Flowers and foliage that last out of water

Flowers and foliage that last out of water

Hi, we are Martha White and David Martin of Free Range Flowers at Martin Farm.  Our farm is in Gracey, Western Kentucky, a bit north of Nashville.  David and I came to flower farming and floral design (and our marriage for that matter) late in life, so we are relatively new at growing fresh cut flowers and designing for special events.  Growing flowers for the market since 2009, and married in 2012, we have had to fast-track the learning process for both endeavors. David, at least, has a degree in Horticulture.  I am a former library administrator, so I know how to crack open a book!

There is a first time for everything.  My first boutonniere was not exactly... stellar.  Apparently, I learn best by failure because that first boutonniere looked very sad by the time photos were taken.  Fortunately, the bride was a friend and extremely low key.  She was thrilled with all the flowers and happy to be our guinea pig.  I made the rookie mistake of using a zinnia! What was I thinking?!  It was practically on its head by the end of the ceremony.  The dusty miller drooped too, but at least in an artful way.  Lisianthus was the sole survivor.  One out of four — not so great.  

Panic set in.  If I wanted to do weddings, I had to be able to design boutonnieres, corsages, wristlets, and (scariest of all) wedding arches!
Along with my husband, I had learned a lot about growing flowers, what sells, and how to sell it over the four years before our first wedding.  However, neither of us knew how to select items that would hold up well out of water for hours at a time.  

So the following July we walked around the farm and clipped, snipped, plucked and picked samples of greenery, flowers, seed pods, fruits, and weeds to see what would last longest and hold up well out of the water.  We labeled everything with masking tape and checked on its condition every hour, noting at what point an item began to look sad.  

As a result of this experiment, we have a much better idea of what is suitable for out-of-water use.  

Below is a little of what we learned:  

  • For flowers and much of the greenery you might choose, things last longer if the stem is a little older, tougher or woodier.  Yarrow and Ageratum, for example, work better if they are fully mature and bloomed out — their little dangly parts droop otherwise.  Rosemary is a good example of greenery that lasts a long time when cut at the woody stage — if it is too young, it can flop.  Lilac leaves and several varieties of oak leaves last quite well.  
  • In general, the glossier the leaf, the longer it lasts.
  • Sun and heat make a big difference.  If the event is outdoors, plan to use your hardiest items.  
  • A product like Crowning Glory can extend the life of your flowers and leaves – try it if you haven’t!
  • I can't guarantee the life of a flower/greenery, though.  Longevity can vary based on the time of year, the age of the plant, weather conditions, event location and more.  If it is critical that something lasts for several hours, always test it first.

As we try things, our confidence grows, and practice is the name of the game.  Boutonnieres are easy to make — you can try several things quickly and practice your design skills and ribboning techniques all in one go. 

Learning to be comfortable with out-of-water flower work has opened up possibilities for us that we would never have tried a few years ago.  Here is a halo we recently did for a photoshoot bride. It was made of gladiola blossoms, yellow and red roses, and lilac leaves.  It held up for hours and still didn't look bad the next day!  And I even forgot to spray it with Crowning Glory!  

The results of our experiments are listed below.  I frequently think I will remember things that I don't, and I find it very helpful to pull out this list before grabbing a bucket and clippers to collect items for my latest project.   

Leaves that last out of water 12 hours or longer

  • Hosta leaves
  • Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum)
  • False Solomon's Seal (Disporopsis)
  • Holly fern (Cyrtomium)
  • Ghost fern (Athyrium)
  • Hellebore
  • Crocosmia
  • Seven-sons (Heptacodium)
  • Lilac (Syringa)
  • Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)
  • Toad Lily (Tricyrtis)
  • Sedum - (Autumn Joy)
  • Boxwood (Buxus)
  • Nandina

Flowers that last out of water 8 hours or longer

  • Scabiosa fully open (neck gets a little limp so use wire)
  • Lisianthus (Eustoma)
  • Sweet William (Dianthus)
  • Yarrow (Achillea) fully open
  • Strawflower (Helichrysum)
  • Bicolor Rose Gomphrena
  • Fireworks Gomphrena
  • 'Henry Eilers' Rudbeckia
  • Heuchera scape
  • Spray rose bud
  • Verbena bonariensis
  • Turks cap lily
  • Perennial sunflower or 'Sunshine Daydream' (Helianthus)
  • Ageratum (central cluster only)
  • Nasturtium blossom
  • Dahlia buds
  • Gladiolus blossoms
  • Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
  • Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
  • Queen Ann's Lace seed head (Daucus carrota and Ammi Majus)
  • Clematis seed head (needs to be older, younger can wilt)
  • Drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon)
  • Calla Lily (Zantedeschia)
  • Ornamental peppers
  • Succulents

Herbs that last out of water for hours

  • Germander
  • Thyme (use older stems)
  • Rosemary (use older stems)
  • Russian Sage stems (Perovskia)
  • Wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
  • Sage leaves

I would love to hear about your experiments and experiences!  Join the conversation below and tell us about your favorite, long-lasting blooms and foliage.  We'd love to hear from you!  



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