Garden In The Burrow

plants and rants by gardening diva Cheryl Monroe

  • Apr 21

    Before we continue let me take a second to tell you why the native versus exotic plant debate interests  me so much. As someone who came into gardening via specific plants ( I love and adore roses, lilacs, clematis and peonies and wanted to grow them)  I was curious how my garden impacted it’s surroundings.  Many people come to gardening this very way, whether they are looking for the best tomato, the biggest pumpkin or want to exhibit dahlias . I  wonder all the time if  my community had been a “Native Planting Only”  (yes, many such places do exist!) if I would have bothered at all ? Would others who garden for their own personal reasons  feel the same? I did not set out to make an ecosystem, I set out to make a garden ,but have always kept in mind that I am part of a much larger picture even though the scope of that picture is much larger than any one gardener can take in or take care of. Am I responsible for the success all the wildlife around me ? Should my concern be for only indigenous species( thus absolving me from worry about the honeybees ) ? Am I responsible for care of our wetlands, forests, birds, etc the list could go on and on. As I discover more about myself and my garden I am coming to realize that I can and  should garden in a way that first does no harm to the environment and second keeps me actively engaged and thus providing whatever resources I am able and willing to give to the other creatures around me.

    Does that mean I will let the rabbits and voles take over the garden? Absolutely not, there would be no garden if I did.  Does that mean I should be conscious of whatever I decide to spray, plant , or water? Yes, as long as I am doing so in an informed and educated fashion. No matter what information is presented to me via book, internet , or word of mouth , I question everything. On any garden subject you will likely be presented with more varying and often contradictory opinions than there are days in the year, yet there is a way to discern which of them  you believe.

    My first rule of thumb is to avoid absolutes, zealotry or dogma.  It is easy to get so caught up in a belief system or ideology and loose your way, especially when it comes to noble and lofty concerns .

    My second rule is to read, read, read. You can access many published scientific research papers online and if you are ever looking for particular ones  , one email to the right source can direct you where to look.

    Third rule, read such papers with a critical and questioning mind. For example, one of the first papers I read posed the question; ‘Do insects feed and benefit equally from both native and non-native plants”?  I was so curious to see the results, but upon further investigation saw the plant lists used to draw the conclusions were in my opinion useless: The natives were known  lepidopteran (butterfly,moth and skipper)  host plants and they were  pitted against  a whole bevy of nonnative plants found on  the USDA Invasive Plant /Noxious weed list.  THAT is a biased study that helps  those interested in Invasion Biology, but not the average home gardener who wants to know if the specific maple or  birch they are planting is a good wildlife choice. You can not draw the conclusion that all native plants are better insect food using that data. ( and it ticks me off that someone did ) .

    Anyway, that is what started me on this journey of trying to get the most accurate information to help me make the best choices  and have a garden that will suit both me, and the environment.


    In rant part two,  we return to this same article  to talk  about  the power of words. In particular we shall discuss with a skeptical mind the very word at the cause of the debate: NATIVE.

    What does native mean?  A plant growing here since the first European colonists arrived ?  A plant  that  naturalized itself before we came? A plant that appears in fossil records? One that co-evolved with other wildlife from this area ? If so , how long of a period of co-evolution counts? Well, the accepted loose definition used in discussions  such as these is : A Plant that occurs naturally in a particular region , ecosystem ,  or habitat without  direct or indirect  human intervention.

    Hmmmm…..So beyond anecdotal evidence  of the first humans  to live here as well as what we can infer from science ( like age of a tree or length of time a species has been here  configured by dispersal patterns and density )  what evidence is acceptable to give a plant that coveted status of “Native”?  If a plant is no  longer  growing here but appears in the fossil record ( like ginko biloba) is it still a native?  If a plant was brought in say in 1491 via rafting   is it native? What about by mammals, birds or wind? What if we take it waaaaay back to when the continents were connected and we can look at certain genera of plants who live now in similar climates at similar latitudes  and share many of the same characteristics but  find themselves separated by oceans?  Where do we consider them “native” to?

