All posts by Shantelle Brignolo

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.

Down on the Farm: Signs of Spring

We Made It!

Spring is slow to arrive in northwest Connecticut but, while we’re not venturing out into the gardens just yet, it’s evident that winter’s grip is easing. The sun is higher in the sky, the greenhouses are smelling sweet and fresh, and it won’t be long before we begin shipping to warmer corners of the country. As per our custom at this time of year, we’re pleased to deliver a brief-ish update from the nursery.

A New Rose Garden, Year 2

Late last season, we planted a variety of Roses and companion plants in our new Rose Garden. As spring and summer arrive, we’re excited to see how the whole garden develops.

Last summer we began installing a sizable new rose garden at the nursery, with design guidance from Julie Messervy and her team at Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio in Saxons River, VT. The garden will, as it matures, feature not only several dozen varieties of Roses, including both heirlooms and favorite modern cultivars, but our favorite Rose “companions” – Nepeta, Lavender, Clematis, Salvia, and many others.

This summer the garden will still be in its infancy, but over the years it will deliver us a tremendous re-education on gardening with Roses, and we’re eager for the school bell to ring. We trust visitors to the nursery also will enjoy watching this garden come into its own and perhaps take some fresh inspiration home with them.

Dates To Save

Join us for our 14th annual Great Tomato Celebration. This year, it will be held on two days, Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18.

As usual, we have a number of fun events lined up at the nursery this spring. You can find details about all of them on our website. We’d like to alert would-be travelers that our Great Tomato Celebration, an annual offering of dozens of varieties of tomato seedlings and other kitchen garden supplies, is scheduled for Friday, May 17, and Saturday, May 18. (Please note there are no Sunday hours this year.) We’re excited to welcome back noted Tomato expert Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time. Craig will be on hand for lectures and Q&A availability on both days. Cross your fingers for decent weather, but the show goes on rain or shine.

An Update to Our Sales Tax Policy

Gardening is typically an escape for daily trials and tribulations. But when changes to tax law impact the way we do business with you, we find ourselves obliged to draw your attention to matters mathematical, at least for a moment.

As you may or may not have noticed, White Flower Farm has historically collected sales tax only on items shipping to Connecticut addresses. This is consistent with long-standing precedent that online retailers are responsible for collecting sales tax only on transactions to states where the seller has a physical presence, such as a store or a warehouse. White Flower Farm has a physical presence only in Connecticut; therefore, we have, until now, collected sales tax only on Connecticut-bound merchandise.

But last summer this precedent was changed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair. The court decided that the “physical presence rule” was outdated, and that states may charge tax on purchases made with out-of-state sellers, regardless of whether or not the seller has a physical presence in the state.

Since this ruling, many states have implemented new sales tax policies for out-of-state sellers, and White Flower Farm will shortly begin collecting sales tax on sales to many states beyond Connecticut. Our aim is to comply with all applicable laws and also to do our best to minimize confusion for our customers. With the latter objective in mind, here are a few further details:

• Different states have different sales tax rates; they also have different rules regarding whether shipping & handling charges are taxable, and what kinds of products are taxable at all. For example, in Connecticut, a tomato plant is not considered a food item, and therefore is taxable. Other states may handle that sort of item differently.
• If an item is purchased by a buyer in one state to be shipped to a different state (as many gift items are), the applicable tax rate is the one set by the state to which the item is being shipped, not the one in which the buyer resides.
• WhiteFlowerFarm.com displays sales tax as a single dollar figure in your order summary. If your order includes shipping addresses in multiple states, any applicable sales taxes will be combined into the single tax figure you see at checkout. The same calculations are applied to orders placed over the phone.

Thanks for your attention to this quite literally taxing topic. We welcome any questions you may have.

New Favorites for Spring

With more and more gardeners looking for ways to reduce their lawn space and support garden pollinators and other beneficial insects and wildlife, we’re thrilled to introduce our new preplanned Native Meadow Garden. This exclusive collection of carefully selected North American natives features low-maintenance perennials that provide food and habitat for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects while offering colorful blossoms and foliage for human admirers.

New Native Meadow Garden

We trialed this garden extensively at our farm in Connecticut where it has become a magnet for Monarchs and other winged creatures whose visits add to its natural, wild beauty. If you have a fence or property line in full sun, or a sunny swath of lawn you’re willing to cede to blossoms and wildlife, we urge you to try it. Give the plants a season to settle in, then watch them take off the following year.

New Pink Mandevilla

Also new this year is our collection of tropical plants for the patio. From nonstop flowering Mandevillas to glorious, large-flowering Hibiscus, to harder-to-find favorites including Alpinia ‘Variegata’ and Macho Fern, we have everything you need to turn your backyard patio into a tropical paradise. Our head gardener, Cheryl Whalen, put her talents to work last season, and she used a variety of tropical foliage plants to create two exceptional new collections, Bonito and Spicy Salsa.

Our new Bonito Annual Collection combines plants with fabulous foliage for a distinctly exotic look.
Create a spectacular display in your late summer sunny border with this trio of Dahlias from the Café au Lait series.

