Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Joy of Winter Ranunculus by Carol Wallwork

On Monday afternoon the weather worsened, gray, leaden skies spawned swirling flurries.  When the doorbell rang, I expected it to be UPS, but it was my friend Elvira, standing on the porch clad in a maroon, puffy down coat with a fuchsia-colored wooly scarf accenting her face.  She was carrying an olive jar of ranunculus buds, deep Tyrian purple, and wispy pinks.  The sight of the ranunculus sent my mind back to a year ago, when we zipped through Middleburg, Virginia, first for lunch then wending our way to a little nook of a florist/garden/art gallery of botanical delights.  It's now closed, I hope only temporarily.  But last February, we joyfully purchased ranunculus stems there, each dotted with several tiny buds, that you can cut off and slip into a small vase on the windowsill, and they too will bloom. 

I had no idea how rare, and exceptional these humble little flowers are, both in the average garden and even the above- average florist shop. After discovering them in Middleburg, I looked all over for more, but only found Burpee's Catalog agreeing to mail me the tubers in warmer weather.  
Ranunculus tuber

I am now trying to force those tubers on my kitchen window.  (Forcing is the cunning art of tricking a plant into producing it's flowers early. In January, I clip about a dozen forsythia branches (the ones covered with buds) bring them indoors, and place them into a large vase of water).  Within about two to three weeks, those branches will herald spring early, vivid sprays of yellow that gladdens the heart, for the indoor warmth persuades  the branch it's mid-March instead of early February. Alas, my ranunculus tubers instructions didn't mention soaking them in water for three or four hours first, which I just read in an old gardening book.  Two weeks on the windowsill, and just now are they're producing a slip of green on top, and a hint of root waterside.

Elvira & Carol,  Fox's Den Tavern, Middleburg
Front parlor, Middleburg florist shop, an old, converted house

Ranunculus buds in florist window
Ranunculus, or Persian buttercups, as they are commonly called, are grown from tubers (potatoes are also tubers).  The flowers are rather diminutive, with petals that are more rigidly symmetrical compared to a rose.  But I can think of no other flower that is held aloft with quite as much dash and personality as ranunculus stems.  They curl and sway and, when given just the right amount of elbow room in the vase, they catch the eye.  Besides this endearing quality (Gerber daisies almost have it, but their flowers are too heavy to hold them up) ranunculus are also long-lasting, a good 10 days to two weeks, when treated properly (that means daily changes of lukewarm water, while cutting about 1/2 inch off their stems each day).

Elvira is an expert gardener.  She's the only person I know who can identify plants by their Latin names, and knows what those mean.  She also has the finest garden I've seen outside a pay-to-see garden.  Not surprisingly she knows all about which vase works best with what flower.  Ranunculus flowers look best in a cylindrical vase that's about one-third the height of the flower stem, also, the flowers shouldn't be  crammed in together, so you can appreciate their stem personality.

Culture clash: Forced ranunculus on a dusting of winter white        Photo: Molly Wallwork

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful blog you just wrote, and thank you for the nice things you said about me! And the pictures came out beautifully.