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Reviewing Summer’s Highlights

At this time of year, as the days grow perceptibly shorter and the nights are beginning to cool, we enjoy sitting outdoors in the evening, sipping a glass of iced tea (or something stiffer) as the sun goes down, and reviewing some of the season’s highlights.

A Bumper Crop of Blueberries

One of the great joys of the 2017 garden season was a bumper crop of Blueberries. For weeks this summer, we feasted on handfuls of our own fresh-picked fruit, harvesting enough from our array of bushes to make pies and cobblers, and to top our cereal. Who or what gets the credit for the above-average yields? Blueberry bushes thrive in acid soil that is moisture-retentive yet well-drained. Mother Nature did her part by providing plenty of rain, a welcome relief from two previous seasons of drought, which afflicted our region and many other parts of the country. We did our part by boosting the acid level of the soil. We compost our coffee grounds at the feet of our Blueberry bushes. A dose of high acid fertilizer administered twice a year, once in spring and again in early fall, also doesn’t hurt.

Blueberry Earliblue
Blueberry Earliblue

Another factor in this season’s bonanza may have been this year’s temperatures, which were cool in early spring and relatively moderate in summer. Our Nursery Manager Barb Pierson points out that Blueberry flowers stay open longer when temperatures are mild. The longer they remain open, the more time pollinators have to make their rounds. In extreme heat, the flowers wilt, and pollination is thwarted.

Blueberry Blueray
Blueberry Blueray

To enjoy the longest period of harvest possible in any season, we recommend planting several different varieties of Blueberry bushes and choosing plants that fruit at various times. In our gardens, we grow the aptly named ‘Earliblue’ for the season’s first crop, followed by midseason ‘Blueray’ and late fruiting ‘Elliott.’

Blueberry Elliott
Blueberry Elliott

The season’s bumper Blueberry crop notwithstanding, these shrubs are too often overlooked for their ornamental value, something that becomes especially apparent at this time of year when the green foliage changes to shades of burgundy orange. They make a beautiful sight in the autumn light.

The Native Garden Takes Off

It’s often said that native plants have what might be called a hometown advantage – growing better and requiring less support than plants that hail from faraway places. The plants in our new native garden at the farm certainly support the theory. While it must be taken into account that gardeners in our region had a generally fine year thanks to ample rain and milder-than-usual summer temperatures, it’s hard to argue with the stellar performance we’re seeing among the natives. The garden was designed by our head gardener, Cheryl Whalen, and planted out this spring. For inclusion, Cheryl chose a mix of species plants (“species” may be regarded as the original form of any native) and some improved hybrids (plants that have been bred to improve or enhance particular characteristics of the species). In the case of some varieties, Cheryl chose to plant both the species and an improved version or two, which affords us and our visitors the benefit of comparing their differences. The starter plants and bareroot specimens were planted in the garden in May. By July and August, the majority had taken off and filled in beautifully.

Our enthusiasm for natives has led us to add more to our offerings over the last few seasons. Plant some in your garden and see if you don’t experience similar results. You’ll find an array of plants native to the Northeast here on our website.

Native Wildflowers
Native Wildflowers

To find plants native to other areas, visit the Aububon Native Plants Data Base. Enter your zip code and a detailed list of plants will appear.

Here Come the Sweet Peas

The exquisite colors and sweet fragrance of Sweet Peas have made them a longtime favorite of floral designers. But because these plants adhere to a somewhat tricky timetable and require a bit of special care as they grow, they are rarely (if ever) found in garden centers or nurseries. Sweet Peas are started from seeds in late winter, and this can be a defeating proposition for anyone in a cool climate who lacks a heated greenhouse or indoor seed-starting capabilities. Sweet Peas are vining plants, and they tend to tangle as they grow, making them difficult to display on the crowded shelves in most stores.