Dahlia lovers will not want to miss our new Café au Lait Trio, which features longtime favorite Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’ with two of its siblings, Dahlia ‘Café au Lait Rose’ and Dahlia ‘Café au Lait Royal.’ The color blend, which ranges from mocha pink to fuchsia, is as harmonious as can be, and each plant produces the large, 10” dinnerplate blossoms that made the original such a favorite. Beautiful in the garden and superb for larger-scale bouquets.

We hope you’re as excited as we are to see the first signs of spring. It’ll be great to get out into the garden.

Fragrant Shrubs Perfume Your Garden From Spring to Fall

Spring’s first scent of Lilac. The unmistakable sweet spicy vanilla fragrance of Viburnum carlesii. The sultry summer perfume of Roses. Fragrant shrubs can fill your garden with heavenly perfume from spring to fall. Choose a variety of shrubs to add fragrance to your garden (and to fill vases in your house) throughout the growing season. Among our favorites, early spring brings the sweet perfumes of Azalea ‘Northern Hi-Lights,’ Lilac Bloomerang® ‘Pink Perfume,’ and the native Lindera benzoin. Late spring offers the spicy scent of Daphne Eternal Fragrance™ and the sweet citrus fragrance of Philadelphus (Mock Orange). Roses and Clethra can be relied upon to perfume the garden in summer with some of the Rose varieties continuing into fall. Scroll below to learn more about these fragrant plants, and find more here.

Syringa Bloomerang® Pink Perfume

If you’ve always wanted the intoxicating scent of Lilacs in your garden, but didn’t have room for them, take a close look at this lovely addition to the Bloomerang® family of reblooming Lilacs. Its upright, bushy form reaches just 4–5′ tall, and its dainty spikes of reddish purple buds open to intensely fragrant, soft pink flowers. ‘Pink Perfume’ blooms heavily in May and, after a short rest, flowers again intermittently until fall. These charming plants give a neat show of color for containers, pathways, and intimate spaces.

Viburnum carlesii

This is one of the most gloriously fragrant shrubs known to man. The dense flower heads, which measure up to 3″ across, produce white flowers from blush pink buds, and the perfume, which is a sweet, rich, spicy vanilla, carries a considerable distance across a lawn or garden. Plant one or two where you take your springtime strolls.

Rose Sweet Spirit

A profusion of vibrant, violet-red blossoms, 3-5 per stem, appears nonstop on this vigorous Hybrid Tea. The fully double 3” flowers are richly perfumed, and they are handsomely displayed as they gleam in the sunlight against a backdrop of subtly glossy, dark green foliage. These bushy, mounding plants show increased resistance to black spot and improved tolerance of humidity. A staff favorite at the nursery.

Azalea ‘Northern Hi-Lights’

This deciduous Azalea is a welcome addition to the garden for those of us who must suffer through brutally cold winters. Released by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in 1994, ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ is hardy to Zone 4. Its sweetly fragrant flowers emerge white with splashes of yellow on the upper petals. Mildew-resistant foliage on this strong grower turns a striking burgundy red in the fall, before dropping for the season.

When Lindera benzoin displays its dense clusters of fragrant flowers, we know for certain spring has arrived. These lovely yellow blossoms appear before the leaves emerge. In summer, the light green foliage makes an attractive backdrop, and in autumn the leaves turn bright golden yellow. Lindera benzoin is native to eastern North America and parts of the Midwest, and it makes a handsome addition to woodland gardens and moist areas near ponds or streams. More reasons to love this shrub: The beautiful Spicebush swallowtail butterflies rely on it as a food source for their caterpillars, and deer tend to avoid it.

A Tribute to David Austin & His Exquisite English Roses

Late last year, on Dec. 18th, David C. H. Austin, Sr., the legendary English rosarian and founder of David Austin® Roses Ltd., passed away at the age of 92. According to representatives, he died peacefully at his home in Shropshire surrounded by his family, an end befitting a man who brought so much beauty and wonder to the lives of others.

Rose hybridizer and writer David C. H. Austin founded David Austin Roses in 1969 in Shropshire, England. The Austin nursery, display gardens and plant center in the village of Albrighton draw visitors from around the globe.

Born in 1926 and raised on a family farm in the Shropshire countryside, Austin’s interest in flowers blossomed early. As the story goes, he was just a schoolboy when he found in the school library an issue of the great garden magazine Gardens Illustrated. What he saw on the pages ignited a passion that would last a lifetime. Austin’s father, a farmer, did not initially approve of his son’s interest in breeding flowers, but when the younger Austin turned 21, his sister gifted him with a copy of A.E. Bunyard’s book, Old Garden Roses. The rest, as they say, is history. Austin devoted his adult life to breeding what eventually became known as “English Roses.” His groundbreaking varieties combine the beauty and fragrance of classic varieties with the diversity of color and repeat-flowering habit of newer Roses. Austin eventually achieved worldwide success, but it did not come overnight. Austin’s first rose, introduced in 1961, was ‘Constance Spry.’ Industry professionals told him buyers would never be interested in what they called his “old-fashioned roses,” but Austin persisted, initially selling stock from his own kitchen table. By 1969, he had developed and was offering repeat-bloomers. But his real breakthrough came in 1983, when he introduced three of his English Roses at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Back at Chelsea the following year, Austin won the first of many gold medals. With a subsequent increase in sales, Austin was able to upgrade and expand his business and also his garden at Albrighton, which today is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful Rose gardens in the world.