    Now let’s look at the word in a different context; how it is so often used in the media describing a very large group of  supposedly worthy and desirable plants. The word native sounds so noble and  has been given  just that connotation by many who advocate planting indigenous plants. BUT  in this grouping are plants that fit into so many categories, descriptions, and  uses it boggles the mind. They can be trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, aquatic plants, or bulbs. They can be shade dwellers or sun lovers, xeric plants or bog dwellers. Some , like our  indigenous spring ephemerals need very specific growing conditions and emerge early, bloom quickly then go dormant for the rest of the growing season. Some  can be aggressive growers like campsis radicans or trumpet vine that can climb to 35 feet  scrambling over anything in it’s path  , shading out any competing plants and will rapidly colonize a large area using suckers that crop up  many feet from the main plant.  Some native plants are very well behaved in their particular ecosystem, but move them down the road a pace or two and they become noxious weeds.  How about poison sumac?  the highly poisonous water hemlock? What about the Franklinia tree which is  prone to a multitude of  diseases , resists transplantation and is generally a  pain in the ass to grow?  would you choose that over the easy to grow Serviceberry ( amalnchier canadensis)? All of these plants are so diverse, so distinct in  cultivation and wildlife value, yet are all lumped as one holy grail of plant  material …THE NATIVE.

    As for the words used to describe non-indigenous plants , they are  EXOTIC and ALIEN , powerfully negative words leaving a homeowner or gardener with feelings of guilt and failure when planting what could very well be both garden and wildlife friendly plants. Words are everything , and they can lead us down some very dangerous paths.

    Moving on to  value, both to wildlife and the garden, there are many native plants that serve the same function as nonnatives.  Biodiversity ; or the number, variety and genetic variation of organisms found within a specific geopgraphic region , is not limited to native plants. Neither are leaf litter, shade canopy, shelter, or fruit.  Lepidoptera species ( butterflies and moths) utilize both native and nonantive species , and some plants regardless of nativity are never butterfly host plants. Some native species are LESS valuable to wildlife than nonatives, some are more.  Click here to see the U Maine’s wildlife support PDF for apple and crab apple trees, keep in mind they define ‘wild” as untended, NOT native…..pretty amazing the host of creatures they feed,( as an aside if you tried to plant one of the 4  indigenous crab apple species you would quickly loose them to disease ,whereas there are a multitude of disease resistant non native species.)

    If we are going to get a homeowner to plant a small tree, the delightful crab apple  with both ornamental AND wildlife benefit is a win-win! The same can be said for lilac , host to 10 lepidoptera species , nectar source for countless pollinators and shelter for birds, and a homeowner favorite as well. They should not be shamed for doing so.

    So, the point? Well, really I would like all involved in horticulture on any level to adopt a new way of talking. Just spewing off “plant native!”  does a great disservice to the average home gardener. Be specific,  for butterfly host plants familiarize yourself with  which butterflies rely on which plants for their caterpillars, as well as nectar sources. Same goes for birds, bees, whatever.  Then know the conditions of the site you are dealing with ,the kind of garden desired, the budget and the degree of maintenance the gardener is willing to tolerate, and  THEN suggest plants that you know they can access, plant and grow successfully within those parameters.

    Also, keep in mind that many studies point to habitat as a big huge part of the battle in wildlife support, so encourage a planting that has a groundcover, understory and canopy if possible , or inclusion of un-mowed grass or even meadow areas. The worst type garden for wildlife is a few shrubs and loads of bark mulch surrounded by a lawn.

    Next up…dealing with our New Ecosystem  (human density, pollution, soil compaction, deer pressure, plant diseases and pests) and what happens when a very worthy and honorable ideal becomes a crusade .

    In further posts: The issues of insect biomass, cultivating new hybrids of natives for more widespread garden use, and the ever controversial butterfly bush.

  • Time for a rant

    Filed under Posts
    Apr 17

    Time for a rant, and a long overdue one at that. I realize that what I am about to rant against may rub some people the wrong way, so I will start by saying what I am NOT ranting against.


    A.) I believe in taking out your lawn if you can . Lawns have been universally panned as any type of wildlife refugee, are generally water  and fertilizer hogs, and  mowing etc is a pain.

