As visitors stroll the display gardens at the farm, they often ask us about the plants they see in the borders and beds. No plants generate more questions than Alliums. Members of this genus are available in a broad range of colors – from various shades of purple to pink, true blue, yellow, and white, but the hallmark of this family of plants is a form that is both playful and utterly distinctive. Larger cultivars such as Alliums ‘Globemaster,’ form sizeable spheres (in this case 8-10” flower heads) that appear to float like balloons above other plants in the border. Smaller varieties including the delightful Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), produce lollipop-sized orbs on slender stems at a lower height.
Alliums are more commonly known as Flowering Onions, a pedestrian name unworthy of these remarkable plants.
It’s worth mentioning that Alliums, like Daffodils, are deer and rodent resistant, thanks to their faint oniony scent. The odor is not noticeable above the ground unless the leaves are cut or bruised, and many of the flowers have an enchanting, sweet scent. There are hundreds of species within this under-appreciated genus, and we annually struggle to restrain ourselves to a reasonable selection. They are reliable perennials when they get good drainage and plenty of sun.
Using Alliums in the Garden
Alliums offer colorful, distinctive, and long-lasting flower forms that are standouts in the early summer garden (there are some fall bloomers as well). They love sun and prefer a well-drained, even sandy, soil as long as it has sufficient nutrients. Tuck the bulbs around clumps of summer-flowering perennials where the Alliums’ withering foliage will be hidden by the expanding perennials. Some combinations we use at the nursery include Allium ‘Globemaster’ among Echinacea (Purple Coneflower); Allium sphaerocephalon (the Drumstick Allium) with Yarrow, Asiatic Lilies, or Phlox; and Allium cristophii (Star of Persia) with Salvia ‘May Night,’ Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle), or Roses. We offer 5 varieties of the shorter Alliums (10–30″ tall) as A Big Mix of Little Alliums. They look best along the edge of a shrub border or planted in front of late-blooming perennials.
How to Care for Your Allium Bulbs
Light/Watering: Most Alliums grow best in full sun, with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Those we offer require well-drained soil and are longest lived in locations where the soil is on the dry side during summer dormancy.
Planting: Plant Alliums more shallowly than comparably sized bulbs, just one to two times the diameter of the bulb deep.
Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Alliums prefer well-drained, fertile soil. Fertilize in fall and spring with any bulb fertilizer.
Continuing Care: The leaf tips of many varieties, especially the tall ones, begin to brown before bloom time. Remove the spent flowers (except from varieties that are sterile, such as ‘Globemaster’) if you wish to prevent them from self-sowing.
Pests/Diseases: Alliums have few problems except when planted too shallowly or in wet soil.
Companions: Place Alliums behind heavy-foliage plants such as Peonies and Iris. Good for bedding, and in mixed borders. Flower heads are good for drying.
Dividing/Transplanting: Alliums rarely need transplanting or dividing, but this can be done when the bulbs are dormant.
Here at the farm, we’re in the midst of mad preparations for this weekend’s 12th Annual Great Tomato Celebration, which runs May 19th through 21st, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, rain or shine. The weather is set to be mostly lovely (which, we have to say, always improves everyone’s mood a bit), and we’re raring to go.
On Thursday, staff members will set out tables in the open field adjacent to the store. As the sun rises Friday morning, our tractors will be buzzing back and forth to the greenhouses and warehouse ferrying flats of Tomato seedlings, vegetable starts, herbs, growing supplies, container pots, and anything else we think gardeners might need. Tomato aficionados, some from as far away as Vermont and Massachusetts, tend to arrive early, and at the stroke of 9 a.m., the shopping begins! Gardeners who know just what they want can be seen bolting up the hill, sometimes running to claim their favorites. Their lists in hand, they work the aisles, filling their wagons. Others adopt a more leisurely pace, scanning the signs that describe each Tomato variety and asking questions of staff members, who are always happy to answer and to steer shoppers to favorite selections.
