The Gardens Of Dalat, The ‘Little Paris’ Of Vietnam

It’s the middle of winter and summertime flowers are blanketing the hills of Dalat. And the show is only just beginning. Continue reading

Managing Hydrangeas: To Prune Or Not To Prune And Other Existential Questions

To prune or not to prune? That is one of the quintessential gardening questions. Continue reading

The ABC’s Of Deadheading And Why It Produces More Flowers

Regular deadheading ensures the blooms keep coming all season long

Have you ever been frustrated by a beautiful plant that suddenly stops blooming? It’s time for a haircut. Continue reading

New York City’s Flower District: Green Oasis In A Concrete Jungle

New York City's flower district

New York City’s historic flower district

It’s not every day you visit a city and wind up in a tropical forest. But that’s exactly the case if you happen to be walking along a stretch of New York City’s West 28th street in Manhattan. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of big city life, a vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers set up shop each morning, transforming the busy sidewalks into a bona fide urban jungle. Continue reading

Dreamy Dahlias: 10 Ways To Identify Your Perfect Type

A cactus dahlia blooming in my garden

Fall may be poking a tentative finger into my garden, but my dahlias still think it’s summer. Every morning I wake up to a multitude of new blooms. And, no matter how many I harvest, the next day there are still more waiting to be cut. In other words, October brings breakfast with an armload of fresh flowers whose brilliant, flat-tipped petals are still wet with the morning dew. Continue reading

How to Keep Your Potted Plants In Shape All Summer

It’s that time of year again when we all head out to purchase annuals for our containers. And the flowers always start out looking gorgeous. But, in no time the blooms fade and the stems turn long and leggy. As a garden designer, I find this is one of the most frequent questions I am asked: How do I keep my potted plants in shape all summer? Continue reading

Why Lily of the Valley Is The Official May Day Flower

The bells of lily of the valley

Years ago I was living in Paris when I was awakened by a knock at the door, followed by the sound of running footsteps. Opening the door, I discovered a basket of tiny white flowers on my doorstep. Little did I know, I had just received my first gift of lilies of the valley, a flower exchanged each year in France on the first of May.

A ROYAL HISTORY

In France, lily of the valley (or muguet in French) has been given as a gift for centuries. Legend has it that the custom began in the mid 1500s. This is when, on May 1, 1561, King Charles IX received a sprig of the tiny flower as a token of good luck.

The King so liked the idea that he decided to start a tradition. From that day forward, on the first of May, he presented a bouquet of lilies of the valley to each of the ladies of his court. Thus began the Fête du Muguet, known in English as Lily of the Valley Day or May Day. 

Portrait of King Charles IX

An early spring bloomer, lily of the valley is one of May’s most celebrated flowers. Depending on the climate, it typically blossoms in mid- to late-April and retains its blooms for most of May. Small in size but big at heart, it produces a single stalk of sweetly-scented white or pink bell-shaped flowers enfolded in a pair of glossy, tongue-shaped leaves.

THE STORY OF LILY OF THE VALLEY AND THE NIGHTINGALE

There’s an old legend that tells of how the first lily of the valley was in love with a nightingale. Every night the nightingale would come to the garden to sing. However, because she was shy, the lily of the valley hid herself from the bird. So after a while, he grew lonely and flew away.

Alone in the garden, the lily of the valley waited in vain for the nightingale to return. Eventually, she grew so sad that she stopped blooming. She resumed flowering only when the nightingale reappeared (in May) and her happiness was restored.

SYMBOL OF ROMANCE

In the early 20th century in France, men often gave bouquets of lilies of the valley as tokens of affection. They presented their gifts, in accordance with tradition, on the first of May. In their absence, they sent romantic postcards featuring pictures of the flower accompanied by wishes of good luck. The card-sending ritual is still practiced today.

A vintage Fête du Muguet card

HOW TO GROW LILIES OF THE VALLEY

Lilies of the valley are indigenous to temperate climates and are believed to have originated in Japan. Spreading by tiny rhizomes underground, they naturalize easily and can quickly become invasive in the garden. Unless you’re up for continually digging them out to control them, it’s best to plant the flowers in their native woodland or in a contained area in the yard.

Shade-loving, these tiny plants prefer moist, well-drained loamy soil. Don’t plant them in full sun. If you do, their bright green leaves will lose their color and turn ugly shades of brown. 

DON’T EAT THEM

Many people don’t know that all parts of the lily of the valley, if ingested, are poisonous. Therefore, when handling the flowers, it’s best to wear gloves to prevent any residue from being transmitted to food. Symptoms of lily of the valley poisoning include stomachache and blurred vision.

Since it coincides with National Labor Day on the first of May, the Fête du Muguet is a public holiday in France. Sprigs and bouquets of lilies of the valley are sold everywhere from thousands of roadside stalls that spring up all over France. And whiles sales of flowers on public streets are normally forbidden, they are permitted this day in honor of the long-standing tradition.

 

Valentines Day Begins at the Dutch Flower Auctions

Flower staging at Aalsmeer FloraHolland in Amsterdam

Today is Valentines Day, the annual festival of romantic love when many of us will be sending flowers. And even though we’ll be buying them locally, most of the blooms will have only just arrived from overseas. Ever wonder how flowers cut fresh in Europe, Africa and Israel can wind up for sale in America the very next day? The answer lies in the wonders of the Dutch Flower Auction.

