Spring has not quite sprung in our neck of the woods (Sunday’s temperature is expected to drop again into the 30s), but the itch to begin gardening is transforming life at the farm. Our garden crew once again is working outdoors, clearing the grounds of fallen leaves and twigs, and preparing for new plantings. As we wait patiently for the emergence of Daffodils and other early spring flowers, the surest sign of spring’s arrival for now is that the White Flower Farm Store has flung open its doors for the season.
New this year are plenty of plant discoveries, hard-to-find varieties, and an exciting collection of garden accessories, tools, supplies, and gift items, including several special gift sets that are ideal for Mother’s Day.
Outdoors, the store’s display areas are filling up with tree specimens, evergreens including Rhododendrons, Junipers and Chamaecyparis varieties, and a wide variety of flowering shrubs. Among the trees, we’re thrilled to be offering beautifully formed ornamental favorites from Japanese Maples and Stewartias to spring flowering Cherries and Dogwoods.
Annuals and perennials both new and classic have begun to populate the yard. Richly colored Anemones and cheerful Pansies are blooming beautifully, waiting to be planted in containers, window boxes, and garden beds.
The gleaming green leaves of Hellebores, some in bloom, and early flowering English Daisies are all ready to be transplanted into the spring garden.
Inside the store, it’s plain to see the staff has outdone itself. Amid a broad selection of Dahlia tubers, Lily bulbs, and premium houseplants, you’ll find an exciting selection of accessories – from hoses and decoratively patterned kneelers to professional-grade garden tools to our new English Garden Apron and Gauntlet Gloves, Linnea’s Lights candles and diffusers, Mooni Wander Lights, soap sets and Lavender gifts, stunning and colorful Murano glass birdbaths, and Peter Rabbit miniature garden ornaments. Additionally, look for favorites such as Renee’s seed packets and mixes, small plants for terrariums and mini pots, laminated field guides, and stationery and cards.
The store calendar is filled with a variety of special events for the season including the popular Annual Mother’s Day Make & Take Container Event, our annual Great Tomato Celebration, a book signing with author Tovah Martin, and more. For the complete calendar, click here.
We hope you’ll visit the store often and stroll the display gardens in every season. Bring your garden questions and challenges, and show us cell phone photos of your dream gardens or of problem areas in your yard or garden. Our terrific staff, led by store manager Tom Bodnar and team leader and hard goods and visual merchandizer Mary Valente, would be delighted to help and make suggestions.
Year after year, our customer service staff members spend as much time taking orders as they do answering questions and offering garden advice. They love to do this, especially because many are avid gardeners. Compiled below are the 5 most common questions they hear at this time of year. From advice on watering plants to pruning Hydrangeas, we hope you’ll find information you can use in your own garden.
The questions and answers here were supplied by Cathy Hughes, the Senior Horticulturist of the Customer Support Center and manager of the staff gardens at our facility in Torrington, CT.
Why aren’t the perennial plants I received this spring doing well despite being watered diligently (or religiously)?
Perennial plant material, which includes perennials, trees, shrubs and Roses, needs to be watered well after planting and then watered when the soil is dry to a depth of 1”. If rain is scarce, this generally means one deep watering per week, even in the hotter areas of the country. This is especially true of bareroot plant material. If plants are overwatered while establishing new roots, the quality of the roots will be compromised and the plants will not survive.
Why is the foliage of my perennials (or shrubs) wilting even though I’m watering diligently? Why don’t the plants recover after watering?
The foliage of plants often will wilt during the hottest part of the day as a response to the heat, but this does not mean the soil is dry, especially if conditions also have been humid. Always check the moisture level of the soil before watering. It should be dry to a depth of 1” before you water again. It’s important to remember that decorative mulch holds moisture in the soil. If the soil is staying too wet, it’s always best to temporarily remove the mulch from the base of the plants and gently cultivate the soil to aerate it. This should be done after every rain until the plant recovers.
What’s the white coating on the leaves of my perennials (or vegetable plants)?
It’s the disease powdery mildew, and it can be controlled with neem oil, which is applied as a foliar spray. While the foliage looks unsightly, the overall vigor of the plant will not be affected. If possible, it’s also important there be good air circulation between plants and that all infected plant material be collected, bagged and discarded in the garbage in the fall. Do not compost this material.
What’s causing the holes in the leaves of my Roses?
