The Store Is Open for the Season!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Red-flowering Andromeda shrubs blossom outside the store in Morris.

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.

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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.

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Decorative welcome mats and bird baths, a variety of birdhouses including some made using reclaimed wood, a range of houseplants including Begonias, Sansevieria, and Croton, and Dahlia tubers all await visitors to the store.

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.

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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!

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Yellow-flowering forsythia shrubs await their new homes.

Please note: The Store will close at 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday, April 16th.

 

Break-Through Clivia Bred by Longwood Gardens

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:

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Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Fireworks’

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.

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Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Sunrise’

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.

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Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Chimes’

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.

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Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Debutante’

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.

 

Mt. Holyoke College’s Spring Flower Show

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.

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Outside it was winter, but a few steps indoors, and it was a different world.
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Ipheon ‘Tessa’ blossoms against a backdrop of fragrant hyacinth blooms.
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The orange corona on Narcissus ‘Accent’ creates dynamic color contrast with the violet-blue blossoms of Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket.’
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Narcissus ‘Minnow’ is a diminutive fragrant Tazetta that produces 3 to 5 stems per bulb. Each planting is like a ready-made spring bouquet.
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The blossoms of a Cymbidium Orchid create color harmony with the ribbon-like blooms of a witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ which was forced indoors for the display.
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A pop of bright spring color comes from fragrant Hyacinth ‘Jan Bos,’ which was planted alongside a magenta primrose and a shamrock-shaped oxalis.
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The colorful foliage of a head-turning geranium, Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial,’ finds an echo in the bright sunny blossoms of Narcissus ‘Ceylon.’
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Mt. Holyoke College’s Botanic Garden 2017 Spring Flower Show, ‘Spring Pools,’ runs daily through Sunday, March 19th.

Bubbling With Ideas for Spring

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Spring” in February

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.

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A warm February with temperatures in the 60s has convinced this Connecticut daffodil that it’s time to bloom. Roused from winter slumber, it sends up leaves and a blossom bud.

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.

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Tulip foliage appearing above ground in a Connecticut garden on February 22.

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.”

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Galanthus (snowdrops) blooming amid the February snow in a Connecticut garden.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Snow-Covered New England, We Dream of a Tropical Paradise

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.

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The Payne Mansion, home to the Museum of Botany & the Arts, on the grounds of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.

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.)

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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.

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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.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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.

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(Image courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens)

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, visit www.selby.org.

 

 

 

‘Holiday’ in Atlanta

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.

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Floors and floors of showrooms at the International Gift and Home Furnishings Market in Atlanta.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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Gleaming copper is still trending with bronze and galvanized metal also ubiquitous.

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.

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Flat-sided wicker baskets create a “green” wall of ferns and other plantings.

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.

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The popularity of easy-care succulents and air plants shows no sign of subsiding.

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.

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Conservatory-style containers were glimpsed alongside a variety of other vessels designed for displaying plants indoors.

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!

 

 

 

Caring for Cut Flowers

In the depths of winter, when color in the landscape is hard to come by and the flowers that filled our summer gardens exist only, for the time being, in our memories and imaginations, many of us decorate our homes with cut flowers. The sight of a bountiful bouquet of flowers, or the fragrance of lilies and other blossoms can do wonders for winter-weary spirits. Many of us also give and receive cut flowers for Valentine’s Day, which, as it happens, is coming right up.

To help you properly care for your cut flowers, our video crew recently went to work readying a film on the topic. As it works its way through post-production, we thought we’d provide a few timely tips. So, just in time for your Valentine’s Day delivery, here are a few quick and easy pointers on caring for cut flowers:

Whether your bouquet arrives by mail order or from a local shop, open the box or bag as soon as possible and carefully remove all packaging materials. (If the flowers are wrapped in a cello sleeve, slice the sleeve off rather than pulling the flowers out. The same is true for rubber bands or plastic binders. Cut them and gently tug them off the stems. Pulling the stems free can break off petals, buds or blooms.) Set your flowers beside the sink.

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Find a vase you wish to use, or use the one that may have arrived with your bouquet. The vase should be sized appropriately for your flowers. Even the most beautiful bouquet will look terrible in a vessel that has too wide a neck (which causes the stems to splay and the bouquet to look sparse) or one that’s too small (which can crush or bruise the flower stems thereby shortening the life of your bouquet). In terms of height, designers generally select a vase that is 1½ times shorter than the stems. All of that said, the main idea is to please yourself, so choose the vase you love best or the one that has the most meaning to you.

