Monthly Archives: February 2018

Lavender Patch

Our Exclusive Perennial Collections: Building Blocks of Many Great Gardens

One of the keys to designing a lovely garden is to mass varieties of a single plant to create swaths of color. Whether you choose a grouping of Lavender plants for full sun, a collection of Astilbes for part-shade, or a variety of colorful Daylillies to line a sunny or partly sunny pathway, the massing of plants never fails to create a unified and beautiful sight while conveying the intentionality of design.

Perennials are natural building blocks for creating drifts of color because they return reliably year after year. Because we often plant multiples in our own gardens, we have, over time, developed a number of exclusive perennial collections that encourage gardeners to do the same in their gardens. These collections are superb for beginners, and they offer value and ease to experienced ones. Scroll below to see some of the effects that can be achieved when planting our perennial collections. The images might also inspire you to plant multiples of other ‘like’ plants, creating your own colorful drifts.

Lavender Patch
Lavender Patch

Lavenders are usually planted in large clumps of one variety, where their soft shade and cool, subtle foliage provide quiet dignity through the summer. In one of our trials, we discovered that a perfectly delightful effect can be had by combining several varieties whose disparate heights, colors, and forms flow together to produce a garden that is interesting and informal, but very definitely Lavender. Our Lavender Patch collection was born.

Whichever way you choose to plant Lavender, these aromatic subshrubs are popular in herb gardens as well as in the perennial border. The intensely perfumed blue-violet, mauve, pink, or white flowers are treasured for drying and making potpourri. The foliage of Lavender is a standout in the garden where its silvery or gray-green hues contrast nicely with its neighbors. Lavenders thrive in the arid West, but are best grown as annuals or container plants in the South, as they do not thrive in areas of high humidity (with the exception of Lavandula dentata and L. stoechas). We love to use them to line a driveway or sunny path or to create a low hedge around a pool enclosure or along a fence.

Cornerstone Astilbe Collection
Cornerstone Astilbe Collection

Graceful to look at yet rugged as can be, Astilbe plants are a superb building block for part-shade gardens. Planted in drifts, they send up clouds of color in summer, their fuzzy plumes also adding beauty and texture above feathery green foliage. Over time, their root systems form mats that help suppress weeds. Our Cornerstone Collection, previously known as “Old Ironsides” for its remarkable durability, is a collection of 12 plants—3 each of a white, 2 different pinks, and a red—at a price that encourages mass plantings. It’s a great way to start a color parade in your shade garden, one that will continue throughout your lifetime and beyond.

Wings Over Water
Wings Over Water

Few flowers can compare with the grace and beauty of the Siberian Iris. Their arching standards and undulating falls, carried on strong stems above grassy, blue-green leaves, flutter in the softest breeze like exotic seabirds playing the wind. What’s more, no plants are more rugged and reliable. Given full sun or partial shade and average to damp soil, Siberian Iris form large clumps that bloom heavily after the first year. Because no garden should be without these beauties and no garden can have too many, we offer 3 plants each of 4 different varieties—in purple, white, and two shades of blue. Cluster them together in the mixed border or beside a pond. Simply stunning.

Unique 50 Daylilies - Hemerocallis
Unique 50 Daylilies – Hemerocallis

Cover a hillside, line a path or create a swath of color in a mixed border. Our rainbow of carefree color includes pink, purple, orange, yellow, and white Daylilies, 50 different named varieties (although plants are not labeled individually), selected by us from award-winning, reblooming, and fragrant varieties. These vigorous, hardy perennials settle in quickly and prosper in average, well-drained soil with at least a half day of sun. The show runs from July into September with no effort on your part. Our collection is the easiest and most economical way to buy Daylilies in mixed colors.

Click here to see more Preplanned Gardens and Exclusive Collections on our website.

Early Spring Bloomers

Start the spring color show early in your garden with a variety of early blooming perennials, shrubs, and trees. From Witch Hazels, which blossom in late winter, and Hellebores, which generally flower before the last of the snow has melted, to Virginia Bluebells, Brunneras, and Magnolias, there are countless ways to incorporate a rainbow of rich colors into your spring planting schemes. What better way to celebrate the arrival of a new growing season?

Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’

The best antidote to winter is a planting of Witch Hazels. This genus of 5 species of upright, spreading shrubs or small trees provides the first big display of color, beginning in late February or early March and continuing for 6 weeks or more depending on the season (the flower petals sensibly curl up if the temperatures plummet). For an even earlier display, cut some branches in January and force them into bloom indoors. Plants thrive in average, well-drained soil.

We love Witch Hazels for the color they bring to winter gardens and for their hardy, problem-free nature. ‘Jelena’ is a favorite, with large ribbonlike petals that gleam coppery orange. In autumn, the shrub lights up again as its matte green leaves turn fiery shades of red and yellow.

Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’

Hellebores are considered aristocrats of the woodland garden. Native to Europe and western Asia, the genus contains about 20 species of perennials that bloom in early winter in mild climates and in late winter or early spring where the soil freezes hard, which makes them either the last or the first flowers in the garden. In our gardens here at the farm, they are among the first plants to bloom, bringing a splash of color to the late winter garden, sometimes blossoming amid the last of the snow. They require a moist but well-drained site under the shade of trees. Take care to amend the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as well-aged leaf mold and compost. You’ll be rewarded with long-lived, deer- and vole-resistant plants that will spread nicely on their own.

Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’ is a large-blossomed beauty that was discovered by a gardener in Normandy, France, where her passion for growing Hellebores turned into a full-fledged hybridization program. The plant’s 3″ upfacing blooms are rich purple red, and are held above lush green foliage on tidy, clumping plants. Under greenhouse conditions at the nursery, many of these impressive blossoms exceeded 4″. A magnificent addition to shade gardens.

Forsythia x intermedia Show Off®
Forsythia x intermedia Show Off®

It is impossible to live in a northern climate and be unfamiliar with Forsythia. The durability, vigor, and abundant yellow flowers of this early bloomer make it one of the most popular and important ornamental plants known. Forsythia Show Off® is perfect for a tight hedge or a specimen in a border. From France comes this compact variety whose golden flowers are brighter, larger, and stacked closer along the stems from soil to tip. Another bonus is the dark green foliage.

Magnolia ‘Genie’

Magnolia is a genus of over 100 species of trees and shrubs widely distributed from the Himalayas to East Asia and in the Americas. Introduced Japanese and Chinese species and their hybrids, such as the showy white Star Magnolia and the pink Saucer Magnolia, draw the most attention in spring. The handful of species native to Eastern North America include the magnificent, evergreen Southern Magnolia (M. grandiflora), Sweet Bay (M. virginiana), and the large Cucumber Tree (M. acuminata).

Magnolia ‘Genie’ is a fairly compact variety, growing 12–15’. In early spring, lightly fragrant, 6″ cupped blossoms appear on slender branches, like goblets of burgundy. A second, lighter flush of bloom arrives in midsummer when provided with full sun and adequate moisture. Bred in New Zealand, this slender, well-branched variety blooms for a longer period, even when young. An ideal small tree to feature alone, in pairs, or to put the finishing touch on a mixed border.

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’

A friend of ours once referred to this charming plant as “prompt” because of the way its beautiful silvery green leaves break ground quite early in spring. They’re followed by a haze of tiny azure flowers, which give this plant one of its nicknames, False Forget-me-not. (It’s also sometimes known as Siberian Bugloss and Heartleaf Bugloss.) Brunnera is most at home in woodlands or along shady stream beds, where it will form a lush understory of quiet beauty. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is a standout variety with frosted leaves veined and outlined in green. The plants grow to 12″ tall and as wide, and while the blossoms provide a fleeting show, the foliage looks superb all season long.

Mertensia virginica
Mertensia virginica

Everyone loves Virginia Bluebells (M. virginica) for their sapphire blue flowers on 18″ stems that gleam from shady spots in April and May, making them an ideal underplanting for shrubs and trees. Plants thrive in deciduous shade and moist soil, where they will seed themselves to create a charming colony.

Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Pleno'
Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’

Trilliums are spring-blooming wildflowers much prized by woodland gardeners for their delicate, 3-petaled flowers and distinctive foliage. Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’ is an exquisite double form that produces pure white flowers in April and May, which will enchant you and all visitors to your garden.

