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Cheating Winter – The Bulbs Take Root

Last autumn, did you take our advice and pot up some bulbs for indoor forcing? We hope so! Here’s an update on how some of our potted bulbs are doing, and it provides plenty of how-to tips for anyone who might like to try this:

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  • After we potted bulbs in late October, we put them in an outdoor shed. The shed is unheated (in Zone 5), but it’s attached to the house. We covered the bulbs with a couple of old flannel sheets. This helps modulate the temperature while keeping the bulbs in the kind of darkness they’d be experiencing if they’d been planted in the ground.
  • Every 2 to 3 weeks, we’ve been checking the soil for moisture. If the surface feels dry to the touch, we water sparingly.

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  • To ensure the bulbs are kept at the proper temperatures, we placed a thermometer in the storage crate alongside the bulbs. We monitor it regularly to make sure the shed temperatures remain in a range similar to what’s going on outdoors as temperatures drop from fall to winter, but that, ideally, they never go below freezing for an extended period of time.

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  • After about 10 weeks, we begin checking the pots to see if the bulbs have rooted. It’s simple to do. Being careful to hold the soil and bulbs in place, gently turn the pot over and look for roots emerging from the pot’s drainage holes. If roots are visible, the bulbs are ready for forcing. (If there are no roots, leave the bulbs in dark, cool storage.)

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  • To keep a steady supply of forced bulbs blossoming indoors, we bring in only a few pots at a time over 3 to 4 weeks. The rest are kept in the shed until it’s their turn. By staggering the forcing, we enjoy spring flowers inside the house from January through March.

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  • Once the pots are brought indoors, we encourage bloom by watering the bulbs and placing the pots under fluorescent lights in a cool room (below 65 degrees F). (If you don’t have a fluorescent light, put your pot in a sunny, south-facing window.) Depending on what type of bulbs you’ve potted, the blossom show will begin soon. Watch for our results in the next Bulb Forcing post!

(To read the first chapter in Bulb Forcing, click here.)

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Staff Favorites for Spring

Each spring, about a dozen of our staff members participate in plant trials. Each of us takes home flats of annuals, perennials and shrubs that are being considered for addition to our lineup. We grow these plants in our home gardens, and we take copious notes and photos as the season progresses. When autumn arrives, we all have a pretty good idea of which plants live up to their breeder or grower’s claims and which don’t. We also know which have won a permanent place in our gardens.

As you peruse our offerings for spring and examine the new items in our Spring 2017 Garden Book and on our website, you might like to give special consideration to plants chosen as favorites by our staff members. While we asked staff members to name a single favorite, several had trouble narrowing down the choices. The result? We let them cheat a little. After all, what’s the harm? We apply the same logic in our gardens where there’s always room for one more.

Hellebore Gold Collection® Madame Lemonnier

Hellebore Gold Collection® Madame Lemonnier

When our Director of Horticulture Rob Storm and our Nursery Manager Barb Pierson both agree on which plant is the most exciting choice for spring, it’s worth taking note!

‘The foliage is dark green, large and vigorous, but the real show is happening right now in our greenhouses. The flowers are very large for a hellebore, over 3” across, and the color is a burgundy pink that is stunning. Looking across the crop, there are flowers everywhere. Madame is a beautiful strong lady!’

Barb

‘I took a shot of a Madame Lemonnier bloom next to a blossom from Hellebore Gold Collection® Pink Frost, and it is easily double the size, maybe even bigger.’ [That’s Rob’s hand you see in the photo above.]

Rob

Monarda fistulosa

Monarda fistulosa

‘A favorite of mine is Monarda fistulosa. Subtle and more modest in its appearance than newer hybrids, this native Bee Balm is anything but subtle when it comes to attracting pollinators to the garden. The blossoms’ generous supply of nectar draws a steady stream of butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds all summer. (Love watching the dueling acrobatics of hummingbirds as they dive, hover, and defend their favorite nectar source.) In fall, birds visit to feed on the flowers’ dried seed heads. I’m planning to add a few plants to our sunny back hillside and look forward to sitting on the porch enjoying the show.’

Ann

Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

‘Being one who loves chocolate, I was intrigued by the name and color. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. This is a delicious, small and mighty tomato.’

Lisa

Heliopsis Burning Hearts

Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’

‘This grabbed my attention from afar in acres of growing fields. Its rich foliage is outstanding and the flowers are so unexpected as they are very large with reflexed petals. Heliopsis are overlooked because they aren’t in bloom during the rush of spring but they can play an important role in the garden as false sunflowers bloom when many home gardens are looking tired. Being a bit taller than the average perennial gives it a commanding stature in a mixed bed of ornamental grasses, Joe Pye Weed, Hydrangea, Liatris and Rudbeckia.’