    B.) I love many plants that are described as “native” or indigenous.( I disagree with the  terminology labeling them as such and the fact that they are all grouped together as though they  are one SUPER-plant, but that is not the rant here.)

    C.) I think planting for wildlife is a stellar idea, and there are many plants that support our wildlife that are both native and nonnative and embrace any effort that a homeowner gives to provide shelter, food or water to said wildlife.

    I must also mention that I love me some science, and I can(un) happily spend hours reading hypotheses, abstracts, graph and data charts, but DO NOT in any way support cherry picking of  results or agenda driven experiments ( more on that when I rant on the other Myths in a later post)

    So, back to the rant. This article has come across  my social media feed ad nauseum in the past few days, and although in some circles it may get me  banned or worse, spit at, , I am going to rant against it because it’s my blog and I can.

    I will state again, that I love science. I love that some amazing curious mind poses a question, then does enough research to pose a hypothesis, designs an experiment to test said hypothesis , and then draws whatever useful conclusions they can whether they support or undermine the initial theory. Science. Love it.

    What I DO NOT love is people masquerading as scientists; posing theories then designing bad studies, then  picking and publishing the data that supports their theory and disregarding the rest. I despise when those results are quoted in articles written for the general public who may not be inclined to question their validity especially when the cause they seem to be supporting seems so noble.  But even though I could rant on the so very many half-truths, misleading information and unsubstantiated claims here, ( and trust me I will at a later date) today I will zero in on only the most egregious  and that is in Myth 4.

    Myth 4 states , and I quote…..”Tallamy’s studies show that native plants suffer no greater damage from plant-eating pests than do nonnatives and may in fact be healthier because they foster a more balanced ecosystem. Natives do host many indigenous herbivorous insects such as caterpillars, but these plant eaters in turn attract native predators—such as birds, assassin bugs, preying mantids, ladybird beetles and parasitic wasps—that keep the herbivores under control. In contrast, imported nonnatives, such as azaleas, may host nonnative pests that have few predators. With no natural enemies, “the azalea lace bug is the No. 1 pest in the eastern United States,” says Tallamy.

    So lets start with these two statements

    1.) that non native azaleas host lace bugs and the unstated but implied statement that native azaleas do not ( although the author of these statements  does actually claim  that in his well known and never to be mentioned here on this blog book)

    2.)that azalea lace bugs( stephantis pyriodes) are voracious pests with no know natural predators here in the US.

    both a bunch of BS


    Most Azaleas, regardless of parentage, are susceptible to the azalea lace bug. The lace bug is an introduced pest from Japan. that has spread throughout parts of the country and damages the plant by using piercing mouth parts to suck sap from the leaves .  The damage shows up as stippling on the tops of the leaves and if you look under the leaves you will see the bugs.Yes, it may have arrived on imported nursery stock,and that is unfortunate, and I hope we are learning from our mistakes, but any  azalea species or cultivar  can be infested. The Azelea lace bug has never and will never enquire about a particular host plant’s nativity before inviting itself to dinner. And if you bought a plant in 2015 that was propagated here in the US  you are not importing anything, it has been here since 1916, it is already widespread,   and as such must be dealt with. The azalea lace bug  will feast on native and non native alike, and actually some of the most resistant plants (meaning azaleas that are avoided by the azalea lace bug) are hybrids of foreign origin  and we should be encouraged to plant them . Four of our native species have been defined as resistant and there is a plan afoot to hydridize them at the University of Georgia which is good news.Every extension site I visited and a few university sites as well  recommend planting azaleas only in shadier locations( in the eastern part of the US) to encourage predatory insects as well as the fact that drought and sun -stressed plants are far more susceptible to attack and extreme damage. ( I read several studies that drew this as their conclusion, although in the Pacific Northwest damage was worse in the shade).

