Down on the Farm: A Glorious Summer at the Farm

High summer has arrived, and we think Northwest Connecticut is as nice a place as any to enjoy it. Our cool, wet spring has our display gardens looking terrific, and we’re especially enjoying taking notes on a new Rose Garden that was installed last summer and fall.

Our new Rose Garden features a wide variety of Roses along with companion plants. The garden is only in its first full season, but it’s clearly off to a beautiful start.

Just as we hoped, it is provoking all sorts of observations and ideas about how to design with Roses and their companions, which varieties are particularly vigorous and which less so, and what maintenance routines are (and are not) necessary. As we come into the steamiest part of the year, we’ll be watching carefully for disease and stress, all with a mind towards refreshing and reinforcing our recommendations for customers.

Our new block print of Campsis radicans (Trumpet Creeper). It’s one of three designs created exclusively for us by Ireland’s Superfolk.

We’ve been plenty busy indoors as well, including working on a collaboration with Superfolk, a design studio and print shop in western Ireland. Superfolk’s immensely talented (and, we must add, critically acclaimed) team has created a set of three block prints exclusively for White Flower Farm. Each print is of a plant that attracts hummingbirds – Monarda, Campsis (Trumpet Creeper), and Aquilegia canadensis (Canada Columbine). They are printed on delicate Japanese washi paper and will be available individually or as a set of three. Stay tuned for further detail on these special works of botanical art.

Aquilegia canadensis
Aquilegia canadensis as rendered in a woodblock print by Superfolk of Ireland.

All the while, of course, we’ve been preparing for the autumn planting season, and our fall catalog will go in the mail in the next few weeks. It features hundreds of varieties of bulbs, perennials, shrubs and vines, not to mention some lovely gift ideas.

This fall we’re emphasizing the fun to be had in extending your garden’s “season of interest,” which is easily done with the addition of early blooming bulbs (Eranthis, Galanthus, Crocus, et al.) that jump-start the season, and fall-blooming perennials (Japanese Anemone, Sedum, Chelone, Aster, et al.) that sustain the garden’s vibrancy long past Labor Day. Most good gardeners try to squeeze the most they can out of their season, and we’re always happy to help.

Blackmore & Langdon’s Begonia ‘Mardi Gras’

If you’re anywhere near our neck of the woods this summer, I hope you’ll stop in for a visit. Aside from the display gardens (about which we may already have bragged too much), our greenhouse full of Blackmore & Langdon tuberous Begonias is just about to come into peak bloom, which it always does in July. It will remain reliably glorious through September, and it is, I assure you, worth the trip. (We are proud to say we remain the exclusive stateside source for these exceptional, luminous Begonias.)

Please note that the hours at our store in Morris, CT, have changed for the summer and fall seasons. From July 1st through Nov. 17th, 2019, the store is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but it’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The display gardens are open daily during this period. We hope to see you!

Blackmore & Langdon’s Begonia ‘Party Dress’

On behalf of all of us at the nursery, thank you for your ongoing support. I hope you’re having a wonderful season in the garden.

Eliot
[email protected]

Tips for Growing Peonies

One of our favorite sights and scents in the garden is the yearly parade of Peony flowers that happens each June at the farm in Morris, CT. These gorgeous, and often fragrant, plants are very easy to grow. Below you’ll find some basic information about Peonies along with keys to success that will help you grow your best Peonies ever.

What’s the difference between Herbaceous Peonies and Tree Peonies?

Herbaceous Peonies naturally die back to the ground in fall. Tree Peonies, which aren’t “trees” but shrubs, have a woody structure that remains above ground through the plant’s dormant period. The woody trunk and branches should never be pruned to the ground.

How deep should Peonies be planted?

Herbaceous Peonies that are planted too deep will fail to bloom. If you are planting a potted Peony (one that has top growth), set it in a hole so it sits at the same level it’s at in the pot. (In other words, do not sink the plant so deeply that soil must be mounded against the stems.) If you’re planting a bareroot Peony (a bareroot is just what it sounds like: a section of the plant’s rootstock with bare roots and “eyes” or growing buds), dig a shallow hole and arrange the crown so the growing buds or “eyes” are facing upward and are covered by only 1–2″ of soil in the North, barely 1″ in the South. (See diagram below for how to plant a bareroot Herbaceous Peony.)

 

When should I stake my Peonies?

Double-flowered Peonies (which have layers of petals so the blossoms tend to be fuller and heavier than Singles) generally need staking. Set the stakes and string in place when plants are a few inches tall, so they’ll grow into and hide the framework.

Are ants bad for my Peonies?

As Peonies produce flower buds, you may see ants crawling on the unopened buds. The ants do no harm. They simply like a sticky substance that covers the buds.

What if I see black leaves on my Peony plant?

In a wet season, botrytis, a type of fungal disease, may blacken the flower buds
and cause stems or leaves to wilt.  Promptly remove and dispose of any infected plant parts. Clean up all foliage in the fall and place in the trash, not the compost. (Ridding your property of any diseased foliage will help prevent the disease from wintering over and returning the following year.)

What can I plant with my Peonies?

Peonies are exceptionally long-lived, and even after bloom, they provide a mound of handsome foliage that adds structure and presence to borders and beds. Allowing for good air circulation, plant Peonies with Baptisia, Nepeta, Clematis, Roses, and Siberian Irises for a glorious June show.

To learn more about growing Peonies visiting our Growing Guide.