Tom

Coreopsis ‘Leading Lady Sophia’

Coreopsis ‘Leading Lady Sophia’

‘A real workhorse in the summer garden, it blooms earlier, which is a big bonus, as well as being sterile so the showy floral display goes on for months. Clean foliage, large, bright flowers, no dead-heading required, compact size and heat tolerance all add up to a great selection for the novice or expert alike.’

Tom

Hemerocallis ‘Marque Moon’

Hemerocallis ‘Marque Moon’

‘Being a daylily enthusiast, an amateur collector and a garden retailer, I see a lot of daylilies, and I found myself continually impressed with this selection. The ruffles, the diamond-dusted petals, the clean white coloration and the slightest contrast of butter yellow throat and edges really earns this a place in any garden. It has replaced H. ‘Joan Senior’ as my favorite white daylily.’

Tom

Petunia Tidal Wave® Silver

Petunia Tidal Wave® Silver

‘I’m blown away by Petunia Tidal Wave® Silver. Unlike your grandmother’s petunias, which tend to collapse after a rainstorm, this one just keeps coming. In the farm’s display garden, it grew up the base of a tuteur, forming a remarkable wave. At home, it stood up really well for me in containers, blooming its head off all summer.’

Eliot

Coleus Chipotle

Coleus Flame Thrower™ Chipotle 

‘My favorite new plant introduction is Coleus Flame Thrower™ Chipotle. In addition to growing it in my garden, I saw it at the trial gardens in containers at Ball Horticulture in West Chicago, as well as at DS Cole’s Open House in New Hampshire. It gives structure and color to mixed annual containers. I like how it plays well with others in color, shape and habit. Apparently I am not the only one who likes it – two of our new annual containers have it as a supporting element, Nectar Depot and Chipotle Spice.

Cheryl D

Hummingbird Kit

Hummingbird Kit

‘I’m most excited about our Hummingbird Kit. I have several Hummingbirds who visit our backyard each year, and I’m looking forward to identifying them with my new field guide as they take a little rest and perch on my new feeder!’

Mary

Dahlia ‘AC Dark Horse’

Dahlia ‘AC Dark Horse’

‘I love all Dahlias, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to try new varieties so I can make sure that I am growing the very best ones available. I choose new varieties by going on a garden walk at WFF and taking in the entire Dahlia border (it must be 50’ long). I let my eyes jump to the most stunning of them all, and this year it was ‘AC Dark Horse.’ The color combination is electric, and I am sure it would be a stand-out in any garden, even one that is filled with Dahlias. I am ordering 6 of them.’

Margret

Cardoon: Cynara cardunculus ‘Porto Spineless’

Cardoon: Cynara cardunculus ‘Porto Spineless’

[Editor’s note: Cardoons are not new to White Flower Farm, but when we reintroduced them last year for trials, they were new to some of our staff members. They might be new to you, too!]

‘I couldn’t resist planting 3 Cardoons in a small and rather pathetic garden bed near the front of my house. I think I have seen them in every English garden I have ever visited or read about, but I could never find them for sale anywhere near me. At the beginning of the summer, they looked like pretty ferns. By the end of the summer, they were about 4’ tall and absolutely amazing looking. At least three neighbors told me that my garden looked “fancy.” Apparently, all it took was 3 Cardoons.’

Margret

Digitalis purpurea Dalmatian Peach

Digitalis purpurea Dalmatian Peach

‘What an attractive plant to brighten the back of a flowerbed.’

Alyson

Summer Magic Roselily Mix

Summer Magic Roselily Mix

‘Our mix combines four varieties of fragrant Oriental lilies, each the product of years of selective breeding. The beauty of these blossoms is reason enough to plant them in your garden, but in addition to what you see in the photo, you’ll enjoy a long season of bloom and a rich perfume. Also impressive is the amount of bloom you can expect in the first season.’

Lorraine

Miltonia Orchids

Miltonia Orchids

‘Lots of us grow orchids in our homes. We’re delighted to be able to offer a colorful array of richly patterned, fragrant Pansy Orchids. The name is derived from the patterning on the flowers, which mimics the masklike faces of pansies. Descended from wild orchids found in the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains, Miltonias are a lovely, easy-care addition to any interior, and they’re bound to attract lots of attention.’

Lorraine

Months of Mini Moth Orchids

Months of Mini Moth Orchids

‘These delicate mini moth Orchids are so cute! These kinds of Orchids are hard to find, and the colors and patterns on the leaves are so intricate and interesting. You get to try a new one each month. Plus they are low maintenance and tiny, so it’s easy to make room for them.’

