My family jokes about my crawling around in the snow to prune in frigid midwinter temperatures. But what I'm really on the prowl for are woody stems that I can force to bloom in early spring.
Everyone knows about forsythia and its charming golden flowers. But use a little imagination and you'll spot dozens of other plants to force. On shrubs, trees and roses, choose elegantly shaped stems bearing clusters of plumpish buds. You can fix up the gnarled and the ugly later on, but it's always sensible to start with something easy to work with.
I found the following: Fothergilla gardenii (white bottle-brush bloom); Rosa glauca (pretty blue-green foliage on a red stem); three types of dogwood: Cornus alba elegantissima (variegated leaves), Cornus 'Prairie Fire' (golden leaves), and Cornus sericea (dark red stems); and Viburnum xbodnantense (pink blooms, huge scent). A pretty good mix along with long seed stems of Snakeroot to add a bit of mystery.
I am no artist when it comes to arranging flowers, so I turned to Chloe Fraser. She's a Toronto florist with a shop called Flùr. Her aesthetic is very different from the starchy, stiff posies so common these days. And she is a rare florist – she has her own cutting garden.
Her arrangements are garden-inspired, but with the naturalistic exuberance associated with Dutch still-life paintings. She has cultivated a sense of freedom in handling blooms that's quite breathtaking.
Fraser accepted my offerings and added the following: Japanese Maple, Manchu cherry, quince, crabapple and pear. Things come out at varying times, so keep on cutting branches and adding them to the mix. But follow Fraser's tips:
- Prune from the back of the plant so you won’t mess up how it will look later on.
- Put stems in a bucket of warm water immediately and store them in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use them. Make sure they aren’t near heating outlets.
- When you are ready to start your design, trim each stem with clean secateurs so you have a sharp, slanted edge Do not take a sledge hammer and bash up the stems. This only provides more area for bacteria to build up. Keep it simple and clean.
- The water should be changed every few days. A packet of florist powder can be added but use according to directions. Let water sit for 20 minutes to get rid of all the chemicals.
- Strip off any foliage or buds below the water level with your fingers.
- Don’t put them in direct sun, but keep in an area that is cool and bright.
You don't have to be a purist with forcing: include some brightly coloured ranunculus, tulips and hyacinth for added zip. Look at the evergreen leaves of euonymus, hellebores and even heucheras to add texture and background.
Forcing stems from your garden or your local plant store is one sure way to bring the light and joy of spring forward and right into the house.
See marjorieharris.com for more plant information.