Tussie Mussie : The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself

Gourd tussie mussies


First of all – the name! I love to say Tussie Mussie and it sounds like something Beatrix Potter would have come up with.

But Wikipedia explains it best:

“Tussie Mussie, a nosegay or posie are small flower bouquets that were popularized in Victorian times. The term tussie-mussie comes from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), when the small bouquets became a popular fashion accessory. Typically, tussie-mussies include floral symbolism from the language of flowers, and therefore may be used to send a message to the recipient”. 

Summertime tussie mussie in a silver holder; use what you have from the garden or houseplants

Herbal Sentiments

Or in my words; Tussie-Mussie is an archaic and quaint term for small, round bouquets of herbs and flowers with ­symbolic meanings. Most people have heard of the language of flowers, Floriography, but are unsure of what exactly it means. It simply means that you can convey feelings and communicate using particular types of plants. Victorians popularized this concept and created “talking bouquets” that could be worn as fashion accessories. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in strict Victorian society.

An antiquated custom, I like to revive this tradition once in a while and make small arrangements with what is on hand in the garden. And since it is fall, my bouquet holder is a readily available gourd.

Gourds come in all sizes; this is a bird house gourd
Cleaned and painted gourds ready for a bird visit

I first encountered Tussie Mussies at a Renaissance Faire many years ago and have created my own for years for gifts, and to decorate the house.  Useful as a small arrangement for the bathroom or to welcome a guest, they are small and portable and are usually gathered into a posie holder which can be as ornate as silver or simple as a doily. But for the fall season, I decided to make them in small gourds in keeping with Halloween. Fragrance was the key here; I wanted to really smell the scent of the herb and flowers so chose a lot of very fragrant pieces like lavender, thyme, rosemary, bay, and scented geranium.

Mint, lavender, salvia, firebush, lemon verbena, amaranth

Each one is personal and unique; every sprig and blossom in each little nosegay conveys a “meaning” in the old-time language of flowers. The silent language of flowers allows you to express poignant and touching sentiments without having to come right out and say them in words. The flowers say them for us.

I love making them since you don’t need many flowers and each flower is a star of the arrangement as it is so compact. After cutting a piece of oasis to fit into the gourd and making sure that my cuts were well hydrated, I started to create my gourd tussie mussies.

Cut the top off of a gourd that sits level on a table and dig out the innards
Stuff a piece of hydrated oasis into the cavity
Lavender, fire bush, rose, amaranth, and aster

These would make great hostess gifts instead of the obligatory wine bottle.  Popular at weddings also, they can be given as bridesmaid gifts, or the bride could carry one for a simple elegant touch. Anyone can create one with a little practice. Follow the tutorial to make your own in a small vase.

Choose your materials carefully, contrasting the colors and textures to create a beautiful combination. For larger flowers, such as hydrangeas, you can pare the flower down to a smaller more usable size. The hydrangea flower represents devotion which makes it a very appropriate flower for weddings.

Deconstruct larger flowers like this 'Centennial Spirit' Hydrangea
Deconstruct larger flowers like this ‘Centennial Spirit’ Hydrangea

For lots of picture of tussie mussies, and more information I have used these books:

Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers

Tussie-Mussies: The Language of Flowers

Plants at Your Fingertips!

Planted table ready to go
Planted table ready to go

Planted Furniture for the Patio

I went to a cocktail party at a plant lovers house, saw his planted table and was enthralled! I was sure that I could create one just as good, if not better.

I looked around for a table that I could buy and convert to a planted table, but it just wasn’t practical.

As I create drawings and plans of gardens for a living, I drew what I wanted to scale and took the drawing to a carpenter friend and explained what I was going to do. He made a beautiful table out of treated wood for me with very sturdy legs to carry the weight of soil and plants.  I told him that I needed at least 3 inches of soil in the top for root growth and he created the perfect table.  I stained it and made sure there were plenty of drainage holes in the bottom and set to work.

Drainage holes were drilled into the bottom
Drainage holes were drilled into the bottom

I lined the whole thing with landscape cloth and filled it with soil.

