All posts by Shantelle Brignolo

Growing Roses Is Easier Than Ever

Today’s Roses are not your grandmother’s finicky, high maintenance plants. Thanks to the efforts of talented and patient breeders, many of today’s Roses are vigorous plants that more readily shrug off pests and diseases and bring years of classic beauty, and often fragrance, to the garden. What this means for gardeners is that growing Roses is easier than ever. For novices or those who could use a refresher, our nursery manager Barb Pierson offers these simple tips:

Helpful Tips for Growing Roses

1. If you live in a colder climate, as we do here in Connecticut, try growing Roses close to the foundation of your home. This provides plants with some degree of winter protection. Walkways are also good spots provided there is full sun. This is generally defined as at least 6 hours per day of direct sunlight.

Rose Suñorita™

2. Remember that light changes as the angle of the sun shifts throughout the season. If you live in the upper half of the U.S., choose a site that will offer full sun year-round. The more sun you have, the more flowers your plants will produce. In the lower half of the U.S., choose spots with a little bit of afternoon shade. This protects blossoms from the scorching sun and helps your flowers last longer.

Rose Ebb Tide™

3. Roses love sandy soil. Amend your soil accordingly to provide the best footing for plants. Also choose sites with good drainage, which helps ensure that Roses overwinter more successfully. They do not like wet, cold feet.

4. Do not crowd your Roses. Plants that don’t have adequate air circulation and sunlight are more susceptible to powdery and downy mildew. Remove any spent foliage from the ground around your Roses. The leaves contain natural fungal spores that can transfer to your Roses.

Rose Olivia Rose Austin™

5. Artificial liquid fertilizers tend to promote plant growth that is soft and tender, and this type of foliage can attract aphids and other pests. Instead, rely on compost and natural fertilizers to feed your plants.

Rose Julia Child™

6. If problems develop, horticultural oil and insecticidal soap can help control insects and mildews.

Rose Pretty Polly™ Pink

7. When pruning, be judicious. If you prune too hard in autumn, plants can be damaged beyond recovery. Instead, wait until spring, when plants begin to leaf out for the new season. (Roses are often not the earliest plants in the garden to respond to spring’s warming temperatures, so be patient.) Give the plant time to show its leaf buds then prune above that level.

Early Spring Bloomers

Start the spring color show early in your garden with a variety of early blooming perennials, shrubs, and trees. From Witch Hazels, which blossom in late winter, and Hellebores, which generally flower before the last of the snow has melted, to Virginia Bluebells, Brunneras, and Magnolias, there are countless ways to incorporate a rainbow of rich colors into your spring planting schemes. What better way to celebrate the arrival of a new growing season?

Witch Hazel ‘Jelena’

The best antidote to winter is a planting of Witch Hazels. This genus of 5 species of upright, spreading shrubs or small trees provides the first big display of color, beginning in late February or early March and continuing for 6 weeks or more depending on the season (the flower petals sensibly curl up if the temperatures plummet). For an even earlier display, cut some branches in January and force them into bloom indoors. Plants thrive in average, well-drained soil.

We love Witch Hazels for the color they bring to winter gardens and for their hardy, problem-free nature. ‘Jelena’ is a favorite, with large ribbonlike petals that gleam coppery orange. In autumn, the shrub lights up again as its matte green leaves turn fiery shades of red and yellow.

Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’

Hellebores are considered aristocrats of the woodland garden. Native to Europe and western Asia, the genus contains about 20 species of perennials that bloom in early winter in mild climates and in late winter or early spring where the soil freezes hard, which makes them either the last or the first flowers in the garden. In our gardens here at the farm, they are among the first plants to bloom, bringing a splash of color to the late winter garden, sometimes blossoming amid the last of the snow. They require a moist but well-drained site under the shade of trees. Take care to amend the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as well-aged leaf mold and compost. You’ll be rewarded with long-lived, deer- and vole-resistant plants that will spread nicely on their own.

Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’ is a large-blossomed beauty that was discovered by a gardener in Normandy, France, where her passion for growing Hellebores turned into a full-fledged hybridization program. The plant’s 3″ upfacing blooms are rich purple red, and are held above lush green foliage on tidy, clumping plants. Under greenhouse conditions at the nursery, many of these impressive blossoms exceeded 4″. A magnificent addition to shade gardens.

Forsythia x intermedia Show Off®
Forsythia x intermedia Show Off®

It is impossible to live in a northern climate and be unfamiliar with Forsythia. The durability, vigor, and abundant yellow flowers of this early bloomer make it one of the most popular and important ornamental plants known. Forsythia Show Off® is perfect for a tight hedge or a specimen in a border. From France comes this compact variety whose golden flowers are brighter, larger, and stacked closer along the stems from soil to tip. Another bonus is the dark green foliage.

Magnolia ‘Genie’

Magnolia is a genus of over 100 species of trees and shrubs widely distributed from the Himalayas to East Asia and in the Americas. Introduced Japanese and Chinese species and their hybrids, such as the showy white Star Magnolia and the pink Saucer Magnolia, draw the most attention in spring. The handful of species native to Eastern North America include the magnificent, evergreen Southern Magnolia (M. grandiflora), Sweet Bay (M. virginiana), and the large Cucumber Tree (M. acuminata).

