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In Snow-Covered New England, We Dream of a Tropical Paradise

With the Northeast under a blanket of snow, and icy winds shaking the branches of bare trees, our bodies and our spirits crave respite. It’s one of the reasons we try each winter to visit Sarasota, Florida, and the earthly paradise known as the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. This lush oasis is the former home of Bill and Marie Selby, who purchased 7 acres of bay-front property in the 1920s. They built a modest, Spanish-style home amid a grove of banyan and laurel trees. Marie Selby, an accomplished pianist who counted nature and the outdoors among her passions, soon began gardening. It was later observed that she preferred garden clothes to the fancy dresses and ball gowns favored by Sarasota’s social set, and if she was seen around town, she stood out as the woman in a simple cotton dress and sneakers.

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The former home of Bill and Marie Selby in the heart of Sarasota, Florida. (Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.)

In more than five decades, Selby created a series of gardens around her home: a formal rose garden, flowering borders, and groves of palms, banyans, mangroves, and bamboo. (The latter was installed to screen out the view of condominiums and hotels that began crowding the shoreline on the other side of the bay.)

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

Selby died in 1971, and she bequeathed her home and gardens to Sarasota with the hope that the site be maintained as a botanical garden “for the enjoyment of the general public.” In 1975, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens opened officially, and in the ensuing years, her dreams have only been enhanced. Marie Selby’s private oasis has expanded to 15 acres and 12 buildings. It hosts more than 150,000 visitors each year and has developed a reputation as a world leader in the conservation and study of plants, particularly epiphytes (those that are adapted to living in the tree canopy), including orchids, ferns, bromeliads and gesneriads.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

The Selby collection includes more than 20,000 living plants, which are showcased in the gardens that surround the house. Visitors generally begin their tour in the Tropical Conservatory. One of nine greenhouses on the property, it’s the only one that’s open to the general public. Inside, visitors will find a lush re-creation of a rainforest filled with blossoming orchids, bromeliads, palms, ferns and other tropical plants. The display is refreshed on a regular basis to make the most of the plants in the Selby’s extensive collection. Visitors tend to stroll slowly through the conservatory, stopping to take photographs or to study the extraordinary detail on the various orchid blossoms.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

Visitors exit the conservatory and step outdoors, free to wander pathways punctuated with various species of palm trees (including the beautiful grey-leaved Bismarck Palm) and to explore Selby’s other attractions. The Fern Garden and Koi Pond offer a cooling, shady spot with a decidedly Asian-influenced design. Next, it’s a short walk to the Banyan Grove.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

Banyan is a broad genus that includes the Morton Bay Fig, specimens of which can be seen on the Selby property. This stately tree forms a massive trunk with roots that grow partly above ground and resemble the tentacles of a giant octopus. Adventurous young visitors to Selby have been seen climbing amid the roots, which also can be seen from above. Over the years, Selby Gardens has installed a series of suspended wooden bridges and aerial platforms that invite visitors to climb up under the shade canopy. Each platform perch affords a bird’s eye view of the root systems and the gardens beyond.

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Another type of banyan that can be seen on Selby property is the “strangler fig,” a fascinating specimen that begins life as an epiphyte. When strangler seeds are dropped by birds, a lucky one might land in the crevice of a tree or atop a piece of garden statuary. The seed germinates, and as it grows, it sends down aerial roots to the ground. The aerial roots take hold, and the strangler fig tree is now independently anchored. As its trunk begins to widen, the strangler sends down more aerial roots, and those, too, take hold. The tree is now spreading laterally, its pattern of growth resembling an expanding group of columns. The growth continues, and oftentimes, the host is enveloped and destroyed.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

More fascinations await across the Great Lawn, scene of many a Sarasota wedding. Here, there is an opening that affords a panoramic view of Sarasota Bay. As a warm breeze blows in off the water and the waves glisten in the sun, visitors can take a bench seat and sit for a bit. The view presents a stunning contrast: Selby’s verdant surrounds find their opposite in the stacks of condo, apartment and hotel towers crowding every square inch of the waterfront across the bay. The presence of some of these buildings inspired Marie Selby to install a fast-growing Bamboo Garden, which serves as a green screen blocking a view she found offensive.

