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Down on the Farm -- Thinking About Spring
Spring Garden at White Flower Farm

Dear Gardening Friend,

Each new gardening season offers fresh opportunities for creativity and self-expression. Sometimes, the stimulus is a new location, or a new work schedule, or a new relationship that presents expanded possibilities. Information about new plants (see below) gleaned from friends, the gardening media, and professional plantsmen such as us can awaken new visions. There are some years, and this seems to be one, in which the weather plays a significant role. Last week's snowstorm in Litchfield delivered more than two feet on the flat, a cover which is likely to remain in place for many weeks. This blanket, which our staff refers to as "time release water," will provide excellent protection for existing plantings but makes it almost impossible accurately to recall last year's garden, and the useful lessons learned. (It also took down a greenhouse here at the nursery, see photo.) Not far south of us, and continuing deep into Zone 9, bitter cold falling on open ground has done untold damage to plants and wildlife, the full scope of which won't be understood until spring. These losses are both disappointments and opportunities (we are conflicted on that point for obvious reasons) but either way they are agents of change.

To us, the most delightful aspect of spring is the atavistic stirring it creates in all of us, the yearning to be digging in the ground, engaged with our natural surroundings, nurturing food for our stomachs and food for our souls, and creating (or at least collaborating in) astonishing beauty with our own hands. The need is universal, though not universally acted upon in a world of two-career families, and globalized commerce, and urgent ubiquity of information. But there is a garden out there for everyone, on your own land or borrowed land or in a collection of pots on a balcony, or even in a sunny window. Once this garden is discovered and under way, the pleasures are beyond calculation in terms of peace, and beauty, and learning, and healthy exercise. Gardening is not hard. Be reminded that every plant is a weed somewhere and most will succeed brilliantly if you pay even modest attention to their needs (which information we are pleased to provide). Your garden can be at any scale you want, based on the time and energy you (and your family) have available, and you can build a magnificent garden for the price of a second-rate dinner for two in the city.

There is, however, one important point to be emphasized, which is both profound and dead obvious. Each of us has a finite number of springs ahead, and every time we say "next year" to our garden, either present or imagined, we are effectively shortening our lives. Around this nursery, we try to be rational on many points, but where new gardens are concerned, we are loath to fall into the trap of moderation. If you, or perhaps your newly married daughter, or just retired father-in-law, has been thinking and talking about a garden, may we suggest that NOW is the time to take action. We will be with you every step of the way and this year offer an online GARDEN DESIGN BOOKLET, in case you would like some coaching.


In the world of plants, Britain's Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is the arbiter of quality, the equivalent of the Oscars in the world of film. The quality and scale of their annual plant trials is the envy of botanical gardens throughout the world and their recommendations, adjusted slightly for the differences in climate, are the gold standard. We currently offer 24 plants that have received the coveted Award of Garden Merit from the RHS, gathered here for your convenience. While we hope and believe you trust our word in these matters, a little re-enforcement can't hurt.
View all B&L Begonias

New this spring -- the luscious ruffles of 'Golden Hind'.
New this spring -- the luscious ruffles of 'Golden Hind'.

Rose-scented 'John Smith' sold out last year.
Rose-scented 'John Smith' sold
out last year.

Oriental Lily 'Distant Drum' has more petals and fragrance.
Oriental Lily 'Distant Drum' has more petals and fragrance.

We pair Lily 'Golden Stargazer' with Phlox 'Blue Paradise'.
We pair Lily 'Golden Stargazer' with Phlox 'Blue Paradise'.

There are two reasons why these remarkably beautiful plants for shade require early action. The first is that the individual tubers, which are what we ship to you, need to be planted in early spring so as to mount their glorious display throughout the summer, so delivery begins in late February. The process is not difficult since these Begonias, which are almost always grown in pots, are perfectly reliable when they are given the conditions they need. While we will provide detailed cultural instructions, the basics are simple. They want well-drained soil, indirect light, regular fertilizing, and careful staking as they come to full size (click here to watch our how-to-video). None of these elements is difficult to achieve and most people who grow B&Ls are so enraptured by their magical blooms that they stop by several times a day for a look, an ideal opportunity for fussing if such is needed.

The second reason for prompt action is that these tubers are, for us, a two-year crop grown to projections, which are almost always conservative. Accordingly, early ordering assures availability of exactly the color scheme you have in mind. Please make your choices today. Your terrace will never be the same again.

In recent years, a pesky red beetle has begun to prey on Lilies in the Northeast. Most of the damage is done by its larval stage, nasty little slug-like creatures that devour Lily leaves and camouflage themselves in their own offal. The result is pretty unattractive and hand picking is neither pleasant nor especially effective. The brightly colored adult beetles drop quickly to the ground when they sense your presence, while the brown grubs generally work on the bottom of the leaves where they are hard to see until it is too late. A compound called spinosad now offers proper control. It is available as a certified organic concentrate, and our first order is on its way from the manufacturer and will be available for delivery to you well before the season begins. We understand that there are many areas where the cultivation of Lilies has been all but abandoned, a terrible loss given the marvelous range of colors, shapes, sizes, and perfumes that this clan offers. Research at the University of Massachusetts confirms that spinosad is the answer you have been looking for. We have no idea what demand might be either for the product or for Lilies given its availability, so please let us hear from you as early as possible regarding both so we can adjust our stocks if necessary.


Over the recently completed holiday season, we had some extremely rough weather and a small subset of our deliveries was modestly delayed. We made every effort to keep both donors and recipients informed and hope we were not the cause of significant disappointments. If there are issues remaining unresolved, please let us hear from you ASAP (click here to send a message to our customer service department). While this was going on, friends in the nursery and orchard business in the Southeast were describing record-breaking cold snaps that devastated both farms and gardens. In our late-night wandering on the Internet, we encountered an article offering the following hypothesis:

Warmer summers in the Arctic produced a lot of open water that greatly raised humidity in Siberia over several years. When the normal cold hit in fall, this humidity fell as snow in larger amounts over a wider range than normal. This snow reflected and thus prevented the sun's heat from being absorbed by the spruce forests, creating a large pool of very cold air over Siberia early in the season, and this pool served to reroute the jet stream in a manner that caused it to swing diagonally south across the US, bringing extremely cold air as far south as central Florida. This pattern is said to be similar to last year, which was also rough in the southern states, and might, according to this theory, be expected to continue in the future. Our culture seems to cast up and then discard theories on practically every topic, so we offer this one with caution.

Best wishes for 2011 and we look forward to hearing from you.

Amos Pettingill

Look for the product review and 5-star rating feature. You can comment on every product we offer and read what other gardeners have to say. To tell us what you like and don't like, click the "Write a Review" link on any product page, located just under the item's photo and also at the bottom of the page.

White Flower Farm
P.O. Box 50
Litchfield, CT 06759
(c)2011 White Flower Farm, Inc.

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