Lined with landscape cloth
Lined with landscape cloth

After adding a good quality potting soil with plenty of vermiculite to lighten the load, I added fertilizer and leveled the mixture into the table top about an inch and a half below the top of the sides.

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I let the soil settle over the course of a week and then started the fun part of planting.

Since the table was to be placed on a patio in partial shade, I selected shade plants with beautiful foliage and some seasonal pansies for lots of color.  The pansies can be rotated out later in the spring when the weather warms up.

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Ferns, pansies, lamium, polka dot plants, mazus, and forget me nots were all planted

I placed flat stones to set drinks on and then covered all the soil with moss mounds from a local florist.

Moss adds the finishing touch
Moss and a glass ball adds the finishing touch

I have had it for 6 weeks now, and the plants are growing and filling in.  I keep it misted with water about every 3 to 4 days and the moss is holding up fine.

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All grown in 6 weeks later
All grown in 6 weeks later

Beware of the Buttercup Bully!!!

Ranunculus growing in the woods in springtime
Ranunculus growing in the woods in springtime

Have you seen this blooming on your property??? If your answer is yes, get ready to do battle!! This is a really nasty invasive that hales from Europe and Asia and is taking over North America. It is Ranunculus ficaria,  Lesser Celandine, or more commonly just a cute little buttercup. It was introduced as an ornamental plant in the trade and took off at lightning speed. A spring ephemeral, the plant appears very early in the spring, overtaking other spring ephemerals and displacing them.

Ranunculus ficaria.
Ranunculus ficaria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lesser Celandine is in the Buttercup family and is rampantly spreading everywhere.  I see it at a lot of job sites and the first order of business is to spray it repeatedly with a herbicide before it takes over the entire property. It is possible but very difficult to dig it up, but most of the time, digging just spreads it around because of the fingerlike tubers underground.

Completing it’s life cycle in the winter and spring, it disappears when hot weather rolls around, but it is just getting ready to come out in every greater numbers the following spring with multiplying tubers.  It is relentless! This Ranunculus is smothering out all the more desirable native plants which are so necessary for the local pollinators.

Lesser Celandine
Lesser Celandine (Photo credit: Dave McLear)

Spray with a herbicide early when the weather is at least 50 degrees. As spring advances, spraying is more unsuccessful and you are more likely to overspray other species.

English: Ranunculus ficaria (Celandine) in ful...
English: Ranunculus ficaria (Celandine) in full sun at Spier’s Old School Grounds, Beith, North Ayrshire, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brilliant! The Philadelphia Flower Show

Foxgloves ruled at the Philadelphia Flower Show– shown here with annual Blue Salvia

Attention Plant Geeks! You still have time to visit the greatest flower show on earth!

I just came back from doing my demo of fairy gardens at the Philadelphia Flower Show and took lots of pictures and video.  If you can’t make it this year to the show, you are missing a blooming  ‘Brilliant’ show! English gardens were front and center with lots of English cottage style borders full of overflowing flowers.

Beautiful Foxgloves!
Beautiful Foxgloves!

The flower that I noticed over and over were Foxgloves, a truly English flower.  Peace Tree Nursery, who forces most of the plant material for the flower show must have had acres of Foxgloves to deliver for the show.  They were beautiful!

Beautiful woodland setting at one of the landscaped gardens
Beautiful woodland setting at one of the landscaped gardens

Here are some quick facts about the show:

  •  The Philadelphia Flower show is the largest of its kind in the nation and draws over 250,000 people from all over the world.  It is larger even than the renowned Chelsea Flower in England.
  • Held at the Convention Center, the gardens cover more than 10 acres of floral fantasy.
  • In addition to the major garden displays, the Flower Show hosts world-renowned competitions in horticulture and artistic arranging, hundreds of gardening lectures and demonstrations, special events, a mammoth indoor Marketplace, and a city-wide Flower Show Week celebration throughout downtown Philadelphia.
  • The Flower Show has been held since 1829, which makes it the oldest one in the nation.

