Monday, September 1, 2008

DAYLILIES in Vermont

Today is Labor Day and with a few exceptions, the daylilies have pretty much "had the radish." I field grow @ 150 cultivars and a few weeks ago took some photos that I will share here. Most gardeners now realize that daylilies come in all colors except for blue (and heaven knows, the breeders are hard at work) and all sizes from one inch across and ten inches high to ten inches across and 4-5 feet high. Above are some doubles I picked the one day I was tilling the "upper field."

The same day I picked these others as well.

We are heading into the MUM season big time now and I will post about them soon.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Late Summer Color in the Garden

Gardeners head for the nurseries and greenhouses in the spring and are often seduced by whatever perennials are blooming in the pots at that time. The result is a colorful spring and early-summer garden, but by late summer and fall the gardeners are wondering .... where have all the flowers gone? This entry will cover some reliable plants for late season color.

Of course you can always buy some mums for a shot of fall color and sometimes they do “come back,” but the only reliable perennial mum I have encountered is ‘Clara Curtiss,’ (above.) It has a light pink daisy-shaped flower with a yellow eye and grows around 18 inches high. This plant is a vigorous spreader and will benefit from a shearing around July 4, resulting in nice full blooms in the end of summer.

Although I think of echinacea (cone flower) as a fall plant, mine bloomed in July this year. Helenium (sneezeweed) is a late blooming perennial with small flowers in oranges and reds that look similar to cone flowers. The unfortunate common name “sneezeweed” comes from the fact that this flower was dried and used as snuff by natives and early settlers.

Eupatorium (“Joe Pye Weed”) is a native plant that grows tall with large heads of rosy pink flowers, a butterfly favorite. The newer eupatoriums have been bred to be shorter, but the cultivars I have tried are still quite tall.

Sedum is a genus of about 400 species of leaf succulents and “Autumn Joy” is the one cultivar that seems synonymous with fall gardens in Vermont. Butterflies and bees love these plants and they look nice paired with another fall blooming perennial, ‘Purple Dome’ aster.

Chelone (“turtlehead”) has dense spikes of rose-pink flowers in the early fall. The deep green foliage looks nice all season and it does well in moist soil.

Cimicifugia produces long white flowers on tall (3 or more feet) stems which grow up from a finely cut fern like foliage. I steer clear of the species and go with ramosa atropurupurea or one of the dark-leaved hybrids because they do not spread. This plant, which is also called “snake root and bug bane,” provides a nice vertical accent in the garden and does well in light shade.

My monkshood is blooming now, but the cultivar ‘Arendsii’ is a real late bloomer, in fact I have lost it to frost some years. This particular monkshood is around three to four feet of height, the shortest & stoutest of all monkshoods.

Next spring when shopping for perennials, consider some of these plants for your late summer garden. Actually perennials in pots are fine to plant anytime during the summer as long as they are well watered.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wedding Flowers

Every time I commit to providing flowers for a wedding I come to regret it. In this case it was the daughter of a friend and they were “totally open” to whatever I came up with. “Just use what ever is blooming in your gardens,” I was told.

I like combining foliage and flowers for unusual, but attractive bouquets, so I thought it would be fun. I said I would do the bride’s bouquet and her maid of honor’s piece as well. I never do the corsages or boutonnieres as I’m not very good with the wiring of flowers, ribbons, etc.

A few weeks before the wedding I get a call saying the bride wants burgundy flowers in the bouquets. OK - this is not good. I do have burgundy flowers in the fall, but not in early summer. Then she visits with table cloth samples and the ten bouquets are going on a table cloth the color of ... dark tan. Kind of a difficult color to work with, even though it sounds easy.

She liked some baskets I had on hand, so we decided to go with them - putting in liners and using Oasis. Then I get the call - she wants the bouquets to look “elegant.” Again I am flummoxed. The baskets are already countrifying the look and I imagine she’s thinking calla lily type elegance ($35 a small bunch wholesale). She also has a new favorite color - gold-orange.