Magnolia ‘Genie’ is a fairly compact variety, growing 12–15’. In early spring, lightly fragrant, 6″ cupped blossoms appear on slender branches, like goblets of burgundy. A second, lighter flush of bloom arrives in midsummer when provided with full sun and adequate moisture. Bred in New Zealand, this slender, well-branched variety blooms for a longer period, even when young. An ideal small tree to feature alone, in pairs, or to put the finishing touch on a mixed border.

Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’

A friend of ours once referred to this charming plant as “prompt” because of the way its beautiful silvery green leaves break ground quite early in spring. They’re followed by a haze of tiny azure flowers, which give this plant one of its nicknames, False Forget-me-not. (It’s also sometimes known as Siberian Bugloss and Heartleaf Bugloss.) Brunnera is most at home in woodlands or along shady stream beds, where it will form a lush understory of quiet beauty. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is a standout variety with frosted leaves veined and outlined in green. The plants grow to 12″ tall and as wide, and while the blossoms provide a fleeting show, the foliage looks superb all season long.

Mertensia virginica
Mertensia virginica

Everyone loves Virginia Bluebells (M. virginica) for their sapphire blue flowers on 18″ stems that gleam from shady spots in April and May, making them an ideal underplanting for shrubs and trees. Plants thrive in deciduous shade and moist soil, where they will seed themselves to create a charming colony.

Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Pleno'
Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’

Trilliums are spring-blooming wildflowers much prized by woodland gardeners for their delicate, 3-petaled flowers and distinctive foliage. Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’ is an exquisite double form that produces pure white flowers in April and May, which will enchant you and all visitors to your garden.

Gifting and Receiving Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) for Christmas

Whether they’re a traditional gift you love giving to friends and family every December, or it’s your first time receiving an Amaryllis bulb for Christmas, the Amaryllis is a perfect way to brighten the darkest days of winter for your loved ones. Native to the subtropical regions of the Americas, with brightly colored flowers now available in myriad color combinations, the Amaryllis rivals the Poinsettia as the official holiday season plant in the Western Hemisphere. With a few easy steps, you or your giftee can enjoy stunningly colorful blooms this winter

Amaryllis for Christmas Gifts

If you guessed that the Amaryllis became a popular Christmas gift because it blooms in the winter, then you’re correct. But the Amaryllis’ winter bloom is not its primary bloom—in its natural state (planted in the ground) it flowers primarily during summer. The bulbs can be potted and induced to rebloom in the winter, making a perfect gift to add glorious, lively color to an indoor setting. In other words, by forcing dormancy, we can encourage this summer flower to bloom in winter, resulting in a vibrant display.

Ensuring Your Amaryllis Blooms for Christmas

Though it can bring colorful life into any home throughout the winter, many prefer the Amaryllis to bloom at Christmas, while others feel there is enough color during the holidays and prefer the company of the Amaryllis in the dark days of January that follow. This versatility allows you to buy an early-blooming South African Amaryllis for yourself or a loved one, with a planned blooming around Christmas, or to give later blooming Dutch Amaryllis as Christmas gifts to be enjoyed after the holidays.  

When you buy or receive an Amaryllis bulb, it’ll likely come packaged as a dormant, bareroot bulb, or already potted with soil. Pre-potted bulbs need only water and the proper temperature to grow healthy, tall flowers. While many bareroot bulbs will need to be properly potted before watering, the large size of White Flower Farm’s Amaryllis bulbs allows them to be potted with nothing more than stones and water, if you prefer to show them off in a glass vase. Larger bulbs in any variety also produce more stalks and therefore more brilliantly colorful flowers.

Once planted, a dormant bulb takes about eight to ten weeks to begin blooming, which means that to ensure a lovely, full Amaryllis for Christmas, you should plant and water them in early November (to be on the safe side). Keep in mind, this estimate is for dormant bulbs without stems (which is how White Flower Farm will ship them to you) under optimal conditions, with proper care. Retail stores and other shops that do not specialize in Amaryllis bulbs may sell bulbs that have already started to grow stalks, which may indicate poor storage conditions. 

Amaryllis growing in greenhouse

Also, if you are replanting your own bulbs that were once planted outside, you need to force them into dormancy at the end of summer, in order to control the bloom for winter. To force dormancy:

  • Remove the dead leaves from your planted Amaryllis
  • Remove the bulb from the ground
  • Pot the bulb in soil
  • Place the potted bulb in a cool, dark, dry room, such as a basement or closet
  • Make sure the temperature remains between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Store for 8 to 12 weeks without watering to ensure dormancy

You can then transfer the dormant bulb to a new pot and soil, or to stone and water potting as described above.

Storing Your Amaryllis Bulbs

The dark days of winter have been illuminated by weeks of flowering Amaryllis inside your home. Now what? Though many treat Amaryllis bulbs as annuals—buying new bulbs each fall and winter—the bulbs are perennials and some have been known to flower annually for as many as 75 years. To ensure your Amaryllis bulbs continue to brighten your winters for years to come, you’ll want to rebuild your bulb and plant it outside in the spring, following our step-by-step guide for rebuilding Amaryllis bulbs

Amaryllis ‘Flamenco Queen’

With a few easy steps, an Amaryllis can deliver gorgeous color when it’s needed most. Even a novice gardener can maintain a beautiful, flowering Amaryllis for many years, which is why the Amaryllis makes such a wonderful Christmas gift.