Brilliant! is this years theme and should delight all Anglophiles which I happen to be from traveling to Britain many times over the years. Only the English really understand gardening and make it a national “sport”.  They also have the perfect climate to create those fabulous gardens that you see. American gardeners are usually envious about the English “cottage” gardens and try to replicate them at home, but rarely succeed. We have a harsher, more unforgiving climate that takes tougher plants to survive. There is nothing wrong with that, it is just a different spin on gardening, and no less beautiful.

Here are the things that were notable about this show:

Scavenger Hunt 

I am a kid at heart, so the “Quest for the Queen” scavenger hunt really tickled my fancy. There were miniature sized “Queen” figures hidden around the exhibits and kids were challenged to find them.  Make gardening fun for kids.  I loved it! These are gardening newbies in the making!



English: Several examples of fascinators photo...
English: Several examples of fascinators photo from flickr by motodraconis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, Maybe you have been living in a cave for the past year and haven’t heard about the latest craze of Fascinators! These were popularized at the last royal wedding when some over-the-top head-gear was displayed. New this year at the Philly Show, was the ‘Make and Take’ area for people to fork over $10 and make their very own interpretation of headgear that makes anyone stand out in a crowd. I saw dozens of them so this must have been a very popular feature.

Fascinator on Etsy
Fascinator on Etsy (Photo credit: shadowfairyqueen)

Crown Jewels

What if your assignment was to interpret the Crown Jewels in flowers?  Where would you start?  Color obviously, shape also, but glamour and impact are paramount! I think these designers accomplished that in spades!

Crown Jewels - Sapphire Blue, This was my favorite!
Crown Jewels – Sapphire Blue, This was my favorite!
The golden sceptre
The golden sceptre
The throne done in red roses
The throne done in red roses
The entrance to the crown jewels
The entrance to the crown jewels

Gardener‘s Studio

Ok, I agree that I am partial to this venue because I was one of the presenters! But, take a load off your sore feet after walking around for hours and listen to the different programs that the studio dishes up! David Culp on Hellebores, a container garden challenge,  and creating a Bird Friendly garden, and myself doing a demo on Fairy Gardens were some of the different offerings on tap.

Gretchen, my assistant, and I working hard at The Gardeners Studio
Gretchen, my assistant, and I working hard at The Gardeners Studio
Gretchen showing around the miniature globe garden to the audience
Gretchen showing around the miniature globe garden to the audience

The Poop Exhibit


I did warn you that I am a kid at heart and I gravitated to this “Poop Exhibit” by the Philadelphia Water Department just like any kid would – the ultimate low cost natural fertilizer!

 A fake pile of poop complete with flies!
A fake pile of poop complete with flies!


No show is complete without plant oddities and I spotted a couple. Check out these two.

Grafted Cactus
Grafted Cactus
Bowiea volublis or otherwise known as ‘Pregnant Onion’

Miniature Gardens

There is always a crowd gathered around the miniature gardens and I took lots of pictures of these.  They seem to get better every year. Enjoy!

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Not Another Echinacea!!!

PowWow Wild Berry
PowWow Wild Berry

PowWow Wild Berry Echinacea

Yes, That is exactly what I said when I heard about “PowWow Wild Berry” Echinacea a couple of years ago! I have tried dozens of Echinaceas that the garden hybridizers have churned out in the last couple of years and was not impressed. They flopped, fizzled, or just faded away, never to be seen again. I crossed them off of my “try one more” list and didn’t want to be burned again.  But the catalogs really talked up the PowWow one so much, and it was available at my local wholesaler, so I took the plunge and am I glad that I did.

closeup of E. purpurea, centre of the head sho...
closeup of E. purpurea, centre of the head showing many individual flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This one stood out for me because of the beautiful color and profusion of flowers. I couldn’t see any bad habits after growing it for 2 seasons. According to Park Seeds; “The most floriferous Echinacea we’ve ever seen, thanks to its extensive branching and no-deadhead rebloom!” It is also the winner of the 2010 AAS (All American Select) Award and continues to win additional awards. PowWow is a brilliantly colored Echinacea purpurea and continues to bloom non-stop because of the multiple branching of the flowers. No dead heading is needed to continue the show. Oh, and did I mention that it is compact and you could easily put it front and center in your borders? It looks great with ‘Rozanne’ Geranium, another stellar performer. So, yes, it definitely is living up to all the hype for once.


