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Down on the Farm -- A Changing World
USDA Map -- Average Annual Extreme Minimum Temperature 1976-2005
 

Dear Gardening Friend,

Gardeners probably spend more time discussing weather and climate than any other horticulture-related topic, and now, at last, there is something useful to talk about. The Agricultural Research service of the United States Department of Agriculture recently released a new hardiness zone map based on a vast stream of data collected throughout the country. It reflects a longer period of data, more localized detail, and it forcefully confirms what we already knew. For whatever reasons and duration (we will not start that fight here), the climate has become significantly warmer in many parts of the continental United States, enough warmer that gardeners need to think seriously about the range of plants they undertake to grow. To get the current zone ranking for your ZIP code, please click HERE, then click back here.

Now that you are back, what have you learned? It is quite likely that your address will be found to be one-half, and perhaps even one full zone warmer than it was 20 years ago, which implies a 5-10 degree Fahrenheit increase in the average low temperature experienced during the winter. While the implications are somewhat imprecise due to issues like snow cover, lake effects, terrain, wind, microclimates, mulching, etc., there is absolutely no doubt that you can and should consider experimenting with plants that were not previously recommended for your area. As you surely know, the world of ornamental plants is organized into a sort of pyramid based on hardiness, with a tiny sliver of rugged individuals at the top (zone 3 in the United States) and a vast abundance of genera and species in the tropics. In between, the candidates for zone 4 are roughly half of the group recommended for Zone 6, and so forth. In our spring 2012 list, aimed primarily at what we consider "temperate" climates (at least 20 inches of rain and 20 days of frost a year), the listing by zones are as follows:
 
 
Hardy from:  
Zone 4
Zone 5
Achillea
Alcea
Anemone
Aquilegia
Aster
Astilbe
Campanula
Convallaria
Coreopsis
Delphinium
Dianthus
Dicentra
Digitalis
Echinacea
Geranium
Hemerocallis
Heuchera
Hosta
Iris
Leucanthemum

Lilium
Lupinus
Monarda
Nepeta
Phlox
Primula
Rudbeckia
Salvia
Sedum
Viola

Agastache
Antirrhinum
Asarum
Bamboo
Chrysanthemum
Epimedium
Gaillardia
Lavender
Perovskia
Zone 6 Corydalis
Hedera
Datura

Zone 7
Canna
Agapanthus
Zone 8 Colocasia
Dahlia
Brugmansia
Lantana
Petunia
Centaurea
Cordyline
 
Zone 9
Fuchsia
Heliotrope
Zantedeschia

Zone 10
Begonia
Caladium
Calibrachoa
Verbena

 
Lupines -- Russell Hybrids Mixture
 


NEW! Lupine 'Masterpiece'
New! Lupine 'Masterpiece'


NEW! Lupine 'Gladiator'
New! Lupine 'Gladiator'


NEW! Lupine 'Desert Sun'
New! Lupine 'Desert Sun'


NEW! Lupine 'Towering Inferno'
New! Lupine 'Towering Inferno'






LUPINES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
You quite likely know that Lupines, whose lustrous colors and elegant foliage make them glorious additions to the spring border, are in fact American natives. The species had been gathered from meadows in the northeast and delivered to England in the 1800s, where the breeders went to work. The preeminent contributor to this work was a man named George Russell. His career as a railway crossing guard gave him plenty of time for sowing, transplanting, evaluating, and culling beds of seedlings, which he did for nearly 20 years. He eventually sold his stock to Baker's Nursery, a then distinguished horticultural establishment where David Smith, our former Director of Horticulture, worked before coming to Litchfield. The native species 'polyphyllus' is primarily a soft lavender blue. But by relentless selection and cross breeding, Mr. Russell teased out pinks, yellows, and reds that transformed a demure personality into a cabaret show girl, and the popularity of Lupines immediately increased.

When David Smith came to White Flower Farm in 1955, he brought the reputation of the Russell Lupines with him and they were promptly installed in our offering where they prospered for many decades. They are lovely plants but retain some of the shyness of the species, plus a deep distaste for dry heat and direct sun, both of which are generally in short supply in England. We, and perhaps you, continued to use them and like them, but yearned for another Mr. Russell to come along and freshen things up.

In effect this is what has happened, except that the new "Mr. Russell" is a she. Sarah Conibear is the proprietor of Westcountry Nurseries in England where she has worked on the Russell genetics for some time and began winning prizes with her results several years ago. We saw her at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show where we tried to get stock, but were turned down. Persistence has now paid off and we are delighted to offer these improved selections of one of nature's natural beauties. The Westcountry breeding offers rich, clear colors and more disease-free plants because they are propagated by tissue culture, thus leaving behind some of the seed borne vulnerabilities. They are more vigorous, do better with heat, and are reliably hardy to Zone 5, some say 4. Given the zone migration reported nearby, there are very few addresses in temperate zones where they will not prosper.

Our offering includes the original Russell Hybrids plus the new Westcountry selections. Clusters of three to six plants at mid-to-back border is, in our view, how they look their best as they start blooming in late May here and continue deep into June. Please click here for more details and consider an early order to be assured of availability. Our only regret about this offering is that our photos are not up to the quality of the plants themselves, a fault that will be remedied this spring.

 
The Last Snow Galanthus Mixture
 


NATURE HAS STARTED EARLY, SHOULD YOU?
An early spring reminds us all that there is nothing more cheerful than the bright faces of so called "minor bulbs" like Crocus, Galanthus, Erythronium, and Scilla. They appear magically from any niche where you thought to tuck them in years past and make the arrival of spring official. Better yet, they all seem to contain some sort of systemic antifreeze so that late frosts don't bother them. Take a look at these photos and if the faces are not currently visible on your property, consider clicking through to order some for planting next fall. There is almost no property that does not offer countless opportunities for their unique charm. Yes, we will remind you in late summer that you have this agreeable project in your schedule, and you can advise us exactly when you would like your bulbs to arrive.

 
 

 
White Flower Farm Store
 


OUR STORE WILL OPEN SHORTLY. PLEASE COME.
The recent warm days can easily provoke intemperate behavior. Here at the farm, we endlessly debate the best weekend to open the store, and seldom guess right. When we rush ahead, it often snows on us, and when we delay, a bright weekend brings visitors whom we then disappoint with empty frames. This year, we are committed to open the doors on March 31st, and will be as fully stocked as the short-term weather forecast allows. Of course, the gardens are always filled with interest and if the soft weather persists, bloom will be something like two weeks ahead of normal, making a stroll around the property worthwhile even if you have to wear gloves. Across the road are six Angus heifers who are bred up, round as houses, with calves expected in May. Another spring. How fantastic!

We look forward to serving you, and hope this is the year we will actually meet you at the nursery.

Sincerely,
Amos Pettingill

 


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