Vintage Charm Planter

New Ways to Feature Your Favorite Plants

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.

Brown Acanthus Urn
Afternoon Tea Annual Collection featured in our Brown Acanthus Urn

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.

Clematis Rosemoor™ Gardini™ climbing our Cedar Tuteur
Clematis Rosemoor™ Gardini™ climbing our Cedar Tuteur

Window boxes, Strawberry pots, and hanging baskets offer versatile solutions that can change with each season.

Mara des Bois in Hanging Basket
Strawberry ‘Mara des Bois’ in a hanging basket

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.)

Tremont Square Pots
Tremont Square Pots

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!

Spring’s Prompt Perennials

It was a heck of a winter here in the Northeast, and we use the past tense hesitantly because we’re now in the midst of one of the cruelest and coldest Aprils any of us can remember. The calendar says April, but it feels more like February. But even if the temperatures remain significantly below normal for this time of year, and even if our gardens are still being glazed by sleet and occasional snow, spring finally seems to be making a stand. At least that’s what some of our favorite, most reliable perennials are telling us.

These quiet stars of the early spring garden won’t upstage the colorful blossoms of Crocus, Daffodils, Hyacinths and Tulips, but they’re among the first perennials to emerge and they go on to give the some of the longest performances of any herbaceous garden plants, finishing only with the arrival of hard frost. The sight of these stalwarts never fails to stir our hearts. They soldier through the most brutal winters, and as the first signs of spring begin to appear, they bring color, anticipation and even hope to a new season. A handful of these plants are past winners of the Perennial Plant of the Year award, and they’re among the most garden worthy plants we know. Below, we show each of them breaking ground in early spring, then, in a second shot, you’ll see the same plants at the peak of their development later in the season. The “spring” photos were all taken in mid-April in a Zone 6a Connecticut garden amid the snow, sleet and chill of this late spring. The plants, as you’ll see, were unfazed. Roused by the strengthening sunlight and longer days, their presence keeps insisting that spring has arrived, even if Old Man Winter hasn’t quite gotten the message.

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ (False Forget-Me-Not)

Prompt in its early spring arrival, the heart-shaped foliage of this shade garden favorite is a delight to behold. The green leaves, veiled and veined in silver, first appear as tiny as teardrops, and they gradually gain in size. Sprays of small blue flowers resembling Forget-Me-Nots arrive on slender stems in May and June, but it’s the foliage that counts. It continues looking beautiful straight through until autumn’s hard frost.

The enchanting leaves of Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ emerging early in spring.
Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ fills in to create a lush mound of beautiful foliage. The tiny blue blossoms are a fleeting treat in May and June.

Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

A fuss-free beauty for the edge of part-shade borders, this tough but lovely plant is utterly distinctive in color and foliage. Pleated buds open into broad, kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges. The soft green color of the leaves blends beautifully with purples, blues, and pinks, and the the frothy chartreuse flower clusters that emerge in June and July energize and enliven any border’s edge.

Achemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) emerging in early spring. Note the pleated leaves. They will gradually broaden and become almost smooth, developing their signature kidney shape.
The indispensable Achemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) topped by its chartreuse flower clusters. A superb plant for the edge of the part-shade border.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

This essential, drought-tolerant perennial for hot, sunny gardens is simply unstoppable. The thick, blue-green succulent foliage breaks ground at the first signs of spring then rises on stems to 18-24”. Greenish-white flower clusters cap the mounding plants in summer, and the flowers open rosy pink in August. Toward fall, they deepen to wine, and they can be left on the plant to dry and catch snowflakes in winter.

The stalwart Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ breaks early in spring. Here, rosettes of succulent leaves emerge amid last season’s cut stems.
The greenish flower clusters of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ open pink in late summer. As the season advances to autumn, the color changes to a rich burgundy.

Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Catmint)

This Lavender-lookalike is one of the great garden plants. Starting early, it sends up masses of gray-green leaves, which appear in tidy mounds that are perfect for edging a border or walkway. As the weather warms, plants produce flower spikes with the lavender-blue blossoms. Adding to the pleasures this plant provides is the tangy scent of its leaves, which stirs the senses at the start of the gardening season. To help plants maintain a neat habit, shear them back by two-thirds after the first bloom. Plants will continue flowering until frost.