Sweet Pea
Sweet Pea

Because we love these annuals, and because the demand for them has grown in recent years, we undertook a trial this summer to see if we could ship Sweet Pea plants (not seeds) to our customers. We began by ordering Sweet Pea seeds in a range of pleasing colors. (This is easy work given the range of captivating colors and bicolors available.) We propagated the seeds in our greenhouses, and in early May, just prior to what turned out to be the season’s last frost, we transplanted some of the seedlings into our gardens at the farm. (Sweet Peas can take a bit of cold, and they came through the frost just fine. What they can’t tolerate is high heat.) Other Sweet Pea seedlings were shipped to our homes to ensure that our packaging held the plants securely and that the plants themselves would come through their few days in dark boxes in the back of unheated trucks.

Sweet Pea
Sweet Pea

The happy ending to this story is that all of the Sweet Peas we trialed exceeded our expectations. Our gardens were filled with these lovely blooms, many of them sweetly scented, for weeks in June and July, which is roughly when the plants subside. As of this writing, our horticulture staff is selecting the varieties of Sweet Pea plants we’ll be offering to you in next spring’s Garden Book. Our publications team is putting together the information you’ll need to grow these plants, which require the support of a trellis, fence, tuteur or bamboo stake, along with techniques for encouraging the maximum number of blooms and the long, straight stems that are prized for cutting.

For a preview of some of these techniques and to learn more about Sweet Peas, visit the superb blog post on the topic by our friend Matt Mattus, the author behind Growing With Plants. You’ll find it here.

Lavender Phenomenal™ – True to Its Name

 

Lavender Phenomenal
Lavender Phenomenal

Several seasons ago, we planted a low hedge of Lavender Phenomenal™, a plant that was billed as an exceptionally hardy variety that could take heat, humidity and cold temperatures better than many of its cousins. We were skeptical, as we are when a claim sounds too good to be true, but we also took note of the fact that Lavender Phenomenal™ is used in municipal plantings in Europe due to its vigorous nature. We undertook to test the plant’s hardiness. On the crest of a hill at the farm, in a sunny meadow beside our pool, we planted a low hedge of Lavender Phenomenal™ around the perimeter of the pool enclosure. In the first two years, the plants settled in well. They sailed through two seasons of drought. They came through cold winters with nary a plant lost. Deer meandered by, ignoring the plants completely. This season, which brought more rain than we’ve had in years, a moisture level that can be the bane of Lavender, the plants performed equally well, growing, blooming, thriving, their silver foliage creating a lovely contrast with the green grass around and providing a beautiful definition for the fenced perimeter of the pool. The fragrance of the Lavender carries, and the bees feast on the flowers, adding a joyful buzz to the air. Each time we walk across the field and spy our hedge, we have the sudden sense that we’ve arrived in the south of France. How lovely to feel this sensation in our own back yard.

Fragrant Hosta

Hosta Cathedral Windows
Hosta Cathedral Windows

Hosta plants are justifiably celebrated for their robust dispositions and variety of sizes and colors. They are an essential, indispensable component for every shade garden. But a few varieties of Hosta have even more to offer. These are the scented kinds that are relatives of Hosta plantaginea. Their blossoms emit a delicate fragrance that is sweet and light, but never cloying. In the dog days of summer, it’s a wonder to sniff at the blooms of these fragrant blooms, which provide such unexpected and pleasing perfume. Bees love the flowers, too, and they sometimes can be found inside the blossoms, so check the blooms for visitors before putting your nose too close.

Hosta Cathedral Windows
Hosta Cathedral Windows

We thought it high time these shade garden treasures were given their due, and next spring, we hope you’ll find room in the garden for our Fragrant Hosta Collection. Next summer, when the blossoms appear, you’ll be so glad you did.

