Monthly Archives: February 2017

“Spring” in February

In the midst of a week when temperatures in the Northeast and many other parts of the country have been in the 60s, we’re seeing the effects of a sustained February warm-up in our gardens. Snowdrops are blooming here in Connecticut (they’re shown in the photo above, which was taken in mid-February), daffodil buds have appeared, and the leaves of some tulips are several inches out of the ground.

A warm February with temperatures in the 60s has convinced this Connecticut daffodil that it’s time to bloom. Roused from winter slumber, it sends up leaves and a blossom bud.

While most plants can sleep through a day or two of unseasonably warm temperatures, unusually hot weather that lasts for an extended period can cause them to wake from winter slumber and begin sending up tender shoots. With cold temperatures due to return later this week, and another month of winter ahead, some plants have been made vulnerable by this climatic miscue.

Tulip foliage appearing above ground in a Connecticut garden on February 22.

What’s to be done? We long ago abandoned worrying as a helpful course of action. Instead, we try to be patient and take a long view. We walk amid the garden beds to keep an eye on things. Any perennial or shrub whose roots have popped out of the ground due to frost heaves can be covered with soil, gently firmed into place, and watered to ameliorate the effects of its exposure to sunlight and wind. To protect bulbs, nursery manager Barb Pierson says, “With the unseasonably warm weather, early bloomers such as galanthus (snowdrops) and eranthis (winter aconite) may be showing foliage and blooms. They are conditioned naturally for cold weather fluctuations so no need to worry, just enjoy them! Other spring bloomers such as tulips, narcissus and hyacinths can get foliage burn if the temperatures are in the low 20’s and upper teens without snow protection for extended periods. Most seasons the flowers remain underground until later so you may get a little leaf burn but will still get a flower show. It’s possible that if our warm weather continues they could progress even further. If your local forecast calls for temps in the teens and you have a concern, you can use frost blankets, home linens or cloches to cover your plants. Do not use plastic bags, they are not effective. Mulch is not recommended. Unless you’re in an area free of digging critters, the mulch will attract them to your bulbs.”

Galanthus (snowdrops) blooming amid the February snow in a Connecticut garden.

It also may help to keep your faith in the rugged disposition and hardiness of many plants. We all take risks in the garden, trying out new plants and perhaps even pushing hardiness zones to incorporate things we love into our borders and beds. In the end, Nature will prevail. The extreme nature of this winter’s early warm-up will test some plants, and it may disrupt the bloom cycle of some spring-flowering trees and shrubs, but we can only wait and see. It’s important to remember that loss is an inevitable part of gardening no matter how experienced the green thumb and no matter what the weather brings from one year to another. When our true spring arrives at last, we can all look forward to a flower show that owes no small debt to resiliency. If any holes appear in our gardens where plants failed to thrive, they can be viewed as invitations to try something new, to accommodate changes, and to refine the gardens that do so much to sustain us.










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.

The Payne Mansion, home to the Museum of Botany & the Arts, on the grounds of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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.)

(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.

(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.

(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.

(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.


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.

(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.

(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.

(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




‘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.

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.


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.”


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.

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.

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.

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.

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!




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.