Monthly Archives: March 2018

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

Plants for Every Garden Solution

Enjoying a beautiful garden is easy, but the maintenance can be cumbersome. For some of us, other commitments – jobs, children, spouses – make it difficult to spend every daylight hour in the garden. There are many factors to consider when planning a garden and no two gardens are alike. Each come with their own set of specific needs or requirements that can make it difficult to balance beautiful plants with little maintenance. Your garden might have a great deal of shade, drought conditions, deer in the yard, a small space, or a limited time to tend plants. You might want to attract pollinators, plant natives, or reduce the amount of weeding you’re doing. Whatever the aim or circumstances, the key is choosing the right plants for your garden solution.

Liriope muscari 'Variegata'
Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’

If you live where drought is a frequent fact of life, it’s possible to have a lovely garden. Your plant palette is more colorful than you might expect. Even the most drought-tolerant plants do need some supplemental water to become established, however.

One of our favorites to combat drought is Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’. There are four species of Liriope (commonly called Lilyturf), all Asian natives, and are evergreen perennials that spread to form deep carpets of grasslike leaves. Plants here are happy in practically any light conditions, including dense shade, and will tolerate prolonged dry spells without a whimper (they require afternoon shade in the South and West and falter in desert regions). If the foliage looks tattered by winter’s end, it can be mowed to the ground before new growth starts.

If you have a shady spot in your garden or on your patio, these plants will suit nicely. They will perform beautifully in part shade (which we casually define as 3-4 hours of sun per day) to full shade (spots that receive no direct sun at all).

Dicentra spectabilis
Dicentra spectabilis

The old-fashioned Bleeding Heart has been a garden favorite for years. It bears long arching racemes of heart-shaped pink flowers. Bloom time starts here in early May and lasts several weeks, subsiding with the arrival of summer heat. Plants often go dormant in mid-summer. Interplant with Ferns and Hostas to fill the breach. If moisture is reliable, they will grow in full sun here in Litchfield. Long-lived and reliable year after year.

Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture
Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture

All gardeners know they are never alone in the garden. Insects, birds, earthworms, fungi, deer, voles, and many other creatures may visit or live among the plants and in the soil. By including native plants in your landscape, you can supply local wildlife, such as butterflies, with the food and habitat they need for survival. Native plants are well adapted to local conditions and will often thrive with less care than a non-native plant. One of our favorite native plants is Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture.

Of the 200 species in the genus Asclepias, the best known are North American wildflowers. They have small, curiously shaped blooms that appear in dense clusters. These plants provide nourishment for Monarch butterflies through all their life stages, and are essential for their survival.

Tough as Nails Deer Resistant Garden for Shade
Tough as Nails Deer Resistant Garden for Shade

If deer treat your garden like a buffet provided just for them, there’s an easy solution. Grow plants that aren’t choice items on their menu. Deer will ignore many colorful and attractive plants, and it is possible to create a lovely garden that provides a long season of bloom with varied foliage forms and colors using deer-resistant plants.

Create a serene oasis in shade with perennials that are as graceful as they are rugged, and, just as important to many gardeners, unpalatable to deer. The Tough as Nails Deer Resistant Garden for Shade features a trio of Astilbes with starry pink, red, and white spires and feathery leaves. Their easy-care companions include Lady Ferns, golden Japanese Forest Grass, and Lamium ‘Pink Pewter,’ a vigorous (but not aggressive), mat-forming ground cover with silver-gray leaves and pretty clear pink flowers.

There are many solutions available for each and every garden and attaining a beautiful yard is not out of reach regardless of the needs your yard may require.

Decorate Indoors While Dreaming of Spring

This year it seems as if winter just won’t loosen its hold on us. As soon as it begins to warm here in New England, there is yet another snowstorm on the horizon. However, we don’t let the cold snowy days stop us from dreaming of spring. Even as the first green shoots of Daffodils begin to triumph over winter, you can decorate and celebrate the arrival of a new season inside.

