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.
Most gardeners enjoy growing flowers for the beauty they bring to outdoor areas. But we also like cutting blossoms and bringing them indoors in vases. For advice on how to cut and care for your own fresh cut flowers, we turned to White Flower Farm staffer Mary Altermatt. In addition to her job here in the Publications department, Mary is the owner of Mountain Meadow Flowers of New Milford, CT, purveyor of beautiful, organically grown perennial and annual cut flowers.
On her farm in New Milford, CT, she grows approximately 200 varieties of annual cut flowers from seed using organic methods. Throughout the growing season, she creates cut flower bouquets, which are sold at the White Flower Farm Store in Morris, CT, at area farmer’s markets, and to private clients. She also sells flowers by the bucket so clients including restaurants can create their own arrangements.
After 25 years of growing, here are some of Mary’s field tips for harvesting flowers:
Have plenty of clean buckets on hand, lightweight plastic is fine. Before cutting flowers, wash your buckets, vases and pruners with a mix of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water, let sit for a few minutes, rinse out and then fill with clean water, about 1/3 full. Bacteria growth in the water will clog the flower stem and prevent the flower from staying hydrated so these hygiene steps are well worth the effort. Buckets that are clean enough to drink out of is the rule of thumb.
Bring your bucket to the garden, preferably left close by in the shade, so when you cut a handful of stems they can go right into the water. When cutting, be sure to use a floral knife or scissors with thin blades to avoid crushing the stems. (If stems are crushed, it will inhibit or block the uptake of water.) As you’re harvesting, strip off the lower foliage that would be below the water line and shake off any excess dirt, to keep your harvest bucket as clean as possible.
It’s best to cut your flowers when they are cool and well hydrated, either early in the morning or later in the day, not in the heat of the day. Avoid harvesting flowers that are wet from rain or after watering. Damp flowers and foliage in a bucket will invite mold and fungus. Rather than over-stuffing your bucket and possibly crushing blooms, bring an extra bucket to the garden.
Do a little research ahead of time to know at what stage to harvest certain flowers. For example, a Sunflower should be cut when the petals start opening away from the center disk. A Peony should be cut before it opens at all, when the bud feels like a marshmallow.
After harvesting, bring the buckets into a cool holding area and remove any leftover lower leaves. The stems can be recut at an angle underwater. This prevents air bubbles from forming within the flower stems thereby blocking the flowers’ water uptake. For some flowers, like Dahlias, which have hollow stems, you can hold each stem upside down under the faucet, fill it with running water, hold your thumb over it like a straw, then submerge it into the bucket. This will strengthen the stem and prevent collapsing.
Transfer the stems to the “resting bucket” of clean water with a flower preservative, most commercial ones contain sugar for food, bleach to control bacteria, and a water acidifier. Let the flowers rest for at least a few hours in a cool spot or overnight, so they can take up plenty of water before more handling and arranging.
When it comes to arranging, Mary will provide a separate blog post with tips. But for some general guidelines, choose a color palette you like, choose a variety of heights, flower forms, and textures. Add something aromatic, if you have it, from fresh picked herbs to fragrant flowers.
After arranging your bouquet, hold it in one hand, if possible, and give a clean cut to even out the stem ends. For a longer vase life, the bouquet stems should be recut every three days and the vase water changed every other day to ensure clear uptake. If a flower completely wilts or becomes moldy, remove it from the bouquet. Display your bouquet out of direct hot sunlight and away from the fruit basket. Ripening fruit emits ethylene gas, which causes cut flowers to deteriorate faster.
Wondering what to get your Mom this Mother’s Day? To help you select a great gift from White Flower Farm, we asked a handful of our female colleagues, all of whom happen to be Moms, to choose their favorite gift from our wide array of garden plants, houseplants, garden accessories, gift sets, bouquets and more. Here are their choices, which might help you with your own.