Top 5 Sneeboer Gardening Tools

These tools were selected from the Sneeboer line of durable, heirloom quality tools, which we discovered on a visit to England’s Great Dixter gardens. Made by the renowned Dutch company since 1913, each is hand forged from top-grade stainless steel then individually shaped, polished, and sharpened. These hard-working instruments are fitted with premium wood handles and are designed to last for years.

If you know someone who is moving into a new home, or who is ready to start their first garden, these tools make fabulous gifts. We’ve gathered the 5 most popular Sneeboer tools below. You can see our full offering here.

1. Hand-Forged Step Edger

Hand-Forged Step Edger

Slice through turf with ease using this Dutch-made professional grade edger. The solid Ash handle provides a sturdy grip, and the sharp, stainless steel blade is topped by 2 “steps” for maximizing leverage. Built to last several lifetimes. Overall length: 37″.

2. Hand-Forged Weeding Fork

Hand-Forged Weeding Fork

Get under weeds, shallow rooted plants, and loosen small patches of soil with this sturdy, durable weeding fork. Made in traditional fashion, it has a hand-forged stainless steel fork with 3 hammered tines. The Cherry wood handle is smooth and tapered to fit comfortably in the hand. As you can well imagine, we put our weeding fork to good use around the nursery. Built to last, this makes a nice heirloom to hand down to gardeners of the next generation. Overall length: 11″. Ships in a gift box.

3. Compact Pointed Spade

Compact Pointed Spade

The pointed tip of this rugged spade is ideal for dividing perennials and working in tight spaces where precision counts. When used for transplanting, its narrow 5¾″ blade minimizes damage to the roots of both the transplant and its neighbors. Overall length: 22″

4. Hand Cultivator

Hand Cultivator

The sharp, stainless steel tines on this indispensable tool take hold of weeds and debris, separating them from soil beds. The cultivator also is superb for loosening soil in gardens. We use ours each spring in our raised bed vegetable gardens, and throughout the season to turn soil prior to planting. The sturdy, durable handle is crafted of smooth Ash wood. Overall length: 29″.

4. Tight Spots Weeding Tool

Tight Spots Weeding Tool

Removing weeds that grow between patio pavers and brick walkways is one of the most tedious and backbreaking chores. This superb, thoughtfully constructed tool has a pointed steel tip that fits in tight crevices and gets under weeds to dislodge them. The Cherry wood handle is smooth in the hand and will last several lifetimes. Overall length: 12½″.

Saluting Some of History’s Greatest Female Gardeners

In time for Mother’s Day, those of us who love gardens and gardening thought it would be lovely to celebrate a handful of legendary female gardeners. From England’s Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Jekyll and Beth Chatto to New York’s Beatrix Farrand and Lynden Miller, these are women who have deepened our understanding of plants; taught us how to choose them, care for them, and combine them to create beautiful gardens; furthered the evolution of garden design; and instilled in us an appreciation of green spaces and their crucial importance to the life and well-being of people, communities, and the planet. Scroll below to read more about these remarkable women, listed here in more or less chronological order, and to see just a few of the plants they have taught us to cherish.

Gertrude Jekyll (1840–1932)

Gertrude Jekyll trained as an artist and initially set out to become a painter, but it was in the garden that she found her full and truest expression. As a designer and horticulturalist, her credits include more than 400 gardens in England, Europe and North America. Her work is characterized by a painterly use of color and a more naturalist style of planting than had previously prevailed in England. Jekyll’s long association with architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a pioneer in the Arts and Crafts movement, began with their collaboration at Jekyll’s home, Munstead Wood in Surrey, where Lutyens designed the residence, and Jekyll created the gardens. Lutygens and Jekyll went on to other collaborations, cementing a professional partnership that came to typify the English country style of the period. “The ‘Lutyens-Jekyll’ garden had hardy shrubbery and herbaceous plantings within a structural architecture of stairs and balustraded terraces,” writes a keen-eyed Wikipedia source. “This combined style, of the formal with the informal, exemplified by brick paths, herbaceous borders, and with plants such as lilies, lupins, delphiniums and lavender, was in contrast to the very formal bedding schemes favoured by the previous generation in the 19th century. This ‘natural’ style was to define the ‘English garden’ until modern times.” In addition to her other talents, Jekyll was a prolific writer and gifted photographer who wrote countless magazine articles and more than 15 books. Among the best-known are Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden, Home and Garden, and Wood and Garden. In 1911’s Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden, Jekyll writes, “I am strongly of the opinion that the possession of a quantity of plants, however good the plants may be themselves and however ample their number, does not make a garden; it only makes a collection. Having got the plants, the great thing is to use them with careful selection and definite intention. Merely having them, or having them planted unassorted in garden spaces, is only like having a box of paints from the best colourman, or, to go one step further, it is like having portions of these paints set out upon a palette. This does not constitute a picture; and it seems to me that the duty we owe to our gardens and to our own bettering in our gardens is so to use the plants that they shall form beautiful pictures . . . It is just in the way it is done that lies the whole difference between commonplace gardening and gardening that may rightly claim to rank as a fine art. . . . In practice it is to place every plant or group of plants with such thoughtful care and definite intention that they shall form a part of a harmonious whole, and that successive portions, or in some cases even single details, shall show a series of pictures. . . . it is to be always watching, noting and doing, and putting oneself meanwhile into closest acquaintance and sympathy with the growing things.”

Callistephus chinensis

“I have a little space that I give entirely to China Asters,” Gertrude Jekyll wrote in Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden. “I have often had the pleasure of showing it to some person who professed a dislike to them, and with great satisfaction have heard them say, with true admiration: ‘Oh! But I had no idea that China Asters could be so beautiful.'” In summer and fall, when gardens could use a burst of fresh color, our White Flower Farm mix explodes into bloom. A favorite of floral arrangers, the 4 varieties featured in the collection flower in a harmonious blend of pinks, whites, and purples.

