Monthly Archives: June 2016

There’s a Whole Lot Happening at the White Flower Farm Store!

The store's Visual Merchandizer Mary Valente installing Sedum Tile(R) Color Splash on the roof of the display%2
The store’s Visual Merchandizer Mary Valente installing Sedum Tile(R) Color Splash on the roof of the display.

Sedum Tiles for the Roof (& Lots of Other Places)

One of the displays that’s attracted the most attention from customers is the growth of a “green roof” atop a garden shed. Early this spring, Matt Scace, grower for the store (and all around handy guy), created a wooden border around the shed roof. (He did this by nailing 2” x 4” wooden boards around the perimeter, creating what is essentially an aerial raised bed.) Because the roof of the shed is sloped, the store’s Visual Merchandiser Mary Valente nailed a row of rubber grower’s trays across the center to keep the tiles from slipping as they rooted in. The trays have holes in the bottom that allow for drainage. (On a flat surface, the trays would not be necessary.)

sedum tile signage_store_6.27.16

Each Sedum Tile® Color Splash tile is a 10″ x 20″ coconut mat embedded with a beautiful selection of sedum varieties chosen for their harmonious colors and contrasting forms. They require only an additional 2” of soil wherever they’re planted so Mary spread the extra soil on the shed roof then placed the tiles. While the manufacturer recommends placing the tiles 1’ apart and letting the sedum grow and fill in over several seasons, Mary wanted a finished look faster so she placed them considerably closer.  Since the roof is not square, Mary cut the tiles to fit the tapered edges by flipping them over and cutting through the mesh with garden shears. About a month later, with just an occasional bit of watering, the Sedum Tiles have had a chance to settle in, and they’ve created a green roof that’s a marvel to see. In addition to using the tiles to “shingle” a roof, they can be used as edging for patio spaces, stone steps, rock gardens, and sunny borders. The tiles also can be cut to fit container pots, and wrapped around wreath forms. (Sedum Tile wreaths should be used on outdoor doors only.)

New residents of the sunny bed at the store include purple-flowering calibrachoa, Ostrich Fern, herbaceous peonie
New residents of the sunny bed at the store include purple-flowering calibrachoa, Ostrich Fern, herbaceous peonies and tradescantia.

 A Shady Bed Gets Blasted With Sun

Changes brought about by the renovation of the store earlier this year have inspired other displays. As part of the renovation, we demolished the Lathe House, an aged wooden structure that had for decades served as a display space for shade plants. A long garden bed bordering the Lathe House had once been largely shaded by the structure, but with demolition complete, the bed was suddenly blasted with sun. Established stands of hosta, astilbe, and ferns were baking and had to be removed and replaced with sun-loving plants. Under the direction of Store Manager Tom Bodnar, store staff members got to work. They removed the mature shade plants (relocating many to other parts of the display gardens), and in their place, they created colorful combinations of annuals and perennials. Where once astilbe grew, the purple groundcover Tradescantia ‘Purple Queen’ plays beautifully with silvery Artemisia ‘Parfum d’Ethiopia’ and the felted, cascading, lime-colored leaves of Helichrysum ‘Lemon Licorice.’ In another spot, a purple-flowering Calibrachoa, Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun,’ and Tradescantia ‘Purple Queen’ combine to make a lovely trio. The lush, towering Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) got to stay because, although it’s typically considered a perennial for part shade, it will tolerate full sun if the soil stays moist. The herbaceous peonies also stayed in place, acting as bookends for the new arrivals.

Dahlia 'Fascination' at the Store_6.27.16
Dahlia ‘Fascination’ at the Store.

Potted Dahlias for Summer Color

This being the start of July, the store is loaded with potted dahlias, a glorious array that’s adding brilliant color to store displays and will do the same on your patio or in your gardens. These stars of the late summer and autumn garden send up abundant blossoms from now until hard frost. As welcome as they are in sunny gardens, they also make outstanding cut flowers.

hydrangea annabelle_at store_6.27.16
Hydrangea ‘Annabelle.’

