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How to buy and keep fresh flowers

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25 Oct 2012

Fashion and colour play a very important role and giving and receiving flowers has become part of every day, for flowers add vitality to life.

Whether you have bought one sunflower, a bunch of roses or combination of flowers, it is important to love the flowers and indulge all your senses when working with flowers to fully experience their alluring beauty and healing essence

Like us, flowers are living beings, they need air and water to thrive and importantly they need lots of love to flourish.

Goethe put it best when he said: “A flower is a leaf mad with love”.

Jill Manson, floral communications expert and designer at Corollation Floral Design School in Johannesburg says flowers add vitality to our lives and the spaces we inhabit.

“The norm is when someone buys you flowers, you in awe of their beauty, can't stop looking at them and they make you feel good inside-out.”

However, she points out that because of this beauty, we don’t always wait on other people to buy us flowers, we buy them ourselves to add beauty and intrigue to our homes and offices.

Flowers are seasonal, so it is important to know when a particular flower is available, especially if one is getting married and requires a large variety of flowers.

Their seasonality also affects the price at which one buys them, for example, roses tend to be pricey during February because of Valentine’s Day.

She says one does not need to be a flower genius to know and experience this phenomenal beauty.

For example, the flower market will provide any would-be florist with tools necessary to get started.

Importantly, if you are new to the floral world, a flower chart is essential as it indicates the seasons of flowers, names of flowers, genres and families as well as classes.

Always cut stems off at an angle to increase the surface area for absorption.

Perhaps the most intriguing, and favourite flower of mine to this day is the sunflower. I have never seen anything so beautiful, elegant and charming in its silent form.

I allow myself this indulgence even if it means buying only one sunflower, somehow it forces me to engage my senses, uplift my spirit when I feel down and add colour to my living space.

Buying flowers

Manson explains that every day can be beautiful with flowers, and we don’t have to buy them daily.

So what is the secret to flower longevity at home?

It starts with selecting the right flowers and then properly looking after them.

Whether you are buying sunflowers or roses, flowers have grades.

She says knowing the grading is important as it affects the overall quality of flowers when arranged in a vase or tied in a bunch.

Flowers have choice grade, first and second grade and  third grades.

This grading is in accordance with stem length and straightness, markings on petals or leaves, size of buds and weight.

Whether you buy your flowers at the market or local store, she says it is important to buy choice grade whenever possible and take time to check the quality of flowers before buying them.

“Choice grade is the best while third is the worst.”

Florists and other bulk users of flowers buy them at MultiFlora located in City Deep, Johannesburg. 

This is the largest flower market in South Africa and divided into two sections, wholesalers and auctions, she explains.

Manson says individuals can also go to the market although they will not be able to buy from auctions; there are shops that sell flowers at relatively low cost when compared to local retail stores.

Whether you buy your flowers at the market or local store, she says it is important to buy choice grade whenever possible and take time to check the quality of flowers before buying them.

How to select superior flowers:

1. The bud (firmness) and flower size do count

2. Shade of intensity of colour will make a difference in your arrangement or vase

3. Leaf colour and size (look for healthy fresh flowers not wilting ones)

4. Check that the stem is thick, straight and check the length (you do not want them very short as you will still need to cut them)

5. Absence of spray residue, pests or handling damage is important.

When buying roses, always do the three point check:

1. Press the calyx at the top of the stem and below the flower bud, it should be solid/firm and not spongy or soft; rose heads will only drop not open and bloom fully if soft or spongy

2. Check that the sepals of the flower are up and not down

3. Squeeze the flower bud gently- it should also be firm

Keep your flowers fresh for longer

Manson says once you have bought the flowers, it is important to know how to make them last for as long as possible.

I allow myself this indulgence even if it means buying only one sunflower, somehow it forces me to engage my senses, uplift my spirit when I feel down and add colour to my living space.

“Every flower has a genetically determined maximum vase life, however, there are factors which we can control to enhance or allow the flower to live to their fullest.”

1. Recut stems by removing the bottoms, 20-50mm to allow easy uptake of water.

2. Always cut stems of flowers every day – this will prolong vase life.

3. Add a cupful of jik, capful of white vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar to approximately 1.5 litres of water in a vase. Chrysal, a flower food which comes in powder or liquid form, can also be added to prolong cut stem life.

4. Flowers should be kept in cold rooms and they should not be crammed too much into buckets as they require ventilation to prevent infection and rotting.

5. Place string on the base of stems of flowers like tulips, iris, daffodils and other fleshy stems as these stems split after a while in water and the string will prevent this.

6. Stems that leak sap can be seared by a flame or placed into boiling water to prevent this.

7. Always cut stems off at an angle to increase the surface area for absorption.

8. Remove foliage below the water line – leaves promote the growth of micro organisms.

9. Rehydrate flowers – do not place them in a draught and keep the wrapping on as long as possible.

10. Provide natural light and allow air circulation.

Rehydrating flowers

Like living beings, flowers do get hydrated and there is a way of rehydrating them.

She says during the process of being transported out of water, flowers lose some of their water and this may lead to dehydration.

When buying roses, always do the three point check: Squeeze the flower bud gently - it should also be firm.

Dehydration in flowers is the main cause of air bubbles in water conducting vessels of the plant.

To avoid this, she advises that flowers in a plastic wrapping should be kept in a cool dry place as long as possible and flowers should never be placed in a draught as this will further desiccate them.

If your flowers are looking tired by the time you get home from a hot drive, place them in water that is room temperature for half an hour to revive them completely before adding ice to the water or placing them in cold rooms.

However, she says roses should be put in cold water quickly.

“Keep flowers away from direct sunlight and preferably in natural light areas as this will stimulate the flower and encourage the plant to maintain pigment levels.”

Most flowers in need of rehydration can actually be soaked in a long bathtub filled with water and allowed to float. Place towels over them as this ensures they are weighted down enough to soak and leave overnight.

They should be suitably perky the next day; cut stems slightly and arrange away, she says.

She adds that whether you have bought one stem of sunflower, a bunch of roses or combination of flowers, it is important to love the flowers and indulge all your senses when working with flowers to fully experience their alluring beauty and healing essence. - Denise Mhlanga

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