Breeding Daffodils

Breeding Daffodils

By Carlos van der Veek

Creating new daffodils is by far not as difficult as you might think. In fact, it is one of the easiest plants to hybridize. When you cross-pollinate two daffodils, you will very often be able to harvest some seeds after a couple of months. Every single seed you harvest is a new daffodil because with daffodils, same as with humans, not a single seed will look the same as another.

To cross-pollinate, you first choose two varieties you fancy. This can be anything, just choose two you like. When you look in the flowers you can easily find the pollen and the stamen.

1. breeding daffs_Pic 1 stamen and pollen
Stamen and pollen

All you have to do is collect pollen and put that on the stamen of another variety. To do so you can use a pair of tweezers to pick an anther with pollen, but I usually just pick a flower of a pollen plant (also called the “father” plant), flap it open and smear the anthers over the stamen of the “mother” plant.

2. breeding daffs_Pic 2 pollinating
3. breeding daffs_Pic 3 pollinating

After you have done this, you will see that the pollen easily sticks on the stamen. Be careful not to bruise the stem, neck or flower of the mother plant because on her flower the seeds have to grow for about eight to 10 weeks. During these eight to 10 weeks, you will see the seed bud, which is hidden on the back of the flower, slowly grow, and during the coming eight weeks it will swell to the size of a marble.

4. breeding daffs_Pic 4 seed bud
Daffodil seed bud

This size goes for a standard daffodil. When you pollinate smaller daffodils, you will have smaller seed buds.

After about 8 weeks, you have to be careful to inspect the seed buds often, and when they start to turn brown and shrivel a little bit, they are ready to harvest. When you are too late inspecting them, the seed buds might burst and the seeds will fall on the ground where they are hard to find. The seeds will be the size of a pinhead. Seeds from large daffodils will be slightly bigger. Seeds from miniature daffodils will be smaller.

5. breeding daffs_Pic 5 seed
Daffodil seeds

But now a part of the story that might be a little bit disappointing: you have to nurse the seeds for five to six years before you will be able to see your first results. It will take this long for the seed to grow to a large enough bulb to produce a flower. But to grow the seeds you really do not have to do much that is different from growing other daffodils.

In the fall, you plant the seeds, no deeper than half an inch, in a pot or tray. This pot can be planted in the garden in a spot where you also plant your other bulbs.

In the first spring, you will see each seed producing one single leaf that will not be much bigger than a leaf of grass from your lawn.

6. breeding daffs_Pic 6 one year old seed
One-year-old seed

The reason for planting them in a pot or tray is that you do not have to dig them after the first year of growing. In the first year, the seeds will grow into small daffodil bulbs, but these bulbs will be hardly bigger than the seeds you planted.

7. breeding daffs_Pic 7 1, 2, 3 year old seeds
1-, 2- and 3-year-old seeds

So digging and replanting will be difficult because you might not be able to find all the little bulbs. So I usually leave the pot or tray with seeds in the ground for at least three years, and all I do is keep them free from weeds.

After that, the bulbs really need replanting every year to give them more space. Bulb size is increasing rapidly these years so spacing will become more important. When you dig the seedlings in the fifth year, you will see that some of the bulbs have grown big enough to produce a flower. And finally in the sixth spring you might see your first creations, and you can really start to enjoy them. Some of your seedlings might need another year to grow big enough to produce a flower.

Not all of them are beautiful so selecting needs to be done. The good-looking ones may stay; the rest end up in the hedge or on the roadside.

During the next five years, sometimes even more, you keep on selecting, and only the ones that perform well year after year remain. For me the criteria for selection are, in the first place, a good-looking flower, but equally important is its garden performance. I prefer the flowers to be well above the leaves and not too much down-facing, and they have to look healthy and vigorous. Sometimes I discharge a nicer flower compared to the others because the others just are better looking plants and better performers in the garden.

Now after more than 10 years you finally might have a daffodil worth keeping, and you want to name her. To name a daffodil, you go the Daffseek website,, this is a database of the American Daffodil Society.

8. breeding daffs_Pic 8 daffseek
DaffSeek Daffodil Database

This is a perfect place to check to see if the name you have in mind for your daffodil already exists. A name has to be unique, and already over 25,000 daffodils are named, so you might find it hard to come up with something original. But once you find a name, you go the related links on the Daffseek site and they will forward you to the Royal Horticultural Society site (RHS) in the UK where the worldwide registration authority of daffodils is settled.

But before you name a daffodil you might want to know what other people think of your seedling. Best thing to do is go to one of the many daffodil shows that are held each spring by numerous different daffodil societies throughout the United States. You might be able to find a daffodil show close by on the website of the American Daffodil Society []. Everybody can enter flowers in these shows, and judges are present to evaulate your blooms and advise you. When it is a good flower, you even might win a ribbon.

9. breeding daffs_Pic 9 Judging Daffodils
Judging Daffodils

When you are interested in hybridizing daffodils, it is best to first collect a wide range of varieties so you can find out which are most appealing to you. A mixture like The Works is an ideal start. Made up of 30 top quality varieties, it will provide you with a broad range of different daffodils to pick from.

Good luck with the breeding.

Our Hunt for Bulbs in Holland

As fall planting season approaches and you begin to consider which spring-blooming bulbs to add to your garden, we thought we’d tell you a bit about how we find those bulbs and introduce you to some of the bulb experts who help us do it.

To search out Daffodils, Tulips and other spring bloomers, we fly each spring to northern Holland, an area of the Netherlands that contains one of the largest concentrations of bulb growers in the world. Because of demands back at the farm, our trips have to be kept fairly short, only 2 to 3 days, but we pack in a great deal, visiting 6 to 8 bulb growers, and always making time for a visit to the legendary flower garden Keukenhof in Lisse.

On each trip, our first view of what awaits comes through the plane window. Laid out below is a colorful patchwork of Holland’s bulb fields in full and glorious bloom, stretching as far as the eye can see. As many times as we’ve seen this spectacle, it still does something to our hearts, stirring wonder and pure joy in equal measure.

The view from the plane. Photo credit: Eric Breed
The view from the plane. Photo credit: Eric Breed

At the airport gate, we’re met by two extraordinary men we’re privileged to consider our Dutch partners and friends. Carlos van der Veek and Eric Breed are two of the principals in Fluwel, an internationally recognized bulb breeding, growing, and exporting company. Carlos founded Fluwel in 1992 with Tulip expert Jeroen van dan Hoek, and Eric joined the company in 2008. “Fluwel” is an acronym for “Flowers love u, we enjoy life,” and it gives you some idea of the spirit that infuses the whole operation.

