Category Archives: Annuals

Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden

You can attract a variety of butterflies to your garden by offering some of the blossoms they love best and by incorporating accessories that provide support. The plants highlighted here all produce nectar-rich flowers that are vital sources of food for pollinators, and all offer beauty and color for human admirers. Asclepias (Milkweed), Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Liatris, and Lantana are among the best plants for butterflies.

1. Liatris ligulistylis

In our gardens, Liatris ligulistylis is a butterfly magnet during its long run of summer bloom (July to September) and a feeding station for goldfinches come fall. It is particularly popular with Monarch butterflies, and you can always spot the plant in the garden because it’s where you see a lot of orange-and-black wings fluttering.

2. Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’

A compact selection of the prairie native that’s commonly called Blazing Star, Liatris spicata ‘Kobold’ is a butterfly favorite. These plants thrive in full sun or partial shade and well-drained, even dry, soil, but they struggle in the desert Southwest. Best planted in groups, they will create a lot of pollinator traffic at the edge of the border.

3. Phlox paniculata Candy Store® Coral Crème Drop

Phlox is an important genus of valuable garden plants that includes reliable and colorful species that bloom both early and late, in sun and shade, and in a range of rich colors that is equaled by few other genera. The hardy Candy Store® series was developed in the Netherlands where it was bred specifically for a compact habit, attractive leaf and flower coloration, and good disease resistance. Coral Crème Drop offers rosy coral petals highlighted with white and a deep-pink eye. Its long-blooming and sweetly fragrant flower clusters are closely packed on compact, well-branched plants.

4. Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is a vigorous grower that produces showy, dense heads of lavender-pink flowers that are adored by butterflies. This variety has proven to be extraordinarily mildew resistant, and it blooms all summer into fall. ‘Jeana’ was included in an extensive Phlox trial at Mt. Cuba Center, where she was deemed “without a doubt, the best-performing phlox,” and the one that attracted more butterflies than any other variety.

5. Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’

Echinacea Magnus

Butterflies love Echinacea (commonly called Coneflower), a North American genus in the Daisy family  that features big, bright flowers that appear in late June and keep coming into September. The popular Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ variety features petals that are an especially vibrant carmine-rose shade and are held almost horizontally, which makes for a more open face than the shuttlecock shape of the species. Butterflies and other pollinators feed at the large cones, and in autumn, the seed heads attract birds including goldfinches.

6. Buddleia davidii Buzz™ Ivory

Buddleia Buzz Ivory

Sized perfectly for large pots or smaller spaces in the garden, compact Buddleia davidii Buzz™ Ivory produces lovely panicles of white blossoms that attract a wide variety of pollinators. Deadhead this 4′ Butterfly Bush to keep the blossoms coming from summer to fall.

7. Asclepias tuberosa Gay Butterflies Mix

Asclepias tuberosa Gay Butterflies Mix

Asclepias, commonly called Milkweed, is the essential plant for Monarch butterflies, providing nourishment through all their life stages. Our Asclepias Gay Butterflies Mix not only feeds Monarchs and other beneficial insects, it offers boldly colored, ornamental blooms in shades of fiery red, orange, and yellow in June and July. We sell it as a collection of 3 plants to provide a sampling of the full color range.

8. Zinnia ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’

Zinnia 'Zowie! Yellow Flame'

Nothing ignites a bed or mixed border like a mass planting of Zinnia ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame.’ Its brilliant, yellow-tipped petals start off magenta-pink then turn to scarlet-rose around a dramatic red-and-yellow cone. An annual in cooler climates such as ours, the plant is a hit with gardeners and pollinators alike. Deadhead the spent blossoms regularly, and the flowers will keep coming over a long season.



A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas (properly called Lathyrus odoratus) are one of the great plants for cutting, and they provide irresistible colors and fragrance for spring and early summer bouquets. The delicate flowers are available in a wide range of rich colors, and they scent the air with grapelike perfume. To help those who have never grown Sweet Peas in a garden or a container pot, we asked our nursery manager, Barb Pierson, to offer a bit of advice. Her tips will help any novice or green thumb enjoy a bountiful crop of these beautiful flowers.

