Flowers Of A Different Stripe

Just a few years ago, no serious gardener would dare to plant striped flowers. But this spring, the bright blooms are back in fashion.

House & Garden magazine's Stephen Orr visited The Early Show with tips on how to incorporate striped flowers into gardens and homes.

According to Orr, the stripe flowers were once considered vulgar. But this spring, people seem ready to embrace the hot colors found in these striped, mottled and spotted plants. Plus, they are beginning to appreciate how quickly the patterns can spice up a dreary garden or bouquet.

Striped flowers are not more expensive than other flowers, and they are readily available from catalogs and nurseries. As they become more popular, Orr says, catalogs will make more striped flowers available.

Flowers earn their stripes naturally for three reasons:

  • The stripes act like landing lines on an airport runway, attracting bees and other insects to the flower's center — promoting pollination.
  • A virus causes some flowers to gain their stripes, particularly in tulips. The virus is spread by sap-sucking aphids but doesn't seem to harm the plant's general health. Orr says tulips infected with TBV (tulip breaking virus) were the most treasured tulips of the 17th century because growers didn't understand the virus, making it difficult to propagate them reliably. But their worth fizzled through the years.
  • Genetic mutations have passed stripes within flowers for centuries. In the 1930s, Orr says, a Dutch gardener was trying to force some lilacs to bloom early in the spring. He wound up with beautiful purple flowers - with white trim. These are currently the only patterned lilacs in existence, and they're all born from this one plant.

So how do you incorporate patterned flowers into your garden without turning your backyard into a crazy, patchwork quilt?

Orr suggests using striped flowers sparingly because they pack a punch, but adding a few really jazzes things up. When you do put them in the mix, add them in groups - at least three or more of the plants together.

You want to choose flowers from the same color family as your base flower. If that happens to be yellow, pull in some flowers with oranges or pale greens - colors that appear on either side of yellow on the color wheel. In other words, group cool colors or warm colors. Or, go for a color that is directly across from your base color on the color wheel. A good rule of thumb: plan on your bouquet being about two-thirds solid and one-third stripe.

If you want to create a "go-for-it bed" of all stripes, it's generally best to keep that bed isolated from the rest of your garden. There are "tame" stripes, such as a veragated hosta (big green leaves with white markings) perfect for brightening a shady patch of the garden.

Orr says if you are hesitant to try stripes, container gardening is always a safe bet.

Featured on The Early Show:

Thompson & Morgan, NJ. 800-274-7333. www.thompson-morgan.com (marigolds, carnations, sweet peas, zinnias)

Garden Valley Ranch, CA 707-795-0919. www.gardenvalley.com (roses)
Van Bourgondien, 800-622-9997. dutchbulbs.com (gloriosa lilies, tulips, dahlias)

Old House Gardens, MI. 734-995-1486. www.oldhousegardens.com (bulbs)

John Scheepers, Inc., CT 860-567-0838. www.johnscheepers.com/ (blubs)

Vases:
Striped vases, Crate & Barrel. 800-996-9960. crateandbarrel.com.

Striped pots, IKEA. 800-434-IKEA. ikea-usa.com.

Espadrille acryllic striped double old-fashioned $16 for set of four, and highball, $20 for set of four, Pottery Barn. 800-922-5507. potterybarn.com.