Our Dutch Partners

Carlos, a self-professed “bulb nerd,” grew up in the business. His late father, Karel van der Veek, was a renowned Daffodil hybridizer who collected and grew Daffodils behind the farmhouse where Carlos was raised and where his mother still lives. (Carlos is bringing up his own children in a house across the street.) Karel’s garden, which began with just two types of Daffodils, now contains 2,635 varieties. Carlos was “spoon-fed” bulb know-how by his Dad from an early age. Today, he’s internationally regarded as a “walking encyclopedia” on Daffodils.

Carlos van der Veek
Carlos van der Veek

Eric, who is “a bulb nerd like me,” according to Carlos, is the son of bulb breeder Kees Breed. His maternal grandfather was a 3rd generation bulb grower whose fields abutted Keukenhof. Eric spent his youth in and around the fields, deadheading flowers, scanning for virus, driving the tractor, and cutting Tulips. He also worked with Jeroen’s father to learn about forcing Tulips. A photographer and consultant, Eric has traveled the world hunting for Tulips, and his trips to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Israel, Crete, Turkey, Spain, and Tibet are chronicled in his booklet Going Wild for Tulips.

Eric Breed in Kazakhstan in 2001, hunting for Tulip greigii and Tulip kaufmanniana
Eric Breed in Kazakhstan in 2001, hunting for Tulip greigii and Tulip kaufmanniana

Guided by Carlos, Jeroen, and Eric, who seem to have new and creative ideas every 6 seconds, the men have made Fluwel an international force that is synonymous with expertise and the highest quality bulbs. Their flowers are sought by buyers all over the world and can be seen in displays in Keukenhof; at Germany’s Schloss Ippenburg; and at the Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen, among many other venues. Their passion for bulbs inspires their efforts to educate people of all ages and to make learning about and living with flowers a fun and enriching experience for all. In Sint-Maartensvlotbrug, they created Tulpenland, a theme park and “land of eternal spring” that attracts visitors of all ages who are invited to walk through exhibits and playscapes inspired by the history of the Tulip.

The Barnum-like expansion of Fluwel over the years is governed by the same passion and enthusiasm that characterizes our meetings with Carlos and Eric, who are equal parts farmers, bulb experts, and ambassadors for all they grow.

The Search Is On

Leaving the airport, we hop into Carlos’ van, and we’re off, traveling across miles of Holland’s flat fields, all of them exploding with colorful flowers. Among our stops is Fluwel, where acres are planted with Daffodils, Tulips, and Crocuses. Over coffee, a tradition of Dutch hospitality, we talk bulbs. As Carlos likes to say, “Once you start talking about Tulips and Daffodils, just make another cup of coffee, because we won’t stop talking anymore.”

ea & carlos in field
White Flower Farm’s marketing director, Eliot A. Wadsworth, left, and Daffodil expert Carlos van der Veek

When coffee time comes to an end (about 3 cups later), we head outdoors.

Walking the fields with Carlos and Eric is an extraordinary pleasure and an inspiration. They might show us ancient Narcissus varieties rescued from abandoned home sites; talk about how the different colors of the blooms change over the course of time as the flowers age; help us learn about optimal planting depths and how they affect the overall success rate or possibly just the bloom timing; and point out planned and unplanned color combinations that we can translate into the garden pairings we suggest in our catalogs. What we learn on these walks, we pass along to our customers, the benefit of Carlos and Eric’s wisdom distilled not only in our plant choices but in the information we provide for growing and taking care of them.

Tulip 'Lalibella'
Tulip ‘Lalibella’
A yellow double in its habitat
A yellow double in its habitat

While at Fluwel, Carlos, Eric and our staff members work together to create the proprietary mixes of Daffodils and Tulips that White Flower Farm customers love. Many longtime favorites including our Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix, The Works Daffodil Mix, and the Golden Legacy Daffodil Mix were designed in the fields at Fluwel. (Both Daffodil collections include varieties grown and tended by Carlos’ father.)

Fluwel Mix at Keukenhof
The gardens at Keukenhof attract thousands of visitors each spring.

Before leaving Fluwel, the fittest among us take the time to climb one of the company’s wind turbines, reaching the top to get a bird’s eye view of the fields below.

In addition to showing us around Fluwel, Carlos and Eric don their hats as bulb exporters, and we spend the next few days visiting a handful of select specialty growers. These are individuals who have worked with and grown bulbs for Fluwel for years, and most are personal friends of Carlos and Eric. At each stop, we’re offered coffee, of course, and before the day is through, we’ll have had about 15 cups; which is quite useful when battling jet lag.

We visit growers who specialize in the hybridization of new varieties of Tulips; maintain stocks of existing varieties; grow for the cut flower market; or have a wide range of very special bulbs.

Muscari Maxibell
Muscari Maxibell

Everywhere we go, enchantments abound, with unusual flowers to see and choose from. One highly specialized grower produces only varieties of miniature Muscari, and the tiny blossoms are so small they seem suitable for dollhouses. With Carlos and Eric at our elbows, we take notes, snap pictures, and begin ordering samples to be shipped back to Connecticut for trials in our gardens.

Tulip 'Red Impression,' Tulip 'Pink Impression,' and Tulip 'Apricot Impression'
Tulips ‘Red Impression,’ ‘Pink Impression,’ and ‘Apricot Impression’

Keukenhof Gardens

No spring trip to Holland is complete without a detour to world famous Keukenhof. Carlos and Eric accompany us, escorting us through the displays of individual bulbs and the stunning combinations created by a variety of growers and designers including Fluwel.

Combinations we see sometimes become the inspiration for the bulb gardens we offer White Flower Farm customers at holiday time. But early on, we learned that bulb combinations that bloom simultaneously in Holland don’t always perform similarly in the United States. Because our climates are different, and the sun tends to be stronger in the U.S., combinations that work beautifully at Keukenhof don’t always succeed in our part of the world. Carlos and Eric tell us which combinations will work stateside and which won’t. (We also trial each combo we create to ensure that the results are as spectacular as they can be.)

As our Holland visit comes to an end, we place our bulb orders, and bid our Dutch friends goodbye.

Back in Connecticut, as we usher in the busy spring season, the bulbs in Holland continue to grow. When summer arrives in the Netherlands, the bulbs are harvested and cured by drying them or keeping them at particular temperatures, depending on their type. In the large warehouse at Fluwel, the bulbs are sorted, counted and packed by machines. Proprietary mixes, including our Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix, are assembled by hand.

