Monthly Archives: August 2016

What’s That Weed? 10 Common North American Weeds

While many of you undoubtedly spent summer engrossed in the latest New York Times bestselling beach reads, around here, the books we can’t put down are Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso, and Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer.

Both are indispensable guides to the pesky weeds that gardeners in North America regularly come upon in beds, borders, meadows and woodlands. Weeds of the Northeast was published in 1997 by Cornell University Press. At nearly 400 pages, it offers color photos of 299 weeds at various stages of their lifecycles – starting at the seedling stage. Weeds of North America was published in 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. It covers roughly 500 species of weeds, and includes color photos showing the majority of them at stages from seed to flower. (Interestingly, it also lists plant viruses that each weed could introduce into your garden and which may be harmful to other plants.)

As we continue to pull weeds from our gardens, we thought you might like a primer on 10 of the most common types that might be appearing in yours.

1a. weeds_pokeweed
Common pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana L.)

Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana L.)

You can tell a lot by a nickname, and this one is commonly known as Inkberry (for its dark reddish-purple berries), Red Ink Berry (for the color that’s released when the berries are crushed), and American Cancer (for the toxicity of the leaves and fruits). The one thing Pokeweed is not is a poke. The herbaceous perennial emerges in spring and, left untended, achieves the height of a small tree. It will climb over shrubs and grow alongside trees. You’ll recognize the seedlings by their oval green leaves, which often have a hint of reddish purple. As they begin to stretch, you’ll see that the stems are also a reddish-purple. Green berries emerge in clusters, gradually changing to a gleaming purple-black. The shape of the berries is distinctive, too, like round balls that have been slightly flattened on each side. Large taproots make these a contest to remove, but it’s worth winning.

2. weeds_canadian clearweed
Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

This summer annual has watery, almost translucent stems that remind us of Impatiens. The fresh, shiny green leaves are opposite and have three pronounced central veins and  serrated edges. The small flowers emerge from leaf axils and appear in clusters on the upper portions of the stems. Pull this weed, and it gives way very easily, which may account for our benign feelings about it.

3. weeds_Swallow Wort Vine
Black Swallowwort Vine (Cynanchum nigra)

Black Swallowwort Vine (Cynanchum nigra)

The bane of many a northeastern gardener, this twining, vining perennial can twist itself around shrubs and small trees. It has dark green leaves, purple-black fruit, and, most unhappily, a large root crown, which makes removal an Olympic sport.

“Although primarily a woodland species, black swallowwort has become an invasive weed in recently cleared areas, conservation habitats, Christmas tree plantations, nursery crops, and other perennial crops such as alfafa. It also grows in fields, pastures, and waste places and along fence rows, often in sunny areas and calcareous soils,” write Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. In short, it can be everywhere. Our recommendation: Dig it out to be certain you’re getting it by the roots, or you’ll be seeing it in perpetuity.

4. weeds_bull thistle
Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Sometimes confused with Canada thistle, this biennial is distinguished by its leaves, which are spiny above and woolly below (Canada thistle leaves are the opposite: smooth above and smooth or spiny below), and by its taproot (Canada thistle spreads by rhizomes.) Bull thistle favors rich, moist soil. It presents in spring as a rosette of leaves that are prostrate to the ground then develops a stem, which is punctuated by lance-shaped, serrated leaves. Bulbous lavender-purple fruit appears at the tops of stems.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)

This perennial is hard to miss, especially if you’ve had the misfortune to step on it or come upon it ungloved. The spiny leaves appear first as a prostrate basal rosette and gradually lengthen. Allowed to mature, the Canada thistle will sprout stems topped by lavender-purple flower heads that open to release seeds that scatter in the wind. Where there is one, you may expect many more as Canada thistle spreads by rhizomes.

5. weeds_crabgrass
Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemu Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS, and Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP)

Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemu Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS, and Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP)

This one needs no introduction. There are three common varieties, Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), Smooth crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS), and Southern crabgrass (Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP). All are the bane of gardeners everywhere. The blade-shaped green leaves emerge along prostrate stems. The fibrous roots always seem to be rooted in cement because they’re just that difficult to pull out. The part of the plant that’s above-ground seems always to snap off in your hand before the roots can be dislodged so use a weeding tool to loosen the soil then pull.

