Why Carnations Are The Official Mother’s Day Flower

This is one of my favorite all-time stories. And even better, it’s true. It’s the tale of a mother and daughter, 500 white carnations and the founding of Mother’s Day. Continue reading

Historic Garden Tour: The Dolley Madison Garden Club Turns 100

It was a perfect, sunny day and the homes were spectacular. This was my first time attending Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, and the Dolley Madison Garden Club’s ‘Centennial Tour’ didn’t disappoint. It was an extra-special event, as it also marked the club’s 100th anniversary. And to commemorate the occasion, two historic residences were open to the public for the very first time. Continue reading

5 Ways To Honor Our Planet On Earth Day

earth1

It’s been a half century now since Earth Day made its debut on April 22, 1970. I still remember the strangeness of being dismissed early from school to clean up litter. At the time, the idea seemed foreign to us, which means, of course, that we were used to throwing our trash on the ground. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that was the common mindset. Continue reading

How To Cope With Boxwood Blight: An Expert Weighs In

It’s not every day you get to discuss your problems with an international expert. But Lynn Batdorf is the real deal. Batdorf is the world’s top resource on everything boxwood, including all of the diseases and pests that affect this diverse species. Recently he spoke to me about how to deal with the latest threat to our gardens, the dreaded boxwood blight. Continue reading

Why Star Magnolia Deserves A Spot In Your Garden

Magnolia stellata, commonly known as Star Magnolia

First introduced from Japan in the 1860s, star magnolia has long been a resident of the American garden. One of the smallest magnolias, it produces a cloud of showy white or pink flowers in early spring. The blossoms appear before the leaves, dangling like fallen stars on the tree’s smooth, bare branches. It’s enough to leave you speechless. Continue reading

Nurturing Wildlife Habitats: Five Ways To Save the Planet

For many of us, attracting wildlife to our gardens sounds good in theory but fails in practice. Especially when it comes to that four-legged pest the white–tailed deer. However, there are many sound reasons for enticing birds, insects, even small animals back into our yards. It’s not only good for our local ecosystem, but it also keeps our flowers blooming. And it just might be the right thing to do. Continue reading

Spring Fever: How To Force Branches To Bloom Indoors

Why wait for spring when you can force it to come early indoors? Spring flowering trees and shrubs are a ‘natural’ for forcing. Why? Because their buds formed in the fall before they went dormant. Once they’ve been chilled long enough, they’re ready to cut. And for many of us, that time is now. Continue reading

How To Design With Naturalistic Plantings: An Expert Speaks Out

Naturalistic plantings at Denver Botanic Gardens

If you’re used to order in the garden, naturalistic plantings can seem a bit out of control. But installations such as New York City’s High Line are bringing this new, plant-driven approach more and more into the mainstream. That’s according to award-winning designer Carrie Preston of the Netherland’s Studio TOOP. She spoke recently in Maryland on how to incorporate naturalistic plantings into all types of landscapes. Continue reading

The Best Hellebore Varieties For Your Winter/Spring Garden

February can be a bleak time on the East Coast. Days are short and the sky hangs low on the horizon. But there’s a small-sized perennial whose early, colorful blooms never fail to lift my mood. It’s the lovely, cup-shaped flower called hellebore, commonly known as the Lenten Rose. Continue reading

Vietnamese Tet: The Top Lucky Plants And Flowers

Apricot blossoms flowering in southern Vietnam

Given that Vietnamese Tet and Chinese New Year fall on the same day, you could say it’s like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. To mark the event, businesses and schools close up shop and family members return home for the holiday. One of the most important aspects of the festivities are the many decorative symbols steeped in centuries of tradition. And it all starts with three lucky plants and flowers.

VIETNAMESE TET COMES EARLY

Ask the Vietnamese and they will tell you that Tet (also known as Vietnamese Lunar New Year) is the most important holiday in their culture. Beginning on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, it celebrates the arrival of spring. This usually occurs somewhere in late January or early February.

