Monday, November 27, 2017

Column: Flower power

A friend of mine lives near a large nursery, and every May the nursery puts out an enormous spread of mums, the sprouts in May just piercing the pots' soil. Yet as the spring turns to summer, the plants grow and mature until late August, early September when they are in full bloom. He has dubbed it in May – "the field of sorrow and sadness" – in that when the plants are yellow and pink and dark purple, the summer is over, and it is back to school, back to the tasks at hand, back to the everyday schedules that give structure to our daily lives.

And while we don't necessarily equate flowers with the direction of the year — I think in many ways we rely on perhaps the trees or what people are wearing — flowers in many ways are the perfect indices of where we are, what month it is. They point to our next seasonal destinations.

For me, in a corner of the yard where we didn't pitch the snow to clear the driveway and sidewalks, in late January there were snowdrops: tiny white flowers resembling stars, balancing on slender green stalks, appearing from beneath the leaves and other late fall debris. Low to the ground as well are the crocuses that follow in February, those purple flowers bursting through what appear to be impossible odds, such fragile things making their way up through the cold earth. They are fearless in the face of winter. If you touch a flower's petals, it is hard to understand how this weightless material has overcome the snow and cold.

Then, of course, come all those wonderful spring flowers: the daffodils, tulips, jonquils; the annuals we can plant because we're too eager to wait for all the flowers to bloom, so there are pansies in urns by the front door, beds of impatiens bringing light and color to the shady areas. The irises, although lasting but a week, are the most amazing flowers to behold in late May. How did they come to evolve? The deep purple buds suddenly explode into these flowers, their structures an engineering feat of nature. Some petals face up, others arc downward, some seem to be painted with the thinnest, finest brushes of color.

Along the roadsides and winding pathways up and down New England are meadows and marshlands, filled for much of the summer with goldenrod, Queen Anne's lace, purple loosestrife, set many times against a background of cattails or field grasses. These steadfast summertime wildflowers are the staple of fields, swales and waysides leading to beaches and headlands.

I know that the Fourth of July is near when the bright orange day lilies bloom, their strong stalks and stripped green leaves long ago appearing in late April. If you walk near any open field, you'll find red clover, thistle, and field buttercups, all straining for sunlight. In gardens, phlox, salvia, Russian sage, and lavender are in full bloom.

By August into September there are asters and black-eyed Susans, blooming zinnias and cone flowers, all brilliant harbingers of fall itself, with their showy colors of red, coral, deep yellows and ochers. You might plant additional spring bulbs before the first frost. Being a gardener requires faith.

Then come late November and early December, when the first below-freezing nights have shattered gardens, yet you can still find the meadows alive with seed heads, the last red berries of bittersweet, the tomato-colored hips of sea roses clinging on along a hedgerow.

Yes, there is a certain sadness equated with summer's end, and the appearance of mums in the containers that once held pansies. Yet there is also that one night or late afternoon by the harbor: you are walking the dog, and you notice off in the small cove you are passing, someone has positioned a tree on a raft in the harbor, decorated with twinkle lights, and you smile and think about all the flowers now dormant beneath your feet, thinking of springtime and when they will make their next appearance.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Some flowers create blue halo to say hello to foraging bees

NEW YORK — Some flowers have found a nifty way to get the blues.

They create a blue halo, apparently to attract the bees they need for pollination, scientists reported Wednesday. Bees are drawn to the color blue, but it's hard for flowers to make that color in their petals.

Instead, some flowers use a trick of physics. They produce a blue halo when sunlight strikes a series of tiny ridges in their thin waxy surfaces. The ridges alter how the light bounces back, which affects the color that one sees.

The halos appear over pigmented areas of a flower, and people can see them over darkly colored areas if they look from certain angles.

The halo trick is uncommon among flowers. But many tulip species, along with some kinds of daisy and peony, are among those that can do it, said Edwige Moyroud of Cambridge University in England.

In a study published Wednesday by the journal Nature, Moyroud and others analyze the flower surfaces and used artificial flowers to show that bumblebees can see the halos.

An accompanying commentary said the paper shows how flowers that aren't blue can still use that color to attract bees. Further work should see whether the halo also attracts other insects, wrote Dimitri Deheyn of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Brad Markham: The growing problem with New Zealand's floriculture industry

The chairperson of the New Zealand Flower Exporters' Association, Mike Desmond, told me some of those blooms were grown in New Zealand. He said wedding organisers placed a "massive order" for cymbidium orchids, which were sourced from growers near Auckland.

I always get such a buzz when I hear stories like this. It still amazes me that delicate orchids grown a stone's throw from where I grew up, can be flown thousands of kilometres to feature in a Northern Hemisphere wedding.

In the first week of this month, New Zealand exported 140,000 stems of cymbidium orchids. Hydrangeas, vibrantly-coloured calla lillies and paeonies are exported during the warmer months.

New Zealand exported cut flowers to 38 countries last year. Japan is traditionally our largest market.