Lavender Fields Wreath
Lavender Fields Wreath

Now is the perfect time to change up your indoor decor for the new season. Even though the first day of spring has passed, more cheerful days are ahead. Our colorful Indoor wreaths help bring the garden inside by providing an array of flowers and textures that mimic what is to come in our own yards. These wreaths evoke the colorful spring days that await us.

Sunshine & Roses Wreath
Sunshine & Roses Wreath

Whatever the weather outside, our beautiful fresh bouquets will make your home bright and cheery. We love adding bouquets to help freshen up our indoor decor with spectacular blooms and fragrance. We work with specialty growers to provide long-lasting bouquets. These are shipped in bud stage to allow you maximum enjoyment upon arrival.

Seaside Cottage Bouquet
Seaside Cottage Bouquet
Burst of Happiness Bouquet
Burst of Happiness Bouquet

You can also try sprucing up your indoor pots and containers to showcase the essence of spring. We love the idea of gardening indoors so we use pottery and containers for herbs and small plants. These are perfect for windowsills and small spaces.

Porcelain Pot & Saucer Trio
Porcelain Pot & Saucer Trio

Plant stands and trays are a wonderful way to elevate houseplants and add interest to your indoor decor. These also help protect furniture while adding style.

Ceramic Plant Stool
Ceramic Plant Stool

We hope these decorating ideas have you thinking of spring as much as we are!

American Heirloom Tomato Collection

Grow Your Own Sun-Ripened Tomatoes

With so many varieties of Tomatoes available, it can be hard to decide which kinds to grow. To simplify your choices, first decide where you’ll be growing your Tomatoes and how you plan to use your crop.

Tomatoes in Sausalito Self-Watering Container
Tomatoes in Sausalito Self-Watering Container

If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, try container gardening. Look for descriptive terms like “compact,” “dwarf,” “patio” or “determinate” for best success. Whether in containers or a garden, always choose a location in full sun, which means a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day.

Tomato Heirloom Marriage™ Marzinera
Tomato Heirloom Marriage™ Marzinera – This cross between two heirloom varieties produces meaty, tasty plum Tomatoes. Superb for sauces and tarts.

Select large-fruited Tomatoes such as beefsteaks for slicing, paste varieties (sometimes also called plum Tomatoes) for sauce or juice, cherries for salads and snacks, and heirlooms for their unique flavors and historic appeal. The following terms also will help you choose the right varieties for your purposes:

Tomato Bush Early Girl
Tomato ‘Bush Early Girl’ – Expect high yields of medium-size Tomatoes from this compact, bushy, early fruiting hybrid. Great for slicing and salads.

Determinate” means the plants stop growing at a certain height, rather than continuing to grow all summer. Their fruits ripen all at once so you’ll have a single harvest (which is terrific for things like making sauce or canning), rather than the ongoing or more staggered harvest provided by Indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties grow well in containers because they are more compact and need less staking.

Tomato 'Cherokee Purple'
Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple’ – A longtime favorite, this heirloom produces delicious beefsteak Tomatoes. Yields don’t always match what you get from some other beefsteaks, but ‘Cherokee Purple’ has the flavor you’ll remember.

Indeterminate” Tomatoes are a good choice for planting out in gardens because they produce higher yields and continue growing as long as the weather is warm and sunny. Their vines will sprawl over the ground unless you stake or cage them; or you can cover the ground with mulch to keep the fruits from touching the soil. A few of our favorite varieties are the snack-size cherry ‘Sungold’ and heirloom ‘Black Prince’.

“Ripens XXX days from transplant” means fruits will ripen and be ready for picking in roughly the number of days that are given in place of the XXXs above. The countdown starts on the date you plant a particular Tomato in the ground or in a container. Early varieties ripen about 60 days from transplant; late varieties may take 80-90 days.

Chefs Compaion Herb Kit With Rustic Tool Box Planter
Chef’s Companion Herb Kit With Rustic Tool Box Planter

Remember to include a few herb plants on your shopping list – they are perfect companions for both fresh and cooked Tomatoes. One of our favorite summer salads is the classic Caprese, which features fresh sliced Tomatoes alternating with slices of Mozzarella cheese and topped with fresh Basil leaves and good olive oil.

Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mixture

Hard to Find Garden Treasures

Every gardener strives to add unique and interesting plants to their gardens, always on the lookout for that perfect addition to complete their own garden masterpiece. Let’s be honest, we all want to be the envy of the neighborhood, showcasing an array of colors and textures. Whether you choose a new perennial to create a focal point or another shrub to complete the border, there’s always room for one more!

Here at White Flower Farm, we’ve always offered a wide array of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and plants for the kitchen garden. But we make it a special priority to stock interesting plants you may not find at your local garden center. Our hard-to-find plants come to us mainly through the strong relationships we have with plant breeders all over the world. You’ll find some of the treasures they help us find highlighted below. We hope you’re tempted to add a few to your garden.

Aquilegia 'Blue Butterflies'
Aquilegia ‘Blue Butterflies’

Lacy greens and dancing, late-spring blooms characterize these lovely border plants. They make excellent cut flowers if picked when half open. This gem is a choice plant for the border’s edge, rock gardens, and containers. The flowers of Aquilegia ‘Blue Butterflies’ are a rich purplish blue with white edges and are shown to advantage by the lovely blue-green leaves.

Dahlia 'Wine Eyed Jill'
Dahlia ‘Wine Eyed Jill’

A precise arrangement of tightly cupped, light pink petals is accentuated by deep magenta on this lovely selection of Dahlia ‘Wine Eyed Jill.’ These hybrids of species native from Mexico to Colombia hold their display in reserve for mid- to late summer and early fall, when most gardens and most vases are looking a little tired. Planted in 3s and 6s, Dahlias serve to fill holes that develop in the perennial border and make excellent potted plants (1 tuber in a 12″ pot).

Hibiscus Purple Pillar
Hibiscus Purple Pillar®

If you’re the type who goes for minuscule flowers, then Hibiscus is not a genus for you. The plants produce big bright blossoms that appear endlessly starting in high summer. This award-winning Rose of Sharon forms a narrow, somewhat pyramidal pillar, which makes it ideal for creating screens or vertical accents in the mixed border. The pinkish-purple 5″ flowers have dramatic darker purple-pink flares at the center. Purple Pillar® is sterile, so its blooms never set seed or become a nuisance. The blossoms and unique form make this a compelling addition to yards and gardens.

Hydrangea macrophylla Let's Dance® Rhythmic Blue™
Hydrangea macrophylla Let’s Dance® Rhythmic Blue™

Hydrangea is a valuable genus of some 100 species of shrubs and vines grown for their large and very showy flower heads. Each blossom of this compact, reblooming Hydrangea is composed of a multitude of florets that appear precision cut in a geometric motif. When you add color, which ranges from pink to lavender-blue depending on soil pH, you have a shrub that’s a distinctive and delightful addition to the mixed border or landscape. Plants also respond quickly when changing their bloom color from pink to rich blue with a sulfur soil additive.

Rose Sweet Spirit
Rose Sweet Spirit

Roses offer colors, perfumes, forms, and habits to suit every garden situation. The tenacious efforts of breeders have yielded Roses with the best attributes of different varieties in new forms. Hybrid Teas, lovely as ever, now combine long bloom periods with the vigor to shrug off pests. A profusion of red blossoms, 3-5 per stem, appears nonstop on this vigorous Hybrid Tea. The fully double 3″ flowers of Rose Sweet Spirit are richly perfumed and handsomely displayed against a backdrop of subtly glossy, dark green foliage. These bushy, mounding plants show increased resistance to black spot and improved tolerance of humidity.

Tomato 'Chocolate Sprinkles'
Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

During trials, our staff couldn’t get enough of these oval, bronzy red cherries with olive-green accents. Small but meaty, the disease-resistant fruits of Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’ have a taste as rich as mini ‘Cherokee Purple’ Tomatoes. Better still, you’ll be harvesting lots of them.  These are indeterminate, and fruits ripen about 50–55 days from transplant.

