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  • TLC and Handling - The Gardenia
    By Carmen Cosentino, AAF, PFCI


    From the "London Florist," December 1859: "There is scarcely a flower that is so universally in demand as Cape Jasmine, botanically known as Gardenia florida. Not only are its blooms of the purest white, but they are also deliciously fragrant and just the right form and size to make up into bouquets."

    What is amazing is how little our devotion for this beautiful flower has changed, and how much its care and handling has changed in the past 140 years.

    The Grower

    The gardenias in the wholesale house go to market as half open buds harvested each morning from greenhouse plants. The delicate buds are placed on dampened paper and taken to a refrigerator, 34çF to 38çF, with a humidity of 80% to 90%. The buds are stored until needed.

    Dipping his hands frequently in water, a handler very gently spreads open ("tailors") the outer petals to a 90ç angle with the stem, leaving the center buds upright. The flower is then inserted into a decorative collar, formed by 4 gardenia leaves stapled to a cardboard circle. The decorative collar helps prevent bruising and enhances the attractiveness of the flower.

    Packing and Shipping

    The completed gardenias are placed in a box designed to hold them in place. They are either covered with a layer of damp cotton or sealed in a wrap that retains moisture. High humidity is very important because gardenias take up very little water after they are cut. Retaining moisture is the key to success. In the refrigerator, gardenias have a shelf life of nearly two weeks if held at about 34çF in a high humidity environment. This need for moisture often means misting the flower or keeping the cotton damp.


    Gardenias can be made available year-round by manipulating temperature and light in the growing area. The highest production and demand season is the spring months.

    The Retailer

    Usually the gardenia is ordered from the wholesaler in advance for a specific purpose. At the retail shop, the flower has a very short life expectancy, generally 2 to 4 days. Be sure to refrigerate on arrival at 34çF to 40çF.

    Leave the flowers in the original box (you may want to sprinkle a little water on the cotton if it is dry to the touch) and do not handle until the gardenias are ready to use.

    The petals of these delicate flowers turn brown at the slightest touch. It is important to handle them as little as possible. Advise the consumer that warm temperatures and drafts will cause the petals to brown rather quickly.

    When Flowers Arrive

    A good care and handling program begins, in the retail shop, long before the flowers arrive. Buy right! Perhaps the single most important thing we can do is to buy only the flowers that we can use.

    Buying in larger than needed quantities to save a penny or two per flower can create major quantity and quality problems, as you attempt to work off flowers that are past their prime. Even the simplest record keeping will give you information about how many flowers you will sell. Use those records to rapidly turn product. Remember, you are a flower seller not a flower storer.

    Basic product knowledge is important, too. Read those sleeves. Record the names of the growers whose flowers perform best for you. Always ask for their products. Learn when the wholesaler's shipments arrive. Schedule your buying for that day. Unpack as quickly as possible. Getting water up those stems and into the flower quickly will improve its performance for you as well as for the ultimate consumer.

    Take flowers right from the shipping box and process them. Begin by stripping all foliage which will fall below the water line. Cut the stems with a sharp knife or shears, hydrate, put flowers in clean containers filled with flower food solution, and store in a refrigerator set for the proper temperature and humidity.

    Botanical name: Gardenia jasminoides, var. Fortuniana.

    Common names: Gardenia, Cape Jasmine.

    History: Of Latin origin, "gardenia" first appeared in English text about 1760. The flower's source is an evergreen shrub, which can be forced into bloom any time of the year.


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