6. weeds_creeping charlie_best
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea L.)

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea L.)

Also known as Ground Ivy, this is not an ugly weed, it’s just a perpetual land-grabber. It creeps along the ground by runners, each node setting down new roots as the spreading continues. It’s especially fond of vaulting the distance between lawns and garden beds, and it will even crawl across the patio, if it can find sufficient footing. The round, scalloped green leaves form a mat-like ground cover, and in spring, purple flowers appear. Grab a string (or six) of stems and give them a tug. You’ll feel individual nodes pop out of the soil. A firmer tug releases the developed fibrous roots at the base of the plant.

7. weeds_broadleaf plantain
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major L.)

Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major L.)

We feel a special animosity toward this one, a prostrate grower that holds tenaciously to the soil with a cluster of fibrous roots and single taproot. The broad green, deeply veined leaves hew to the ground, forming a mat from which sprout green flower heads that later turn golden brown.

8a. bishop's weed_Aegopodium podagraria
Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)
8. weeds_variegated bishop's weed
Variegated Bishop’s Weed

Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)

The variegated form of this super-spreader is called Goutweed. It’s offered at many nurseries as a ground cover, and while quite ornamental, it quickly manifests as a nuisance. To quote the Missouri Botanical Garden’s outstanding website, It “Will rapidly form a continuous mound of attractive foliage typically growing to 8″ tall with an indefinite spread. Unfortunately, once it gets going, it acts like the proverbial snowball going downhill and can be difficult to contain.” While it is easy to remove with a quick tug, you may find the constancy of the job gets tiresome quickly.

9. Alliaria petiolata_garlic mustard
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

This European native was originally introduced to North America in the 1800s and was valued for its medicinal and culinary properties. But since then, this shade-tolerant biennial has become too common in wooded areas of the eastern and middle of the United States where it crowds out natives. Now regarded as an invasive, it forms basal rosettes of heart-shaped leaves in the first year. The following season, the leaves become more triangular in shape, and the plant sends up a 1–4’ stalk that produces small white flowers in early spring. Apart from identifying the plant by its appearance, you can crush a leaf or stem. If you smell garlic, remove the plant.

10. weeds_lambsquarters
Common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.)

Common Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.)

We find this upright annual in lots of places at the farm where it likes to pop up at the edges of fields and meadows. The gray, felted-looking leaves make it easy to spot along with its broad, branching habit. Left to grow, it can reach heights of 3’ in a single season.


What Are You Going To Do With All Those Tomatoes?

A Few Favorite Recipes From Our Staff

For vegetable gardeners in many parts of the land, it’s tomato-harvesting time. If you planted a variety of tomatoes, as we always do, you now have the delightful problem of figuring out how to use your overabundance of scrumptious, fresh-from-the-vine fruits.

To help you make the most of them, we asked our staff members for some of their favorite recipes. Head gardener Cheryl Whalen loves a Tomato Sandwich, which is about as easy (and delicious) as it sounds: Simply put a generous slice (or two) of beefsteak tomato on bread or toast that’s been slathered with mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper, and enjoy the taste of summer. Another favorite with many staffers is the classic Italian Caprese Salad, made by alternating slices of thick, juicy beefsteak tomato with fresh mozzarella then sprinkling it with fresh basil leaves, sea salt, and olive oil. (You can even drizzle on some pesto for an extra blast of summer flavor.) Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes are a delicious side dish many of us enjoy – simply heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a skillet set over medium high heat, add a few handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes (a mix of red and gold varieties always looks terrific), and a bit of sea salt. Shake the pan until the tomatoes begin to swell and soften just a bit, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat immediately, add a handful of chopped fresh basil (or another fresh herb such as marjoram or oregano), and serve warm or at room temperature. Tomato Bruschetta is another quick and easy favorite that makes it onto everyone’s menu. Toast or grill some thick slices of ciabatta or country bread, rub one side of each slice with the cut side of a clove of garlic, then pile on a mixture of chopped tomatoes (any variety will do) tossed with a bit of olive oil and chopped basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.

tomato recipes_caprese salad
Speedy to make and delicious to eat, the Italian Caprese salad is a classic for good reason. Simply alternate thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes with mozzarella. Drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with fresh basil, add sea salt, and you have a lovely lunch, appetizer, or (on a hot night) a light supper.

