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Natural attraction: Alan Titchmarsh's tips on growing wild flowers
I love my garden (not that you will be surprised to hear that) but I also love my patch of wilderness and I reckon every garden should have one. Now by “wilderness” I do not mean an overgrown area of thistle, nettles and ground elder surrounding an old supermarket shopping trolley (though even weeds are useful to wildlife and nettles are the food plants of several butterfly larvae). No, I mean a “wild flower meadow” that can be no larger than a couple of square yards if space is in short supply. Watching cowslips open in April, followed by marguerites and buttercups in May, with vetches, scabious and knapweed to follow, gives me tremendous pleasure and the bees and butterflies are just as happy. The trick is to turn just a small part of your lawn into such a haven and doing so can be easier than you think.

Flowers, Like People, Prefer Filtered Water, Claims This Floral Expert
While putting some freshly cut onion blossoms from my garden in a vase, my mum said, "Did you know flowers, like humans, prefer filtered water to tap?" Sceptical but curious, I responded, "No way, mum! Who told you that?" She claimed she gleaned that information from her last flower class. She couldn't recall why that's the case exactly, so we reached out to the teacher of the class, Dundee Butcher, who owns a flower school called Russian River Flowers in Healdsburg, CA. Dundee responded, "When I took my very first flower course in London, a huge part of what we covered was 'conditioning and caring for flowers.' It is so important as to how long they last." According to Dundee, proper conditioning involves cutting the stems when they are cool and stripping excess leaves off, because "the water goes to the leaves first, so the more leaves you leave on, the harder it is for the water to go to the flower head." Makes sense! "Flowers last longer if you let them 'harden' 24 hours before using them in an arrangement," Dundee added. This means storing the stripped and snipped stems in very clean water ("They don't like dirty buckets or bacteria in their water!") in a cold room or wine cellar (a room at "50-ish degrees is preferable"). Once the arrangement is in place, how often should you change the water? In the words of Dundee's first floral teacher, "Flowers like to drink the same level of clean water that you drink! Do you want to drink dirty water?" Dundee recommends snipping the ends and giving the flowers fresh, filtered water every two to three days. Do this and she promises "they will stay fresh longer." Especially during the intense Summer heat, it can be a disappointment for a bouquet of flowers to wilt prematurely. As silly as it sounds, I guess I'll be feeding cut flowers my refrigerated, Brita filtered water from now on!

The edible flower of an orchid tree
Bitter when raw, the buds of the flowering orchid or ‘Kachnar’ as it is called in Hindi, makes for wholesome and healthy meals. Power packed as they are, these meals are also indulging. To help you reap the benefits of this flower we have some traditional recipes that are both delicious and healthy.

Home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, the hills of Himachal Pradesh, in north India, have some unique offerings for a culinary enthusiast. Pretty as they are, some flowering plants are also edible and make for wholesome and nutritious meals. One such blossom is that of the Kachnar tree or Bauhinia variegata as it is scientifically known and the orchid, as it is commonly known.

A medium-sized tree, Kachnar reaches the height of 50 to 60 feet and bears pink or white flowers. An easy produce, it comes up naturally and in good numbers in both forests and at agricultural holdings; and the buds and the leaves of these flowers are what make it to the stove in many traditional kitchens in Himachal Pradesh.

Kachnar’s flowers and buds dominate the tree in early spring when it is more or less leafless and are bitter in taste when raw. They are picked for use in the preparation of a variety of tasty broths and pickles, which make for recipes indigenous to certain parts of Himachal.

Plant life: flowers with personality – in pictures
In her series Flora, Florida-based artist Angela Deane takes postcards of vintage studio flower photos from the 70s and 80s and gives them a personality. “I like to think of this series as allowing mother nature to indulge in and express any mood she fancies,” says Deane, who paints facial features on to each plant. The flowers’ expressions are a reflection of her own mood, sometimes a reaction to the daily news, or inspired by something on the postcard that simply “brings forth a face”. She says: “Plant life is fragile and temporary, but ultimately I believe will outlast humans. A lot of the recent works have been plants getting the last laugh on our destructive species.”

Cullen group brightens up scenic coastal spot with flowers
Residents in one of Moray’s most scenic seaside villages have been doing their best to brighten up its streets in time for summer.

The Cullen Past and Present volunteer group has taken it upon themselves to place planters filled with flowers around the community.

The outfit has teamed with Deskford Community Council and the Cullen Youth Cafe for the project, which has been funded by charity drives throughout the year and an annual grant from the Seafield Estate.

The planters, which were formerly whisky barrels used in the region’s malt industry, have been positioned at various locations throughout Cullen, Deskford and Lintmill.

After the hefty wooden objects were repurposed, they were brightened up with flowers grown by the Cullen Youth Cafe.

Youngsters will busy themselves over the summer by ensuring that the decorative additions to the village remain watered and looked after.

Cullen Past and Present chairman Dennis Paterson is delighted with the project, and said: “I’d like to thank all those involved in making the planters, setting them out, and planting them.

“They have all helped to add more colour to the Cullen area.”

The volunteer group is holding a fundraising dance to amass more cash for similar community initiatives next month.

Singer Andy Layton James will perform a range of popular hits at Cullen Bowling and Tennis Club on Saturday July 8, from 9pm to 12-30am.

Tickets are available from McKay’s Mini Market, Cullen Paper Shop, The Jays Coffee Shop, The Bowling Club and from members of the volunteer group.

