Summer year round

Girls like flowers. Turns out guys like flowers, too (it’s been scientifically proven). Martin Meskers, owner of Oregon Flowers Inc., Oregon’s largest cut flower nursery, gave some garden writer friends and me a tour of his operation, a world where it’s summer every day of the year (except in the cooler, of course).

Started 25 year ago, Oregon Flowers specializes in growing year round oriental, Asiatic and tiger lilies for high-end florists and wholesale cut flower distributors across the country. The company also grows seasonal flowers such as tulips (Christmas through Mother’s Day) and hyacinths in the greenhouse and hydrangeas, viburnum, ilex (for their berries), and roses (for the hips) in the field for the trade.

The biggest flower days are Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Replicating winter and summer conditions throughout the year so that blooms peak at just the right time is no small challenge. With the exception of a few too hot days during the summer, Oregon is an ideal place to grow lilies—less heating and cooling is required in the greenhouses because of our moderate climate. The trick, apparently, is ordering superior quality bulbs mostly from Holland, tricking the bulbs into believing its winter (they can be frozen up to 12 months but they need at least six to eight weeks vernalization), moving the bulbs into a cooler at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time to wake up the bulbs (two to three weeks), then slowly allowing them to warm up (bulbs start growing at 31°F) and stretch for the sky until it’s time to cut the stems. Bulbs are then ground up with the soil mixture, all of which is sterilized by steaming. About 15-20% new bark or peat is added to keep good structure in the soil then it’s reused as potting mix. And the cycle begins again.

Seven acres of sophisticated, computer-monitored greenhouses in Aurora automatically keep temperatures at the desired level. Lights help mimic needed daylight. On our gray winter days, lights can be on as much as 12 hours in a day.

It takes three months from when a lily bulb is taken from the cooler to when the flower is cut. Eight to 10 lily bulbs are planted in each tray, compared to 100 tulip or 60 hyacinth bulbs in a tray. Tulips take three weeks to fully form their blooms.

Tip from Martin to keep flowers fresh: Flower food helps a little but it’s really freshly cut stems and clean water that extend the life of a cut flower.

Share with any guy you know that wants to give his sweetheart flowers but doesn’t know where to start. And you’ll find good ideas for decorating with flowers in the “Buds on a Budget” section.

About 80% of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are purchased overseas, 50% of which are from South America. To learn more about the floral trade, read Amy Stewart’s fascinating and well-written book Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers. It’s amazing the rigors flowers must endure to bring us pleasure.