The Austin gardens in Albrighton, England. The photo was taken in 2018 by White Flower Farm’s Eliot Wadsworth.

To best understand the patience, perseverance and wonder of what Austin accomplished in his lifetime, it helps to know that from pollination to sale, the process of creating a new Rose takes nine years. For each new Rose released, roughly 120,000 unique Roses are grown for research.

Rose Olivia Rose Austin™: Any Rose named for a member of David Austin’s family must be exceptional, and this lovely Shrub Rose is certainly that. Cupped, double blossoms of blush pink expand into old-fashioned rosettes that pale to pearly pink at their edges. They carry a rich perfume with sweet fruity notes.

Austin has 240 Rose varieties to his name. Although he was awarded countless honors during his lifetime, he has been quoted as saying that his greatest satisfaction was “to see the pleasure my roses give to gardeners and rose lovers around the world.”

Rose Claire Austin™: This intensely fragrant, double-flowering beauty is named for David Austin’s daughter. The shrub and its flowers are an elegant presence in any garden. Plants have an arching form that makes them well suited for use as small climbers.

At White Flower Farm, we are honored and privileged to have worked with David Austin’s company over many years. We are delighted that David Austin® Roses Ltd. and its remarkable breeding program will continue under the guidance of Austin’s eldest son, David J.C. Austin, who has been with the company since 1990 and who assumed the role of managing director in 1993, and David Austin’s grandson, Richard Austin. We look forward to doing our part to perpetuate David Austin’s remarkable legacy and to encourage the enjoyment of his exceptional Roses.

New for Spring

Each year, our staff spends a significant amount of time searching out and sourcing new plants. The process can involve world travel, internet searches, phone calls, and visits to breeder’s and grower’s fields. It also involves growing new plants in our greenhouses and garden beds and experimenting with ways we can best offer new and old favorites. The results of our journeys and discoveries for spring, which also include a number of exceptional garden accents and tools, can be seen below and on our website.

Cafe au Lait Trio

Create a spectacular display in your late summer sunny border with this trio of Dahlias from the Café au Lait series. Each plant produces large, 10″ blossoms that arrive in profusion atop tall, sturdy stems. The color mix shades from the mocha pink of the original ‘Café au Lait’ to the lavender-pink of ‘Café au Lait Rosé’ and the unabashed fuchsia of ‘Café au Lait Royal.’

Clematis ‘Taiga’

For beautiful colors, extravagance of blooms, and graceful habit, nothing compares with Clematis, the queen of the flowering vines. Attracting attention at the 2017 Chelsea Flower Show, Clematis ‘Taiga’ combines a compact growth habit with abundant double blossoms bristling with bicolor petals. Bred in Japan, the blooms feature a central nest of purple petals tipped in cream against an outer star of rich purple.

Tomato ‘Madame Marmande’

From France comes Tomato ‘Madame Marmande,’ a gourmet beefsteak with fruits that tip the scales at 10 oz of delicious flavor. The handsome, ribbed, broad-shouldered fruits do not crack while ripening. Indeterminate. Fruits ripen about 72 days from transplant.

Sculptural Garden Stakes

Add a bit of botanically inspired sculpture to your garden with charming decorative accents that can be displayed in any season. British master craftsman and sculptor Paul Cox creates these ornamental stakes in his Sussex studio. The metal stem on each arrives gray in color before gradually and naturally oxidizing to become a rust orange color that blends beautifully with the plants in your garden.

Hydrangea Endless Summer® Summer Crush™

Hydrangea Endless Summer® Summer Crush™ is a vibrant Mophead that delivers a color breakthrough of riveting raspberry to purple flowers (depending on your soil) that pop from a distance. Plus, the plump blooms are densely held on a compact, conveniently container-sized shrub. Great planted in multiples along a walkway or a stone wall, too.

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.

Fragrant Blooms Banish Winter Blahs

In the depths of winter, there is nothing quite so lovely and transporting as the natural fragrance of flowering plants. The heady scent of Lavender conjures sultry summer days in the fields of southern France. Jasmine and Gardenia can carry your spirit to a tropical garden where warm breezes blow. And Paperwhite Narcissus summon spring in a southern garden. As winter settles over much of the country, enjoy the escapes these beautiful, carefree plants can provide indoors until it’s time, once again, to return to the garden.

Lavender ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ in Woven Basket

 

Paperwhite ‘Ariel’ Kit in Glass Vase

 

Gardenia in Embossed Metal Cachepot

 

Jasmine in Grapevine Basket

 

Scented Geranium Duo