This year, we’re pleased to be offering more than 130 varieties of Tomatoes, including highly coveted heirlooms and bestselling modern hybrids (all non-GMO), and everything else you may want for this season’s kitchen garden including savory herbs and veggie plants.
On Friday, we’re thrilled to be welcoming nationally recognized Tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of the award-winning book Epic Tomatoes. He’ll give two free talks on May 19th only. (For a few excerpts from his terrific book, read below.) For times and more details, click here.
Also on tap to offer Tomato-growing tips and answer questions is White Flower Farm’s Nursery Manager Barb Pierson, who will give two talks on Saturday and also be available each day to answer questions. Chef Charlene Goodman Dutka, owner of Ciesco Catering in Torrington, presents Grow It, Cook It, Eat It, a live cooking demonstration that focuses on Tomatoes on Saturday afternoon. For times and a complete schedule of events, click here.
If you’re hungry after rounding up what you need for your kitchen garden, Ciesco Catering’s truck will be selling delicious, made-to-order food.
See you at the celebration!
While you’re shopping, consider picking up a copy of Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes. This splendid book is stuffed with all sorts of facts and information about Tomatoes – from their early history in this country, to definitions of the different types, to profiles of individual varieties, to tips for planting, growing, staking and harvesting. You can read this book from cover to cover, or keep it around to dive into now and again. It’s a delightful read, and a wonderful resource for those of us who grow and love to eat Tomatoes.
Here’s a somewhat condensed version of LeHoullier’s account of the early history of Tomatoes in America:
“The Mayans and Mesoamerican people domesticated the tomato plant and first used it in cooking . . . By the early nineteenth century, tomatoes were present in many towns across America, though it appears most people didn’t eat them . . . Most people had no idea how popular the tomato was becoming in Europe . . . [and] The tomato had a reputation for being poisonous . . . The most famous early American tomato story is the daring public tomato consumption – perhaps – by Robert Gibbon Johnson in Salem, New Jersey, reported to have occurred in 1820. . . . Hundreds of onlookers reportedly traveled from far and wide to witness this remarkable event . . . Johnson bit into a tomato, some onlookers fainted, and, with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”
At the farm, we’re often asked to define hybrid, heirloom, open-pollinated, determinate and indeterminate Tomatoes. Here are LeHoullier’s definitions, just in time to help with your shopping:
“A hybrid tomato is grown from seed collected from a fruit that developed from a process known as crossing. Most simply described, pollen from one parent is directly applied to the pistil of another parent. Prior to the cross, the anther cone (the pollen-producing part) is removed from the receiving parent so that the flower doesn’t self-pollinate as it typically would.”
“Also referred to as non-hybrid, open-pollinated tomatoes have stable genetic material, and seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties will (unless cross-pollinated by bees) replicate the parent variety. All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are considered heirlooms.”
“An heirloom is an open-pollinated variety that has history and value embedded within its story.”
“This class of tomatoes is by far the most common, and its members grow upward and outward continually until killed by frost or disease. Indeterminate tomatoes have a central main stem from which side shoots, or suckers, grow at a 45-degree angle outward from the attachment point of the leaf stems. In turn, each sucker of side shoot acts as an additional main stem and produces its own side shoots. The central stem of an indeterminate tomato, if vertically staked and tied, will easily exceed 10 feet by the end of the growing season. Flowering clusters appear at varying intervals along the main stem and side shoots, ensuring continual fruit potential until the plant dies: this allows for continual and extended harvest throughout the growing season. Another important characteristic of indeterminate varieties is the relatively high ratio of foliage to fruit, and all of that added photosynthesis means a significantly higher flavor potential when compared with determinate varieties.”
