Growing Green Flowers
Gardeners usually associate the color green with foliage and stems. We often don’t consider green blossoms when making out our planting lists, but these showstoppers will complement the other plant selections in a garden and offer a special “wow” factor. If you’re keen to try something a little unique, I encourage you to experiment with the following easy-care, low-maintenance options.
Also known as the Lenten rose, hellebores (Helleborus spp.) are a welcoming sight in cold-climate gardens at the end of winter. They’re early to bloom — March through May — and often emerge while snow is still on the ground. Hellebore blossoms aren’t as ephemeral as many other early spring blooms. An attractive, clumping habit and breathtaking blossoms make these plants a worthy addition to the garden. Hellebores are tolerant of a wide range of soil types but prefer well-drained sites. They’re shade-tolerant but will also be successful in a bed situated in full sun (6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day).
Hellebores aren’t easy to transplant, so consider locations in your garden carefully and try to site them correctly at their initial planting. Although these plants require consistent, even moisture for success, you should avoid boggy sites that will encourage root rot and mold. Amend the soil yearly with a side-dressing of compost.
Wild hellebore species have been in cultivation since the Middle Ages, making them true heirlooms. Green hellebores (H. viridis) don’t actually have green flower petals — it’s the sepals that are green, and occasionally spotted or mottled. Hardy to Zone 4, green hellebores were introduced to North America from central and western Europe. The species has a wide distribution across the United States. It’s often found wild in wooded areas, but can also be cultivated in meadow-style or informal gardens where it’s allowed to spread. Slender stems grow 1 foot tall and bear delicate-looking, pendulous flowers.
Stinkwort or stinking hellebore (H. foetidus) has a disagreeable common name due to the unappealing odor of its leaves when bruised, but the nodding green flowers on tall, graceful stems that grow up to 32 inches are delightful in the early spring garden.
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) has long been a favorite in North American gardens. Perfect for either containers or the garden, flowering tobacco is best sown directly in early spring when the ground is warm enough to be worked. Make sure the soil is well-drained and fertile; an amendment with compost at planting time is ideal. Don’t cover the seeds when planting because they need light to germinate.
Nicotiana will perform well in full sun or part shade. The flowers don’t typically open in the heat of the day, but rather in the evenings, and their pleasant, sweet fragrance won’t go unnoticed.
An appealing green-flowered species is Langsdorff’s tobacco (N. langsdorffii), considered an annual in the cooler regions of North America. The pale green flowers are borne in panicles on tall stems that can reach an impressive 5 feet. The flowers are bell-shaped and about 2 inches in length.
Another beautifully scented Nicotiana is the cultivar ‘Lime Green’ (N. alata), also known as jasmine tobacco. As its name suggests, this plant sports lime-colored trumpet-shaped flowers on stems up to 24 inches tall. Just like N. langsdorffii, the leaves are round and slightly sticky, and clustered in a rosette at the base of the plant.
Many gardeners grow hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.) for their massive displays of pink or blue blooms and are dismayed when the desired colors do not appear as planned. But green is beautiful, too! ‘Limelight’ hydrangea (H. paniculata) is extremely cold hardy — to Zone 3 — and the shrub puts on a floral show from July through September. ‘Limelight’ will grow to a height and spread of 8 feet, with a dense, multi-stemmed branching habit.
As with many other green flowers, it’s the sepals of ‘Limelight’ that are actually green. The massive flower heads make these a favorite as a cut flower, and insect pollinators can’t get enough of them. The acidity of the soil has no impact on the color of the flowers.
Hydrangeas require fertile soil, so be sure to amend regularly with compost or liquid kelp. Provide a consistent watering schedule. Hydrangeas may be grown in full sun or part shade, but excessive heat will affect flower production. ‘Limelight’ flowers on new wood only and can be safely pruned during cold-weather dormancy in late autumn or late winter in the hopes that larger and more prolific flower heads will appear.
The flowers of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), a traditional cottage garden favorite, tend toward an acid green-yellow hue, buoyed in delicate sprays above softly scalloped leaves. In cold-climate gardens, this Zone 3 perennial will maintain a well-behaved, mounding habit up to 12 inches tall, but in warmer regions, the plant may be prone to self-seeding. Luckily, the volunteers are easy to remove.