Tutti Tulpi, the making of a mix
The making of a bulb mix in the warehouse at Fluwel.

Our brand labels are added, and the bulbs are moved to temperature-controlled containers for the trip across the ocean. Maintaining optimal temperatures is a critical part of the process because buying the best bulbs in the world does no good unless they’re properly stored during transport. To ensure our bulbs are kept at optimal temperatures, each container houses a thermostatic recorder to keep an account of temperatures from portal to portal. When we receive the bulbs at our warehouse in Torrington, Conn., in late August and early September, members of our staff carefully check the recorders to ensure that the correct temperatures were maintained during the trip. If everything is in good order, we transfer the bulbs to our own temperature-controlled coolers and keep the bulbs active and healthy until they’re shipped to customers.

Our partnership with Carlos and Eric is one of the highlights of being in the gardening business. It’s a relationship that’s built on friendship, trust, mutual admiration, and a common desire to share the benefit of our knowledge with those who plant bulbs in their gardens.

Narcsissus Pinza_colorful daff blue sky_RS

As Carlos puts it, “We gather knowledge and share it.”

For us, that’s what gardening is all about. That, and all those beautiful flowers.

House at Wisley DSC_0168

Visiting a Few of England’s Great Gardens

Sissinghurst, Wisley, Great Dixter, Beth Chatto – for American gardeners these are iconic names, alien but as resonant as Mantle and Mays are for baseball fans. This summer we had the opportunity, in between visits to breeders and growers, to see these legendary English gardens in all their late-summer glory. We came home feeling awfully lucky. Photos from other peoples’ business trips, we’re told, don’t often look like these.

Beth Chatto Gardens in Colchester

The Beth Chatto Gardens in Colchester was our first stop on this trip and perhaps the jet lag exacerbated the “through-the-looking-glass” sensation that we Zone 5 gardeners experience when confronted with the English climate. Fuchsia, Gunnera, Agapanthus – we’re not accustomed to seeing these plants used as permanent border elements, and these gardens feel, in places, quite tropical. In fact, this is one of the driest areas in England, and the gravel garden (converted from a parking lot) serves not only as a striking visual contrast to its lush green surroundings but as a long-running experiment in how a more “Mediterranean” plant palette fares with absolutely no watering.

Fuchsia in a mixed border
Gravel garden at Beth Chatto gardens
Gunnera manicota DSC_0028
Gunnera manicata at Beth Chatto Gardens

Our next stop was in Northiam, East Sussex, at Great Dixter, which holds a special place in White Flower Farm’s collective heart. Dixter was the lifelong home of plantsman and author Christopher Lloyd, and since Christo’s passing in 2006 the estate has been maintained by a charitable trust under the leadership of head gardener Fergus Garrett. In 2001, we collaborated with Mr. Garrett on the design and installation here in Connecticut of a 280′ mixed border (referred to as the Lloyd Border), which, under the subsequent care of our Head Gardener Cheryl Whalen, exhibits the same effusive density and variety of color and texture that make Dixter’s gardens so inviting. It was a special treat to see the “ancestral home,” as it were, of one of our own gardens, and to experience a gardening landmark that is so unmistakably a personal expression.

Great Dixter DSC_0056
Great Dixter
White Flower Farm's Lloyd Border
White Flower Farm’s Lloyd Border

Sissinghurst Castle Garden is in Cranbrook, Kent, just up the road from Dixter (with only a few potentially lethal “roundabouts” between), but it offers quite a contrast to the latter. Compared to the ecstatic wildness of Dixter, Sissinghurst’s manicured garden “rooms” feel carefully choreographed and managed. Like Dixter’s, Sissinghurst’s history goes back hundreds of years, and the gardens were designed and installed over the course of several decades by the last private owners, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. The property has been under the care of the UK’s National Trust since 1967.






RHS Wisley

Our last stop was in Surrey at RHS Wisley, one of four Royal Horticultural Society  gardens (there’s a fifth in the works) scattered across England. The RHS is a member-supported private charity that dates back to the early 19th century, having received its Royal Charter in 1861. In addition to maintaining gardens, the RHS offers educational programs, organizes flower shows (including the Chelsea Flower Show), and generally promotes horticulture and gardening. Wisley is the RHS’s oldest garden and serves as the administrative hub for the society’s extensive trialing program, which grants top-performing plants the Award of Garden Merit. We talked our way into an early entrance and spent most of a day exploring a garden that, unlike anything else we saw on this trip, offers grandeur on an imperial scale.





Wisley Trial Garden DSC_0035

We returned home with achy feet and fresh eyes, and are already scheming about when to return to soak up even more of all that these astounding gardens have to teach us.


Down on the Farm: A Look Back at a Magical Summer

The end of summer at White Flower Farm

At this address, the end of summer is attended by a flurry of activity both indoors and out because we are obliged to deal simultaneously with this year’s plants (being delivered to purchasers), next year’s plants (being propagated, potted, pruned, and sometimes imported), and plants that will be on offer several years from now (requiring photos, stock plants, hardiness trials, production plans, and greenhouse space projections). In the background is, of course, speculation about the likely date of first frost by which time greenhouses need to be covered, irrigation systems drained, and all outdoor equipment readied for winter. The mix of exhilaration and anxiety is familiar, even reassuring, as the sleepy saunter of summer changes to the brisk strides of fall.

It would be a mistake not to take note of the highlights of the summer just passed, not least because they contain both lessons and inspirations for next year. Perhaps most striking at this moment is the total absence of fruit in our small orchard. After two hard and late frosts decimated buds, our trees (apples, pears, peaches, cherries, apricots) are completely barren, a stunning contrast to the gigantic crop we enjoyed last year. The trees earned their rest, but it’s hard to explain to the pigs, who count on dropped apples as the mornings cool. Elsewhere, a long, mild spring, and a warm and dry summer produced contrasting abundance that started with the spring-flowering bulbs and continued through our various plantings of shrubs, perennials and annuals (with a bit of watering when the thunderstorms missed us in August). Especially noteworthy to the undersigned, who walked the gardens practically every day for four months, were the following:

–          Tulips in the beds adjoining our store that bloomed for an extra two weeks thanks to obliging weather.

White Flower Farm Perennial Tulip Mixture
French Single Late Tulip Mixture

–           Korean Dogwoods (Cornus kousa), planted to mask a greenhouse, became a feature on their own, alternating pink and white varieties that bloomed long and hard. A trial of ground covers at their feet produced mixed results about which more later. The trees’ fruits are now bright red and very cheerful, but seem not to be attractive to birds.