“Determinate varieties are far less common than indeterminate varieties; the gene that produces determinate growth habit didn’t appear until the 1920s. Determinate varieties look identical to indeterminate varieties as young seedlings, with the same stem width and foliage shapes and textures. There is a genetic component, however, that signals an end to vertical growth, emergence of flower clusters at the end of flowering branches, and massive fruit set over a very concentrated time span. This leads to a very narrow window for fruit ripening, which makes determinate varieties very attractive for commercial ventures that benefit from picking the fruit in just a few rounds of harvest. Because of the way the flowers appear, any pruning of this type will significantly reduce yield. In addition, the very high ratio of fruit to foliage means less photosynthesis: as a result, the vast majority of determinate tomato varieties have less flavor intensity and potential than indeterminate varieties (though there are always exceptions). Because of their compact growth, determinate tomato varieties are perfect for container gardening and caging.”
Tips for Creating Beautiful, Successful Patio Pots
In our part of the country, the high and low temperatures of spring are beginning to even out, and the danger of frost will soon be past. That’s when we pot up collections of annuals (and sometimes a few perennials) to decorate our porches and patios. Each spring, our staff members have fun creating new plant combinations. To help you create yours, here are a few tips:
Selecting Container Pots
Start by selecting container pots. The variety is limitless, which is both a good and bad thing. The advantage is you have lots of choices – terra cotta, glazed, cast iron, plastic, footed, self-watering, etc. – but choosing too many pots in too many colors or styles can create a look fails to unify and isn’t very appealing. As a general rule, you’ll create a sense of visual harmony by choosing a grouping of pots that goes well together even before you add the plants. Then, as you fill them with annuals and perennials, it may look best to pot the same or similar plants in a variety of pots, or pot a variety of plants in the same or similar pots. When in doubt, keep it simple. Less can be more.
Remember to choose pots with at least one drainage hole, says our nursery manager Barb Pierson. If a pot has no drainage hole, drill one. If that’s not possible, fill the bottom of the pot with gravel, river rocks, or Styrofoam peanuts to create a space for drainage.
Choose the right size pot for your plantings: Barb’s rule of thumb is that 3 plants generally need a 12” opening, and 5 plants require a 16–18” opening.
Know Your Site
Will your pots be in blazing sun all day? No problem! Choose zinnias, lantanas, salvias, and other heat lovers. Part-shade is very forgiving for most varieties. Are you designing pots for shade? Look for impatiens, fuchsias, caladiums, some varieties of coleus, and some types of begonias.
Play With Colors & Textures
To create a pleasing combination, play with plant groupings until you get something you like. Here at the farm, our staff members do this in the greenhouses where the annuals are grown. Customers are invited to “play with plants” at our Annual Container Workshops. Another way to experiment with various combos is to pull up images on your computer screen and create a collage. Or, collage the old-fashioned way by cutting out catalog photos and creating groupings of images until you’re satisfied with what you see.
For best results, most patio pot combos should contain 3 types of plants: a thriller (which will be the tallest variety in the combo), a spiller (to cascade over the sides), and a filler (to fill in around the middle). Larger combos tend to have multiple spillers and fillers, but the thriller is generally a single, tall plant such as a grass, elephant’s ears (colocascia), caladium, upright coleus, begonia or fuchsia, or a vine such as a low-growing clematis on a tuteur.
As you’re working, pay attention to colors and textures. Are you using hot colors (red, yellow, orange, and lime), cool ones (blues, lavenders, whites and grays), or pastels (soft pinks, soft yellows, and baby blues)? Do you have a range of blossom forms and foliage types?
The Right Planting Mix
To begin your potting, fill your container with planting mix. Barb recommends a mix of ¾ high quality potting mix combined with ¼ compost. (The mix is also great for raised beds.) Water the mixture thoroughly until it is evenly moist but not soaking.
Now position your plants: Before you take them out of the pots they came in, set them atop the planting mix and arrange them in a way that will promote best growth and work best for your site. (If the pot is to be set against a wall or doorway, the “thriller,” or tall plant, is best positioned at the back-center area of the pot. If the pot will be viewed from all sides, the thriller belongs in the middle.) Once you’ve settled on an arrangement, plant your annuals in the container pot. Be sure to fill in with soil around them. (You can use the tip of a trowel or even a large spoon to add more potting mix where it’s needed.) Water again to dampen the soil that’s been added, and let the combo settle.