Here are a few more recipes from our staff to help you make the most of your tomato harvest. We hope you get a chance to enjoy all of these.

This classic of Spanish cuisine makes the most of tomatoes and lots of other summer vegetables. Variations abound, and you can add or subtract ingredients based on your preferences. We like our gazpacho a bit rustic in style with chunks of vegetables. If you prefer a smoother soup, blend or process until the desired texture is reached.

tomato recipes_gazpacho
The bounty of summer in a single bowl! Our gazpacho combines fresh-picked tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers to make a zesty cold soup.

Gazpacho Picante

2 pounds fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled, and coarsely chopped (your favorite variety or a mix of varieties)

2 English cucumbers, peeled, and coarsely chopped

1 small red onion, finely chopped

½ cup green onions, thinly sliced

2 red or green peppers, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

1 lime, juiced

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 quart tomato juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

**Blanch tomatoes: The point here is to loosen the skin but not to cook the tomatoes. For starters, bring a large pan of water to a boil. In a large mixing bowl, add ice cubes to water to create an ice bath. Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato, scoring the skin but not cutting deep. Lower the tomatoes gently into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove from boiling water and place in ice bath for 30 seconds. Using a sharp knife, peel away the skin.

Make the Gazpacho: Working one batch at a time, if necessary, puree first 11 ingredients in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. As each batch is pureed to desired consistency, transfer to a large bowl or soup kettle. Continue pureeing in batches until done. Add salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Can be made a day ahead. Serve with crusty bread.

This recipe from Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, is one of our must-have dishes of summer. Because we can’t always wait for the large tomatoes she calls for, we make the first bread salads of the season with cherry varieties. As the medium and beefsteak tomatoes come in, we switch to using those. Although this tomato-bread salad is most presentable and best eaten the day it’s made, we frequently enjoy leftovers for lunch for another day or two (or three). Add a few cubes of fresh mozzarella if you want an extra treat.

Tomato 'Costoluto Genovese'
Tomato ‘Costoluto Genovese,’ ripe on the vine and ready for picking.

Ina Garten’s Panzanella

3 tablespoons good olive oil

1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced ½-inch thick

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

½ red onion, cut in ½ and thinly sliced

20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons capers, drained


1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

½ cup good olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Makes 12 servings.

Because we can’t possibly eat all the tomatoes we harvest in season, we oven-roast the overflow and freeze them for use long after summer is past. In the depths of December or January, it’s positively transporting to bite into some of summer’s homegrown tomatoes.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 300°. Cut tomatoes lengthwise in halves, quarters, or eighths, depending on the size (cherries, plum, beefsteak, etc.). Spread them out in single layers on cookie sheets. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, add chopped garlic, basil (optional), salt and pepper. Bake for 2-3 hours until tomatoes collapse and the juice is reduced and syrupy. Pack in freezer containers, pour the oil from the pans over the top, and freeze for up to three months.

Serving suggestions for Slow Roasted Tomatoes:

Bruschetta with Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Slice ciabatta bread and brush tops with oil from the tomatoes. Broil until lightly toasted. Add tomatoes with garlic and a slice of fresh mozzarella. Broil until cheese softens and tomatoes are warm.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Appetizer Bites

Coat a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Cut wonton wrappers in half so they’re square. Take 2 wonton squares and press into mini cupcake pan, overlaying the squares to create a cup with edges. Fill with roasted tomatoes and top with slice of fresh mozzarella. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the wonton wrappers have browned.

The following recipe doesn’t include proportions, which you can choose for yourself, depending on how many tomatoes you have and how much sauce you’d like to freeze.

blanched tomatoes
Blanched and peeled tomatoes waiting to be cooked into a sauce that will be frozen and enjoyed during the long winter months.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Fresh tomatoes, quartered

Chopped onion

Fresh parsley, basil, oregano and thyme

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread tomato quarters and onion on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with fresh herbs. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then, using a wooden spoon (or your hands), combine until vegetables are lightly coated with oil and vinegar.

