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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The very word Daffodil is magic, for these rugged and cheerful blooms are the first major flowers of spring, and they light up the landscape on even the dreariest day. Many gardeners know the familiar yellow Trumpet forms but have yet to encounter the many and varied shapes, sizes, and colors now available in the genus.
Daffodils (also known as Narcissus) possess three enormously valuable attributes that contribute to their vast popularity.
They will thrive in almost any location that offers decent drainage and half a day of sun, and will actually reproduce spontaneously in a site they like. Most strains are reliably hardy from Zones 3–7, with numerous forms, including the fragrant Paperwhites that prosper in Zones 8–10.
They are extremely long-lived in any setting, making them ideal for long-term and naturalized plantings, where they often outlive the proprietor.
Daffodils are immune to disease and pests, INCLUDING DEER WHICH WILL NOT TOUCH THEM.
Daffodils bloom reliably each year, and many hardy varieties can also be successfully forced indoors—a lost art we hope to encourage.
Keys to Success with Daffodils
Fertilize: The best time to fertilize bulbs is in the fall. The next best time is in early spring, just as the foliage begins to emerge.
Leave the leaves alone: Allow the foliage to mature after bloom. Do not cut, braid, fold, or mow the leaves. Remove only after they turn brown.
Garden Design Ideas for Daffodils
Plant Daffodil bulbs in a woodland garden that is sunny until the trees leaf out.
Tuck bulbs between the crowns of Daylilies or other perennials in a mixed border, where the leaves of perennials will hide the fading Daffodil foliage.
Most of us think about our gardens and outdoor spaces with a keen eye toward how they look during the day. This year, we’ve been thinking of more ways to make our gardens shine in the evening hours.
The first item to think about is outdoor lighting for your plants, and we’ve got several ideas for you to choose. Then there are the plants themselves to consider, and we have a list of those too. We refer to them as Moon Garden plants, and have chosen them specifically because they are gorgeous during the day, and have an enchanting glow at night.
Having spent four plus decades in the world of plants, I am familiar with honey bees as companions in my garden, orchard, meadow, and, briefly, in a pair of poorly managed hives near our house. Their background murmuring and frenetic activity on warm days are a central part of the sights, scents and sounds that constitute nature as experienced in a temperate climate. Or, to be more accurate, they were.
With my son taking over our small plant nursery in northwest Connecticut, I was looking for a way to keep busy and stay out of his way during the six months each year that I live on the property. Like most Americans, I’ve been uneasily aware of declining bee populations and a related phenomenon called “Colony Collapse Disorder” for some years and lazily linked the reports to a combination of habitat decline, agricultural chemicals, and climate change. Since the former two scarcely exist in our area, and the latter has so far produced mainly milder winters here, and because bees’ seasonal pattern is much like mine (active outdoors mainly above 50 degrees), the idea of keeping some hives to produce and sell both bees and honey became compelling and even seemed mildly rational. Perhaps there was a genuine opportunity for doing well while doing good, sustaining a family business while supporting the population of a crucial pollinator of crops and gardens and the only producer of harvestable quantities of honey. That’s when my homework began.
Honey bees (properly known as Apis mellifera) are not native to the Americas whose abundant pre-colonial flora was for eons pollinated by a wide range of insects including solitary bees (they don’t form colonies), plus moths, wasps, butterflies, and countless other genera for whom the sugary nectar of flowers is an important food source. When Europeans brought the first honey bees, they were seeking an inexpensive sweetener, wax for candles, and a pollinator to boost the yields of their fields and orchards. In the ensuing five centuries, honey bees found their way into every corner of the Americas that provided enough rainfall for plants to grow and a tolerable winter through which they could sustain themselves by their uncanny ability to cluster together and generate heat by metabolizing their stored honey. Those conditions are available in a large percentage of both Americas, and the bees promptly escaped their colonial masters and went native, presumably displacing some indigenous competitors whose declines are not recorded.
The diaspora of hive bees into the countryside didn’t diminish the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers who preferred to secure honey by raiding their own hives rather than searching out and extracting wild colonies in the forest. The job of beekeeper was made infinitely easier by an American beekeeper (and minister) named L.L. Langstroth whose studies determined that it was possible to create a space that encouraged bees to form their comb (the wax network of receptacles in which they raise their young and store their honey) in discrete segments instead of a single mass. That insight, hatched in 1851, allowed the creation of hives using removable frames, permitting honey to be extracted without destroying the hives and often the tree cavity in which the hive was located. The Langstroth hive remains the basic technology of the bee industry to this day, a rare example of a design surviving the industrial revolution and the information revolution essentially unchanged. While there are modest variations in design and materials, the vast majority of domesticated bee colonies are thus housed to good effect. As we considered our path forward, this would surely have been our choice as well.
