Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tasmanian Flora at the TMAG

I recently visited the newly renovated Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.  What a treat!  The renovations and restorations are just brilliant - I felt very proud to be a Tasmanian!  There were many favourites from the visit - some spectacular printmaking by Tasmanian artist Raymond Arnold  
and some wonderful contemporary paintings.  I really enjoyed the section of Australian art from the 1950s and 60s too.  I also found this gorgeous hand painted screen that I thought I'd share with you.  I was so excited when I found it, taking photos and enjoying it, that I forgot to take note of the artist and the year - all I remember is that it was in the same room as a Margaret Preston painting so I can only assume it was produced in the early 20th century.  

I'm sharing it here because it has some beautiful representations of plants that we grow here at Swallows Nest Farm.  The first panel on the left depicts the Tasmanian plant Richea Dracophylla, or the Pineapple Candle Heath.  It is a rainforest shrub that generally grows at higher altitudes and can be found growing in the wild on the slopes of Mt Wellington, among other places.   It is a very striking plant that I'm very proud to be growing.  Its an unusual cut flower and gets a lot of comments during its flowering season in spring.  

The next panel depicted the Mountain Pepper Berry plant or Tasmannia Lanceolata - it wasn't lit well enough to get a good photo.  Then, one of my fabourites - the Tasmanian Waratah - Telopea Truncata, which we grow here at Swallows Nest.  Its another spring flowering Tasmanian Native.   Its cheery red flowers are a sight to see in the wild.  They are such a beautiful cut flower too, smaller than the well known mainland Waratahs but finer.  I love them!

Next, no Tasmanian floral screen could be complete without the Blue Gum, Tasmania's floral emblem.  It's a bit of a strange floral emblem, actually, because it is such an imposing large tree.   Eucalyptus Globulus can grow to 60m and is a gum tree that grows wild in the area around where I live.  Its beautiful flowers appear in October - January.  They are creamy white and quite large as far an gum blossom goes - 4cm.  They make good honey! The gum nuts are distinctively shaped and coated in a silvery blue bloom with a very strong eucalyptus smell.  Eucalyptus trees often have different foliage as a sapling and then develop their more typical "gum leaf" shape as a mature tree.  The foliage of a juvenile Blue Gum is really lovely - very large leaves covered with the same silvery blue bloom as the nuts.  I use it in bunches and arrangements - its colour really contrasts well with other flowers and foliage. 

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little peek at the treasure I found at the new TMAG.  If you are local, don't miss it - the renovations are really fabulous and there are some great pieces to see.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

See You Next Year ...

Am I allowed to have favourites?  If so, this would be it.  The Brunia Albiflora are officially finished for the year.  I picked the last few stragglers this week and have kept them in a vase in my kitchen to say "goodbye" till next year ... sigh!  They began to "flower" about 2 weeks ago.  What we call the flower is actually a collection of flowers, and we usually sell it when its in its bud stage.  When the little buds start to flower, they start from the outside and work inwards, creating for a while, the look of rings of flowers, like a little wreath or headband!  
Of course, I had to get the macro lens out to explore them from a bugs-eye perspective!  

Tiny flowers peeping out!

This little growth tip will be next years flower!
I wonder what the year will bring?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tips for Longer Vase Life

Fresh flowers are one of life's little luxuries and if you're going to spend your hard earned dollar, you want to get the most for it!  Vase life is an important consideration for flower growers, wholesalers, retailers and of course, buyers.  Proteas have a reputation for being long-lived cut flowers, and they certainly are, but even the most long lived cut flowers will not last if they are not properly handled.  

As a grower, I see the flowers when they are at their absolute best - on the bush!  From the moment they are cut, they are slowly deteriorating - it's slowing down that deterioration process that makes all the difference!

My first tip is to buy the freshest flowers possible.  Buying cut flowers with a "reduced for quick sale" sticker from your local supermarket, you're not getting value for money.   It's obvious that the flowers are not going to be the freshest you can buy in this situation!  But how do you know whether the flowers you buy are fresh, or whether they have been sitting in a cold room for weeks?  It is very difficult with some types of flowers and only experience can tell.  But with proteas there are some key pointers to look for.  
1.  Colour should be clean and clear - no bruising and not dull or greyish.
2.  Leaves should be green and fresh looking (think fresh leafy vegetables).  Some proteas have a problem with their leaves blackening - this can happen even under ideal circumstances.  If you find some protea flowers that have blackened leaves but are otherwise fresh, a good trick is to remove all the leaves - this can actually be a plus with floral design, making the flowers more prominent, and making the form and colour of the flower the star of the show!

3.  Proteas open over a period of time.  As a grower, I have a window of opportunity for picking.  As soon as the petals begin to separate at the tip of the flower and are soft when gently squeezed (in the above photo) the flowers can be picked.  This differs slightly for other protea, but the principle is the same.  With waratah or pincushions, once the first few stamens have begun to emerge from the base of the flower and unfold out of the "petals", they can be picked and will continue to open.  

People often expect proteas to look like this (above) but this flower is actually too mature to pick.  Its vase life is shortened because it is already fully opened.  The central mass will start to collapse very quickly (see below) and the colour will fade.  From a growers point of view, these flowers are unsellable.  Practically too, the more open they are, they will more easily be damaged during transit. 
So for longer vase life, buy protea that have not fully opened and you'll be able to enjoy watching them unfold.  

This seems really obvious but I can't stress enough how important fresh water is to the vase life of a cut flower.  The following are some tips for keeping water fresh
1.  Put a teaspoon full of common household bleach into the vase before you put your flowers in.  This will stop bacteria from growing on the stems and in the water.  If you are keen, and have it on hand, a pinch of citric acid helps to pep up the flowers too.  There is no need to purchase the floral food sachets.  As a grower, I use bleach and citric acid - much cheaper than commercial water additives and every bit as effective. 
2.  Vases must be clean.  Bacteria can live on in a dry vase under the kitchen sink for months, and will seriously shorten the vase life of any flower.  The slimy, stinky water that comes from a dirty vase is not just unpleasant but will make your flowers very unhappy! Clean out dirty old vases with a bleach solution.  If you want to, you can then put them through the dishwasher every so often as the heat will kill off any lingering bacteria.  
3. If the buckets that your flowers are sitting in at the florist or wholesaler are dirty, your vase life will be lessened.  Look for clean water in buckets.  
4. When you get your flowers home, remove any leaves or slimy stems that will sit in the water.  Its a good idea to snip about 2cm off the end of stems anyway and this increases the flowers ability to "drink".  But removing leaves below the water line will also ensure that your water stays fresher for longer and that bacteria will not grow around the stems, choking off the water supply.
5.  Replenish water regularly - proteas are very thirsty flowers.  If your vase is not the see through kind, check every few days - I have seen proteas drink a vase completely dry in days.  Use a small, long necked watering can so you don't need to carry around big vases full of water.

It's common sense really, but keeping cut flowers out of the full sun will keep them fresh for longer.  Evaporation of the water is also a factor.  Tests have shown that proteas like a little fluorescent light rather than complete darkness while they are in storage.  Fluoro light is not the most flattering for showing off blooms though!  But if you keep them out of the baking sun they'll give you joy for longer.  Don't buy flowers that have been sitting in the sun at the shop - you don't know how long they've been there!

Proteas are a fabulous cut flower, long lasting, and spectacular in colour, texture and form.  If you're buying them, make sure you get value for money and buy the freshest you can and then enjoy them for longer by looking after them.  I have heard of leucadendrons being kept in a vase, with water freshened/replenished regularly, that lasted 6 months! Incredible!