Tasty or toxic? Beware of the trend for edible flowers
I am such a sucker for a glossy Instagram foodie picture, I really am. Whether it’s marvelling at avocados sliced into intricate, swirling fans (how does anyone have the patience?) or the “unicorn” smoothies in churned up shades of lurid pink and blue (an instant nostalgia flashback to 1980s cartoons), I find each and every bonkers food fad endlessly fascinating. However, as a botanist, one recent #instatrend is causing me concern: the growing obsession with “edible” flowers that aren’t actually edible.

"Narcissi can cause rashes on your arms and hands. Just imagine the consequences on your guts!"

Once it was just pansies atop cupcakes and rose petals floating in cocktails that popped up as I scrolled though my feed. Now it increasingly seems that in the pursuit of the perfect picture a generation of bright-eyed foodies have been ransacking the flower borders for anything pretty to top their smoothie bowls – even if it is quite toxic.

Firm seeks greenlight for biotech cut flowers
A commercial cut-flower developer has applied for a licence to conduct open field trials for genetically modified Gypsophila flowers, targeting the American market.
In the request to the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Imaginature Ltd said they had improved the GM Gypsophila variety, enabling it to produce many colours that made it attractive and lucrative.
“We added a few genetic elements responsible for new colour range — from dark purple to red, to light pink — in flowers from a model plant called Arapidopsis,” said the notice to NBA.
Usually, Gypsophila flowers, also known as “Baby’s Breath”, are white. They are mainly ornamental and add a rich texture in floral arrangements and in-door bouquets.
The notice said Imaginature first conducted confined product development in conjunction with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo) under NBA’s supervision.
In the application, Imaginature said Kenya’s stature as a source of premium flowers would be elevated, enabling the country to earn higher revenues in foreign exchange.
NBA chief executive Willy Tonui said scientific analysis was still going on. He invited comments from professional groups and the public before a final decision is reached on the product.
“The application is undergoing a science-based review process by NBA, regulatory agencies and independent experts. The review is meant to ensure that alterations to these flowers have no adverse effects on humans, animals and the environment,” said the notice.
Dr Tonui said NBA’s final decision would be announced after safety assessments, socio-economic considerations and analysis of public comments.
Kenya is a top cut-flower grower and exporter to the US and European markets. Last year, it sold 133,658 tonnes of cut flowers worth Sh70 billion, up from 122,825 tonnes worth Sh62.9 billion in 2015. The flowers were exported to more than 60 countries.
The Kenya Flower Council says 100,000 people are directly employed by cut-flower enterprises most of which are near the fresh water Lake Naivasha, around Mt Kenya, Nairobi, Thika, Kiambu, Athi River, Kitale, Nakuru, Kericho, Nyandarua, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and eastern Kenya.
Other open field trials sanctioned by NBA include BT cotton, aimed at improving cotton yields, the pest and drought resistant BT Wema Maize — which has met stiff resistance from anti-GMO groups — fortified cassava and sorghum varieties, and sweet potatoes.

Wild blooms and 80s arrangements: top cut flowers trends for 2017
The fondness for looser, whimsical arrangements has been around for a few years now, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast. “A lot of brides want to look like they’ve just walked through the garden and picked a bouquet,” says Bath-based grower Fiona Haser Bizony of the Electric Daisy Flower Farm. The trend is aided by a heady combination of whimsical, nature-inspired arrangements which proliferate on Instagram and Pinterest, as well as an increasing number of new florists taking up the trade from non-traditional backgrounds who are challenging long-held techniques in the process.

What to plant in tiny spaces to help bees and butterflies thrive
The loss of flower-rich habitat since the 1930s has taken its toll on our pollinators, but thoughtful planting of a plot even the area of the page that you are reading can make a world of difference to a bee. That may seem a drop in the ocean, but every centimetre planted with the right flowers counts. According to Richard Glassborow of the London Beekeepers’ Association, “Window boxes, planters and pots can collectively contribute to a flower-rich environment.”

Small plants have a massive part to play in this, even in the most inhospitable environment. Pretty little Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) will happily seed into walls and steps; creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) transforms gravel into an oasis for bees and butterflies; and the spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’) can brighten even the darkest corner.

Furthermore, small plants in containers are portable, making them an excellent choice for those of us who live in rented accommodation. Containers of pocket-sized pollinator-magnets brighten doorsteps and concrete plots, and offer tenants the chance to experience the sense of wellbeing associated with gardening. At the end of a tenancy, planters can be moved to a new property to become the neighbourhood’s latest must-visit pollinator cafe.

When selecting plants for butterflies, bees and hoverflies, avoid double flowers and cultivars with little or no pollen or nectar. If in doubt, look out for the RHS Perfect For Pollinators logo. Here’s my selection of the best small plants for pots. They may be Lilliputian in stature, but their value is immense.

Super salvias: They’re rich in nectar, easy to grow and free-flowering – but beware, they are also highly addictive

My addiction started, as these things so often do, with just one purchase – a small pot of a dark purple salvia, ‘Amistad’. 

It grew beautifully so I took cuttings, which rooted in a flash. Before I knew it, I was hooked and spending far too long online tracking down obscure varieties of salvias which I simply had to have.

Salvias are terribly tempting plants. This huge and diverse family has more than 900 species and many are easy to grow and tolerant of drought, making them ideal for a low-maintenance garden.

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