Monthly Archives: February 2016

A Hydrangea for Every Garden

Hydrangeas for Every Garden

In the high heat of summer, the large, showy blossoms of Hydrangeas fill gardens and vases with long-lasting color. These versatile shrubs also do a great deal to add structure to garden beds and foundation plantings, and they make superb hedges, too. With cultivars ranging in size from container pot specimens to 8-footers, and a broad spectrum of colors from pure white to reddish purple to classic blue, there is a Hydrangea for every garden.

As gardeners are plotting and planning what to add to their spring planting list, we thought it would be fun review the different types of Hydrangeas.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea arborescens
Hydrangea arborescens is a good choice for colder climates since it flowers on new wood and is not bothered by late spring frosts. Plants tolerate light shade as well.

Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer® BloomStruck®
Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer® BloomStruck®

Hydrangea macrophylla
This species was originally cultivated in China and Japan. Many varieties tolerate wind and salt spray. Fortunately for gardeners in colder zones, recent Hydrangea introductions are more likely to flower on new growth as well as year-old stems, which means flowers are guaranteed even after a tough winter.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata
Likely the most cold-hardy Hydrangea of all, H. paniculata flowers aren’t subject to frost damage since they bloom on new wood. Plants generally have large, cone-shaped blooms.

Hydrangea quercifolia Gatsby Pink®
Hydrangea quercifolia Gatsby Pink®

Hydrangea quercifolia
Oakleaf Hydrangea is native to the United States and has long, cone-shaped flowers. Its large, broadly lobed leaves are very attractive in fall.


Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billow'
Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’

Hydrangea serrata
Native to the mountains of Japan and Korea, this species prefers cooler locations. The flower color in some varieties is affected by soil pH.

The Store Gets a Makeover

Sometimes, we all need a little lift. When we closed the White Flower Farm Store for the season last November, it was clear it was time for a makeover. The dwarf conifer hedge was dwarf no more and was threatening to burst through a retaining wall. The hedge was also blocking views to the display gardens.

dumptruck regrading
After 30 years, it was time for a major makeover.

The Lathe House, known to customers as the “shade pergola,” had begun to lean after 30 years of sterling service. Perhaps most importantly, in the years since the store was built in the early 1950s, customers’ buying habits had changed along with the depth, breadth and variety of plants and other merchandise we carry. To allow us more room for display, and to give gardeners of all skill levels the ability to shop more comfortably and more easily, we deemed it time to make some big changes.

Regrading the WFF store
We took advantage of the extraordinarily mild winter to do some major regrading to create more display space.

Our owner Eliot Wadsworth, property manager Tom Anctil, and store manager Tom Bodnar led the charge, devising plans for the dramatic renovation. The evergreen hedge was removed in late summer. After the store closed for the season on Nov. 15, the demolition phase began. The Lathe House was toppled and cleared away. The 600 square feet of grass between it and the store was re-graded, and a new retaining wall was expanded and built. Stairs were added to ease access from the store to the display gardens. Two propane tanks were relocated to create a new storage area, and new windows were installed on the store’s west side.

new retaining wall
Renovation plans included the construction of a new retaining wall.

Come spring, we’ll be showing off the results of our efforts. Among the new display areas, there will be vignettes designed to show customers how plants can work in their home landscapes. We’ll have more signage, more garden décor items, and more suggestions for incorporating plants into patio and other outdoor living areas. We’ll still display perennials alphabetically by name, but we’ll be showing others by theme such as deer-resistant plants, pollinator favorites, and plants by blossom color. With more room for merchandise and merchandising, we’ll expand our offerings and have more room to introduce new finds.

New retaining wall
In the space where the lathe house used to be, we’ve created a new area for themed displays including deer-resistant, pollinator friendly, and color-themed plantings.