Long-Blooming Hydrangeas

All around the store, the hydrangeas have exploded into bloom. Our broad selection includes macrophyllas, lacecaps, climbers, and mountain, arborescens and oakleaf varieties in colors ranging from pistachio to pink to white, and seaside blue to rich purple. In recent years, the development of compact hydrangea selections means there are plenty of options for every landscape and garden with sizes ranging from compact container-scaled shrubs to 8’ plants that make glorious privacy hedges. Hydrangeas bloom over a long period that starts in summer and carries the garden through to fall, and this makes them a tremendous asset in any border or yard.

For those wishing to know more about these long-blooming shrubs, Store Manager Tom Bodnar will give his 2nd Annual Hydrangea Garden Talk & Tour on July 2nd at 10 a.m. New this year, the event includes a Flower Arrangement Demonstration by one of our staff members.

 Splash Some Summer Color Around the Garden

If your garden is flagging a bit in the summer heat, visit the store to see a range of ideas for adding color to your beds and borders. Helenium, Heliopsis, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Summer Phlox, Sedum, Ornamental Grasses, Dahlias, Daylilies, and Hibiscus all add color, texture and vitality to gardens from high summer to fall.

how would you use this basket
How would you use this basket?

How Would You Use This Basket?

Sometimes when we’re considering adding new products to our list of offerings, we ask customers for a bit of help. The basket shown here is one such item. It’s on offer now at the store where we’re conducting a raffle. Drop by, tell us how you would use the basket, and we’ll enter your name to win a $25 gift certificate to White Flower Farm. While you’re visiting, you can see how the staff at the farm uses any number of the products we sell – from garden tools and watering cans to sun-shielding hats and gloves, and, of course, in our display gardens, you can see how we use a broad selection of plants, shrubs and trees.

We hope you’ll visit soon.

All visitors are welcome
All visitors are welcome!

The Art of Gardening: Successful Plant Combinations

Baptisia, Papaver Turkenlouise, Salvia 'May Night', Berberis, Allium, Iris Pallida
The June border explodes with the colors of Baptisia australis (far right), the bright red flowers of Papaver ‘Turkenlouis,’ the dark purple spires of Salvia ‘May Night,’ the deep burgundy red of a Berberis shrub, the playful purple globes of Allium, and the green and yellow blades of Iris pallida Variegata.

Steve Silk, a garden designer who lives in Farmington, Conn., believes there’s an evolution in the life of every gardener. All of us start by falling in love with individual plants – a Peony, a Salvia, a Canna Lily. But gradually, as we develop more of these infatuations, we learn to combine a variety of different plants in pleasing combinations. This ability to create successful plant combinations is the skill that elevates digging in the dirt to an art form.

dahlia karma corona, canna
Canna foliage stars in this tropically themed combo which also features the pink blossoms of Dahlias.

Combining plants is akin to piecing together a puzzle with parts that shift and change. Plants start the growing season looking one way and finish it another. Some plants bloom early, and others late. Some don’t bloom at all but are treasured for their foliage. Whether a gardener is planting a single container pot or acres of land, each must be familiar with the color, size, form, and life cycle of any number of plants. A plant that’s 10” tall when you buy it might grow to 3’ tall by the end of the season. A Hydrangea with blossoms that are white and leaves that are green throughout the summer might change to a plant with pink flowers and burgundy foliage in the fall. The conditions required by each plant also must be taken into account: It’s no use expecting primroses to survive in dry soil, or hoping hostas will look their best in the baking sun, or planting shade-dwelling ferns beside sun-loving Rudbeckia.

Zinnia ‘Orange Profusion’ makes a terrific pairing with the purple spires of Salvia.

Successful gardeners have a familiarity with the plants they’ve chosen, a great eye for combining color and form, and an exceptional amount of patience. The latter is required because it can take a full season to appreciate the effects of a planting choice, and another season to modify it.

Iris pallida ÔVariegataÕ , salvia may night
The yellow and green blades of Iris pallida Variegata are a terrific backdrop for the purple spires of Salvia ‘May Night.’