Rough & Ready Garden Clogs
I gave my Mom a pair of the Rough and Ready Clogs for Easter. She loves the spring pattern, and said they are very comfortable. She wears them around the house, loves the airy feel of a slip on after all winter in boots or shoes. They’re waterproof and good traction so she can wear them to get the mail and check on her garden. Yes- I want a pair! – Mary A
Coleus Confetti Classic Collection
I have lots of partial shade, so this collection gives great color all summer long in my back yard. The colors and textures create a stunning combination. – Cheryl D
Flora & Fauna Trowel and Secateurs Set
With the gardening season in full spring, the best gift to give or receive would be any of the Flora & Fauna gardening accessories. I love that the colors, and patterns are trendy, yet the products are practical for your basic gardening and everyday needs. – Shantelle B
Morning Light Bouquet
When our staff put together this bouquet, I knew it was exactly what I wanted for Mother’s Day. I was drawn by the pastel colors and their quiet radiance. The gray-blue leaves of the Eucalyptus help create a silhouette that’s airy and light. – Jan C
Lavender Lover’s Basket of Treasures
As a working Mom, I know a thing or two about stress. One thing that always calms me down is the natural fragrance of Lavender. That’s why my favorite gift for Mother’s Day is the Lavender Lover’s Basket of Treasures. It’s a beautiful collection that includes a Linnea’s Lights® candle, a triple-milled bath-size botanical soap with a nail brush, moisturizing hand cream, a sachet, and a bundle of dried Lavender. The bud vase is a beautiful way to display and enjoy the Lavender flowers you cut from your own garden. I hope my husband and kids are reading this . . . – Nikki F
Iris ‘Caprician Butterfly’
The Japanese Iris, ‘Caprician Butterfly,’ is one of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen. It’s romantic and exotic and bold. From far away the flowers appear purple, but as you get closer it’s revealed that the petals are actually white with thin purple lines running through them. Mother Nature outdid herself on this one and every mother, including myself, would appreciate a ‘Caprician Butterfly.’ – Mary V
Hand-Painted Hummingbird Feeder
With the return of hummingbirds in May, this makes an ideal Mother’s Day gift. It’s an attractive garden ornament that provides hours of enjoyment all season long. – Ann T
Each year I give my mom a bouquet from White Flower Farm and I always get an exuberant phone call and a beautiful photo of the bouquet. This year, I am excited to give her the Gossamer bouquet. I know she will love it. – Liz Z
Tree Peony “Kamata Fuji’
Any Mom who is a gardener will fall in love with this Tree Peony. These shrubs are so easy and undemanding, and they have so much to give. Plant them in a site with full or part-sun and well-drained, evenly moist soil. Allow them the first season to settle in. The blossom count will rise gradually each spring. Mature plants can produce up to 50 flowers. ‘Kamata Fuji’ sends up semidouble lavender blooms with ruffled petals and golden centers. This garden treasure is a special treat for Mom, and she’ll be reminded of your gift when the gorgeous flowers return each spring. – Deb H
It was a heck of a winter here in the Northeast, and we use the past tense hesitantly because we’re now in the midst of one of the cruelest and coldest Aprils any of us can remember. The calendar says April, but it feels more like February. But even if the temperatures remain significantly below normal for this time of year, and even if our gardens are still being glazed by sleet and occasional snow, spring finally seems to be making a stand. At least that’s what some of our favorite, most reliable perennials are telling us.
These quiet stars of the early spring garden won’t upstage the colorful blossoms of Crocus, Daffodils, Hyacinths and Tulips, but they’re among the first perennials to emerge and they go on to give the some of the longest performances of any herbaceous garden plants, finishing only with the arrival of hard frost. The sight of these stalwarts never fails to stir our hearts. They soldier through the most brutal winters, and as the first signs of spring begin to appear, they bring color, anticipation and even hope to a new season. A handful of these plants are past winners of the Perennial Plant of the Year award, and they’re among the most garden worthy plants we know. Below, we show each of them breaking ground in early spring, then, in a second shot, you’ll see the same plants at the peak of their development later in the season. The “spring” photos were all taken in mid-April in a Zone 6a Connecticut garden amid the snow, sleet and chill of this late spring. The plants, as you’ll see, were unfazed. Roused by the strengthening sunlight and longer days, their presence keeps insisting that spring has arrived, even if Old Man Winter hasn’t quite gotten the message.
Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (False Forget-Me-Not)
Prompt in its early spring arrival, the heart-shaped foliage of this shade garden favorite is a delight to behold. The green leaves, veiled and veined in silver, first appear as tiny as teardrops, and they gradually gain in size. Sprays of small blue flowers resembling Forget-Me-Nots arrive on slender stems in May and June, but it’s the foliage that counts. It continues looking beautiful straight through until autumn’s hard frost.
Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
A fuss-free beauty for the edge of part-shade borders, this tough but lovely plant is utterly distinctive in color and foliage. Pleated buds open into broad, kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges. The soft green color of the leaves blends beautifully with purples, blues, and pinks, and the the frothy chartreuse flower clusters that emerge in June and July energize and enliven any border’s edge.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
This essential, drought-tolerant perennial for hot, sunny gardens is simply unstoppable. The thick, blue-green succulent foliage breaks ground at the first signs of spring then rises on stems to 18-24”. Greenish-white flower clusters cap the mounding plants in summer, and the flowers open rosy pink in August. Toward fall, they deepen to wine, and they can be left on the plant to dry and catch snowflakes in winter.
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Catmint)
This Lavender-lookalike is one of the great garden plants. Starting early, it sends up masses of gray-green leaves, which appear in tidy mounds that are perfect for edging a border or walkway. As the weather warms, plants produce flower spikes with the lavender-blue blossoms. Adding to the pleasures this plant provides is the tangy scent of its leaves, which stirs the senses at the start of the gardening season. To help plants maintain a neat habit, shear them back by two-thirds after the first bloom. Plants will continue flowering until frost.
Geranium ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’
This Scented Geranium at first seems too pedestrian to belong on many must-have lists, but when you see the way it performs in your garden, you’ll want more. A superb ground cover for sun to part-shade, this rugged, carefree grower produces a mound of deeply dissected green leaves that look fabulous all season long. Spring brings a sprinkling of 1” pastel pink blossoms, but we love it best for the beautiful, aromatic foliage that blazes orange and red in the fall. These plants spread efficiently but are not invasive, they tolerate dry shade, and they smother weeds in the bargain.
Iris pallida ‘Variegata’
Like rays of sun emerging from the soil in spring, the yellow-variegated blades of this exceptional Iris show themselves early. The warm golden color is welcome in the spring garden, but so too is the foliage form, which creates lovely contrast amid a variety of bulbs. Lavender-blue blooms appear in June, and they carry a scent that is one of the great perfumes of spring. As the season progresses, the yellow variegation in the foliage shades to cream, like shifting light in the garden.
Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’
The first leaves of this favorite Phlox emerge green suffused with deep maroon in a colorful celebration of the start of spring. By summer, stunning flowers open in shades of blue and purple that change with the light of day. In the morning and evening hours, the flowers are deep blue. At midday, they change to purple. This favorite of Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It’s beautiful planted with Ornamental Grasses or amid the feathery foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii.
Spring has not quite sprung in our neck of the woods (Sunday’s temperature is expected to drop again into the 30s), but the itch to begin gardening is transforming life at the farm. Our garden crew once again is working outdoors, clearing the grounds of fallen leaves and twigs, and preparing for new plantings. As we wait patiently for the emergence of Daffodils and other early spring flowers, the surest sign of spring’s arrival for now is that the White Flower Farm Store has flung open its doors for the season.
New this year are plenty of plant discoveries, hard-to-find varieties, and an exciting collection of garden accessories, tools, supplies, and gift items, including several special gift sets that are ideal for Mother’s Day.
Outdoors, the store’s display areas are filling up with tree specimens, evergreens including Rhododendrons, Junipers and Chamaecyparis varieties, and a wide variety of flowering shrubs. Among the trees, we’re thrilled to be offering beautifully formed ornamental favorites from Japanese Maples and Stewartias to spring flowering Cherries and Dogwoods.
Annuals and perennials both new and classic have begun to populate the yard. Richly colored Anemones and cheerful Pansies are blooming beautifully, waiting to be planted in containers, window boxes, and garden beds.
The gleaming green leaves of Hellebores, some in bloom, and early flowering English Daisies are all ready to be transplanted into the spring garden.
Inside the store, it’s plain to see the staff has outdone itself. Amid a broad selection of Dahlia tubers, Lily bulbs, and premium houseplants, you’ll find an exciting selection of accessories – from hoses and decoratively patterned kneelers to professional-grade garden tools to our new English Garden Apron and Gauntlet Gloves, Linnea’s Lights candles and diffusers, Mooni Wander Lights, soap sets and Lavender gifts, stunning and colorful Murano glass birdbaths, and Peter Rabbit miniature garden ornaments. Additionally, look for favorites such as Renee’s seed packets and mixes, small plants for terrariums and mini pots, laminated field guides, and stationery and cards.
The store calendar is filled with a variety of special events for the season including the popular Annual Mother’s Day Make & Take Container Event, our annual Great Tomato Celebration, a book signing with author Tovah Martin, and more. For the complete calendar, click here.
We hope you’ll visit the store often and stroll the display gardens in every season. Bring your garden questions and challenges, and show us cell phone photos of your dream gardens or of problem areas in your yard or garden. Our terrific staff, led by store manager Tom Bodnar and team leader and hard goods and visual merchandizer Mary Valente, would be delighted to help and make suggestions.