Disinfect the Vase

If the vase is your own, be sure it’s clean. A general practice employed in the floral trade is to disinfect with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Make certain to rinse the vase thoroughly to eliminate the bleach. Fill your vase two-thirds full of lukewarm water.

Don’t Overfeed

If plant food arrives with your bouquet (it will resemble a small sugar packet), take a minute to read the instructions on the label, which generally call for a small amount to be mixed in (not the whole package at once). Add the recommended amount to the water and stir it in. Do not add too much and overfeed as this may cause harm to your flowers. Conserve any remaining plant food for use in the coming days when you refresh the water. Remember that plant food does not always accompany bouquets. Many bulbous blooms such as lilies, tulips, daffodils and iris don’t require it.

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Provide Support

Flowers are easiest to arrange if they’re held in place. Use a flower frog or floral foam in the bottom of the vase, if possible, or use cello tape to create a lattice pattern across the top of the vase, leaving openings at intervals for the stems.

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Hydration Is the Key

The most important thing you can do for cut flowers is to give them water. If hydration is denied for too long, blossoms will droop and fade away. (We’ve all seen bouquets in which budded roses never bloom, they simply hang their heads and dry out, most likely due to lack of water.)

Using a pair of sharp scissors or pruners, cut at least 1 inch off the bottom of each stem, cutting the stems at an angle so they won’t sit flat against the bottom of the vase, inhibiting the uptake of water. Strip away any leaves that will otherwise be submerged in the vase. (Submerged leaves can invite bacteria.) Set each stem in water as quickly as possible. Continue with the other flowers in the bouquet, arranging them as you go. Don’t be afraid to pull them out and rearrange them to create a composition you like. Remember that some flowers including roses and lilies may arrive in bud stage and open gradually. Keep their mature sizes and shapes in mind as you place the stems.

If you can’t fit all of the flowers into a single vase, try using extra vessels. Likewise, if there’s a flower you don’t like in a mixed bouquet but would prefer to feature on its own, create two arrangements.

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Set your flowers in a bright spot with no direct sunlight. Avoid putting them on or alongside a heat source such as a radiator or fireplace. Check the water level regularly, adding more as needed. Change the water completely every few days to keep it fresh and clean, adding more plant food, if it came with your bouquet. If you see any flowers beginning to droop or “neck over,” trim their stems by another inch or so, and put them back in water. As days pass and some flowers naturally subside, remove and discard them. If a few flowers outlast all the others, transfer them to a smaller vase to enjoy them for as long as possible.

All of this may sound like a lot of work for one bouquet of flowers, but we promise the preparations go quickly, most are plain common sense, and they’ll help you get the most out of your beautiful bouquet.

 

 

Asclepias tuberosa: Essential Monarch Food & a Whole Lot More

Asclepias tuberosa, our native Butterfly Weed, has long been a favorite in the borders, beds and meadows here at the farm. In recent years, it’s attracted significant attention as an essential source of food for Monarch butterflies who feed on it during their larval stage. (For more information about its role in sustaining Monarchs, visit the website for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.)

This year, it was named the 2017 Perennial of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association.

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The nectar-rich blossoms of Asclepias tuberosa provide food for a wide variety of pollinators.

We have long encouraged plantings of Asclepias tuberosa (pronounced uh-sklee’pee-us) because, in addition to providing food for Monarchs and nectar for a wide variety of pollinators, it’s a boldly colorful bloomer that provides four seasons of interest in the garden. Hardy in zones 4 through 9S and 10W, it grows a modest 1- to 2-feet tall, making it ideal for the edge of the border. The plants produce clusters of brilliantly colored, nectar-rich orange blooms from July through September. (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow,’ an enhanced native variety, grows 2–to 3-feet tall and produces yellow flowers.) These plants shrug off drought, do well even in poor soil, and are deer resistant.

ASCLEPIAS TUBEROSA (YELLOW FORM)
Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’

As autumn arrives, Asclepias tuberosa’s seedpods add interest to borders and beds. The slim, decorative pods are filled with papery seeds. As the season progresses, the pods split open, and the seeds, which are attached to silky white parachutes, scatter in the wind. The plant’s pale, empty husks remain, and as winter settles in, the pods look magnificent coated in frost and then in swirling snow. The winter beauty of this plant is not lost on Dutch designer Piet Oudolf who included Asclepias tuberosa in his design for New York City’s High Line.

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Milkweed pods. Photo courtesy of Deborah Silver of Deborah Silver and Co.