Gardeners learn by trial and error. When one plant combination isn’t successful, it’s time to make alterations and try another. Another great way to learn is by seeing what other gardeners have done. We visit botanical gardens and private gardens all the time. We also experiment each year in our own borders. Each season brings the opportunity to play with new plant combinations. We try this, and we try that, and we learn a great deal. We invite you to come to our display gardens and see our experiments, and we hope they’ll inspire you in making some of your own.

Caring for Your Vegetable Plants

With the vegetable gardening season in full swing, we checked in with our Nursery Manager Barb Pierson to get some helpful tips on caring for edibles plants to encourage plant health and maximum yields. Here’s her advice:

Early Summer in White Flower Farm’s Kitchen Garden


In general, with tomatoes and most other edibles, you want to water the soil, not the plant. “You’re also supposed to do it in the morning,” Pierson says, because that allows any leaves that do get wet to dry in the sun during the day, but not all of us have time to get the watering done in the morning so, if need be, do your watering later in the day, being careful to keep the foliage as dry as possible.

“If you have drip irrigation, do not run it all day, every day,” Pierson says. The flavor of tomatoes is vastly improved by letting the soil dry out a bit. If you keep the hose going, “you’ll have water bombs instead,” Pierson says. “A little bit of flagging in the plants is OK. They get a silvery color, and they start to droop just a little bit.” That’s when you water.


pruning tomato growth
Pruning Tomato Growth


“Everybody does something different,” Pierson says. Once, on a visit to a local botanic garden, Pierson saw tomato plants that “didn’t have a leaf left on them,” she laughs. “I said [to the staff], ‘What are you doing to these plants?’ They told me the fruit is better if it’s not shaded, but I’ve never found that to be true.”

This is what good tomato hygiene looks like. The base of the stem is free of leaves and suckers.
This is what good tomato hygiene looks like. The base of the stem is free of leaves and suckers.

The important thing, Pierson says, is to practice good tomato hygiene, removing leaves that are touching the ground to prevent soil from splashing up onto the foliage and possibly conveying diseases. This is particularly important if you’ve had disease problems in the past, she says.

As you snip off leaves, be careful to leave a stub of about ½”. This prevents cutting into the main stem, which is something that hurts the plant and can open it, literally, to problems.

3. pinching away foliage -- especially leaves and suckers that are close to the ground. Removing these helps%
Pinching away foliage — especially leaves and suckers that are close to the ground.

Higher up on the plants, “you can thin the plant for better air circulation, which helps with fungal problems,” Pierson says. “Cut some leaves and non-fruiting branches.” If it’s a rainy summer, the need to promote air circulation is particularly important.

Pierson occasionally prunes to control the size of indeterminate tomato plants (the varieties that tend to sprawl all over the place). “When your ‘Sungold’ is 8 feet tall, you’re going to lop it,” she says. “For purposes of supporting the plant, you might also prune it.” But topping a tomato plant may mean you’ll lose some fruit, so think twice before you make a cut. “Any time you prune the plant, you’re possibly reducing production,” she says.


At her house, Pierson plants most of her tomatoes in container pots, using a mix of 2/3 potting mix and 1/3 compost. “That’s heavy to compost,” she says. When she plants them in raised beds or garden beds at the farm, she also prepares the soil before planting by working in lobster compost, which helps condition the soil while adding vital nutrients. [To see our recent post on adding nutrients to the soil before planting tomatoes, scroll down.]

If you’ve amended your soil properly before planting, feeding your plants with fertilizer is optional. “The compost is doing most of the work,” Pierson says.

If you haven’t amended your soil, or even if you have and would like to give your tomato plants an extra helping of nutrients, you can use fertilizer for what Pierson calls “a boost that will help get heirlooms and cherries into fruit and flower sooner.”

In areas of the country with a short growing season, this is especially important.

Choosing which fertilizer to use depends on your preferences and your growing conditions. Pierson has always relied on White Flower Farm’s All-Bloom Fertilizer, a 15-30-15 formula that’s high in phosphorus for root growth, and micronutrients. One of the bonuses is it won’t attract critters the way fertilizers that smell like fish sometimes do. The key here is trial and error to see what works best in your garden.