One of our Korean Dogwoods underplanted with a trial ground cover combination

–          Our Blackmore & Langdon Tuberous Begonia display moved to a new greenhouse two years ago, took a year to get adjusted, and then returned to top form, starting in June and still going strong this week. Our friends at the English nursery that bred these marvels actually called upon us to help them restore varieties they were struggling with, the ultimate compliment to our Head Gardener, Cheryl Whalen, who curates this collection. We sell the tubers only in spring, but you have permission to start dreaming now.

White Flower Farm’s Begonia House

–          After some nail biting caused by minus 18 degrees F in February, an astonishing border of Lavender ‘Phenomenal,’ 81 plants without a single loss, settled in comfortably in its second year and proved once and for all that Lavender can be grown in New England. The site faces south and is well drained. We trialed fragrant Sweet Peas on the fence behind and were entranced by the effect.

Lavender Phenomenal™

–          A marvelous late summer showing in our beloved Moon Garden where strong late-blooming perennials Phlox paniculata ‘David,’  Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album,’ and Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ matched up with annuals and tenders such as Cleomes and Dahlias to make last week’s full moon something quite out of the ordinary.

White Flower Farm’s Moon Garden

–          Containers of annuals that changed their look and feel with every week of the season and are still strutting their stuff at the first week of September. Ms. Whalen, mentioned above, generates new designs yearly with seldom a disappointment, and many recipients re-order annually.

Annuals in containers at White Flower Farm

–          The Lloyd Border, over 300’ long and 20’ deep, was once again heart-stoppingly beautiful through the entire summer and will remain so until a heavy frost. It’s worth a visit all by itself. A drone-based video is in production, which we hope will capture at least a fraction of this experience. It’s not too late to visit this year, and next year is a must.

The Lloyd Border at White Flower Farm

Looking backward in this way seems a little self-indulgent but perhaps can be justified on the basis of reminding ourselves, and you, what rich and varied joys are to be found in our gardens, and yours, at every time of year. Both big ideas and small can produce stunning beauty and deep satisfaction. In addition, our gardens serve to support our proud assertion that we are plantsmen first, merchants second. Please read the following overtly commercial messages with that in mind.

Shortening Days Are Sending a Signal

The message, lest you have missed it, is that next spring’s garden begins now, and we are standing by to help you make ready. A few practical suggestions follow:

The Works Daffodil Mix

First – spring without Daffodils (properly known as Narcissus) is like kissing your sister, a pleasant ritual with no zip. The answer we recommend is our longtime favorite Daffodil Collection called ‘The Works.’ The name reflects its unique character as an assembly of 100 bulbs from 30 different varieties of the best traditional and recent Daffodils varieties, chosen and blended to provide a broad variety of colors and forms plus the longest possible period of bloom, roughly six weeks in our climate. Our bulbs are purchased under long-term contracts by our partners in Holland who, being Dutch, are always working to get the best possible value. They secure top-size bulbs, all blooming size, that will put on a spectacular performance their first year in the ground, actually increasing their numbers thereafter in a site they like (good drainage and at least half a day of sun). Of course, everyone knows Daffodils, but not everyone knows that they are long-lived, pest free, extremely winter-hardy, and absolutely and unconditionally immune to deer, which won’t touch them. Thus, the biggest and brightest early flower of spring is also the toughest and most enduring. Scatter them in a meadow, along a path, through existing gardens, and at the edge of woods and count on a glorious display, plus armloads of fresh flowers for the house, for decades to come. Please note that their natural period of dormancy means that Daffodils (along with many hundreds of other varieties or spring-flowering bulbs) can ONLY BE PLANTED IN FALL. Click here for details.

Old-time Peony Collection

Second – To make your Daffodil commitment more efficient, Mother Nature kindly arranged that three other magnificent garden plants, all hardy from Zones 4-7, also require fall planting. This trio comprises Peonies, perhaps America’s favorite flower after the Rose, Tall Bearded (also known as German) Iris, the most overtly glamorous June blooming perennial (with one of the sweetest fragrances), and Poppies (Papaver) whose frilly June blooms can be as pale as dawn or crackle with the boldest reds and oranges in the world of gardening. If you can’t find something to love in this exquisite trio, have your eyes checked.

Rainbow of Tall Bearded Iris Collection


Papaver orientale ‘Turkenlouis’
Tulip Tango

Third – Many readers of this text will have nearby the ruins of the summer vegetable garden. In our patch, we perform fall cleanup as part of a sequence that terminates with the lining out of many dozens of Tulips of all shapes and sizes. Once in the ground, they are promptly forgotten until their noses appear in spring. A couple of weeks later, we begin snipping small bouquets of every possible description, which could hardly be more delightful. When bloom is spent, it’s a quick and easy task to fork out the bulbs, and probably about time to sow the peas. One of our imaginative associates named this switching process the Tulip Tango. That may be a little chic, but the principle is sound. If you want to give the idea a try, consider a bag of our Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix, a collection of 50 bulbs, all different. It’s good value, good fun, and an education in itself. Click here.

Are you getting the point? A few hours of scratching around in the garden on a bright fall day can deliver huge dividends in spring. It’s not hard work, and the possibilities are enormous, whether you are starting with bare ground or presiding over an established garden. Our remarkable Customer Service staff, all gardeners and many of them Master Gardeners, stand ready to provide all the assistance you can possibly require, with a little encouragement thrown in.


What’s That Weed? 10 Common North American Weeds

While many of you undoubtedly spent summer engrossed in the latest New York Times bestselling beach reads, around here, the books we can’t put down are Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso, and Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer.

Both are indispensable guides to the pesky weeds that gardeners in North America regularly come upon in beds, borders, meadows and woodlands. Weeds of the Northeast was published in 1997 by Cornell University Press. At nearly 400 pages, it offers color photos of 299 weeds at various stages of their lifecycles – starting at the seedling stage. Weeds of North America was published in 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. It covers roughly 500 species of weeds, and includes color photos showing the majority of them at stages from seed to flower. (Interestingly, it also lists plant viruses that each weed could introduce into your garden and which may be harmful to other plants.)

As we continue to pull weeds from our gardens, we thought you might like a primer on 10 of the most common types that might be appearing in yours.

1a. weeds_pokeweed
Common pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana L.)

Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana L.)

