My grandparents both liked to garden. They lived in a large old farmhouse at the edge of a small town in Wisconsin. Gardening in Wisconsin is serious business as the growing season is very short--usually not much more than the beginning of June to the end of August. Apparently they had their own ideas about what they liked, because they each had their own ornamental flower gardens. My grandmother had a large bed by the driveway that was all zinnias, four o'clocks, and cleome along with other old-fashioned flowers. My grandfather was a carpenter and he had his own garden right outside of his shop with his own favorites--red salvia, bright cockscomb, yellow marigolds and purple morning glory. He planted it himself every spring. They had shared vegetable beds and rows of fruit, too, but I always thought it was adorable that they grew their own ornamental flowers.
Now, I have to admit I prefered my grandmother's garden. I never really found the bright flowers my grandpa liked very appealing--although I have always loved morning glory, I mean who doesn't love a big purple morning glory vine? But I didn't have a special place in my heart for red spikey salvia and the weird looking cockscomb. That was before I began flower farming. Since then I'm become a convert to the world of celosia.
Can it only have been a few years since I first saw it? It hardly seems possible. 'Texas Vintage Rose' came into my life as a mistake, an extra, not expected, but a joy once she arrived. I have been in love ever since.
I must admit I found learning about the many, many varieties of flowers that I needed to grow as a cut flower grower a bit overwhelming. The flowers I loved and had grown for years were very familiar, but there were large areas of horticultural knowledge in which I was totally lacking. Celosia was one of these areas. I had never grown even one variety, ever. Now I know that there are basically three types: wheat, plume and crested, also known as plicata (wheat), plumosa (plume) and cristata (crested). Cockscomb, the traditional old-fashioned form is a cristata. But 'Texas Vintage Rose'--she's a plumosa. And what a beauty. This flower is actually a mix, with several forms and many colors, which was developed by veteran flower grower Frank Arnosky in Texas and popularized and distributed by floret.com What makes the flower so beautiful is a pinkish silvery sheen that is present on most of the flowers as well as the dark burgundy stems of at least half of the plants. There are also green forms in the mix, but all are pretty. The whole planting has a very ethereal look to it and has to be seen in person to fully appreciate the shimmering beauty. A bucket full is absolutely amazing.
'Texas vintage rose' with eucalyptus
My second year as a farmer I was lucky enough to purchase a flat of 25 plugs of 'Texas Vintage Rose' from a grower who just happened to have extra plants. I planted just after July 4th in our large new growing field. They did phenomenally well and were absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately I was unable to save seed due to our early frost, but the next year I started early and was able to save seed. I usually hold back a packets of seed just in case of disaster when saving seed. (Buying seed from floret is a wild scramble.) After several years of growing this plant I now have a large stock of seed and it re-seeds everywhere. I didn't even plant it this year and had a large row of it to harvest from.
In my first year I also planted a row of spicata called 'Flamingo Feather'. I had more than anyone could ever need, especially as I did not have anything figured out in terms of a market for my flowers. It freely self-seeded everywhere. Everywhere. I've never planted one seed since that time and always have more than enough to cut and sell. It's a beautiful silvery pink. Learning how to grow it and when to cut it involves a bit of experience, but I love it and use a lot of it in the late summer.
'Flamingo Feather' celosia with gomphrena
I was never much of a fan of the cristata forms, but a several years ago I saw some being sold by other growers and have become a huge fan of several pink and pastel varieties. The picture below shows my favorite mix of blushy, coral pinks and all the forms mixed together. Honestly, what is not to like? I'm often told that brides do NOT want celosia, and I understand. When I was a bride I would have nixed this flower as a choice, too. But that was before I had seen a picture like the one below. The way they shimmer in the sun is magical, too. I like to think of the flowers as perfect ruffles.
Mix of cristata, spicata and plumosa celosia--that's 'Texas Vintage Rose' in the back with some 'Flamingo Feather' mixed in and some of the pink cristata that we love
This year I tried the Kurume series for the first time and was sold. The gold, orange and persimmon were fantastic late summer colors and the flower heads never got too big. They will probably be on the list for next year, even though the colors are bighter than what I usually grow.
Probably my favorite of all for the cut flower market are the celway spicata celosias. Their uniform growing habit and ability to regrow for cutting all season makes them a winner, and the colors are all useful. After growing for a few years I appreciate consistency more than I did the first year. And I appreciate colors that work.
One of the decisions we have to make each summer is how to use the high tunnels (hoop houses) after they have finished their primary use, which is growing specialty crops like ranunculus and anemones. The high tunnels area not as necessary in the summer, but they are still extremely useful and I would not want to grow without them.
A cristata mix from Floret flowers
A late summer day in the high tunnel
Celosia is one of the best crops I've found found for summers in the high tunnel. They grow quickly and easily and will last until killed by frost or until it's time to replant the ranunculus or anemone--whichever comes first. They don't really grow better inside, but they do grow well. They love the intense heat that a high tunnel produces in the summer and anything that allows for harvesting on rainy days is a plus.