A nest of grey-green Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ foliage defies spring’s tempests and heralds the arrival of spring. Brush your hand against the leaves, and the tangy, revitalizing scent is another welcome sign that winter is packing its bags.
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ putting on its show in our display gardens. After the first flush of bloom, shear plants by two-thirds to promote rebloom.

Geranium ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’

This Scented Geranium at first seems too pedestrian to belong on many must-have lists, but when you see the way it performs in your garden, you’ll want more. A superb ground cover for sun to part-shade, this rugged, carefree grower produces a mound of deeply dissected green leaves that look fabulous all season long. Spring brings a sprinkling of 1” pastel pink blossoms, but we love it best for the beautiful, aromatic foliage that blazes orange and red in the fall. These plants spread efficiently but are not invasive, they tolerate dry shade, and they smother weeds in the bargain.

A lush mound of Geranium ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ already filling in nicely in mid-April. Pink flowers appear in May and June. In autumn the leaves turn shades of orange and red.
Geranium ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ smothered in pink blooms in late spring. Weeds don’t stand a chance.

Iris pallida ‘Variegata’

Like rays of sun emerging from the soil in spring, the yellow-variegated blades of this exceptional Iris show themselves early. The warm golden color is welcome in the spring garden, but so too is the foliage form, which creates lovely contrast amid a variety of bulbs. Lavender-blue blooms appear in June, and they carry a scent that is one of the great perfumes of spring. As the season progresses, the yellow variegation in the foliage shades to cream, like shifting light in the garden.

Sunlight gives the blade-shaped foliage of emerging Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ a radiant glow in the spring garden. The yellow tones mix beautifully with spring bulbs. Later in the season, the yellow shades to cream.
The fragrant, lavender-blue blossoms of Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ are another reason to love this carefree perennial. As the season progresses, the foliage continues to add striking form and color to the garden.

Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’

The first leaves of this favorite Phlox emerge green suffused with deep maroon in a colorful celebration of the start of spring.  By summer, stunning flowers open in shades of blue and purple that change with the light of day. In the morning and evening hours, the flowers are deep blue. At midday, they change to purple. This favorite of Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It’s beautiful planted with Ornamental Grasses or amid the feathery foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii.

The colorful foliage of Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ emerges gratifyingly early in spring. The mixed green and maroon colors are a prelude to the changing colors of the blossoms, which shade from rich blue to purple, depending on the light.
Phlox ‘Blue Paradise’ may have earned its name from the magnificent color of the blossoms at morning and evening. The rich blue tone changes to purple in the bright light of midday.

 

 

 

 

The Store Is Open!

Spring has not quite sprung in our neck of the woods (Sunday’s temperature is expected to drop again into the 30s), but the itch to begin gardening is transforming life at the farm. Our garden crew once again is working outdoors, clearing the grounds of fallen leaves and twigs, and preparing for new plantings. As we wait patiently for the emergence of Daffodils and other early spring flowers, the surest sign of spring’s arrival for now is that the White Flower Farm Store has flung open its doors for the season.

This handsome chap is waiting to greet visitors to the store.

New this year are plenty of plant discoveries, hard-to-find varieties, and an exciting collection of garden accessories, tools, supplies, and gift items, including several special gift sets that are ideal for Mother’s Day.

We’re stocked for the season. Among the offerings are our bestselling Rough & Ready Clogs, garden hats, a lovely English Garden Apron and matching Gauntlet Gloves.
We’re particularly excited about an expanding array of gift items for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. The season’s finds include Linnea’s Lights diffusers and scented candles, fragrant botanical soaps, Lavender sachets, and a deluxe Caswell-Massey soap set created for the New York Botanical Garden.

Outdoors, the store’s display areas are filling up with tree specimens, evergreens including Rhododendrons, Junipers and Chamaecyparis varieties, and a wide variety of flowering shrubs. Among the trees, we’re thrilled to be offering beautifully formed ornamental favorites from Japanese Maples and Stewartias to spring flowering Cherries and Dogwoods.

Our Murano glass birdbaths are available in an array of rich colors and patterns.

