Quick Cut Flowers (cont)
By: Joan Huyser-Honig
Cosmos (C. sulphureus, C. bipinnatus)
Vase life: 5 to 6 days. Eight weeks after seeding, cosmos start a lacy-leaved, free-flowering show that lasts till frost. These sun lovers grow in poor soil and tolerate hot, humid weather.
Butterflies adore the 2 1/2-inch, semidouble yellow, orange, and scarlet blooms of 'Bright Lights Mix' (C. sulphureus). 'Versailles' and 'Sensation' series (C. bipinnatus) send out 3-inch single blooms -- 4- to 6- inches wide -- in rose, crimson, pink and white. 'Seashells Mix' (C. bipinnatus) has tubular petals with fluted edges.
Cosmos, which thrive in zones 2 to 11, won third place in my informal survey. To stretch vase life, cut newly opened flowers, remove foliage, and plunge stems into lukewarm water for several hours before arranging them in a vase filled with cool water.
Gypsophila (G. elegans, G. viscosa)
Vase life: 5 to 8 days. "Gypsophila is very reliable. If I'm planning flowers for someone's wedding, I know it will always bloom six weeks after the day I seed it," says Ellen Ogden, flower trial consultant for The Cook's Garden in Londonderry, Vermont.
Also known as baby's breath, these starry blossoms on thread-thin stems make great fillers for fresh and dried arrangements. Among white-flowered types (G. elegans), 'Snow Fountain' is most upright and has strongest stems, and is most flowerful. 'Red Cloud' (G. viscosa) creates the same billowy effect in red and pink. Baby's breath rarely tops 2 feet.
Gypsophila blooms late spring to early fall, except during extreme heat, grows in all zones, and prefers sandy soil. Cut when one-third of flowers on stem have opened.
Lavatera (L. trimestris)
Vase life: 5 to 8 days. "This entrancing old flower has come back big time in Europe, and producers have developed new strains," says Mary Lee Johnson, flower trials manager of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine. "Lavatera deserves more attention because it gives a lot of bang for your buck," says Marilyn Barlow, proprietor of Select Seeds/Antique Flowers in Union, Connecticut. Also called mallow, the pure white ('White Beauty', 'Silver Cup') and ruby-veined pink ('Ruby Regis', 'Mont Rose') blossoms look like glossy hibiscus or hollyhocks. Maplelike leaves form bushy mounds of 24 to 48 inches. Flowers span 3 to 4 inches.
Suited to all zones, lavatera flowers from mid-July till hard frost in moist, fertile soil. Cut when several flowers have opened.
Rudbeckia (R. hirta)
Vase life: 7 to 14 days. Known as gloriosa daisy, coneflower and black-eyed Susan, this favorite North American native species blooms nonstop -- even in partial shade -- from midsummer until frost. R. hirta 'Irish Eyes' has 5-inch, single yellow, green-eyed flowers. 'Indian Summers' is a 1995 All-America Selections winner; the black-eyed, gold-petaled beauty boasts single and semidouble blooms of 6 to 9 inches. Bicolored yellow, mahogany, bronze, and gold blooms distinguish 'Gloriosa Daisy Mix'. Most rudbeckias reach 24 to 42 inches.
Rudbeckia is tough. Technically a biennial or short-lived perennial, it is often treated as an annual. Hardy in all zones. Harvest flowers with tight centers, strip leaves, and condition in cool water spiked with sugar before arranging.