The Poor Man’s Rose

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carnationsI’m a strong believer in the importance of having live greenery and flowers in the house – nothing else adds charm, character, beauty and color to a home quite so easily. With the wide range of bulbs, perennials and annuals that I grow in my garden, this isn’t a problem most of the year. But in the winter, especially here at the end of the season when winter seems determined to stay forever, I turn to the supermarket for fresh flowers.

Supermarket flowers can be a bit of a crap shoot. Usually, you have no way of knowing the country of origin or freshness of the flowers (I used to know what days flowers were delivered to one of the local grocery stores; sadly that store has changed management and the schedule is no longer predictable) and the flowers are often sad and short-loved. However, the advantage is that they are usually affordable and they’re handy – it’s easy to add “flowers” to your weekly shopping list. The secret to success with supermarket flowers is to pick the right kind of flower. And in my opinion, your best bet is the humble carnation.

Common and often regulated to filler in large bouquets, carnations are refined but tough, come in a wide range of colors (but please, for the love of God, avoid the artificially dyed ones!), have a soft but not overwhelming fragrance and will last 10-14 days in the vase. Their double, slightly frilly flowers are reminiscent of small roses, but much more affordable and are easy to find. They make it hard to argue against fresh flowers, even in the depths of winter.

My tip for creating bouquets of carnations is to cut them short. Don’t leave them on their unwieldy, multi-branched stems. Instead, cut the individual flower stems to 4-6 inches. I like to bunch them tightly together in small vases, then group the vases in groups of three which makes a lovely centerpiece for the dinner table. Or, distribute the individual vases to special spots – on a nightstand or by the bathroom sink (I’m a big fan of small vases and of flowers everywhere!). Stick with one color or two closely related colors, keep an eye on the water level and enjoy. Simple!



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