You can tell a lot by a nickname, and this one is commonly known as Inkberry (for its dark reddish-purple berries), Red Ink Berry (for the color that’s released when the berries are crushed), and American Cancer (for the toxicity of the leaves and fruits). The one thing Pokeweed is not is a poke. The herbaceous perennial emerges in spring and, left untended, achieves the height of a small tree. It will climb over shrubs and grow alongside trees. You’ll recognize the seedlings by their oval green leaves, which often have a hint of reddish purple. As they begin to stretch, you’ll see that the stems are also a reddish-purple. Green berries emerge in clusters, gradually changing to a gleaming purple-black. The shape of the berries is distinctive, too, like round balls that have been slightly flattened on each side. Large taproots make these a contest to remove, but it’s worth winning.

2. weeds_canadian clearweed
Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

This summer annual has watery, almost translucent stems that remind us of Impatiens. The fresh, shiny green leaves are opposite and have three pronounced central veins and  serrated edges. The small flowers emerge from leaf axils and appear in clusters on the upper portions of the stems. Pull this weed, and it gives way very easily, which may account for our benign feelings about it.

3. weeds_Swallow Wort Vine
Black Swallowwort Vine (Cynanchum nigra)

Black Swallowwort Vine (Cynanchum nigra)

The bane of many a northeastern gardener, this twining, vining perennial can twist itself around shrubs and small trees. It has dark green leaves, purple-black fruit, and, most unhappily, a large root crown, which makes removal an Olympic sport.

“Although primarily a woodland species, black swallowwort has become an invasive weed in recently cleared areas, conservation habitats, Christmas tree plantations, nursery crops, and other perennial crops such as alfafa. It also grows in fields, pastures, and waste places and along fence rows, often in sunny areas and calcareous soils,” write Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. In short, it can be everywhere. Our recommendation: Dig it out to be certain you’re getting it by the roots, or you’ll be seeing it in perpetuity.

4. weeds_bull thistle
Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Sometimes confused with Canada thistle, this biennial is distinguished by its leaves, which are spiny above and woolly below (Canada thistle leaves are the opposite: smooth above and smooth or spiny below), and by its taproot (Canada thistle spreads by rhizomes.) Bull thistle favors rich, moist soil. It presents in spring as a rosette of leaves that are prostrate to the ground then develops a stem, which is punctuated by lance-shaped, serrated leaves. Bulbous lavender-purple fruit appears at the tops of stems.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)

This perennial is hard to miss, especially if you’ve had the misfortune to step on it or come upon it ungloved. The spiny leaves appear first as a prostrate basal rosette and gradually lengthen. Allowed to mature, the Canada thistle will sprout stems topped by lavender-purple flower heads that open to release seeds that scatter in the wind. Where there is one, you may expect many more as Canada thistle spreads by rhizomes.

5. weeds_crabgrass
Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemu Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS, and Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP)

Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemu Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS, and Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP)

This one needs no introduction. There are three common varieties, Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), Smooth crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS), and Southern crabgrass (Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP). All are the bane of gardeners everywhere. The blade-shaped green leaves emerge along prostrate stems. The fibrous roots always seem to be rooted in cement because they’re just that difficult to pull out. The part of the plant that’s above-ground seems always to snap off in your hand before the roots can be dislodged so use a weeding tool to loosen the soil then pull.

6. weeds_creeping charlie_best
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea L.)

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea L.)

Also known as Ground Ivy, this is not an ugly weed, it’s just a perpetual land-grabber. It creeps along the ground by runners, each node setting down new roots as the spreading continues. It’s especially fond of vaulting the distance between lawns and garden beds, and it will even crawl across the patio, if it can find sufficient footing. The round, scalloped green leaves form a mat-like ground cover, and in spring, purple flowers appear. Grab a string (or six) of stems and give them a tug. You’ll feel individual nodes pop out of the soil. A firmer tug releases the developed fibrous roots at the base of the plant.

7. weeds_broadleaf plantain
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major L.)

Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major L.)

We feel a special animosity toward this one, a prostrate grower that holds tenaciously to the soil with a cluster of fibrous roots and single taproot. The broad green, deeply veined leaves hew to the ground, forming a mat from which sprout green flower heads that later turn golden brown.

8a. bishop's weed_Aegopodium podagraria
Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)
8. weeds_variegated bishop's weed
Variegated Bishop’s Weed

Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)

The variegated form of this super-spreader is called Goutweed. It’s offered at many nurseries as a ground cover, and while quite ornamental, it quickly manifests as a nuisance. To quote the Missouri Botanical Garden’s outstanding website, It “Will rapidly form a continuous mound of attractive foliage typically growing to 8″ tall with an indefinite spread. Unfortunately, once it gets going, it acts like the proverbial snowball going downhill and can be difficult to contain.” While it is easy to remove with a quick tug, you may find the constancy of the job gets tiresome quickly.

9. Alliaria petiolata_garlic mustard
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

This European native was originally introduced to North America in the 1800s and was valued for its medicinal and culinary properties. But since then, this shade-tolerant biennial has become too common in wooded areas of the eastern and middle of the United States where it crowds out natives. Now regarded as an invasive, it forms basal rosettes of heart-shaped leaves in the first year. The following season, the leaves become more triangular in shape, and the plant sends up a 1–4’ stalk that produces small white flowers in early spring. Apart from identifying the plant by its appearance, you can crush a leaf or stem. If you smell garlic, remove the plant.

10. weeds_lambsquarters
Common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.)

Common Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.)

We find this upright annual in lots of places at the farm where it likes to pop up at the edges of fields and meadows. The gray, felted-looking leaves make it easy to spot along with its broad, branching habit. Left to grow, it can reach heights of 3’ in a single season.


tomato recipes_bowlful2

What Are You Going To Do With All Those Tomatoes?

A Few Favorite Recipes From Our Staff

For vegetable gardeners in many parts of the land, it’s tomato-harvesting time. If you planted a variety of tomatoes, as we always do, you now have the delightful problem of figuring out how to use your overabundance of scrumptious, fresh-from-the-vine fruits.

To help you make the most of them, we asked our staff members for some of their favorite recipes. Head gardener Cheryl Whalen loves a Tomato Sandwich, which is about as easy (and delicious) as it sounds: Simply put a generous slice (or two) of beefsteak tomato on bread or toast that’s been slathered with mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper, and enjoy the taste of summer. Another favorite with many staffers is the classic Italian Caprese Salad, made by alternating slices of thick, juicy beefsteak tomato with fresh mozzarella then sprinkling it with fresh basil leaves, sea salt, and olive oil. (You can even drizzle on some pesto for an extra blast of summer flavor.) Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes are a delicious side dish many of us enjoy – simply heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a skillet set over medium high heat, add a few handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes (a mix of red and gold varieties always looks terrific), and a bit of sea salt. Shake the pan until the tomatoes begin to swell and soften just a bit, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat immediately, add a handful of chopped fresh basil (or another fresh herb such as marjoram or oregano), and serve warm or at room temperature. Tomato Bruschetta is another quick and easy favorite that makes it onto everyone’s menu. Toast or grill some thick slices of ciabatta or country bread, rub one side of each slice with the cut side of a clove of garlic, then pile on a mixture of chopped tomatoes (any variety will do) tossed with a bit of olive oil and chopped basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.

tomato recipes_caprese salad
Speedy to make and delicious to eat, the Italian Caprese salad is a classic for good reason. Simply alternate thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes with mozzarella. Drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with fresh basil, add sea salt, and you have a lovely lunch, appetizer, or (on a hot night) a light supper.

