Possibly one of our greatest strengths, and biggest draws over here at Lola Event Floral & Design, is that we take on and work out some pretty challenging endeavors.
Original ideas with unclear approaches? We find one or three.
No information on where to find or get something unique? We find it… or make it.
You don’t think we can strap that to our pickup truck? Oh, we think we can.
You saw a waterlily arrangement at a Los Angeles event and want to do something similar for the Pacific Science Center King Tut Gala? You’ve heard they are difficult to work with? And you need them for not one night but two?- Puh-leez. It’s a flower, we can figure it out. This thing is going to be Tut-tacular.
We’ve not worked with waterlilies before, and as it turns out, not a lot of people have. Apparently they are difficult. But, we figured, it has been done. No ambiguity there. So, if there is a solution, we are the ones to find it. And the lack of information out there was just fuel to the fire to jump into a floral experiment that can be shared.
For challenging tasks, we try to fail early and often to work out the unknowns. I, personally, love this process. It’s like little clues to a multi-dimensional puzzle that always comes together. THIS process, however, had me in a battle with a flower- a flower I expected to figure out on Round 1: Waterlily, meet Human. But after Round 2: Waterlily Pamper and Coax, the flowers were given a new name “Jerklips”, though “Pond Scum” was also a contender. Round 3: Waterlily and Human Accord had me thinking we were going to be all right, but after the Final Round: Humans are Slaves to the Waterlily it was clear I was still being schooled by a swamp grower.
Here’s our story… (you can skip to the bottom if you don’t want the play by-play)
We would need about 100 white waterlilies. Two months before the event, we found a local grower. Done. Commence online and phone research. At this point we learn that waterlilies are pretty short-lived to begin with. We learn that they open up every day, and close up every evening usually by 4pm. They have about a 5 day life. They are cut on the first day of opening, shipped the second, so we’ve got a 2-3 day window. They are happiest in warm weather under direct sun. So the challenge is… get them happy enough to open and get them to stay open well after their natural inclination is to shut tight.
Photo taken in MAY by niiicedave from Flickr
Hmmm….warm and sunny, tricky.
One month before we checked in on our supplier to see how our little lovelies were growing… They were NOT growing. What was an “Absolutely they will be ready” turned into a “No way they will be ready”.
Our new supplier was found in Texas where warmth and sun abounds. Texas Waterlilies is a privately owned aquatic plant grower and not only had more waterlilies than I would ever know what to do with, they also had a wealth of readily available knowledge, top-notch customer service, experience selling cut flowers to floral designers, patience, and a man named Dusty with a way of speech that a Texas man named Dusty should have. Finding these people was relief and happiness. I immediately ordered about 10 of their hardiest, toughest, awesomest waterlilies.
Round One: Waterlily, Meet Human
The lilies were shipped overnight and arrived around noon wrapped in wet newspaper and sealed in a plastic bag. The plastic bag was packed in bigger box with some extra padding. The day was what, we Seattleites, would call a sunny spring day. Probably around a high of 60 degrees F. We immediately cut the stems under water and put them out on a sunny ledge- half in flower solution the other half just in water. The tight buds nudged open just a little tiny bit. As the afternoon wore on, we switched them around to the warmest areas of the lot, finally landing on the hood of my pickup, the hottest spot I could find. Not a budge. We moved them to a hot plate- formerly used for my sweetie’s awesome buckwheat pancakes. (You owe me, waterlily!) Still nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G .”They must just be totally shocked”, I thought. “Poor little guys,” I thought.
This is how to NOT get waterlilies to open.
Oy, more research was needed. I floated the waterlilies in the shop and frantically called Dusty, who was nice enough to return my call on a weekend. “Just get them above 80 and in the sun, ” he says.
photo by Jess Beemouse
I also learned that the stems have to stay wet. (Oy, that shoulda been a given)
The next morning, I opened my shop (which gets pretty warm with the doors closed) and what did I find? Half open waterlilies in the dark. So apparently it’s more of a warmth thing. I can get warmth better than I can get sun. Day two I put them in warm water but it was too late. they were done. Time for Round Two.
Round Two: Waterlily, Pamper and Coax
Round two came like the first, but with some extras (thanks Dusty). This time they were kept in the sunniest place in the house since it was clear warmth is what we were after. I put a layer of plastic wrap over their water bath and I cranked up the heat. Fifty percent of them opened- a little. The others, nothing. And at 4pm they were all shut. They received the name Jerklips because they when they shut, they really do shut all the way, there is no visible sign that they intend to open again at all, ever. There is no communication to the human caretakers. Jerks.
Then something happened. On day two with the same conditions the lilies that were half-opened on day one were ready for business on day two. (the other half never opened). Good enough! They are absolutely glorious when they are open. We melted down some waxed and applied the wax at the base of the petals with a squeeze dropper.