If the damage results in a skeletonizing effect to the foliage (the leaf tissue between the large veins is eaten away), the damage could be caused by the larval stage of Rose sawfly (here in Zone 5 we begin scouting for this insect around Mother’s Day) or Rose chafers. Later in the season thrips may be the culprits. All of these insects can be controlled with a neem oil or Monterey Garden Insect Spray, or any insecticide recommended for Roses. While this damage is unsightly, it will only affect the overall health of the plant if the infestation is severe and is left untreated.
When do I prune my Hydrangeas?
The pruning of Hydrangeas depends upon whether they bloom on old wood, new wood, or both. Click here to visit our Grow Guide, which outlines how to prune different varieties.
As summer hits its high arc and the days grow technically but as yet imperceptibly shorter, Northeastern gardens are in full flush and bloom. Pick-your-own produce places pop up and roadside farm stands fill out with signs for ‘Native Corn’ and ‘Native Tomatoes.’ Despite the horticultural inaccuracy found on those placards and in other cases, it’s noteworthy that a plant’s native status is emphasized as an important selling point. True, while everything is native to somewhere, for our purposes, native plants are those that have been found in the Northeast (New England) from pre-Colombian times.
So why the interest and excitement over natives? Firstly, native plants ask for few resources upon seeding or planting them, and they also give back in abundance. As these plants have co-evolved with native butterflies, moths, birds and the like, they are recognized as sources of food, and good food at that. It’s not by coincidence that White Flower Farm’s Butterfly Magnet Collection, Monarch Butterfly Collection, and Pollinator Garden for Sun heavily favor native cultivars; e.g. Liatris, Phlox, Echinacea, Milkweed, Agastache, and Coreopsis (in no particular order).
When properly placed and established, native plants are vigorous players that usually outperform newcomers when the vagaries of nature throw drought, inundation, disease, and predatory herbivores their way. Not to say that they cannot be affected and even succumb to the aforementioned, but they often can overcome such problems with minimal care. This leads us to the next point: native plants generally don’t need as much water, fertilization and disease control as non-natives. This leaves you more time to fuss over other areas of the garden, or perhaps a chance to sit back and enjoy!
Finally, despite increasing popularity, natives and native cultivars are uncommon enough to elicit surprise, yet they’re entirely familiar and fitting in our gardens. No matter what kind of environmental conditions you have in your garden, or what kind of color or effect you’re looking for, you’re sure to find a native that excels in one or more areas. Dry or wet, shady or sunny, small or expansive — there are plenty of choices that are horticulturally interesting in leaf, form or flower. What follows here are some native highlights best seen in fall, before New England’s lakes and ponds release their stored summer heat and before morning mist and leaf peepers displace the snowbirds heading south.
While correlation does not imply causation, native fall flowers seem to hit their stride just as ‘Back to Skool’ advertisements begin to appear. Liatris, Coreopsis, and Monarda (Bee Balm) recede as Trumpet Honeysuckle, Autumn Phlox and Ox-eye Daisies continue their earlier summer shows into early autumn’s prime-time. Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Asters are in full effect. As vacations end and grumbling begins, optimistically bright Black-eyed Susans are true pick-me-ups and are as quintessentially New England as clam chowdah and apple pie.
The Goldenrods flower, as does Vernonia novaboracensis, New York Ironweed. White Flower Farm offers the Ironweed cultivar ‘Iron Butterfly,’ which tops out at about 3’, far below the impressive 6-8’ potential of the straight species, making it far more practical scale-wise for most gardens. It’s a strong favorite of Monarch butterflies, and the persistent seed heads fade to a rust color in the fall, giving it the common name. The seed heads are treasured by birds in the winter.
Another spectacular fall flower is Helenium autumnale, which is also called Dog-tooth Daisy or Sneezeweed. Beyond the straight species’ pure orange-yellow are brighter yellows and reds and oranges best found in the Mariachi™ series, which is also offered and grown here at White Flower Farm. Chelone glabra, Turtlehead, can be a late-to-the-party, white- or pink-flowered, deep green-leafed shade-tolerant plant, which, contrary to much of what’s written, can handle sun, if provided with enough water.
Eragrostis spectabilis, Purple Love Grass, appears at this time as well, along roadsides and in our new Native Garden designed by Head Gardener Cheryl Whalen. The light and feathery, relatively low seed heads are more of a 1980’s neon pink than purple, but semantics notwithstanding, and as the Latin implies, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.