Liz

lindera-benzoin

Lindera benzoin

‘I am looking forward to planting out Lindera benzoin in the gardens here at the farm. As it is a larval host for the Spicebush Swallowtail, I’m hoping to lure in and meet one of those “big-eyed” green caterpillars in person. It’s on my bucket list!!’

Cheryl K

 

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Jasmine Polyanthum: A Wintertime Treasure

Jasmine in bloom on a wintry day
Jasmine in bloom on a wintry day

In the depths of winter, when the air is cold and dry outside and hot and dry indoors, there is no indoor plant we cherish more than Jasmine polyanthum. This beloved subtropical vine forms a trailing mound of small leaves and curling tendrils. The dark green glossy foliage is beautiful to look at, but it’s the small white flowers and the heavenly fragrance they release that makes this plant such a treasure. The perfume can fill a room, and no matter what the weather outside, it lifts our spirits by conjuring warmer, balmier places.

Keeping Jasmine moist but not soggy is the key to maintaining healthy plants
Keeping jasmine moist but not soggy is the key to maintaining healthy plants.

Our Jasmine plants are grown here in our greenhouses, which are overseen by Nursery Manager Barb Pierson and her staff. They’re shipped to customers starting around mid November and can be shipped through late March, depending on the weather. We asked Barb to talk about Jasmine and to offer a few tips on how to keep these plants thriving through their season of bloom or beyond.

Jasmine buds
Jasmine buds

“There are lots of varieties of jasmine,” Barb says. “Confederate Jasmine is the one you see growing down south. It’s not for indoors. Ours is Jasmine polyanthum. You don’t often see it in the landscape. It’s more of a houseplant. Other indoor varieties don’t produce the same number of blossoms. Jasmine polyanthum gives one big flush, which may continue for weeks. The fragrance is in so many perfumes, soaps, candles and infusers. In addition to the fragrance, the vine itself is lovely, delicate yet strong, the dark green leaves spaced along tendrils. The small, star-shaped white flowers stand out against this lush, beautiful background.”

Jasmine production in greenhouse, Sam tending plants
Nursery staffer Sam is an experienced jasmine grower, and she takes superb care of our plants.

Last summer was “super hot,” as Barb puts it, and while Jasmine polyanthum doesn’t like that kind of heat, the plants did beautifully, largely thanks to Sam, the staff member who tends them. “She’s now a seasoned jasmine grower,” Barb says. “She’s been doing it for at least four years, and she doesn’t let them get too dry.”

WATERING

The key to keeping Jasmine polyanthum happy is to give it “steady, even moisture,” Barb says. “If jasmine gets very dry, it doesn’t bounce back. At any point in their life cycle, if you let the plants dry down to where they’re physically wilting, they really don’t bounce back without getting brown leaves and looking awful. These plants like humidity – you can spritz them or use a humiditray.”

FERTILIZER

While some customers keep their jasmine plants and summer them over to encourage rebloom the following winter, the majority (and most of our staff members) treat the plants as winter “annuals,” tossing them out when the bloom cycle is done. If you do choose to keep a Jasmine polyanthum plant going through the warmer months, take it outside in spring once temperatures have settled above freezing, and give it a shady spot. The plant will appreciate fertilizer. “They take a lot of feed,” Barb says. “We use Organic Gem® Liquid Fish Fertilizer, a foliar feed, and they really like that. (Be advised that the smell persists for two days so do the feeding in summer when the plants are outside.) Feed them once per month from April to the end of October. Use a water soluble fertilizer for houseplants, and use it at half the recommended rate.”

TEMPERATURES

In autumn, the plants are cooled naturally. In mid-September, “we begin cooling them to 42 degrees F at night,” Barb says. “This is part of what initiates flower formation. Starting in mid-September, we hope for cool nights, not below 40 degrees F, until mid-October. Then we turn up the heat gradually to 65 degrees F.” The days begin to shorten at that time of year. “That’s probably a trigger, too,” Barb says, “but we have no scientific material to back that up. Indoors, the plants don’t like hot air from radiators or fans blown on them. They prefer shade to bright, indirect sun. They do not like direct sun.

While the fragrant white blossoms of Jasmine tend to get all the attention, we also love the delicate vines, which send tendrils up and out in a cascade of lush green.
While the fragrant white blossoms of jasmine tend to get all the attention, we also love the delicate vines, which send tendrils up and out in a cascade of lush green.

PRUNING

If you summer over your plant, “Stop pruning by August 1 or you will lose blooms,” Barb says.

Jasmine plants in handcrafted Barnsley Bowls_
Jasmine plants in handcrafted Barnsley Bowls

SHIPPING

“We start shipping jasmine around Thanksgiving when they’re fully budded and ready to begin flowering. We’re sometimes delayed if the fall is warmer than usual,” Barb says. “They can take the upper 20s in temperature so shipping continues, but we try not to ship after it’s below freezing.” If the box is left on someone’s front stoop for hours, the buds will fall off.