A 2014 post on the Friends of the High Line blog notes: “The intricate flowers [of Asclepias tuberosa] are stars of the garden in the summer, but the empty husks of the seed pods remain an integral part of the winter garden as well. These oblong golden-gray husks are dry and slightly twisted, warped from the process of drying out. The outsides are rough and gray, with a hint of gold when the light is right. The insides are soft white, reminiscent of the silky hairs that caught the wind and carried the seeds away. These pods crown the remnant skeleton of the stem, providing a subtle, textural beauty during the deep cold of winter. These structures remind us that to High Line planting designer Piet Oudolf, ‘the skeletons of the plants . . . are just as important as the flowers.’ ”

When planting Asclepias tuberosa, be mindful of a few things. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil (sandy soil is ideal; clay and heavily enriched soils are not). After planting, water the plant deeply then hold off until you see it begin to wilt a bit. If your Asclepias tuberosa develops yellow, chlorotic-looking leaves, it’s an indication that you’re over-watering.

Since some perennial Milkweed varieties are among the last to emerge from dormancy in spring, you might want to mark their location so you don’t plant something on top of them.

Asclepias tuberosa, zinnia zowie
Create a tone-on-tone palette by planting Asclepias tuberosa with other orange-flowering plants including Zinnia ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame.’

Design-wise, as with many additions to the garden, Asclepias tuberosa is most effective planted in clusters of three or more. To create an eye-popping contrast of colors and flower forms, showcase the bold bright orange blossoms alongside the deep purple flower spikes of Salvia ‘May Night’ and Liatris ‘Kobold.’ For a tone-on-tone effect, our head gardener has planted orange-flowering Asclepias tuberosa amid a sea of other orange bloomers such as Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange,’ Echinacea Butterfly™ ‘Julia,’ Butterfly™ ‘Postman,’ or Prairie Pillars™ ‘Flame Thrower,’ and Helenium ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy.’ In meadow gardens, the orange flowers pair beautifully with ornamental grasses including the 18”–30” Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ and the blue spiky foliage of Festuca glauca Beyond Blue™. They’re also a terrific companion for Amsonia hubrechtii, which has green needle-like foliage that turns into a cloud of yellow in fall.

Liatris spicata Kobold, Stokesia, Asclepias tuberosa
Asclepias tuberosa with the purple flower spikes of Liatris spicata ‘Kobold,’ and the deep lavender blossoms of Stokesia (more commonly called Stokes’ Aster).

Be aware that Asclepias tuberosa does not appreciate being moved once it’s settled in. The plants produce deep taproots that are better left alone once planted, so site it with care, let it be, and enjoy all of the benefits of this tremendously valuable plant.

 

 

Cheating Winter – The Bulbs Take Root

Last autumn, did you take our advice and pot up some bulbs for indoor forcing? We hope so! Here’s an update on how some of our potted bulbs are doing, and it provides plenty of how-to tips for anyone who might like to try this:

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  • After we potted bulbs in late October, we put them in an outdoor shed. The shed is unheated (in Zone 5), but it’s attached to the house. We covered the bulbs with a couple of old flannel sheets. This helps modulate the temperature while keeping the bulbs in the kind of darkness they’d be experiencing if they’d been planted in the ground.
  • Every 2 to 3 weeks, we’ve been checking the soil for moisture. If the surface feels dry to the touch, we water sparingly.

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  • To ensure the bulbs are kept at the proper temperatures, we placed a thermometer in the storage crate alongside the bulbs. We monitor it regularly to make sure the shed temperatures remain in a range similar to what’s going on outdoors as temperatures drop from fall to winter, but that, ideally, they never go below freezing for an extended period of time.

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  • After about 10 weeks, we begin checking the pots to see if the bulbs have rooted. It’s simple to do. Being careful to hold the soil and bulbs in place, gently turn the pot over and look for roots emerging from the pot’s drainage holes. If roots are visible, the bulbs are ready for forcing. (If there are no roots, leave the bulbs in dark, cool storage.)

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  • To keep a steady supply of forced bulbs blossoming indoors, we bring in only a few pots at a time over 3 to 4 weeks. The rest are kept in the shed until it’s their turn. By staggering the forcing, we enjoy spring flowers inside the house from January through March.

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  • Once the pots are brought indoors, we encourage bloom by watering the bulbs and placing the pots under fluorescent lights in a cool room (below 65 degrees F). (If you don’t have a fluorescent light, put your pot in a sunny, south-facing window.) Depending on what type of bulbs you’ve potted, the blossom show will begin soon. Watch for our results in the next Bulb Forcing post!

(To read the first chapter in Bulb Forcing, click here.)