 

Our New Line of Indoor Plants

Ruby Rubber Plant
Ruby Rubber Plant

In our fall catalog, we were pleased to introduce a new line of magnificent houseplants. These are beautiful specimens, the majority foliage plants, that we carefully selected for their vigor, perpetual good looks, and ease of care. We’re offering them in a range of sizes and styles from tabletop Aloes and Ferns to statuesque Palms and Philodendrons. These plants were an enormous hit at our annual Tent Sale (the table of them was cleared in about the first 15 minutes), and they’re selling briskly via our catalog and website. I mention them again in this writing because our customer service team has been fielding one common question among prospective buyers of these plants. It goes something like this: “Your indoor plants look large in catalog and website photographs, just how big are they?” We’re pleased to report that the scale of the houseplants you see in our photographs roughly matches the size of the plants we send to you (with a bit of give and take allowed for the variations that occur among natural, living plants). Our shipping staff spent a considerable amount of time devising the correct packaging for each new variety – especially the largest – to ensure that our plants arrive at your door looking just the way they did when they left our greenhouses.

Lady Palm
Lady Palm

It’s important to note that while all of these houseplants are low-maintenance additions to any home or office, their lighting and watering requirements will differ depending on type. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the needs of your particular plant, the cardinal sin for most being overwatering. Complete information for caring for each houseplant is included in all shipments. You’ll also find it on our website, on the product page for each plant, under Growing Guide.

As we all begin moving our plants indoors for the autumn and winter, we encourage you to add living greenery to your interiors. Plants add color and vitality, and we can’t be alone in thinking they make life better.

 

Route 63 Crocus Mix

Plant Specialty Bulbs to Invigorate Your Garden

One of the best aspects of the minor bulbs is that they’re easy to plant. Just use a trowel or bulb planter and dig holes to the recommended depth. For very small bulbs you can even plant several in a single hole.

Galanthus Nivalis

Take advantage of the low cost of minor bulbs and plant them en-masse to create a big impact. There are small bulbs that bloom during every part of spring, so you can enjoy a continuing show that starts with Snowdrops (Galanthus) in March and ends with Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) in June.

Hyacinthoides hispanica 'Excelsior'
Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’

To foster a natural look, scatter bulbs in clusters rather than line them up in rows. Many specialty bulbs will naturalize over time, increasing in numbers each year. Just make sure they have sufficient humus-rich soil and that they’re not competing with tree roots for nutrients. If you plant minor bulbs in lawn areas, refrain from mowing until the foliage has died down naturally. Woodland areas, rock gardens, and perennial beds are also ideal locations to naturalize small bulbs.

Professional's Naturalizing Daffodil Mix
Professional’s Naturalizing Daffodil Mix

A little bulb fertilizer provides the nutrients necessary to keep bulbs performing well in the garden. The best time to fertilize bulbs is in the fall when they are sending out new roots. The next best time is in early spring, just as the foliage begins to emerge. We recommend using a slow-release fertilizer formulated especially for bulbs, such as a granular Daffodil fertilizer. Simply apply the fertilizer to the surface of the soil above the bulbs after planting, and then every fall thereafter. We do not recommend using bone meal since it contains only one primary nutrient (phosphorous) and attracts dogs and rodents, which may dig up the bulbs. Plan to plant your bulbs soon after they arrive. If you can’t plant right away, remove the bulbs from their packaging and keep them in a cool, dry space. Although you can plant bulbs until the ground freezes, it’s best to give them time to develop roots.

Pollinator Garden for Sun

Customer Favorites for Fall Planting

On late summer afternoons when it’s just too hot to work in the garden, we love to sneak away for a while and enjoy a cool drink on a bench in the shade. Sitting quietly, we’re usually rewarded by sightings of hummingbirds. These tiny dynamos never fail to amaze and delight.

