Monday, August 15, 2011

A Few Words On Plant Fever and How I Ended Up With a Tree of My Own

One of the main reasons there are too few hours in a day is that there are so many plants to see! It doesn't help that I now have hundreds more plants under my care, having recently taken on a new job at a nursery. I love my new occupation, but I've dearly missed blogging about plant life! The season is marching on in my patio garden, at the farm, in my community plots and in the local greenspaces. If the zoom lens on my camera was strong enough, I'd show you the renegade leaves at the top of the maple tree across the street that are already turning red. As strange as they are, they send me a strong message, and I know I have a lot of catching up to do.

So I pass time at the nursery and the plants do their part in keeping me sane. But once in a while, it's the plants that also drive me to insanity. I'm talking specifically about my recent acquisition of an Asian pear tree here.  There were no outside forces at work that resulted in it now residing on my patio- only me and the tree. In the moment before I brought it home, I was entranced by it. (My husband, and possibly my neighbours, who I dragged into the garden to admire the tree the moment I got it home, and maybe even some folks out there on Facebook, may argue that the trance lasted all night.) Am I crazy, or did this tree speak to me?

At six feet tall, the tree towers five inches above me. (Yeah, I measured it, but only after I got it home and set about writing this post.) Here are a few more relative measurements:

distance between the nursery and my garden= 15 miles/ 24 km
cargo volume in my car= 65.3 cu ft/ 1.85 cu metres
total area of my garden= 150 square feet/ 15 metres square

The numbers were an afterthought, and I conjure them up for your benefit, only to show you that it was mathematically possible for me to have this tree.  When the tree and I were talking, or rather, when that dialogue occurred in my head, it was strictly horticultural. Maybe a bit culinary too. And, yes, I recall a small dose of vanity maybe, just a milligram. During that dialogue, here's what I found out. . .

Asian pear trees (Pyrus pyrifolia) have existed for an estimated 3000 years in their native Asian regions, working their way into sayings and parables, and eventually becoming a well-known symbol of spring. They were introduced to North America in the 1800's by Chinese agricultural immigrants who landed in California. 

They are less common than European pears here mainly due to their occasional vulnerability to fire blight, the high water content of their fruit (which makes them less versatile in cooking), and their limited winter-hardiness. I also found out that fruit trees can be grown in containers, but it may produce slightly less yield and require steadfast attention to watering. It's best to cross-pollinate them with another pear tree.

Owing to my advanced stage of plant fever, I found it easy to form an appropriate retort to all this information. The fact is, diseases like fire blight only heighten my interest in IPM (Integrated Pest Management), and my keenness to practice it. I get a similar kick out of growing plants on the edge of their hardiness zone. (Yes, I'm still a fan of native plants and will extoll their virtues at the drop of a hat, but can't I have a little fun too?) 

Growing plants in containers is also my bag. Where else am I supposed to grow them now that I've filled all the space I have in the ground? My plant fever also tells me that urban agriculture trends are leaning, somewhat like a young fruit tree, toward growing just about anything in containers. 

As for the aptness of certain fruits in my kitchen, I prefer to leave that up to the taste buds. Asian pears aren't usually used in pies, but they are touted for adding flavor to savory things like beef marinades. Wikipedia says that they "tend to be served to guests or given as gifts, or eaten together in a family setting." Now who couldn't approve of  that? 

The distance from the nursery to my house, the cargo space in my car, and the few feet of space I have left in my garden worked in my favour the day I took my first tree home. I found a sizeable, sturdy glazed pot and furnished it with compost. As I stare at the fruit through my rainy window today, I can imagine the branches maybe eventually reaching the upstairs balcony so that the neighbours could reach out and pick a pear, or peeking up over the fence to evoke some curiosity from passers-by.

It's true, pollinating the pears is most successful when there is more than one tree. But to me, seeking out pollen from another fruit tree owner, just as spring is coming around the corner each year, seems like a pleasant quandry. After all, what is gardening about, if not sharing germs of plant fever that may one day bear fruit in your own garden?