Beatrix Farrand (1872–1959)

Beatrix Farrand (née Jones) was born in 1872 into the upper echelons of New York society. Her family maintained homes in New York City and Mount Desert Island in Maine. Farrand was niece to novelist Edith Wharton. The novelist Henry James (who was also a dear friend and literary peer of Wharton’s), knew Farrand as “Trix.” Farrand’s family members included many enthusiastic gardeners, and she was drawn to botany and landscape gardening at a young age. In her early 20s, she studied under mentor Charles Sprague Sargent, a Harvard University professor of botany and the founding director of Boston’s Arnold Arboretum. In 1893, she undertook the study of landscape gardening, which did not then exist as a specialized degree. When her career started around 1895, women were not permitted to design public projects. Farrand concentrated instead on residential gardens, and her social connections combined with her talents swiftly put her at the pinnacle of the profession. In 1888, she was the only female selected to be among the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects. From her early years designing gardens for her neighbors in Bar Harbor, Maine, Farrand moved on to some of the works for which she is best known: Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden on Mount Desert in Maine, gardens on the campuses of Yale, Princeton, and Occidental universities, and the East Colonial Garden and West Garden at the White House, both of which were later redesigned. Connecticut-area residents can find examples of Farrand’s work at Wharton’s home, The Mount, in Lenox, MA, and at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. Farrand’s early interest in native plants can be traced to the summers her family spent in Maine. At Dumbarton Oaks, Farrand created a variety of gardens – from the Fountain Terrace to the Kitchen Garden – on a 53-acre site situated at the highest point in Georgetown. Open to visitors today, the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks include formal structural plantings such as aerial hedges, arbors, and fountains that gradually yield to more naturalistic plantings.

Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’

In the Sunken Garden at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT, Beatrix Farrand created an octagonal garden around a gazebo. The 36 garden beds feature more than 90 varieties of annuals and perennials, a collection of plants that bloom in tranquil colors of pink, white, blue and silvery-gray. Among the plants Farrand uses in several beds is a pink peony. In her honor, we chose Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ a 1906 heirloom that produces fragrant double blooms in a deep pink that grows lighter toward the edges. The vigorous plant is a most reliable bloomer, and it is a winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Louise Beebe Wilder (1878–1938)

Born into an affluent Baltimore family, Louise Beebe took an early interest in gardening. When she married the architect Walter Robb Wilder and 1902 and moved to Balderbrae, a rural residence in Pomona, NY, she transformed the landscape around the house, creating structural elements including terraces, pathways, a walled garden, a grape arbor, and fountains, and planting beds and borders. When she and her husband moved to Bronxville, NY, she undertook the design of Station Plaza and founded a local Working Gardeners Club. As her reputation grew and her career blossomed, she designed residential gardens across the country, authored 10 books, and contributed a great many stories to newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Horticulture, and House & Garden. Her 1918 book Colour in My Garden, whose title pays homage to Gertrude Jekyll’s Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden, is perhaps her best-known title. Her gardens also reflected Jekyll’s influence, and she believed, as she put it, in creating gardens that were “formal in design but most informal in execution.” This style meshed beautifully with social changes of the period that dovetailed with the decline of large estate gardens and the rise of suburban gardening.

In her 1935 book, What Happens in My Garden, Wilder writes about a white garden she has seen in Wales. “. . . since the mild summer evening on which I once saw a white garden beautifully carried out it has lingered in my mind as . . . one of the loveliest gardens I ever saw. This white garden . . . was planted entirely with white-flowering plants and . . . inclosed [sic] by stone walls of a warm pinkish gray. . . . We saw this garden first at twilight, that witching hour, and through the tall iron gates, above which swung a Clematis starred with immense white blooms, the effect was almost as if a mist had crept up from the river and finding the haven of this quiet inclosure [sic] had swirled around and about, rising here in wraith spires and turrets, lying there in gauzy breadths amidst the muted green. It is impossible to describe its beauty at this dim hour – so soft, so ethereal, so mysterious, half real it seemed. And yet when we saw it at noon of the next day it was no less arresting, though in a different way. . . . Looking at it, we did not speak in whispers as we had done the night before.” Wilder thought it would be lovely to create a white garden of her own. “I am sure a little enclosed white garden, or even a winding border of white flowers against a green background, would be a possession of which one would not easily tire. It would always suggest peace and harmony, yet there would be no lack of interest. Frayed nerves would find it remedial.”

Phlox paniculata ‘David’

In the all-white Moon Garden here at the farm, Phlox ‘David’ is a tall, luminous presence. These perennial plants are free flowering, maintaining a full display from mid-July well into September. ‘David’ has a vigorous growth habit and produces sturdy stems that will not be pushed around by wind and weather. Furthermore, it has the best mildew resistance of any white Phlox we have ever encountered. It makes a fine companion for other denizens of the Moon Garden including, among others, Shasta Daisies, and white-flowering Delphiniums, Lilies, and Dahlias.

Vita Sackville-West (1892–1962)

The award-winning English poet, novelist, journalist and diarist is equally renowned as a garden designer. Together with her husband, the author and diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson, and a series of head gardeners, she created the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in the Weald of Kent, England. Upon Sackville-West’s death in 1962, the garden was bequeathed to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. It currently attracts upwards of 200,000 visitors per year. It is particularly famous for a structure that centers on axial walks that open into separate and distinct “garden rooms” including its famous white garden, and its collection of old garden roses. Sackville-West once wrote: “My liking for gardens to be lavish is an inherent part of my garden philosophy. I like generosity wherever I find it, whether in gardens or elsewhere. I hate to see things scrimp and scrubby. Always exaggerate rather than stint, masses are more effective than mingies.”