Although hummingbirds visit feeders stocked with sugary nectar, they seem to spend most of their time zipping among their favorite plants. Here are a few to add to your garden planning list for late summer bloom:

Lonicera sempervirens Major Wheeler
Lonicera sempervirens Major Wheeler
  • Lonicera sempervirens. Unlike Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica), our native Trumpet Honeysuckle is not invasive and relatively easy to keep in bounds. Plants are covered with clusters of narrow, trumpet-shaped blooms for most of the summer. Our new favorite is ‘Major Wheeler’, which has brilliant red-orange blooms. Trumpet Honeysuckle grows best in full sun, but we’ve also seen a magnificent specimen growing on the north side of a house surrounded by Maples. It’s definitely a plant worth trying in partial shade, too.
 Monarda didyma Pink Lace

Monarda didyma Pink Lace
  • Monarda. Beebalm is a vigorous grower with intricate red, purple, or pink blooms. It’s a hummingbird magnet. We like to let plants duke it out with Rudbeckia and Ornamental Grasses in a border that’s allowed to look a little wild. Otherwise, plan to thin or divide Monarda after a couple of years.
Phlox paniculata Laura
Phlox paniculata Laura
  • Phlox Paniculata. Garden Phlox have large, fragrant flower heads in pure white, pinks, purples, and bicolors. Each floret has a narrow throat, pretty much invisible to humans, but enticing to hummingbirds. Plants are long blooming, especially if you can take the time to remove spent blooms and encourage new buds to form. Phlox make terrific cut flowers, too.

Plan Now for Succession of Spring Blooms

Spring Bulbs may be the easiest plants you’ll ever grow. Each contains next spring’s flower already tucked away in its heart. Planted this fall, the bulbs will produce roots as this year’s garden fades away. They’ll be ready to burst into bloom as soon as winter retreats – or even earlier, in a few cases. With a little planning, it’s possible to orchestrate a sequence of blooms that last for several months and overlap the early perennials for a stunning spring display. For most bulbs, the show is beautiful the first year – and keeps getting bigger and better in following springs.

The Works Daffodil Mix
The Works Daffodil Mix

Daffodils, of course, are the first large flowers of spring with their bright colors especially welcome after winter’s dreariness. Deer-resistant and long-lived, most varieties continue to multiply for years, even decades. Some are fragrant, especially the Jonquils. To extend the bloom time, try the earliest Trumpets followed by the midseason Large-cupped, then the later blooming Poeticus varieties. The Works has examples from all these groups, if choosing yourself seems too daunting at first.

Galanthus Nivalis
Galanthus Nivalis

But Daffodils aren’t the first bulbs to appear. Especially if you live where winter seems endless, try adding at least a few handfuls of the early blooming bulbs that will remind you spring is on its way. Galanthus (Snowdrops), Crocus chrysanthus, and Iris reticulata are small but they create a big impact when nothing else is blooming in the garden. These bulbs are tiny and even several dozen can be planted in no time at all. Choose a spot you’re likely to see every day, such as near your main entry or a flowerbed you can see from a kitchen window. We guarantee that a few months from now, you will be delighted that you did.

Muscari Latifolium
Muscari Latifolium

These little beauties are soon followed by Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-Snow), Anemone blanda, Crocus vernus (the larger Dutch Crocus), Erythronium, Hyacinths, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Scilla, and species Tulips. We have mixtures of many of these varieties, which provide maximum diversity of color and form to make your selections easy.

Tulip Elegant Lady
Tulip Elegant Lady

Overlapping this second group are various Fritillaria, Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), and Narcissus (Daffodils). The large-flowered Tulips, such as the Darwin Hybrids, tend to bloom along with Daffodils making them fine companions. The distinctive and elegant Lily-Flowered Tulips, with their graceful stems, usually provide the swan song of spring-flowering bulbs. They Hyacinthoides (Bluebells) transition to the first flush of early summer perennials, followed by the fragrant Lilies of summer.

 

Spanish Bluebells Mixture
Spanish Bluebells Mixture

Have fun choosing a color theme, or exuberant mixes of hues and varieties. Even a few dozen bulbs will cheer you next spring, before your perennials are barely discernible tufts of green.

 

Bulb Bloom Chart
Bulb Bloom Chart

Our Top 5 Garden Questions

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.

Overwatering can be detrimental to plants. Water only when the soil is dry to a depth of 1″. Always check the soil before you turn on the tap.