This sculpture in my garden reminds me that anything is possible!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Festival of Trees #62: Lessons I Learned From a Tree

It's easy to fall in love with a tree in the springtime- they are loud with the first colors of the year- pale pink, dusty yellow, chartreuse. By July, most trees are cloaked in deep green and perhaps wallow in the shade of other trees in the forests and glades, or blend harmoniously into the hum of summer meadows and thickets. In creating the Festival of the Trees edition this month I learned that even from these places, they still have the capacity to shock us, woo us, and draw us close. I learned that it's hard not to refer to trees as agents of actions and feelings in their own right, and I think many who have been wooed to tell a tree story this month would agree with me. Perhaps it's because when we are up close to the trees, we have an immense opportunity to learn from them, if we care to listen.

People who have learned lessons from trees in the past may seek new opportunities from new trees. Fran at Mumbling Mountain went on a tree-finding mission back in April and would like to share it with us. Lucy at Loose and Leafy felt it necessary to approach what appeared to be a large shadowy blob and find out and name exactly what tree was in there. Many others like them across the continent are hunting for trees- extraordinarily large ones. Once the tree hunters find a special tree, they measure it and nominate it for The Big Tree Project at American Forests, and if the tree scores enough points on their rating system, it becomes a Champion Tree. A register of all the Champion Trees to date are available for perusal in the online registry.

The Big Tree Project is a rare opportunity for us to make trees champions for a change. Often it is the trees that make us champions. Every year in late July new international trees climbing champions are chosen by the International Society of Arborculture. Contestants compete in a series of tree-climbing races (see live video of the races) that test for speed, strength and agility.  This year's championships were held in Australia and the winners are Scott Forrest of New Zealand and Chrissy Spence of New Zealand.

This month NPR featured a different set of trees tied to Olympic champions- the four oak trees that were given to Jessee Owens, who won four gold medals for running at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. They have been featured in a book by Jim Constandt and a movie called Jesse Owens returns to Berlin.

One can't talk about climbing trees and picking champions without being reminded of childhood. Over at Rock Paper Lizard, there is an amusing recollection of childhood tree climbing at "The Crescent", a well-known patch of trees in Vancouver's Shaunessy area. It makes me think of the summer camp kids at the farm I have been teaching off and on this month, who have chosen the best apple tree for climbing and will grudgingly wait their turn to monkey around in it all through snack time.

What is it about climbing trees that brings out the inner child in us? It brings out this and more, as artist and climber Todd Smith found out. He climbed a tree every day for one year to study this perspective. What he found he recorded in a daily journal where he wrote and collected tree samples. He created a blog, Daily Climb, to share the highlights, and this month, after recounting those highlights day by day, his story came to a close.

There are other ways to learn lessons from trees than to seek them out like the tree hunters, the tree champions, the children and Todd Smith. Sometimes it almost seems as though the trees seek us out. This message in clear in both Sheila's account of a young sycamore tree growing in the middle of Hope Creek on her blog Green Place, and in the Virtual Notes of Dorothy Lang about a tree on her bike route. In both instances, the author glimpsed the tree from afar and because they meditated on it for a moment, were rewarded with simple, powerful lessons. Diana J. Wynne of a place in the world blog writes about this too, as a character in her story Road Trip is drawn to the trees.

Researchers at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum are wracked with curiosity about trees at a microscopic level. I had the chance to tour their lab about a month ago, and was fascinated that even at microscopic range, the trees are calling to us! Beautiful images and strange behavior abound even inside the cells of trees. Around the same time of my visit, the lab came out with a big discovery about how pollen grains of a tree may actually compete in order to fertilize the eggs cell at the base of every tree flower.

There is so much to learn from every tree that scientists at Oxford University are taking stock of large numbers of trees for just this purpose. Now we move from extreme micro of the Arnold Arboretum labs to extreme macro in Oxford's project. It was released this month that they have taken on the task of extensively mapping each one of the world's religious forests. These forests are home to some of the most rare and longest-lived organisms on the planet. And I won't mention long-lived organisms without giving a nod to the "Dinosaur Forest" post at Rebecca in the Woods. This one speaks to me on all my nerd-wavelengths!