In addition to flowers, shrubs small and large come into their own just as signs for New England’s Fall Fairs start appearing by roadsides, framed by the aforementioned Eragrostis. Red or black, you win either way with Chokecherry roulette. The fiery red foliage is a feast for the human eye, and for many a hungry bird to boot. And while most people fend off angry birds to protect their blueberry crop, Blueberry bushes both high and low are surprisingly undervalued for their foliage, which I find even more attractive than the Chokecherries, and far superior to the invasive, thornily ornery Berberis thunbergii, more commonly known as Japanese Barberry. If you prefer the hot pink fall foliage of Barberry to the redder Blueberry, there is still a native answer – Viburnum acerifolium, Maple-leaved Viburnum. This understory shrub is eye-catching and, like the Chokecherries, its berries are inedible for humans but delicious to our avian companions.
In addition to brilliant colors, there is a wide variety of natives that offers interesting foliage textures to Northeast gardeners. While many of the above have small leaves and the Amsonias in particular take fine texture quite seriously, Hydrangea quercifolia, the Oak-leaf Hydrangea, and Rubus odoratus, or Flowering Raspberry, have broad leaves and coarse texture. Both need a fair amount of room, and they tolerate or prefer light to part shade. Shade will reduce bloom size and number, but if that’s not the goal, they can fill in space very nicely. I have an Oak-leaf Hydrangea that was slammed into a lightly shaded corner quickly before the frost two years ago, but it has responded so well in form and flower that the most temporary solution became the most permanent.
The Oak-leaf Hydrangea’s spectacular orange, scarlet and purple extends its seasonal interest and contrasts the lemon yellow of the Flowering Raspberry. In addition to the red and pink fall foliage described above, Lindera benzoin or Spicebush, Clethra alnifolia or Sweet Pepperbush, and Amsonia tabernaemontana or Bluestar, provide attractive yellows to brighten the fall color palette.
In this New-York-minute scramble through the ancient Adirondacks, past Congregationalist churches, “Native Corn” farm stands and “Pick Your Own” pastures, I hope you’ve sensed the wide variety of available native plant material, whether you aim for sun or shade, big or small, flower, leaf color or shape, or edibility for yourselves or for friendly fauna. So explore, and indeed, pick your own!
[Editor’s note: Among the images here are plants that are not the straight species referred to in the article. Several are what is called “improved” varieties, which means they’re bred from natives with the intent of enhancing particular characteristics such as form, blossom size or color, hardiness, etc. Those who interpret “native” most strictly may wish to seek out the straight species forms of each plant.]
Here at the farm, we’re in the midst of mad preparations for this weekend’s 12th Annual Great Tomato Celebration, which runs May 19th through 21st, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, rain or shine. The weather is set to be mostly lovely (which, we have to say, always improves everyone’s mood a bit), and we’re raring to go.
On Thursday, staff members will set out tables in the open field adjacent to the store. As the sun rises Friday morning, our tractors will be buzzing back and forth to the greenhouses and warehouse ferrying flats of Tomato seedlings, vegetable starts, herbs, growing supplies, container pots, and anything else we think gardeners might need. Tomato aficionados, some from as far away as Vermont and Massachusetts, tend to arrive early, and at the stroke of 9 a.m., the shopping begins! Gardeners who know just what they want can be seen bolting up the hill, sometimes running to claim their favorites. Their lists in hand, they work the aisles, filling their wagons. Others adopt a more leisurely pace, scanning the signs that describe each Tomato variety and asking questions of staff members, who are always happy to answer and to steer shoppers to favorite selections.
This year, we’re pleased to be offering more than 130 varieties of Tomatoes, including highly coveted heirlooms and bestselling modern hybrids (all non-GMO), and everything else you may want for this season’s kitchen garden including savory herbs and veggie plants.
On Friday, we’re thrilled to be welcoming nationally recognized Tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of the award-winning book Epic Tomatoes. He’ll give two free talks on May 19th only. (For a few excerpts from his terrific book, read below.) For times and more details, click here.
