Magazines and TV talk shows exhort us to live in the moment, and gardening is a way to encourage that practice — to stop and smell the Roses. But Gardening is also very much about anticipation, eagerly looking ahead to the first ripe Tomato or the blooming of a favorite Perennial.
We find it’s easy to extend that sense of anticipation far beyond the summer growing season with Fall-blooming bulbs such as Crocus, Colchicums, Sternbergia, and Lycoris. These charmers provide a delightful way to bring the gardening year to a close.
Like bulbs that flower in spring, most fall-flowering bulbs need a sunny or partly sunny site (although Lycoris radiata prefers partial shade in warm climates) and moderately fertile, well-drained soil. To improve drainage, incorporate organic matter into the soil and to boost fertility, apply bulb fertilizer on top of the ground after planting. Sternbergia often benefits from a bit of limestone worked into the soil.
Plant fall-flowering bulbs as soon as possible after you receive them because they need to establish their root systems. Plant Crocuses 2-3 in deep and 3in apart. Colchicum bulbs are larger; plant them 4-6in deep and 10-12in apart. Plant Sternbergia bulbs 6in deep and 4in apart. Set the bulbs of Lycoris so that the neck sits just below the soil surface and space them 5in apart.
As long as the soil is well-drained, pests and diseases are rarely a problem with these bulbs. Deer and voles do not bother them. Fall-flowering Colchicums and Crocuses usually bloom about 3-6 weeks after planting. Lycoris requires more time to settle in; it may not bloom until the following year, but the wait is well worthwhile.
Among the great pleasures of the nursery business is discovering new and unfamiliar plant varieties. These can be plants that are new to the market and or simply new to us. Choosing which of these plants to offer, and which our customers might find appealing and useful, is a very satisfying part of our job. Over the years, we’ve learned that “new” doesn’t always mean “better.” For that reason, we trial plants in our gardens extensively to make sure that every variety we offer lives up to grower’s claims, and meets our expectations and yours. Highlighted below you’ll find a handful of the new perennials and bulbs we’re offerings for the fall season. Several are brand new to the trade, others are treasured varieties we are pleased to have discovered.
Jonquilla Daffodils like hot, baking summer sun and are well adapted to growing in the Deep South. They also thrive in cooler parts of the country. These Daffodils naturalize well, creating beautiful sweeps of color. Narcissus ‘Amore Mio’ features round, pristine white petals that surround a gently ruffled white corona, subtly suffused with just the hint of blush. The light perfume ensures you’ll never forget her. A favorite of our Dutch Daffodil breeder.
Iris are among the best-known and best-loved garden plants. Say the word “Iris,” and visions of brilliant June flowers come to mind. The chosen habitats of Iris range from standing water to formal borders, and there is scarcely a shade or combination of colors that can’t be found. We love Iris ‘Easter Candy’ for the beautiful play on colors. The soft yellow standards rise above a watery cascade of pale blue falls that are each set apart by a central stripe of darker blue. These plants also offer multiple stems with heavy bloom.
We count Asters among the great garden plants because many hold off blooming until late summer and fall when most flowers are spent. Let the raspberry-pink Daisy-like blooms of ‘Vibrant Dome’ introduce some hot summer color to your fall plantings. A sport of ‘Purple Dome,’ the plant was discovered by landscape designer Bobbie Schwartz in her garden, and it exhibits the same compact form and prolific blooming habit of its famous parent.
Fosteriana Tulip varieties are good choices for bedding, forcing, and perennializing. Tulips are happy in any good, well-drained garden soil. Eye-catching in both form and color, the fiery flowers of ‘Flames Mystery’ have pointed, twisting red petals with yellow bases. Combine their intensity with clouds of blue Forget-me-nots (Myosotis) for a showstopping display.
The genus Allium (the Latin means “garlic”) offers colorful, distinctive, and long-lasting forms that are standouts in the early summer garden. Tuck them among clumps of summer-flowering perennials where the Alliums’ withering foliage will be hidden by the expanding perennials. The bright, 5″ lilac flowers on 3–4′ stems appear in late June and grow quickly to a colossal size. The intriguing flowers of Allium giganteum start green, coloring first on top of the ball, then slowly becoming lilac. As they mature, they revert to green again, from the top down. This rugged Himalayan survived a midsummer tornado in 1989 without staking.
There’s a Clematis for virtually every garden situation: choose the taller varieties to cover an arbor or a trellis, and grow the shorter and non-climbing types through shrub roses and small trees. You can also select Clematis varieties with different bloom times for flowers in virtually every season except winter. Flowering periods begin in early spring with the compact alpinas and macropetalas, then progress through early summer with the large-flowering hybrids, and continue through late summer with the texensis and viticella varieties to a flourishing finish with the exuberant Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora, also known as C. paniculata).