Year after year, our customer service staff members spend as much time taking orders as they do answering questions and offering garden advice. They love to do this, especially because many are avid gardeners. Compiled below are the 5 most common questions they hear at this time of year. From advice on watering plants to pruning Hydrangeas, we hope you’ll find information you can use in your own garden.
The questions and answers here were supplied by Cathy Hughes, the Senior Horticulturist of the Customer Support Center and manager of the staff gardens at our facility in Torrington, CT.
Why aren’t the perennial plants I received this spring doing well despite being watered diligently (or religiously)?
Perennial plant material, which includes perennials, trees, shrubs and Roses, needs to be watered well after planting and then watered when the soil is dry to a depth of 1”. If rain is scarce, this generally means one deep watering per week, even in the hotter areas of the country. This is especially true of bareroot plant material. If plants are overwatered while establishing new roots, the quality of the roots will be compromised and the plants will not survive.
Why is the foliage of my perennials (or shrubs) wilting even though I’m watering diligently? Why don’t the plants recover after watering?
The foliage of plants often will wilt during the hottest part of the day as a response to the heat, but this does not mean the soil is dry, especially if conditions also have been humid. Always check the moisture level of the soil before watering. It should be dry to a depth of 1” before you water again. It’s important to remember that decorative mulch holds moisture in the soil. If the soil is staying too wet, it’s always best to temporarily remove the mulch from the base of the plants and gently cultivate the soil to aerate it. This should be done after every rain until the plant recovers.
What’s the white coating on the leaves of my perennials (or vegetable plants)?
It’s the disease powdery mildew, and it can be controlled with neem oil, which is applied as a foliar spray. While the foliage looks unsightly, the overall vigor of the plant will not be affected. If possible, it’s also important there be good air circulation between plants and that all infected plant material be collected, bagged and discarded in the garbage in the fall. Do not compost this material.
What’s causing the holes in the leaves of my Roses?
If the damage results in a skeletonizing effect to the foliage (the leaf tissue between the large veins is eaten away), the damage could be caused by the larval stage of Rose sawfly (here in Zone 5 we begin scouting for this insect around Mother’s Day) or Rose chafers. Later in the season thrips may be the culprits. All of these insects can be controlled with a neem oil or Monterey Garden Insect Spray, or any insecticide recommended for Roses. While this damage is unsightly, it will only affect the overall health of the plant if the infestation is severe and is left untreated.
When do I prune my Hydrangeas?
The pruning of Hydrangeas depends upon whether they bloom on old wood, new wood, or both. Click here to visit our Grow Guide, which outlines how to prune different varieties.
As summer hits its high arc and the days grow technically but as yet imperceptibly shorter, Northeastern gardens are in full flush and bloom. Pick-your-own produce places pop up and roadside farm stands fill out with signs for ‘Native Corn’ and ‘Native Tomatoes.’ Despite the horticultural inaccuracy found on those placards and in other cases, it’s noteworthy that a plant’s native status is emphasized as an important selling point. True, while everything is native to somewhere, for our purposes, native plants are those that have been found in the Northeast (New England) from pre-Colombian times.
So why the interest and excitement over natives? Firstly, native plants ask for few resources upon seeding or planting them, and they also give back in abundance. As these plants have co-evolved with native butterflies, moths, birds and the like, they are recognized as sources of food, and good food at that. It’s not by coincidence that White Flower Farm’s Butterfly Magnet Collection, Monarch Butterfly Collection, and Pollinator Garden for Sun heavily favor native cultivars; e.g. Liatris, Phlox, Echinacea, Milkweed, Agastache, and Coreopsis (in no particular order).
When properly placed and established, native plants are vigorous players that usually outperform newcomers when the vagaries of nature throw drought, inundation, disease, and predatory herbivores their way. Not to say that they cannot be affected and even succumb to the aforementioned, but they often can overcome such problems with minimal care. This leads us to the next point: native plants generally don’t need as much water, fertilization and disease control as non-natives. This leaves you more time to fuss over other areas of the garden, or perhaps a chance to sit back and enjoy!
Finally, despite increasing popularity, natives and native cultivars are uncommon enough to elicit surprise, yet they’re entirely familiar and fitting in our gardens. No matter what kind of environmental conditions you have in your garden, or what kind of color or effect you’re looking for, you’re sure to find a native that excels in one or more areas. Dry or wet, shady or sunny, small or expansive — there are plenty of choices that are horticulturally interesting in leaf, form or flower. What follows here are some native highlights best seen in fall, before New England’s lakes and ponds release their stored summer heat and before morning mist and leaf peepers displace the snowbirds heading south.