Spring in February you say? Well as we discovered after a month here in January, there is very little variation between the seasons. That’s because Vietnam has a tropical ‘monsoon’ climate. Being near the equator, its temperature barely fluctuates year-round. So generally, people mark the seasons by amount of rainfall and what’s blooming.

Vietnamese Tet flowers outside Diamond Plaza in Ho Chi Minh

This year, Tet takes place from February 5 to 7. And here in Ho Chi Minh City, preparations for the holiday have been underway for a while. Every day brings new Tet flowers – yellow apricot trees appear in business doorways, peach blossoms pop up in store windows and kumquat trees laden with fruit arrive in living rooms and hotel lobbies. 

And just like Christmas in the West, each lucky plant and flower carries its own special meaning.

Kumquat tree and poinsettias at a store entry

YELLOW APRICOT BLOSSOMS (HOA MAI) 

It’s hard to find a restaurant, public building or shop in southern Vietnam that doesn’t have at least a bouquet of these brilliant yellow flowers. Commonly known as yellow mai (spring) flower, the apricot blossom is the quintessential symbol of spring.

Apricot shrubs bloom naturally in the south during Tet, where they are also viewed as the spirit of the holiday. The timing of their blossoms, coupled with the fact that they can endure year-long heat and humidity, make them very special flowers indeed. There are many artificial renditions as well.

Moreover, each of the flower petals stands for one of five blessings: longevity, wealth, peace, health and love of virtues. Even the color yellow is significant. According to Vietnamese Tet traditions, it represents happiness, prosperity and good luck

 Apricot blossoms blooming on a fence in southern Vietnam

PEACH BLOSSOMS (HOA DAO) 

By contrast, in northern Vietnam it’s the peach blossom that takes center stage. In Hanoi, these rosy-pink Tet flowers are considered harbingers of good fortune. The most intensely-colored ones are the most favored.

Peach blossoms 

Peach trees blossom early in the north. Given that northern Vietnam is colder than the south, the Vietnamese consider the flowers to have brave heart since they bloom while other plants are still dormant. Vietnamese tradition also holds that peach flowers keep the family peaceful and healthy.

Workers spray paint gold branches to compliment peach blossoms in Ho Chi Minh

Illuminated peach blossom in shop window in Saigon

KUMQUAT TREE (CÂY QUAT) 

In addition to these key New Years flowers, the kumquat tree plays an important role in Vietnamese Tet traditions. During the Lunar New Year it is a popular decoration for the living room, where its deep orange fruits symbolize fruitfulness. Kumquats also bring good health and good luck to family businesses. 

Pruned kumquat trees

For the best luck, a tree should have many fruits of similar size (both ripe and green) and big, shiny green leaves. The more fruit on the tree, the more luck for the family. In accordance with Vietnamese Tet traditions, trees are carefully selected and prominently displayed in businesses and homes during the holiday. 

Most businesses place the shrubs at their entrance where they are in clear view of the street.

Kumquat tree fruits

The various parts of the kumquat tree also represent many generations. As a rule, the fruits are the grandparents, flowers are parents, buds symbolize children and new green leaves represent grandchildren. This makes the choice of the tree exceptionally important.

BONSAI AND OTHER KEY VIETNAMESE TET FLOWERS

Of course, there are many other flowers that figure in Vietnamese Tet traditions, each with its own special meaning. Among them are marigolds (symbols of longevity), cockscombs, orchids and chrysanthemums, the latter of which are broadly referred to as yellow daisies.

Yellow chrysanthemum in a vase at a Buddhist temple in Ho Chi Minh

During the holiday, pots of these bright yellow Tet flowers embellish homes, businesses, temples and pagodas all over the city. Symbol of life, chrysanthemums are believed to bring equilibrium to the household.

The Vietnamese typically purchase these special plants from mid-December until just before Tet from flower markets like Ho Chi Minh City’s  Ho Thi Ky. They keep them until mid-Lunar New Year.