Getting Started: Salvias for Zone 9

California's small, Mohave Desert city of Barstow averages about 5 inches of rain annually. Across the continent, Pensacola, Florida, has more than double Barstow's population and more than 12 times its amount of rainfall. Yet both cities are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone 9 where you can plant perennials and shrubs that survive winter lows ranging from 20 to 30 degrees F. Flowers by the Sea takes readers on a triple coast road trip of Zone 9 and suggests plantings for varied growing conditions along the way.
Flowers by the Sea

New at FBTS: Butterflies Love Perennial Echeandia Texensis

It isn't surprising that the golden flowers of the drought-resistant, perennial Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis) are tops for attracting butterflies. The plant was first discovered on Green Island in Laguna Madre, which is at the southernmost tip of Texas. The area is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which is home to 300 butterfly species. Texas Craglily is an adaptable plant that grows well both in dry and somewhat damp conditions and from California to the Southeast. But it is a rare species that may be threatened by land development and the U.S./Mexico border fence.
Flowers by the Sea

Drought Praise: Around the World with Sunny Groundcovers

Bring on the sun. Bring on the heat. Bring on the drought-resistant Salvia groundcovers.Flowers by the Sea offers a short list of top groundcovers from around the world for fighting drought. They come from Asia, California, Mexico and Morocco in lavender, purple and pink to do battle against the boring brown caused by water shortage. Similar to gravel, bark chip or pine needle mulch, these groundcovers discourage weeds, cool soil, conserve moisture and add color to gardens. They are living mulch.
Flowers by the Sea

Fioraio Bianchi Caffè: Food and Flowers from Milan’s Poet Florist

There is only one restaurant inside a flower shop in Milan—or maybe the flower shop is inside the restaurant? This much is known about Fioraio Bianchi Caffè: order the fresh pasta with clams (and rocket pesto) for lunch, and then you may buy a bouquet if you like. Probably you will want to, because the flowers are courtesy of the city’s most famous “poet florist,” 89-year-old Raimondo Bianchi.

It’s open for lunch and dinner, and all the flowers are for sale. Or go down to the basement workshop to order a custom floral arrangement between the hours of 9 am and 7 pm.

Photography via Fioraio Bianchi Caffè except where noted.


Above: The story of Fioraio Bianchi Caffè begins in 1945, after the war, when 19-year-old Raimondo Bianchi became an apprentice florist in Milan to help his family make ends meet. A decade later, he opened his own flower-and-coffee shop at Via Montebello 7. As the Brera neighborhood became tonier, rents rose and by 2004, after nearly 60 years in the business, a change was necessary.


Above: By 2005, the coffee shop had evolved into a restaurant under the guidance of owner Massimo Villardita, and the atmosphere remains “a very special place where the flowers will still surprise with their scents, their forms, their shades,” Bianchi said.


Above: Bianchi’s arrangements are evidence, as the writer Gloria Wells has said, that he “is by nature contemplative, and not by chance has over the decades earned the title of ‘florist poet’.”

Fiorario Bianchi Caffe bar counter Milan ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Trip Advisor.

Billed as a bistro, the restaurant serves a full lunch and dinner menu. French music plays in the background.


Above: Photograph via Daniel Farò.

(You also can order a cup of coffee at the counter in the morning.)


Above: Says Bianchi: “A flower is a tribute. The antithesis of consumerism is ephemeral, but can take away the sadness.”


Above: Photograph via The Asmonti Chronicles.

The floral arrangements change with the seasons; Bianchi sources flowers from local farms.

Fioraio Bianchi Caffe Milan ; Gardenista

Above: Orchids are for sale (L) or go downstairs (R) to place a custom order.

Fioraio Bianchi Caffe Milan florists workshop ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Graffidigusto.

In the basement is Bianchi’s workshop.

Raimondo Bianchi Florist Milan ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Slowtown.

“I have always worked from morning to night with the rhythm of a clock because I think that being able to build something with consistency is important,” says florist Raimondo Bianchi.

Traveling to Milan? See more of our favorite spots:

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DIY: A Winter White Holiday Bough

In floral design, I love the challenge of working with new and unexpected materials. So when I spotted some cotton branches at my local Whole Foods, I was immediately intrigued. Their fluffy, white plumes set in brittle, golden pods seemed the perfect launching point for a late autumn arrangement.

See below for step-by-step instructions for making a winter white bough with branches of cotton:

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista. 

DIY Cotton Garland, cotton branches, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Cotton branches with raw cotton bolls from Whole Foods Market. You can find similar Cotton Branches at Save on Crafts; $ 5 for two stems.