Annuals and perennials both new and classic have begun to populate the yard. Richly colored Anemones and cheerful Pansies are blooming beautifully, waiting to be planted in containers, window boxes, and garden beds.

Early flowering Anemones defy spring’s twitchy weather.

The gleaming green leaves of Hellebores, some in bloom, and early flowering English Daisies are all ready to be transplanted into the spring garden.

Choose from an array of Dahlia tubers, then plant them in sunny borders or in container pots. Dahlias are indispensable for adding late season color to the garden. They begin flowering in high summer then keep the beautiful, colorful blossoms coming until hard frost.

Inside the store, it’s plain to see the staff has outdone itself. Amid a broad selection of Dahlia tubers, Lily bulbs, and premium houseplants, you’ll find an exciting selection of accessories – from hoses and decoratively patterned kneelers to professional-grade garden tools to our new English Garden Apron and Gauntlet Gloves, Linnea’s Lights candles and diffusers, Mooni Wander Lights, soap sets and Lavender gifts, stunning and colorful Murano glass birdbaths, and Peter Rabbit miniature garden ornaments. Additionally, look for favorites such as Renee’s seed packets and mixes, small plants for terrariums and mini pots, laminated field guides, and stationery and cards.

Miniature plants for terrariums are on offer along with Peter Rabbit miniature garden ornaments.

The store calendar is filled with a variety of special events for the season including the popular Annual Mother’s Day Make & Take Container Event, our annual Great Tomato Celebration, a book signing with author Tovah Martin, and more. For the complete calendar, click here.

We hope you’ll visit the store often and stroll the display gardens in every season. Bring your garden questions and challenges, and show us cell phone photos of your dream gardens or of problem areas in your yard or garden. Our terrific staff, led by store manager Tom Bodnar and team leader and hard goods and visual merchandizer Mary Valente, would be delighted to help and make suggestions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerald Isle Hosta Collection

How to Create an Enchanting Garden Pathway

Make a Path with The Works Daffodils
Make a Path with The Works Daffodils

Paths serve many functions in a landscape, both practical and esthetic. A paved one can lead guests, mud-free, to the front door, or allow you to fetch the mail every day. A gravel path might provide access to a storage shed or garage year-round to fetch the lawnmower and snow shovels. A grass or mulch pathway could lead to the vegetable garden, or invite you to explore the far end of the backyard among shrubs and ferns. Paths should be treated as important design elements, allowing you to link different parts of your landscape or simply draw your eye to various focal points. Sometimes it helps to imagine yourself as a designer, not just a gardener!

Here are some ways to meet the challenge of creating successful pathways that are functional as well as pleasing to the eye.

  • Start with long-blooming perennials and those with handsome foliage. For a long walkway, plan to repeat some of the elements to impart a sense of unity.
  • Vary foliage texture for the most interesting display. Start with your favorite varieties and then look for contrast — narrow and broad-leaved or feathery and ferny leaves. For a full to partial sun location, consider the scalloped, sage green leaves of Lady’s Mantle and deeply cut foliage of hardy Geraniums. For the shade, Hostas provide handsome leaf coloration with varying shapes and sizes.
  • On a long or winding path, add some surprise elements with a handful of tall plants such as the soft yellow Digitalis grandiflora or fragrant Oriental Lilies. Mark a turn in a sunny path with a tuteur or trellis embellished with a Clematis or Climbing Rose.
  • Consider compact shrubs for plenty of easy-care color. For partial or full sun, a number of Hydrangea varieties stay relatively short (3-4ft) and provide lush, showy flower heads. For full sun, there’s a whole new generation of Butterfly Bushes that mature 3-5ft tall with long-lasting, fragrant blooms.
  • Add romance by letting some plants grow over the path’s edge. Imagine a tumble of colorful perennial blooms such as Dianthus, Nepeta, or Coreopsis. Or the blade-like foliage of Ornamental Grasses that catch the slightest breeze and provide a sense of movement.
Plant perennials along the path
Consider Iris, Baptisa, Hydrangeas, Salvia or Heuchera for your path garden.