Lady’s mantle is tolerant of a wide range of soil compositions, from sand to clay, but requires good drainage and should be side-dressed with compost yearly in spring. Too much heat will stress the plant, but lady’s mantle is suitable for both full sun and part shade locations.
A much smaller species is mountain or alpine lady’s mantle (A. alpina). Because it grows only to a height of 8 inches with a similar spread, this plant is a fantastic selection for rock gardens or at the front of the perennial border. Alpine lady’s mantle also bears chartreuse flowers in late summer.
Both of these species make excellent cut flowers. A. alpina doesn’t tend to reseed as much as A. mollis, and as a bonus, it’s fairly rabbit and deer resistant. If you give your lady’s mantle flowers a “haircut” with a pair of scissors or secateurs after they’re finished blooming, you may encourage a second flush of blooms.
Zinnia elegans has a long history of cultivation. Native to Mexico since the Aztec era, zinnia’s extraordinary color range makes it difficult for gardeners to choose a favorite. A sun- and heat-loving annual in cooler climates, zinnia performs well in either containers or garden beds. Seeds germinate quickly in warm soil in spring. You can also start seeds indoors if your growing season is short, but be sure to harden off the seedlings before transplanting them outdoors.
‘Tequila Lime’ is a zinnia selection with huge flowers up to 3 inches in diameter in a brilliant green hue. Plants will reach a height of 30 inches and a maximum spread of 14 inches. Another popular and wonderfully named green cultivar is the heirloom ‘Envy,’ which grows to 24 inches with a spread of 10 inches. Be sure to deadhead zinnias to encourage continuous blooms. These flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies, which makes them an extra-special addition to your garden.
Bells of Ireland
Moluccella laevis has been documented as being in cultivation as early as 1570. Oddly enough, bells of Ireland isn’t native to Ireland but rather Turkey and Syria. The green cup-shaped “bells” on the tall stalks are actually calyces, or modified leaves. Bells of Ireland’s tiny, insignificant white or pale pink flowers are found inside the cups themselves. The calyces appear in late summer and bloom through autumn. An additional treat is that they have a lovely scent that’s reminiscent of vanilla.
Bells of Ireland is considered an annual in cooler climates. Plants will grow to 35 inches in height, with a spread of 9 inches. The flowering stalks occasionally flop over in strong winds and may need staking in exposed locations. You should site bells of Ireland in full sun and offer it well-drained soil. Add some compost to the bed just before sowing for best results. A regular watering schedule is important. No deadheading is required with bells of Ireland, but you’ll want to cut some of the flowering stalks to bring indoors and enjoy! A short cultivar of M. laevis called ‘Pixie Bells’ has dense, prolific flowering stalks that will reach a height of 24 inches.
A drift of green-colored flowers offers the ultimate visual impact, but green blooms will also shine alongside any other color, from purple to yellow. A green and white garden is a highly attractive combination, as well. Don’t be afraid to change up shades of green, from acidic chartreuse to bright apple. Texture is equally as important as color: Consider the nodding heads of hellebores and the vibrant sprays of lady’s mantle. If you grow flowers for cutting, introducing some green blooms will add a new palette to your arrangements.
Keeping the Green
Many green flowers are easy to preserve for dried floral arrangements — and their fading over time won’t be as obvious as with brightly colored blooms.
Hellebores, hydrangeas, zinnias, and bells of Ireland are especially well-suited to drying. They can be air-dried or dessicated with a drying agent.
Air drying. After the dew has dried, cut the stalks and remove the leaves from the stems. Tie a string around the stems, and hang them upside-down in a cool, dry, dark, well-ventilated place. Check the drying flowers after a week.
Drying agents. Strip leaves from the stalks and bury the flowers in a box filled with a drying agent, such as sand and borax, or white cornmeal and borax. Another option is to bury the flowers in silica gel, which works rapidly and can be purchased at a hobby store.
Sheryl Normandeau is a freelance writer and homesteader from Calgary, Alberta. You can follow her gardening adventures on her blog, Flowery Prose.
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