“They like 40 degree to 50 degree cool weather, and the flowers last longer in cooler temperatures. A cooler room of the house with bright indirect light is ideal.”

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Tuberous Begonias: The Last Chapter

Going Dormant, and Winter Slumber

By Cheryl Whalen, Head Gardener

Rewind a few months back to early October . . . The tuberous begonias in our display house begin to show signs of fatigue after four hot summer months of blooming their heads off. I close the doors to the public for the season, and the plants, no longer in the spotlight, breathe a sigh of relief. Even though there is still some color radiating from the display, the flowers are smaller and sparse. Tinges of yellow are beginning to show up on previously lustrous green foliage. Both the plants and I are in agreement. We only want to be in the public eye when we are flaunting fantastic flowers and fresh foliage so as to not disappoint our visitors with a subpar show. As I close the doors, I applaud the performance of the begonias with a standing ovation. I couldn’t be happier with their splendid show in what seemed to be a hotter than normal summer. Now begins the process that leads to a well- deserved winter slumber.

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October and November are not stressful for the begonias. I turn down the thermostat in the greenhouse to near 45F. As the autumn temperatures outside start to dip, the plants respond. Flowers and foliage fade and begin to look dull. I check the plants weekly for watering needs, providing drinks for those plants with dry soil. I don’t force the dormancy issue. I let the plants go down on their own time. That’s important because the plants need time to prepare their tubers before sleep. Energy drains out of the leaves and stems back down to the tubers storing essential fuel for the next growing season.

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I do go through the plants and gently pinch out their growing tips. It only hurts for a second. New flowers keep being produced as the stem tip grows out. By pinching the tips, the plants no longer need to expend energy trying to make new flowers at this late date.

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For several weeks, I see slow progress in the greenhouse toward that ultimate goal of dormancy. Then as the days get shorter I see dramatic changes. About the time in mid-November when I leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark, the plants are full speed ahead in the process. The foliage completely yellows and stems redden. I go through the plants once a week cleaning up fallen leaves and giving each stem a gentle tap. Stems that are ready to be removed fall over easily like trees being felled in the forest.

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By early December, I’m left with what looks to the innocent bystander like just a bunch of soil-filled pots. It’s time to unpot those precious tubers that lie within. I knock each plant out of its pot and carefully unearth each tuber. I peel away the soil from the tuber and brush it off with my seasoned, soft paintbrush. I examine each tuber for soundness. Most are happy and healthy. Sometimes I find one or two that are soft and squishy and need to be discarded. It’s sad when that happens.

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After their once-over health check, the tubers are placed in trays all sorted by variety. The sizes and shapes of the tubers are really quite variable and fun to look at!

I turn the thermostat up to 50 degrees in the greenhouse while the tubers are exposed. They will sit out in the air for a week or so to cure before packing. I hesitate to put them to bed too moist for fear that winter rot might take hold. I do find myself compelled to cover the whole lot each evening with a tarp. It makes me feel better if not the tubers!

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The packing process is easy. After checking in for inventory roll call, each tuber is wrapped in a sheet of newsprint paper with the proper label tucked securely inside. The precious paper packages are then gently laid in lily crates. The crates get shuffled off to the guest cottage dirt cellar where they are neatly stacked. The tubers settle in for their long winter’s nap. They rest . . . I rest. It won’t be long until St. Valentine’s Day, and we can do it all again!! Happy winter to all!

 

 

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Wrap ‘Em Up, and Ship ‘Em Out!

You know how our Tabletop Trees arrive fully decorated and strung with lights? Here, members of our staff pack up the batteries you'll need for the lights.
You know how our Tabletop Trees arrive fully decorated and strung with lights? Here, members of our staff pack up the batteries we send with the trees.

The holidays are always a hectic time at the farm, and that’s just the way we like it. The phones are ringing off the hook. Orders are coming in on the website, and the greenhouses and our warehouse are buzzing like bee hives with staff members rushing to and fro. Things get even more hectic when you factor in the December weather. Shipping live, tender plants out of Torrington, Conn., is tricky business. We’re obliged to wait and watch for windows of mild weather so our plants can travel without the threat of freezing. But with only a limited number of days until Christmas, and a determination to get as many plants to our customers as is humanly possible in time for the holidays, any weather window becomes a spontaneous game of “Beat the Clock.”

All hands on deck. Members of our staff who work in Publications, Marketing, and Finance joined forces with the Shipping Crew to take advantage of a window of warm weather for shipping tender plants.
All hands on deck. Members of our staff who work in Publications, Marketing, and Finance joined forces with the Shipping Crew to take advantage of a window of warm weather for shipping tender plants. Here, our bushy, fragrant Lavender ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ plants get packed for their travels.

