicals from furnishings and decor, traffic and smoke, thereby improving the air quality a second way.
Do we grow any flowers here in the UK?
There are many flowers grown in the UK, though in much smaller quantities than a generation ago. Most commonly available are daffodils and tulips in spring; sunflowers, sweet Williams and stocks in summer; gladioli and foliage in autumn and chrysanthemums all year round.
How can I find organic/Fairtrade flowers and plants?
Many flowers and plants are ethically grown without being labelled as such. Rules and regulations make it difficult for retailers to label their products without getting into trouble with the organisations that run the schemes. For instance, if ethically-grown imported roses are included with UK-grown foliage, the bouquet cannot be called ‘Fairtrade’. Around 50% of some retailer’s product may be ethically grown, but only 2% able to label as such.
There are increasing amounts of flowers being grown organically but it is still a small market. However, growers are constantly reducing their use of pesticides and chemicals and have been for many years. Like ethical products, it can take up to five years and large amounts of paperwork to be called ‘organic’. Some flowers cannot be successfully grown commercially under organic methods – they are fine in the home garden where only one or two are required, but if several thousand are needed in perfect condition, this becomes impossible.
I’ve been given a mystery plant. How do I look after it?
The first step is to identify it. All retailers should label their plants with the correct botanic name (the name a scientist would use for the plant) – if the label has a brand name like ‘pink bubbles’, or just says ‘houseplant’, go back to the retailer and ask them to identify it for you.
If you have been given a plant with no label, then follow some basic rules.
- Furry-leaved plants and juicy-leaved plants usually come from deserts or dry areas and need less water and bright light.
- Plants with big glossy leaves usually come from tropical regions and need warmth and regular misting, plus an occasional wipe with a damp cloth.
- Plants with lots of tiny leaves often need cooler, shadier spots.
- Flowering plants can be treated as a long-life bouquet, and composted after flowering. However, many will re-flower after loving care, the same time next year. A flower is often easier to identify than a leaf.
- Bulb plants need a period of rest and dryness to recoup their energy for re-flowering.
Why do we need complicated Latin names? Why can’t we use English ones?
It’s universal – With the correct botanic name you can look up the plant in any reference book anywhere in the world and get the same information. Sometimes a plant will have a common name, but this may not be what everyone calls it, or not what it is called in other areas.
It’s accurate – English or common names don’t help identify the plant – for instance, primroses, Guelder roses, and rockroses are not actually roses. A snapdragon in the UK is called a wolfmouth in France. What we call lily of the valley, the Germans know as May Bells. However, every country calls these flowers Antirrhinum and Convallaria, their botanic names. So you always get what you want.
It’s identifying – To simplify, the first part of the botanic name is the ‘surname’, and identifies the family the plant belongs to. Just like people, members of the same family share resemblances. Some plants have few family members or few differences, and so just the surname – Tulipa – is enough to identify them for most purposes.
It’s informative – The second part of the name identifies particular members of that family; some families are very large and varied and so both parts of the name are needed. Euphorbia pulcherrima will get you a Christmas poinsettia; Euphorbia tirucalli will get you a funny-looking succulent. Occasionally this second part also tells you something about the plant – nanus is small, alba is white, fragrans is scented.
I’m hopeless with houseplants – what do you recommend that I could keep alive?
If you think you can’t look after houseplants, or if your houseplants die on you, don’t despair. You may simply have the wrong environment in your home for the plants you chose, or you may have picked plants requiring more specialist care. The two things to find out are what conditions your home has, and choose plants to suit; and what you do to plants when caring for them, and choose plants that like that type of care.
I want to work with flowers/plants – where do I go for advice?
Good choice! There are plenty of ways to work with flowers and plants – if you want to get your hands dirty outside, or want to stay clean in an office; if you like getting up early or prefer to work late; if you like practical projects or are better at academic study.
Many Local Education Authorities run basic flower arranging courses as night classes. In addition, local NAFAS, WI or church groups may provide opportunities for flower arranging.
There are also opportunities for volunteering with nature groups or local authorities in clearing undergrowth, or gardening for the housebound, which will help you decide if an outdoors, hands-on career is right for you.
If you don’t want to get creative or dirty, then perhaps wholesaling, importing, buying for a supermarket, or checking quality at a pack house is right for you. Thousands of people are employed in the horticulture industry, and not all of them are making bouquets or planting trees; but many of them love the work they do.