 

  • Using the path in the evening? White flowers remain visible for a long time after sunset, and reflect the tiniest bit of light. Hardy perennials such as white Astilbes, Gypsophila, and Leucanthemum will look clean and crisp during the day and glow at twilight.
  • Consider adding some annuals to a walkway, especially in the shade. Coleus, Begonias, and Impatiens provide long-lasting color and form tucked between perennials along a path.
  • For a simple, elegant display, a hedge-like planting of fragrant Lavender will transport you to Provence as you stroll along your sunny pathway. Plants are deer-resistant and stay attractive long after the spent blooms have been clipped off.

These ideas are just the starting points for successful pathway plantings.

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

Plants for Every Garden Solution

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.

Liriope muscari 'Variegata'
Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’

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).

Dicentra spectabilis
Dicentra spectabilis

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.

Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture
Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture

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.

Tough as Nails Deer Resistant Garden for Shade
Tough as Nails Deer Resistant Garden for Shade

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.

Decorate Indoors While Dreaming of Spring

This year it seems as if winter just won’t loosen its hold on us. As soon as it begins to warm here in New England, there is yet another snowstorm on the horizon. However, we don’t let the cold snowy days stop us from dreaming of spring. Even as the first green shoots of Daffodils begin to triumph over winter, you can decorate and celebrate the arrival of a new season inside.

Lavender Fields Wreath
Lavender Fields Wreath

Now is the perfect time to change up your indoor decor for the new season. Even though the first day of spring has passed, more cheerful days are ahead. Our colorful Indoor wreaths help bring the garden inside by providing an array of flowers and textures that mimic what is to come in our own yards. These wreaths evoke the colorful spring days that await us.

Sunshine & Roses Wreath
Sunshine & Roses Wreath

Whatever the weather outside, our beautiful fresh bouquets will make your home bright and cheery. We love adding bouquets to help freshen up our indoor decor with spectacular blooms and fragrance. We work with specialty growers to provide long-lasting bouquets. These are shipped in bud stage to allow you maximum enjoyment upon arrival.

Seaside Cottage Bouquet
Seaside Cottage Bouquet
Burst of Happiness Bouquet
Burst of Happiness Bouquet

You can also try sprucing up your indoor pots and containers to showcase the essence of spring. We love the idea of gardening indoors so we use pottery and containers for herbs and small plants. These are perfect for windowsills and small spaces.

Porcelain Pot & Saucer Trio
Porcelain Pot & Saucer Trio

Plant stands and trays are a wonderful way to elevate houseplants and add interest to your indoor decor. These also help protect furniture while adding style.

Ceramic Plant Stool
Ceramic Plant Stool

We hope these decorating ideas have you thinking of spring as much as we are!

American Heirloom Tomato Collection

Grow Your Own Sun-Ripened Tomatoes

With so many varieties of Tomatoes available, it can be hard to decide which kinds to grow. To simplify your choices, first decide where you’ll be growing your Tomatoes and how you plan to use your crop.

Tomatoes in Sausalito Self-Watering Container
Tomatoes in Sausalito Self-Watering Container

If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, try container gardening. Look for descriptive terms like “compact,” “dwarf,” “patio” or “determinate” for best success. Whether in containers or a garden, always choose a location in full sun, which means a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day.

Tomato Heirloom Marriage™ Marzinera
Tomato Heirloom Marriage™ Marzinera – This cross between two heirloom varieties produces meaty, tasty plum Tomatoes. Superb for sauces and tarts.

Select large-fruited Tomatoes such as beefsteaks for slicing, paste varieties (sometimes also called plum Tomatoes) for sauce or juice, cherries for salads and snacks, and heirlooms for their unique flavors and historic appeal. The following terms also will help you choose the right varieties for your purposes:

Tomato Bush Early Girl
Tomato ‘Bush Early Girl’ – Expect high yields of medium-size Tomatoes from this compact, bushy, early fruiting hybrid. Great for slicing and salads.

Determinate” means the plants stop growing at a certain height, rather than continuing to grow all summer. Their fruits ripen all at once so you’ll have a single harvest (which is terrific for things like making sauce or canning), rather than the ongoing or more staggered harvest provided by Indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties grow well in containers because they are more compact and need less staking.

Tomato 'Cherokee Purple'
Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’ – A longtime favorite, this heirloom produces delicious beefsteak Tomatoes. Yields don’t always match what you get from some other beefsteaks, but ‘Cherokee Purple’ has the flavor you’ll remember.