Also on tap to offer Tomato-growing tips and answer questions is White Flower Farm’s Nursery Manager Barb Pierson, who will give two talks on Saturday and also be available each day to answer questions. Chef Charlene Goodman Dutka, owner of Ciesco Catering in Torrington, presents Grow It, Cook It, Eat It, a live cooking demonstration that focuses on Tomatoes on Saturday afternoon. For times and a complete schedule of events, click here.
If you’re hungry after rounding up what you need for your kitchen garden, Ciesco Catering’s truck will be selling delicious, made-to-order food.
See you at the celebration!
While you’re shopping, consider picking up a copy of Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes. This splendid book is stuffed with all sorts of facts and information about Tomatoes – from their early history in this country, to definitions of the different types, to profiles of individual varieties, to tips for planting, growing, staking and harvesting. You can read this book from cover to cover, or keep it around to dive into now and again. It’s a delightful read, and a wonderful resource for those of us who grow and love to eat Tomatoes.
Here’s a somewhat condensed version of LeHoullier’s account of the early history of Tomatoes in America:
“The Mayans and Mesoamerican people domesticated the tomato plant and first used it in cooking . . . By the early nineteenth century, tomatoes were present in many towns across America, though it appears most people didn’t eat them . . . Most people had no idea how popular the tomato was becoming in Europe . . . [and] The tomato had a reputation for being poisonous . . . The most famous early American tomato story is the daring public tomato consumption – perhaps – by Robert Gibbon Johnson in Salem, New Jersey, reported to have occurred in 1820. . . . Hundreds of onlookers reportedly traveled from far and wide to witness this remarkable event . . . Johnson bit into a tomato, some onlookers fainted, and, with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”
At the farm, we’re often asked to define hybrid, heirloom, open-pollinated, determinate and indeterminate Tomatoes. Here are LeHoullier’s definitions, just in time to help with your shopping:
“A hybrid tomato is grown from seed collected from a fruit that developed from a process known as crossing. Most simply described, pollen from one parent is directly applied to the pistil of another parent. Prior to the cross, the anther cone (the pollen-producing part) is removed from the receiving parent so that the flower doesn’t self-pollinate as it typically would.”
“Also referred to as non-hybrid, open-pollinated tomatoes have stable genetic material, and seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties will (unless cross-pollinated by bees) replicate the parent variety. All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are considered heirlooms.”
“An heirloom is an open-pollinated variety that has history and value embedded within its story.”
“This class of tomatoes is by far the most common, and its members grow upward and outward continually until killed by frost or disease. Indeterminate tomatoes have a central main stem from which side shoots, or suckers, grow at a 45-degree angle outward from the attachment point of the leaf stems. In turn, each sucker of side shoot acts as an additional main stem and produces its own side shoots. The central stem of an indeterminate tomato, if vertically staked and tied, will easily exceed 10 feet by the end of the growing season. Flowering clusters appear at varying intervals along the main stem and side shoots, ensuring continual fruit potential until the plant dies: this allows for continual and extended harvest throughout the growing season. Another important characteristic of indeterminate varieties is the relatively high ratio of foliage to fruit, and all of that added photosynthesis means a significantly higher flavor potential when compared with determinate varieties.”
“Determinate varieties are far less common than indeterminate varieties; the gene that produces determinate growth habit didn’t appear until the 1920s. Determinate varieties look identical to indeterminate varieties as young seedlings, with the same stem width and foliage shapes and textures. There is a genetic component, however, that signals an end to vertical growth, emergence of flower clusters at the end of flowering branches, and massive fruit set over a very concentrated time span. This leads to a very narrow window for fruit ripening, which makes determinate varieties very attractive for commercial ventures that benefit from picking the fruit in just a few rounds of harvest. Because of the way the flowers appear, any pruning of this type will significantly reduce yield. In addition, the very high ratio of fruit to foliage means less photosynthesis: as a result, the vast majority of determinate tomato varieties have less flavor intensity and potential than indeterminate varieties (though there are always exceptions). Because of their compact growth, determinate tomato varieties are perfect for container gardening and caging.”