While correlation does not imply causation, native fall flowers seem to hit their stride just as ‘Back to Skool’ advertisements begin to appear. Liatris, Coreopsis, and Monarda (Bee Balm) recede as Trumpet Honeysuckle, Autumn Phlox and Ox-eye Daisies continue their earlier summer shows into early autumn’s prime-time. Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Asters are in full effect. As vacations end and grumbling begins, optimistically bright Black-eyed Susans are true pick-me-ups and are as quintessentially New England as clam chowdah and apple pie.
The Goldenrods flower, as does Vernonia novaboracensis, New York Ironweed. White Flower Farm offers the Ironweed cultivar ‘Iron Butterfly,’ which tops out at about 3’, far below the impressive 6-8’ potential of the straight species, making it far more practical scale-wise for most gardens. It’s a strong favorite of Monarch butterflies, and the persistent seed heads fade to a rust color in the fall, giving it the common name. The seed heads are treasured by birds in the winter.
Another spectacular fall flower is Helenium autumnale, which is also called Dog-tooth Daisy or Sneezeweed. Beyond the straight species’ pure orange-yellow are brighter yellows and reds and oranges best found in the Mariachi™ series, which is also offered and grown here at White Flower Farm. Chelone glabra, Turtlehead, can be a late-to-the-party, white- or pink-flowered, deep green-leafed shade-tolerant plant, which, contrary to much of what’s written, can handle sun, if provided with enough water.
Eragrostis spectabilis, Purple Love Grass, appears at this time as well, along roadsides and in our new Native Garden designed by Head Gardener Cheryl Whalen. The light and feathery, relatively low seed heads are more of a 1980’s neon pink than purple, but semantics notwithstanding, and as the Latin implies, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.
In addition to flowers, shrubs small and large come into their own just as signs for New England’s Fall Fairs start appearing by roadsides, framed by the aforementioned Eragrostis. Red or black, you win either way with Chokecherry roulette. The fiery red foliage is a feast for the human eye, and for many a hungry bird to boot. And while most people fend off angry birds to protect their blueberry crop, Blueberry bushes both high and low are surprisingly undervalued for their foliage, which I find even more attractive than the Chokecherries, and far superior to the invasive, thornily ornery Berberis thunbergii, more commonly known as Japanese Barberry. If you prefer the hot pink fall foliage of Barberry to the redder Blueberry, there is still a native answer – Viburnum acerifolium, Maple-leaved Viburnum. This understory shrub is eye-catching and, like the Chokecherries, its berries are inedible for humans but delicious to our avian companions.
In addition to brilliant colors, there is a wide variety of natives that offers interesting foliage textures to Northeast gardeners. While many of the above have small leaves and the Amsonias in particular take fine texture quite seriously, Hydrangea quercifolia, the Oak-leaf Hydrangea, and Rubus odoratus, or Flowering Raspberry, have broad leaves and coarse texture. Both need a fair amount of room, and they tolerate or prefer light to part shade. Shade will reduce bloom size and number, but if that’s not the goal, they can fill in space very nicely. I have an Oak-leaf Hydrangea that was slammed into a lightly shaded corner quickly before the frost two years ago, but it has responded so well in form and flower that the most temporary solution became the most permanent.
The Oak-leaf Hydrangea’s spectacular orange, scarlet and purple extends its seasonal interest and contrasts the lemon yellow of the Flowering Raspberry. In addition to the red and pink fall foliage described above, Lindera benzoin or Spicebush, Clethra alnifolia or Sweet Pepperbush, and Amsonia tabernaemontana or Bluestar, provide attractive yellows to brighten the fall color palette.
In this New-York-minute scramble through the ancient Adirondacks, past Congregationalist churches, “Native Corn” farm stands and “Pick Your Own” pastures, I hope you’ve sensed the wide variety of available native plant material, whether you aim for sun or shade, big or small, flower, leaf color or shape, or edibility for yourselves or for friendly fauna. So explore, and indeed, pick your own!
[Editor’s note: Among the images here are plants that are not the straight species referred to in the article. Several are what is called “improved” varieties, which means they’re bred from natives with the intent of enhancing particular characteristics such as form, blossom size or color, hardiness, etc. Those who interpret “native” most strictly may wish to seek out the straight species forms of each plant.]
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.