Indeterminate” Tomatoes are a good choice for planting out in gardens because they produce higher yields and continue growing as long as the weather is warm and sunny. Their vines will sprawl over the ground unless you stake or cage them; or you can cover the ground with mulch to keep the fruits from touching the soil. A few of our favorite varieties are the snack-size cherry ‘Sungold’ and heirloom ‘Black Prince’.

“Ripens XXX days from transplant” means fruits will ripen and be ready for picking in roughly the number of days that are given in place of the XXXs above. The countdown starts on the date you plant a particular Tomato in the ground or in a container. Early varieties ripen about 60 days from transplant; late varieties may take 80-90 days.

Chefs Compaion Herb Kit With Rustic Tool Box Planter
Chef’s Companion Herb Kit With Rustic Tool Box Planter

Remember to include a few herb plants on your shopping list – they are perfect companions for both fresh and cooked Tomatoes. One of our favorite summer salads is the classic Caprese, which features fresh sliced Tomatoes alternating with slices of Mozzarella cheese and topped with fresh Basil leaves and good olive oil.

Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture

Hard to Find Garden Treasures

Every gardener strives to add unique and interesting plants to their gardens, always on the lookout for that perfect addition to complete their own garden masterpiece. Let’s be honest, we all want to be the envy of the neighborhood, showcasing an array of colors and textures. Whether you choose a new perennial to create a focal point or another shrub to complete the border, there’s always room for one more!

Here at White Flower Farm, we’ve always offered a wide array of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and plants for the kitchen garden. But we make it a special priority to stock interesting plants you may not find at your local garden center. Our hard-to-find plants come to us mainly through the strong relationships we have with plant breeders all over the world. You’ll find some of the treasures they help us find highlighted below. We hope you’re tempted to add a few to your garden.

Aquilegia 'Blue Butterflies'
Aquilegia ‘Blue Butterflies’

Lacy greens and dancing, late-spring blooms characterize these lovely border plants. They make excellent cut flowers if picked when half open. This gem is a choice plant for the border’s edge, rock gardens, and containers. The flowers of Aquilegia ‘Blue Butterflies’ are a rich purplish blue with white edges and are shown to advantage by the lovely blue-green leaves.

Dahlia 'Wine Eyed Jill'
Dahlia ‘Wine Eyed Jill’

A precise arrangement of tightly cupped, light pink petals is accentuated by deep magenta on this lovely selection of Dahlia ‘Wine Eyed Jill.’ These hybrids of species native from Mexico to Colombia hold their display in reserve for mid- to late summer and early fall, when most gardens and most vases are looking a little tired. Planted in 3s and 6s, Dahlias serve to fill holes that develop in the perennial border and make excellent potted plants (1 tuber in a 12″ pot).

Hibiscus Purple Pillar
Hibiscus Purple Pillar®

If you’re the type who goes for minuscule flowers, then Hibiscus is not a genus for you. The plants produce big bright blossoms that appear endlessly starting in high summer. This award-winning Rose of Sharon forms a narrow, somewhat pyramidal pillar, which makes it ideal for creating screens or vertical accents in the mixed border. The pinkish-purple 5″ flowers have dramatic darker purple-pink flares at the center. Purple Pillar® is sterile, so its blooms never set seed or become a nuisance. The blossoms and unique form make this a compelling addition to yards and gardens.

Hydrangea macrophylla Let's Dance® Rhythmic Blue™
Hydrangea macrophylla Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue™

Hydrangea is a valuable genus of some 100 species of shrubs and vines grown for their large and very showy flower heads. Each blossom of this compact, reblooming Hydrangea is composed of a multitude of florets that appear precision cut in a geometric motif. When you add color, which ranges from pink to lavender-blue depending on soil pH, you have a shrub that’s a distinctive and delightful addition to the mixed border or landscape. Plants also respond quickly when changing their bloom color from pink to rich blue with a sulfur soil additive.