Feeding & Watering
Over the course of the season, check your pots for moisture daily and water as needed. Larger pots need less water. (In dry summers, container pots may need to be watered daily.) How do you know when your container pots need water? Look for the soil to shrink a bit from the sides of the pot, Barb says. When that happens, it’s time to water. You can also test by sticking your finger in the soil mix. It it’s dry an inch or so down, the plants need a drink.
Feed your plants. Annuals give their all in a single season, and they appreciate a bit of food to keep their blossom and foliage shows going. Barb recommends using a blossom-boosting fertilizer such as our All-Bloom. It makes all the difference, she says.
As the plants grow, trim back varieties that are more aggressive than others. Some varieties of coleus, and trailing plants including ipomoea (potato vine) and helichrysum are vigorous growers. Don’t be afraid to get out the scissors for some judicious pruning. Pinching back plants including impatiens and coleus also helps encourage branching so you get bushier plants.
Not Just for the Patio
Colorful container pots are a joy to behold all season long, and they’re not just for the patio. Pots also can be sited in garden beds and mixed borders, and in front of hedges and walls. A container pot full of colorful blossoms makes a lovely focal point when silhouetted against a green hedge or sited at the end of a path.
If we can help with your combinations, you know where to find us.
Welcome spring with a visit to the White Flower Farm Store! We’re open for the season and stocked with plants, supplies, gifts, and gear to get you going and growing.
While the weather is not quite warm enough to begin gardening outdoors, we have plenty to get you started inside the house. We offer a wide variety of Dahlia tubers, which can be potted up and started indoors then transplanted into the garden as the spring temperatures settle down – generally sometime in the middle of May in our part of the world. To bring color and life to your indoor spaces or dress up the house for Easter and other spring celebrations, we have a selection of beautiful, easy care houseplants – from cheerful primroses and beguiling, low maintenance Tillandsia (Air Plants) to fabulous foliage plants including Croton, Polka Dot plants, Song of India plants and variegated ivy.
Our Tools of the Trade section features the top quality, professional grade tools we use every day at the farm including trowels, forks, pruners, hoes and spades. We also include a selection of hats, gloves, and caddies for carrying tools and harvesting vegetables.
Our array of gift items ranges from hummingbird feeders and imperial vases to stationery, compact field guides, and California-made botanical lotions and body products.
Store staff made it a priority again this year to bring in items that are made in the United States. The store is filled with the vibrant and playful colors of decorative art poles, magnetic mailbox covers, and art planters that are all made in America. The planters come in an array of playful colors and designs created by artists including Mary Engelbreit. The frost-proof, fade-proof pots are equipped with raised bottoms for drainage and wheels on the bottom that make it easy to move them around on the patio or indoors. Choose one as a great gift for Mother’s Day or buy a group to display outdoors all season long. A variety of birdhouses include new styles made using reclaimed wood.
As springtime makes its somewhat tardy appearance here in the Northeast, the outdoor spaces surrounding the store are slowly but surely being populated with flowering shrubs and trees.
There are lovely red-flowering Andromeda, and yellow-flowering forsythia bushes, and as we were writing this, a cartload of hydrangea standards arrived to join the neat rows of evergreen shrubs and ornamental trees that are waiting for new homes.
Cold hardy perennials are also in stock with more arriving daily. You’ll find Hellebores, Jacob’s Ladder, Dianthus (Pinks), Allium, Columbine, Delosperma, shown above, and many more.
This season’s Calendar is crowded with activities including our 12th Annual Great Tomato Festival on May 19-21, and our 3rd Annual Container Planting Make & Take Event. For the complete list, see our Lectures & Events listing.