As spring draws near in the coming months and the store gets fully stocked for the new season, we’ll be posting plenty of photos of the remodeled space. The store always opens its doors by early April (the exact date depends on the weather). We hope you’ll come by for a visit and stay awhile to meander around. Perhaps our changes will inspire you to make some of your own.

A Method to My Madness

By Cheryl Whalen, Head Gardener

Gardening season in Connecticut begins in February. Outside my window, the ice-crusted snow still blankets the sleeping garden beds. Maybe it’s too early to garden in the earth, but at my desk, gardens are in full bloom.

Creating a garden design is like putting together a puzzle. You need to figure out how separate pieces best fit together to develop a whole picture. A jigsaw puzzle has one right answer but a garden design can have many. I needed an easy way to visualize the possible solutions to my garden design puzzles. I got crafty and started collaging.

list of flora candidates
Whalen’s garden designs often begin as a list of flora candidates.

My garden designs often begin as a list of flora candidates. While some are new arrivals, most are plants we offer already, and I try to find new ways to showcase them. Next to each plant name on my list, I jot down words to describe its attributes including height, width, and bloom time. When I add a picture to my resource list, the plants begin to come to life. I can easily see the size, shape, and color pattern of a plant’s leaf. I know if its bloom is a fiery red, a warm buttery yellow, or a cool-toned blue.

This time of year sources for plant portraits are abundant. I sit at my desk surrounded by a dozen gardening catalogs, each vying for my attention and inviting me in with a kaleidoscopic cover. With a pair of scissors in my right hand, I get to work. Flipping through the pages, I clip out the pictures I need and make a check mark next to the name on my roster. I must confess that I have skeletonized many a garden catalog over the years with no remorse.

garden collage tools
With scissors and drafting tape, Whalen gets to work.

I make a grid of my pictures on a white sheet of paper. Drafting tape is my preferred method of adhesion. It’s less sticky than other tapes, allowing me to neatly peel up a picture and restick it elsewhere. Peel and stick happens a lot as I move into the most creative and fun phase of my design.

I begin with a picture of a plant that’s an absolute must-have in the garden. This time I choose Dahlia ‘Melody Allegro.’ Dahlias are great garden plants. They begin blooming in June and carry on right until frost. ‘Melody Allegro’ reaches up just above my knees and adorns herself with 3” blooms happily clad in peachy orange, rosy pink, and sunny yellow. She’s pretty all by herself, but if I can pair her up with the proper partners, she can really shine.

I scan my picture grid and my eye stops on the flowers of Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita.’ The cluster of flower petals reminds me of a cloud of butterflies. Importantly, the shade of pink perfectly matches the color of the Dahlia’s petal tips as she unfurls. I snatch the Cleome off the grid and place it slightly to the front of my Dahlia picture, overlapping the corners.

Scanning the grid once again, Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’ catches my attention. The shape of the solid orange bloom mimics that of the Dahlia, but it’s half the size. The peachy tones of the Dahlia petals are set off by the steamy orange Zinnia. Without hesitation, I decide this is the plant to complete my tantalizing trio. And so it goes from there. Next I add the airy Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’ to the mix, placing it at the feet of the Zinnia. The color ties in nicely as it echoes the yellow rays of the Dahlia. I grab hold of the burgundy-hued, strappy-leaved Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ to back up the whole presentation.

finished garden collage
The finished collage includes Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange,’ Dahlia ‘Melody Allegro,’ Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita,’ Helenium ‘Dakota Gold,’ and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum.’ This new combo will be planted in the gardens this spring at White Flower Farm, and, come summer, we’ll post pictures of the finished product!

I step back to evaluate my paper garden, and I smile. I do believe I’ve created quite a successful plant community. The plants all work together to bring out the best in each other.

