Emily Bradbury’s love for flowers stems from her mother’s garden in Toronto, Canada – a wild garden so unique that it’s included in official garden tours, albeit as a secret garden due to its informal nature.
“My mum raised me going through the garden, pointing at things and saying ‘What’s this?’ when they were in bulb form, and I’d have to name them,” recalls Bradbury, the woman behind Thornbury florist North St Botanical. “It’s not a formal garden. It’s wild and crazy, which I think is why my style is not contrived and without a specific look. It’s because I grew up in a wild garden.”
With spring upon us, we asked Bradbury to tell us about four seasonal flowers she’s looking forward to and why. She gave us five, because: “In floristry it’s always an uneven number. Always!”
“Dogwood is my favourite spring flower,” she says. “Dogwoods were growing wild all over Washington and Oregon when Craig and I were on our honeymoon, living out of a Dodge Durango and a tent and staying in state parks along the coast.” Native to North America, the flowering dogwood is a small deciduous tree that grows to around 10 metres in height. The flowers tend to be small and inconspicuous, with the central flower cluster encased by four large white, pink or red petals. Grown widely throughout the temperate world, it was used to treat dogs with mange, which may well be how it got its name.
“The snowball viburnum is a small clump-forming viburnum. It looks like a green to white pompom that grows on the tree and is absolutely stunning. At the start of the season, it’s a bright, vibrant green and then throughout the season, it grows into a white puff ball.” Mostly native to Europe, America and Northeast Asia, the snowball viburnum is a deciduous shrub that grows well in Australia’s temperate regions.
Andromeda Pieris Japonica
Another shrub, the andromeda pieris japonica, is native to Eastern Asia and grows only one to four metres tall. “It comes in quite a few different varieties, all with these beautiful bells hanging off them,” says Bradbury. In season now, the flowers are white, with alternate leaves on brittle stems. The plant itself is poisonous if consumed.
Just as it sounds, a double daffodil is a daffodil with double the petals. “You’ve got petal upon petal upon petal, and the fragrance is quite subtle compared to your regular daffodil.” Native to meadows throughout Europe, North America and West Asia, there are thought to be some 60 different species of this hardy, bulbous perennial.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley is a sweetly scented (and highly poisonous) flowering plant, native to cooler climates such as parts of Asia, Europe and the United States. “The fragrance is the most amazing thing you’ve ever smelt and it’s just stunning.” Flowering in late spring, white bell-shaped flowers around five to 10 millimetres in diameter hang delicately from bulbous stems. “It’s the thing you’d buy for yourself as a florist – it’s that special.”
Looking after your spring flowers:
Pressed for tips on how to care for such blooms, Bradbury advises: “Once it’s removed from the shrub or tree, anything woody (such as with the dogwood, snowball viburnum and andromeda) likes to be cut at an angle and split, allowing for optimum water uptake. Daffs and lily of the valley have large bases and only need be cut at an angle – no splitting required.
“Water should be changed every two or three days, along with re-cutting and splitting of woody things, or just re-cutting of non woody varieties.”
Adds Bradbury: “I refuse to use anything other than water in my vases. Plants aren’t grown with aspirin, bleach or sugar in their soil; therefore they don’t need it in their water. It’s just about keeping the water fresh and the stems cut. They’re nature. They don’t need additives, they need freshness.”
*Pictured: Double daffodils with andromeda piers japonica.