Keys to Growing Roses Successfully

Roses have been among the most popular flowers known to man for centuries, perhaps millennia, and they remain one of the loveliest and most versatile of flowering shrubs for any garden situation that offers plenty of sun and well-drained soil. Below are some key tips for growing Roses successfully:

  • Roses require rich soil. When planting, dig a wide hole and replace 1/3 of the soil with compost.
  • Once the soil warms in spring, apply a generous layer of organic mulch.
  • For tips on planting bareroot Roses, see the Growing guide on our website.
  • Water new Roses thoroughly once a week unless Mother Nature is on the job.
  • Remove and dispose of old foliage regularly to help prevent disease.
  • Prune in early spring once growth starts. Remove dead wood first followed by weak or crossing branches.
  • Remove faded flowers all summer, cutting back to the first large bud at a leaf with 5 leaflets.

Design Ideas

Today’s fuss-free Roses come in a remarkable range of sizes and forms – from large Landscape Roses that are ideal as focal points or backdrops in a perennial border to lower-growing varieties that are superb specimens for the middle or edge of a garden to climbers that can smother an archway or wall in beautiful blooms. Roses are great companions for Clematis, Delphiniums, Lilies, and Peonies. Below are two exclusive new preplanned gardens that feature Roses with more of their favorite companions:

Perfumed Pageant Rose & Perennial Garden

Longtime favorite Rose Julia Child™ forms the centerpiece of this colorful, richly fragrant garden. Framing the yellow-flowering, easy-care Rose are layers of bloom from equally low-maintenance companions – the baby blue blossom spikes of mounding Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low,’ the electric blue spires of Salvia ‘Blue Hill,’ and the jewel-tone pink flower clusters of compact Achillea millefolium Song Siren™ ‘Layla.’ 1 plant each of the Rose and Nepeta, 2 each of the Achillea and Salvia. 6 plants total. Covers approximately 30 sq. ft.

Sustained Splendor Rose & Perennial Garden

This lovely garden is designed to perform throughout the full growing season. The cornerstone of this collection is the everblooming saffron-colored Easy Elegance® Coral Cove Rose which is enhanced by long-season performers Stachys byzantina ‘Big Ears’ and Leucanthemum Daisy May®. In early summer, Salvia x sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ adds an electric blue accent. Two plants of Phlox ‘Fashionably Early Princess’ join in later, adding long-blooming pale purple blossoms to the show. Covers approximately 18 sq ft.

Down on the Farm: Filled With Gratitude as We Embark on Our 70th Year

Dear Friends,

I suppose it wouldn’t be winter in the nursery business without some weather challenges, and as I write this, our team is scrambling to get every package shipped before a stretch of severe cold arrives. Loath as we are to delay any deliveries, we have found over the years that “late but healthy” gifts are much preferred to the “on-time but frozen” sort. (We’ll resume shipping as soon as the mercury rises enough to keep our plants safe as they travel.) Jack Frost and Mother Nature have both figured prominently in the way we do business for many years now, and while both have created no small amount of drama, we respect that they have final say in these matters, and we trust that our beautiful, lovingly tended plants are always worth the wait. If, by chance, you still have some last minute shopping to do, and if you don’t want your recipient to wait for a plant delivery, a White Flower Farm gift certificate is our most popular all-purpose gift and can be delivered instantly via email.

White Flower Farm Gift Certificates

When the mad dash of the holiday season is past and the conveyor belt in the warehouse turns silent just before Christmas Eve, our team will take a well-deserved breather before turning our full attention to Spring 2020 and beyond. With publication of our Spring 2020 Garden Book, we are humbled and gratified to be marking our 70th anniversary.  The first edition of this year’s spring 2020 catalog will be mailed in the next 10 days. It features dozens of interesting new plant introductions alongside hundreds of tried and true varieties (including some that appeared in White Flower Farm’s very first catalogs 70 years ago). These days, our offering extends well beyond the garden plants that got us started all those years ago. If, for you, “gardening” means a low-light houseplant, or a pot or two of colorful annuals on the patio, or even just an occasional bouquet of fresh-cut flowers, you’ll very likely find something to suit in our catalog and at whiteflowerfarm.com.

White Flower Farm Garden Book

On top of the day-to-day business of growing and delivering plants, we have a number of big picture projects in various stages of development. Perhaps most important is an ongoing investigation into various opportunities to “green” our business. The nursery trade is resource-intensive, and aside from the significant water and energy requirements of our greenhouse operations, there are the many environmental impacts of running an e-commerce business for us to consider. Cardboard and shipping materials, plastic plant pots, trucking, etc. – it all adds up, and we are always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. In recent years, we’ve made a significant investment in solar energy, and moving ahead, we are actively evaluating alternative packaging solutions, methods to reduce our water needs, and everything in between. Some of these challenges will be very difficult to solve in the near term, but we’ll keep you posted on our progress.

The solar project at the farm.

Looking ahead, I’m also excited about a burgeoning effort to partner with a new cohort of American specialty wholesale growers on certain crops we don’t currently propagate at the nursery. You’ll be reading about these partnerships in forthcoming catalogs. The short version of the story is that we are seeking out growers who share our long-term commitments to quality, sustainability, and customer service. Our customers will reap the benefits of these partnerships for decades to come.

To close, I’d like to offer my sincerest thanks to our customers, suppliers and partners, and to my colleagues for their respective support of, and dedication to, White Flower Farm. We are always aiming to do better, and we wouldn’t have gotten this far without a darned good team and the patronage of our loyal customers. We have so much to be thankful for. On behalf of everyone at White Flower Farm, I send my best wishes for a happy, peaceful holiday season and a green and blossoming New Year.