    As for an entemologist that would make the statement that the azalea lace bug has no natural predators here, I can not even fathom how to comment. I can site you many extension sites that list a bevy of predators (spiders, assasin bugs, lacewings) ,  like here, or  here , or this article..( there were many many more btw ).so is everybody else wrong?  Or is this claim meant to create hysteria and mayhem all in the name of furthering an agenda?  ( again, shadier locations will be a better location for planting as the predatory insects will prefer this habitat).

    Lastly, I can not find one other source that backs up the claim that azalea lace bug is the #1 pest in the eastern US. It is widespread in certain areas , but #1? Not according to anyone except this author.

    The minute I read blatantly misleading information and disregard for inconvenient truths I immediately suspect every other word written . Agenda….driven….”science”…is……the….worst!

    As to why azaleas were even mentioned in this article, I am still struggling to understand.  Of all the plants that could have been included to make a point germaine to the discussion here….azaleas? Anyway, part one of the rant is over. Part two when I am feeling brave :)


  • Apr 15

    DSC_0099Every year sometime in April we  have a day long brush burning here in The Burrow. Burn Day is one of the rare days that Wil  is actually a worker bee in the garden, but let’s be clear, that only ever  happens when there is the chance to use power tools ( like leaf blowers, chippers, and chainsaws) ….and  that most primitive and powerful of all man’s tools…fire.  Although I do not enjoy any activity that involves a gas powered anything in my hands or even worse, strapped on my back, I do love Burn Day. There is something about fire  that makes me feel like master of my universe ,even if I am only  conquering the brush pile .

    For a week before Burn Day  I have to work like a crazy person to get everything pruned and all the branches and logs in one location ready to be further cut down and thrown on the flames

    What goes on the pile?

    All the water sprouts and suckers from the apple trees ( those willowy branches growing straight up into the air )

    One third of the oldest branches from the colored dogwood bushes. The  bark  from these starts to gray with age and pruning them severely will stimulate new growth with brilliant colorDSC_0100

    The top 2/3 of the 4  ’Limelight’ Hydrangeas( hydrangea paniculata )…they get enormous and only flower on new wood so get cut back hard

    Any large shrub I am coppicing ( wiki definition here). In The Burrow I coppice smoke trees, willows, and any die-back shrubs like buddleia, caryopteris, and elderberry

    Loads of branches that get cut  because of  winter damage and loads more that have had the bark stripped by the  voles and rabbits who hide under the snow and thwart all my efforts to erradicate them. The voles also happily live under trees in the ground munching their roots for sustenance and usually killing their host . This year I lost an 8 foot hemlock and a crab apple.DSC_0103

    I also try to get any other pruning for size constraints or shaping done now , but inevitably miss something, so whatever got cut after Burn Day last year goes on the pile as well.

    After wicked winters the pile is quite large, and this year was no exception.DSC_0083

    To add to the fun of the fire, Wil got to use the chain saw to cut apart two very large willow trunks we took out last fall, the big leaf blower to clean up the mess he made doing that, and the little leaf blower  as a bellows to get keep the fire raging. DSC_0096 As if that was not more than enough in the tool-o- fun department, I  bought this beauty  at the Boston Flower Show in March. It is a Telescoping Ratchet  Lopper form Ironwood Tools.DSC_0089

    While walking around to see the vendors  on my  break from the Q&A booth, I happened to overhear the young kid who was selling these giving his pitch to someone .I have a ratcheting hand pruner that I adore as the ratcheting mechanism saves lots of wear and tear on the hands and was instantly sold . This larger version is a dream and it cut through all  the  branches( even those  with very large circumferences) quite easily.

    Wil was initially a disbeliever in my new pruner, but  was soon pleasantly surprised  by how effortless it made the work. He also wanted me to know  that it looks like it is making a face at us, frowning or maybe grimacing .  The effect  is ever better if you use the handles to repeatedly open and close it’s scowl while making scary noises like any eight year old boy ( in a 50+ year old body) would . Hmmmm….I should have videod that!  DSC_0091

    For safety , we use a hobo barrel ( an oil drum with venting holes drilled  into it)  made by my brother and what may be the best  gift I have ever received.  All the brush needs to be cut to fit into it , and so there we stand by the pile  all day long cutting and stoking and getting smoke in our eyes .On the surface it may not seem like a great way to spend a spring day, but  starting with a massive pile of  brush and watching while it all disappears down to ash and embers…. that, my friends ,is a  rockin’ good time.DSC_0094

    oh yeah, and I must admit that  spending the day in the garden with Wil at my side is pretty cool too.