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.

The foliage of Phlox ‘Robert Poore’ is covered in powdery mildew. The plants need to be cut at the base and removed and discarded (not composted) or the mold will return in spring to re-infect the plants. Powdery mildew won’t inhibit the blossoms, but it’s not much to look at.

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.

Hydrangea Endless Summer(R) blossoms on old and new wood. At the end of August, prune back some of the stems if the plant is growing too tall.  Remove some of the oldest stems at ground level to thin out the shrub as needed. In spring, prune out only dead wood once new growth emerges.

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.

 

 

Native Plants for Autumn Interest

By Jonathan Chesler

Assistant to the Head Gardener

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.

The white-flowering Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan,’ and Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ are both improved natives, and they’re both popular with pollinators.

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).

Aster ‘Monch,’ an improved variety of our native Aster, begins blooming earlier than most of its relatives. The lavender flowers arrive in our area around July, and they keep on coming until frost.

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.

Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ is an improved variety of the straight Honeysuckle species, our native Lonicera sempervirens. Hummingbirds love the tubular flowers on this vine. You’ll love the color that persists from summer into fall.

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.

New York Ironweed in flower at the site of the former Project Native. The tag on the butterfly is part of a study monitoring their progress in the wild. / Photo by Jonathan Chesler

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.

Part of the Mariachi(TM) series of compact Heleniums, ‘Fuego’ is an improved form of our native Helenium autumnale. It adds vibrant late-season color to the garden.

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.

Our native Viburnum acerifolium, or Maple-leaved Viburnum, produces lacy white blossoms in summer followed by richly colored foliage in the fall. / Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Gardens
Maple-leaf Viburnum puts on its autumn show. The berries are inedible to humans but they’re favored by birds. / Photo by Jonathan Chesler

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.

Amsonia hubrichtii, its foliage glowing yellow in autumn, is a Southeastern native and a cousin of our Northeastern native, Amsonia tabernaemontana.

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.

Pretty Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ adds beauty and fragrance to summer gardens. The dark green foliage turns yellow in autumn. It’s an improved form of the native Clethra alnifolia.

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.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is a standout in the late summer border amid violet pink Phlox, paler pink Agastache (foreground right), the dried flower heads of Drumstick Allium (left), and globe-shaped Allium (foreground right), and Ornamental Grass.

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.]

 

Problem Solving Plants for Your Garden

The simplest way to increase your success in the garden is to select plants that match your conditions. Sun-lovers such as Peonies and Daylilies will be less vigorous and less floriferous when grown in shade, and shade-lovers such as Hostas, Astilbes, and Ferns tend to get crispy and bleached when they bake all day. No amount of fertilizer will change those performances.

These huge blooms of Old-time Peony Collection are on display in June.
These huge blooms of Old-time Peony Collection are on display in June.

It’s easy to fall in love with a plant, but you’ll spare yourself a lot of heartache if you can match that plant’s needs with the conditions you have. It may be worth experimenting once in a while, but you’ll save time and money and frustration when most of your choices fit your site. Beyond the basics of sun and shade, you can also look in our quick guide for plants that resist deer, attract butterflies, rebloom with abandon, or even tolerate tough conditions.

The blooms of Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Hybrids show off shades of pink to lavender pink, light pink and white in June and July.
The blooms of Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Hybrids show off shades of pink to lavender pink, light pink and white in June and July.

Whether you’re lucky enough to have mature trees providing shade or you live in a new development with lots of wide-open sunny spaces, there are perennials, bulbs, and shrubs that will love to grow in your garden. So size up your site, make notes on your aesthetic preferences and enjoy browsing for just-right plants. Our Web site provides an A-Z List of Growing Guides in the Gardening Help section so you can be successful with every plant you choose.

Colchicum 'Rosy Dawn'

Fall Blooming Bulbs

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.

Elegant, goblet-shaped blooms of Crocus speciosus are violet blue to mauve in color.
Elegant, goblet-shaped blooms of Crocus speciosus are violet blue to mauve in color.