This year, a window opened on Dec. 12 and 13. Like a well-timed Christmas miracle from Jack Frost and his friend the Polar Vortex, daytime temperatures rose above freezing, and the call went out for “All hands on deck!” Almost the entire staff rallied, descending on the warehouse to help the Shipping Department get the plants packed, boxed, and onto the waiting trucks.

Bushy Jasmine plants in Wrenthorpe Pancheons, bundled and wrapped in sleeves and waiting for boxes.
Beautiful Jasmine plants in Wrenthorpe Pancheons, bundled and wrapped in sleeves, waiting for boxes.

Packing plants is a bit more complicated than, say, packing sweaters. Jasmine, lavender, holiday cactus, succulents, culinary herbs, azaleas, gardenias, and potted amaryllis, paperwhites and bulb gardens all need to be carefully secured inside their pots and then inside their boxes. If the job isn’t done right, the customer receives a badly damaged plant amid a box full of loose dirt. So over the years, we’ve made a small science of packing and shipping our plants so they’ll arrive looking just the way they did when they left our greenhouses. To secure the soil or potting mix in each pot, we use a combination  of specially sized die-cut cardboard pieces, packing paper, grass, cello tape, and/or plastic sleeves. The plants are then packed inside specially designed cardboard boxes so if, for instance, a carton containing a Topiary Azalea becomes part of a festive game of “football” at a shipping facility or if it’s accidentally dropped upside down by a driver or a recipient, the plant and pot both survive intact and show no traces of the mishaps.

A Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) wrapped in a plastic sleeve, waiting to be boxed.
A Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) wrapped in a plastic sleeve, waiting to be boxed.

Part of the joy of packing plants is spending time with them before they leave. Those of us who work in the Marketing, Publications, Human Resources, and Finance departments don’t often enjoy the hours in the greenhouses that some of our colleagues do. So as we all stand around the packing tables, securing our charges for their journeys, we fall in love all over again with the soft, felted grey leaves of Lavender ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’; the intensely fragrant flowers of Jasmine polyanthum; the delicious scents of Golden Sage, Rosemary, and English Thyme in our Cook’s Herb Trio; the delicate but unstoppable blooms of the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger); the dazzling color the Pink Topiary Azaleas; and the spiky forms of Aloes and Succulents. It’s easy to see how happy these plants will make someone when they’re discovered under the tree on Christmas Day or presented as part of any celebration. Imagining the happiness of our customers is a holiday gift to all of us at White Flower Farm. It’s a very large part of why we do what we do.

Amaryllis 'Clown' packed and ready for shipping.
Amaryllis ‘Clown’ packed and ready for shipping.
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Quick Decorating Ideas for the Holidays!

Need a couple of quick tips for decorating your home for the holidays? Think greens. Step outside with a pair or pruners and take cuttings from evergreen trees, shrubs, and perennials (being careful to prune judiciously and not to offend any neighbors), or order a 7- or 14-lb box of our Decorating Greens. The key here is to amass an assortment of ingredients that come in a variety of colors, textures, and forms.

Here you can see some of the contents of a 7-lb Box of Decorating Greens from White Flower Farm.
Here you can see the contents of a 7-lb Box of Decorating Greens from White Flower Farm.

Spread out the collection of elements on a worktable or floor so you can see everything you’ve got to work with. Next, round up a few pots, cachepots or vases. Then, play. Generally speaking, it’s easiest to start by placing the largest and tallest elements in your pots and then filling in around them. Trim and prune the greens as needed to fit your pots, and save the clippings to make other decorations.

3-the-arrangements-are-coming-along-the-dried-white-statice-in-our-box-of-decorating-greens-resembles-a-sAs you make your arrangements, keep in mind where you’ll be displaying them. If they’ll be on a mantel, with one side against a wall, there’s no need to fill in all the way around. But if your arrangement will be viewed from all sides, be sure to keep turning the pot as you go so all sides have a finished look.

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A small and festive accent just inside the front door.
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This is why it’s wonderful to have a mix of different colors, textures and forms.

If you have any leftover greens or dried flowers, use your imagination and whatever you have on hand to create additional decorative arrangements.

Use your imagination with leftover greens.
Use your imagination with leftover greens!

Where greens aren’t the central element in your decorating scheme, they can be used to add a color to other adornments, including a wide variety of houseplants.

One of our favorite things to do is mass a particular indoor plant in groups along a mantelpiece, atop a sideboard, or on an entrance table. Depending on the effect you’re going for, Azaleas, Gardenias, Lemon Cypress, Wintergreen, Holiday Cactus, Jasmine, and potted Hydrangea all work beautifully.