  • Opus Plants

    Filed under Posts
    Mar 30

    Yesterday I went to hear  amazing plantsman and small nursery owner , Ed Bowen ,speak at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Ed taught my propagation class when I took the Master Gardener program and I was ever so eager to be in a classroom with him again . There seem to be so few nursery people around here that focus on what is good for the garden as opposed to what is good for their bottom line, but Opus Plants ( which sells a small inventory  online and at a select few Plant fairs ) is one of the greats for finding  interesting plants that remind us all why we wanted to garden in the first place.

    The title of Ed’s talk was” Practicing the Dark Arts.;Tips and Plants for the Shade Garden”. As you may remember, I have been busy planting a woodland walk out back and adding to another shadier area out front, and I was interested to see what suggestions he had.

    T o begin with he made me laugh out loud when telling how he started to prepare his talk by pulling up the presentation he had given before with the title and promptly wondering what kind of rubbish he was trying to sell people and trashed the whole thing to start from scratch. I have done this, many times, in fact almost every time I pull up a presentation , I wonder the same thing and promptly edit, delete and add  until I feel it is up to par. Then he went on to say there would be no “list” of plants, he was just going to sort of ramble on about the garden , and why we plant what we plant a,nd talk about a few favorites  that we may or may not be familiar with.

    One of the most important things he touched on, that I have yet to find an easy way to explain to people, is that many of the plants we grow in shade are there because although they are full sun growers they will TOLERATE shade and still perform.  In other words  searching  for a boatload of interesting plants  that are exclusively  ”Shade Plants” is sort of a pipe dream. Also , for most plants that do want shadier conditions , the key is m0rning sun and afternoon shade, not vice-versa.

    Ed hybridizes many different species , always looking for that combination of traits that will make a standout plant , whether it be larger or more colorful foliage, hardiness, or better flowering.  He also loves to coerce his friends into buying expensive and or rare plants that are described as being out of our growing zone and then have them report back as to survival. He pointed out to us that many hydrangeas, including the lovely  aspera species are often listed as zone 7 or higher, but actually survive here in Zone 5 jusrt fine.  Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana has interesting peeling bark and velvety ovate leaves, and certainly piqued my interest.

    Some of the plants he mentioned I already grow. I love our native Mayapple  Podophyllum peltatum, but the fact that it,like so many of our early spring bloomers , goes dormant during the summer made me refuse to plant it. Holes in the garden = sadness for me. So instead I planted Podophyllum delavayi and P. pleianthun ( Chinese mayapple) . Both retain their foliage , which is strikingly beautiful, all season long. Ed showed us slides of two other asian Mayapple cultvars, ‘Spotty Dotty’ and ‘Galaxy’ that have fascinating foliage that immediatly got added to my list. that is ‘Galaxy’ below, photo from Plant Delights Nursery where they expect to have it in stock in AprilPerennials for sale, buy Podophyllum 'Galaxy'

    I addition to looking for shade tolerant plants, I have to make sure I am looking for rabbit resistant traits as well, like hairy or scented foliage, red leaves,or poisonous to mammals etc.  A few species of plants I grow here never get nibbled and salvia is one of them .Ed showed photos of   two ,salvia glabrescens ‘Momobana’  ans ‘Shi-ho’that will certainly find a home here. They are among the few plants that actually REQUIRE shade and as an added bonus bloom in October!  ( you all know my affinity for late fall bloomers)Hairless Japanese Woodland Sage for sale buy Salvia glabrescens 'Momobana'

    Another October bloomer, luecosceptrum stellipilum , which is a Japanese shrubby mint that remains well behaved , unlike it’s brethren who spread to kingdom come. There are many cultivars…’October Moon’ has marvelous variegation and late lavender colored flowers, , but I am fixated on one called ‘Gold Angel’  because I adore chartreuse foliage, especially  when it can enliven a shady spot without looking too busy.