Rose Sweet Spirit
Rose Sweet Spirit

Roses offer colors, perfumes, forms, and habits to suit every garden situation. The tenacious efforts of breeders have yielded Roses with the best attributes of different varieties in new forms. Hybrid Teas, lovely as ever, now combine long bloom periods with the vigor to shrug off pests. A profusion of red blossoms, 3-5 per stem, appears nonstop on this vigorous Hybrid Tea. The fully double 3″ flowers of Rose Sweet Spirit are richly perfumed and handsomely displayed against a backdrop of subtly glossy, dark green foliage. These bushy, mounding plants show increased resistance to black spot and improved tolerance of humidity.

Tomato 'Chocolate Sprinkles'
Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

During trials, our staff couldn’t get enough of these oval, bronzy red cherries with olive-green accents. Small but meaty, the disease-resistant fruits of Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’ have a taste as rich as mini ‘Cherokee Purple’ Tomatoes. Better still, you’ll be harvesting lots of them.  These are indeterminate, and fruits ripen about 50–55 days from transplant.

These garden treasures are truly spectacular. Keep in mind they are often in high demand and supplies are limited.

 

‘Thank you for calling White Flower Farm’

Go behind the scenes with one of our Customer Service team members

By Jonathan Chesler

In today’s world of e-commerce, it should come as no surprise that White Flower Farm processes the vast majority of its orders online. But the convenience of technology notwithstanding, about a fifth of our orders still come through our call center. Beyond the thousands of phone orders placed during the season, there are three times as many calls regarding order status and changes, product availability and features, and plant selection and care after purchase. Gardeners, it seems, like to talk to gardeners.

Amaryllis Trials in our Greenhouses
Amaryllis trials in our greenhouses

White Flower Farm’s call center takes up only a modest amount of space in our shipping facility in Torrington, CT, and about half as much space as it used to in the Paleolithic, pre-internet days. The industrial building, converted from a former ball-bearing plant, provides us with the large open area required to efficiently store, package, and ship orders. Fifty cubicles are laid out in a grid in a large room with two walls of factory-style windows filling the center with natural light, allowing us to display along the sills all of the plants and hard goods that are offered in the catalog and on the website. In fact, the call center is ringed with pretty much everything sold by the company, so that agents can answer customer questions and refer to the specific products right in front of them.

Shelves in the Call Center filled with products
Shelves in the Call Center filled with products

Experienced supervisors sit at the head of each row. Most have been on staff for several years and have many years if not decades of gardening experience. There are a few master gardeners present, and White Flower Farm has sent agents to the UConn Master Gardener course for the structure and breadth of knowledge it offers. Several supervisors and agents have years of experience in customer service, including one who came from Aetna and another who worked in customer service settings in a half-dozen places before joining the staff at White Flower Farm. I was new to the department. While my official title is assistant to the head gardener, I spend several of the colder months, when our gardens are dormant, helping out in customer service.

Lauren, the training supervisor, started showing me the ropes in the weeks before Thanksgiving. After an overview of the call center and how to field calls and enter requisite order data, she had me sit in and listen to incoming calls while she answered. In short order, I was answering and she was listening. Once the training wheels came off, Lauren was readily available whenever I had a question for her.

Agents who come in without much gardening experience are quickly brought up to speed with close training and frequent refreshers. There is lots of knowledgeable help only a cubicle or two away, either in consultation with a fellow agent or a supervisor. There are a daunting number of complex details for agents to keep in mind. Agents not only have to master the software and phone systems required to take and place orders, they need to know about product availability and potential substitutions (for example, different varieties of Amaryllis), shipping options, and a heck of a lot about hundreds of plants, garden products, and gardening.

I thought coming into the call center with several years of experience in horticulture would prepare me well, and it did, but every day someone would ask me a challenging question about some plant I don’t know well, or some growing condition I hadn’t considered. One customer wanted to know if we could ship a box of Honeybell fruits to California, a state that generally blocks most citrus shipments. After some research, we found out that yes, only certified vendors like White Flower Farm are allowed to ship citrus to California.

Cathy - Senior Horticulturist
Cathy – Senior Horticulturist

Cathy, our senior horticulturist, keeps agents up to speed on terminology, the company’s catalog and website offerings, and where to find information in both. She also showcases seasonal and new plants at meetings, and sends out Horticulture Quizzes and Challenges. Would you, our reader, like to take a Horticultural Quiz? Here’s a typical one for you. (Answers appear at the end of the post.)