Sincerely,
Eliot A. Wadsworth

 

Your New Pre-Potted Amaryllis Bulb Has Arrived, Now What?

If you’ve never before grown an Amaryllis, you’re about to see just how easy and fun it can be. Here you’ll find some helpful tips for getting a prepotted bulb started, and caring for it properly before it blooms.

First, keep in mind that signs of growth can generally be seen 2-8 weeks after your bulb arrives. Generally, you’ll see the bright green tip of a blossom stalk or leaf emerging from the top of the bulb. Certain varieties of Amaryllis may take a bit more time to sprout. As long as your bulb remains firm, be patient and take care not to overwater.

Watering: Potted Amaryllis need only a thorough watering with lukewarm water to begin growing. After that initial drink, water your bulb only when the top 1″ inch of the potting mix is dry to the touch. Watering more frequently, particularly just after potting, can cause the bulb to rot. If the pot is covered with Spanish Moss, lift the moss and pour water directly on the potting mix.

Temperature: Place the pot where the temperature remains above 60°F. The warmer the temperature (70-80°F night and day is ideal), the faster the bulb will sprout and grow.  Providing bottom heat (by setting the pot on a propagation mat or on the top of a refrigerator) may help stimulate growth.

Where to Place Your Amaryllis in the House: As soon as the bulb sprouts, provide ample sunshine; a south-facing window or a sunroom is ideal. Rotate the pot frequently to prevent the flower stalks from leaning toward the light.

Use Amaryllis Stakes: The flower stalks may require support to keep from toppling. Click here for our Amaryllis stakes that are ideally suited to this purpose.

You’ll find more tips and tricks for how to care for Amaryllis here.

How to grow houseplants

It’s getting cold outside! Temperatures have begun to dip, and the season of outdoor gardening is winding down as winter approaches. Those of us who love plants will now focus on gardening indoors, enjoying plants and greenery throughout the winter months. Houseplants offer the perfect escape from winter’s ice and snow. Here are some basic care instructions and tips to help you succeed with your indoor plants:

Light: Most houseplants prefer bright light with some direct sun. East- and west-facing windows are ideal, and a south-facing window is satisfactory if the plants are not against the glass.

Temperature: Most houseplants are content at 60–70°F. Please note that sunny windowsills that are not well ventilated can get extremely warm on bright days.

Humidity: All houseplants (except Cacti) resent the excessively dry air produced by radiators, hot-air vents, wood stoves and areas close to south-facing windows. Humidity should be provided by standing the plants on trays of moist pebbles, or by using a humidifier nearby.

Red Holiday Cactus

Watering: This is an art that can be learned. The secret is to poke your index finger into the potting soil. If it is dry 1″ down from the surface, water thoroughly. Don’t water again until the soil is once again dry at the top. If the soil shrinks away from the edge of the pot, it is too dry and root damage is likely to occur. If soil remains constantly wet, the roots will rot. When this occurs some leaves may turn brown or yellow.

Feeding: Houseplants generally need plant food only when actively growing. This is usually in spring and summer. All flowering houseplants prefer a plant food that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus. We suggest applying fertilizer at half the rate listed on the container, but at the same frequency.

White Hydrangea

Potting: The potting soil we supply with some plants should be moistened, but not soaked, before using. When it is time to repot, use a good potting soil recommended for houseplants, avoiding bargain brands. Water well before potting. Remove the plant by turning it upside down and tapping the edge of the pot against a solid object. Use a pot that is 1–2″ larger or return it to the same pot by carefully removing about an inch of the soil and roots. At the same time, trim the foliage by one third. Please note: this treatment is not recommended for Clivia. Add compost gradually and firm the soil. Settle the soil by tapping the base of the pot. After potting, water well, but avoid washing out the fresh compost.

Pests: Most plants have few problems when properly cared for, but there will be situations, including insects and other pests, that require some treatment. Wait until the plant is not in flower. The safest method is to drown any insects with tepid water using the sprayer in a kitchen sink. Make sure not to soak the soil too much. If this doesn’t work, plunge the foliage in a bucket of soapy water, using liquid soap, not detergent. If this fails, try mixing 2 ounces of rubbing alcohol, 2 tablespoons Ivory Liquid Soap and enough water to make a quart. Apply with a sprayer that can produce a strong spray to dislodge the critters, taking care to hit the underside of the leaves and the growing tips. Commercial houseplant sprays are available if severe infestations occur.

Summer Treatment: Most houseplants prefer to be outside during the summer. If your houseplants are varieties that can tolerate full sun, it is critical to place them in a shady location for 2–3 weeks before you expose them to full sun. Return them indoors as soon as night temperatures drop below 45°F.

Trimming: Trimming will be necessary for vigorous varieties during growing season.

Foliage Plant Success Kit

Down on the Farm: A Lovely, Busy Autumn

It’s been a beautiful summer and early fall at the nursery and each corner of our little company is charging forward in its own direction – a greenhouse under construction here, a Rose garden being expanded there. Our store in Morris, CT, is open seven days a week through Nov. 17, and is stocked with many of the bulb varieties that are flooding in from the Netherlands. Our education on honey bees continues (complete summary here), and we already have more gorgeously floral honey on our hands than we know what to do with. And of course, our customer service and shipping teams are girding for a furious few months. In short, the nursery business continues, and though sometimes it feels a little chaotic around here, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Along the way, of course, a few plants in particular have caught our eye.

