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Growing a Rainbow of Flowers for Pride Month

After the Stonewall riots of 1969, LGBT Pride month has been held around the world every June with events, marches and memorials to recognise and celebrate LGBT people. Since 1978, the rainbow flag has been an icon of LGBT people after being designed by gay activist Gilbert Baker and is used today as a symbol of identity or support.

Looking for a more unique way to display the rainbow flag this June? We’ve put together a list of gorgeous flowers (and what they mean in the language of flowers) so you can grow a rainbow of flowers in your garden. If you’ve not got enough room for such an ambitious project, we’ve also included instructions on how you can make your own unique rainbow roses from home!

Red – Zinnias

When you start looking for a gorgeous red bloom, there’s a good chance that the first flower that springs to mind is the enduring red rose – a powerful and near-universal symbol of love. However, why not turn to a less well-known plant: the vibrant and long-lasting Zinnia. Zinnias are popular thanks to their wide variety of colours and shapes, and their multiple cascades of petals make a great feature in any garden. Easier to grow than roses, Zinnia need to be seeded inside or in a greenhouse then transplanted outside once the threat of frost has passed for the year. Like roses, Zinnias are often cut for bouquets thanks to their pretty blooms.

In the Victorian language of flowers, zinnias represent thinking of friends and loved ones, particularly absent friends. Thanks to the flower’s hardy nature, the meaning has evolved so it now represents endurance in the face of adversity. Red zinnias specifically represent steadfastness and familial ties, the red colour being linked to the heart. Zinnias in the home or garden remind us of far-away loved ones and that we have the strength to work through the obstacles that life may throw at us.

Orange – Dahlias

Next in our rainbow of flowers is the orange dahlia. In the UK, dahlias are becoming more and more popular thanks to their showy blooms and ease to grow. Dahlias will require protection during the winter months and can be planted outside between May and June. Dahlias need trimming and “pinching out” once they begin to shoot to encourage strong growth with lots of flowers.

These eye-catching flowers symbolise lasting bonds and commitments to another person or a certain ideal. In Victorian floriography, they meant an everlasting union and was popular during weddings. Like zinnias, they remind us to stay graceful under pressure and represent drawing upon inner strength in times of adversity. Dahlias also symbolise standing out, forging your own path and embracing what makes you unique.

Yellow – Gladiolus

Bright yellow blooms have long been associated with cheerfulness, happiness and enthusiasm. The yellow gladiolus is no different, with its tall, striking stem which can grow a staggering five foot high in the right conditions. Famed for their beauty, Gladiolus are popular as cut flowers and usually make their way into vases and bouquets. They’re fairly easy to grow from bulbs both directly in the ground or in a planter and need plenty of water to thrive.

These tall, imposing flowers were named for the Latin word “gladius”, meaning “sword”, thanks to their shape, which is enhanced by the blade-like foliage. This means that they are often used as a symbol of infatuation, as they are said to “pierce” the heart. Their tall, upright nature leads people to associate them with strength of will and determination. Like most yellow flowers, the colour means happiness and positivity, making these flowers a great gift to give to someone to remind them that they have your love and support.

Green – Green Carnations/Chrysanthemums

Green Carnation by The Bex (Flickr) under CC BY 2.0

The first choice for the green flower in our rainbow is the striking green carnation, which was made famous by playwright Oscar Wilde in the 1890s when he arranged for one of his actors to sport the green bloom for the duration of the play, as well as a handful of his friends and followers in the audience. Even though Wilde insisted that it meant “nothing whatsoever”, the flower soon came to represent Wilde and his followers as well as what the Victorians were describing as an “unnatural vice” – homosexuality. The green carnation that Wilde loved so much, however, was an invention. It didn’t grow naturally, and had to be dyed to achieve the vibrant hue. Thanks to increased hybridisation and flower cultivation, today it is possible to grow these enigmatic flowers (but it’s a lot easier to find white ones and dye them!)

Fancy something a little easier to grow? Chrysanthemums have come back into fashion in a big way thanks to the impressive flowers and huge range of shapes and forms that they can be grown in. Green chrysanthemums need some protection from wind and chill so a cover can be useful, or keeping them indoors in in a greenhouse to give them time to grow before planting them outside.

In Victorian floriography, Chrysanthemums were given to show friendship and to pass on your well wishes to the recipient. In some countries, the chrysanthemum is a memorial flower and is a popular graveside flower to help honour loved ones who have passed away.

Blue – Love-in-a-Mist

When I began to put this list together, my initial concern was that finding blue flowers beyond the common forget-me-not or bluebell would be virtually impossible – how wrong I was! After much deliberation, I landed on Nigella Damascena, also known as love-in-a-mist, as the perfect blue bloom. Thanks to its slightly odd look, love-in-a-mist has collected a wide array of unusual names, and you might hear it being referred to as the spiderflower, chase-the-bush, devil in a bush or kiss-me-twice-before-I-rise. This hardy, bushy plant is fairly easy to grow, making it a common sight in the cottage garden.