At this point I am sweating bullets. I ended up spending $86 at the florists buying spray roses in her favorite color, some alstromeria for blending and various filler flowers.

So, I have been showing photographs of the end results. This last photograph is the bouquet for the bride and her sister. I ended up kind of doing my thing. There’s even some castor bean in one of the bouquets. As I write this they are all sitting down for the meal and hopefully admiring the flowers.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bouquets from Your Garden

I enjoy making bouquets for myself and occasionally am asked to supply arrangements for weddings and large events. Because I have perennials growing in the fields, there’s usually something to choose from, and this article will talk about how to make a long lasting bouquet and my favorite flowers for that purpose.

The best time to cut flowers is in the cool of the morning or in the evening. Morning flowers are turgid and less likely to wilt. For a big job I typically cut flowers in the morning, let them “rest” with preservatives in a cool place during the day, and make the arrangements that evening.

The rule of thumb is to cut newly opened flowers without pollen showing. Once the flower is pollinated it immediately begins the process of fading and forming seed.

Using clean scissors, it’s best to put the stems in warm water which greatly increases water uptake. In the field I cut long stems and strip off the bottom leaves to help prevent decay. Once the bouquet is made I cut the stems one more time.

Floral preservatives definitely prolong the life of a bouquet. They supply food and acidifier. Plants take up acidified water (ph 3.5 - 4.5 ) much faster than nonacid water. If you want to make your own preservative, add 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and one crushed aspirin tablet to 24 ounces of water. The aspirin helps prevent bacteria and you won’t get that nasty smelling water. Another recipe I have seen is to combine 1 cup regular 7-Up, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon household bleach.

Besides appearance, the most important component of a bouquet is that it be long lasting. Generally flowers that dry well also last a long time in bouquets. Yarrow, gomphrena, astrantia and larkspur would be examples.

As I write these words my Siberian iris are blooming away. I cut them in a bud stage, just as they are starting to open. By the time they are delivered most will be blooming. The buds are pretty as well but this flower is not particularly long lasting . Iris and peonies generally bloom at about the same time and are a nice combination.

One of my favorite “cuts” (below, left) is lysimachia clethroides (gooseneck). It can be an invasive beast and I grow it as a row crop, tilling on each side, but it compliments any bouquet and easily lasts at least a week.

‘Becky’ shasta daisy, which won the perennial plant of the year in 2003, (below, right) is also terrific for cutting. Unlike many other shastas, it stays upright and has a long bloom time and is also long lasting in bouquets.

Another excellent perennial for long bloom and good cuts is ‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis. Monkshood provides blue spikes, which compliment any bouquet. Bee balm comes in shades of red and pink. Astilbe is lovely, but after 4-5 days it wilts for me. I’m not crazy about liatris as a flower, but it certainly is long lasting in bouquets.

I like to use foliage in my bouquets and often use the silver stems of Valerie Finnis artemesia and branches from the burgundy-leaved ninebark.

One of the best cuts in the fall is golden rod. People think this flower is a main cause of seasonal allergies. Golden rod is NOT responsible. The pollen is heavy and sticky, designed for insect pollination, not wind. Its peak blooming period coincides with the peak of ragweed season, which is wind pollinated. The only way to get goldenrod pollen in your nasal passages is to stick the flower up your nose! Wind-blown ragweed pollen is the most common culprit for allergies.

Of course there are all kinds of great annuals for cutting, among them zinnias, asters, snap dragons and the later blooming salvia. I fail at growing zinnias. They get powdery mildew and my asters get aster yellows no matter where I plant them. Celosias are fun for bouquets and later in the season there are all kinds of grasses that look nice.

I am a great fan of lavatera. The blooms look like small hollyhocks and it is easy to grow. There are many sunflowers now available just for cutting. I particularly like Sonja which is 3 1/2 feet tall with tangerine orange blooms. I also like the tall blue ageratums for bouquets.