In addition to the great plants and other items you’ll find at the store, there’s one attraction that always makes any visit worthwhile, and that is our staff. Experienced gardeners all, they are friendly and knowledgeable, and they delight in sharing what they know and helping customers succeed in their own gardens. They can answer questions, solve problems, provide landscape solutions, and even help carry plants and supplies to your car. (A delivery service is also available. Just ask!) So bring your questions and cell phone photos of your garden. Our staff will delight in helping you create the garden of your dreams.
The White Flower Farm Store and display gardens are at 167 Litchfield Road in Morris, CT. Our hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily during the gardening season. If you’re looking for a particular item, please call before driving any distance to verify that we have it in stock. Our inventory is constantly changing. Phone 860-567-8789. We look forward to seeing you!
Please note: The Store will close at 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday, April 16th.
Over the years, White Flower Farm has been honored to work in partnership with some of the world’s exceptional plant breeders and to be able to offer our customers exclusive and extraordinary treasures. Last year, we partnered with legendary Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, to offer you Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Debutante.’ This lovely, mildly fragrant, yellow-flowering Clivia is the first named release from Longwood’s renowned breeding program. Customer response was so enthusiastic (the plants sold out quickly) that we’re pleased to be offering four more equally stunning varieties, all recent Longwood introductions.
White Flower Farm’s Director of Horticulture Rob Storm says, “As a company, we have a tradition of offering these special plants – starting around 1995 with Clivia ‘Sir John Thouron,’ a clear, yellow-flowering variety that was named for a renowned Pennsylvania gardener and came to us through Longwood, although it was not part of Longwood’s breeding program.”
Longwood’s Clivia breeding program began in 1976 under the direction of Dr. Robert Armstrong. To read more about this fascinating program, and the patience and time required to breed plants for specific characteristics, visit the Longwood website or, better yet, visit the garden itself.
Vegetative propagation of Clivias is an incredibly slow, and therefore expensive, process, but there is no other way to ensure that the subsequent plants are exact clones. Longwood’s Clivia breeding program is now 40 years old, and the plants you see are its first named releases. “The investment of time put in to get these remarkable plants is amazing and costly,” Rob says. “All of us are fortunate that Longwood has the resources to do this.”
The retail cost of these plants has raised some eyebrows and prompted comments on our Facebook page. It’s important to remember that these Clivia are decades in the making. “From seed germination to the first flowering is an incredible amount of time – years,” Rob explains. “The time and investment required to see the results of the breeding program’s hard work is not small.”
Clivia miniata is a favorite specimen houseplant, and has a well-earned reputation for being rugged and demanding little attention. Plants thrive even in a north window and require little care, growing larger and more impressive with age. These beautiful plants last a lifetime and beyond.
The large pastel blossoms of award-winning Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Sunset’ (shown above) represent a color breakthrough. The overlapping, slightly reflexed petals of each floret are suffused with sunset tones of peach and pink, finished with a fine picotee trim, and arrayed around a golden yellow and white center. The lightly fragrant, individual flowers form large clusters that measure 8-10” and are framed to perfection by dark green leaves.
Scroll below to see the other new arrivals:
Pale golden blossoms burst forth like fireworks in a night sky. This second named release from Longwood’s Clivia breeding program produces large, luminous florets with reflexed petals and pronounced golden stamens. The 4” flowers are held in clusters that can measure up to 9”, creating a breathtaking display in any interior. Winner of multiple awards.
Brilliant orange florets sport unique, raised center petals (called “keels”), an intriguing detail that invites close inspection. The golden yellow centers add delightful contrast, and the result is a stunning display that will brighten any room. This is the third named cultivar in Longwood’s renowned breeding program, the first variety with keeled petals.
Certain to stand out in any interior are the vibrant blossoms of this eye-catching Clivia. The fourth named variety in Longwood’s breeding program, its striking blooms mix colors of mahogany orange and red, contrasted by green throats. The red tone intensifies as the blossoms mature. Perched on stems above a fountain of dark green foliage, they create a memorable show.