Old trees are something to be cherished in Texas, too, as an entire team of firefighters have dedicated themselves to keeping a local icon from becoming thirsty this summer. At Fidalgo Island Crossings, Dave ponders just how much one particularly old tree has given to people over its lifespan.

In contrast to those stories, at Mole blog, a poem marks both the youth and the end of a tree's life through a sudden crack. Practice Makes Perfect blog highlights the striking beauty of a fractured tree as well. In Arlene Wanetick's story posted at Art 4Play blog, a broken tree is a potent catalyst for learning, as thousands of city-dwellers, children, and camp counselors take pause to adjust their daily lives around the loss of electricity.

I thought I would save a few sweet rewards for the end of Edition #62.  At European Trees, we are treated to a geographic tour of Western Europe's most popular specimens for wine and spirit-making. Seattle's Chinese Garden offers us a beautiful fantasy of a peach tree forest in a popular Chinese parable. Looking at the ripe, round fruit, I am reminded of the young Asian pear tree I purchased two days ago. Although not the first tree I have cared for and tended, it is the first tree I have ever had. I am tempted to say it is the first tree I have ever owned, but then, how could something so full of life belong only to me and not be enjoyed by everyone? After I loaded it out of my car at home, I immediately grabbed my neighbours to show them the tree and share some fruit. I'll be sharing the tree with you too, in a later post. . .

I'd like to thank all of the contributors to Edition #62 for your submissions which made this month's Festival of the Trees an awesome one! I also want to thank the Festival coordinators, especially Dave Bonta and Jade Leone Blackwater, for the opportunity and for their suggestions. You'll find next month's edition at Slugyard blog.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Berry-Go-Round Carnival: July 2011

It's about that time of season. I've got slow-poke blossoms, ever-expanding shoots, swelling fruits and plants gone to seed in my garden. As if that wasn't fixating enough, many of my favourite bloggers from around the globe are experiencing the same phenomena simultaneously. If only there was some way to meld all of these amazing plant happenings in to one post. . .wait. . .isn't it my turn to host Berry-Go-Round, the blog carnival with the most biomass in the blogosphere?  Yes indeed.

First I'd like to mention that although it may seem to most that we are suspended in the thick soupy air of midseason, there are still fresh new beginnings in certain garden corners. Julia at Polka Dot Galoshes illustrates a few of these.

After spying anxiously on buds with Julia, I might direct your attention to some rather rewarding blooms. Annelie at Nature as I See It shared the product of her winter seed scattering when she discovered it early this month. At Growing With Plants,  Matt Mattus exposed some of the mystery behind Peruvian daffodils a few days ago.

If the blooms can't be found under our own care, we can trust Mother Nature to leave us wordless this month, as it did for Karin of Southern Meadows who witnessed the magic of Queen Anne's Lace from behind her camera. A few bloggers (Janet of Planticru Notes and Gayla Trail from You Grow Girl) have stopped to marvel at thistle in particular, a notorious ward of Mother Nature.

Images of summer flowers may be strange and new like Gayla's or age-old like Patricia Tyron's ceaseless stream of fascinating floral art at Picturing Plants. Every selection of botanical art at Patricia's blog has made tremors in history, yet some of the images resonate especially strong in my soul. This month, I need only gaze on the coltzfoot, cosmos, or columbine there to connect with kindred spirits of talented artists who were also fascinated with these midsummer blooms hundreds of years ago. On the other hand,  the likeness of flowers to our favourite historical works of art are sometimes too tempting not to share, as Stacy at Microcosm has skillfully done.

Phil Gates penetrates plants at a level so far  Beyond the Human Eye that even something so familiar as a banana leaf can be lifted to fine art standards.

I can rely on Gary Bandzmer of to pair images of intimate moments in the lives of plants, such as a roses in ruins, with timely poetry.

Alan at It's Not Work It's Gardening looks beyond prolific flowers this month to highlight some of his favourite foiliage. This raises the question, Why just stop and stare at our most beloved plants this month- why not ask what those plants have done for us lately?

At Restoring the Landscape With Native Plants, it's a given that we benefit from pollinators, who are in turn happy guests of the most bewitching wildflowers of July .

 Phil gates removes  the extra link between flowers and ourselves by showing us on Cabinet of Curiosties how we can dye our fibers with the brightest of the bunch.