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ Tree Form

“Vita did not at first plant many hydrangeas at Sissinghurst,” writes English gardener, writer, author, cook, and teacher Sarah Raven in Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden. (In addition to her other credits, Raven is married to Adam Nicolson, the grandson of Vita Sackville-West, and she and her family have lived at Sissinghurst.) “[Vita] had the climber Hydrangea petiolaris on one of the east-facing walls, but at least initially she had reservations about them – the coarser ones reminded her of ‘coloured wigs’. She probably associated them with more formal Edwardian borders, a look she was trying to avoid, but seeing them in other people’s gardens looking good, she began to like them more.” On an autumn outing, she caught sight of a stand of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora.’ “It was with a startled pleasure that I observed three bushes growing in a cottage garden as I drove along a secret lane,” Sackville-West wrote. “They looked like pink lilac. Tall, pyramidal in shape, smothered in pointed panicles of flowers, they suggested a bush of pink lilac in May. Yet this was September.” The owner of the cottage garden told her the hydrangea had been blooming for three months. “It starts off by flowering white; then turns into . . . pink . . . Then it turns greenish, a sort of sea-green, so you never know where you are with it, as you never know where you are with some human personalities, but that makes them all the more interesting.”

Jane Grant (1892–1972)

Born in Missouri, and raised in Kansas, Grant moved to New York intending to become a singer. But the lifelong feminist took a detour into journalism, eventually becoming the first full-fledged female reporter for The New York Times. She wrote for the Times for the next 15 years. In 1925, Grant and her first husband, Harold Ross, launched The New Yorker magazine. When Grant and Ross divorced in 1929, Grant continued her work in journalism and remained active in feminist causes. In 1939, she married William Harris, editor of Fortune magazine. The two left Manhattan and settled in Litchfield, CT. There, in 1950, they founded a mail-order plants business they called White Flower Farm.

Rhododendron ‘Jane Grant’

This large-leaved, evergreen Rhododendron was named for Grant, and it gives you some idea of how we feel about it (and her). Our specimen plant is close to 30 years old and has never missed a year of bloom. Its deep pink buds mature to the palest of pinks, very ruffled. Plants retain the free-flowering habit and the felty indumentum (on the under side of the leaves) of R. yakusimanum, but their form is closer to that of the other parent, R. smirnowii.

Beth Chatto (1923–2018)

When Beth Chatto died in 2018 at the age of 94, The Guardian hailed her as “one of the most influential horticulturalists of the past 50 years.” A pioneering naturalist, her reputation rests on the Beth Chatto Ltd. plant nursery, which she founded in Essex in 1967, her Beth Chatto Gardens, which remain open to visitors, and her authorship of a handful of indispensable books whose common theme is the importance of choosing the right plants for the right places. Beth Chatto’s Damp Garden, The Dry Garden, and Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden, all contain wisdom gleaned from the author’s years of creating and maintaining gardens. All stress plant “suitability” for various sites, the encouragement of sustainable plant communities, and the possibility of maintaining ecological convictions while still creating aesthetically pleasing gardens. In the 1970s, The Guardian reports that “she won 10 successive gold medals at the RHS Chelsea flower show, where she introduced ecological ideas into garden design, demonstrating the possibilities of natural plant groupings, while also achieving the highest aesthetic standards. In those days nurseries arranged their plants for maximum visual impact regardless of differing plant needs. Chatto’s approach was a revelation and immediately established her significance as a guide to better and more environmentally friendly gardening techniques. She stressed the importance of looking at the whole plant, foliage as well as flowers, and judging the quality of a plant by observing it throughout the seasons.” In her own gravel garden, a former parking lot that occupies just under 1 acre of sandy soil in her 15-acre garden, the sign reads: “The Gravel Garden is not irrigated. It is a horticultural experiment where we hope to learn which plants survive extreme conditions, as a help to all gardeners facing hosepipe bans.” (A reference to water restrictions that prohibit use of hoses for irrigation.) Among the plants she featured in this arid expanse is Eryngium ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost.’ Distinctive in both color and form, it shrugs off drought and poor soil conditions. Chatto planted some to great effect amid mounds of Purple Sage.

Eryngium giganteum Miss Wilmott’s Ghost

This Sea Holly is the giant of the genus with large (2½”) cones of pale blue that appear almost white at a distance, and 6” wide gray bracts that are dramatically veined in silver. These generally biennial perennials offer a distinctive form and unusual color, but its their remarkable ability to thrive in poor soil and full sun that makes them a treasure for gardeners dealing with drought.

