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D O W N   O N   T H E   F A R M
Down On The Farm

Some Equinoctial Musings

Dear Friends,

The official beginning of spring is, as you surely know, March 21st, the date that the sun's daily path crosses the equator to the north and the days become longer than the nights. For those living in the Northeast, as we do, this has been a stunningly long, cold, deep winter, a return to patterns of temperature and snowfall that we haven't seen on a regular basis since the 1970s. That makes the arrival of spring an especially attractive, though intellectually remote, idea.

Rugged winters can be hard on gardens, though consistent moisture, and especially snow cover, provide protection against heaving and drying which are actually more dangerous to most plants than low temperatures. A less seldom cited but equally threatening element is the over-enthusiastic gardener, the kind who seizes upon the first warm day to begin grubbing around in the ground, disturbing the soil, displacing the mulch, and man-handling plants which may look dead but are often merely dormant. This impulse is perfectly normal, even healthy, but must be repressed. Try to remember that plants respond first to soil temperatures, and only later to air temperature, while the human psyche works in the opposite manner. There is, of course, no harm in having a look around your garden when it first becomes visible and outside temperatures are pleasant, but your activities should be limited to contemplation and planning until there is an abundance of green shoots, and the soil can be worked without balling up. That's when you can begin to identify opportunities, and problems, and develop solutions you have plenty of time to implement.

One slightly self-serving but nonetheless useful suggestion to aid in this restraint is to take your energy and excitement to our website,, where you can gather information and inspiration, create new designs, make decisions, and make arrangements for timely delivery of the plants you need, all without risk or discomfort to you or your garden. Compared to a rushed visit to a crowded garden center in midseason, this process is remarkably pleasant and offers the prospect of better results because the selection is broader, the cultural advice more practical and available, and the date of delivery can be established precisely to meet your needs. Perhaps this is also the place to mention that every plant we deliver is guaranteed to be successful, or your money back. Period.


Rethink Roses
Scentsational Rose Duo, (1 Julia Child™ and 1 Ebb Tide™ Rose) -- $69 each

Our spring catalogue devotes considerable space to Roses, more perhaps than is justified by their current standing among gardeners. Our goal with this presentation is to encourage more use of this remarkable genus, which has fallen out of favor for reasons that were never quite right and now are out of date as well. The problem arose when American gardeners, under the spell of an intensive marketing program called the All America Rose Selections, were persuaded that Hybrid Tea Roses (based on crosses made between tender Tea Roses and Hybrid Perpetual Roses), were the final word in horticultural sophistication and a necessity in any respectable garden. The truth is that Hybrid Teas are marvelous plants offering gracefully shaped flowers in a wide range of colors, an extended period of bloom, and, in many cases, a superb perfume. Rose varieties like 'Mr. Lincoln,' 'Chrysler Imperial,' 'Double Delight,' and the legendary 'Peace' will bring a smile of recognition to the face of anyone who was gardening 50 years ago. But as is so often the case, these old favorites had their problems too. Many required ideal growing conditions as well as a good deal of maintenance, including the use of pesticides to keep them healthy. These older Hybrid Tea Roses sacrificed the hardiness and disease resistance of their Hybrid Perpetual parents to achieve their stunning beauty, and many gardeners were discouraged by their inability to keep Hybrid Teas healthy, or even alive.

The world of Roses has changed a lot in the ensuing decades, with new breeders making new combinations that do a great many things well and are suited to a wide range of climates and soils. You may be attracted by the astonishing durability and nonstop bloom of Knock Out® Roses, the classic beauty and fragrance of David Austin Roses whose parents include the most ancient species, climbing forms that bear no resemblance to the spindly ectomorphs from which they arose, and so-called Landscape Roses, meaning cultivars tough enough to be treated like Daylilies (meaning plant and enjoy). We currently offer a total of 54 varieties, including those listed only on our website, and there are dozens more undergoing trials here at the nursery, where winters like the current one will test their mettle. Take a long look at the photos that follow, then click through to our website and parse the list in its entirety. As you make your selections, recall two promises that we make along with this selection. First, our cultural information is based on our first-hand experience. When we tell what a variety can do, and what it can't, you are getting the straight dope. Second, while we do not produce these Roses ourselves, they come from growers we know well and have worked with for years. Every plant has passed through our grading operation before shipping and is guaranteed to be healthy and in prime condition for planting. Feast your eyes, and then imagine how you would feel with a dozen or two of these personalities in your own garden.
David Austin Roses
Landscape Roses
Climbing Roses
Hybrid Tea Roses
Fragrant Roses
Shop All Roses

A Small Creature, A Big Problem

Anyone with eyes and ears must realize that the population of honey bees is collapsing worldwide, jeopardizing the production of vast portions of our food supply that depend on their free labor for pollination. The cause of this calamity has puzzled scientists for at least a decade, with theories offered which include over-work, excessive travel, narrow diets for commercial hives, climate change, and various pests ranging from mites to agricultural chemicals that affect the wild populations. While the diagnosis is incomplete at this time, evidence increasingly points toward a class of chemical insecticides called neonicotinoids, which can be taken up and perhaps transmitted within hives. Our position on this matter replicates our view regarding global warming, which is "Why take the chance?" Accordingly, neonicotinoids have been banished altogether from our 32 greenhouses, our trial and production blocks, and our display gardens. Just for the record, we also maintain hedgerows roughly 20 feet thick between our hayfields, feeling that we need songbirds and pollinating insects, and foxes (a hard sell for the chickens) more than we need an extra hundred bales. These tangled jungles of trees, vines, briars, ferns, Multiflora Roses, dozens of wildflowers, and ancient strands of barbed wire are noisy, busy places where we like to think nature is at work to sort things out. We will not disturb her.
The Garden Conservancy
The late Frank Cabot gave many gifts to horticulture in North America, chief among them being his spellbinding Jardin des Quatre Vents in Quebec, and the establishment of the Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation and sharing of fine private gardens throughout the country. If you do not know of this organization and have not enjoyed their Open Days, a kind of housewarming for gardeners, may we recommend that you click through to their website and make their schedule a part of your plans for this summer. Your soul and your garden will be better for the experience.

A Final Request
White Flower Farm Retail Store

Like most farmers, we live on our farm, and its many chores and delights keep us on the property a great deal of the time. The nursery grounds are maintained to a standard which some describe as neurotic. Others say it is simply lovely. It would be our joy to welcome you to the property at your convenience. Our store opens the first weekend in April, weather permitting, and remains open 7 days a week until November. To our eyes, admittedly biased, the gardens are worth a visit any time during those seven months. We are two hours from New York, two and a half from Boston, and there are several fine local restaurants available. Cars with large cargo areas are recommended for reasons that we hope are obvious. If you don't own one, consider renting.

Sincerely, Amos Pettingill

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