Yellow Clivias are not as widely available as orange varieties, and, after 35 years of breeding for the best yellow color, Longwood’s research program succeeded in producing this high-quality selection. The lightly scented blossoms are a soft, buttery yellow shade, making an already attractive and durable plant an absolute knockout.
With wind chills near 0° last Saturday morning, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take refuge from the elements in the Talcott Greenhouse at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. Stepping inside, we were greeted with the sights and scents of a spring splendor extraordinaire – the 2017 Spring Flower Show. This year’s theme was ‘Spring Pools,’ with the main Show House filled with hundreds of forced bulbs, some exquisite Cymbidium orchids visiting from the Orchid House, and a collection of brightly colored spring-blooming plants including violas, calceolarias, and schizanthus. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a spring preview and to admire some interesting plant combinations.
With winter showing signs of an early withdrawl, some of us have been spending time sketching plans for gardens. Pen, paper and, if we’re feeling really fancy, colorful magic markers in hand, we play around with ideas for new borders or beds, and for redoing existing ones.
The first phase of this creative process always begins with what professional landscape designers call the “bubble diagram,” which is something many others might refer to as a “back-of-the-envelope” sketch. Bubble diagrams are loosely drawn schematics designed to define spaces within a landscape. No particular artistic skill or precise measuring is required, just the ability to draw circles on a page. For gardeners of any skill level, bubble diagrams are an extremely helpful way to visualize various features on a property – from specific areas or features in a yard (front lawn, back patio, wooded area, oak tree, swing set, raised bed, mailbox, etc.) to microclimates (dry shade under a Maple, boggy area, strip of lawn beside driveway that gets salt and sand on it every winter, etc.). The diagrams are a great place to play with ideas about how particular areas might best be utilized or planted.
As a general rule, the “bubbles” or hand-drawn circles are rendered in a variety of sizes and shapes to reflect the scale and form of what they represent.
Aside from defining general areas of a property, bubble diagrams can be helpful when creating planting schemes for particular beds and borders. The planning of any garden involves knowing what to put where, what grows in sun or shade, what likes well-drained soil and what will tolerate moisture, what blooms in spring and what in fall. While the growth habits and characteristics are available on plant tags and websites and in catalogs, trying to juggle these items while digging around in the garden with dirty hands and gloves can be tricky. (If you’re over a certain age, it can also be difficult to read the small type on plant tags, which means you’ll be juggling reading glasses, too.) A bubble diagram obviates the need for all of this by consolidating the information you need and putting it into a simple, easy-to-scan schematic. Where to put the Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ or the Alchemilla mollis? You sorted those questions out when you sat with your feet up beside the fire, and you incorporated the information into your drawing.
Once spring comes, and you’re outdoors digging in the dirt, you need only glance at your bubble diagram to know that Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ is the one with dark foliage that’s shorter in stature than the towering Dahlia ‘Show ‘n’ Tell’; Hosta ‘Aphrodite’ is the fragrant variety you want to plant alongside the porch (the better to enjoy its sweet perfume), and Buddleia ‘Miss Molly’ is the butterfly bush you chose for the middle of the sunny border.
There are other benefits to creating bubble diagrams. As a simple exercise, drawing them loosens the hand and opens the mind. Because these sketches are rendered without much fuss or detail, and because they take very little time, they are easily redrawn, crossed out, discarded or redone. There’s no penalty for making planting “errors” unless you count the bits of crumpled paper you occasionally add to the fire. The imagination is free to take chances and try things that can require quite a bit more effort when you’re outdoors. Bold experiments can be assayed, and the remarkable thing is, some of your craziest ideas might eventually become a reality or part of the reality of your garden.
So spend a bit of time over the next few weeks letting the ideas bubble over onto paper. Even the smallest gardens benefit from the process. Bubble diagrams are an excellent way to organize your thinking, refine plant lists, and consolidate information about what you’ll be planting where. Creating them is a dreamy and productive way to pass the time while waiting patiently for the gardening season to begin.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, visitwww.selby.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!