These garden treasures are truly spectacular. Keep in mind they are often in high demand and supplies are limited.


‘Thank you for calling White Flower Farm’

Go behind the scenes with one of our Customer Service team members

By Jonathan Chesler

In today’s world of e-commerce, it should come as no surprise that White Flower Farm processes the vast majority of its orders online. But the convenience of technology notwithstanding, about a fifth of our orders still come through our call center. Beyond the thousands of phone orders placed during the season, there are three times as many calls regarding order status and changes, product availability and features, and plant selection and care after purchase. Gardeners, it seems, like to talk to gardeners.

Amaryllis Trials in our Greenhouses
Amaryllis trials in our greenhouses

White Flower Farm’s call center takes up only a modest amount of space in our shipping facility in Torrington, CT, and about half as much space as it used to in the Paleolithic, pre-internet days. The industrial building, converted from a former ball-bearing plant, provides us with the large open area required to efficiently store, package, and ship orders. Fifty cubicles are laid out in a grid in a large room with two walls of factory-style windows filling the center with natural light, allowing us to display along the sills all of the plants and hard goods that are offered in the catalog and on the website. In fact, the call center is ringed with pretty much everything sold by the company, so that agents can answer customer questions and refer to the specific products right in front of them.

Shelves in the Call Center filled with products
Shelves in the Call Center filled with products

Experienced supervisors sit at the head of each row. Most have been on staff for several years and have many years if not decades of gardening experience. There are a few master gardeners present, and White Flower Farm has sent agents to the UConn Master Gardener course for the structure and breadth of knowledge it offers. Several supervisors and agents have years of experience in customer service, including one who came from Aetna and another who worked in customer service settings in a half-dozen places before joining the staff at White Flower Farm. I was new to the department. While my official title is assistant to the head gardener, I spend several of the colder months, when our gardens are dormant, helping out in customer service.

Lauren, the training supervisor, started showing me the ropes in the weeks before Thanksgiving. After an overview of the call center and how to field calls and enter requisite order data, she had me sit in and listen to incoming calls while she answered. In short order, I was answering and she was listening. Once the training wheels came off, Lauren was readily available whenever I had a question for her.

Agents who come in without much gardening experience are quickly brought up to speed with close training and frequent refreshers. There is lots of knowledgeable help only a cubicle or two away, either in consultation with a fellow agent or a supervisor. There are a daunting number of complex details for agents to keep in mind. Agents not only have to master the software and phone systems required to take and place orders, they need to know about product availability and potential substitutions (for example, different varieties of Amaryllis), shipping options, and a heck of a lot about hundreds of plants, garden products, and gardening.

I thought coming into the call center with several years of experience in horticulture would prepare me well, and it did, but every day someone would ask me a challenging question about some plant I don’t know well, or some growing condition I hadn’t considered. One customer wanted to know if we could ship a box of Honeybell fruits to California, a state that generally blocks most citrus shipments. After some research, we found out that yes, only certified vendors like White Flower Farm are allowed to ship citrus to California.

Cathy - Senior Horticulturist
Cathy – Senior Horticulturist

Cathy, our senior horticulturist, keeps agents up to speed on terminology, the company’s catalog and website offerings, and where to find information in both. She also showcases seasonal and new plants at meetings, and sends out Horticulture Quizzes and Challenges. Would you, our reader, like to take a Horticultural Quiz? Here’s a typical one for you. (Answers appear at the end of the post.)

  1. How long does it take to force a Dutch variety of Amaryllis into bloom?
  2. Why should Amaryllis be turned every few days once they begin to grow?
  3. Why is the shipping of all tender plants dependent on temperature and weather?
  4. What one factor determines how tall an Amaryllis flower stalk may get?
  5. Why might Amaryllis growth be greenish-yellow when the box is opened?