The 3 Foragers know how to transform any plant part into delicious meals, and their posts this month on milkweed and sumac meringue are no exception.

Over at Plant Postings,  smoothie recipies follow helpful tips on tracking down the most succulent July berries, and more harvest inquiries are answered on A Way to Garden when Margaret Roach tackles the perfect pickling plant.

 If the quest for  beauty, nourishment and sustenance from this month's botanical specimens has led you far into the wilderness, Andrea Bellamy of Heavy Petal can bring you back to civilization with an homage to a most familiar plant ally in a field of wheat.

This, the beginning of cultivated plants as we know it, seems an appropriate place to halt until next month's edition of Berry-Go-Round carnival. Be sure to tune in again, even put in your own two cents, at Osage and Orange next month.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Every Day is a New Day in the Daylily Garden

Barabara Provost has spent many a summer day cupping the faces of daylilies for visitors to see at Elm Bank’s New England DaylilySociety (NEDS) garden. Since the garden’s inception in 2003, she’s been welcoming passers-by to walk the garden’s paths and take a closer look. When I spoke to her at the Society Row plant sale earlier this year, she called after me “Every day is a new day in the daylily garden!”

The garden’s first days were passed by enthusiasts from across New England, amending the soil (it was formerly the site of three swimming pools) and placing donations of their most beloved cultivars in the freshly dug beds. “NEDS members from all over New England, from the mountain tops of Vermont to the Cape all donated plants that would survive in zone 5b.” she recalls.

She agrees with me that fans of the genus Hemerocallis are a dedicated bunch, but the reason they fall head over heels for the plants is simpler than one might think.  “The hook is durability, the fact that you can plant a daylily and for forty years not take care of it, and then fertilize it and they’re up and growing again! And after forty years of neglect, they were the only things living in my garden.” 

Even though she had been growing daylilies since 1965, the first time Barbara Provost realized how much she loved the genus wasn’t until much later. She remembers the portraits of daylilies taken by a local photographer, Jon Pike, that she saw at Boston’s flower and garden show.  “I said- where are these flowers?? I didn’t know that there were people growing so many sizes, colours and shapes!”

Now Barbara grows a staggering 1200 cultivars in her own garden and travails at hybridizing more every season. “I am always looking for that sport, that wonderful new creation. Every year I do crosses that produce about 350 seeds I can grow and test, and that’s all I have room in my dining room to grow!” Her plants include both new and old varieties. “I have a lot of daylilies from my great-grandmother, my mother, my grandmother. . . and I pass them on to my girls.”

That’s part of the reason both Barbara’s garden and the one she tends at Elm Bank are official historic gardens. Some of the oldest varieties, like tall, orange Hemerocallis fulva have been in this region since the 1700’s. Others are as old as the 16th century. Visitors to the garden at Elm Bank can find another nod to the past in the extensive collection of Elizabeth Nesmith’s hybrids. Known as the “Grand Dame of the North” throughout the Daylily Society, Nesmith was the first hybridizer to create a pink cultivar from an orange daylily. Her hybridizing work in the 1930’s won her the coveted Stout Silver Medal Award, which is given every year to the most outstanding new hybrid. Hers and cultivars of other prolific New England hybridizers are showcased in the garden at Elm Bank.

NEDS members vote on new cultivars to add to the scrapbook-like garden after they are introduced at the Daylily Exhibition each year. This year’s exhibition is coming up this weekend on July 23rd at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.  “We do have judges coming for the show, and they’re going to stop by Elm Bank, and they’re coming to my garden also.” Provost says some judges will vote on the appearance of the gardens and some will vote on the cultivars themselves.

To the untrained eye, daylilies are nothing more than the orange (fulva) and gold (Stella d’oro) flowers that thrive along roadsides (often referred to as “ditch lilies”) or proliferate in commercial plantings at gas stations and shopping malls. Provost explains that the reason these varieties are so common is because they’re the oldest around- tried and true- but this doesn’t mean they’re a fair representation for the whole genus. Orange and gold are only the first colours of the season to bloom in the daylily garden. On my visit to the NEDS garden at Elm Bank, pink-tinged buds and a myriad of tidy labels that bore names like “Pardon Me”, Arterial Blood”, Twilight Tryst”, and “Cinderella’s Dark Side” hinted at much more variety to come.  