A bee colony is a miracle of social collaboration in which thousands of individuals, both males, known as drones and whose only role is reproduction, and females, known as workers, which organize to provide food and housing for an immensely productive queen bee and then for successive generations of her offspring. After a winter period of relative inactivity within the hive, a healthy colony can produce vast numbers of bees from newly laid eggs that develop through three stages to adult bees in roughly three weeks. These adults then set about gathering nectar and pollen to feed the colony, and caring for the queen. The adults themselves are short-lived, about a month for the workers and perhaps two for the drones, but the fantastic productivity of a healthy and well-fed hive can produce population increases that exceed the living space within a few weeks, causing the departure of part of the colony to find a new housing arrangement where they can establish a new queen and build a new colony. These swarms occur frequently and by anticipating and managing this process, a disciplined and observant beekeeper is able to create new colonies, increasing his collection of hives to either manage or sell to other keepers.
Established colonies have a second essential function beyond this abundant reproductive cycle, that being food gathering. Bees sustain themselves by collecting both nectar and pollen from blooming plants within in their foraging range (about 2½ miles from the hive). This activity has made them extremely valuable to mankind for two reasons. The first is that bees store their winter food supply in the form of honey which is essentially plant nectar from which the water content has been evaporated. Honey is an extraordinary substance, a richly flavored sweetener that seldom spoils and, many believe, is also an aid to human health when eaten or applied topically. Bees store their honey in exquisitely geometric wax combs they manufacture in their hives and then consume it to sustain them throughout the winter. Beekeepers seek to sharecrop this operation by periodically removing frames that are filled with honey and spinning them in a centrifuge to remove the honey, after which they’re returned to the hive for a refill. In the days before sugar cane and sugar beets were widely processed to make sugar, honey was a prized addition to man’s diet.
In addition to honey production, the foraging process also provides an extraordinarily important function which is entirely incidental to the mission of the bees but absolutely crucial to the well-being of their co-habitants on the planet. That process is the pollination of plants in which pollen, the male reproductive cells found on the anthers of plants, is transported from one plant to another, fertilizing the female organs (stigma) of the recipient and enabling reproduction by the creation of seeds. Bees don’t pollinate plants on purpose. They gather pollen, a form of protein, as one of the core elements of their diet and transport it back to their hives for storage and later consumption. In the process, pollen particles are attached to their body hairs and transported randomly from one plant to another. In pursuit of food, a colony of bees will visit literally millions of flowers and provide for them a crucial catalyst in successful reproduction. While there are many other insect pollinators, none of them goes about their business with quite the same intensity, probably because bees are uniquely committed to keeping a large community of individuals alive through the winter.
The pollination role provided by honey bees has been recognized through observation for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years and is, of course, crucial to the existence of countless species of native plants and the animals that depend on them. The stimulation of this process by placing hives in crop fields or orchards in an organized manner is far more recent. In modern agriculture, especially fruit and nut orchards, yields are vastly increased by locating or relocating hives in the vicinity of the trees and bushes at the time of their of bloom, which is typically two to four weeks. There are few commercial growers who don’t take advantage of this low cost and powerful ally to increase the yield of their crops. Indeed, the vast majority of bee colonies under management in the U.S. are employed in this manner, and pollination services, as the industry is known, represent the primary revenue source for most commercial bee operators, with honey production a distant second.
The most extreme example of this business is found in the fantastically large and profitable almond groves of California’s Central Valley. More than 1.1 million acres of near desert land are planted to almonds, with the trees receiving their water largely from trickle irrigation. In this environment, native plants and thus insect pollinators are few, and the crop is made possible by the introduction of roughly 2 million beehives maintained elsewhere and trucked in for a month to service the blooming trees. Needless to say, this practice is heavily dependent on the means of transport that are available, and that transport must be chosen and operated with care. That’s because bees, for all their apparent durability and abundance, are in fact dependent on their ability to sustain a very precise environment in their hive so as to maintain all their functions, and this consistency can be challenging on a trip that might often exceed a thousand miles. To repeat, individual bees, with the exception of queens, are very short-lived, and a hive must produce multiple generations of young (known as brood) each season in order to survive. For these cycles to occur, the inside of the hive must be maintained at close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit with consistent ventilation and continual maintenance. Accordingly, rough handling or extreme temperatures or relocation during daylight hours when the residents are out foraging can do irreparable damage to a colony, causing it to drop below the crucial population density at which all the necessary jobs can get done. This means that hives need to be moved at night and/or in dark, temperature-controlled vehicles. So hundreds of temperature-controlled semis roll into the Central Valley in late January, and the owners of these bees receive close to $200 per hive for the visit, thus generating a large portion of their year’s revenues in four weeks.
