Green Flowers

It has long been my dream to create a garden room featuring blossoms overly endowed with chlorophyll. You can imagine my heart racing when I saw Green Flowers. The exquisite photographs by Marie O’Hara did not disappoint.

The book is encyclopedic in format, based around a Gallery of Green-flowered Plants. A philosophy for designing with green flowers is dealt only a glancing blow in the introduction—easily skipped so that one dives immediately into the plant directory.

There are new plant friends to be made in this book, starting with Acanthus hirsutus, which I knew of but had not seen pictured before. It is the first green flower listed. Where has Albuca shawii—a diminutive summer-flowering bulb—been all my life? The last plant is surprisingly, and sadly, not Zinnia ‘Green Envy’, but rather an old friend, Zigadenus elegans, the native death camas as it is called locally. Another favorite holds no less a place of honor than the title page photo: Hermodactylus tuberosus, the little iris cousin that loves full sun and is drought tolerant. I now wonder why we are all chasing after Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’, with purple foliage and flowers, when Eucomis autumnalis, its cool, creamy green florets topped with a “Side-show Bob” hair-do of light green bracts, is so much more intriguing.

For each entry, mention is made of cultivation requirements. Always useful to know are the plants that will serve well as components in planted container vignettes. Advice is also given on the use of each plant in flower arrangements, but I found this facet not up-to-date with current floral design practice. For the featured euphorbia (Euphorbia lathyrus—a curious choice given its invasive nature), Hoblyn recommends sealing the cut ends with a dip in boiling water, but this also cauterizes the xylem, so the stem cannot drink. It is far better to let the stems “bleed out” in a bucket of clean water, until the toxic milky sap stops flowing and then transfer them to clean water for further conditioning. The wild and wacky flowers of pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) are appropriately noted as being poor cut specimens; the accompanying photograph is, however, of the phyllodes, the plant’s modified leaves, which are, in fact, excellent for cutting, but that fact goes unmentioned.

For me, the main drawback from Green Flowers is the slimness of the volume. Great thumping genera, such as Euphorbia and Allium, are reduced to one pictured representative and never more than four, non-pictured “other recommended” species or varieties. I could not help wondering where was Nectaroscordum siculum, Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’, the oreganums, such as ‘Kent Beauty’, or the many hardy fuchsias touched with green?

Although Green Flowers fills a welcome niche in the recent lexicon of books that focus on flowers of a particular color, I find myself wishing it were more comprehensive, more thoroughly researched, and that the floral design recommendations were left out in favor of more citations and pictures of qualifying plants.

Linda Beutler, garden writer & floral designer
Portland, Oregon