Tips for Creating Beautiful, Successful Patio Pots
In our part of the country, the high and low temperatures of spring are beginning to even out, and the danger of frost will soon be past. That’s when we pot up collections of annuals (and sometimes a few perennials) to decorate our porches and patios. Each spring, our staff members have fun creating new plant combinations. To help you create yours, here are a few tips:
Selecting Container Pots
Start by selecting container pots. The variety is limitless, which is both a good and bad thing. The advantage is you have lots of choices – terra cotta, glazed, cast iron, plastic, footed, self-watering, etc. – but choosing too many pots in too many colors or styles can create a look fails to unify and isn’t very appealing. As a general rule, you’ll create a sense of visual harmony by choosing a grouping of pots that goes well together even before you add the plants. Then, as you fill them with annuals and perennials, it may look best to pot the same or similar plants in a variety of pots, or pot a variety of plants in the same or similar pots. When in doubt, keep it simple. Less can be more.
Remember to choose pots with at least one drainage hole, says our nursery manager Barb Pierson. If a pot has no drainage hole, drill one. If that’s not possible, fill the bottom of the pot with gravel, river rocks, or Styrofoam peanuts to create a space for drainage.
Choose the right size pot for your plantings: Barb’s rule of thumb is that 3 plants generally need a 12” opening, and 5 plants require a 16–18” opening.
Know Your Site
Will your pots be in blazing sun all day? No problem! Choose zinnias, lantanas, salvias, and other heat lovers. Part-shade is very forgiving for most varieties. Are you designing pots for shade? Look for impatiens, fuchsias, caladiums, some varieties of coleus, and some types of begonias.
Play With Colors & Textures
To create a pleasing combination, play with plant groupings until you get something you like. Here at the farm, our staff members do this in the greenhouses where the annuals are grown. Customers are invited to “play with plants” at our Annual Container Workshops. Another way to experiment with various combos is to pull up images on your computer screen and create a collage. Or, collage the old-fashioned way by cutting out catalog photos and creating groupings of images until you’re satisfied with what you see.
For best results, most patio pot combos should contain 3 types of plants: a thriller (which will be the tallest variety in the combo), a spiller (to cascade over the sides), and a filler (to fill in around the middle). Larger combos tend to have multiple spillers and fillers, but the thriller is generally a single, tall plant such as a grass, elephant’s ears (colocascia), caladium, upright coleus, begonia or fuchsia, or a vine such as a low-growing clematis on a tuteur.
As you’re working, pay attention to colors and textures. Are you using hot colors (red, yellow, orange, and lime), cool ones (blues, lavenders, whites and grays), or pastels (soft pinks, soft yellows, and baby blues)? Do you have a range of blossom forms and foliage types?
The Right Planting Mix
To begin your potting, fill your container with planting mix. Barb recommends a mix of ¾ high quality potting mix combined with ¼ compost. (The mix is also great for raised beds.) Water the mixture thoroughly until it is evenly moist but not soaking.
Now position your plants: Before you take them out of the pots they came in, set them atop the planting mix and arrange them in a way that will promote best growth and work best for your site. (If the pot is to be set against a wall or doorway, the “thriller,” or tall plant, is best positioned at the back-center area of the pot. If the pot will be viewed from all sides, the thriller belongs in the middle.) Once you’ve settled on an arrangement, plant your annuals in the container pot. Be sure to fill in with soil around them. (You can use the tip of a trowel or even a large spoon to add more potting mix where it’s needed.) Water again to dampen the soil that’s been added, and let the combo settle.
Feeding & Watering
Over the course of the season, check your pots for moisture daily and water as needed. Larger pots need less water. (In dry summers, container pots may need to be watered daily.) How do you know when your container pots need water? Look for the soil to shrink a bit from the sides of the pot, Barb says. When that happens, it’s time to water. You can also test by sticking your finger in the soil mix. It it’s dry an inch or so down, the plants need a drink.
Feed your plants. Annuals give their all in a single season, and they appreciate a bit of food to keep their blossom and foliage shows going. Barb recommends using a blossom-boosting fertilizer such as our All-Bloom. It makes all the difference, she says.
As the plants grow, trim back varieties that are more aggressive than others. Some varieties of coleus, and trailing plants including ipomoea (potato vine) and helichrysum are vigorous growers. Don’t be afraid to get out the scissors for some judicious pruning. Pinching back plants including impatiens and coleus also helps encourage branching so you get bushier plants.
Not Just for the Patio
Colorful container pots are a joy to behold all season long, and they’re not just for the patio. Pots also can be sited in garden beds and mixed borders, and in front of hedges and walls. A container pot full of colorful blossoms makes a lovely focal point when silhouetted against a green hedge or sited at the end of a path.