Fertilizer helps promote “more fruit set and earlier fruit set,” Pierson says.

Pierson lets tomato plants grow in the ground or in container pots for approximately 3 weeks before feeding them for the first time. Then she’ll feed roughly 2 to 3 more times before the plant is actually producing. “When the plant sets its fruit, back off feeding,” she says. “Back off water and back off feeding once the plant is covered in fruit. Too much water, and your cherry tomatoes will be cracking.” Excess water also invites diseases.

“Never feed after mid-August,” Pierson says, because it’s the equivalent of offering someone caffeine before bedtime. At that time of year, “the plants are sensing the shortened day length. They honestly don’t need anything else.”

Pests & Diseases

Septoria Leaf Spot of Tomato Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
Septoria Leaf Spot of Tomato. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.


A fungus that manifests itself as brown spots on leaves, Septoria is one of the most common conditions that can afflict tomato plants. It begins on the lower leaves and spreads upward. “If you’ve had septoria in the past, when the plant gets to be 24” tall, remove all foliage that’s touching the ground,” Pierson says. This prevents soil from splashing up onto the leaves and possibly introducing diseases.

For more detailed information, visit the excellent Missouri Botanical Garden website here.

Blossom end rot, photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
Blossom end rot, photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

Blossom End Rot

These brown spots at the base of tomatoes may indicate a calcium deficiency. “Calcium can be there in the soil and be unavailable because of soil pH,” Pierson says. “If you have a history of having blossom end rot, make sure you’re making the calcium available. It means the soil is too acid, so put in granular lime in a feed-the-chickens kind of manner [or what amounts to a couple of tablespoons].”

Other problems, including the moisture level of the soil and improper or excessive fertilization, also may cause blossom end rot.

For more information, click here.

Hornworm covered in the cocoons of a parasitical wasp. Photo by Barb Pierson.


“If you see a branch with no leaves, it’s probably hornworms,” Pierson says. The bright green, chubby insects are sometimes hard to spot because they blend in so well with tomato stems and foliage, but the worms have diagonal white stripes on their sides and a spiked horn near their tail ends (hence the name). To rid tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants of these foragers, “just pick them off,” Pierson says. You don’t want to spray or use chemicals because you’ll be eating food from these plants.

If you see a hornworm covered in what appear to be tiny white specks, those are the white cocoons of the parasitic braconid wasp, which eventually kill their host.

For more information, click here.


“Cucumbers are water hogs,” Pierson says. “If it’s hot and dry, you’ve got to water.” Apart from that, cukes require very little maintenance. “Let them climb,” Pierson says. Pick the fruit, and when the plants subside, generally in the high heat of August, “just pull them out.”


A host of plants, from Phlox to Lilac, are susceptible to powdery mildew. Squash is another. Pierson recommends the “old-time” milk treatment, which involves diluting 1 part milk (any type from whole to skim) in 2–3 parts water and spraying it on the plant until the leaves are dripping. “It changes the pH of the leaf so it’s not as favorable for the powdery mildew to spread. Do it preventatively and then once per week. Reapply after it rains.” Pierson confesses that she doesn’t bother with the milk treatment because the squash fruits are fine regardless of the mildew. The milk treatment “comes under the heading ‘Too Much Work,’” she laughs.

Squash vine borer. Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.

Squash borers are another story. “The borers will work their way into stems and small fruits, and start to grow. The squash turns brownish, and it will fall off and die,” Pierson says. The remedy? While there are a few measures that can be taken to stop the borers, most are tedious and time-consuming. Barring the use of chemicals on your edibles, you might prefer to pull the plants, disposing of them completely (do not compost) and leaving the soil open to birds who will help clean it.

For more information, click here.


Keep cutting lettuce for a “cut-and-come-again harvest to avoid early bolting,” Pierson says. Lettuce generally won’t bolt “unless it gets super hot. If it bolts, remove it, and plant fresh seed. You’ll have good lettuce in the fall if you re-seed in mid-August.”