 Next will come the pinks, reds, purples and more.  The blooms themselves can be two-toned, bi-coloured, haloed or eyed. They can also be singles, doubles, spiders, recurved, ruffles, bagels, or unusual forms, depending on the shape. Size, height, and blooming habits (ex. Nocturnal, reblooming) also vary widely.

Hybridizers take all of these traits into account, along with how many blooms per scape (there can be as few as ten and as many as forty buds on a scape, or stem) and how many chromosomes the cultivar possesses. Some of the newest sports that hybridizers lust after have fractal-like patterns on the inside of the bloom, “diamond dusting” that sparkles across the petals or metallic-coloured rims around the edges. “You won’t believe what’s coming down the pike!” Provost proclaims.

All it takes to bring out the best colour in the blooms is the correct pH level and an occasional sprinkling of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Pests to the plant are rare, though all 18 of them (listed on the Daylily Society’swebsite) can be treated effectively with Neem horticultural oil.  Other maintenance to the daylily garden is minimal, especially once the shoots become tall enough to shade out weeds in spring. The garden attracts many different pollinators, as well as a few species of dragonfly that frequently rest on the flowers in hopes of catching a meal.  Because they are attractive to pollinators and beneficial bugs alike, and because their foliage is tall and green throughout the season, daylilies make great companion plants.

Not only are they a steadfast addition to a mixed or perennial border- they have culinary uses too. When it comes to edible flowers, daylilies are above and beyond the usual blossoms. They have a sweetness unpaired by any other flower I’ve tried, and a lettuce-like texture. In China, where they have been eaten during times of drought and used as medicine for hundreds of years, they are often served deep-fried. The gold ones are sweetest and lend the best flavor for wine making.

 Visitors to the daylily garden at Elm Bank can take in all these things, and they are also welcome to collect pollen samples from the flowers to try crossing daylilies themselves. If Barbara is in the garden, she is fond of giving impromptu lessons in how to pollinate the daylilies so that new seeds will grow. “Kids like it too. When they get to science class, or study about plants they can understand because they’ve seen it here in the garden. So I really enjoy doing that.”

Another way Barbara passes on her experience with these special flowers is by documenting the season with photographs. “I get up in the morning and I have my coffee and I run out with my camera and my tripod and try to get some really good shots really early in the morning.” Sometimes she’ll take a scape as cut flowers, “Cut flowers for breakfast and cut flowers for lunch, but at dinnertime they close right up- haha! You can’t have a dinner party. . .”

She claims that there is something blooming every day in the daylily garden, from the start of the season in mid-May until first frost. That’s around the time a cultivar called “Fat Lady Sings” comes into blossom. When it comes to witnessing whether this is true, for some reason I’d rather see for myself than take her word for it!

Barbara encourages New Englanders to attend the Daylilyexhibition which is open to the public this Saturday, and also to read her favourite daylily reference book, The New Daylily Handbook, and her favourite garden mystery series by local author Neil Saunders.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Joining the Carnival

Road show travelers beckon visitors at the gate in HBO's Carnivale.

I'm becoming more avid than ever in reading about plants, attending horticulture happenings, launching garden experiments, communing with plant experts and asking plant questions. I'm going out of my way to capture plants on my camera, no matter if they're a narrow two inches between the sidewalk and the next pedestrian's shoe or if they're a wide 30ft down a rocky ledge. I used to be a plant enthusiast, now I'm a full-on plant freak! Cue the circus music.

But you know what? I'm not alone. In joining the blogosphere I've discovered leagues of us who would wake at dawn to keep up with the secret lives of plants, climb onto a roof top searching for signs of green life, or eat the most unlikely vegetation just to get to know it better. We are plant freaks, all of us! What's more, we have our own carnivals to prove it. This month I am hosting not one, but two plant-themed blog carnivals right here on Beyond the Brambles.