If we can help with your combinations, you know where to find us.
Welcome spring with a visit to the White Flower Farm Store! We’re open for the season and stocked with plants, supplies, gifts, and gear to get you going and growing.
While the weather is not quite warm enough to begin gardening outdoors, we have plenty to get you started inside the house. We offer a wide variety of Dahlia tubers, which can be potted up and started indoors then transplanted into the garden as the spring temperatures settle down – generally sometime in the middle of May in our part of the world. To bring color and life to your indoor spaces or dress up the house for Easter and other spring celebrations, we have a selection of beautiful, easy care houseplants – from cheerful primroses and beguiling, low maintenance Tillandsia (Air Plants) to fabulous foliage plants including Croton, Polka Dot plants, Song of India plants and variegated ivy.
Our Tools of the Trade section features the top quality, professional grade tools we use every day at the farm including trowels, forks, pruners, hoes and spades. We also include a selection of hats, gloves, and caddies for carrying tools and harvesting vegetables.
Our array of gift items ranges from hummingbird feeders and imperial vases to stationery, compact field guides, and California-made botanical lotions and body products.
Store staff made it a priority again this year to bring in items that are made in the United States. The store is filled with the vibrant and playful colors of decorative art poles, magnetic mailbox covers, and art planters that are all made in America. The planters come in an array of playful colors and designs created by artists including Mary Engelbreit. The frost-proof, fade-proof pots are equipped with raised bottoms for drainage and wheels on the bottom that make it easy to move them around on the patio or indoors. Choose one as a great gift for Mother’s Day or buy a group to display outdoors all season long. A variety of birdhouses include new styles made using reclaimed wood.
As springtime makes its somewhat tardy appearance here in the Northeast, the outdoor spaces surrounding the store are slowly but surely being populated with flowering shrubs and trees.
There are lovely red-flowering Andromeda, and yellow-flowering forsythia bushes, and as we were writing this, a cartload of hydrangea standards arrived to join the neat rows of evergreen shrubs and ornamental trees that are waiting for new homes.
Cold hardy perennials are also in stock with more arriving daily. You’ll find Hellebores, Jacob’s Ladder, Dianthus (Pinks), Allium, Columbine, Delosperma, shown above, and many more.
This season’s Calendar is crowded with activities including our 12th Annual Great Tomato Festival on May 19-21, and our 3rd Annual Container Planting Make & Take Event. For the complete list, see our Lectures & Events listing.
In addition to the great plants and other items you’ll find at the store, there’s one attraction that always makes any visit worthwhile, and that is our staff. Experienced gardeners all, they are friendly and knowledgeable, and they delight in sharing what they know and helping customers succeed in their own gardens. They can answer questions, solve problems, provide landscape solutions, and even help carry plants and supplies to your car. (A delivery service is also available. Just ask!) So bring your questions and cell phone photos of your garden. Our staff will delight in helping you create the garden of your dreams.
The White Flower Farm Store and display gardens are at 167 Litchfield Road in Morris, CT. Our hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily during the gardening season. If you’re looking for a particular item, please call before driving any distance to verify that we have it in stock. Our inventory is constantly changing. Phone 860-567-8789. We look forward to seeing you!
Please note: The Store will close at 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday, April 16th.
Over the years, White Flower Farm has been honored to work in partnership with some of the world’s exceptional plant breeders and to be able to offer our customers exclusive and extraordinary treasures. Last year, we partnered with legendary Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, to offer you Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Debutante.’ This lovely, mildly fragrant, yellow-flowering Clivia is the first named release from Longwood’s renowned breeding program. Customer response was so enthusiastic (the plants sold out quickly) that we’re pleased to be offering four more equally stunning varieties, all recent Longwood introductions.
White Flower Farm’s Director of Horticulture Rob Storm says, “As a company, we have a tradition of offering these special plants – starting around 1995 with Clivia ‘Sir John Thouron,’ a clear, yellow-flowering variety that was named for a renowned Pennsylvania gardener and came to us through Longwood, although it was not part of Longwood’s breeding program.”
Longwood’s Clivia breeding program began in 1976 under the direction of Dr. Robert Armstrong. To read more about this fascinating program, and the patience and time required to breed plants for specific characteristics, visit the Longwood website or, better yet, visit the garden itself.