The vining Clematis climb upward on supports to create aerial floral displays. Try pairing two varieties with blossoms similar in form but different in color to play off against each other, or combine with Climbing Roses for a glorious contrast of color and form. Clematis also partner wonderfully with other vines, shrubs, and small trees, adding a second season to spring bloomers such as Lilacs or Crabapples.
Because a Clematis climbs by twining its stems and leaf petioles around any narrow support, it is equally happy on trellising made of lathe, wire, bamboo, or rustic twigs. If you want the Clematis to grow up through a Rose, shrub, or small tree, plat it about a foot away from the base. With large trees, choose a vigorous variety and attach black nylon netting on the trunk for something it can cling to.
Non-climbing Clematis species have a more upright, clump-forming habit and can be supported by pushing twiggy branches into the soil near the plant’s crown in early spring or by placing grow-through supports (such as those for Peonies) around the crown. Or, just let them ramble informally through neighboring plants like Shrub roses or along the ground or stone walls.
In general, Clematis need at least six hours of sun; some varieties are adapted to partial shade, and all benefit from afternoon shade in the South. Plant the crown of bareroot Clematis fully 3-4in below soil level. They require shade at their roots — apply a 2in mulch (keep mulch about 4in from the crown) or underplant with annuals or shallow-rooted perennials. A neutral soil is preferable, and provide about one inch of water weekly. Clematis is a heavy feeder; apply a low nitrogen fertilizer such as a 5-10-10 in spring, when the buds are about 2 inches long. Then, add a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer every 4-6 weeks throughout the growing season.
The main reason for pruning is to increase flowering, but not all clematis are pruned in the same way. They are divided into three major pruning groups depending on their bloom season; our Gardening Help section explains these specifics. However, dead or damaged stems may be removed at any time. Early in the first spring after planting, prune the stems of all Clematis varieties down to the lowest pair of healthy buds. Thereafter, prune to control size and shape or to encourage more profuse bloom. Older vines that are only flowering on a small area at the tops of the stems can be rejuvenated by cutting them back severely, to about 18in. Wait until after the first flush of bloom to perform the surgery. Gardening with Clematis can become a rewarding addiction — you can’t stop with just one variety or one type.
Hydrangea is a valuable genus of some 100 species of shrubs and vines grown for their large and spectacular flower heads. Beloved for centuries, they’re vigorous, of easy care, and attractive at virtually every stage of growth. In addition, they are at their showy best in summer and fall – a time when many woody plants are resting.
Most Hydrangeas are not fussy as long as they receive their preferred amount of sunlight (generally full sun to part shade) and are planted in moist, well-drained loamy soil. They will thrive in coastal areas since they can tolerate high winds and salt. Hydrangeas do need water if it doesn’t rain but are otherwise undemanding. Click here for the complete guide on growing Hydrangeas.
In recent years breakthroughs in breeding have produced exciting new varieties that bloom on old and new wood. ‘Blushing Bride’ and Endless Summer® are among these exceptional long bloomers. They flower on old wood starting late spring and then on new growth in midsummer. In warm climates, such as Zones 4-5, since bloom on new wood is reliable, even after a severe winter. Regular deadheading of these varieties helps encourage rebloom. For tips on pruning all varieties of Hydrangea, click here.
In addition to extended blooming periods, some of the newer varieties also display amazing color combinations. Vanilla Strawberry™ has red stems with large, creamy white flower heads that turn strawberry red to burgundy. As new flower heads keep coming, all three color stages appear together. Unlike varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla that produce blue flowers in acid soils or pink in alkaline soils, this beauty — voted Top Plant for 2010 by the American Nursery and Landscape Association — will remain pink and white regardless of pH.
In addition to creating a beautiful garden display, Hydrangea blooms make exceptional dried flowers. Mopheads and Lacecaps are the most widely grown varieties, and of these, is is the mophead that makes the best candidate for drying.
Both mature blooms and freshly opened flowers can be dried, each with a different technique. Late in the season (August to October, depending on the variety) cut blossoms that are starting to fade a bit, but before they turn brown, and include about 12in of the stem with them. Just strip off the leaves and dry the stems in a vase, either with or without water, away from direct sun. If you dry them in water, only use a few inches in the vase and let the water evaporated without replenishing. The stems can also be hung upside down in a cool, dry place out of direct sun.