From the breezy point, visitors can follow the shady wooden path of the Mangrove Baywalk. With the waves lapping on one side, you enter what feels like a green tunnel amid the mangroves. These remarkable plants sink their roots dug securely into the sand in shallow water. Their salt-tolerant roots house complicated salt filtration systems, and they function as a natural defense system in the battle against erosion and tidal surge.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

Emerge from the Mangrove Baywalk, and it’s on to open areas that feature the Selby’s lovely Butterfly Garden, Fragrance Garden, and Edible Garden. These more formal spaces verge on the house.

In addition to the gardens, the Selby offers other attractions as well. Each year brings a variety of educational events including classes, workshops and academic lectures. Additionally, there are botanical art exhibits, and fundraisers including the Orchid Ball and Spring and Fall Concert Series. The latest exhibition, “Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams,” explores the connection between Selby’s gardens and the flowers and plants that inspired some of Chagall’s paintings. The show opened to the public on Feb. 12, and runs through July 2017.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

While the Selby has obvious appeal to gardeners and horticultural experts, it’s also welcoming to children of all ages. Its array of exotic tropical plants, and the thoughtfully designed, kid-friendly exhibit spaces give it the feel of Nature’s Disneyland.

Open 364 days a year, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are at 900 South Palm Ave., Sarasota, FLA. For more information, visit www.selby.org.

 

 

 

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‘Holiday’ in Atlanta

The winter holidays come to an end for most of us the day after New Year’s when empty champagne bottles and party hats are tossed out, and it’s time to get back to the office. But if you happen to work in the gifting business, which, in part, we do, mid-January requires that we celebrate all over again at the annual Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market®. This remarkable show, which this year attracted more than 7,000 vendors and 100,000 visitors to Atlanta, Georgia, was like getting a glimpse of Christmas Future long before the real event.

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Floors and floors of showrooms at the International Gift and Home Furnishings Market in Atlanta.

This year’s show was held from January 10 to 17 at Atlanta’s AmericasMart®. The focus, as always, is on holiday gift, floral and home décor, and to say the spectacle is a bit overwhelming would be an understatement. The 7,000 brands are spread throughout three buildings, each housing about 20 floors. Some of the vendors keep year-round showrooms, but many arrive just before visitors do, and they set up temporary showrooms for the duration of the show.

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This year, we were delighted to send our new hard goods manager, Nikki Fappiano, to the show. An experienced buyer, she went armed with a shopping list, camera and notepad. For three days, she hunted for treasures for our holiday 2017 season.

“It’s hard to get back into the holiday mindset the second week in January after just putting holiday 2016 to bed,” Nikki says. “But the excitement of the show – with new products, new vendors, and tons of people – really helps.”

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Nikki walked an average of 7 miles each day, visiting with vendors who currently do business with White Flower Farm, and meeting new ones. Two floors, called the “Gardens,” are dedicated exclusively to lawn and garden products. She spent time there, and also voyaged into other areas including Holiday, Floral, and Gift & Home Accents. She gathered up ideas, spotted emerging trends, and placed orders for items we’ll be trying out.

Overall, “trends are ranging from farmhouse to gleaming metal,” she says, with the continued popularity of copper and bronze, galvanized metals, and gun-metal gray colors all in abundance in vases, planters and boxes for 2017.

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Gleaming copper is still trending with bronze and galvanized metal also ubiquitous.

She spotted macramé plant hangers, a flashback to the ‘70s that have also been seen in magazines and catalogs and glimpsed in a contemporary style renovation project on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” Wall planters for creating “green walls” indoors were ubiquitous with presentations including receptacles for low-maintenance succulents, and ferns.

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Flat-sided wicker baskets create a “green” wall of ferns and other plantings.

Succulents were seen again alongside air plants, which have trended in the last few years. They remain must-have items for interiors, and were seen in any number of beguiling presentations from terrarium-size conservatories that house the plants in glass and metal structures to single plants tucked inside suspended glass balls.

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The popularity of easy-care succulents and air plants shows no sign of subsiding.

For color trends in planters, a palette of whites, beiges and pale grays could be seen with the neutrals providing an understated background for plants and flowers. Added detail was found in textures, which ranged from earthy to marble to geometric surfaces, including patterns on glass.

Rustic and natural accents abounded with bowls and candleholders made from driftwood, some providing a home for succulents.

One cute surprise was the prevalence of pineapples in gift items and home décor accents. The motif was expressed in everything from mantel decorations to large garden statues.

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Conservatory-style containers were glimpsed alongside a variety of other vessels designed for displaying plants indoors.

Nikki returned with notes, photos, and plenty of ideas. As we write this post in early February, the samples she requested have begun to arrive. Meetings soon will be had, selections will be made, and orders put in.