Vegetative propagation of Clivias is an incredibly slow, and therefore expensive, process, but there is no other way to ensure that the subsequent plants are exact clones. Longwood’s Clivia breeding program is now 40 years old, and the plants you see are its first named releases. “The investment of time put in to get these remarkable plants is amazing and costly,” Rob says. “All of us are fortunate that Longwood has the resources to do this.”
The retail cost of these plants has raised some eyebrows and prompted comments on our Facebook page. It’s important to remember that these Clivia are decades in the making. “From seed germination to the first flowering is an incredible amount of time – years,” Rob explains. “The time and investment required to see the results of the breeding program’s hard work is not small.”
Clivia miniata is a favorite specimen houseplant, and has a well-earned reputation for being rugged and demanding little attention. Plants thrive even in a north window and require little care, growing larger and more impressive with age. These beautiful plants last a lifetime and beyond.
The large pastel blossoms of award-winning Clivia miniata ‘Longwood Sunset’ (shown above) represent a color breakthrough. The overlapping, slightly reflexed petals of each floret are suffused with sunset tones of peach and pink, finished with a fine picotee trim, and arrayed around a golden yellow and white center. The lightly fragrant, individual flowers form large clusters that measure 8-10” and are framed to perfection by dark green leaves.
Scroll below to see the other new arrivals:
Pale golden blossoms burst forth like fireworks in a night sky. This second named release from Longwood’s Clivia breeding program produces large, luminous florets with reflexed petals and pronounced golden stamens. The 4” flowers are held in clusters that can measure up to 9”, creating a breathtaking display in any interior. Winner of multiple awards.
Brilliant orange florets sport unique, raised center petals (called “keels”), an intriguing detail that invites close inspection. The golden yellow centers add delightful contrast, and the result is a stunning display that will brighten any room. This is the third named cultivar in Longwood’s renowned breeding program, the first variety with keeled petals.
Certain to stand out in any interior are the vibrant blossoms of this eye-catching Clivia. The fourth named variety in Longwood’s breeding program, its striking blooms mix colors of mahogany orange and red, contrasted by green throats. The red tone intensifies as the blossoms mature. Perched on stems above a fountain of dark green foliage, they create a memorable show.
Yellow Clivias are not as widely available as orange varieties, and, after 35 years of breeding for the best yellow color, Longwood’s research program succeeded in producing this high-quality selection. The lightly scented blossoms are a soft, buttery yellow shade, making an already attractive and durable plant an absolute knockout.
With wind chills near 0° last Saturday morning, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take refuge from the elements in the Talcott Greenhouse at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. Stepping inside, we were greeted with the sights and scents of a spring splendor extraordinaire – the 2017 Spring Flower Show. This year’s theme was ‘Spring Pools,’ with the main Show House filled with hundreds of forced bulbs, some exquisite Cymbidium orchids visiting from the Orchid House, and a collection of brightly colored spring-blooming plants including violas, calceolarias, and schizanthus. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a spring preview and to admire some interesting plant combinations.
With winter showing signs of an early withdrawl, some of us have been spending time sketching plans for gardens. Pen, paper and, if we’re feeling really fancy, colorful magic markers in hand, we play around with ideas for new borders or beds, and for redoing existing ones.
The first phase of this creative process always begins with what professional landscape designers call the “bubble diagram,” which is something many others might refer to as a “back-of-the-envelope” sketch. Bubble diagrams are loosely drawn schematics designed to define spaces within a landscape. No particular artistic skill or precise measuring is required, just the ability to draw circles on a page. For gardeners of any skill level, bubble diagrams are an extremely helpful way to visualize various features on a property – from specific areas or features in a yard (front lawn, back patio, wooded area, oak tree, swing set, raised bed, mailbox, etc.) to microclimates (dry shade under a Maple, boggy area, strip of lawn beside driveway that gets salt and sand on it every winter, etc.). The diagrams are a great place to play with ideas about how particular areas might best be utilized or planted.
As a general rule, the “bubbles” or hand-drawn circles are rendered in a variety of sizes and shapes to reflect the scale and form of what they represent.