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This year, we took home some of our new Cyclamen Fantasia® Deep Magenta to spruce things up for the holidays. The rich, deep pink blossoms with white trim are a lovely and unexpected surprise. They’re attractive enough to stand alone, but to create a fuller effect, add some other simple elements, the sort most of us have around the house. Here, we added candlesticks and votives, some clippings of Noble Fir left over from our box of Decorating Greens. The silvery color of the candlesticks picks up the patterning in the beautifully veined leaves of the Cyclamen, and the candlelight makes the whole scene glow.

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We decked the mantel . . .

cyclamen-on-the-sideboard

And the dining room sideboard . . .

When the holidays are over, the Cyclamen will keep blooming until early summer, adding vibrant color and lush greenery to any room where you have bright, indirect light. (For helpful tips on caring for Cyclamen, visit our Growing Guide.)

The best part? Our decorating took only an hour or two, leaving us plenty of time for other holiday preparations.

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Helleborus niger: The Best Gift Plant Ever

By Margret Delves-Broughton

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Tucked away on page 51 of White Flower Farm’s Holiday 2016 catalog is a plant that is, in my humble opinion, the very best gift plant, ever. It is so pretty that when my friend Henry walked into my house a few years ago and saw it in bloom, he paid the highest compliment I have ever gotten on any plant I have ever grown. “Those are fake, right?” he asked.

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As a houseplant, Christmas Rose, or Helleborus niger, is densely packed with shiny dark green leaves at its base. Above that, delicate white buds and open flowers with yellow stamens bring a little bit of woodland garden inside. I have had great success with them just by keeping them evenly watered all winter long. True, they did not look as great in April as they did in December, and some people might opt to move on to other houseplants at that point, but I think that would miss half the reason to buy this plant: In spring, you add it to your garden.

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After living for a few months as a houseplant, Helleborus niger was loaded with seeds that dropped all over my kitchen counter (warning: they look a lot like mouse droppings!).

Our catalog and website state that “once spring arrives, add this exceptional perennial to your shade garden, where it will soon settle in and bloom the following year. Plants are hardy in Zones 3–8.” I figured it was worth a try, so in about April I dug a hole and added a good amount of compost and planted my slightly tired-looking houseplant. That was probably 4 or 5 years ago, and I have since added several more in the same spot. As an outdoor plant, Helleborus niger acts a bit like a groundcover with lots of twisted stems and a ton of evergreen leaves, but unlike many groundcovers, it forms a clump that does not seem to be getting much bigger (this is a good thing for me, though I couldn’t think of anything nicer than a carpet of Christmas Rose).

Hellebore in garden
This picture gives a sense of scale. The flowers are not enormous, but they pop in a winter garden. Photo taken on December 16, 2015,

But here’s the best thing about my beloved Helleborus niger – it blooms. In December. In fact, it’s loaded with buds in my northwest Connecticut garden right now. It has blossomed every year that I’ve had it at this time, though I must add that some years we’ve had snow cover by this point so technically, I can’t verify that it bloomed during those winters. Any new gardener will laugh when they hear that the first few times it bloomed in December, I asked other gardeners what they thought was going on. Most of them looked at me funny and said that the plant must be “confused.” It turns out that it’s not confused – it’s supposed to do this! According to the Missouri Botanic Garden, “Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas rose, is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial which blooms around Christmas time in warm winter regions, but later (February or March) in the cold northern parts of the growing range…. Flowers sometimes bloom in the snow and bloom can survive spurts of sub-zero temperatures.”

Christmas Rose in snow
This photo was taken on December 31, 2015.

If you’re thinking of adding one to your holiday list, here are a few tips: I planted mine close to my front door so that it’s easy to keep an eye on their pretty blooms when I am coming and going. As a houseplant, it dropped a ton of seeds in my house by the end of winter, so if you know what to do with Hellebore seeds, you could possibly grow more (I scattered them in my garden and hoped for the best – nothing happened). Another reason it’s a wonderful gift plant is that it doesn’t seem to be widely available, so it is a treat even for the person who has everything. If you are already convinced, you can order one here.

