Short Stem Surprises for Kids

Certain crops are bound to produce some beautiful blooms with stems much too short to include in offerings of standard bulk cut flowers or even the usual bouquets. And some customers really don’t want to put out a lot of money just to fill a couple of bud vases. To make use of these “unusable” flowers and fill a small need, I began offering short stem blooms from time to time. The three crops that produced a lot of short stem blooms were clematis, dahlia, and lisianthus.
While long-stemmed clematis makes good cut flowers in Japan where they are greenhouse grown, ours are mostly outdoor clambering vines, producing big blooms with short stems. These striking blooms come in a rather wide assortment of colors, and some are crested and double.  All are popular at the market because they are relatively long-lived and not otherwise available as a cut flower.
Dahlias are best known for giant blooms or for bedding plants in the garden. But there are a couple of types that are ideal for the short-stem market in the summer: collarettes and little poms. The collarettes have unusual forms and color combinations. Some are small but some are up to 6 inches across. They are interesting and almost irresistible but are generally short-lived in midsummer, about 2-3 days. The little poms last twice as long and are small very double balls in a wide range of colors. By fall, the two types begin producing long stems and long-lasting blooms, thus no longer used in the short stem market.
The first bloom to open on most lisianthus plants opens about 2 weeks ahead of the time the entire plant is harvested, and often this bloom has faded and must be removed at harvest time. But these initial blooms can be harvested with their individual 4-8 inch stems and used for the short stem market. Any of the lisianthus are beautiful and long lasting; the singles look like poppies and the doubles resemble roses, and they are all particularly captivating.
I insert these short stem blooms in 6-hole bricks (one to four per hole) in small tubs of water for display and sale. Sometimes I bunch the blooms, but usually not. I sell the single blooms for 25 or 50 cents each, usually, depending on size and variety. I didn’t expect much from this offering at first, but the blooms would otherwise have been discarded at the farm. I was surprised at the result.
These blooms became a fascination for children, ages 3-10, who were accompanied by parents at the market. These flowers constituted the one item in the entire market that children could be permitted to buy. And this sale item operated as a training ground in practical arithmetic: if youngsters were given three quarters to buy three flowers, I had to be sure  they got exactly what they paid for so that the arithmetic would come out right.
This offering gave the children an opportunity for some independence which they really enjoyed. While most of the children were pretty shy, some became brave enough to talk. They would explain what they would do with the flowers, who they were for, what their doggie was like, what Mom or Dad told them, and on and on. Of course we responded with enthusiasm, such as “That’s nice”, “Oh, my!”, “Really?”,  “You don’t say!”, etc. Before too many family secrets got revealed, Mom or Dad would snatch the kids away. But they were happy because they had bought the flowers and knew what they were going to do with them.
Over the years we would see the youngsters grow up, then probably disappear for a while, then once or twice come back to the market to see us. Often we didn’t recognize them, they had changed so much, but they certainly knew us. They’d say (of course) “You haven’t changed a bit!” And we would say “Thank you” (Oh yeah!) and “We’re glad to see you again.”
These relationships are part of what makes flower sales at farmers’ markets a wonderful experience. And to think that some of these encounters began with sales of short stem blooms to children!

Editor’s note:   Bill Preston sends a correction to Back to Basics “Bogged Down? Grow Cut Flowers” from the Winter 2006 issue. “Instead of recommending Camassia cusickii,    I should have recommended Camassia leichtelinii.  Sorry for the error!”