If you don’t happen to have cut flowers on hand, fresh bouquets are available at most farmers’ markets. Next month I will write about perennials that bloom late in the summer.

For gardening questions you can e-mail me at or call me at 426-3783.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Low Maintenance Perennials

Years ago I was asked to give a talk about low maintenance perennials to a community group in Orange. I selected ten plants and with slides and handout sheets I explained why I chose those particular perennials. When I was finished a gal in the back of the room asked: “Amanda, do you ever sell those plants that come back year after year?”

Now, when I discuss perennials I start with a definition. A perennial is a plant that comes back year after year ... until it dies. Some perennials live a few years and then fade away. Others, like peonies or dictamnus (gas plant) will probably last longer than the person who planted them.

A low maintenance perennial would be one that it is reasonably long-lived, but not what I call a “bully” perennial. These can take over the garden in a few years. When a neighbor comes over with a paper bag stuffed full of bare roots and says it is “... a really easy perennial to grow,” be very careful!

Low maintenance perennials do not need need to be staked, nor do they have to be pruned of dead headed (although that never hurts). These plants are not troubled with diseases like powdery mildew or prone to insects like aphids or spider mites. And these are plants that look good the entire growing season, not just when they are in bloom.

STACHYS LAMBS’ EARS - ‘Helen von Stein’ --- I don’t care for the lambs’ ears grown from seed, because it sends up what I consider to be unsightly scapes and odd blooms which need to be cut. The foliage also tends to die away in the center. Stachys ‘Helen von Stein’ is grown from cuttings, not seeds, and as such rarely flowers. One common name for this plant is “elephant ears”, as the leaves are twice the size of the seed-grown varieties. It provides nice waves of silver in the garden.

SEDUM ‘kamtschaticum’ --- Most people are familiar with ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, which is nice, but I particularly like the low growing sedum ‘kamtschaticum’. It is a thick green ground cover in the spring that bursts into yellow blooms. When they go by the spent stems and flowers turn a rusty red.

DAYLILIES --- These reliable plants withstand neglect. They can be used as erosion protection or ground cover and they increase in size each year.

If you were to just grow one daylily, ‘Stella de Oro’ would be a good choice. It is a lower growing plant with orange/yellow flowers. It reblooms on and off the entire season. This cultivar is widely used by landscapers.

ASTILBE --- Typically sold as a shade plant, I find in northern Vermont astilbe does fine in full sun, as long as it is not planted in dry, sandy soil. In fact, in the shade it doesn’t bloom much for me. Astilbe has feathery plumes and comes in white and many shades of pink, red, and purple. If I were to pick just one variety, I would stick with ‘Visions,’ which is a lower growing (18”) cultivar that has done well for us in all growing conditions. It has raspberry rose plumes and large clear green leaves.

VIOLA ‘Purple Showers’ --- This plant combines the old-fashioned charm of a violet with modern vigor. Some years it blooms all summer long.

BAPTESIA - (False Indigo) --- Baptesia is one of my favorite perennials. It takes a few years to size up, but then it behaves like a trouble free shrub, about 4 feet tall with spikes of violet blue flowers followed by pods. It has a nice vase shape to it when it’s not blooming and I also use the foliage in bouquets all summer.

AMSONIA (Willow Blue Star) --- This plant has light blue flowers in the spring and is native to the Eastern US. It is totally trouble free. A three foot, upright plant, like baptesia, it almost appears to be a small shrub. The foliage is long lasting in bouquets and turns golden colored in the fall.

SIBERIAN IRIS --- All siberian iris are low maintenance, until four or five years when it’s time to divide them. Then a jack hammer comes in handy, or a strapping young man. Meanwhile, you have lovely flowers in the spring. They bloom around the same time as peonies. If you don’t deadhead the flowers, the seed pods can be used in fall dried bouquets and the foliage looks nice all year, kind of like an ornamental grass.

Hostas are the best selling perennials in the US, but the slugs and the deer love them, so where I live that involves a lot of maintenance.