Roast vegetables in a 400 degree F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Puree. Freeze in batches, or use immediately.

fresh tomato bruschetta
Fresh Tomato Bruschetta, made with chopped fresh tomatoes tossed with a bit of olive oil and fresh basil then piled atop toasted bread, is easy and delicious.



It’s Too Darn Hot!

As the dog days of August grind on and the gardens seem to be steaming in the humid weather, we’re as grateful as ever for the various shade gardens we keep on the property. Set beneath the leafy canopies of mature trees or in the long shadows they cast, these lush, colorful oases provide shelter from the blistering sun, and there’s plenty to interest any gardener.

Shown in the photo above: We love the combination of Athyrium ‘Ghost’ with the dark purple iridescent leaves of Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). Please note that the ferns need to be 2 years old to achieve the height necessary to pair them with the Persian Shield, which is planted each year as an annual in our part of the world.

Shade comes to life with the lively colors of Coleus ‘Bronze Pagoda,’ Hosta ‘Krossa Regal,’ and the chartreuse blades of Hakonechloa ‘All Gold.’

At this time of year, we’re especially pleased to show off the plantings in these gardens, proof positive that shady spots need not be dull. By mixing perennials, annuals and shrubs in these low-light areas, our head gardener Cheryl Whalen and her team mix colors, forms, foliage, and patterns to create a sense of lushness and beauty.

The variegated leaves of Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’ work beautifully with a red-leaved caladium, bicolor impatiens, and a dark-leaved Begonia ‘Whopper Rose with Bronze Leaf.’

Watering these gardens is critical, especially when plants are young and getting started. This is especially true if they’re planted inside the drip line of any tree with dense foliage. (Whenever a tree acts as a giant umbrella, preventing rainfall from getting to the plantings below, this is the condition known as “dry shade.” Few plants thrive in it, although established hostas and epimediums will manage. Others will need water.)

Icy tones are especially cooling in the heat of summer. This fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) with frosted foliage looks marvelous alongside the dark, round leaves of Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’.

The photos below show a broad variety of shade garden combinations that Cheryl has created in various years. Some of the perennials or shrubs such as hydrangeas, hostas, hakonechloa grass, ligularia, rodgersia, astilbe, and ferns may stay in place, but annuals including fuchsia, impatiens, coleus, and caladiums, and smaller perennials such as heucheras may be changed out from year to year depending on what we’re trialing and what Cheryl finds appealing.

Here’s what one shade garden looked like in early spring. The leaves of Rodgersia, Astilboides tabularis, Podophyllum, Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and columbines are poking through the soil, and Cheryl and her staff have planted colorful Impatiens.

As you retreat to the shady spots in your garden, keep in mind some of these combinations for next year.

Hydrangea Color Fantasy(R) adds its large, deep purple Mophead blossoms to the shady color show. Its companions include two types of coleus, a variegated impatiens, and nonstop flowering Begonia Dragon Wing(R) Pink.

1The pinkish-red leaves of Caladium ‘Florida Cardinal’ add a bright pop of color to shade gardens alongside chartreuse Heucherella ‘Alabama Sunrise,’ a green-leaved hosta, and the needle-like leaves of Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’).

Annual Collections, Ready for Their Close-Ups

Each year, we have the considerable fun of creating new annual collections. We start the process in spring when our horticultural experts pot up various annuals (and sometimes a few perennials, too) to create eye-catching, high performance, ready-made plant combos for patio pots.

5. annual collections photo_poolside closeup_2
The team that creates our annual collections considers everything from color to mature plant size, and they try different combinations until something pleasing develops.

