Becoming a cut flower grower does something weird to your perspective. Instead of just appreciating the beauty of the plants in a nursery or arboretum, you find yourself viewing every plant through the lens of “Would that make a good cut?”.

I get to see a lot of new varieties when I help with watering at the Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) Mast Arboretum once every month or so, and I’m always on the lookout for new cut possibilities. The last time I watered, I spotted a gorgeous bronze foliage plant in the greenhouse that was totally new to me. Its nametag said “phormium.” I came home & did a little internet research on phormium. I found a San Diego grower (Foxtail Farms) specializing in phormium, and discovered that this plant comes in an unbelievably wide range of colors (wine red, green with cream stripe, lime green with salmon stripe, green with dark purple, and many more). The pictures had me drooling, so I called the owner, Russ McMillan. Russ said that recently a California flower grower had asked about using this plant as a cut, so he went to the San Diego cut flower market and found that some cut flower growers were indeed selling it that way. That prompted Russ to experiment with some foliage and he found that it lasted over a week in plain water.

This conversation piqued my interest and, as luck would have it, a few days later I visited my daughter in San Diego. On the way to her house from the airport, I asked, “Kate, have you ever heard of phormium?’ “Oh, yes,” she said, “I have some in my yard!” Well, what I found was that everyone in San Diego seems to have phormium in their yard, and I think it is used in landscaping every commercial building there as well. Everywhere I looked was some variety of phormium. So now I have ordered a few plants to try. I don’t know how they will like the heat and humidity of East Texas, but maybe with a little pampering they will survive. Whether they work or not, it’s lots of fun to try new plants as cuts, and to experiment with plants that come from other regions of the country.

This is not the first time the SFASU Mast Arboretum has led me to try some new plant as a cut. Dawn Stover, who has been the research associate there for 10 years, is not only an expert on annuals, perennials and tropicals, but has a deep interest in cut flowers and is an excellent floral designer herself. She has brought a number of plants to my attention as possible cuts.  Some of these have been great successes— Hibiscus acetosella (maple-leaf hibiscus) for foliage, Justicia betonica (white shrimp plant) which looks beautiful with lisianthus, and Miscanthus sinensis (super stripe maiden grass) to name a few.

Dawn also conducts two enormous plant sales each year. These sales emphasize new and unusual plants that do well in the East Texas environment, and they have become among the most popular Nacogdoches events. Hundreds of people line up with their wagons before the 9 a.m. opening, and at the signal, run for the plants they want.  It looks like the great land rush! I always find cut flower possibilities at these sales, and come home with my Yukon loaded with plants.

In addition to new cut flower ideas, the horticulture department staff has helped me in many other ways—identifying plants, bugs, and diseases; finding sources for particular plants; and providing general horticultural information. The floral design class also buys some of my flowers. If you have an arboretum or a college with a horticulture department nearby, I encourage you to latch onto this great resource. Get to know the staff, do a little volunteering, offer to give a lecture on cut flowers. The connection can yield tremendous dividends for your business.

If you attend our South-Central Regional Meeting this year, you will get to know Dawn Stover and some other members of the horticulture department at SFASU. In response to suggestions from a number of members, the theme of this meeting will be “New Ideas for Cut Flowers & Foliage.” We will have the meeting in Nacogdoches, Texas on Monday, July 6. That morning we will tour my farm and then go to the SFASU Mast Arboretum for Dawn Stover’s special guided tour, which will emphasize unusual flowers and foliage for cuts. We will go indoors out of the heat for lunch and an afternoon session of sharing new cut flower ideas. Dawn will be the lead speaker in this discussion, but we want everyone to bring their latest cut flower discoveries. Although not on the agenda, visits to the other SFASU gardens—the Pineywoods Native Plant Center and the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden (the largest azalea garden in Texas)—are well worth your time, so I hope you can stay another day in Nacogdoches. You might also enjoy visiting the shops along the brick streets in the “Oldest Town in Texas.” By the time you read this, you should have received more detailed information about our meeting and about Nacogdoches. I hope to see you here on July 6!