Fresh, newly opened blooms can be dried in silica gel. Place about an inch of the gel in the bottom of a large container. Hold the blossoms upside down on the gel (make sure they have no moisture on them), and carefully sift gel over them until they are covered. Place a cover on the container. After four days, gently pour all the silica onto newspaper (you can save the gel for future use). The blooms are now ready to use in an arrangement.
It’s June in the garden. What are some of the things you could be doing?
For starters, with spring’s unsettled weather finally yielding to the more predictable warmth of summer, it’s time to consider giving your houseplants a summer vacation outdoors. Make sure to provide all houseplants with a sheltered, lightly shaded spot when you first bring them outside to protect them from sun and wind. Depending on the plants, some may require full shade all summer, while others will enjoy a real sunbath. Since most of your plants will be growing more strongly in summer, be sure to keep up with fertilizing as well as watering.
Amaryllis that blossomed for you in winter can be summered over outdoors, a ritual that rebuilds the bulb for another season of winter bloom. Plants will benefit from the stronger sunlight in the garden and are happy in a full sun location after a gradual introduction. Their strappy foliage is feeding the bulb for next winter’s performance. You can knock the bulbs out of their pots and plant them in a bed, or leave them as they are in their pots. If leaves turn yellow, cut them off at the base. We keep our Amaryllis outside until light frost blackens the foliage in autumn, then we store them in a cool (55 degrees F), dark place such as a basement for a period of 8-10 weeks. For more information on caring for these exotic bulbs, see our Amaryllis Growing Guide.
What else should you be doing in the garden?
Prune Lilacs now, removing spent blooms.
Tomatoes will start growing rapidly. Keep plants secure to their stakes or supports by using ties, clips or cotton rags. We like to pinch off suckers, the additional stems that appear in the axils between the leaves and the main stem. For more information on caring for Tomatoes, see our Growing Guide.
Mature Nepeta (Catmints) can get floppy after bloom. After the first flush of flowers, cut back the plants to just a few inches tall. They recover quickly and are more likely to maintain a mounded shape following a serious haircut.
Remove spent Rhododendron flowers as soon as the blossoms subside. Be careful not to remove new buds at the base of old flower stems.
When Lettuce gets bitter and starts to bolt, pull out the plants, compost them, and use the space for Bush Beans or Summer Squash. A late planting of Squash often fools vine borers.
Keep up with weeding and watering.
Harvest Basil by cutting off branches and then removing the leaves. Pinch off flower buds to keep your plant producing stems and leaves. Water when the top 1″ of soil is dry. Feed monthly with a balanced fertilizer.
Visitors to the display gardens at the farm will see Alliums highlighted in many attractive plant combinations. Oriental Poppies make a particularly dramatic partner; others that we favor include Achillea, Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle), Bearded Iris, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, Slavia ‘May Night’, and Stachys ‘Big Ears’.
Because the leaves of larger Alliums tend to fade away just as their distinctive flower heads are at their peak, we often plant the bulbs behind or among perennials in the first or second row of a border. The Alliums’ slender stems rise above the fresh foliage of the perennials, and their flower heads appear to be floating.
Alliums prefer full sun and need good drainage, especially in the winter; given the right spot, they will provide years of pleasure. Another plus: both deer and rodents find them distasteful.
Now is the best time to choose Oriental Poppies to glorify your garden borders next summer. After their blossoms fade, the hairy, sold green foliage goes dormant, so plan to fill the gap with annuals such as Cosmos or Nicotiana, or with tropicals such as Daylilies or Shasta Daisies, Yarrow, and other cottage-garden stalwarts.
Georgia O’Keeffe celebrated fiery orange-red Oriental Poppies in one of her famous paintings. Since then, a breeding bonanza has made other enticing colors as well. Intensely saturated hues, including brilliant oranges and reds, are still popular for their powerful impact, but new varieties also offer subtle effects with pastel blooms in pinks and soft salmon, warm whites, or vibrant shades of plum and purplish pink.
This easy-care, long-lived perennial looks equally at home in cottage gardens or perennial borders. Plant your Poppies in full sun and well-drained soil as soon as possible after they arrive. They will thrive in the coldest climates but don’t hold up well in the heat and humidity of the deep south.
After one of the coldest Aprils since the late 1880s, spring finally broke through in early May (along with a few days in the upper 80s that felt like high summer). The temperature swings notwithstanding, our gardening season is, at last, underway in earnest, and there is no shortage of projects to keep us occupied.