Here are a few more recipes from our staff to help you make the most of your tomato harvest. We hope you get a chance to enjoy all of these.

This classic of Spanish cuisine makes the most of tomatoes and lots of other summer vegetables. Variations abound, and you can add or subtract ingredients based on your preferences. We like our gazpacho a bit rustic in style with chunks of vegetables. If you prefer a smoother soup, blend or process until the desired texture is reached.

tomato recipes_gazpacho
The bounty of summer in a single bowl! Our gazpacho combines fresh-picked tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers to make a zesty cold soup.

Gazpacho Picante

2 pounds fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled, and coarsely chopped (your favorite variety or a mix of varieties)

2 English cucumbers, peeled, and coarsely chopped

1 small red onion, finely chopped

½ cup green onions, thinly sliced

2 red or green peppers, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

1 lime, juiced

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 quart tomato juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

**Blanch tomatoes: The point here is to loosen the skin but not to cook the tomatoes. For starters, bring a large pan of water to a boil. In a large mixing bowl, add ice cubes to water to create an ice bath. Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato, scoring the skin but not cutting deep. Lower the tomatoes gently into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove from boiling water and place in ice bath for 30 seconds. Using a sharp knife, peel away the skin.

Make the Gazpacho: Working one batch at a time, if necessary, puree first 11 ingredients in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. As each batch is pureed to desired consistency, transfer to a large bowl or soup kettle. Continue pureeing in batches until done. Add salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Can be made a day ahead. Serve with crusty bread.

This recipe from Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, is one of our must-have dishes of summer. Because we can’t always wait for the large tomatoes she calls for, we make the first bread salads of the season with cherry varieties. As the medium and beefsteak tomatoes come in, we switch to using those. Although this tomato-bread salad is most presentable and best eaten the day it’s made, we frequently enjoy leftovers for lunch for another day or two (or three). Add a few cubes of fresh mozzarella if you want an extra treat.

Tomato 'Costoluto Genovese'
Tomato ‘Costoluto Genovese,’ ripe on the vine and ready for picking.

Ina Garten’s Panzanella

3 tablespoons good olive oil

1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced ½-inch thick

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

½ red onion, cut in ½ and thinly sliced

20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons capers, drained


1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

½ cup good olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Makes 12 servings.

Because we can’t possibly eat all the tomatoes we harvest in season, we oven-roast the overflow and freeze them for use long after summer is past. In the depths of December or January, it’s positively transporting to bite into some of summer’s homegrown tomatoes.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 300°. Cut tomatoes lengthwise in halves, quarters, or eighths, depending on the size (cherries, plum, beefsteak, etc.). Spread them out in single layers on cookie sheets. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, add chopped garlic, basil (optional), salt and pepper. Bake for 2-3 hours until tomatoes collapse and the juice is reduced and syrupy. Pack in freezer containers, pour the oil from the pans over the top, and freeze for up to three months.

Serving suggestions for Slow Roasted Tomatoes:

Bruschetta with Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Slice ciabatta bread and brush tops with oil from the tomatoes. Broil until lightly toasted. Add tomatoes with garlic and a slice of fresh mozzarella. Broil until cheese softens and tomatoes are warm.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Appetizer Bites

Coat a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Cut wonton wrappers in half so they’re square. Take 2 wonton squares and press into mini cupcake pan, overlaying the squares to create a cup with edges. Fill with roasted tomatoes and top with slice of fresh mozzarella. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the wonton wrappers have browned.

The following recipe doesn’t include proportions, which you can choose for yourself, depending on how many tomatoes you have and how much sauce you’d like to freeze.

blanched tomatoes
Blanched and peeled tomatoes waiting to be cooked into a sauce that will be frozen and enjoyed during the long winter months.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Fresh tomatoes, quartered

Chopped onion

Fresh parsley, basil, oregano and thyme

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread tomato quarters and onion on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with fresh herbs. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then, using a wooden spoon (or your hands), combine until vegetables are lightly coated with oil and vinegar.

Roast vegetables in a 400 degree F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Puree. Freeze in batches, or use immediately.

fresh tomato bruschetta
Fresh Tomato Bruschetta, made with chopped fresh tomatoes tossed with a bit of olive oil and fresh basil then piled atop toasted bread, is easy and delicious.




It’s Too Darn Hot!

As the dog days of August grind on and the gardens seem to be steaming in the humid weather, we’re as grateful as ever for the various shade gardens we keep on the property. Set beneath the leafy canopies of mature trees or in the long shadows they cast, these lush, colorful oases provide shelter from the blistering sun, and there’s plenty to interest any gardener.

Shown in the photo above: We love the combination of Athyrium ‘Ghost’ with the dark purple iridescent leaves of Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). Please note that the ferns need to be 2 years old to achieve the height necessary to pair them with the Persian Shield, which is planted each year as an annual in our part of the world.

Shade comes to life with the lively colors of Coleus ‘Bronze Pagoda,’ Hosta ‘Krossa Regal,’ and the chartreuse blades of Hakonechloa ‘All Gold.’

At this time of year, we’re especially pleased to show off the plantings in these gardens, proof positive that shady spots need not be dull. By mixing perennials, annuals and shrubs in these low-light areas, our head gardener Cheryl Whalen and her team mix colors, forms, foliage, and patterns to create a sense of lushness and beauty.

The variegated leaves of Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’ work beautifully with a red-leaved caladium, bicolor impatiens, and a dark-leaved Begonia ‘Whopper Rose with Bronze Leaf.’

Watering these gardens is critical, especially when plants are young and getting started. This is especially true if they’re planted inside the drip line of any tree with dense foliage. (Whenever a tree acts as a giant umbrella, preventing rainfall from getting to the plantings below, this is the condition known as “dry shade.” Few plants thrive in it, although established hostas and epimediums will manage. Others will need water.)