Cleaning & Sharpening Your Pruners

With Matt Scace, Grower for the White Flower Farm Store

The gardening season is about to get underway in the Northeast, so it’s a great time to clean the garden tools.

Up at the farm, we asked Matt Scace, grower for the White Flower Farm Store, to walk us through the steps. For starters, he points out that there are a lot of different tools that would appreciate attention: axes, edgers, shears, hoes, swoes, shovels, trowels, pick mattocks, forks, and saws. For purposes of this post, we’ll concentrate on one of the most commonly used garden tools: pruners. The same techniques used to clean and sharpen pruners can be applied to lopers and the blades of some other garden tools as well.

To begin, the materials you’ll need to clean and sharpen a pair of pruners are:

dish soap, a nylon scrubby sponge, a whetstone or sharpening stone, a few drops of oil (any kind will do, from canola to WD40), a rag or paper towels, and a bit of elbow grease.

Step #1: Soak or Oil Your Stone

Some whetstones and sharpening stones require that you soak them in water for a period of time before use. Others require a few drops of oil. Follow the instructions that came with your stone. Soaking or oiling “prevents teeny, tiny bits of steel from getting stuck in the stone,” Matt says. “It’s the way oil works in a frying pan.”

Matt uses an all-in-one-tool to disassemble his Felco pruners.

Matt uses an all-in-one-tool to disassemble his Felco pruners.

Step #2 (optional): Disassemble Your Pruners

This step is optional because not all pruners or garden tools are designed for easy disassembly. Tools that don’t encourage disassembly should be left intact.

Well-made pruners, including the Swiss-made Felco models preferred by most of our garden staff, are easy to take apart. Disassembling should be done whenever possible because it’s the best way to clean and sharpen the full blade and to clean the interior junction where the blade pivots.

To disassemble: use a screwdriver, all-in-one tool, or, in the case of Felco and some other brands, the mini-wrench or disassembly tool that comes with your pruners. If you’re afraid you might not be able to put your pruners back together again, Matt has great advice: “Take out one screw, and take a picture with your cell phone. Take out another screw, and take another picture with your cell phone,” and so on. That way, you’ll have a visual record of how to put everything back together.

While you disassemble your pruners, take care to set the parts on a clean, uncluttered surface so nothing gets lost. For his demonstration, Matt used the back of a legal pad.

pruners and dish soap
Use warm water, dish soap, and a nylon scrubby sponge to remove sap and clean the blade.

Step #3: Dish Soap & Water

Washing your blade is next. If you’ve disassembled your pruners, carry the blade to the sink. (If you didn’t disassemble, give the whole tool a bath. It won’t hurt anything as long as you dry the pruners thoroughly and coat the metal parts with oil later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves . . .)

Under warm running water, Matt uses Dawn dish soap and a nylon scrubby sponge to clean the blade. The results are rather remarkable. The blade emerges shiny, and looks almost new. Cleaning the blade not only removes grit, sap and dirt, it also enhances your view of the blade’s beveled edge. Taking care of that is the whole point of sharpening, which comes next.

pruners and sharpening stone

Matt holds the blade at the angle of the bevel as he rubs it down the sharpening stone.

Step #4: Sharpening the Blade

“The bevel on any blade is the angle at which it is ground at the factory,” Matt says. “If you look straight down on the blade of a food processor, the shiny part is the bevel. The purpose of sharpening is to maintain the existing bevel on a blade. While sharpening, you are essentially grinding along that existing bevel.” It’s important to sharpen while the bevel is easy to find, Matt says. “If you wait until you can’t find the bevel, you’re in a bit of trouble.”

Sharpening techniques vary, and they may depend on the size and shape of your whetstone or sharpening stone. Place the stone and blade in contact, and “feel for the angle,” Matt says. When you’ve found it, move the blade gently against the stone (or the stone against the blade, depending on the type you have) so abrasion begins to sharpen the edge. “Some recommend using a circular motion,” which means moving the blade or stone in small circles along the bevel, Matt says. Others run the blade down the stone in a linear fashion. The key is to maintain the angle of the beveled edge. Check your progress as you go. In the places where you’ve rubbed the blade against the abrasive stone, the blade will appear shinier. Make sure the shine corresponds to the factory-made bevel. You can check the sharpness of your blade by cutting a piece of paper: Hold the paper in one hand and slice at the edge with the blade. The blade should cut into the paper, creating a shred that curls away.

oil for pruners
After sharpening, it’s time for oil. A drop or two protects steel blades, preventing rust and corrosion, and it keeps the pivot mechanism moving smoothly.