Angelica gigas is a stately Korean native that is late to break dormancy in spring and comes into its own in August and September. In our gardens, it has biennial tendencies and is generally short-lived; perhaps these slightly unusual rhythms are why it’s not seen in more gardens. We find that its dark umbels and green foliage pair nicely with lots of plants and it’s also an insect favorite – bees seem particularly drawn to it.

From this summer’s trial list, a recently introduced Begonia called ‘Fragrant Falls Peach’ has been a particular standout. If you’ve ever visited the nursery in late summer, you know how fond we are of Begonias. ‘Fragrant Falls Peach’ has a trailing habit with lovely double flowers and a strong Rose fragrance. It jumped out at us this summer not only because of the soft color and delicious perfume but also because of its strength – it has flowered all summer and seems to tolerate a good deal of sun. All in all, it’s a remarkable plant that we anticipate growing in containers and in the gardens for many summers to come. Look for it in our spring Garden Book.

A summer visit to Chicago’s spectacular Lurie Garden (a Piet Oudolf masterpiece tucked into Millenium Park) reacquainted us with Limonium latifolium, commonly known as Sea Lavender or Statice. This is a sun-loving, cold-hardy perennial that welcomes dry conditions and delivers clouds of tiny, lavender-blue flowers on wiry stems. In the dense plantings at Lurie, it appears as a delicate pale purple haze in and around its neighbors – quite an effect, particularly in long, late afternoon light. We haven’t offered this terrific plant in some time, but you can expect to see it in catalogs to come.

A last note – our collection of gardening books is ever-expanding, and there were a few notable additions this summer. Margaret Roach has rewritten her modern classic A Way To Garden, which presents practical how-to information alongside musings about what gardening does to us, and for us, in a rapidly changing world. In a more extravagant vein, Martha Stewart’s new Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide to Growing, Gathering and Enjoying is a feast for the eyes. Not many of the stunning arrangements pictured in the book are practical for mere mortals, but they’re inspiring nonetheless. We also have been enjoying David Culp’s The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage, a 2012 release that beautifully captures the approach of Mr. Culp (a widely acclaimed nurseryman and plant breeder) to building and maintaining gardens that perform year-round. If you have someone on your holiday list who enjoys garden books, you’ll want to see the four new titles we’re offering for the gift-giving season.

We hope you are enjoying your own splendid autumn in the garden and that you’re planting plenty of bulbs for next season’s springtime show. (Don’t miss our seasonal specials on a wide variety of perennials, shrubs and bulbs for fall planting.) With the holidays just around the corner (and with only a few short weeks separating Thanksgiving and Christmas on this year’s calendar), we hope you’ll rely on us for some exceptional gifts for your family members, friends, and colleagues. If we can assist with your shopping and gift selections, our friendly, knowledgeable customer service agents are always delighted to help.

From all of us at the farm, a happy and contented autumn in the garden.

Down on the Farm: A Glorious Summer at the Farm

High summer has arrived, and we think Northwest Connecticut is as nice a place as any to enjoy it. Our cool, wet spring has our display gardens looking terrific, and we’re especially enjoying taking notes on a new Rose Garden that was installed last summer and fall.

Our new Rose Garden features a wide variety of Roses along with companion plants. The garden is only in its first full season, but it’s clearly off to a beautiful start.

Just as we hoped, it is provoking all sorts of observations and ideas about how to design with Roses and their companions, which varieties are particularly vigorous and which less so, and what maintenance routines are (and are not) necessary. As we come into the steamiest part of the year, we’ll be watching carefully for disease and stress, all with a mind towards refreshing and reinforcing our recommendations for customers.

Our new block print of Campsis radicans (Trumpet Creeper). It’s one of three designs created exclusively for us by Ireland’s Superfolk.

We’ve been plenty busy indoors as well, including working on a collaboration with Superfolk, a design studio and print shop in western Ireland. Superfolk’s immensely talented (and, we must add, critically acclaimed) team has created a set of three block prints exclusively for White Flower Farm. Each print is of a plant that attracts hummingbirds – Monarda, Campsis (Trumpet Creeper), and Aquilegia canadensis (Canada Columbine). They are printed on delicate Japanese washi paper and will be available individually or as a set of three. Stay tuned for further detail on these special works of botanical art.

Aquilegia canadensis
Aquilegia canadensis as rendered in a woodblock print by Superfolk of Ireland.

All the while, of course, we’ve been preparing for the autumn planting season, and our fall catalog will go in the mail in the next few weeks. It features hundreds of varieties of bulbs, perennials, shrubs and vines, not to mention some lovely gift ideas.

This fall we’re emphasizing the fun to be had in extending your garden’s “season of interest,” which is easily done with the addition of early blooming bulbs (Eranthis, Galanthus, Crocus, et al.) that jump-start the season, and fall-blooming perennials (Japanese Anemone, Sedum, Chelone, Aster, et al.) that sustain the garden’s vibrancy long past Labor Day. Most good gardeners try to squeeze the most they can out of their season, and we’re always happy to help.

Blackmore & Langdon’s Begonia ‘Mardi Gras’

If you’re anywhere near our neck of the woods this summer, I hope you’ll stop in for a visit. Aside from the display gardens (about which we may already have bragged too much), our greenhouse full of Blackmore & Langdon tuberous Begonias is just about to come into peak bloom, which it always does in July. It will remain reliably glorious through September, and it is, I assure you, worth the trip. (We are proud to say we remain the exclusive stateside source for these exceptional, luminous Begonias.)