We drove some over to our clients for a meeting so that they could determine for themselves if the level of openness was going to be sufficient. We found that even with wax, after 4pm they closed in a little- and sometimes wonkily. After 10pm they were just “okay”. We suggested an alternative flower, but our client was firm that it had to be waterlilies- MORE WAX!
Round 3: Waterlily and Human Accord
We chose to use only the white waterlilies for their color and because they stayed open the longest. We received the waterlilies and immediately put them in warm water inside a bath with plastic covering. The lilies had the rest of the day to relax in water before they were open enough to wax. Be prepared for them to close up after their day of rest. This is a horrifying time because they look like they will never open again. They will.
Day one Round three- Waterlilies will almost fully open.
The next morning (about 7am) we added more warm water to get the water temp back up. Around 11am, most of them were open and glorious! The duds (buds that don’t open) improved to 40% instead of half the shipment. This time we waxed more heavily, filling up large pools of wax, not only around the petals closest to the middle, but in every petal clear down to the base of the flower.
Day two, Round three- Lilies are ready for wax.
Leave the pooled wax on the petals. Removing it will damage the petal- and you won’t see it in water.
Waxed and waiting! This photo was taken at 7:30 pm- still looking good. top right is the 6 minute wax time.
The entire waxing and wait time was about 8 minutes PER FLOWER! Since we would need about 120 lilies, that’s a lot of labor. We tested a 6 minute lily just to see if some time could be saved.
By the way, check out how much the flowers close just during the waxing process. Pre-wax is on the left and immediately post- wax is on the right. And here is a cross-section of the stem. Be sure to cut the stems under water. I’m not fully sure how this plant works but you can tell by looking at the cross-section where the water is. If you see water pulled up into the quarters, that is good. If the capillaries are open and free of water, I’d keep cutting under water until you see water.In the photo below, the end closest to the camera is free of water while the other end has water trapped. Not totally sure, but I assume that is good.
Oh and be prepared to get wax EVERYWHERE!
For our needs, we wanted the waterlilies to last two nights, so we did not have to replace our 8 minute waterlily with another for the second event. Here is what the lilies looked like at midnight on day three! Not bad at all! As you can see on the right that the 6 minute waterlily did okay, but not as open and stunning as the others.We figured we could reduce some of the browning by fussing less with the extraneous wax.
day four- getting oogly. Definitely 3 days max!
Final Round: Humans are Slaves to the Waterlily
This event has taught me that, when you figure it out, don’t change ANYTHING. We ordered enough lilies for slightly less than the best case scenario. We needed 90-110 waterlilies and ordered 220 to account for the duds and have a few left over to change out any particularly frazzled lilies for night 2 of our event. The 80 degree worked so well, I wondered what would happen if we increased the temperature. Afterall, a Texas spring is in the 90s, not the 80s. I wondered if we got the temperature up to 90, if we would have more success with the buds that did not open. Long story short, that was a bad idea. The humans and the lilies sweated it out and we ended up with a lot of stressed out flowers and a greater fail rate than even round 2 had produced. Luckily, we set up the waterlily arrivals in two shipments to optimize the lilies preferred timeline. The second delivery we shifted back to the tried and true method with great results. We ended up still having to substitute some lilies on night two of our event with peonies.
Waterlilies, we appreciate your tenacity. Please know we are your friends.
In summary, here is our recipe for getting great waterlily cut flowers in our cool climate:
- Order about double the waterlilies that you will need. Texas Waterlilies was incredible to work with.
- Get waterlilies in 80 degree water bath as soon as you can. Indoors or if sunny and cool, under a plastic row cover or greenhouse .
- Cut stems underwater and remove floating bits.
- Use cups, or some other device to anchor the stems under water. The curved stems will want to curve up sometimes with the exposed end out of water. Ensure most of the stem stays moist.
- Cover bath with plastic and let rest until the following morning.
- The following morning, add warm water early (we did about 7am) to get the water temperature back up to 80. We kept water temps between 80 and 85 and air temps between 70 and 80.
- Between 10 and 12, all the waterlilies that you will get will probably be open. We’ve had some luck opening lilies that are almost all the way open by transferring them to a new fresh warm water bath, with recut stems.
- Move waterlilies from water to a cup or class so that petals can dry out of the water. Keep stems in water- recut stems
- Prepare a hot plate and dropper. Keep a stash of droppers in a glass of hot water on the hot plate. The droppers get jammed and it’s faster to grab a new one than it is to unclog the dropper.
- With a dropper and melted wax, apply wax to the inside of the flower just under the very first little petals. Move outward and as wax dries, apply more to create thick pools. Tilt flower as needed to get wax in between the very bottom petals.
- We found that 8 minutes was optimal to get lilies to stay full and open the longest.
- Take care not to remove wax, touch the petals, or generally fuss with anything that is not the base of the petal. The petals bruise easily. Once dry, place back into water bath or keep in glasses for transport.
* We did not use floral solution after Round 2. We seemed to be getting the same effects without it but more experimentation would be useful here.
If you have some other experiences with waterlilies, we would LOVE to hear about them.