The most fun is a major revision to our display gardens in Morris, CT. Last fall we cleared a large border that, for many years, featured flowering shrubs such as Hydrangea and Viburnum. These were lovely specimens all, and we came to know them well. This border’s next incarnation is as home to an extensive Rose trial and display garden that we expect to be in place for at least 10 years. We will be testing for color, height, fragrance, bloom time, hardiness, disease resistance, and, above all, visitors’ enthusiasm. The species and cultivars will be many and varied, including traditional favorites as basis for comparison for nearly countless new introductions and discoveries. The garden also will incorporate a changing palette of our favorite “companion plants” whose appearance and cultural requirements encourage cohabitation with Roses (and whose presence will support the garden’s overall health). The potential combinations are nearly infinite, a glorious opportunity for self-expression, which we trust you will enjoy and emulate. Our head gardener Cheryl Whalen is shepherding this exciting project, with support from our product development team, and we’re thrilled also to have the assistance of noted landscape architect/designer Julie Moir Messervy and her team at JMMDS (Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio).
Elsewhere on the property, the spring punch list is less picturesque but almost as entertaining. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, we’re installing a sizable solar array, which we anticipate will provide roughly 80% of the nursery’s power needs. We’re excited to be taking a big step towards reducing our carbon footprint, and as old, inefficient infrastructure around the nursery is replaced with more efficient technology, we’ll continue to progress in that direction.
Then there’s the “off-site” work, which, although not immediately visible to visitors, is critical to keeping the array of products we offer to you fresh and interesting. This spring the team has already been in England, the Netherlands, California, and all over the Eastern seaboard researching new plant introductions and bringing home ideas for the catalogs of spring 2019 and beyond. We suppose that all businesses operate in both today and tomorrow, but because of the long lead times in the plant trade, we are especially cognizant of simultaneously working on long-term plans while carefully watching tonight’s weather. Such is the nursery business!
Refer a Friend
Across the decades, our customers have introduced us to a great number of their friends – fellow gardeners and flower lovers who have become valued customers in their own right. To encourage you to introduce your friends to us, we’re pleased to suggest our new Refer a Friend program. When you welcome a friend to White Flower Farm, he or she will receive a $5 coupon for use online, by phone, or via mail order. If your friend makes a purchase, you’ll receive your own $5 coupon, which is our way of saying thank you. Referring is easy. Simply click here and fill in a few blanks. You’re welcome to refer as many friends as you like. There is no limit to the number of coupons you can earn.
Join Us for the 13th Annual Great Tomato Celebration
Our greenhouses are spilling over with more than 100 varieties of Tomato seedlings, including heirlooms and top-rated modern hybrids (all non-GMO), plus fruit and vegetable plants, and a variety of growing supplies for this year’s kitchen garden. We hope you’ll join us Friday, May 18, through Sunday, May 20, when we put everything outdoors for sale at our 13th Annual Great Tomato Celebration. The three-day event is held rain or shine on the hillside adjacent to the White Flower Farm store in Morris, CT. Our staff will be on hand to answer your questions. On Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., our nursery manager and expert Tomato-grower Barb Pierson will give free talks on Top Tips for Growing Tomatoes and Veggies. A catering truck will be on the premises, with breakfast and lunch fare available for sale. Bring your shopping lists, your questions, and your appetite. We look forward to seeing you.
As you dig into the gardening season at your house, keep in mind we’re here to answer questions, assist you in finding the plants and supplies you need, and to help you create your best garden ever.
Hostas are popular shade plants for good reason. They are easy to grow and have minimal maintenance requirements. They are the perfect ground cover for shady gardens, providing a verdant background for colorful bloomers such as Impatiens, Begonias, Astilbes, Foxgloves, and Coral Bells (Heuchera). They also combine well with Ferns, providing a pleasing textural contrast.
Hostas come in a wide range of sizes that makes them suitable for gardens large and small. The diminutive miniatures grow only a few inches tall and wide while some large leaf varieties top out at about 4′ tall. Some of these large varieties form spreading mounds 8′ or more across.
Leaf colors range from all shades of green to blue-gray to golden yellow and creamy white. Foliage may be solid, mottled, or variegated. Many varieties sport a margin in a contrasting color. While most Hostas are grown primarily for their foliage, many produce lovely summer blooms as well. Flowers range from lavender to white. Those that are hybridized from Hosta plantaginea are often highly fragrant.
All Hostas perform best in rich, organic, well-drained and slightly acid soil. Incorporating compost or aged manure into the soil prior to planting is recommended. If granular fertilizer is used after the first year in your garden, be sure it does not contact the leaves or it may cause burning. A topdressing with compost in the spring is usually sufficient.
Hostas will appreciate regular watering, particularly during their first year while their roots establish. A good rule of thumb is to provide about an inch of water each week. To help minimize moisture loss and moderate the soil temperature, cover the soil around Hostas with organic mulch. Eventually the leaves may form a solid ground covering and mulching will be unnecessary.