Eggplant and Peppers require little maintenance, perhaps just some staking as their branches, laded with fruit, get heavy.

One tip for next year: both eggplant and peppers “love to be planted in the collapsible potato bags,” Pierson says. The black bags get warm in the sun, making the soil warmer than it is in most garden beds. “They like hot roots,” she says.

The Annual Trials Are On

Each year, plant breeders produce a wide variety of new annuals. For our Product Development team, the challenge is to see as many as possible, choose new introductions that might be right for our customers, and trial them to ensure they’re everything the breeders say they are.

The process starts fresh each year with staff members seeking out new annuals in their travels to botanic gardens, vendor open houses, and trade shows. They also seek out hard-to-find plants they come across in industry web articles, e-newsletters and other publications. Another prime source for annual introductions is what’s known as the California Spring Trials, which take place annually in April on the West Coast. The California Trials are a whirlwind with approximately 30 different plant breeding companies showcasing introductions at roughly 18 venues spread out from central California to just north of Los Angeles. The staff member who’s selected to go covers all of that ground in five or six days, taking notes and photos along the way. Hundreds of new introductions are on display with petunias and calibrachoas generally leading the list. While we make it a point to trial a small number of these, many are spinoffs of what’s already on the market. We concentrate instead on top performing plants that not all retailers may be focused on.

Back in Connecticut, we put together a list of new annuals we’d like to trial. We use our notes and photos to winnow down the choices. We order samples, and we wait. In early April, samples arrive from the growers, and we grow them on so they’re ready to be planted outside. Depending on the year, they might range from Ageratum to Angelonia, Lantana to Lobelia, Calibrachoa to Coleus, and every annual in between. Vegetable trials are included in the process, and they run a gamut from new Tomatoes to Kale to Cucumbers. Some years, the trials can focus on a particular plant such as Fuchsias or Begonias because our Product Development team has found some unique forms and flower colors, and, if that’s the case, we’ll get a number of varieties to try.

For our own trials, about eight staff members are given samples of each new plant. This year, those of us participating in the trials each received 9 flats. That’s a lot of plants! The flats are generally handed out just before Memorial Day Weekend, and many of us spend the holiday (happily!) potting up trial plants or putting them in our garden beds. Product Development Coordinator Ray Hinman sends around a spreadsheet asking us to record how many of each plant we received (1 or 2), and where we planted it (garden or container). He also includes prompts encouraging notes on the plant’s vigor, color, overall growth and uniformity, and anything else that strikes us as noteworthy.

Staff members care for their charges through the summer and into fall, charting the progress of the introductions. Because staff members live in various parts of the state of Connecticut, the same plants are put to the test in a variety of zip codes, soils, conditions and microclimates. Some of us have raised beds, others put plants directly in the garden, and most of us have a bazillion container pots. We’re all diligent about watering and feeding plants because that’s what the trials are about.

Not all of the plants make it through the trials. Some fail to thrive. (Two years ago, a particular Begonia looked fabulous for weeks then suddenly, with no visible sign of distress and with no event or animal to blame, it broke into pieces. Because it happened to several of us in separate gardens, it seemed fair to say the plant had a problem.) Other plants offer too short a season of interest to be considered, or they too closely mimic plants we already sell. Each season also brings a share of the mishaps and accidents that are part of life: The dog chases a ball through the perennial bed; the kids kick a soccer ball astray; the neighbor or friend who was hired to water the plants during a summer vacation either over- or under-does the job.

But among the survivors, we look for standouts, and it’s absolutely wonderful when we find them.

Salvia ‘Amistad’

We trialed Salvia ‘Amistad’ in 2014, and it proved an immediate favorite with staff members and hummingbirds alike. The dark, royal purple blossoms emerge from near black bracts on a fuss-free plant that blooms from summer to frost. Customers seem to have discovered its charms, too. It sold out early this season, which means we’ll be increasing stock for next spring.