Chasing One Delicious Strawberry

The berries of the Mara des Bois plant are a treasure to be found only at farmer’s markets. Photo by Gabriella Pirisi /
The Mara des Bois Strawberry has been cherished in France since its introduction in 1991. The delicious, acorn-size fruits are highly perishable so they’re found only in farmer’s markets and private gardens. Here, a bumper crop was on display in a market in Deauville, France. Photo by Gabriella Pirisi /

Part of the fun of working in the nursery business is finding new plants to offer our customers. But finding a plant is not always as simple as being shown new offerings in a grower’s greenhouse. In the case of one of our favorite edibles, the Mara des Bois Strawberry, we discovered it by happenstance when White Flower Farm’s owner, Eliot Wadsworth, heard mention of a delicious, aromatic strawberry that was wildly popular in France. Introduced by a French nursery in 1991, the berries of the Mara des Bois plant are a treasure to be found only at farmer’s markets (where they bring a premium price) and in patches maintained by backyard gardeners. The reason? The berries are highly perishable, which means they have no shelf life in grocery stores.

Mr. Wadsworth thought the berries would be a terrific choice for home gardeners who could harvest and eat them right away. That is, provided the berries lived up to their billing. Mr. Wadsworth asked Rob Storm, the farm’s director of horticulture, to “chase” the plant. Rob chases any number of plants in a given year. If he or another staff member sees a particularly desirable plant while in Holland or when touring a garden or garden show, notes are made, photos are taken, and contacts are sought. Tracking down a plant and finding a reliable source is a process that, in some cases, can take years. The chase for the Mara des Bois happily went a bit faster than that.

Runners from the plants we grow in strawberry jars sometimes escape and begin growing in the cracks of our stone walkway.

Rob began by talking to representatives at various strawberry seed houses in the United States, England, France, and Germany. These outfits grow plants strictly for purposes of collecting seed. None of their representatives had heard of Mara des Bois Strawberries. Rob next called several universities. Ultimately, he found a researcher at a branch of the University of California who knew a man who worked as a “fruit finder,” searching out interesting fruits from around the world in order to write about them for various periodicals. The fruit finder had, indeed, heard of Mara des Bois, and he kindly steered Rob to a grower who was importing France’s acclaimed Mara des Bois Strawberry into the United States. At the time, the grower was selling plants only to farmers who would then offer the berries at same-day farmer’s markets. Rob asked for a few trial plants. The Strawberries were planted in our Connecticut gardens, the berries were harvested, and the results exceeded our expectations.

mara des bois in strawberry jar
Mara des Bois produces an abundance of acorn-sized, aromatic fruits that are juicy, ripe red all the way through, sweet and delicious.

Mara des Bois is a distant relative of the Woodland Strawberry, and it produces an abundance of acorn-sized, aromatic fruits that are juicy, ripe red all the way through, sweet and delicious. When the first handfuls were tried around here, staff reactions were almost always the same. Eyebrows shot upward and smiles appeared.

With these kinds of results, Rob went back to the grower and asked if he’d be willing to build up stock so we could offer the plant to our customers. The grower was happy to oblige, and ever since, White Flower Farm has been offering the Mara des Bois Strawberry.

Nine years later, it remains a favorite of customers and staff. The plants can be grown in gardens, hanging baskets, and strawberry pots. Planted in full sun, they vigorously send out runners (side stems with daughter plants attached). This makes the plants especially productive for home gardens and containers. We keep a healthy crop going in strawberry jars around the greenhouses, and staffers who are making their rounds pick and eat the berries all season long. In one spot near our shed, runners have escaped the pots, and now new plants are growing in cracks along the walkways.

Mara des Bois is a favorite of customers and staff. The plants can be grown in gardens, hanging baskets, and strawberry pots.

Strawberries thrive in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Beyond that, they require only regular watering to produce a profusion of sweet, delicious fruit.

All told, the chase for Mara des Bois took four to five months, and then another year before the plant appeared in our catalog. One taste of these delicious berries and you’ll know, the chase was worth every minute.

Read here for specific advice on planting Mara des Bois in your garden or a hanging basket or a Strawberry jar. For more information, visit our website.