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Giving Thanks

White Flower Farm in the Snow
White Flower Farm in the snow.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Jack Frost blanketed parts of northwest Connecticut in snow. It was a lovely kind of snowfall, with fluffy flakes swirling down gently, accumulating slowly on hillsides and tree branches. Early Monday, we stood at the window, warm cups of coffee in hand, watching the show and observing things we hadn’t been able to see in some time. All around us, the majestic shapes of trees were etched against the winter sky, their essential beauty laid bare by the absence of leafy coats. Evergreens stood like sentinels in the storm, never bowing to the gusts of wind, their dark green shapes more visible now against a white background. The tracks of deer and rabbits told tales of early morning foraging beside shrubs and, yes, our gardens. The bright red berries of our native Ilex verticillata stood out against the snow, glittering like ornaments, and inviting us to begin our celebrations of the winter holidays.
In the run-up to Thanksgiving, our thoughts always circle back to the things we’re thankful for, and in the stillness of that snowy morning, we offered up a list. It begins, as it does each year, with the most obvious and essential things: our loving families and friends, the good, honest work that keeps our hands dirty and our hearts full, and the amiable, hard-working colleagues with whom we share our days at the farm.
Equal in measure is our gratitude to you. As customers, fellow gardeners, and gardening friends, you inspire us every day. Your visits to the farm and the website, your calls and your questions keep us striving to do our best, and seeking to learn and improve so we can provide you with the best of everything there is to have and to know in the world of gardening. In the clarity of winter light, it was plain to see that it’s the sharing that counts. Whether we’re passing around plates of turkey and stuffing at our Thanksgiving table, or introducing you to new annuals and perennials, our purpose and our joy are derived in sharing what we have – and what we have learned – with others. In case we neglect to say it during busier times, we’re thankful each and every day for your interest, enthusiasm, curiosity and support.
In this year of turmoil and strife on the national level, we’re especially grateful for the steadying force of nature, which tells us that seasons change, and storms come and go, but essential structures, like the big trees on the farm, will almost always stand fast and hold steady at least until their time has come. 
As you celebrate Thanksgiving, we hope you have the time to count your blessings, and to find pleasure, purpose and peace in thecompany of those you hold dear.
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Our Top Garden Gifts

When it comes to shopping for gardeners, the good news is most of us always need something. It could be a few new plants for the border, heirloom tomatoes for the vegetable garden, or perhaps some new shoes or boots to muck around in. If you’re not exactly certain what the gardener on your list is pining for, you will always succeed wildly with a White Flower Farm Gift Certificate. These certificates invite recipients to choose whatever they’d like from our broad array of annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines, tools, pottery, and gifts. They also welcome recipients to ask questions of our friendly staff members, who are always delighted to help gardeners of all skill levels – from the most experienced to those who are just beginning to get their hands dirty.

If you’d like to see more gift ideas, scroll below. Whether you’re looking for a special present, a few stocking stuffers, or something in between, we’ve got a sleigh-full of great ideas for the gardener and non-gardener on your list.

Amaryllis 'Magical Touch'
Amaryllis ‘Magical Touch’

Amaryllis Bulbs, prices start at $17

At the risk of repeating what we have often said in catalogs and emails, there’s a reason Amaryllis bulbs are our No. 1 bestselling gift item year after year. All of our bulbs are top quality and guaranteed to produce 2 stems, most with a minimum of 4 blossoms each. In the middle of February, when the landscape in many parts of the country is a colorless expanse of white and gray, these easy care flowers come to the rescue, bursting forth with beautiful, colorful blooms. They are a great for gift for just about anyone on your list. No green thumb required.

'Ariel' Paperwhite in handcrafted green porcelain bowl with saucer
‘Ariel’ Paperwhite in handcrafted green porcelain bowl with saucer

Paperwhites, prices start at $22

The all-time favorite bulb for forcing indoors is the Paperwhite Narcissus. Large clusters of pure white flowers arch above graceful, blue-green foliage, and the sweet, heady perfume fills a room with fragrance. Paperwhites require no preparation and are absolutely foolproof. A bag of bulbs is a great stocking stuffer or hostess gift. We always keep a few bags around for unexpected visitors and spontaneous holiday gatherings.

Ultimate Garden Fork
Ultimate Garden Fork

Ultimate Garden Fork, $159 each

Every gardener deserves this hardworking, durable, beautifully crafted tool. We’re certain of it because we could not maintain our gardens at the nursery without it. The stainless steel fork topped by an Ash wood “D” handle is indispensable for digging up Hostas and Daylilies, loosening compacted soil, opening holes for new plantings, and turning the soil before planting bulbs, annuals and perennials. Built to last a lifetime, it’s a special gift that will be handed down to the next generation of gardeners. Overall length: 41″.

Lavender Sachets by the Yard
Lavender Sachets by the Yard

Lavender Sachets by the Yard, 8 sachets, $35

Give a roll of these wonderfully fragrant sachets to one lucky recipient, or cut them apart to make stocking stuffers for several people on your list. The lilac-colored organza fabric contains fresh heads of lavender, which not only smell heavenly, they discourage moths from invading bureau drawers and closets. We send a roll of eight 6” x 4” sachets wrapped with a butterfly ribbon. Hang them together in your closet, or cut them apart to tuck in drawers or stockings.