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.

Sternbergia lutea, a lovely fall-flowering Crocus look-alike with bright yellow blooms.
Sternbergia lutea, a lovely fall-flowering Crocus look-alike with bright yellow blooms.

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.

Bright red flowers, adorned with long, curling filaments make up Lycoris radiata.
Bright red flowers, adorned with long, curling filaments make up Lycoris radiata.

Plant fall-flowering bulbs as soon as possible after you receive them because they need to establish their root systems. Plant Crocuses 2-3in 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.

 

Allium Globemaster

A Glorious June Garden, Refreshed by Rain

Visitors to the farm this June are in for a splendid show. After two years of what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called “extreme drought,” our part of New England has been blessed with rain, and plenty of it. As of this writing, maps produced by NOAA and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) show that drought conditions have eased in Connecticut and many other parts of the country. Even before the news was official, the plants in the garden were broadcasting the news, the effects of the abundant rainfall evident in lush growth that celebrates the end of a dry spell. It’s raining again as we write this, and our perennials, shrubs and trees all look vibrant and refreshed. The succession of bloom that began in late winter has segued into a June crescendo of Bearded Iris, Peonies, Poppies, Nepeta, perennial Salvia, Allium, and Amsonia hubrechtii. It’s an enchanting time in the garden, one of our favorite “moments” in any season, and this June is particularly magnificent.

Photo of Lloyd Border in June
The Lloyd border at our farm in Morris, CT.

Visitors to the farm often remark that we must be awfully busy at this time of year, and, of course we are, but not necessarily in the way you might think. While the garden staff is finishing up the mulching and is steadily weeding and tending the beds and borders, the planting is nearly finished, and a goodly number of us have moved on to making plans for autumn. The publications staff is finishing the final edits on the fall catalog (which will arrive in your mailbox sometime in early August). The nursery and product development teams are focused on clearing out the warehouse and greenhouses, which soon need to be empty to make room for the arrival of fall-planted bulbs and houseplants.

Lest you think we’re idling around the place, there is plenty to do. Pursuant to our need to empty the warehouse and greenhouses, we’re pleased to host our Annual Tent Sale & Open House on Friday and Saturday, June 16th and 17th.

Open House and Tent Sale Event
Customers at our annual Open House and Tent Sale event.

Annual Tent Sale & Open House

We know some of you wait patiently each year for the Tent Sale, and for good reason. This year’s two-day event takes place, rain or shine, on the hillside beside the store. On offer will be an array of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, along with growing supplies, garden gear, and our exclusive Crete pottery in a wide variety of sizes and forms. For you early birds, please note we’ll be opening at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. If you’ve attended the sale in year’s past, you know shoppers line up well before start time. When the clock strikes the hour, aficionados and bargain hunters bolt up the hill like colts in the Kentucky Derby, racing to secure Crete pots, Tomato ladders, and plants, all at substantially discounted prices. To help with your shopping, we suggest, if possible, you bring along a garden cart.

Hours are:
Friday, June 16th:  8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, June 17th:  9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

In the midst of the glorious madness, we’re a bit humbled and mighty grateful to be celebrating our 67th year in the nursery business. We hope you’ll mark the occasion with us by attending our free Annual Open House on Saturday afternoon, June 17. Free guided tours of our gardens begin at 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., we’ll set out free fruit, cucumber sandwiches, iced tea, and fresh strawberries, which we hope you enjoy as you mingle with a company of friends, fellow gardeners, and members of the Wadsworth family, the owners of White Flower Farm. While you’re here, we hope you’ll take the time to shop for a few great additions to your garden and landscape.

Liatris spicata Alba
Liatris spicata Alba, a butterfly favorite, in the company of a purple-flowering Echinacea.