Why do people grow Sweet Peas?

Sweet Peas are grown for their beautiful ruffled flowers in shades of pastels, blues, and bi-colors. Many varieties are fragrant making them a desirable cut flower. Sweet Peas have a long history of cultivation and breeding for both the home gardener and the florist trade.

Sweet Pea ‘Zinfandel’

How do I go about growing Sweet Peas?

Sweet Peas can be grown from seed and sown directly in the ground after a seed treatment or, more easily, from a started plant. Here at White Flower Farm, we sow 3 seeds per pot to produce 3 growing Sweet Pea vines.

Where do I plant them and when?

Sweet Peas enjoy full sun in the northern half of the US. In the South, they can benefit from afternoon shade. They like cool roots and cool temperatures so they are planted as early as possible in the spring. A light frost will not harm newly planted seedlings. In very warm areas, they can be planted in the fall and grown through the winter and early spring. For best results, add compost to the soil and check that the area is well drained. Raised beds can be a good way to grow Sweet Peas.

Sweet Pea ‘Cherie Amour’

Do they need any special care while they are growing?

Because Sweet Peas are vining, they need support to grow up and flower. Many types of structures can work such as a trellis, supports with mesh or twine, or fences. They need a structure that is well anchored in the ground to support the weight of the vines. The plants will form tendrils that wrap around the support you provide.

They like a nutrient-rich soil so adding compost at the time of planting is recommended, and mulching Sweet Peas will keep the roots cool and retain moisture while growing.

Once the plants have grown to about 6” in height, it helps to pinch the growing tips by 1”, which will help the plants branch out and produce more flowering stems.

Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’s Original’

What are the most common mistakes that people make with Sweet Peas?

  • Waiting until mid-summer to plant them – they don’t like the heat and won’t produce flowers as readily
  • Not providing support at the time of planting. It is difficult to add your trellis or support after the plants have started growing
  • Poor soil without adding compost or fertilizer will result in weak plants and fewer flowers
  • Planting Sweet Peas too close together without thinning them can create an environment for powdery mildew and crowding, which reduces flower count

Do Sweet Peas produce pods that you can eat like the ones you find in the grocery store?

Although the seed pods look like Snap Pea pods, they are not edible. You can save the pods and seeds to produce plants for the following year. Keep in mind that the seeds may not produce plants that are the same color as the parent plant.

Will the plants come back again next year?

In most climates, the plants are not hardy through the winter. Even in warm climates, they are re-planted with fresh seed and plants to produce the most flowers and have vigorous growth.

When do they bloom? Are there tips for getting extra blossoms?

Sweet Peas will start blooming approximately 4 -6 weeks after visible vining. Timing of bloom will depend on whether the plants have been pinched back. Pinching may slow growth somewhat, but it will produce bushy plants with more flowers. Sweet Peas will grow and flower faster as the days get longer in spring and early summer. Using compost or dried aged manure will help provide nutrients to produce large abundant flowers. A fertilizer with higher phosphorus than nitrogen can boost flower production as well.

Sweet Pea ‘Cherie Amour’

What is the process for cutting the blooms?

Cut the blooms in the morning before the sun has had time to dehydrate them. Choose freshly opened flowers on the longest stems for your vase. Do not cut the main stem of the plant, just the side flowering stems.

Why should I get my Sweet Peas from White Flower Farm?

Our plants are produced in our greenhouses in spring and are shipped to you at the proper time for planting in your area; no seed treatment or waiting for germination required. We ship our Sweet Peas in 4” pots – each containing 3 fully rooted seedlings – and they arrive ready to go into the ground. This saves you the time and trouble it takes to grow Sweet Peas from seed. Buying and planting our Sweet Pea seedlings is the quickest way to enjoy these fragrant flowers outdoors and in vases in your home.


It’s Too Darn Hot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annual Collections, Ready for Their Close-Ups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Annual Trials Are On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvia ‘Amistad’

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

Begonia Unstoppable Upright Big White
Begonia ‘Unstoppable Upright White’

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

Begonia ‘Unbelievable Lucky Strike’

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

Cucamelon Mexican Sour Gherkin

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

Tomato ‘Genuwine’

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

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