Lynden Miller

New Yorker Lynden Miller, who maintains a weekend home in Sharon, CT, is a renowned plantswoman, public garden designer, and author of the inspirational book Parks, Plants, and People. Miller began her career as a fine arts painter before abandoning the easel for the garden. In 1982, she put her painter’s eye to work restoring the Central Park Conservancy Garden in New York. Her success led to commissions to design gardens for other public spaces including New York’s Bryant Park, the New York Botanical Garden, Madison Square Park, and Wagner Park, and to improving the landscapes for schools and landmarks including Columbia, Stony Brook, and Princeton universities, and the United States Supreme Court. In the aftermath of 9/11, she created the Daffodil Project, which has resulted in the planting of millions of daffodils in parks, schools, and housing projects all over New York City. Miller is perhaps best known for the bravura mix of colors, textures and forms she creates in mixed perennial and shrub borders that have four-season appeal, and for her passionate advocacy for public gardens. “Beautifying your city brings environmental, social, and economic benefits,” she writes in Parks, Plants, and People. “When office workers step outside and find themselves surrounded by life-affirming natural elements – changing seasons, tall trees, wide lawns, flowers, birds, bees, butterflies – something positive happens to them. People respond to beautiful surroundings by respecting and protecting these places and by sharing this beauty with one another.” In her book, Miller names a great many favorite plants for mixed borders in the Northeast. Among them are roses. “Roses should be incorporated into the plantings whenever possible,” she writes. At her garden in Wagner Park, “they go well with Perovskia atriplicifolia [Russian Sage] and Verbena bonariensis.” Miller particularly favors newer cultivars. “I was not a great fan of roses in the days when many of them had to be treated with chemicals to combat pest and diseases,” she writes. “Today, however, wonderful new roses are available, including fine shrub roses that are hardy, long-blooming, and disease resistant.”

Rose Bonica®

In Miller’s honor, we chose to highlight this modern Shrub Rose, which was named World’s Favorite Rose in 1997. The compact bush features clusters of dainty shell pink flowers and glossy, disease-resistant foliage. The parade of bloom from Bonica® continues until frost and is followed by an abundance of bright orange-red hips. It’s an ideal choice for beginners.

Our Top 5 Heirloom Tomatoes

Let’s start with the basics. What does the phrase “heirloom Tomato” mean? Generally speaking, heirloom Tomatoes are varieties that have had their seeds saved and passed down by gardeners for generations. The number of years various heirlooms have been in passed down may vary, but at White Flower Farm, the majority of our heirlooms have been handed down for at least 50 years.

Heirlooms share other characteristics as well. Their fruits may not be uniform or picture perfect, and their skins may be too thin to ship across country for mass marketing, but the important thing is the flavor. These Tomatoes are cherished because their flavors are some of the very finest.

Below you’ll find our top 5 Heirloom Tomatoes.

1. Tomato ‘Brandywine Red’

Tomato 'Brandywine Red'

‘Brandywine Red’ (also known as ‘Brandywine’) is a big, meaty Tomato with a mild, sweet, nonacidic flavor that many people rate as simply the best. And that flavor is what prompted home gardeners to save seeds of it for the past 100 years, even though the fruits occasionally develop some cracking.

2. Tomato ‘Green Zebra’

Tomato 'Green Zebra'

The unique fruits of ‘Green Zebra’ have deliciously tangy emerald flesh and ripen in color from light green to golden amber overlaid with deep green stripes. Their flavor is special because they are both sweet and tart at the same time!

3. Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’

Tomato 'Cherokee Purple'

This heirloom was once grown by the Cherokee tribe. When it comes to top Tomatoes for flavor, many would say the rich yet sweet taste of beefsteak ‘Cherokee Purple’ makes it one of the best.

4. Tomato ‘Mr. Stripey’

Tomato 'Mr. Stripey'

Beefsteak Tomatoes with a mild, low acid flavor make this heirloom a winner for summer entertaining. ‘Mr. Stripey’ is named for the red-and-yellow coloration of its fruits. These Tomatoes are bicolored inside as well. Slice them for salads or display them on platters to make the most of the beautiful yellow flesh and pink centers.

5. Tomato ‘Blondkopfchen’

Tomato 'Blondkopfchen'

The name of this German heirloom translates to “little blond girl.” To us it means a bounty of golden yellow cherry Tomatoes borne in clusters of 20 to 30. Strong yields of this rich and sweet variety would be reason alone to recommend it, but the flavor is the real reason its on our list.

Introducing Our Friends at Whichford Pottery

We are delighted to be offering a charming selection of handmade pots from our new friends at Whichford Pottery in England. During a visit to their pottery last year, we became enamored with the beauty and function displayed in their work. Scroll below to get a behind-the-scenes look at this iconic family-owned business and learn about their frost-proof guarantee.

Because of our partnership, White Flower Farm is the only national supplier of Whichford pots in the United States. You’ll find our full line of these hard-to-find pots here.

Jim and Dominique Keeling established Whichford Pottery in 1976 with two apprentices. Their first workshop was in a friend’s farmyard. They now oversee a team of 30 local people, who design and make a wide range of English flowerpots using traditional hand-thrown and hand-pressed methods.

 

Their workshop is tucked away in Warwickshire valley in the Cotswolds northwest of London.

 

Each week 6 tons of raw clay are turned into 600 handmade flowerpots by a specialist team of craftsmen and women.

 

All Whichford pots are signed by the potter with a maker’s mark.

 

Everything at Whichford is done in-house which means they have total control during the creation process.

 

Whichford pots come with a 10-year frost-proof guarantee, a must-have for our New England winters. They are able to offer this guarantee because they blend their own locally-sourced clay on site.

 

Watch the video below to see how Whichford pots are made.

Down on the Farm: Signs of Spring

We Made It!

Spring is slow to arrive in northwest Connecticut but, while we’re not venturing out into the gardens just yet, it’s evident that winter’s grip is easing. The sun is higher in the sky, the greenhouses are smelling sweet and fresh, and it won’t be long before we begin shipping to warmer corners of the country. As per our custom at this time of year, we’re pleased to deliver a brief-ish update from the nursery.

A New Rose Garden, Year 2

Late last season, we planted a variety of Roses and companion plants in our new Rose Garden. As spring and summer arrive, we’re excited to see how the whole garden develops.