Creative gardeners like to display their old favorites in new ways. Perking up spring borders with bulbs and converting a section of sunny lawn into a field of Lavender are just a few ideas. Nevertheless, containers offer the broadest design opportunities for every plant type – from annuals, bulbs, and perennials to shrubs and trees.
Flank an entrance with a matching pair of flowering shrubs or evergreens; plant a magnificent urn for a garden focal point; train vines on tuteurs set in big tubs.
Window boxes, Strawberry pots, and hanging baskets offer versatile solutions that can change with each season.
For spontaneous garden whimsy, plant colorful annuals in oddball containers: a rusted coalscuttle, wheelbarrow, rubber boot, doll cradle, colander, old tool tote – whatever strikes your fancy. Remember, though, that containers look best in groups of similar materials. (To allow for drainage, it’s best that each container have at least one hole in the bottom.)
Growing requirements for plants potted in containers are typically the same as for those planted in the ground, except that container plants will need more frequent watering and feeding. Use a moistened potting mix and give the pot a good soaking after planting, then let the soil dry to the touch before watering again. With shrubs, slower growing species are the best choice for containers; allow enough space to fit the root ball comfortably. Check our Growing Guides for information on the requirements for individual plants.
Look for more inspirations in the Gardening Help section of our website. Enjoy!
Enjoying a beautiful garden is easy, but the maintenance can be cumbersome. For some of us, other commitments – jobs, children, spouses – make it difficult to spend every daylight hour in the garden. There are many factors to consider when planning a garden and no two gardens are alike. Each come with their own set of specific needs or requirements that can make it difficult to balance beautiful plants with little maintenance. Your garden might have a great deal of shade, drought conditions, deer in the yard, a small space, or a limited time to tend plants. You might want to attract pollinators, plant natives, or reduce the amount of weeding you’re doing. Whatever the aim or circumstances, the key is choosing the right plants for your garden solution.
If you live where drought is a frequent fact of life, it’s possible to have a lovely garden. Your plant palette is more colorful than you might expect. Even the most drought-tolerant plants do need some supplemental water to become established, however.
One of our favorites to combat drought is Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’. There are four species of Liriope (commonly called Lilyturf), all Asian natives, and are evergreen perennials that spread to form deep carpets of grasslike leaves. Plants here are happy in practically any light conditions, including dense shade, and will tolerate prolonged dry spells without a whimper (they require afternoon shade in the South and West and falter in desert regions). If the foliage looks tattered by winter’s end, it can be mowed to the ground before new growth starts.
If you have a shady spot in your garden or on your patio, these plants will suit nicely. They will perform beautifully in part shade (which we casually define as 3-4 hours of sun per day) to full shade (spots that receive no direct sun at all).
The old-fashioned Bleeding Heart has been a garden favorite for years. It bears long arching racemes of heart-shaped pink flowers. Bloom time starts here in early May and lasts several weeks, subsiding with the arrival of summer heat. Plants often go dormant in mid-summer. Interplant with Ferns and Hostas to fill the breach. If moisture is reliable, they will grow in full sun here in Litchfield. Long-lived and reliable year after year.
All gardeners know they are never alone in the garden. Insects, birds, earthworms, fungi, deer, voles, and many other creatures may visit or live among the plants and in the soil. By including native plants in your landscape, you can supply local wildlife, such as butterflies, with the food and habitat they need for survival. Native plants are well adapted to local conditions and will often thrive with less care than a non-native plant. One of our favorite native plants is Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture.
Of the 200 species in the genus Asclepias, the best known are North American wildflowers. They have small, curiously shaped blooms that appear in dense clusters. These plants provide nourishment for Monarch butterflies through all their life stages, and are essential for their survival.
If deer treat your garden like a buffet provided just for them, there’s an easy solution. Grow plants that aren’t choice items on their menu. Deer will ignore many colorful and attractive plants, and it is possible to create a lovely garden that provides a long season of bloom with varied foliage forms and colors using deer-resistant plants.
Create a serene oasis in shade with perennials that are as graceful as they are rugged, and, just as important to many gardeners, unpalatable to deer. The Tough as Nails Deer Resistant Garden for Shade features a trio of Astilbes with starry pink, red, and white spires and feathery leaves. Their easy-care companions include Lady Ferns, golden Japanese Forest Grass, and Lamium ‘Pink Pewter,’ a vigorous (but not aggressive), mat-forming ground cover with silver-gray leaves and pretty clear pink flowers.
There are many solutions available for each and every garden and attaining a beautiful yard is not out of reach regardless of the needs your yard may require.