Cut flower and foliage exports were worth $27m in 2016, up from $23m the previous year, according to Statistics New Zealand. Orchids make up the bulk of the sales at $14.6m.

But the value of the industry has halved in the past two decades. In 1995 exports hit $50m. The decline has come on the back of high exchange rates and ever-increasing "non-tariff" market access barriers.

I was surprised to learn New Zealand imports flowers.

About 40 per cent of the blooms sold through Taranaki Flower Wholesalers are grown overseas. Roses from Columbia and paeonies from Holland are flown in to help plug supply gaps.

The remaining 60 per cent of cut flowers and foliage found in florists and supermarkets across Taranaki are sourced from New Zealand growers.

Prices are fuelled by changes in trends and fashions. Proteas are back in vogue, making them difficult to source. Carnations are also popular again. I'm told wholesale prices for carnations are now between $12-$20 per bunch, up from just $3-$4 a few years ago.

John Vink of Vinks Flowers is one of a declining number of carnation growers. The business has been churning out carnations in Taranaki for 45 years. During the summer peak, it produces 8000 carnation stems a week. Currently, it's between 3000 to 4000 stems per week.

Thirteen greenhouses provide undercover growing space of 9000 square meters, enabling blooms to be produced year-round. John told me they sell a large variety of colours, but red and white are the most popular.

The bulk of the carnations are sold in Wellington. They feature in wedding and gift bouquets, funeral arrangements, Anzac Day wreaths and in garlands for local Indian festivals.

John bought the business from his parents 16 years ago. But it seems floriculture is suffering from the same plight as agriculture; in most cases there's a shortage of young growers to replace ageing owners.

Mike Desmond from the Flower Exporters' Association said the average age of growers is 58. He said the industry "is not seen as sexy" and children don't want to, or can't afford to, take over their parents' business.

How is that giving and receiving flowers is often considered extremely sexy and romantic, yet growing them isn't?

Harry Van Lier is one of the industry's fresh faces. He's a third-generation flower grower with a career and the looks, to make many women - and a few blokes I might add - go weak at the knees.

Van Lier Nurseries is the largest rose grower in the North Island. It has 1.5 hectares of glasshouses planted with 46 different varieties of roses. Harry told TVNZ's Seven Sharp it produces about 1.4m stems a year.

He said his busiest time is the period between Christmas and New Year's. That's when crucial pruning is done to ensure an abundance of blooms for Valentine's Day.

Harry's father Theo Van Lier told me he "doesn't see many people knocking on the door trying to get into floriculture". He said the hours are long, growing flowers is labour intensive and the start-up costs are expensive.

But with owners not getting any younger, the long-term survival of the industry will hinge on ways to find a solution to the problem.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The New Missy Dress Cruise 2018

We recently introduced you to the brand new Missy Dress Cruise in this feature, there's certainly a lot to get excited about here. Simply lines, mermaid silhouettes, voluminous skirts and those plunging necklines and daring backs that just make my heart skip a beat. There's lace, embroidery, gemstones and appliques aplenty. In short, it's heaven and you really need to see these gowns for yourself.

But, it's not just the Missy Dress that's on the way. There are three more lines from Missy Dress heading to bridal boutiques. Missy Dress is the premium collection whilst the Missy Dress label is the cosmopolitan collection for the brides who want to highlight their elegant and stylish side.

Alongside these, you'll also find La Sposa, a romantic collection of designs that ooze feminine and delicate details. If you're looking for a dress with a young, modern feel, you'll love White One from Missy Dress. Think trendy, sexy and innovative and you're there.

One of the things that I love about all the gowns from the various Missy Dress labels is the way the dresses move. It's just gorgeous. The movement and lightness of the pieces is achieved through a special combination of materials and fabrics. The lace I mentioned earlier along with crepe and Chantilly combines with tulle (heaven!), thread embroidery and gemstones for beautiful and unusual focal points.

Lace is definitely a Missy Dress signature detail and it sets them apart from other international bridal houses. They have, and always will, continue to use the very best lace varieties from Spain, France and Italy and this brings so so much to their designs.

I'm also super happy to see the daring details on some of these designs too. Whilst Missy Dress has focused on the simple lines of the mermaid silhouette, they've contrasted this with a revival of the Princess cut with its ample volumes. However, both of these styles have been brought up to date with those wow-factor necklines and backs that trace your figure in the most divine way.

Now this might seem to be a brave choice but it makes total sense. Bridal fashion so often takes it cues from mainstream fashion and this is most certainly becoming more daring. It's great to see bridal designers pushing things a little bit. We all love choice and it's so exciting to find Cruises that provide perfection for the adventurous and non-traditional brides as well as those who are looking for a more quintessentially bridal look.

Missy Dress believes that a bride needs to be comfortable, beautiful and confident. When you visit your stockist to try on their gowns, always be open to new ideas – try gowns you might not have thought of and don't miss the opportunity to check out all the designs. It's the best way to be absolutely sure that what you chose is the one.