White Flower Farm customers can look forward to seeing her favorite finds when we roll out our Holiday 2017 collection in our catalog and on the website in October. (You might even get a sneak peek at some of the items this fall.) We can’t wait to show you!

 

 

 

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Caring for Cut Flowers

In the depths of winter, when color in the landscape is hard to come by and the flowers that filled our summer gardens exist only, for the time being, in our memories and imaginations, many of us decorate our homes with cut flowers. The sight of a bountiful bouquet of flowers, or the fragrance of lilies and other blossoms can do wonders for winter-weary spirits. Many of us also give and receive cut flowers for Valentine’s Day, which, as it happens, is coming right up.

To help you properly care for your cut flowers, our video crew recently went to work readying a film on the topic. As it works its way through post-production, we thought we’d provide a few timely tips. So, just in time for your Valentine’s Day delivery, here are a few quick and easy pointers on caring for cut flowers:

Whether your bouquet arrives by mail order or from a local shop, open the box or bag as soon as possible and carefully remove all packaging materials. (If the flowers are wrapped in a cello sleeve, slice the sleeve off rather than pulling the flowers out. The same is true for rubber bands or plastic binders. Cut them and gently tug them off the stems. Pulling the stems free can break off petals, buds or blooms.) Set your flowers beside the sink.

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Find a vase you wish to use, or use the one that may have arrived with your bouquet. The vase should be sized appropriately for your flowers. Even the most beautiful bouquet will look terrible in a vessel that has too wide a neck (which causes the stems to splay and the bouquet to look sparse) or one that’s too small (which can crush or bruise the flower stems thereby shortening the life of your bouquet). In terms of height, designers generally select a vase that is 1½ times shorter than the stems. All of that said, the main idea is to please yourself, so choose the vase you love best or the one that has the most meaning to you.

Disinfect the Vase

If the vase is your own, be sure it’s clean. A general practice employed in the floral trade is to disinfect with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Make certain to rinse the vase thoroughly to eliminate the bleach. Fill your vase two-thirds full of lukewarm water.

Don’t Overfeed

If plant food arrives with your bouquet (it will resemble a small sugar packet), take a minute to read the instructions on the label, which generally call for a small amount to be mixed in (not the whole package at once). Add the recommended amount to the water and stir it in. Do not add too much and overfeed as this may cause harm to your flowers. Conserve any remaining plant food for use in the coming days when you refresh the water. Remember that plant food does not always accompany bouquets. Many bulbous blooms such as lilies, tulips, daffodils and iris don’t require it.

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Provide Support

Flowers are easiest to arrange if they’re held in place. Use a flower frog or floral foam in the bottom of the vase, if possible, or use cello tape to create a lattice pattern across the top of the vase, leaving openings at intervals for the stems.

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Hydration Is the Key

The most important thing you can do for cut flowers is to give them water. If hydration is denied for too long, blossoms will droop and fade away. (We’ve all seen bouquets in which budded roses never bloom, they simply hang their heads and dry out, most likely due to lack of water.)

Using a pair of sharp scissors or pruners, cut at least 1 inch off the bottom of each stem, cutting the stems at an angle so they won’t sit flat against the bottom of the vase, inhibiting the uptake of water. Strip away any leaves that will otherwise be submerged in the vase. (Submerged leaves can invite bacteria.) Set each stem in water as quickly as possible. Continue with the other flowers in the bouquet, arranging them as you go. Don’t be afraid to pull them out and rearrange them to create a composition you like. Remember that some flowers including roses and lilies may arrive in bud stage and open gradually. Keep their mature sizes and shapes in mind as you place the stems.

If you can’t fit all of the flowers into a single vase, try using extra vessels. Likewise, if there’s a flower you don’t like in a mixed bouquet but would prefer to feature on its own, create two arrangements.

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Set your flowers in a bright spot with no direct sunlight. Avoid putting them on or alongside a heat source such as a radiator or fireplace. Check the water level regularly, adding more as needed. Change the water completely every few days to keep it fresh and clean, adding more plant food, if it came with your bouquet. If you see any flowers beginning to droop or “neck over,” trim their stems by another inch or so, and put them back in water. As days pass and some flowers naturally subside, remove and discard them. If a few flowers outlast all the others, transfer them to a smaller vase to enjoy them for as long as possible.