This seasonal migration produces a bonanza for the almond growers and the beekeepers but is not without its downsides, especially for the bees. For all living creatures including ourselves, travel is stressful. Changes in climate, soil, diet, elevation, pests and predators, and even noise levels can disturb natural rhythms both for adult bees and for the brood under their care. In addition, the almond groves are frequently treated with chemicals for pest control and while that’s never intentionally done with the beehives in place, the local soils are inevitably saturated with all kinds of compounds whose effects on bees are unknowable but certainly not positive. A great irony of this specific crop is that the nectar of almond trees produces honey so bitter as to be unusable for humans, though it’s apparently acceptable to bees. And further insult follows, because the bees need to continue foraging after the almonds have ceased blooming, which means the hives need to be transported to sources of blooming plants elsewhere. This could mean fruit orchards in Oregon or Tupelo forests in Florida, and the shocks of relocation are repeated serially over eight to nine months until the hives come to rest somewhere for the winter.
Frequent air travelers know from experience that airplanes are an excellent place to acquire a cold or worse, and the impact of travel is the same for bees. By moving from place to place for most of a year, pollination colonies are exposed to every pest and disease and chemical that exist in each ecosystem, virtually assuring that somewhere along the way they will be severely stressed in the best case and effectively euthanized in the worst case. Equally important, they become the vector by which pests and diseases are transmitted from one region of the country to another, with an effect similar to the first year of school for young children. It’s a pretty gloomy perspective for this most diligent and useful natural creature and sadly the narrative has recently been expanded to include a new element with devastating effects.
Just as people are preyed upon by ticks, bees are subject to parasites, but their natural behavior of hive cleaning, disposing of sick and dead bees, and swarming to new and better neighborhoods has allowed them to thrive in the vast array of ecologies offered by the North American continent. But that status changed about 33 years ago with the accidental introduction of a pestilential mite named Varroa destructor. This nasty parasite, probably native to Southeast Asia but familiar also in Europe for several decades, was first reported in the United States in 1986. It preys on the brood in the cells where eggs are laid and attaches itself to the emerging larvae and ultimately to the mature bees. Until recently, it was believed that the mites fed on the blood of the bees, but recent work by a Maryland PhD student named Samuel Ramsey has determined that it is, in fact, the fat of the bees that the mites consume, probably conveying various viruses in the process. Young bees are weakened and often disfigured, reducing their ability to forage and ultimately leading to their deaths. Because reproduction is continuous in a functioning hive, the mites also reproduce, maintaining pressure on their hosts while also hitching a ride to other colonies during foraging and breeding. A hives’ ability to generate winter warmth is weakened by reduced population, which means that in northern climates they enter winter like a drunk, in the worst possible condition, and many don’t survive. As a result, hive losses have been steadily increasing nationwide for three decades and have become so dire and persistent that commercially managed reproduction is essentially impossible in areas with cold winters. As a result, commercial production of bees is now concentrated in southern states or in the hands of operators who can afford to invest in temperature-controlled winter storage. In the former case, most bee colonies are concentrated in a few areas after which newly hatched spring bees are packaged and put on trucks north for sale. If you visualize stockyard cattle, you’re not far off. Of course, the large operators who can afford winter storage mostly secure their revenues through pollination services and the incessant travel that model requires. Accordingly, most bees in America have been around a lot and in direct or indirect contact with commercial and feral populations throughout the continent. This, of course, violates the most basic principle of epidemiology and selective evolution, which is isolation.
Despite the best efforts of science, the Varroa mite can only be partially controlled through various management techniques that range from chemical drenches to various forms of non-toxic or integrated pest control. But as the narrative above makes clear, re-infection and re-transmission is incessant due to the nature of bees and the industrial model to which they are harnessed. There is speculation that certain strains of bees may have or may be gradually developing some genetic resistance to the mite, but keeping a strain of bees pure is quixotic to say the least. When a queen sallies forth to mate on a spring day, she will find her way to an area with a dense concentration of drones (males) and will mate with several, all of unknown provenance. At the same time, there’s an excellent chance she will return bearing a mite that has piggybacked on one of the drones. It’s an impossible situation to manage, and it offers an extremely difficult future for bees and their keepers.
This reality became clear to me after months of reading and talking to professionals and academics whose lives have been devoted to bees. It had two obvious implications, one simple and self-referential and the second having appalling consequences for our continent. In the first case, it was clear that producing bees for sale in a northern climate would be a near certain impossibility as a business model because winter losses, typically averaging one third or more in the best operations, wouldn’t allow the creation of colonies for sale. Yes, it would be possible to purchase southern bees and truck them in for resale, but the logistics are difficult and expensive and risky, and guaranteeing the quality of the imported colonies is impossible. In either case, customers, mainly hobbyists, who bought our bees would inevitably be overwhelmed by mites and experience unsustainable losses in a year or two through no fault of their own. This would leave them with two alternatives: either replacing their bees annually with new purchases or simply abandoning the project. In either case, we would have sold them a dream but not a realistic prospect of success, which is not a prospect I could get comfortable with.