In addition to ensuring thorough training and supervision, Michelle, the customer service department manager, holds weekly meetings. Despite the universal eye-rolling that the word ‘meeting’ tends to engender, there are too many details that change too often not to touch base regularly. Michelle goes over the big picture –including details of phone and web order volume, and statistics regarding calls – and gives us other relevant information, such as how quickly orders are moving and how weather will impact shipping. It’s a high-wire act to ship live plants during the busiest season of the year, and we want customers to get their plants in a timely fashion, and in as beautiful and healthy a condition as they were when they left our greenhouses.

Michelle - Customer Service Manager
Michelle – Customer Service Manager

New or popular plants are presented at meetings along with examples of how they are packaged, labeled and shipped, so we can anticipate commonly asked customer questions and see how plants are packaged for transit. Lastly, those of us in the trenches are asked for our input. In this way Michelle keeps her fingers on the pulse of the center and hears directly from us about how customers are feeling, what concerns are coming up, and how we can best deal with them.

The types of questions customers ask tend to shift over time. At the start of each season, we answer a lot of questions about products, then availability, and then queries about shipping and how items arrive, such as what the heat packs are and how to dispose of them. (They’re used to ship tender plants in cold weather, and they should be tossed in the trash.) As Christmas approached last year, questions switched to expedited shipping, and returns. Shortly after, enviably organized people began ordering out of our Spring 2018 catalog.

White Flower Farm Spring 2018 Catalog
White Flower Farm Spring 2018 Catalog

When answering calls, we start with a short script that begins: “Thank you for calling White Flower Farm . . .” Despite being scripted, the agents are sincere, and the introduction reminds us to be so. Once through the introduction, we need to verify existing customer information or enter a new customers’ details. While this housekeeping can feel tedious for existing customers, I found that in about half of calls, an address, email or phone number had changed, either for the customer or one of their gift recipients. In several cases, a spouse or partner wanted email confirmation and tracking of a surprise gift order to go to a different email address than the one we had on the account. Clarifying these details is essential to ensuring that everything arrives where and when it should.

The most common calls are about product availability, shipping dates and times, and questions regarding order processing through the website. Shipping questions can pose a challenge, especially when products are requested to arrive before, after, or between certain dates. Like most e-tailers, we are dependent on shipping companies like UPS, and the unknowns can be tricky to navigate.

Just as with any of our plants, White Flower Farm agents are carefully selected, provided with good growing conditions, trained and tended with good supervision and care, all with the aim of providing the best service possible to our customers. As a call center ‘ephemeral,’ I bid my colleagues goodbye for the season and have returned to the greenhouses and garden beds of Morris, Connecticut. I look forward to returning to the call center in the fall. In the meanwhile, Thank you for calling White Flower Farm.

Answers to the Horticultural Quiz, above:

How long does it take to force a Dutch variety of Amaryllis into bloom?

8-10 weeks. Because we start shipping bulbs in mid-November, Dutch varieties generally do not bloom in time for Christmas. If it’s a holiday flower show you’re after, we also offer South African Amaryllis. These bulbs are harvested earlier than their Dutch cousins and take 6-8 weeks to bloom. They begin shipping in late September, which generally means you’ll have blooms in time for the winter holidays.

Why should Amaryllis be turned every few days once they begin to grow? 

Amaryllis leaves and stalks bend toward the light, and without being turned, the stalks stand a much greater chance of flopping over (and of being damaged) as they bend. Periodically rotating the bulb helps keep the growth even and straight.

Why is the shipping of all tender plants dependent on temperature and weather?

Tender plants shipped below threshold temperatures will not survive the cold or, if they do, may take a very long time to recover. Weather can be a factor, as a snowstorm can delay a truck. Tender plants shipped in cooler weather are bundled up with heat packs that extend the ability to ship them, but eventually the heat pack is no longer effective, and the added delay may be too much time.

What one factor determines how tall an Amaryllis flower stalk may get?

Available light. In lower light levels, Amaryllis stalks extend as they “search” for the light.

Why might Amaryllis growth be greenish-yellow when the box is opened?  Amaryllis that have started to grow in the box, will not have had the necessary light to produce chlorophyll. They generally “green up” in a few days.