Last summer we began installing a sizable new rose garden at the nursery, with design guidance from Julie Messervy and her team at Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio in Saxons River, VT. The garden will, as it matures, feature not only several dozen varieties of Roses, including both heirlooms and favorite modern cultivars, but our favorite Rose “companions” – Nepeta, Lavender, Clematis, Salvia, and many others.

This summer the garden will still be in its infancy, but over the years it will deliver us a tremendous re-education on gardening with Roses, and we’re eager for the school bell to ring. We trust visitors to the nursery also will enjoy watching this garden come into its own and perhaps take some fresh inspiration home with them.

Dates To Save

Join us for our 14th annual Great Tomato Celebration. This year, it will be held on two days, Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18.

As usual, we have a number of fun events lined up at the nursery this spring. You can find details about all of them on our website. We’d like to alert would-be travelers that our Great Tomato Celebration, an annual offering of dozens of varieties of tomato seedlings and other kitchen garden supplies, is scheduled for Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18. (Please note there are no Sunday hours this year.) We’re excited to welcome back noted Tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time. Craig will be on hand for lectures and Q&A availability on both days. Cross your fingers for decent weather, but the show goes on rain or shine.

An Update to Our Sales Tax Policy

Gardening is typically an escape for daily trials and tribulations. But when changes to tax law impact the way we do business with you, we find ourselves obliged to draw your attention to matters mathematical, at least for a moment.

As you may or may not have noticed, White Flower Farm has historically collected sales tax only on items shipping to Connecticut addresses. This is consistent with long-standing precedent that online retailers are responsible for collecting sales tax only on transactions to states where the seller has a physical presence, such as a store or a warehouse. White Flower Farm has a physical presence only in Connecticut; therefore, we have, until now, collected sales tax only on Connecticut-bound merchandise.

But last summer this precedent was changed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair. The court decided that the “physical presence rule” was outdated, and that states may charge tax on purchases made with out-of-state sellers, regardless of whether or not the seller has a physical presence in the state.

Since this ruling, many states have implemented new sales tax policies for out-of-state sellers, and White Flower Farm will shortly begin collecting sales tax on sales to many states beyond Connecticut. Our aim is to comply with all applicable laws and also to do our best to minimize confusion for our customers. With the latter objective in mind, here are a few further details:

• Different states have different sales tax rates; they also have different rules regarding whether shipping & handling charges are taxable, and what kinds of products are taxable at all. For example, in Connecticut, a tomato plant is not considered a food item, and therefore is taxable. Other states may handle that sort of item differently.
• If an item is purchased by a buyer in one state to be shipped to a different state (as many gift items are), the applicable tax rate is the one set by the state to which the item is being shipped, not the one in which the buyer resides.
• WhiteFlowerFarm.com displays sales tax as a single dollar figure in your order summary. If your order includes shipping addresses in multiple states, any applicable sales taxes will be combined into the single tax figure you see at checkout. The same calculations are applied to orders placed over the phone.

Thanks for your attention to this quite literally taxing topic. We welcome any questions you may have.

New Favorites for Spring

With more and more gardeners looking for ways to reduce their lawn space and support garden pollinators and other beneficial insects and wildlife, we’re thrilled to introduce our new preplanned Native Meadow Garden. This exclusive collection of carefully selected North American natives features low-maintenance perennials that provide food and habitat for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects while offering colorful blossoms and foliage for human admirers.

New Native Meadow Garden

We trialed this garden extensively at our farm in Connecticut where it has become a magnet for Monarchs and other winged creatures whose visits add to its natural, wild beauty. If you have a fence or property line in full sun, or a sunny swath of lawn you’re willing to cede to blossoms and wildlife, we urge you to try it. Give the plants a season to settle in, then watch them take off the following year.

New Pink Mandevilla

Also new this year is our collection of tropical plants for the patio. From nonstop flowering Mandevillas to glorious, large-flowering Hibiscus, to harder-to-find favorites including Alpinia ‘Variegata’ and Macho Fern, we have everything you need to turn your backyard patio into a tropical paradise. Our head gardener, Cheryl Whalen, put her talents to work last season, and she used a variety of tropical foliage plants to create two exceptional new collections, Bonito and Spicy Salsa.

Our new Bonito Annual Collection combines plants with fabulous foliage for a distinctly exotic look.
Create a spectacular display in your late summer sunny border with this trio of Dahlias from the Café au Lait series.

Dahlia lovers will not want to miss our new Café au Lait Trio, which features longtime favorite Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’ with two of its siblings, Dahlia ‘Café au Lait Rose’ and Dahlia ‘Café au Lait Royal.’ The color blend, which ranges from mocha pink to fuchsia, is as harmonious as can be, and each plant produces the large, 10” dinnerplate blossoms that made the original such a favorite. Beautiful in the garden and superb for larger-scale bouquets.

We hope you’re as excited as we are to see the first signs of spring. It’ll be great to get out into the garden.

What Is a Hardiness Zone, and Why Is It Important?

If you’ve spent any time shopping for plants, you’ve likely encountered the term “hardiness zone.” Simply put, hardiness zones are numerical and alphabetical codes that are assigned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to each area of the country. Our hardiness zone at the farm is 5b. Other areas of Connecticut may have slightly different zones, ranging up to 7a depending on regional geographic and climactic factors. Why is it important for gardeners to know their hardiness zones? Knowing your zone is the key to choosing plants that can survive and thrive in your particular area. Choosing plants that are not hardy in your zone can lead to frustration, disappointment and unnecessary expense.