Every plant needs a bit of attention. A new planting needs moisture to get the roots established and placing some mulch around the base will help with weeds.

What's New in the world of Perennials

Companies selling perennial plants are always trying to come out with “new “ and “improved” offerings. Unfortunately many of these new perennials are developed in warmer climates and don’t survive in northeast Vermont.

Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon has registered 500 new perennials since 1992. I can highly recommend some of their introductions, while I have grown others with no success.

‘Excalibur’ and ‘Majeste’ pulmonaria have attractive silver foliage, and because the leaves have a fuzzy characteristic, deer don’t eat them.

Pulmonaria has many common names, such as “Bethlehem sage” or “Mary and Joseph plant” (because the bloom on the species goes from pink to blue) or “lungwort.” ‘David Ward’ pulmonaria has green leaves with a silver edge and coral red flowers.

Perennials do not bloom all season, so I encourage people to consider the color and texture of the foliage when planting a perennial garden. A planting of maroon foliage next to silver foliage can give the impression of color without one bloom. And foliage color is one place the perennial plant industry has made great advances.

There are many heucheras (coral bells) with maroon and purple leaves. Among the best are ‘Plum Pudding,’ ‘Chocolate Ruffles,’ and ‘Purple Petticoats.’ Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ has wonderful large dark leaves and there are numerous new cimicfugias (snakeroot) out there with almost black foliage and names like ‘Black NegligĂ©’ and ‘Hillside Black Beauty.’

I like variegated foliage, but it often reverts back to solid green. The relatively new Jacob's ladder, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ seems to hold its variegation nicely.

I like the way the yellow blooms of heliopsis (false sunflower) ‘Lorraine Sunshine’ look against that plant’s variegated foliage.

Sometimes new introductions get a lot of press and gardeners then ask for these plants. I have not had luck with the yellow and orange echinacea (cone flower) over wintering, nor do the yellow leafed heuchera do well for me.

I have seen plants thriving in Montpelier and Barre that I have difficulty growing here because we are just that much colder.

A few years ago I had a landscaper beg for a new daylily, ‘Rosy Returns,’ which promised “... large (4") bright rose flowers with repeat blooming from June to frost. “ I planted 50 of the expensive new plants to evaluate their performance. The flowers, when they did appear, were muddy and after three years of giving them a chance, they all went to the compost pile.

That said, daylilies are a good place to find something “new” that will stand out in the garden. There are about 50,000 registered cultivars and hybridizers are always trying to come up with something different. Daylilies now come in just about every color except true blue, and all shapes from one inch across to a spread of nine inches. There are doubles, “spiders” and “UFO’s”. There are bright red daylilies and white daylilies. A good time to buy daylilies is when they are blooming, because color photographs are often misleading.

Another perennial which has seen improvement over the years is the perennial geranium. These smallish plants are not the geraniums with big red flowers sold every spring in pots. Those are actually in another group altogether and their botanical name is Pelargonium, not Geranium.

True hardy or perennial geraniums belong to the genus Geranium. You will sometimes see them referred to as cranesbill geraniums, because their seed pods are said to resemble a crane's bill. They are low growing plants that spread by rhizomes. The foliage is often toothed and remains attractive. The flowers float on top of the plant.

‘Rozanne’ geranium has been named the 2008 Perennial Plant Association “plant of the year.” It has violet blue flowers and is long blooming.

‘Splish Splash’ is a newer hybrid that grows into a larger plant than most geraniums, reaching 30". The flowers are like small white petunias with splashes of blue ink.

One of the darkest and most intensely colored hardy geraniums is 'Perfect Storm.' It has magenta-pink blooms with a black center and dark veins, which are set against pale gray-green foliage, making the flowers really stand out .

Sometimes a “new” perennial is rated zone 5 and is fine overwintering in my Cabot garden. Other plants promising zone 3 hardiness don’t survive. A gardener’s best bet is to shop locally from people who have experience growing the plants they sell. (Imagine I should give that advice!) The quality of these plants will be much better than mail order and the price will be less.