Begonia Unstoppable Upright Big White
Begonia ‘Unstoppable Upright White’

Another easy winner in 2014 was Begonia ‘Unstoppable Upright White.’ This remarkably robust and floriferous plant produces a perpetual supply of single white flowers that are brushed with pink and highlighted by yellow centers. They are complemented to perfection by dark green foliage with maroon undersides. The plant requires little care aside from regular watering, and it looks stunning all season in the garden or container pots.

Begonia ‘Unbelievable Lucky Strike’

Begonia ‘Unbelievable Lucky Strike’ was an easy choice for star status in the 2015 trials. This long-blooming Begonia produces masses of semidouble, bicolor blossoms in radiant shades of yellow and apricot. The foliage is the other attraction. It has serrated leaves in a distinctive olive green that are lightly detailed with red to complement the warm bloom tones.

Cucamelon Mexican Sour Gherkin

Among last year’s vegetable trials, the Cucamelon Mexican Sour Gherkin delighted everybody. Delicate vines produced a remarkable number of small, specialty Cucumbers that resemble tiny, 1” watermelons. Firm-textured and bite-size, they’re great for pickling.

Tomato ‘Genuwine’

Also a hit in last season’s veggie test was delicious, productive Tomato ‘Genuwine.’ This Heirloom Marriage™ variety is a cross between longtime favorites ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Costoluto Genovese.’ Plants produce large, deeply furrowed, dark red slicers with a firm texture and a rich taste. They’re superb for salads and sandwiches. Word seems to have gotten out about this treasure because it was an early sell-out at our Great Tomato Celebration this spring.

When the growing season ends, Ray collects notes from each staff member who participated in the trials. He and others on the Product Development team review the results, and a number of plants are selected for inclusion in the following year’s spring offering. At that point, our customers get to try these outstanding plants in their own gardens, and we love to hear about your results.

The Wide World of Peonies

Peonies are one of the great glories of the late spring garden. The silky soft, colorful, often fragrant blooms have a natural opulence that make them as treasured in the garden as they are in vases in the house. The gorgeous blossoms are produced by remarkably carefree and robust plants that require almost no maintenance and take twitchy spring weather in stride. In addition to producing lovely flowers that are superb for cutting, the value of their foliage should not be overlooked. In the early spring garden, the reddish-green stems of emerging herbaceous peonies make a fine companion or backdrop for daffodils, tulips and other early spring arrivals.

Planting and transplanting peonies of all types should be undertaken with a bit of care. Click theses links to find all the advice you need along with helpful tips for planting and growing  herbaceous and tree peonies.

To help choose the right peony for your garden, start by familiarizing yourself with the different types. Here are three of the most common:

Herbaceous Peonies

White Flower Farm’s Old Time Peony Collection

These long-lived perennials range from exquisitely delicate singles to large and lush doubles, with shades from pure white to the deepest red. Here in Connecticut, they usually produce their display in June, and their glossy, deep green leaves look good all season. Peonies make superior cut flowers, lasting more than a week if cut in full bud.

An important thing to understand about Herbaceous Peonies is that they die back to the ground in winter and send up new growth in spring. For this reason, they’re generally classified as perennials. (Tree Peonies, see below, have woody stems that retain their structure year-round, so they’re classified as shrubs.)

Intersectional Peonies

Intersectional Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

A cross between Herbaceous and Tree Peonies, these plants generally blossom between Tree Peonies, which are first to blossom, and Herbaceous Peonies. By planting Intersectional varieties, you extend the Peony blossom season in your garden, creating a continuous flow.

Tree Peonies

White Flower Farm’s Tree Peony Grove

In its native China, the Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) ranks as a national favorite, and it’s easy to see why. These hardy shrubs produce exquisite floral displays, with silky blooms measuring up to 10” across in May and June.

Tree Peonies are woody plants that retain their structure year-round. Slow to mature, don’t be surprised if there are few or no flowers the first spring after planting; plants generally take a few years to settle in and bloom heavily, but mature plants reach 4–5’ and bear up to 50 showstopping blooms. Deer and disease resistance add to their appeal.