To help demystify ‘hardiness zones,’ and to help you understand how to choose plants that are hardy for your garden, read below.

What Is a Hardiness Zone?

Using historical temperature data, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) divided the country into 13 hardiness zones, ranging from 1 (coldest) to 13 (warmest). Each of these zones is further divided into “A” and “B” for greater accuracy, with A being colder than B. Click here to see the USDA’s hardiness zone map. These zones are defined by average annual minimum temperatures. For example, a zip code in which the average annual minimum temperature is between -15 and -10 Fahrenheit is assigned to hardiness zone 5B.

The idea behind the map is that a gardener may look up his or her hardiness zone and use it to identify plants that will thrive in their area. For example, a gardener in our region of Northwest Connecticut (hardiness zone 5b) may confidently plant a variety that has been rated hardy to zone 4 but would generally not plant a variety that is rated hardy only to zone 6, because the zone 6 plant is not likely to survive the typical winter in that area.

How To Find & Use Your Hardiness Zone on WhiteFlowerFarm.com

It’s easy to find your zone on our website, www.WhiteFlowerFarm.com, and our site is set up to help you shop with your zone in mind. First, at the top of our home page, just under the Search box, click on Find Your Hardiness Zone and enter your zip code in the box that appears, then click Look Up. When the page reappears, your zone number will be listed at the top of the page in the spot previously occupied by Find Your Hardiness Zone. As you shop for individual plants and collections, the site will keep track of your zone, so that just beneath each product name, the words “Within My Zone” will appear alongside a small green flag if the plant you’ve chosen is, indeed, hardy in your area. If a plant is not hardy in your area, a small red flag with the words “Outside My Zone” will display.

As you navigate our site, you may also use the filters on the left side of the page to narrow down a listing to display only plants that will thrive in your zone.

Some experienced gardeners may “push the zone” by taking a chance on a plant that is not hardy in their area. Some plants can, in fact, be pushed, but they may require coddling and special care to see them through winter. Please be aware that we cannot honor our usual guarantee on plants if they have been shipped and planted outside of their suggested hardiness range.

Sometimes Hardiness Ratings Include “S” or “W” – What Does This Mean?

When listing the hardiness range of a plant, we often “split” the warm end of the range—for example, you might see a plant listed as Hardiness Zone: 3-8S/10W. In this instance, the 3 refers to the “cold hardiness” of the plant—all else equal, this variety should overwinter successfully in zone 3. The 8S refers to the humid Southeast (the ‘S’ being for ‘South’) and the 10W (‘W’ for ‘West’) to the comparatively dry Pacific Coast states of CA, OR, and WA—this plant can tolerate zone 8 temperatures in the South, and zone 10 temperatures on the West coast. In Northern climates, summer heat is not typically a consideration.

So to summarize—a plant listed as 3-8S/10W should successfully overwinter in zones 3 or warmer, tolerate humid heat up to zone 8, and tolerate dry heat up to zone 10.

We realize this is a bit complicated, but the problem is that the USDA zones are not always sufficiently specific. For example, our nursery in Connecticut is in the same hardiness zone as Taos, New Mexico, a climate that could hardly be more different than ours. Furthermore, there are innumerable other variables that may determine how a plant fares in a given site. We find that customers, over time, gain a good understanding of which plants do and don’t work for them, and this understanding is much more helpful than a strict reliance on hardiness zones. When in doubt, please contact us—our customer service team is extremely knowledgeable and ready to assist. You’ll find them at [email protected] or by calling 1-800-503-9624.

Our Tuberous Begonias – Chapter 1: Waking Up the Tubers

By Cheryl Whalen, Head Gardener

Each year I look forward to Valentine’s Day with eagerness and anticipation. It’s not the chocolate and candy hearts I crave but something much more satisfying. That mid-February love-filled holiday marks the start of the Tuberous Begonia growing season here at the farm. And tending these Begonia beauties is what I love!

Each summer, our display of Tuberous Begonias attracts visitors from hundreds of miles. Our collection of the English-bred Blackmore & Langdon Tuberous Begonias showcases more than 70 varieties of this fantastic strain of Begonias. Perhaps it’s a rare sight to see on this side of “the pond” . . . so many B&L varieties all together composing a colorful symphony for the eyes.

Tuberous Begonias wrapped in paper for winter storage
The Tuberous Begonias, wrapped in paper for winter storage, are brought out of the root cellar on Valentine’s Day.

I keep the display tubers from year to year. The age of the tubers ranges from 2 to 15 years old. The tubers have been in winter slumber mode for nearly 3 months . . . each tuber wrapped in a paper blanket with its name label tucked inside. They have been carefully nestled into lily crates, the heaviest tubers on the bottom. The guest cottage here has a fabulous dirt cellar where I store the tubers. The temperature hovers around 50 degrees F.

Begonia tubers with tags
Our tubers range in age from 2 to 15 years. It’s important to keep a tag with each one so you know which is which.

I like to have all the tubers potted up by March 1. In between Amaryllis photo shoots and garden planning sessions at my desk, I scramble about scaring up plastic nursery pots of various sizes, anywhere from 4” to 10” diameters. Barrels of Begonia soil are churned out for me by our potting department. On potting day, I carry my crates of precious cargo up from the basement to my potting station in the headhouse. And then, the fun begins.

Small tuber and large tuber
The size of the tubers varies considerably.