  1. How long does it take to force a Dutch variety of Amaryllis into bloom?
  2. Why should Amaryllis be turned every few days once they begin to grow?
  3. Why is the shipping of all tender plants dependent on temperature and weather?
  4. What one factor determines how tall an Amaryllis flower stalk may get?
  5. Why might Amaryllis growth be greenish-yellow when the box is opened?

In addition to ensuring thorough training and supervision, Michelle, the customer service department manager, holds weekly meetings. Despite the universal eye-rolling that the word ‘meeting’ tends to engender, there are too many details that change too often not to touch base regularly. Michelle goes over the big picture –including details of phone and web order volume, and statistics regarding calls – and gives us other relevant information, such as how quickly orders are moving and how weather will impact shipping. It’s a high-wire act to ship live plants during the busiest season of the year, and we want customers to get their plants in a timely fashion, and in as beautiful and healthy a condition as they were when they left our greenhouses.

Michelle - Customer Service Manager
Michelle – Customer Service Manager

New or popular plants are presented at meetings along with examples of how they are packaged, labeled and shipped, so we can anticipate commonly asked customer questions and see how plants are packaged for transit. Lastly, those of us in the trenches are asked for our input. In this way Michelle keeps her fingers on the pulse of the center and hears directly from us about how customers are feeling, what concerns are coming up, and how we can best deal with them.

The types of questions customers ask tend to shift over time. At the start of each season, we answer a lot of questions about products, then availability, and then queries about shipping and how items arrive, such as what the heat packs are and how to dispose of them. (They’re used to ship tender plants in cold weather, and they should be tossed in the trash.) As Christmas approached last year, questions switched to expedited shipping, and returns. Shortly after, enviably organized people began ordering out of our Spring 2018 catalog.

White Flower Farm Spring 2018 Catalog
White Flower Farm Spring 2018 Catalog

When answering calls, we start with a short script that begins: “Thank you for calling White Flower Farm . . .” Despite being scripted, the agents are sincere, and the introduction reminds us to be so. Once through the introduction, we need to verify existing customer information or enter a new customers’ details. While this housekeeping can feel tedious for existing customers, I found that in about half of calls, an address, email or phone number had changed, either for the customer or one of their gift recipients. In several cases, a spouse or partner wanted email confirmation and tracking of a surprise gift order to go to a different email address than the one we had on the account. Clarifying these details is essential to ensuring that everything arrives where and when it should.

The most common calls are about product availability, shipping dates and times, and questions regarding order processing through the website. Shipping questions can pose a challenge, especially when products are requested to arrive before, after, or between certain dates. Like most e-tailers, we are dependent on shipping companies like UPS, and the unknowns can be tricky to navigate.

Just as with any of our plants, White Flower Farm agents are carefully selected, provided with good growing conditions, trained and tended with good supervision and care, all with the aim of providing the best service possible to our customers. As a call center ‘ephemeral,’ I bid my colleagues goodbye for the season and have returned to the greenhouses and garden beds of Morris, Connecticut. I look forward to returning to the call center in the fall. In the meanwhile, Thank you for calling White Flower Farm.

Answers to the Horticultural Quiz, above:

How long does it take to force a Dutch variety of Amaryllis into bloom?

8-10 weeks. Because we start shipping bulbs in mid-November, Dutch varieties generally do not bloom in time for Christmas. If it’s a holiday flower show you’re after, we also offer South African Amaryllis. These bulbs are harvested earlier than their Dutch cousins and take 6-8 weeks to bloom. They begin shipping in late September, which generally means you’ll have blooms in time for the winter holidays.

Why should Amaryllis be turned every few days once they begin to grow? 

Amaryllis leaves and stalks bend toward the light, and without being turned, the stalks stand a much greater chance of flopping over (and of being damaged) as they bend. Periodically rotating the bulb helps keep the growth even and straight.

Why is the shipping of all tender plants dependent on temperature and weather?

Tender plants shipped below threshold temperatures will not survive the cold or, if they do, may take a very long time to recover. Weather can be a factor, as a snowstorm can delay a truck. Tender plants shipped in cooler weather are bundled up with heat packs that extend the ability to ship them, but eventually the heat pack is no longer effective, and the added delay may be too much time.