A platform built for speed

Over the past century, the Dutch have perfected a trading platform that can rapidly move millions of cut flowers around the world, making what until recently seemed impossible – delivery to North America within 24-hours from overseas.
How have they done this? By creating hi-velocity supply chains to accommodate flowers’ perishability and by establishing central distribution points for trade. In other words, the Dutch flower auction eliminates the middleman so buyers and sellers can deal with each other directly.

shutterstock_240912793The story begins with the arrival each day of millions of flowers to FloraHolland, a superpower in the floricultural world. The company runs six auction houses throughout the Netherlands and accounts for 90 percent of the Dutch floral trade. According to the latest statistics, in 2015 the Netherlands ranked first in the world in total flower bouquet exports by country, accounting for roughly 40 % of total flower bouquet exports worldwide.

With daily sales of well over 20 million plants and flowers, FloraHolland’s auction houses together comprise the largest flower auction in the world. In addition to the Netherlands (which is itself a major producer of cut flowers), more than 10 countries, including Europe, Ecuador, Colombia, Israel, Ethiopia and Kenya all use the Dutch auction as a gateway for distribution. 

How the Dutch Flower Auction works

When your business is moving millions of cut flowers daily, keeping the product fresh is the primary concern. To meet the challenge, the Dutch have created lightening-fast logistics. The whole process begins with a collaborative effort undertaken by Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, ground shipping companies and the Dutch government.

Workers moving flowers on trolleys at Aalsmeer Auction

Workers loading trolleys at Aalsmeer Auction House

Nicknamed Hub Ways, the approach works to improve traffic flow both to and from the airport and between the six FloraHolland auction sites. And it’s serious business. At times, Hub Ways has even gone so far as to widen rural roads to facilitate the flowers’ distribution.

To be sure, the largest and most famous of the six auction houses is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Often referred to as ‘the New York Stock Exchange for Flowers’ it occupies a massive building measuring an astonishing 10.6 million square feet (243 acres, or roughly two football fields). It is the largest flower trade center in the world.

Photo credit: www.hollandfoto.net / Shutterstock, Inc.

On a busy day, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction Hall sells millions of cut flowers to around 2,800 wholesalers and exporters. The buyers arrive at 6 am (midnight EDT) in the morning to bid.

Racing against the clock

While the supply chain ensures the flowers arrive quickly, the Dutch Auction Method speeds the transactions at the points of sale. To accommodate their products’ perishability, Dutch flower auctions run on a system that is the flip side of traditional auctions (in which bidders push prices up from below.)  Also known as clock auctions, the unusual format is designed to ensure the highest transaction speed.

FloraHolland auction room, FloraHolland.com

FloraHolland auction room, FloraHolland.com

However, these days there is no longer an actual clock. Instead, the auctioneer operates a digital circle. Buyers connect to the clock of their choice by means of a headset. Then they submit their bids electronically.

Dutch auction clock/ Click here to see how it works

Each auction begins with the auctioneer setting a high price on the ‘clock.’ Next, the price is rapidly lowered by increments as indicated by a moving red dot on the circle. The first buyer to press the button and stop the clock is the highest bidder. Generally, the whole process takes around five seconds.

Flowers ready for auction

Adrienne Lansbergen, spokeswoman for Bloemenveiling Aalsmeeran, describes the process this way:

“It is really stressful. If you wait too long, as the flowers are passing by, they may be bought by your competitor. If you push the button too quickly, you may pay too high a price.”

Clearly, speed is the king of the auction.

Once the transactions are made, the flowers are electronically labeled and placed in buckets. Next they’re sped away on electric carts to the distribution center. Upon arrival, employees in mini electric trucks pull the buckets and redistribute them to new trolleys. Then the flowers proceed onwards to their new owners’ processing areas.

Flowers heading to the distribution hall at Aalsmeer

Depending on the species and where they are going, the flowers receive different packaging to keep them fresh as they travel.  This may include insulated cardboard boxes, ice packs to provide cooling, and/or flower mats, which absorb humidity and prevent mildew growth. Finally, the flowers are sped by truck back to Schiphol Airport, where they are loaded back onto planes for delivery overnight.

FloraHolland estimates that around Valentines Day, they trade over 300 million flowers. Of these, roses, tulips and chrysanthemums are the three top selling blooms. Nowadays, most of the roses come from Kenya. Such a long race to get here — something  to think about when arranging your Valentine’s Day blooms in the vase this year.

 

Ten Really Great (Almost) Black Flowers To Plant In Your Garden

black-bat-cover-again

Black bat flower, Tacca chantrieri

In painting, black is the deepest hue, achieved by bringing any color to its darkest value. Black gives structure to a composition, creating the illusion of depth by drawing the eye. And in the garden, black (or almost black) flowers attract attention, too, while creating dramatic contrast with other colors. I often incorporate these elegant plants into my designs just to pump up the volume. Continue reading

How To Design An All White Garden

All white garden by Here By Design

(Updated March 2019)

We all see color differently, but it’s rare to find someone who can’t see white. That’s because white, like sunlight, is composed of all the colors of the visible spectrum. In the garden, white plants reflect light, instantly brightening a shady spot. And an all-white garden is a symphony of light, where flowers and foliage join together in a succession of harmonious arrangements. Continue reading