All of this may sound like a lot of work for one bouquet of flowers, but we promise the preparations go quickly, most are plain common sense, and they’ll help you get the most out of your beautiful bouquet.

 

 

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Asclepias tuberosa: Essential Monarch Food & a Whole Lot More

Asclepias tuberosa, our native Butterfly Weed, has long been a favorite in the borders, beds and meadows here at the farm. In recent years, it’s attracted significant attention as an essential source of food for Monarch butterflies who feed on it during their larval stage. (For more information about its role in sustaining Monarchs, visit the website for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.)

This year, it was named the 2017 Perennial of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.

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The nectar-rich blossoms of Asclepias tuberosa provide food for a wide variety of pollinators.

We have long encouraged plantings of Asclepias tuberosa (pronounced uh-sklee’pee-us) because, in addition to providing food for Monarchs and nectar for a wide variety of pollinators, it’s a boldly colorful bloomer that provides four seasons of interest in the garden. Hardy in zones 4 through 9S and 10W, it grows a modest 1- to 2-feet tall, making it ideal for the edge of the border. The plants produce clusters of brilliantly colored, nectar-rich orange blooms from July through September. (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow,’ an enhanced native variety, grows 2–to 3-feet tall and produces yellow flowers.) These plants shrug off drought, do well even in poor soil, and are deer resistant.

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Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’

As autumn arrives, Asclepias tuberosa’s seedpods add interest to borders and beds. The slim, decorative pods are filled with papery seeds. As the season progresses, the pods split open, and the seeds, which are attached to silky white parachutes, scatter in the wind. The plant’s pale, empty husks remain, and as winter settles in, the pods look magnificent coated in frost and then in swirling snow. The winter beauty of this plant is not lost on Dutch designer Piet Oudolf who included Asclepias tuberosa in his design for New York City’s High Line.

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Milkweed pods. Photo courtesy of Deborah Silver of Deborah Silver and Co.

A 2014 post on the Friends of the High Line blog notes: “The intricate flowers [of Asclepias tuberosa] are stars of the garden in the summer, but the empty husks of the seed pods remain an integral part of the winter garden as well. These oblong golden-gray husks are dry and slightly twisted, warped from the process of drying out. The outsides are rough and gray, with a hint of gold when the light is right. The insides are soft white, reminiscent of the silky hairs that caught the wind and carried the seeds away. These pods crown the remnant skeleton of the stem, providing a subtle, textural beauty during the deep cold of winter. These structures remind us that to High Line planting designer Piet Oudolf, ‘the skeletons of the plants . . . are just as important as the flowers.’ ”

When planting Asclepias tuberosa, be mindful of a few things. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil (sandy soil is ideal; clay and heavily enriched soils are not). After planting, water the plant deeply then hold off until you see it begin to wilt a bit. If your Asclepias tuberosa develops yellow, chlorotic-looking leaves, it’s an indication that you’re over-watering.

Since some perennial Milkweed varieties are among the last to emerge from dormancy in spring, you might want to mark their location so you don’t plant something on top of them.

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Create a tone-on-tone palette by planting Asclepias tuberosa with other orange-flowering plants including Zinnia ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame.’

Design-wise, as with many additions to the garden, Asclepias tuberosa is most effective planted in clusters of three or more. To create an eye-popping contrast of colors and flower forms, showcase the bold bright orange blossoms alongside the deep purple flower spikes of Salvia ‘May Night’ and Liatris ‘Kobold.’ For a tone-on-tone effect, our head gardener has planted orange-flowering Asclepias tuberosa amid a sea of other orange bloomers such as Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange,’ Echinacea Butterfly™ ‘Julia,’ Butterfly™ ‘Postman,’ or Prairie Pillars™ ‘Flame Thrower,’ and Helenium ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy.’ In meadow gardens, the orange flowers pair beautifully with ornamental grasses including the 18”–30” Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ and the blue spiky foliage of Festuca glauca Beyond Blue™. They’re also a terrific companion for Amsonia hubrechtii, which has green needle-like foliage that turns into a cloud of yellow in fall.

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Asclepias tuberosa with the purple flower spikes of Liatris spicata ‘Kobold,’ and the deep lavender blossoms of Stokesia (more commonly called Stokes’ Aster).

Be aware that Asclepias tuberosa does not appreciate being moved once it’s settled in. The plants produce deep taproots that are better left alone once planted, so site it with care, let it be, and enjoy all of the benefits of this tremendously valuable plant.

 

 

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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.