Monthly Archives: January 2018

Plants for Pollinators

The key to attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your garden is to offer a steady supply of nutritious, delicious foods throughout the entire growing season. The varieties you see here should be considered essential elements of any successful pollinator garden. They produce an abundance of colorful blossoms that pollinators thrive on, and they will attract their fair share of human admirers, too.

Liatris spicata 'Kobold'
Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’

Liatris
A North American genus consisting of about 20 species. Liatris is excellent for cutting, superb for drying, and beautiful in the border, where it looks best planted in groups. It is also a strong favorite with many butterflies. Plants offered thrive in full sun or partial shade and well-drained, even dry, soil, but they struggle in the desert Southwest.

Salvia Wendy's Wish
Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’

Salvia
Many annual forms of Salvia are widely grown for their easy disposition and vivid colors, and these are midsummer staples at every garden center. Our favorites are less well known
and offer deep, rich colors that will bring a garden to life. Among the choices we offer is Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish,’ a vigorous Australian selection that’s a favorite of our director of horticulture.

Asclepias syriaca
Asclepias syriaca

Asclepias
A familiar sight in meadows and fields across central and eastern parts of our country, Common Milkweed is an essential source of food for Monarch butterflies. Milkweed plants are content in poor and even rocky soils, and are unfazed by drought. They make a superb addition to butterfly gardens and meadows. Of the 200 species in the genus, the best known are North American wildflowers. They have small, curiously shaped blooms that appear in dense clusters and are irresistible to butterflies. Milkweed flowers evolve into seedpods, which open to release seeds on silky white floss. The pods are attractive in the autumn and winter garden, and they’re great for flower arrangements.

Buddleia davidii Buzz™
Buddleia davidii Buzz™

Buddleia
There are some 70 species of shrubs and small trees in the genus Buddleia, the best being Asian natives. The most popular are varieties of B. davidii and its hybrids with long stems ending in panicles of flowers that are ambrosia to butterflies. In cold-winter climates such as ours, plants are often killed almost to the ground. We prune back to live wood in spring and always have a spectacular show starting in midsummer. Best in full sun and moist but well-drained soil.

Sweet Pea 'Cupanis Original'

Here Come the Sweet Peas

The exquisite colors and sweet fragrance of Sweet Peas have made them a longtime favorite of floral designers. But because these plants adhere to a somewhat tricky timetable and require a bit of special care as they grow, they are rarely (if ever) found in garden centers or nurseries. Sweet Peas are started from seeds in late winter, and this can be a defeating proposition for anyone in a cool climate who lacks a heated greenhouse or indoor seed-starting capabilities. Sweet Peas are vining plants, and they tend to tangle as they grow, making them difficult to display on the crowded shelves in most stores.

Sweet Pea 'Cheri Amour'
Sweet Pea ‘Cheri Amour’

Because we love these annuals, and because the demand for them has grown in recent years, we undertook a trial this summer to see if we could ship Sweet Pea plants (not seeds) to our customers. We began by ordering Sweet Pea seeds in a range of pleasing colors. (This is easy work given the range of captivating colors and bicolors available.) We propagated the seeds in our greenhouses, and in early May, just prior to what turned out to be the season’s last frost, we transplanted some of the seedlings into our gardens at the farm. (Sweet Peas can take a bit of cold, and they came through the frost just fine. What they can’t tolerate is high heat.) Other Sweet Pea seedlings were shipped to our homes to ensure that our packaging held the plants securely and that the plants themselves would come through their few days in dark boxes in the back of unheated trucks.

Sweet Pea Jewels of Albion
Sweet Pea Jewels of Albion

The happy ending to this story is that all of the Sweet Peas we trialed exceeded our expectations. Our gardens were filled with these lovely blooms, many of them sweetly scented, for weeks in June and July, which is roughly when the plants subside. As of this writing, our horticulture staff is selecting the varieties of Sweet Pea plants we’ll be offering to you in next spring’s Garden Book. Our publications team is putting together the information you’ll need to grow these plants, which require the support of a trellis, fence, tuteur or bamboo stake, along with techniques for encouraging the maximum number of blooms and the long, straight stems that are prized for cutting.

For a preview of some of these techniques and to learn more about Sweet Peas, visit the superb blog post on the topic by our friend Matt Mattus, the author behind Growing With Plants. You’ll find it here.

Create a Dramatic Patio Container

ANNUALS ARE DELIGHTFULLY VERSATILE

Look to annuals to create exceptional potted plantings for patios, decks, terraces, porches, and front entries, or as a focal point within a border. Annuals can also be used to fill in spaces after spring bulbs or perennials have finished their show. Or use them to add splashes of color in front of a border or in any other high-visibility location.

Annuals work hard for your garden, since many provide either a continuous show of colorful blooms or attractive foliage; some even offer both. There are annuals that will suit virtually any color scheme, gardening style, and setting.

Verbena bonariensis
Verbena bonariensis

Since getting the right light for any plant is crucial, check our website for sun-loving annuals (the most common) as well as annuals that thrive in shade, such as Begonias and Impatiens. You can also shop for annuals by color, height, bloom time, growing zone, fragrance, deer resistance, attractiveness to butterflies, and other criteria. Our preplanned Annual Collections make it a cinch to enjoy stunning combinations.

Fountain Grass Fireworks Annual Collection
Fountain Grass Fireworks Annual Collection

If you want to play with design, annuals can offer instant gratification. They often have flowers already open, so you won’t need to wait to see how one plant’s color will match up with another’s. Best of all, when you create an annual planting with a pleasing mix of colors, forms, and textures, the display will last for many months.

TIPS FOR DESIGNING WITH ANNUALS

As you plan your own collections of annuals for containers, keep a few design tips in mind. Whatever you do, try to have fun with the process and remember that it’s easy to rearrange designs with annuals.

Coleus Tapestry Annual Collection
Coleus Tapestry Annual Collection

A harmonious color scheme features plants with similar hues, such as pastels or hot colors. Hues that are close together on the color wheel will generally produce a pleasing harmony.

Contrasting colors also can work well together, especially if they are opposites on the color wheel, such as yellow and purple, blue and orange, or red and green. Lighter and darker versions of each color will help to tie the scheme together, adding harmony to the dynamism of different colors.

Ornamental Grass Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks'
Ornamental Grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’

When in doubt, keep it simple. Start by using three to five different plants to create a container design. Strive for variety in the heights, forms and textures. Balance something tall and dramatic with billowing and trailing plants. Include selections with intriguing foliage, such as Coleus or an annual Fountain Grass. When grouping plantings in an area, it helps to have a unifying theme among the containers. For example, Cretan terra-cotta pots in different shapes can foster a casually cohesive display. Or plant a variety of annuals, herbs, or edible plants in elegant, Long Tom pots. You can also use these classic foot-high containers to line both sides of a walkway or to form a perimeter grouping on a patio.