Native Garden

Among the new sights to be seen in our display gardens are the plants that have been settled into our Native Garden. Nearly all of the perennials and shrubs are now in the ground. The spring rains have been beneficial in allowing them to settle in nicely after transplant. Our head gardener Cheryl Whalen is pleased with her layout, the actual planting now fairly closely mirroring the original planting plan she created on paper. (Here is where beginning green thumbs may take heart: Even among the most experienced gardeners, there are often challenges and surprises in going from a paper plan to the ground, with adjustments and replantings often required as you go.) None of the freshly planted natives are in bloom at this writing, but that’s to be expected. “It’s only a first-year planting so I don’t expect much in the way of a big show of blooms,” Cheryl says. “It’s enough for the plants to just get well established.” (Beginning gardeners might also take note of the patience that is part of every great gardeners makeup.)

Sternbergia Lutea
Fall-planted, fall-blooming Sternbergia lutea adds golden color and Crocus-like form to the autumn garden.

Fall-Blooming Bulbs

On the subject of blooms, with our spring planting mostly complete, our minds are shifting to plans for autumn bulb planting. Tops on our list are fall-planted, fall-blooming bulbs, which add surprise and help continue the garden’s color show right up until frost. Too little appreciated, bulbs such as Colchicum and Sternbergia are planted in the autumn, and they bloom a few weeks later. One of our favorites is Colchicum ‘Waterlily,’ which we like to tuck in amid the spiky chartreuse foliage of Sedum ‘Angelina.’ When the Colchicum blossoms in September and October, the color contrast is pure delight. Sternbergia lutea may be nicknamed the “Autumn Daffodil” for its golden yellow color, but in form, it most closely resembles a Crocus. Planted near blue-flowering Caryopteris or purple-flowering Salvia, the September-blooming heirloom creates lovely contrast.

Tulip humilis 'Tête-à-Tête'
Tulip humilis ‘Tête-à-Tête’

On our list of fall-planted bulbs that will bloom in spring, we’re stocking up on Species Tulips. The most perennial of all Tulips, these charmers are available in a beguiling array of colors, forms and sizes. Last fall, Cheryl planted Species Tulip bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ under an ornamental Dogwood tree, and intermingled it with the dwarf Narcissus ‘Hawera’ and the perennial ground cover Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop.’ We can’t walk past a Dogwood without wishing to see the same combination planted under every one. Low-growing Species Tulip humilis ‘Tête à Tête’ will find a place alongside a few of our rock walls, the vibrant cherry red color being just the thing to banish winter when it peeks out in April or May. Golden orange Species Tulip praestans ‘Shogun,’ which grows 6-10” tall, is a welcome warming sight in the early spring garden, and it creates a burst of sunshine orange alongside Fritillaria imperialis.

If we can help with your plans for fall planting or answer any questions, you know where to find us. In the meantime, we hope you’re enjoying the beauty of your own June garden.

Reblooming Iris Repeat Their Magic In Late Summer

Tall Bearded Irises invigorate summer gardens with their rainbow of colors. You’ll find nearly every shade or color combination in this beloved group of June-Blooming plants named for Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. The sculptural qualities of their elegant blossoms and sword-like foliage are important design elements in perennial borders. Fragrance is often an overlooked quality, yet their perfumes are sweet and pervasive.

Reblooming Iris Collection.

Flowers appear sequentially on buds spaced along the stems, which should be cut down to the base after blooming is finished. Reblooming Iris will send up new fans that develop flower spikes as they mature later in the season, giving you a second display of showy flowers after many other perennials have passed their prime. Give them a light dose of fertilizer after the first bloom and regular watering when the things get hot.

Tall Bearded Iris Captain’s Choice boasts seaworthy shades of deep nautical blue and crisp white that combine in a commanding salute to spring.

Bearded Irises are generally easy to grow. Provide full sun to very light shade and well-drained soil. Add sand if your soil is heavy and plant so that the top of the rhizome is above the soil line. Few pests bother them, except for the Iris borer. Ward off that problem by keeping the soil around plants free of weeds and, in fall, do a thorough cleanup around plants because the borer eggs overwinter in plant debris.