What one factor determines how tall an Amaryllis flower stalk may get?

Available light. In lower light levels, Amaryllis stalks extend as they “search” for the light.

Why might Amaryllis growth be greenish-yellow when the box is opened?  Amaryllis that have started to grow in the box, will not have had the necessary light to produce chlorophyll. They generally “green up” in a few days.

Lavender Patch

Our Exclusive Perennial Collections: Building Blocks of Many Great Gardens

One of the keys to designing a lovely garden is to mass varieties of a single plant to create swaths of color. Whether you choose a grouping of Lavender plants for full sun, a collection of Astilbes for part-shade, or a variety of colorful Daylillies to line a sunny or partly sunny pathway, the massing of plants never fails to create a unified and beautiful sight while conveying the intentionality of design.

Perennials are natural building blocks for creating drifts of color because they return reliably year after year. Because we often plant multiples in our own gardens, we have, over time, developed a number of exclusive perennial collections that encourage gardeners to do the same in their gardens. These collections are superb for beginners, and they offer value and ease to experienced ones. Scroll below to see some of the effects that can be achieved when planting our perennial collections. The images might also inspire you to plant multiples of other ‘like’ plants, creating your own colorful drifts.

Lavender Patch
Lavender Patch

Lavenders are usually planted in large clumps of one variety, where their soft shade and cool, subtle foliage provide quiet dignity through the summer. In one of our trials, we discovered that a perfectly delightful effect can be had by combining several varieties whose disparate heights, colors, and forms flow together to produce a garden that is interesting and informal, but very definitely Lavender. Our Lavender Patch collection was born.

Whichever way you choose to plant Lavender, these aromatic subshrubs are popular in herb gardens as well as in the perennial border. The intensely perfumed blue-violet, mauve, pink, or white flowers are treasured for drying and making potpourri. The foliage of Lavender is a standout in the garden where its silvery or gray-green hues contrast nicely with its neighbors. Lavenders thrive in the arid West, but are best grown as annuals or container plants in the South, as they do not thrive in areas of high humidity (with the exception of Lavandula dentata and L. stoechas). We love to use them to line a driveway or sunny path or to create a low hedge around a pool enclosure or along a fence.

Cornerstone Astilbe Collection
Cornerstone Astilbe Collection

Graceful to look at yet rugged as can be, Astilbe plants are a superb building block for part-shade gardens. Planted in drifts, they send up clouds of color in summer, their fuzzy plumes also adding beauty and texture above feathery green foliage. Over time, their root systems form mats that help suppress weeds. Our Cornerstone Collection, previously known as “Old Ironsides” for its remarkable durability, is a collection of 12 plants—3 each of a white, 2 different pinks, and a red—at a price that encourages mass plantings. It’s a great way to start a color parade in your shade garden, one that will continue throughout your lifetime and beyond.

Wings Over Water
Wings Over Water

Few flowers can compare with the grace and beauty of the Siberian Iris. Their arching standards and undulating falls, carried on strong stems above grassy, blue-green leaves, flutter in the softest breeze like exotic seabirds playing the wind. What’s more, no plants are more rugged and reliable. Given full sun or partial shade and average to damp soil, Siberian Iris form large clumps that bloom heavily after the first year. Because no garden should be without these beauties and no garden can have too many, we offer 3 plants each of 4 different varieties—in purple, white, and two shades of blue. Cluster them together in the mixed border or beside a pond. Simply stunning.

Unique 50 Daylilies - Hemerocallis
Unique 50 Daylilies – Hemerocallis

Cover a hillside, line a path or create a swath of color in a mixed border. Our rainbow of carefree color includes pink, purple, orange, yellow, and white Daylilies, 50 different named varieties (although plants are not labeled individually), selected by us from award-winning, reblooming, and fragrant varieties. These vigorous, hardy perennials settle in quickly and prosper in average, well-drained soil with at least a half day of sun. The show runs from July into September with no effort on your part. Our collection is the easiest and most economical way to buy Daylilies in mixed colors.

Click here to see more Preplanned Gardens and Exclusive Collections on our website.