Aside from defining general areas of a property, bubble diagrams can be helpful when creating planting schemes for particular beds and borders. The planning of any garden involves knowing what to put where, what grows in sun or shade, what likes well-drained soil and what will tolerate moisture, what blooms in spring and what in fall. While the growth habits and characteristics are available on plant tags and websites and in catalogs, trying to juggle these items while digging around in the garden with dirty hands and gloves can be tricky. (If you’re over a certain age, it can also be difficult to read the small type on plant tags, which means you’ll be juggling reading glasses, too.) A bubble diagram obviates the need for all of this by consolidating the information you need and putting it into a simple, easy-to-scan schematic. Where to put the Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ or the Alchemilla mollis? You sorted those questions out when you sat with your feet up beside the fire, and you incorporated the information into your drawing.
Once spring comes, and you’re outdoors digging in the dirt, you need only glance at your bubble diagram to know that Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ is the one with dark foliage that’s shorter in stature than the towering Dahlia ‘Show ‘n’ Tell’; Hosta ‘Aphrodite’ is the fragrant variety you want to plant alongside the porch (the better to enjoy its sweet perfume), and Buddleia ‘Miss Molly’ is the butterfly bush you chose for the middle of the sunny border.
There are other benefits to creating bubble diagrams. As a simple exercise, drawing them loosens the hand and opens the mind. Because these sketches are rendered without much fuss or detail, and because they take very little time, they are easily redrawn, crossed out, discarded or redone. There’s no penalty for making planting “errors” unless you count the bits of crumpled paper you occasionally add to the fire. The imagination is free to take chances and try things that can require quite a bit more effort when you’re outdoors. Bold experiments can be assayed, and the remarkable thing is, some of your craziest ideas might eventually become a reality or part of the reality of your garden.
So spend a bit of time over the next few weeks letting the ideas bubble over onto paper. Even the smallest gardens benefit from the process. Bubble diagrams are an excellent way to organize your thinking, refine plant lists, and consolidate information about what you’ll be planting where. Creating them is a dreamy and productive way to pass the time while waiting patiently for the gardening season to begin.
In the midst of a week when temperatures in the Northeast and many other parts of the country have been in the 60s, we’re seeing the effects of a sustained February warm-up in our gardens. Snowdrops are blooming here in Connecticut (they’re shown in the photo above, which was taken in mid-February), daffodil buds have appeared, and the leaves of some tulips are several inches out of the ground.
While most plants can sleep through a day or two of unseasonably warm temperatures, unusually hot weather that lasts for an extended period can cause them to wake from winter slumber and begin sending up tender shoots. With cold temperatures due to return later this week, and another month of winter ahead, some plants have been made vulnerable by this climatic miscue.
What’s to be done? We long ago abandoned worrying as a helpful course of action. Instead, we try to be patient and take a long view. We walk amid the garden beds to keep an eye on things. Any perennial or shrub whose roots have popped out of the ground due to frost heaves can be covered with soil, gently firmed into place, and watered to ameliorate the effects of its exposure to sunlight and wind. To protect bulbs, nursery manager Barb Pierson says, “With the unseasonably warm weather, early bloomers such as galanthus (snowdrops) and eranthis (winter aconite) may be showing foliage and blooms. They are conditioned naturally for cold weather fluctuations so no need to worry, just enjoy them! Other spring bloomers such as tulips, narcissus and hyacinths can get foliage burn if the temperatures are in the low 20’s and upper teens without snow protection for extended periods. Most seasons the flowers remain underground until later so you may get a little leaf burn but will still get a flower show. It’s possible that if our warm weather continues they could progress even further. If your local forecast calls for temps in the teens and you have a concern, you can use frost blankets, home linens or cloches to cover your plants. Do not use plastic bags, they are not effective. Mulch is not recommended. Unless you’re in an area free of digging critters, the mulch will attract them to your bulbs.”
It also may help to keep your faith in the rugged disposition and hardiness of many plants. We all take risks in the garden, trying out new plants and perhaps even pushing hardiness zones to incorporate things we love into our borders and beds. In the end, Nature will prevail. The extreme nature of this winter’s early warm-up will test some plants, and it may disrupt the bloom cycle of some spring-flowering trees and shrubs, but we can only wait and see. It’s important to remember that loss is an inevitable part of gardening no matter how experienced the green thumb and no matter what the weather brings from one year to another. When our true spring arrives at last, we can all look forward to a flower show that owes no small debt to resiliency. If any holes appear in our gardens where plants failed to thrive, they can be viewed as invitations to try something new, to accommodate changes, and to refine the gardens that do so much to sustain us.