Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Politeness And Grace Of Freesia


There was a time long, long ago when love was romantic and intentions were made known discreetly.  Rather than rumble through the neighborhood to the thunder of deep bass and obscenities, polite suitors gave blossoms to signal their desires in an idiom without words.  It was called "the language of flowers."

Freesia symbolized innocent friendship.  A gift of purple lilac hinted at love's first emotion.  A red tulip in hand was a bolder declaration of love.  Sunflowers indicated pure and lofty thoughts, but a handful of coriander might elicit a smart slap across the face.  Bearing a branch of linden in bloom (somewhat analogous to thundering through the neighborhood to deep bass and obscenities) could result in really big trouble and cause a fellow to "rue" the day that he ever entertained such thoughts.

Freesia (prounounced FREE-see-uh), native to South Africa, is very popular as a cut flower for arrangements.  Colorful flowers ranging from white and yellow to pink and blue appear on long racemes in spring.  The fragrance is often used in bath and body oils and in aromatherapy.  Plant height is approximately 18".

It is also superb for indoor gardening, fragrance gardens, bulb and perennial borders in mild climates.  Because all parts of the plant are toxic, be cautious if growing them where children may nibble them.

Freesia thrives in USDA climate zones 8 through 11, in full sun to partial shade.  Plant in organic, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before preparing your planting site, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send the sample to a lab for analysis.  The analysis will normally be sent to you through the mail.  If the test results seem somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, don't hesitate to call your County Agent for explanation.

Planting begins in late summer to fall.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  Mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

The bulbs look like onions.  Plant them 2" to 3" deep with the pointed end up.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 3".  After planting, water well.

When the bloom season is over, the foliage will stay green for several weeks.  Let it remain to build food reserves in the bulb for future seasons.  When the leaves turn yellow and die back, they may be removed.

As mentioned earlier, freesia are excellent for forcing indoors.  Choose containers with drainage holes, and fill them with a good grade of peat-based potting soil.  Plant the bulbs 2" deep and 1" to 2" apart.  Water thoroughly after planting until water comes out of the drainage holes.  After the water has drained, place the containers in a sunny place.  Because it's often difficult to provide enough light indoors, freesia may become "leggy" and require support.  Decorative stakes or rods will suffice.  Soil should remain slightly moist, but never soggy.  If possible, keep the room temperature a bit on the cool side in order to prolong bloom time.  After flowering, your freesia may be transplanted outdoors provided that your climate is freesia-friendly.

Restore a sense of innocence, elegance and politeness to your surroundings with freesia.  By all means, share them with your friends.  The graceful stems, color and fragrance will be most welcome.

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