Working through a crate at a time, I unwrap each tuber and, after a brief health examination, lay them out on the table being careful to not separate the name label from its owner. I keep a running inventory of the varieties and how many I have of each. Ideally, I like to have at least 3 of a variety because these are living beings and sometimes I do lose a few to rotting in storage or during the growing season. It’s a sad day if I lose a tuber that was my sole representative of a variety.

Begonia tubers and pots
When selecting a pot for each tuber, choose one that’s just big enough to hold its occupant. The plants will be transplanted into larger pots once they’ve rooted in the first.

Recently, I had the table covered with tubers and I was taking my tally. A co-worker happened by and asked, “Cheryl, what are you doing with all of those cow pies?” I had to laugh, and I could see his point. The tubers do look like non-descript, brown lumps to the passerby. To me, they are beautiful. Each is unique in shape and size. Some are quite large, nearly the size of a human brain, while others fit quite comfortably in the palm of my hand. I once had a ‘Tahiti’ tuber that looked like the Starship Enterprise! (When you receive your new tuber in the mail, don’t be alarmed at its smaller size. It’s just a baby. Young, happy tubers are eager to add girth increasing in size each season. Remember that my display tubers started out as tiny tots, too!)

tubers nestled in their pots
Here are the tubers nestled in their pots.

I assign each tuber to a pot that is just big enough to hold its occupant. This is only round one in the potting process. The plants will be transplanted into larger pots once they’ve rooted into the first. I find that stepping the tubers up in this way decreases the chances of rotting tubers. Putting a small tuber in a large, moist soil mass before the tuber can get growing can sometimes have disastrous results.

pot with potting mixture and tubers
Fill each pot about halfway with potting mixture, and settle the tuber in, making sure its eyes are looking up.

Actual potting is easy. I put soil in the pot and place in the tuber making sure its growing eyes are looking up. I add soil, firming in around the tuber as I adjust its potting depth. I like the surface of the tuber to be no more than 1” below the soil surface.

Begonia tuber in pot
Add soil, firming in around the tuber and adjusting its potting depth so the surface of the tuber is no more than 1″ below the soil surface.

The pots then take up residence shoulder-to-shoulder in our warm and cozy propagation house surrounded by the freshly rooted cuttings of annuals and tomato seedlings. I give everyone a good drink of water and then I wait.

Begonia tubers in propagation house
Properly potted and labeled, the tubers take up residence in our propagation house, surrounded by freshly rooted cuttings of annuals and Tomato seedlings.

To be continued . . .

Our Tuberous Begonias begin shipping around mid-March, and you can pot them then. For information, see our Grow Guide, and watch our video, How To Grow Tuberous Begonias.

Fragrant Shrubs Perfume Your Garden From Spring to Fall

Spring’s first scent of Lilac. The unmistakable sweet spicy vanilla fragrance of Viburnum carlesii. The sultry summer perfume of Roses. Fragrant shrubs can fill your garden with heavenly perfume from spring to fall. Choose a variety of shrubs to add fragrance to your garden (and to fill vases in your house) throughout the growing season. Among our favorites, early spring brings the sweet perfumes of Azalea ‘Northern Hi-Lights,’ Lilac Bloomerang® ‘Pink Perfume,’ and the native Lindera benzoin. Late spring offers the spicy scent of Daphne Eternal Fragrance™ and the sweet citrus fragrance of Philadelphus (Mock Orange). Roses and Clethra can be relied upon to perfume the garden in summer with some of the Rose varieties continuing into fall. Scroll below to learn more about these fragrant plants, and find more here.

Syringa Bloomerang® Pink Perfume

If you’ve always wanted the intoxicating scent of Lilacs in your garden, but didn’t have room for them, take a close look at this lovely addition to the Bloomerang® family of reblooming Lilacs. Its upright, bushy form reaches just 4–5′ tall, and its dainty spikes of reddish purple buds open to intensely fragrant, soft pink flowers. ‘Pink Perfume’ blooms heavily in May and, after a short rest, flowers again intermittently until fall. These charming plants give a neat show of color for containers, pathways, and intimate spaces.

Viburnum carlesii

This is one of the most gloriously fragrant shrubs known to man. The dense flower heads, which measure up to 3″ across, produce white flowers from blush pink buds, and the perfume, which is a sweet, rich, spicy vanilla, carries a considerable distance across a lawn or garden. Plant one or two where you take your springtime strolls.

Rose Sweet Spirit

A profusion of vibrant, violet-red blossoms, 3-5 per stem, appears nonstop on this vigorous Hybrid Tea. The fully double 3” flowers are richly perfumed, and they are handsomely displayed as they gleam in the sunlight against a backdrop of subtly glossy, dark green foliage. These bushy, mounding plants show increased resistance to black spot and improved tolerance of humidity. A staff favorite at the nursery.

Azalea ‘Northern Hi-Lights’

This deciduous Azalea is a welcome addition to the garden for those of us who must suffer through brutally cold winters. Released by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in 1994, ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ is hardy to Zone 4. Its sweetly fragrant flowers emerge white with splashes of yellow on the upper petals. Mildew-resistant foliage on this strong grower turns a striking burgundy red in the fall, before dropping for the season.

When Lindera benzoin displays its dense clusters of fragrant flowers, we know for certain spring has arrived. These lovely yellow blossoms appear before the leaves emerge. In summer, the light green foliage makes an attractive backdrop, and in autumn the leaves turn bright golden yellow. Lindera benzoin is native to eastern North America and parts of the Midwest, and it makes a handsome addition to woodland gardens and moist areas near ponds or streams. More reasons to love this shrub: The beautiful Spicebush swallowtail butterflies rely on it as a food source for their caterpillars, and deer tend to avoid it.