While it’s fun to try new introductions, gardeners have a vast choice when it comes to perennials and some of the oldest cultivars remain the best.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Annuals for 2008

So much to do ... so little time .... before I open my five greenhouses to the public May 1.

Meanwhile, we still have snow on the ground and the possibility of digging perennials seems far far away. This is a photograph of the path to the smaller greenhouses. Fortunately my son has been lugging plants back and forth for me and he is king of the shovelers.

Meanwhile, I have been writing for a local paper and will include the columns in this blog. As a joke, I gave myself the name, "The Garden Hoe" and they are using it!

Here is my first column - - -

Every spring gardeners are deluged with seed catalogues touting “new,” and “improved” or “exclusive” flowers and vegetables. Sometimes new introductions prove their worth, like ‘Big Beef’ tomato or ‘Profusion’ zinnias. Or they fade away into plant oblivion, like ‘Sundrops’ squash and ‘Sunkist’ marigold.

Although I’ve been gardening for 40 years I still fall prey to the lure of glowing prose and pretty pictures.

Vesey Seeds 2008 catalogue features photos of a new tomato, “Applause,” on their cover, promising “exceptional size” and “early maturity.” Johnnies Seeds asks gardeners to try “New Girl” tomato (62 days) which will be “...better tasting and more disease resistant than ‘Early Girl’.” ‘Polfast’ is a new hybrid from Poland that is “extremely early” (54 days) with “flavor similar to good-midseason tomatoes.” Heck, I’ll try them all. Any vegetable you get out of your garden is going to taste better than one you buy at a chain grocery store.

Despite global warming, we zone 4 gardeners are always on the lookout for short-season varieties. Last year was a terrific growing season, but 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 were cold summers, so we shouldn’t get complacent. Unfortunately early season vegetables often lack the flavor of later varieties, so I recommend planting some early varieties for a sure bet, followed up with some later maturing plants.

The All American Selections (AAS) have been around for 75 years. Judges from all over the country trial and then select what they consider the best new plants on the market. This year they have only selected three winners, two flowers and one vegetable. Osteospernum ‘Asti White’ is the first African Daisy offered from seed. Viola ‘skippy XL Plum-gold’ has cute “whiskers” and ‘Hansel’ is a miniature eggplant producing fruit 55 days from transplant.

The viola is worth a try with its pretty “abundant” 1 and 1/2 inch blooms. I’ll pass on the osteospernum, because even the cultivars grown from cuttings bloom sporadically for me.

Park’s Seeds pours on the superlatives when describing the new eggplant. “A breeding breakthrough extraordinaire!,” they write. “Hansel is the first eggplant that lets you choose when you want to harvest it! The glossy, dark purple, mild sweet fruits are ready at 2 inches, yet keep their tender texture and rich flavor as they grow, so you can harvest them at any time up to about 10 inches or so!”

So far, so good, (although I could do without all the explanation points). But then the zone 4 gardener reads with amusement: “At last, no more armloads of eggplants going to the neighbors or to church because you just can't eat any more.” Uh oh - they aren’t talking to short-season gardeners. Still, it’s worth a try.

I order seeds from about 20 different companies, but if I were a home gardener who could just pick from one, I’d stick with Pinetree Garden Seeds out of Maine. Their prices are extremely reasonable, the number of seeds in a packet makes sense for the smaller garden, and the selection is great.

You can find all the old favorites here as well as lots of fun varieties to try. This is where I am getting seeds for ‘polish linguisa’, “a huge sausage shaped tomato that weighs two-thirds of a pound” and ‘sunrise serenade’, a double morning glory.

Of course anyone who lives in the Cabot area could skip buying seeds altogether and go greenhouse hopping and enjoy the great selection offered by their neighbors.

My next column will be about recent developments with perennials.

Pinetree Seeds PO Box 300 New Gloucester ME 04260 (207)926-3400