The much larger question is what this imported plague means for America’s vast agricultural infrastructure, huge portions of which depend substantially if not entirely on the services of bees to assure pollination. The answer to that question is not precisely known at this time but the trend is threatening in the extreme. A variety of experiments are underway to identify alternatives and they range from hand-pollination (which is widely practiced in plant breeding where genetics must be tightly controlled), to huge fans set up to blow pollen from place to place, to tiny mechanical drones which might one day learn to mimic the behavior of bees, absent the honey. In parallel, the commercial and academic communities are struggling to come up with tools to suppress or eliminate the mites, bee strains that can survive them, and management techniques that may offset the impact of this infection. Meanwhile, on the horizon, a new Asian mite has been identified which is larger and potentially more devastating. It has yet to be discovered in the Americas but eventual arrival seems inevitable, with consequences that one authority described to me as “unimaginable.”
Though it’s not at this point a useful speculation, it’s difficult to avoid connecting this series of events with similarly dangerous plagues under way in citrus, bananas, chickens and hogs, all of which are experiencing devastating losses from bacterial blights. The common threads, aside from timing, are obvious. One is globalization in which every person, dollar, idea, and germ has a good likelihood of finding its way to any ecosystem where it can survive. The other is monoculture, that modern form of factory farming in which economics drive everyone to concentrate on the same plant cultivar, strain of animal genetics, food source, processing system, antibiotic remedy, and marketing channel. With all the eggs, or chickens, in one basket, any trouble that crops up strikes everyone everywhere, with results that are predictably devastating. Is it too extreme to postulate that our food systems are truly in peril? That remains to be seen, and there are legions of talented people and vast financial resources committed to finding answers.
One of those answers has to be diversity, including crops, locations, cultivation techniques, and seasons. By creating discrete populations at discrete sites, all at smaller scale, the risk of a universal affliction is essentially eliminated. This is precisely the regimen advocated by locavores as a means to provide healthier and tastier food, and many consumers have chosen these products despite higher prices driven by much higher production costs. It seems improbable at the moment, but there may be a time ahead when these local crops are, in certain categories, all that is available. Whatever the path, it is glaringly evident that bees, the farmers that travel on their own, cannot be localized and must somehow evolve to deal with their mite infestation or cease to be an engine of reproduction for plants. More chemicals can’t be the answer, but an answer is badly needed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
These tools were selected from the Sneeboer line of durable, heirloom quality tools, which we discovered on a visit to England’s Great Dixter gardens. Made by the renowned Dutch company since 1913, each is hand forged from top-grade stainless steel then individually shaped, polished, and sharpened. These hard-working instruments are fitted with premium wood handles and are designed to last for years.
If you know someone who is moving into a new home, or who is ready to start their first garden, these tools make fabulous gifts. We’ve gathered the 5 most popular Sneeboer tools below. You can see our full offering here.
1. Hand-Forged Step Edger
Slice through turf with ease using this Dutch-made professional grade edger. The solid Ash handle provides a sturdy grip, and the sharp, stainless steel blade is topped by 2 “steps” for maximizing leverage. Built to last several lifetimes. Overall length: 37″.
2. Hand-Forged Weeding Fork
Get under weeds, shallow rooted plants, and loosen small patches of soil with this sturdy, durable weeding fork. Made in traditional fashion, it has a hand-forged stainless steel fork with 3 hammered tines. The Cherry wood handle is smooth and tapered to fit comfortably in the hand. As you can well imagine, we put our weeding fork to good use around the nursery. Built to last, this makes a nice heirloom to hand down to gardeners of the next generation. Overall length: 11″. Ships in a gift box.
3. Compact Pointed Spade
The pointed tip of this rugged spade is ideal for dividing perennials and working in tight spaces where precision counts. When used for transplanting, its narrow 5¾″ blade minimizes damage to the roots of both the transplant and its neighbors. Overall length: 22″
4. Hand Cultivator
The sharp, stainless steel tines on this indispensable tool take hold of weeds and debris, separating them from soil beds. The cultivator also is superb for loosening soil in gardens. We use ours each spring in our raised bed vegetable gardens, and throughout the season to turn soil prior to planting. The sturdy, durable handle is crafted of smooth Ash wood. Overall length: 29″.
4. Tight Spots Weeding Tool
Removing weeds that grow between patio pavers and brick walkways is one of the most tedious and backbreaking chores. This superb, thoughtfully constructed tool has a pointed steel tip that fits in tight crevices and gets under weeds to dislodge them. The Cherry wood handle is smooth in the hand and will last several lifetimes. Overall length: 12½″.
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
“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.
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’sDamp 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.
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.
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.”
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.