I have to admit that my cotton sat around for a few days while I contemplated how to exhibit the branches to best effect. A rounded bouquet or wreath seemed too obvious. I wanted a contrast to the cute, fluffy bolls—something with structure and dramatic flair. 

DIY Cotton Garland, millet, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Some millet, also found at Whole Foods, seemed the perfect complement—spiky and dark. Similar Dried Purple Majesty Millet is $ 7.99 per bunch at Dried Decor.

DIY Cotton Garland, pear branch, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: And then I found this pear branch at Winston Flowers, and the form began to emerge. Playing off the natural forms of the branch, I would create a sweeping autumnal bough. Though I bought mine, a similar branch could easily be foraged.

DIY Cotton Garland, oak and bridal wreath branches, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Now all I needed was some foraged material to would complete my homage to the waning days of fall—something that would reflect autumn, but not immediately wilt after I got it indoors. A spray of bridal wreath and some oak leaves seemed perfect. I also gathered a few sprigs of yellowing privet with aubergine berries.

DIY Cotton Garland, tools and supplies, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Other than my plant specimens, all I needed were flexible floral wire, clippers, and a lovely velvet ribbon. I used 16 MM Mustard French Velvet Ribbon from The Ribbon Jar; $ 3.55 per yard.

DIY Cotton Garland, step one, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 1: Consider your structure and create a base.

Think about the basic shape of you arrangement. Do you want a single- or double-sided bough? If the latter, do you want it equal in length or lopsided? You also have to consider where you want to display it. Is it going to lie flat on a table (in which case you need to build it up on all sides), or flat against a wall (one side). Is it going to hang or drape off a mantel?

When I started, I wasn’t really sure, so I simply started by building one side of the bough. Channeling my inner-ikebana I grabbed a branch, which I knew would be the base of my arrangement, and examined how best to trim it down. This I coupled with the more linear millet to create a structural counterpoint.

DIY Cotton Garland, step 2, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 2: Begin layering the arrangement.

Taking each branch of cotton in hand, I began to experiment until I had the right piece.

DIY Cotton Garland, trim branches as you go, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: With each new specimen, you most likely will need to trim.

DIY Cotton Garland, building up the garland, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Don’t forget to add height to the arrangement. 

DIY Cotton Garland, wire branches, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 3: Secure your first few branches with floral wire.

You will notice that I didn’t immediately start tacking down the branches. That’s because I wanted give myself the flexibility to change things until the basic structure emerged. Once satisfied that I was on the right track, I began to wrap the branches together with wire. Don’t worry at this point if you have bare branches showing. You can cover those later when you build up the middle.

DIY Cotton Garland, constructing side 2, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 4: After you have one side loosely constructed, begin building up the other side and the middle. 

I lifted my arrangement onto a mantel (which is awaiting a new coat of soft gray paint, BTW), so I could also begin to build up the understory. You will notice from this less than inspiring image that my arrangement looks a little hopeless at point. I admit I was worried, and you may be too. But hang in there. Just keep adding materials and securing with wire until you get the effect you want.

DIY Cotton Garland, tie ribbon, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 5: After the bouquet is mostly assembled, tie a ribbon around each side.

DIY Cotton Garland, finished, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Step 6: Hang or place in situ and continue to add last minute touches until you have the arrangement you want. Here is my finished piece.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 3, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: I left my structure a bit loose and wild, so the forms of individual plants would show.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 7, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: I didn’t use anything other than the pear branches for structural support, allowing for more flexibility in the arrangement. After it was hung, it took on a nice gentle arch. 

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 6, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: Among the auburn and yellowing foliage, the scattered cotton balls remind me of winter’s first dusting of snow.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 4, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above and below: You will note that I did not create a mirror image on both sides of the arrangement. It’s more extemporaneous and natural that way.

DIY Cotton Garland, detail 9, by Justine Hand for Gardenista

Above: I did not preserve my leaves because I wanted them to continue to yellow just as they would outside. If you want your arrangement to appear fresh indefinitely, you can preserve the leaves beforehand by drying them or dipping them in wax. Or you can build your structure around a bit of floral foam or moss that has been soaked in water. Finally, you can prolong the arrangement by refreshing it with new material.

N.B. Want to experience some other wild arrangements? See 10 Tips for Floral Arrangements With Native Flowers, from Brooklyn Florist Emily Thompson. Also: Alexa created 12 Autumnal Centerpieces for $ 200.

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