Step #5: Oil

Once you’re done sharpening, it’s time for oil. A drop or two protects steel blades, preventing rust and corrosion, Matt says. It also keeps the pivot mechanism moving smoothly. Any type of oil will do, from canola or vegetable oil to WD40, honing oil, or household 3-in-1. “Use just enough to coat the surface,” Matt says. He rubs oil all over the metal surfaces and wipes off any excess with a cloth. “The oil shouldn’t run or collect.”

Step #6: Always, Always Use the Right Tool for the Job

There will be a future post on this topic, but for now, Matt reminds all of us to use the right tool for the job. “The right tool for the job is going to reduce wear and tear, and that means you sharpen less often,” he says. The Felco #2, which he uses frequently, “is capable of cutting a great many more things than you should cut with it. When you have your nice Swiss-made Felco pruners, and you’re out cutting your Roses, you might see a coated wire tie on a Rose, and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll just cut it with the pruners, and it’ll be OK because I’m only going to do it this once.’ It is not OK.” Tools that are misused are subject to dings, degradation, and breakage. “The relationship between care and use goes together like teeth and gears,” Matt says. Make that extra trip back to the shed for the wire cutters, or whatever tool is designed for a specific purpose. “This might sound like a sales pitch, but in the long term, having the tool that’s made for the job you’re doing is less expensive.”

disassembled pruners
TIP: If you’re worried you won’t know how to reassemble your pruners, take cell phone photos as you disassemble a pair, then you have a record of what goes where and in what order.

Ongoing Care & Rubbing Alcohol

Ideally, you should clean, dry and oil your tools after each use. Not many of us are that diligent, but the point is, buy good tools and treat them with the respect they deserve, cleaning them often.

For tools that come in contact with plant material, it’s wise to clean the blades with rubbing alcohol. “It can dramatically reduce insect and disease issues,” Matt says. A good number of plant diseases are plant-specific and won’t spread from one type of plant to another on a pair of pruners, but others can be transmitted that way, and a bit of alcohol can hinder the spread.

Ovation Large Flowering Orienpet Lily Mix

Learning About Lilies

True Lilies, from the genus Lilium, are often confused with Hemerocallis, more commonly called Daylilies. True Lilies produce a single stem, often tall, from a bulb. The leaves grow on the stem. Daylilies grow from tubers that produce a large tuft of foliage, from which emerge leafless stems (called scapes).

Lilium 'Eyeliner'
Lilium ‘Eyeliner’

Because Lilies are tall and slender, they fit easily between other plants. Tuck two or three between the crowns of other perennials, toward the back of the border. Lilies can add color where Peonies, Baptisia, and other early summer bloomers have subsided to green. Lilies can also complement summer bloomers. Try Asiatic Lilies, which bloom first, with Salvia, Geranium, Centaurea, or Heuchera. Orienpet Lilies (crosses between Trumpet and Oriental Lilies) are the next group to bloom. They enhance Campanulas and all the Daisy-type flowers: Echinacea, Coreopsis, Gaillardia, and Leucanthemum. Oriental Lilies, the last to bloom, are lovely with Phlox, Ornamental Grasses, and Sedum, as well as the long-blooming Echinaceas.

Lilium 'Montego Bay'
Lilium ‘Montego Bay’

Lilies make superb cut flowers. If you don’t like to cut from your borders, plant rows of Lily bulbs in a cutting bed or a corner of the vegetable garden.

Perfumed Garden Lily Bouquet
Perfumed Garden Lily Bouquet

Spring-planted Lilies will likely be a little shorter than expected their first year; the bulbs are so eager to grow, they produce stems before they’re fully rooted. In their second year in your garden, the Lilies will achieve their full, often majestic, height. Orienpets and Orientals might benefit from staking in their second year, especially if grown in part sun, because they tend to lean towards the sunlight.

To learn more, watch our video Where and How to Grow Lilies.