Growing to be just 20 to 24″ inches high, PowWow holds its flowers on sturdy thick stems that are great for cutting and everlastings. The color I can only describe as a deep magenta which is unlike most other Echinaceas, and absolutely will not fade out as the flower ages. Now if they could just shorten the name!

Fabulous Fall Performers- The Best of the Best

Who would have thought that Cotoneaster has such pretty berries in October? These are in Blockley, Cotswolds in October.

Color in the Fall

Giverny in September
Fall color at Hidcote in October

Golden Rod

A succession of color and flowers is easy to produce in the spring and early summer, but once September hits, the show of blooms peeters out and it gets harder and harder for the garden to be colorful. That is why I am sure to plant some stellar standouts, that tend to sit around all summer long which you forget about, and then all the sudden, they burst on the scene with a bang! The most important trait of being a savvy gardener is planting something that looks very uninspiring in the spring and patiently waiting for it to show its full potential. Golden Rod does it in spades.

Golden rod attracts Monarchs and other butterflies

Take for example, the aptly named ‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod, which when I looked at it last week was not doing anything much.  But one week later, it transforms into a graceful exploding golden display.

‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod
Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’
Wool dyed with golden rod

American gardeners usually disdain this wonderful native, but English gardeners know and love using this in their borders. Fireworks gets around 4 feet high and is easy to grow in full sun.  There are many other varieties, from the diminutive ‘Little Lemon’ at 12 inches high, to the taller 4 to 5 foot species rigida, that you normally see on roadsides. I am often surprised that more people don’t plant Golden Rod, especially with the huge emphasis on planting natives. There is a mistaken belief that it causes hay fever symptoms but that honor goes to ragweed, Ambrosia sp., a totally different plant.  Golden Rod is a great butterfly attractor and food source for wildlife, is easy to grow, and dries very nicely for flower arranging. So plan on planting this next spring for fall color.

Felted wool at a farmers market – I would love to do a garden with these colors!


Dahlias at Giverny in September

Dahlias are another flower that come into their own in September. When I visited Monet’s fantastic garden in Giverny, France, a few years ago, the gardens were ablaze with blooms, mainly Dahlias and Sunflowers, and annuals such as Nasturtium. If you keep the plants dead headed, Dahlias will constantly produce more and more until frost gets them.

Pink dahlias are my favorite

Dahlias are tubers that are planted in the early spring in pots inside to get a head start, and then brought out and planted into the garden when all danger of frost is over.

I like to place a tomato cage over the plant when you plant it out so that the heavy growing plant has something to support it.  If you don’t do that early, then you are dealing with a floppy sprawling plant later that doesn’t show as nice. Dahlias are heavy feeders of both fertilizer and water.  They do not like to dry out, so keep them watered in July and August when things can get hot and dry. They make excellent long-lasting cut flowers and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and colors.

dahlia tuber

I used to dig up the tubers and wash them and store them in my basement to replant the following spring, but I got lazy and only bothered to dig up some really beautiful and special ones. But in the last couple of years, I noticed that a lot of Dahlias come up in the spring on their own without me doing anything. Maybe this happened because of the mild winters, but I am not going to dig them up any more. It is easier to just try new ones every year as the tubers aren’t that expensive. Call me a lazy gardener!

Teddy Bear Sunflowers at Giverny
Having fun with Love Lies Bleeding at Giverny


Mums flowers
Mums flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course Chrysanthemums must be considered when you discuss fall color. I do love the weirdly beautiful football mums and the spider varieties that the Japanese grow in different formations.

