Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
For 2005, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) announced its choice for flowers of the year. They selected both a fresh cut as well as a dried floral for this honor.
The fresh cut is Winter Red winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’), a variety of the common winterberry. This multi-stemmed plant produces masses of irresistible, bright red fruits that are nearly one-half inch across in clusters of six or more from the leaf axils. These can generally be seen on the plants from October through January.
Winter Red has beautiful, dark green foliage that becomes bronze during the fall months. Borne freely along the length of the stems, the berries ripen to red around the same time. The fruits of this variety last longer than those of the species plant. Once the foliage drops at the end of autumn, this reveals the splendor of the plentiful berries. At that time, the bushes seem to be on fire. The fruits are often produced in pairs.
One thing you will need to know if you plan on growing any kind of winterberry is that you should buy both male and female plants. The females must be pollinated with the male in order for the fruits to develop. This is true for all the hollies, of which winterberry is one.
Winterberry is hardy in zones 3 through 9. These plants reach about eight feet in height with a slightly larger spread. They are quite adaptable to different kinds of growing conditions, including full sun and partial shade. For best results, they need a moist soil. In fact, they will grow in constantly wet spots. Neither is it picky about the soil type. They thrive in both heavy clays and light sandy soils. Winterberry is demanding when it comes to pH. It needs acidic conditions, between 4.5 and 5.5. Otherwise, the leaves will become yellow and sickly.
For the dried flower of the year, ASCFG selected Cramers Plum love-in-a-
mist (Nigella damascena). Around 1 ˝ to 2 feet in height, its stems are often used as fresh cut stems, but they are also very popular as an everlasting. They are known for their bright purplish bronze seed pods.
Love-in-a-mist is also known as Devil-in-the-bush and fennel flower. The latter refers to the strongly pungent seeds, which can actually be used as a spice. As a fresh floral, the lacelike foliage adds a beautiful elegant touch to designs. The attractive green foliage is soft to the touch. Overall, Cramers Plum is about two feet tall.
The white flowers are produced terminally at the ends of the branching stems. Each of the flowers is surrounded by very fine, thread-like bracts growing from the base of the blossom. These give the blooms a globe-like appearance. The blossoms have around five to eight notched petals. Cramers Plum is not named for the flowers, but rather for the plum colored pods that makes an excellent everlasting.
This plant can easily be grown from seed. Because it is a hardy annual, it can be sown in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Because this plant prefers cool weather, it is best to plant early. If grown in cold climates, it is often possible to make successive sowings several weeks apart so there will be fresh flowers for months that way. In areas where the winters tend to be mild, love-on-a-mist can be planted in the fall for spring flowers. Love-in-a-mist will grow well in both full sun and partial shade.
Love-in-a-mist grows well in most well-drained soils. It is best to direct sow the seeds where they are to grow, for this plant doesn’t transplant as well as some. Normally, this plant will self-sow if you leave some of the seed pods on for the next generation of plants.