Icy tones are especially cooling in the heat of summer. This fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) with frosted foliage looks marvelous alongside the dark, round leaves of Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’.

The photos below show a broad variety of shade garden combinations that Cheryl has created in various years. Some of the perennials or shrubs such as hydrangeas, hostas, hakonechloa grass, ligularia, rodgersia, astilbe, and ferns may stay in place, but annuals including fuchsia, impatiens, coleus, and caladiums, and smaller perennials such as heucheras may be changed out from year to year depending on what we’re trialing and what Cheryl finds appealing.

Here’s what one shade garden looked like in early spring. The leaves of Rodgersia, Astilboides tabularis, Podophyllum, Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and columbines are poking through the soil, and Cheryl and her staff have planted colorful Impatiens.

As you retreat to the shady spots in your garden, keep in mind some of these combinations for next year.

Hydrangea Color Fantasy(R) adds its large, deep purple Mophead blossoms to the shady color show. Its companions include two types of coleus, a variegated impatiens, and nonstop flowering Begonia Dragon Wing(R) Pink.

1The pinkish-red leaves of Caladium ‘Florida Cardinal’ add a bright pop of color to shade gardens alongside chartreuse Heucherella ‘Alabama Sunrise,’ a green-leaved hosta, and the needle-like leaves of Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’).

12. annual collections photo_collection shot on poolhouse deck_closeup

Annual Collections, Ready for Their Close-Ups

Each year, we have the considerable fun of creating new annual collections. We start the process in spring when our horticultural experts pot up various annuals (and sometimes a few perennials, too) to create eye-catching, high performance, ready-made plant combos for patio pots.

5. annual collections photo_poolside closeup_2
The team that creates our annual collections considers everything from color to mature plant size, and they try different combinations until something pleasing develops.

In general, our staff members begin with the idea that each collection needs a “thriller” (a tall, upright variety), a “filler” (something mounding to fill the middle), and a “spiller” (a cascading variety that trails over the side of the pot). After that, some preference is given to incorporating annuals that are new introductions or rediscovered gems because, like new toys, they’re fun to play with. Beyond that, our experts have at hand a wide variety of the annuals we offer (plus, occasionally, a perennial or two). Before a collection can be created, it’s essential that the creator take into account the form, foliage, blossom type and color, and the mature size of each individual plant being considered. From there, our staff members get to work, trying this with that, and that with this, until something pleasing develops. But the real test is just about to begin.

2. annual collections photo_hoop house with collections_shot from inside
Annual collections growing in the hoop house.

New collections are corralled in the relative shelter of a hoop house here at the farm. Out of public view, we let them grow as summer progresses, providing regular water and occasional fertilizer to encourage good growth. If some plants, such as a particular coleus or potato vine, show rampant growth, we pinch them back to promote better branching, or prune here and there to keep a plant in proportion to its neighbors. In late July or early August, a group of staff members tours the hoop house and assesses the combos. The most successful are those that have grown well together so that individual elements are healthy and happy, and the overall effect is one of colorful synthesis and visual harmony.

These collections are flagged for photography, and as soon as collections are deemed to be looking their best, we schedule a series of photo shoots.

1. annual collections photography_poolside with reflector and tripod
Photo shoots are fun, but also lots of work.

Anyone who has ever worked on a photo shoot of any kind can tell you they’re all about camaraderie and collaboration and fun, but they’re also LOTS of work. While sometimes we photograph collections off-site, we prefer to do the bulk of photography here at the farm. (Quite simply, it’s less backache for all of us, and there’s a reduced chance of damaging the collections as we move them from one place to another.)

4. annual collections photo_gator transportation with barb
Blue skies always provide a beautiful background.

For each outdoor shoot, we beg Mother Nature for an overcast day (because it provides the consistent lighting that’s best for photography) or, if she can’t manage that, for blue skies, which always make an irresistible backdrop no matter what’s being photographed.

11. annual collection photo_kindra and EA checking shot
Standing in the shade of the pool house, the photographer and a few staffers check the shots as they’re taken.

With photographer in tow, and with the color and structure specifics of each new annual collection in mind, we review the possible locations. At the farm, that means buzzing around in our golf-cartlike Gator surveying the shady lane with the stonewall, the sunny stretch by the Lloyd Border, the stone steps, the porch on the cottage, the pool area, the field, and so on. When individual sites are selected for each collection, we head back to the hoop house and load up the pots for transportation to their assigned locations.

7a. annual collections photo_a pause for stylling_who needs yoga
It takes many talented staff members to bring each shot together.

This season, Barb Pierson, our Nursery Manager, and Ray Hinman, our Product Development Coordinator, were on hand to help with hefting the pots and tending the plants. (“Tending” largely involves pinching off any faded blooms and browned leaves and getting vines like trailing potato vine to drape in the direction the photographer thinks is best.) Graphic designer Teresa Fox helped with camera angles, composition, and lighting, and she could often been seen holding aloft the scrims that are used to provide shade or redirect natural light. (This can be quite a workout in a stiff breeze!) Eliot Wadsworth, our marketing director, oversaw this summer’s shoots.

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Sweeping away stray pebbles that could show up in a photograph.

Cameras are both beloved and despised because they capture the smallest details. We get richly saturated colors on the blossoms we love, and the texture of various types of foliage comes through, but the lens also captures stray pebbles and downed leaves on poolside flagstone, weeds growing at the foot of container pot, and grass that’s too high or as burnt as toast in this driest of dry summers. So every shoot involves a fair amount of fussing to make each site as free of imperfections and distractions as possible. (We want you to look at the collection, not the dandelions.) Members of the crew take up brooms, rakes, and scissors, and work together to primp, pull weeds, sweep, and trim grass until we get things right.

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The result of a day’s work — a stunning photograph!

But even when we get a stunning photograph, the most important thing to know about our annual collections is something that cannot be captured in a single frame. The truth is anyone can combine a group of plants and arrange them to look marvelous on the day of a photo shoot, but the test is whether the collection will look just as great over time. That’s why we trial our plant combos in the first place. Our collections not only go together, they grow together beautifully from spring to frost, or we wouldn’t offer them. Getting annual collections right can be frustrating. Some collections start out as terrific ideas, but the plants simply don’t work together they way we want them to. Those collections are discarded, and we go back to the drawing board the next year. Our trial and photography process is designed to ensure that your patio pots will look as beautiful as ours do all season long – not just in the pictures.