This somewhat bizarre little flower features soft blue petals surrounded and fine, feathery bracts topped with seed pods. With this strange appearance comes a number of myths and legends about the origin of this odd little flower. It is strongly associated with St. Catherine of Alexandria, a figure which many scholars believe was created to counter the influence of the pagan philosopher and mathematician Hypatia. During the renaissance and earlier, the flower was seen as a symbol of femininity and was closely linked to the goddess venus and was often found as an ingredient in love spells and elixirs.

In the language of flowers, love-in-a-mist is a declaration of affection and love but also a strong message which means “you puzzle or intrigue me”. Be careful if you give this flower to someone as a gift – it also means you’re open for a kiss!

Indigo – Delphinium “Giotto”

The next colour in the rainbow – Indigo – is slightly trickier to pin down. I’ve chosen the Delphinium “Giotto”; a gorgeous flower which boasts a whole spectrum of colour within its delicate petals, perfect for your personal rainbow. Like gladiolus, delphiniums grow in tall, upright flower spikes which add more height to your garden beds and borders. Grown best in fertile soil, these flowers need to be sheltered from strong winds and staked to support the spikes. While these flowers are beautiful, they also need to be treated with some caution: the entire flower is poisonous and eating it can cause nausea, cramping and sickness and may irritate the skin.

Also known as the larkspur, these old-fashioned flowers have been popular in gardens for hundreds of years. Again, the tall “swords” of flowers are a symbol of striving to achieve goals as well as positivity. When given as a gift, delphiniums can mean encouragement and support as well as enjoying the lighter side of life. What makes these flowers perfect for your rainbow, however, is the way the blue, purple and pink petals mimic the colours of the bisexual pride flag.

Violet – Violets

For the final flower in our rainbow, there’s really no other choice than the humble violet. These dainty little flowers are found all over the world and there are over 500 unique species of violet. These popular plants can be eaten and are often used to give a final, colourful flourish to salads, desserts or stuffings. In the French city of Toulouse, violets have been commercially cultivated since the 1850s and are still being used today to make perfume, lotions, liqueur or crystallised candies.  

Growing your own violets is fairly simple and they can be planted from early spring through to the autumn. They thrive in sunny locations but need some shade during the hottest summer months and should be pruned and de-headed once the flowers have died. Make sure you mix leaf mould into the soil to keep your violets happy and healthy.

In Victorian floriography, violets were a symbol of innocence and modesty, and the purple flowers were a message that the giver was completely preoccupied with their love for the recipient. Violets have been associated with women who love women for many years – in fact, as far back as 600BC with the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Sappho, who hailed from the island of Lesbos, wrote several poems about her female lovers and in one of her lyric poems describes how her partner and herself wear “violet tiaras”. As a nod to Sappho, women in the early to mid 20th century gifted posies of violets to women they were attempting to woo.

Rainbow Roses

Not got room in your garden for a rainbow bed, or don’t have a garden at all? You can make your own bunch of gorgeous rainbow roses at home, and all you need is white roses, food colouring and something to put the dye in.

Start by taking a single white rose and trimming the stem so it isn’t too long. The longer the stem, the longer it will take for the petals to change colour. Using a sharp knife (a craft knife is ideal) slice the stem into three sections.

When dying the flower, cutting it into seven pieces (one for each colour of the rainbow) isn’t reliable as the stem becomes a lot weaker. By cutting into three pieces and relying on colour theory, it’s possible to achieve a rainbow effect without the risk of destroying the flower itself. When you use just red, yellow and blue (or magenta, cyan and yellow depending on the ink or dye you have), it’s possible to make a whole rainbow (just like your printer!).

Next, you need to submerse each third of the stem in a water/dye mix. There’s a few ways you can do this. You can use glasses full of dye and place a part of the stem in each glass. This is slightly easier if you use shot glasses, but you need to be able to support the flower in some way too. You can also fill watertight bags (like sandwich or freezer bags) and place one stem per bag, securing with a rubber band. This way, you can place the whole rose and three bags in one glass, where it’ll be better supported.

When it comes to mixing your dye solution, you want to use plenty of dye to make sure the colours show up on the petals. You want a small amount of water and around 20 drops of dye for a more vivid colour. For the best results, we recommend you use warm water as it’s absorbed more quickly by the flower.

Place the three sections into the three colours using your chosen method. Depending on how long your rose is, and how much dye you used, the petals can begin to change colour in as quickly as half an hour! For the best effect, leave the rose to soak up the dye overnight or maybe for as long as two days. When the rose is ready, trim the three sections off. You can place your colourful rose in fresh water with some flower food.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

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