Red Long Reach Watering Can
Haws Red Long Reach Watering Can

Haws Red Long Reach Watering Can, 1 gallon capacity, $139 each

The superb quality of this professional grade watering can is evident in its heft and perfect balance. Made of heavy-gauge steel, it has a galvanized coating that resists rust and increases durability. Its classic English silhouette comes from the two-handled design and the long-reach spout that creates constant water pressure. The solid brass, oval rose can be attached to deliver a fine spray that won’t wash away new plantings. A filter is included to prevent dirt and debris from passing through the spout and into the rose. This superior watering can holds approximately 1 gallon. Made with exceptional craftsmanship that’s designed to last a minimum of 20 years. (Also available in gray metal 2.3 gal size for $169, or in 1½ gallon size recyclable plastic for $49.)

 

Cook's Herb Trio
Cook’s Herb Trio

Cook’s Herb Trio, 3 plants in 4” copper-toned cachepots with 16” x 5” tray, $50

Every gardener and cook on your list will delight in this trio of culinary herbs, which are great for adding fresh flavor and aroma to soups, stews, casseroles and omelets all winter long. Golden Sage, Rosemary, and English Thyme are as decorative as they are delicious. Enjoy cooking with them yourself, or give as a gift.

Cedar Tuteur
Cedar Tuteur

Cedar Tuteur, $120 each

This beautifully crafted, naturally weather resistant tuteur creates a dramatic focal point in any garden whether it’s smothered in Clematis, Sweet Pea, or Morning Glory blossoms, or standing alone and unadorned in a mixed border. It assembles easily with a Phillips screwdriver. The rot-resistant Western Red Cedar will weather naturally to a light silver gray. Measures 81″ tall, 2′ square at the base.

Seibert & Rice Agresti Vase
Seibert & Rice Agresti Vase

 Seibert & Rice Agresti Vase, $330 each

When only a “big” present will do, the gardener in your life will thrill to this heirloom quality hand-crafted terra-cotta pot from renowned importers Seibert & Rice. As much a work of art as it is a planter, the ornamental motifs on this exquisite vessel were formed using original molds from 19th century master craftsmen. Each pot is created freehand and signed by the highly skilled artisan who makes it. Pots can winter over in cold-climate gardens provided they are set on feet. (See full description of feet here — We recommend the use of 3 to support this pot.) Measures approximately 16″ wide x 11″ high, and has 1 drainage hole.

Garden Footwear

All of us at the farm have our preferred footwear for gardening and mucking around outdoors in all types of weather. From affordable Sloggers and Crocs to more costly Birkenstocks, Boggs, Hunter boots, Muck boots, sneakers, and hiking boots, every gardener needs durable, supportive, weather-proof footwear. Visit your favorite shoe store or e-tailer and choose something just right for your gardener.

give-your-favorite-gardener-a-membership-to-a-botanical-garden-among-our-favorites-is-the-new-york-botanical
A feature of the New York Botanical Garden’s 2016 Orchid Show.

Membership to a Botanical Garden

Give a gift that supports a special place. Your recipient will enjoy the privileges of membership at a lovely garden, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re supporting the work that goes on there – whether it’s maintaining existing plantings, educating the next generation of gardeners, or conducting horticultural research. Tops on our list in our neck of the woods are Longwood Garden in Kennett Square, PA, the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, NY, and Tower Hill in Boylston, MA.

Garden Help

Hire a helper for your favorite gardener, someone who’s a dab hand at mulching, pruning, planting, and tending a garden. You not only give someone you love a helping hand, you support an individual who might make or wish to make his or her living as what we call a “greenie.”

potting shed

A Garden Shed

If your budget has a fair amount of elastic in it, consider building or buying a shed for your favorite gardener. Whatever the size, a shed is a terrific place to store pots, tools, and other supplies essential to gardening. Larger models might include windows and a potting table. Employ a local carpenter to build a custom shed, or choose from any number of prefabricated styles available from a wide variety of retailers and e-tailers.

garden magazines

A Subscription to a Gardening Magazine

Give a gift that goes on all year! Good gardening magazines provide year-round inspiration and information. Some of our favorites include Gardens Illustrated, Garden Design, Fine Gardening, Horticulture, Better Homes & Gardens, and Country Gardens.

 

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Citrus Sampler Gift Box, starting at $35

Straight from orchards in Florida, our juicy, ripe Citrus makes a delicious gift for anyone on your list. The fruit is ripened on the tree before being harvested and shipped directly to you or your lucky recipients. We promise you can taste the difference. Our 10-pound sampler includes an average of 4 Ruby Red Grapefruits and 10–12 Oranges. A 20-lb box includes an average of 8 Grapefruits and 20-24 Oranges. To send three 10-pound samplers to 3 addresses for $135, standard shipping included, click here.