Please note that the hours at our store in Morris, CT, have changed for the summer and fall seasons. From July 1st through Nov. 17th, 2019, the store is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but it’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The display gardens are open daily during this period. We hope to see you!

Blackmore & Langdon’s Begonia ‘Party Dress’

On behalf of all of us at the nursery, thank you for your ongoing support. I hope you’re having a wonderful season in the garden.

Eliot
[email protected]

Saluting Some of History’s Greatest Female Gardeners

In time for Mother’s Day, those of us who love gardens and gardening thought it would be lovely to celebrate a handful of legendary female gardeners. From England’s Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Jekyll and Beth Chatto to New York’s Beatrix Farrand and Lynden Miller, these are women who have deepened our understanding of plants; taught us how to choose them, care for them, and combine them to create beautiful gardens; furthered the evolution of garden design; and instilled in us an appreciation of green spaces and their crucial importance to the life and well-being of people, communities, and the planet. Scroll below to read more about these remarkable women, listed here in more or less chronological order, and to see just a few of the plants they have taught us to cherish.

Gertrude Jekyll (1840–1932)

Gertrude Jekyll trained as an artist and initially set out to become a painter, but it was in the garden that she found her full and truest expression. As a designer and horticulturalist, her credits include more than 400 gardens in England, Europe and North America. Her work is characterized by a painterly use of color and a more naturalist style of planting than had previously prevailed in England. Jekyll’s long association with architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a pioneer in the Arts and Crafts movement, began with their collaboration at Jekyll’s home, Munstead Wood in Surrey, where Lutyens designed the residence, and Jekyll created the gardens. Lutygens and Jekyll went on to other collaborations, cementing a professional partnership that came to typify the English country style of the period. “The ‘Lutyens-Jekyll’ garden had hardy shrubbery and herbaceous plantings within a structural architecture of stairs and balustraded terraces,” writes a keen-eyed Wikipedia source. “This combined style, of the formal with the informal, exemplified by brick paths, herbaceous borders, and with plants such as lilies, lupins, delphiniums and lavender, was in contrast to the very formal bedding schemes favoured by the previous generation in the 19th century. This ‘natural’ style was to define the ‘English garden’ until modern times.” In addition to her other talents, Jekyll was a prolific writer and gifted photographer who wrote countless magazine articles and more than 15 books. Among the best-known are Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden, Home and Garden, and Wood and Garden. In 1911’s Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden, Jekyll writes, “I am strongly of the opinion that the possession of a quantity of plants, however good the plants may be themselves and however ample their number, does not make a garden; it only makes a collection. Having got the plants, the great thing is to use them with careful selection and definite intention. Merely having them, or having them planted unassorted in garden spaces, is only like having a box of paints from the best colourman, or, to go one step further, it is like having portions of these paints set out upon a palette. This does not constitute a picture; and it seems to me that the duty we owe to our gardens and to our own bettering in our gardens is so to use the plants that they shall form beautiful pictures . . . It is just in the way it is done that lies the whole difference between commonplace gardening and gardening that may rightly claim to rank as a fine art. . . . In practice it is to place every plant or group of plants with such thoughtful care and definite intention that they shall form a part of a harmonious whole, and that successive portions, or in some cases even single details, shall show a series of pictures. . . . it is to be always watching, noting and doing, and putting oneself meanwhile into closest acquaintance and sympathy with the growing things.”

Callistephus chinensis

“I have a little space that I give entirely to China Asters,” Gertrude Jekyll wrote in Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden. “I have often had the pleasure of showing it to some person who professed a dislike to them, and with great satisfaction have heard them say, with true admiration: ‘Oh! But I had no idea that China Asters could be so beautiful.'” In summer and fall, when gardens could use a burst of fresh color, our White Flower Farm mix explodes into bloom. A favorite of floral arrangers, the 4 varieties featured in the collection flower in a harmonious blend of pinks, whites, and purples.

Beatrix Farrand (1872–1959)

Beatrix Farrand (née Jones) was born in 1872 into the upper echelons of New York society. Her family maintained homes in New York City and Mount Desert Island in Maine. Farrand was niece to novelist Edith Wharton. The novelist Henry James (who was also a dear friend and literary peer of Wharton’s), knew Farrand as “Trix.” Farrand’s family members included many enthusiastic gardeners, and she was drawn to botany and landscape gardening at a young age. In her early 20s, she studied under mentor Charles Sprague Sargent, a Harvard University professor of botany and the founding director of Boston’s Arnold Arboretum. In 1893, she undertook the study of landscape gardening, which did not then exist as a specialized degree. When her career started around 1895, women were not permitted to design public projects. Farrand concentrated instead on residential gardens, and her social connections combined with her talents swiftly put her at the pinnacle of the profession. In 1888, she was the only female selected to be among the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects. From her early years designing gardens for her neighbors in Bar Harbor, Maine, Farrand moved on to some of the works for which she is best known: Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden on Mount Desert in Maine, gardens on the campuses of Yale, Princeton, and Occidental universities, and the East Colonial Garden and West Garden at the White House, both of which were later redesigned. Connecticut-area residents can find examples of Farrand’s work at Wharton’s home, The Mount, in Lenox, MA, and at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. Farrand’s early interest in native plants can be traced to the summers her family spent in Maine. At Dumbarton Oaks, Farrand created a variety of gardens – from the Fountain Terrace to the Kitchen Garden – on a 53-acre site situated at the highest point in Georgetown. Open to visitors today, the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks include formal structural plantings such as aerial hedges, arbors, and fountains that gradually yield to more naturalistic plantings.

Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’

In the Sunken Garden at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT, Beatrix Farrand created an octagonal garden around a gazebo. The 36 garden beds feature more than 90 varieties of annuals and perennials, a collection of plants that bloom in tranquil colors of pink, white, blue and silvery-gray. Among the plants Farrand uses in several beds is a pink peony. In her honor, we chose Peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ a 1906 heirloom that produces fragrant double blooms in a deep pink that grows lighter toward the edges. The vigorous plant is a most reliable bloomer, and it is a winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Louise Beebe Wilder (1878–1938)

Born into an affluent Baltimore family, Louise Beebe took an early interest in gardening. When she married the architect Walter Robb Wilder and 1902 and moved to Balderbrae, a rural residence in Pomona, NY, she transformed the landscape around the house, creating structural elements including terraces, pathways, a walled garden, a grape arbor, and fountains, and planting beds and borders. When she and her husband moved to Bronxville, NY, she undertook the design of Station Plaza and founded a local Working Gardeners Club. As her reputation grew and her career blossomed, she designed residential gardens across the country, authored 10 books, and contributed a great many stories to newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Horticulture, and House & Garden. Her 1918 book Colour in My Garden, whose title pays homage to Gertrude Jekyll’s Colour Schemes in the Flower Garden, is perhaps her best-known title. Her gardens also reflected Jekyll’s influence, and she believed, as she put it, in creating gardens that were “formal in design but most informal in execution.” This style meshed beautifully with social changes of the period that dovetailed with the decline of large estate gardens and the rise of suburban gardening.

In her 1935 book, What Happens in My Garden, Wilder writes about a white garden she has seen in Wales. “. . . since the mild summer evening on which I once saw a white garden beautifully carried out it has lingered in my mind as . . . one of the loveliest gardens I ever saw. This white garden . . . was planted entirely with white-flowering plants and . . . inclosed [sic] by stone walls of a warm pinkish gray. . . . We saw this garden first at twilight, that witching hour, and through the tall iron gates, above which swung a Clematis starred with immense white blooms, the effect was almost as if a mist had crept up from the river and finding the haven of this quiet inclosure [sic] had swirled around and about, rising here in wraith spires and turrets, lying there in gauzy breadths amidst the muted green. It is impossible to describe its beauty at this dim hour – so soft, so ethereal, so mysterious, half real it seemed. And yet when we saw it at noon of the next day it was no less arresting, though in a different way. . . . Looking at it, we did not speak in whispers as we had done the night before.” Wilder thought it would be lovely to create a white garden of her own. “I am sure a little enclosed white garden, or even a winding border of white flowers against a green background, would be a possession of which one would not easily tire. It would always suggest peace and harmony, yet there would be no lack of interest. Frayed nerves would find it remedial.”

Phlox paniculata ‘David’

In the all-white Moon Garden here at the farm, Phlox ‘David’ is a tall, luminous presence. These perennial plants are free flowering, maintaining a full display from mid-July well into September. ‘David’ has a vigorous growth habit and produces sturdy stems that will not be pushed around by wind and weather. Furthermore, it has the best mildew resistance of any white Phlox we have ever encountered. It makes a fine companion for other denizens of the Moon Garden including, among others, Shasta Daisies, and white-flowering Delphiniums, Lilies, and Dahlias.

Vita Sackville-West (1892–1962)

The award-winning English poet, novelist, journalist and diarist is equally renowned as a garden designer. Together with her husband, the author and diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson, and a series of head gardeners, she created the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in the Weald of Kent, England. Upon Sackville-West’s death in 1962, the garden was bequeathed to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. It currently attracts upwards of 200,000 visitors per year. It is particularly famous for a structure that centers on axial walks that open into separate and distinct “garden rooms” including its famous white garden, and its collection of old garden roses. Sackville-West once wrote: “My liking for gardens to be lavish is an inherent part of my garden philosophy. I like generosity wherever I find it, whether in gardens or elsewhere. I hate to see things scrimp and scrubby. Always exaggerate rather than stint, masses are more effective than mingies.”

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ Tree Form

“Vita did not at first plant many hydrangeas at Sissinghurst,” writes English gardener, writer, author, cook, and teacher Sarah Raven in Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst: The Creation of a Garden. (In addition to her other credits, Raven is married to Adam Nicolson, the grandson of Vita Sackville-West, and she and her family have lived at Sissinghurst.) “[Vita] had the climber Hydrangea petiolaris on one of the east-facing walls, but at least initially she had reservations about them – the coarser ones reminded her of ‘coloured wigs’. She probably associated them with more formal Edwardian borders, a look she was trying to avoid, but seeing them in other people’s gardens looking good, she began to like them more.” On an autumn outing, she caught sight of a stand of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora.’ “It was with a startled pleasure that I observed three bushes growing in a cottage garden as I drove along a secret lane,” Sackville-West wrote. “They looked like pink lilac. Tall, pyramidal in shape, smothered in pointed panicles of flowers, they suggested a bush of pink lilac in May. Yet this was September.” The owner of the cottage garden told her the hydrangea had been blooming for three months. “It starts off by flowering white; then turns into . . . pink . . . Then it turns greenish, a sort of sea-green, so you never know where you are with it, as you never know where you are with some human personalities, but that makes them all the more interesting.”