In general, our staff members begin with the idea that each collection needs a “thriller” (a tall, upright variety), a “filler” (something mounding to fill the middle), and a “spiller” (a cascading variety that trails over the side of the pot). After that, some preference is given to incorporating annuals that are new introductions or rediscovered gems because, like new toys, they’re fun to play with. Beyond that, our experts have at hand a wide variety of the annuals we offer (plus, occasionally, a perennial or two). Before a collection can be created, it’s essential that the creator take into account the form, foliage, blossom type and color, and the mature size of each individual plant being considered. From there, our staff members get to work, trying this with that, and that with this, until something pleasing develops. But the real test is just about to begin.

2. annual collections photo_hoop house with collections_shot from inside
Annual collections growing in the hoop house.

New collections are corralled in the relative shelter of a hoop house here at the farm. Out of public view, we let them grow as summer progresses, providing regular water and occasional fertilizer to encourage good growth. If some plants, such as a particular coleus or potato vine, show rampant growth, we pinch them back to promote better branching, or prune here and there to keep a plant in proportion to its neighbors. In late July or early August, a group of staff members tours the hoop house and assesses the combos. The most successful are those that have grown well together so that individual elements are healthy and happy, and the overall effect is one of colorful synthesis and visual harmony.

These collections are flagged for photography, and as soon as collections are deemed to be looking their best, we schedule a series of photo shoots.

1. annual collections photography_poolside with reflector and tripod
Photo shoots are fun, but also lots of work.

Anyone who has ever worked on a photo shoot of any kind can tell you they’re all about camaraderie and collaboration and fun, but they’re also LOTS of work. While sometimes we photograph collections off-site, we prefer to do the bulk of photography here at the farm. (Quite simply, it’s less backache for all of us, and there’s a reduced chance of damaging the collections as we move them from one place to another.)

4. annual collections photo_gator transportation with barb
Blue skies always provide a beautiful background.

For each outdoor shoot, we beg Mother Nature for an overcast day (because it provides the consistent lighting that’s best for photography) or, if she can’t manage that, for blue skies, which always make an irresistible backdrop no matter what’s being photographed.

11. annual collection photo_kindra and EA checking shot
Standing in the shade of the pool house, the photographer and a few staffers check the shots as they’re taken.

With photographer in tow, and with the color and structure specifics of each new annual collection in mind, we review the possible locations. At the farm, that means buzzing around in our golf-cartlike Gator surveying the shady lane with the stonewall, the sunny stretch by the Lloyd Border, the stone steps, the porch on the cottage, the pool area, the field, and so on. When individual sites are selected for each collection, we head back to the hoop house and load up the pots for transportation to their assigned locations.

7a. annual collections photo_a pause for stylling_who needs yoga
It takes many talented staff members to bring each shot together.

This season, Barb Pierson, our Nursery Manager, and Ray Hinman, our Product Development Coordinator, were on hand to help with hefting the pots and tending the plants. (“Tending” largely involves pinching off any faded blooms and browned leaves and getting vines like trailing potato vine to drape in the direction the photographer thinks is best.) Graphic designer Teresa Fox helped with camera angles, composition, and lighting, and she could often been seen holding aloft the scrims that are used to provide shade or redirect natural light. (This can be quite a workout in a stiff breeze!) Eliot Wadsworth, our marketing director, oversaw this summer’s shoots.

9. annual collections photography_poolside sweep_EA
Sweeping away stray pebbles that could show up in a photograph.

Cameras are both beloved and despised because they capture the smallest details. We get richly saturated colors on the blossoms we love, and the texture of various types of foliage comes through, but the lens also captures stray pebbles and downed leaves on poolside flagstone, weeds growing at the foot of container pot, and grass that’s too high or as burnt as toast in this driest of dry summers. So every shoot involves a fair amount of fussing to make each site as free of imperfections and distractions as possible. (We want you to look at the collection, not the dandelions.) Members of the crew take up brooms, rakes, and scissors, and work together to primp, pull weeds, sweep, and trim grass until we get things right.

15. annual collections photo_shade location
The result of a day’s work — a stunning photograph!

