British flowers

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Common name:  Gladioli (plural), sword lily

Botanical Names: Gladiolus

Origin: South Africa

Colours: virtually all colour except blue.  Pale pastels to vibrant reds and purple, some bi-coloured also.


Gladioli get their name from the Latin word Gladius, which means sword, due to their sword shaped leaves.  They are bulb flowers that produce a single flower spike and several narrow leaves.  There are 260 species of gladioli, nearly all of which are native to Sub-Saharan Africa.  In the wild the gladioli vary greatly  in size and the number of flowers.  The gladioli you see in florist shops today has been hybridised to produce giant ornamental varieties.

Smaller varieties like the one pictured above are often referred to as bridal gladi, they are used in wedding flowers as the dainty heads are a perfect size for bridal work.  Gladioli last well as cut flowers, they have become trendy again in recent years after suffering from an image problem.  Dame Edna was famous for having gladioli and may have contributed their old fashioned image.  They come in so many gorgeous colours there is no need for them to look past it.  Some of my favourites include a deep purple variety that looks almost velvety black and a bright acid green shade.

They are mainly a summer flower available from May to October, though sometimes the season is longer.  A few gladioli look good peeking out above other flowers in a mixed bouquet or a full vase of gladioli in a single colour is glorious when open. They are usually bought closed or a few bottom flowers open, they should not be bought fully open.

Gladioli are often available as locally grown British flowers in the summer months.  To encourage the whole stem to open, the very tips of the flowers (two or three buds) can be gently removed.  Gladioli are thirsty flowers; make sure they are placed in deep water.

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The Olympics are in full swing now, if you’ve been watching the TV coverage you’ve probably spotted the Victory Bouquets.  They were designed by Susan Lapworth, creative director at Jane Packer.  The design reflects the vibrancy and energy of the Olympic Games.

As Roses are quintessentially British they were chosen for the main flower, all the materials used in the bouquets are British grown.  The design is split into quadrants of roses, separated by a British food ingredient. The bouquet contains Illios roses (yellow), Marie Claire roses (orange), Wimbledon roses (green) and Aqua roses (pink).  The herbs will provide a wonderful fragrance; they include rosemary, apple mint, and English lavender. British grown wheat also features in the design.


Honoured and excited students from several colleges have been helping to make the required 4,800 bouquets for medal winners.  Students from Writtle College, Bexley Adult Education and Kingston Maurward  have participated in creating the designs.

The photo above shows students working with a make-up guide to help them create the bouquets to the exact specifications.  The bouquets were made to a strict brief, they had to be 20 x 25cm, reflect the energy of London 2012, withstand temperature changes and handling by non-experts.



Top image – Jane Packer

Middle image –

Bottom image – Jane Packer

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Common name: Sweet pea

Botanical Names: Lathyrus odoratus

Origin: Eastern Mediterranean region from Sicily to Crete

Colours: White, pink, red, blue, cream

Sweet peas are a climbing plant with delicate flowers, they grow up to 2 metres in height.  They have a heavenly scent and get their name from the Latin for fragrant ‘odoratus’.  In the language of flowers their name represents ‘delicate pleasures’.

They have been cultivated since the 17th century and there are now hundreds of varieties.  They are perhaps most well-known for the delicious ice cream sundae shades of pinks and cream.  Although there are also stronger colours such as red and deep purple.  There are also a number of dwarf bush varieties are that are suitable for pots and hanging baskets.


Sweet peas are easy to grow in your garden; the main thing they require is some form of support to climb up and a sunny position.  They can be trained up a wigwam, cane or trellis.  A beautiful wall or screen of sweet peas can be achieved by arranging canes in a line and attaching wire or net between them to create a surface for the plants to grow up.

Cutting the flowers encourage further flowers to grow, they will last 2 or three days in a vase.  If you prefer to leave the flowers on the plant, remove any faded heads before they set seed, as this encourages a longer flowering period.


Cut flowers are available from March to November, they tend to last longer when grown commercially as they are treated to prolong their life.  Commercially grown, cut sweet peas should last up to a week. If you are lucky enough to live near a grower, English sweet peas are beautiful.  The pretty ruffled blooms are perfect for wedding work and provide a quintessential English garden feel.  The delicate pastel colours also suit vintage wedding themes.  As sweet peas have quite short stems they tend to be sold as loose flowers rather than arrangements, even a small vase of them will produce a divine fragrance.

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The Spirit of Chartwell was transformed into a richly decorated barge for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, it transported the Queen and members of the royal family along the Thames.  Horticulturist and presenter Rachel de Thame was the designer commissioned to decorate the royal barge, she used scented floral displays, garlands and planted lanterns.  The pageant took place on Sunday June 3 on a slightly grey day that was brightened by the amazing sight of a 1000 boat flotilla.

The royal barge was the centrepiece of the flotilla, amongst steamers, pleasure boats, tugs, dragon boats and kayaks. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled on the royal barge, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cornwall.


Rachel de Thame’s magnificent design of crimson, purple and gold used almost 10,000 flowers and 600 plants.  It was brought to life with the help of Mark Fane of Crocus nursery and society florist Kitty Arden.  Crocus Nursery supplied many of the plants for the designs, Mark has won an incredible 20 medals at Chelsea Flower Show.  Kitty brought a team of 40 florists with her to create the floral displays.


Rachel spent several months researching the commission.  The design for the garlands and planted beds were inspired by royal iconography, particularly the coronation gown which featured embroidered flowers from around the commonwealth and the golden state coach.

The striking designs featured four planted lanterns including an English country garden scented with lavender, rosemary and bay, a knot garden that contained 200 clipped box plants, and a giant ‘E’ planted bed made from 1,500 African violets and edged with 400 patience roses. The design also included Welsh daffodils, Scottish thistles and 20 different plants from around the commonwealth to reflect where the Queen has reigned.


Scented roses were a key part of the designs as the Queen is very fond of roses.  One of the David Austin roses used called Munstead Wood has won awards for it’s fragrance.  90 floral garlands adorned the decks of the barge; they were attached to either side of the railings and featured roses, peonies, carnations, herbs and foliage.

Tomorrows post will feature more about the flower arrangements used on the royal barge.

images from: crocus

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Common name: Dahlia

Botanical Names: Dahlia

Origin: Mexico, Central America and Columbia

Colours: all except blue

Dahlias were first discovered in Mexico in the 16th century and noted as a medicinal plant.  They were brought to Madrid in 1789 and grown in the botanic garden. They are named after Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, and pronounced DAY-lee-a.  Since 1813 commercial growers have bred dahlias and produced thousands of types, including pompoms, cactus and waterlily varieties.


Dahlias are prized by gardeners for their magnificent flowers and often exhibited in horticultural shows and competitions. As Dahlias come from tropical regions they are not suited to temperatures below freezing.  It is recommended to lift the tubers and store them over winter in a frost free place.  The plants can range in height from 30cm for dwarf varieties up to 6m for the giant Tree dahlia. Some varieties produce flowers as large as a dinner plate.

They are popular as a cut flower and available mainly from June to October. Dahlias come in many colours and lots of them are vibrant or two tone shades.  They should be bought in a mature stage and handled with care as the open flowers are delicate.  They have a vase life of up to a week. They are also available as a British grown flower in late summer.


They are popular for weddings flowers as their peak season is through the summer.  The perfectly uniform flowers look lovely used en masse in compact bridal bouquets or table arrangements.  The British grown dahlias are often sold in bunches of gorgeous mixed jewel colours.

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