Jane Grant (1892–1972)

Born in Missouri, and raised in Kansas, Grant moved to New York intending to become a singer. But the lifelong feminist took a detour into journalism, eventually becoming the first full-fledged female reporter for The New York Times. She wrote for the Times for the next 15 years. In 1925, Grant and her first husband, Harold Ross, launched The New Yorker magazine. When Grant and Ross divorced in 1929, Grant continued her work in journalism and remained active in feminist causes. In 1939, she married William Harris, editor of Fortune magazine. The two left Manhattan and settled in Litchfield, CT. There, in 1950, they founded a mail-order plants business they called White Flower Farm.

Rhododendron ‘Jane Grant’

This large-leaved, evergreen Rhododendron was named for Grant, and it gives you some idea of how we feel about it (and her). Our specimen plant is close to 30 years old and has never missed a year of bloom. Its deep pink buds mature to the palest of pinks, very ruffled. Plants retain the free-flowering habit and the felty indumentum (on the under side of the leaves) of R. yakusimanum, but their form is closer to that of the other parent, R. smirnowii.

Beth Chatto (1923–2018)

When Beth Chatto died in 2018 at the age of 94, The Guardian hailed her as “one of the most influential horticulturalists of the past 50 years.” A pioneering naturalist, her reputation rests on the Beth Chatto Ltd. plant nursery, which she founded in Essex in 1967, her Beth Chatto Gardens, which remain open to visitors, and her authorship of a handful of indispensable books whose common theme is the importance of choosing the right plants for the right places. Beth Chatto’s Damp Garden, The Dry Garden, and Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden, all contain wisdom gleaned from the author’s years of creating and maintaining gardens. All stress plant “suitability” for various sites, the encouragement of sustainable plant communities, and the possibility of maintaining ecological convictions while still creating aesthetically pleasing gardens. In the 1970s, The Guardian reports that “she won 10 successive gold medals at the RHS Chelsea flower show, where she introduced ecological ideas into garden design, demonstrating the possibilities of natural plant groupings, while also achieving the highest aesthetic standards. In those days nurseries arranged their plants for maximum visual impact regardless of differing plant needs. Chatto’s approach was a revelation and immediately established her significance as a guide to better and more environmentally friendly gardening techniques. She stressed the importance of looking at the whole plant, foliage as well as flowers, and judging the quality of a plant by observing it throughout the seasons.” In her own gravel garden, a former parking lot that occupies just under 1 acre of sandy soil in her 15-acre garden, the sign reads: “The Gravel Garden is not irrigated. It is a horticultural experiment where we hope to learn which plants survive extreme conditions, as a help to all gardeners facing hosepipe bans.” (A reference to water restrictions that prohibit use of hoses for irrigation.) Among the plants she featured in this arid expanse is Eryngium ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost.’ Distinctive in both color and form, it shrugs off drought and poor soil conditions. Chatto planted some to great effect amid mounds of Purple Sage.

Eryngium giganteum Miss Wilmott’s Ghost

This Sea Holly is the giant of the genus with large (2½”) cones of pale blue that appear almost white at a distance, and 6” wide gray bracts that are dramatically veined in silver. These generally biennial perennials offer a distinctive form and unusual color, but its their remarkable ability to thrive in poor soil and full sun that makes them a treasure for gardeners dealing with drought.

Lynden Miller

New Yorker Lynden Miller, who maintains a weekend home in Sharon, CT, is a renowned plantswoman, public garden designer, and author of the inspirational book Parks, Plants, and People. Miller began her career as a fine arts painter before abandoning the easel for the garden. In 1982, she put her painter’s eye to work restoring the Central Park Conservancy Garden in New York. Her success led to commissions to design gardens for other public spaces including New York’s Bryant Park, the New York Botanical Garden, Madison Square Park, and Wagner Park, and to improving the landscapes for schools and landmarks including Columbia, Stony Brook, and Princeton universities, and the United States Supreme Court. In the aftermath of 9/11, she created the Daffodil Project, which has resulted in the planting of millions of daffodils in parks, schools, and housing projects all over New York City. Miller is perhaps best known for the bravura mix of colors, textures and forms she creates in mixed perennial and shrub borders that have four-season appeal, and for her passionate advocacy for public gardens. “Beautifying your city brings environmental, social, and economic benefits,” she writes in Parks, Plants, and People. “When office workers step outside and find themselves surrounded by life-affirming natural elements – changing seasons, tall trees, wide lawns, flowers, birds, bees, butterflies – something positive happens to them. People respond to beautiful surroundings by respecting and protecting these places and by sharing this beauty with one another.” In her book, Miller names a great many favorite plants for mixed borders in the Northeast. Among them are roses. “Roses should be incorporated into the plantings whenever possible,” she writes. At her garden in Wagner Park, “they go well with Perovskia atriplicifolia [Russian Sage] and Verbena bonariensis.” Miller particularly favors newer cultivars. “I was not a great fan of roses in the days when many of them had to be treated with chemicals to combat pest and diseases,” she writes. “Today, however, wonderful new roses are available, including fine shrub roses that are hardy, long-blooming, and disease resistant.”

Rose Bonica®

In Miller’s honor, we chose to highlight this modern Shrub Rose, which was named World’s Favorite Rose in 1997. The compact bush features clusters of dainty shell pink flowers and glossy, disease-resistant foliage. The parade of bloom from Bonica® continues until frost and is followed by an abundance of bright orange-red hips. It’s an ideal choice for beginners.