Is there such a thing as a black flower?
Jet black flowers rarely exist in nature, but many flowers have very dark purple or red variants. The blackest flowers include forms of violet, kangaroo paw, tacca, and Salvia discolor. Roses, tulips, and calla lilies all have deep purple forms that can appear to look black as well.
Are there any true blue flowers?
True blue is the rarest flower colour in nature, but there are still some naturally blue flowers to be had. Delphiniums, cornflowers, echinops, iris, grape hyacinth, agapanthus, eryngium, campanula and hydrangea are probably the most readily available.
How do I get my poinsettia to re-flower?
You don’t; that’s the simplest answer. It is possible to get them to redden up again – if you have the patience of a saint, a lightproof black bin bag and nothing else to do for the next twelve months. The plant may have probably cost you as little as five pounds so treat it as a temporary winter ornament and compost it once the leaves begin to drop.
I want to do the flowers for my own wedding – how do I go about this?
While the thought of organising your own wedding flowers sounds like a simple task, don’t be fooled. Getting married is one of the most stressful things you can do and you need to ask yourself if you really can afford the time and effort it takes to arrange your own wedding flowers.
If you do, then there is no reason you can’t give it a go. First you’ll have to work out the quantities of flowers you need for all the venue displays, bouquets and buttonholes. Make sure you’ve got enough containers, wire, ribbon, pins, foam, etc. to make everything with.
Then you’ll need to plan a couple of weeks ahead so you get all the flowers open in perfect condition in time for the day, not too ‘blown’ or tight in bud (a tricky business). Then you’ll need to condition them overnight somewhere cool. After that you arrange them, which can be quite tricky if you’re working alone.
Otherwise leave it to the professionals; they can work to your budget – however small – and your colour choice, to give you exactly what you want. They’ll also know the techniques for attaching flowers to a barn roof or pew end, and getting a delicate bloom to last through the day out of water.
My baby/pet has just swallowed a leaf – what should I do?
First of all, don’t panic. Most plants aren’t harmful in tiny quantities, and those few that are, our bodies tend to reject quite quickly. The only exception is lilies and cats – for some reason cats are very susceptible and should be kept well away from lilies; dogs and other pets are fine around them. We would also advise that you should not deliberately eat any flower or plant unless it has been specifically sold for this use.
My Swiss cheese plant/yucca is out of control – help!
You can prune both these plants to manageable proportions. Just be brave, and use very sharp secateurs for the Swiss cheese, and a wood saw for the yucca. If in doubt, call a professional.
My mother in law’s tongue/cactus is flowering – is this normal?
Sanseveria (mother in law’s tongue) do not flower very often, and it’s not a particularly glamorous flower, but it’s normal. You’ll see a small pale green flower spike nestled amongst the leaves.
Cacti on the other hand have gorgeous flamboyant blooms in bright colours, and a healthy happy adult cacti is able flower every year.
I want to start a florist business – what’s the best way to do this?
Firstly running a florist business is very different to being a florist. You’re basically running a shop that happens to sell a product with a short shelf life that needs specialist handling.
We recommend some training not only in floristry, but in running a small business. You’ll need to understand employment law, health & safety, VAT, marketing, managing staff, payroll, contracts, and basic bookkeeping (even if you outsource this). You will also need a robust business plan to take to your bank manager to persuade him to fund you; so do some thorough research in your area into potential customers, suppliers, and competitors; and work out all your expected costs.
Where can I buy a flower that’s called Lucy/Esme/Delores/Archibald/Rotherham?
The Royal Horticultural Society has a service on their website rhs.org.uk which they will let non-members use without payment. You click the Plant Finder link and type in the name and it will find varieties of plant which share that name, and link you to nurseries which might sell them.
How do I name a flower after my Uncle Bert/Aunt Edna/cat Percy?
First a quick lesson in developing a new plant. The breeder ‘crosses’ the parent plants (that is, they take pollen from one flower and spreads it on the anthers of the other flower) and waits for it to set seed. They then take all the seed, sow it and wait for it to germinate. When the plants are big enough to flower, the results are measured and the best of those plants are taken and the process is repeated.
This can take many years with several thousand plants eventually whittled down to one or maybe two good plants with new characteristics. At this point breeders can then choose a name for their new variety. However there are one or two companies that will take a plant and name it for you, for a fee; usually one of the rejected hybrids that will not go into commercial production and sale, but which is a perfectly serviceable plant nonetheless.