A blog carnival, much like a brick-and-mortar carnival, moves from venue to venue every month, featuring a collection of attractions. In this case, the attractions are links to fascinating, amusing web articles (including writing, photos, video and sound clips) and the venue is this blog. I'll be collecting submissions throughout July to review for this month's edition of Berry Go Round as well as next month's edition of Festival of the Trees.


If you want to witness these strange and exciting blog carnivals, I invite you to return on July 31st and August 1st for back-to-back carnival craziness!! If you have a plant freak streak in you and you operate a website, I urge you to read on. . .

Berry Go Round is a botany-themed blog carnival. I'm seeking close-up, intimate insights on the inner workings of plants for this one. To see more of what I mean, check out past editions of Berry Go Round. If you've recently had an epiphany about how grass grows, why a carrot needs elbow room, or where to find a bromeliad's babies, please share it with me! (Or any other true stories starring intriguing plants.) In turn, I may share it with hundreds more plantophiles in my carnival edition! This is a great way to gather a diverse group of readers and resources for your site.

Likewise is true at Festival of the Trees. As you may have guessed, it's all about the tree limbs, lives and lessons. Past editions all have their own themes, and this month my theme is "Lessons We Have Learned From Trees". After many hours of teaching children under green canopies, I know that the things we have to learn from trees are priceless and numberless. But they're not all scholastic. Ever been outsmarted at sports by a tree? Ever been roused to tears because of a tree? We live our lives close to them, often interacting with them so subtly that they suddenly surprise us. Sometimes they leave us with questions instead of facts. Often they leave us with incredible stories. I looove a good tree story, and I'm really looking forward to collecting them and sharing them. Everybody has at least one tree story, so give em here!

Even if you're not usually inclined to share stories or information about plants on your website, these carnivals aim at stitching a wide range of blogs and websites together with this common thread. Submissions for Berry Go Round can be entered here, and they are due July 25th. Festival of the Trees submissions can be entered to, due July 30th. I can't wait to read them!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Newport Flower Show: Delivering Extravagance

 Last Friday afternoon I found myself seated on a large bus, gawking at century-old mansions as The Beatles "Magical Mystery Tour" album blared. The bus moved at barely 5mph along a crowded seashore drive, eventually making a cumbersome left turn into a driveway marked "Rosecliff". I had arrived at the much anticipated Newport Flower Show.

With keen senses, I uttered something about blue gardens to my husband and made my way past the large European beeches dotting the front lawn. Some of the beeches, of which there are approximately 450 on Newport Mansions grounds, were decorated with lush hanging baskets and candles. The show gardens on the front lawn were still buzzing with designers adding finishing touches and issuing warnings about the fresh blue paint.

A handful of designers created blue show gardens as an homage to Newport's famous Blue Garden of the past, which much like these, was built at the mansion entrance as a showpiece for an extravagant party. Blue-hued fences, pottery and stone, along with true-blue flowers like hydrangea, delphinium, salvia, gernanium, monkshood, campanula, and lupins  guided the eye all the way down to the mansion.

The first garden was flanked by a staged cafe and featured a lotus-shaped mosaic made of loose stone at the bottom of a pool. Following this was a dense garden full of interesting plants like the hosta on the left. Each element in this garden was part of a mirrored symmetry- even the pair of torch-wielding iron ladies. Another garden presented blue flower portraits among vertical wall plantings.

Each of these blue gardens was accompanied by a thematic table setting. Table settings were sprinkled throughout the show and seemed to get stranger and stranger as I wandered further inside, from succulent arrangements to celosia sushi to crockery resembling vegetable-people. . .

But I'm getting ahead of myself!

Entries for container plantings were nestled beside the front door of the building. I saw a few that fit my definition of casual elegance perfectly.

Some entries put a twist on "container gardening" itself- miniature gardens in a container! I especially liked the tiny potted tropicals in the greenhouse and the miniature bottle of red wine next to the lounge chair.

We flagrantly skipped entering at the front door, as I was a wee bit distracted by the arbour of antique roses around the side. What a fragrance! This eventually led us to the back terraces, where there were more inventive container plantings.

Past the jazz band and the vendors,  large container plantings stood against the salt spray of the ocean.