Carefully trained Chrysanthemums, called Kiku, at The NY Botanical gardens

The art of Kiku, the closely guarded tradition of carefully training large Chrysanthemums, on a single stem up to 6 foot high, is on view at the NY Botanical gardens every fall. I went a few years ago and was in awe of this art.  Only the Japanese would have the patience to grow a plant that requires hours of tending every day. They fertilize, groom, stake and tie up these monsters to make fantastical shapes.

Beautiful football mum at NY Botanical Gardens

A zen like mosaic of chrysanthemums at the NY Botanical Gardens

I admire this art of flower manipulation for show but for growing, I love the garden Chrysanthemums, like ‘Sheffield Pink’. The botanists call this genus Leucanthemum, not Chrysanthemum, but most people just call them mums.   I love the Sheffield Pink one as it has a soft pinky peach flower that changes color as it ages, and it starts to bloom in late October into November.  Nothing much is blooming then so it is a welcome sight.

Sheffield Pink Mum lining a driveway in November

When I went to the NY Botanical Gardens they had a similar Chrysanthemum that resembled the Sheffield Pink, but it was bright orangey red with a yellow center and I loved it. Unfortunately, I searched for it in the trade and could not find it.  I am still looking as I love orange flowers.

Love this garden Chrysanthemum! At the NY Botanical Gardens wih Cuphea


I was growing Agastaches, or Anise Hyssops, 3o years ago before they became fashionable.  Their trademark is a wonderful licorice scented foliage and plumes of long-lasting flowers in a range of colors. Long blooming and tough, if you have full sun you should try a few of the varieties. Hybridizers have been working on developing new colors and I love them all.  My favorite is the old stand-by ‘Blue Fortune’.

This ‘Blue Fortune’ Agastache has been blooming for 2 months and still looks good

Purple Haze, Tutti Fruitti, Tango, Black Adder, Bolero, Firebird, Golden Jubilee – the list goes on and on. Drought tolerant, easy to grow in full sun, attracting tons of butterflies and bees, it is a great unsung hero of plants.  Add a few of these to your sunny garden for hordes of pollinators to discover. Again, it is not much to look at in the spring when you are shopping for plants. But, seek this one out and you will be rewarded with a great performer.

Purple Haze Agastache
Purple Haze Agastache at the nursery
Agastache Bolero and Tango


If you think that I am forgetting Asters, I’m not.  I don’t like them much and I have grown a few. There is a quite nice ground cover one called Aster ericoides which blooms with tiny white flowers for about 6 weeks and is only 3 inches high! It forms woody branches that cover the ground closely so it is great to use on slopes. The other Asters tend to get quite large and floppy and have small flowers with a lot of tall foliage.  I am pulling ‘October Skies’ out this fall after it blooms because it has taken over my garden and has greatly exceeded its promised 18 inches in height. Anything that needs staking and engulfs its neighbors, I cannot tolerate.

Aster ericoides ground cover

So, after trying my share of different asters, they are off my list for good. Asters are preferred by deer and rabbits and are usually eaten to the ground in the spring, so I lose a lot of them that way.

Ok, this one is quite pretty, but I am ripping it out anyway!

Gallery of Other Fall Flowers that Everyone Should Grow

Cimicifuga ‘Brunette’
Fall hillside garden that I designed with Hostas, Autumn Bride Heuchera, Tricyrtus
Tricyrtus or Toad Lily
Artwork of Toad lily by Laura Jones
Chelone ‘Hot Lips’ or Turtle Head
Swallowtail butterfly on tithonia, a mexican sunflower annual
Henry Eilers Rudbeckia, a nice change from the omnipresent Black eyed Susan
An old standy-by, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, still is a beautiful choice for a fall bloomer
Angels Trumpets planted on the streets of Germany blooming in September
‘Michael Dodge’ Viburnum has colorful yellow berries
Tender Salvias wait until September to spike out into incredible colors
Shrub Crepe Myrtles edged with Rozanne Geranium
Verbena bonariensis with Monarch