But even when we get a stunning photograph, the most important thing to know about our annual collections is something that cannot be captured in a single frame. The truth is anyone can combine a group of plants and arrange them to look marvelous on the day of a photo shoot, but the test is whether the collection will look just as great over time. That’s why we trial our plant combos in the first place. Our collections not only go together, they grow together beautifully from spring to frost, or we wouldn’t offer them. Getting annual collections right can be frustrating. Some collections start out as terrific ideas, but the plants simply don’t work together they way we want them to. Those collections are discarded, and we go back to the drawing board the next year. Our trial and photography process is designed to ensure that your patio pots will look as beautiful as ours do all season long – not just in the pictures.

Visit Someone Else’s Garden for Inspiration

By Margret Delves Broughton, Public Relations

I find it ironic that every year, by the time it’s mid-summer, I am kind of over gardening.  Isn’t this the very moment I’ve been waiting for? After all, there shouldn’t be too many nasty surprises lurking on the horizon. Not a frost in sight. Everything that’s going to come up for the season has either already bloomed or at least it’s on it’s way. I have honed my Tomato-growing practice to a single, glorious plant (‘Red Currant’ this year). Shouldn’t I be strolling through the garden, feeling nothing but bliss?

But no. I find myself looking around, agitating about all the dull stuff that needs to get done. My Leucanthemum is starting to go past. I should get out there and deadhead the ones that have lost their color. I should also probably get my soil tested. I should deadhead my Nepeta. And my Alchemilla Mollis. I want to get better vases for my Dahlias. I should add lime to my soil to make them bloom better next year. I should plant more Blueberries and figure out some way to keep the birds away. The list goes on.

A visit to Michael Trapp’s garden in West Cornwall, CT, is a treat for anyone.

A few weeks ago, when I felt buried in garden busy-work, I got an email from The Garden Conservancy. There were open gardens in my area. Facing nothing but chores in my own garden, I headed for West Cornwall, CT, to see what other gardeners were up to. I had been to Open Days before but not for years. There was always too much to do at home, and I was sure that looking at other gardens would overwhelm me with jealousy.

In short, let me say that looking at other people’s rather perfect gardens has been the best way to rekindle interest in my own garden. It’s not that my garden compared favorably (in fact, it was quite the opposite), but it was exciting – and I don’t use that word lightly – to see the very personal and very concrete results of what must have been thousands (millions?) of decisions, many of which were probably challenged along the way.  It was like seeing the “after” pictures in a before/after series. You know how they can be  gratifying, even if you had nothing to do with the project? How it makes you think you can do the same thing, even if you don’t want to? It doesn’t matter! It’s fun just knowing what’s possible!

I think I need this pool. Thanks for showing me that it’s possible!

I got so hooked on Open Days, a few weeks later, I attended one of the Garden Conservancy’s Digging Deeper lectures at Twin Maples in Salisbury, CT. The subject was Exploring Twin Maples – The Evolution of a Garden. It promised a setting that “flows smoothly from architecture to nature, from formal garden to field, with extraordinary views of the Litchfield Hills.”  It made good on those promises and so much more (out of respect for the owner’s privacy, photographs are not to be published).

Visiting Michael Trapp’s garden made me realize that my garden is in desperate need of a bed or two of Ostrich Ferns and Ivy.

I could go on and on about what I saw, but instead I will conclude with the top 10 things I learned:

1. If I ever have a swimming pool, it will be 10′ x 60′.

2. Perennial wildflower meadows do NOT come from a can of seeds.

3. I must own a ‘Quick Fire’ Hydrangea. Or 10. The white blooms practically glow in the dark and they can bloom as early as June.

4. When in doubt, use Ostrich Ferns towering above any ground cover.

5. Growing six ‘Black Beauty’ Lilies is not enough. Go for around 100. Seriously.

6. Next year, I will stake my Dahlias with Tomato cages, and hang little tags on them to keep track of the varieties. Why didn’t I think of that before?

7. A garden without a destination is not a garden. Plant an orchard within a meadow, or put a stone bench just about anywhere.

8. Wildflower meadows look different every year.

9. There are very stylish ways to use common plants. Oh yes, there are.

10. No garden is too fancy to keep pets.

This is a corner of my own garden, occupied by Max on a hot day. He smushed the plants, but he looks cute, so he gets to sit there whenever he wants.

For more information about the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, click here.