 I spied a few of the other lavish Newport Mansions from there, with gardens that stretched finger-like right into the high-water mark of the shore. This one in the distance reminded me to come back for another visit, as there are plenty of other mansions to see besides Rosecliff.

 And just because you can't take me out without me finding some excuse to muddy up my nice shoes, I succumbed to buying these rubber ones on my way back through the vendors.

A few tents on the back lawn housed horticultural specimens for competitions. There were topiary herbs and boxwoods. This Euphorbia esculenta submitted in the "Grand Dames" category is a whopping thirty years old.

I had never laid eyes on a tree tomato (Cyphomandra crassicaulis) before this lovely specimen.

Exotic orchids loomed across half of one tent. I don't think I'll attempt to reproduce any of the Latin names here.

Vases of single cut flower specimens all screamed for attention (and votes) under the canopy of the mansion's back porch. Aside from dahlia, rose, yarrow and delphinium blooms, there were also branches from shrubs and trees and foliage plants on display.

Inside the great room of the mansion, there was a wall of old photographs which were all recreated in floral arrangements. A murky old photo of ten or twelve women in a line, all wearing long white tennis dresses and gripping a racket, caught my eye. The accompanying arrangement took on the task of simulating a racket made of leaves.

A large floral peacock nearby offered competition for this display. It's almost protocol for the setting, I should think. Unfortunately for showgoers wishing to capture this, all photography is prohibited inside the Newport Mansions. Whether it's because camera flashes bouncing off the many white marble surfaces may cause temporary blindness, because every cavernous fireplace houses remnants of family secrets, or because ghosts float along the heavily ornamented, sky high ceilings I do not know. 

One of my favourite categories was the floral umbrellas! Against a backdrop of blue sky and clouds, designers used large leaves, colourful mosaics of dried flowers, and elegantly placed fresh blooms to sculpt parasols.

A flower-clad mannequin representing the hostess stood at the top of the central staircase. She looked upon a room full of dense, traditional arrangements of flowers and edibles of all kinds.

To gain some insight on how these astounding displays were constructed, I attended Kevin Ylvisaker's lecture. While he put together numerous large arrangements for the audience, he bubbled over with insider tips and stories from the floral trade. Questions were encouraged, and every member of the audience that spoke up went home with a fist-full of orchids or a beautiful hand-made lei of fresh flowers (there are white ones dangling in the picture below).

He began with abstract, vertical arrangements and moved into more traditional ones. Trends are moving away from triangular and spherical shapes for bouquets to more vertical, deconstructed ones.

Among the materials he recommended were loumi wire (for mechanics), oasis foam (which has seen some new developments lately), quick-dip solution (to condition the flowers), bindwire (instead of tape), floral adhesive, cable ties, coloured goat's wool (submerged in water), water pearls (for tinting the water in tye-dye patterns), and finishing spray. (I should mention that through all of this, my husband remained confounded but somewhat riveted. That speaks volumes for Kevin's ability to captivate us all!)

 One by one, he debunked all the old floral myths I know- neither pennies nor pills in the water will help, condition garden flowers in warm water once cut, rubbing alcohol is just as easy as flame to seal a milky stem, and it's not necessary to cut stems underwater! All of these things have been tested to the nth degree at the Oasis lab. This arrangement was fully assembled before being squeezed as one piece into its sizable vase.

I was glad to have attended the lecture, and not only because I came out with two stems of striking blue orchids. Kevin pointed out that these are the types of colours they are using in floristry to draw younger generations into buying flowers. Not usually one for flashy dyed blooms, I found myself strangely gravitating toward these when I picked them out.

Before it was time to leave the show, I faced three crucial tests on the way back to the bus:

1) Your head has been swiveling for hours- can you still walk an even, straight line like this one?

2) You've observed many different plant cultivars- are you seeing in double vision yet?

And with a little coaching from my husband, I completed the last one. . .

3) You must be exhausted. Can you obey the sign that says "DO NOT ENTER" and avoid collapsing in the show garden's comfy, upholstered furniture?

Just narrowly passed this one. But I think I'll still try to simulate it at home as I recount the show. After all, I'll need some practice- next year's theme is Salsa.