Visit Someone Else’s Garden for Inspiration

By Margret Delves Broughton, Public Relations

I find it ironic that every year, by the time it’s mid-summer, I am kind of over gardening.  Isn’t this the very moment I’ve been waiting for? After all, there shouldn’t be too many nasty surprises lurking on the horizon. Not a frost in sight. Everything that’s going to come up for the season has either already bloomed or at least it’s on it’s way. I have honed my Tomato-growing practice to a single, glorious plant (‘Red Currant’ this year). Shouldn’t I be strolling through the garden, feeling nothing but bliss?

But no. I find myself looking around, agitating about all the dull stuff that needs to get done. My Leucanthemum is starting to go past. I should get out there and deadhead the ones that have lost their color. I should also probably get my soil tested. I should deadhead my Nepeta. And my Alchemilla Mollis. I want to get better vases for my Dahlias. I should add lime to my soil to make them bloom better next year. I should plant more Blueberries and figure out some way to keep the birds away. The list goes on.

A visit to Michael Trapp’s garden in West Cornwall, CT, is a treat for anyone.

A few weeks ago, when I felt buried in garden busy-work, I got an email from The Garden Conservancy. There were open gardens in my area. Facing nothing but chores in my own garden, I headed for West Cornwall, CT, to see what other gardeners were up to. I had been to Open Days before but not for years. There was always too much to do at home, and I was sure that looking at other gardens would overwhelm me with jealousy.

In short, let me say that looking at other people’s rather perfect gardens has been the best way to rekindle interest in my own garden. It’s not that my garden compared favorably (in fact, it was quite the opposite), but it was exciting – and I don’t use that word lightly – to see the very personal and very concrete results of what must have been thousands (millions?) of decisions, many of which were probably challenged along the way.  It was like seeing the “after” pictures in a before/after series. You know how they can be  gratifying, even if you had nothing to do with the project? How it makes you think you can do the same thing, even if you don’t want to? It doesn’t matter! It’s fun just knowing what’s possible!

I think I need this pool. Thanks for showing me that it’s possible!

I got so hooked on Open Days, a few weeks later, I attended one of the Garden Conservancy’s Digging Deeper lectures at Twin Maples in Salisbury, CT. The subject was Exploring Twin Maples – The Evolution of a Garden. It promised a setting that “flows smoothly from architecture to nature, from formal garden to field, with extraordinary views of the Litchfield Hills.”  It made good on those promises and so much more (out of respect for the owner’s privacy, photographs are not to be published).

Visiting Michael Trapp’s garden made me realize that my garden is in desperate need of a bed or two of Ostrich Ferns and Ivy.

I could go on and on about what I saw, but instead I will conclude with the top 10 things I learned:

1. If I ever have a swimming pool, it will be 10′ x 60′.

2. Perennial wildflower meadows do NOT come from a can of seeds.

3. I must own a ‘Quick Fire’ Hydrangea. Or 10. The white blooms practically glow in the dark and they can bloom as early as June.

4. When in doubt, use Ostrich Ferns towering above any ground cover.

5. Growing six ‘Black Beauty’ Lilies is not enough. Go for around 100. Seriously.

6. Next year, I will stake my Dahlias with Tomato cages, and hang little tags on them to keep track of the varieties. Why didn’t I think of that before?

7. A garden without a destination is not a garden. Plant an orchard within a meadow, or put a stone bench just about anywhere.

8. Wildflower meadows look different every year.

9. There are very stylish ways to use common plants. Oh yes, there are.

10. No garden is too fancy to keep pets.

This is a corner of my own garden, occupied by Max on a hot day. He smushed the plants, but he looks cute, so he gets to sit there whenever he wants.

For more information about the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, click here.


The Best Way to Water Your Plants

With summer heat baking much of the nation, it’s a good time to review some of the basics of watering. Our horticultural advisors have lately received a number of contacts about issues pertaining to plants that are being either under-watered or over-watered.

White Flower Farm store staff watering plants

Cathy Hughes, Senior Horticulturist for the Customer Service Call Center, says, “I just had a phone call that perfectly illustrates the concern. The customer lives in Queens, N.Y., and she wanted to know why the leaves on her ‘Patriot’ hostas turn brown every summer. I asked how long they’ve been established, and how often they get watered. She said they were planted three years ago, and are watered with an automatic sprinkler system every morning and evening for 15 minutes each time.”

Automatic sprinkler or irrigation systems are a convenience for many gardeners, but they need to be properly programmed and adjusted for weather conditions. We’ve all seen sprinkler systems running after (and even during) a deluge. Auto irrigation systems also are generally the culprit when watering is being done in 15-minute intervals.

When the soil is dry, established perennials should be watered to a depth of 2_ then allow the soil to
When the soil is dry, established perennials should be watered to a depth of 2 inches.

A better method is to water plants less frequently but more deeply. You want the soil to dry out between waterings because that’s what encourages healthy root systems. “Shallow watering, the kind you get when you turn on the hose or irrigation system for 15 minutes, promotes shallow root systems because plants don’t have to go looking for water,” Cathy says. “The water problem is exacerbated if the soil is mulched because the mulch facilitates water retention.”

watering_check soil by sticking your finger in
Check the moisture level of your soil by sticking your finger in the dirt, or push a spade in and remove a clot of earth to see how deep the dryness goes.

As a general rule of thumb for established perennials, Cathy advises “watering when the soil is dry to a depth of 2”, and always checking the soil before watering because hot weather does not necessarily mean the soil is drying out, especially if conditions are humid.” In addition, plants may wilt as a response to high temperatures, but the soil may still be moist. If the plant recovers either late in the day or early in the morning, and you have not watered, this is a clear indication that the soil is still moist.

The best way to check the soil is to stick your finger in the dirt, or push a spade in and remove a clot of earth to see how deep the dryness goes.

watering, wand, impatiens, new guinea, variegated
Not all plants require the same amount of watering. Hand-held watering devices can help direct water to the plants that need it most.

Gardeners should keep in mind that different plants have different watering needs. Annuals, which are planted in spring and give their all in one season, generally need more water than perennials that have many seasons to develop root systems; plants situated in full sun almost always need more water than those in shade; plants that live beneath large trees, where they’re forced to compete against tree roots for water, will need more hydration support than most; and new plantings will require more regular watering than established plants.

watering_container pots should be checked daily during the hottest weather
Container pots should be checked daily during the hottest weather.

Container pots are a different story. They tend to dry out quickly, especially if pots are made of porous materials such as terra cotta. Most pots, unless they’re filled with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants, will need to be checked daily especially in the heat of summer.

For tips on proper watering of your vegetable garden, see our June 14, 2016 blog post “Caring for Your Vegetable Plants.”