Baby's breath for settings

"It's the best plant for background flower arranging around," you'll say once you grow them in your garden. Also, baby's breath is ideal for borders and as a background for outdoor roses and they may serve indoors, too.

This plant comes in two forms for the home gardener: The annual, Gypsophila elegans, or the perennial. Of course, you must sow the annual type each year. Once you start the perennial, they'll keep coming up year after year.

The dainty baby's breath, you'll find, does a professional job of mixing with cut-flower arrangements and blending colors and textures, especially filling in the bare spots and gaps of any composition with elegant perfection.

sprays cut 1 to 2 feet last more than a week in water. The miniature flowers dry well in a vase. To get straight stems hang the sprays upside-down in a cool area out of direct light. The stems will become sturdy and last for years.

The perennial Single White (G. paniculata) is the workhorse for professional flower arrangers, especially for weddings and conventional dinners. This variety grows to three feet and produces thick, fine, pure- white blossoms that give a misty appearance during the summer months. If you want baby's breath earlier, plant Early Snowball (G. paniculata double). This plant has large double flowers and grows to almost three feet in height.

Many garden centers also have the popular perennial, Bristol Fairy. Buy these or others and plant them in well-drained soil in full sun. The Briston Fairy is 6 inches across when dormant, but billows 2 to 3 feet across in bloom. Perennials flower profusely in early summer, but fewer blooms show year-round in mild climates.

When stems get spindly short, cut the plant to the ground to help new stems bloom in a month or two.

The Covent Garden, the most popular annual, grows to about 1 1/2 feet. The Rose, another annual, reaches 15 inches and gives a profusion of bright rose-pink blooms. The annual form is extremely fragile but has larger flowers on shorter stems than the perennial and grows well between other flowers.

The annual varieties break up and shatter too easily for drying purposes.

Sow annual seeds between other plants and cover lightly with prepared topsoil. One to two weeks will show germination with blooms after three to four weeks. In cool climates repeat sowings at three-week intervals for staggered blooms. Thinning seedlings about a foot apart gives the best results.

Whatever variety you plant in your garden, you'll appreciate the service the delicate baby's breath gives and the grace this flower shows for almost any occasion.

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