    Despite his warning, I did indeed come home with a list, and a very long one at that. Some plants I intend to order promptly, some I will save for a future nursery visit to Opus. That was a fabulous  way to spend another wintry- spring afternoon here in the New Tundra . If you ever get a chance , please visit the Opus Nursery site, clear your calender to hear Ed Bowen speak, and maybe arrange a time for a visit to his working nursery in Little Compton RI…you will not regret a minute of time you spend learning from him.

    P>S. all the photos in the post are from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, another nursery run by an incredible plantsman, Tony Avent. It is not local to me, but  too many of my garden dwellers to mention have arrived from his online store and I encourage you to spend some time browsing his online catalog and most definitely sign up to  receive all of his newsletters or blog post notifications.

    other places you may find interesting plants for the shadier parts of your garden are

    Lazy S Farms

    Far Reaches Farm

  • Mar 24

    DSC_0073Just in case you thought  I was giving up  all hope of completing the Slow Flower challenge 2105, know this…I am not. I never give up. But , if I did , who could blame me?

    When I decided to commit to it I looked at the calender and the bloom records from the garden and thought to myself, “Self , You can do this. For only a few weeks you will have to force bulbs and branches but by March you  should be good.”

    But, as my self and other selves in these parts now know, that is not the case.The snow has been melting at the slowest pace possible, and the slow melt and continual refreezing has caused a catastrophic phenomenon of ice packs and permafrost in the yard. I had to shovel the front walkway and damn near killed myself doing so. The weight of it is unbelievable and as it finally recedes it is breaking many of my shrubs right down to the ground.  Needless to say snow drops and hellebores are no where to be seen yet, and frankly I refuse to head out to find flowers from another local source because the envy would be too much to bear  for my winter weary soul.

    Luckily something else has lifted my spirits…. the new furniture for the office and adjacent sitting room has arrived ( it was the reason for the shoveling) and  arranging it and putting up the finishing touches has occupied my time when outdoor work is impossible.

    So I would not fail in my task though, I cut a stem of flowers off a begonia, a stem of red bracts and tiny white flower of a misguided poinsettia, and it’s out of time friend Mr. Caladium. Neither should be doing their thing now, but they are, so I cut them.

    Just those three stems into a pewter bud vase on the table next to my new very comfy office chair is enough to ward off  the winter blues.  DSC_0063

    If you notice, the book placed there I picked up at a book sale done after a meeting of the New England Chapter of the National Rock Garden Society  on Saturday. Do you like the title?  I do!  It fits me to a tee :) DSC_0065

  • Filed under Great vines, Posts
    Mar 22

    This Sunday I will be speaking to the New England Hosta Society on Designing with Vines. Many gardening topics get me unduly excited, but anything to do with vining, scrambling or climbing plants sends me into the stratosphere ( as far as gardening goes).  Dorky, yes, but grow any of the annual vines I am about to list, and you too will be smitten.

    So here is my the list of vine seeds waiting for the first frost free days to get sown and work their garden magic:

    Morning Glories: Grandpa Ott, Crimson Rambler, and Heavenly Blue which get a place in the garden every year and new additions for 2015′ Vega Star’, ‘Dragonfly Blue’, and ‘Kikyo-zak’ mix, and a newcomer from 2014 that has earned a permanent place, ‘Sunrise Serenade’.

    Other repeat growers include: Basella rubra ( climbing spinach) vigna unguiculata  ( pretzel bean), Runner Bean Painted Lady, Dolichos lablab (hyacinth bean’ Ruby Moon’),Antigonon Leptopus( Chinese love vine), Moonflower, cardinal climber , Nasturtiums’ Cherries Jubilee’ and’ Moonligh’t,  Climbing Black Eyed Susan Vine , and Sweet pea ‘Cupani’.

    New varieties will include two nasturtiums, ‘Glorious Gleam’ and a variegated one, A sweet pea called ‘Elegance Salmon Rose’ Thunbergia alata ‘Spanish Eyes’ ( climbing black eyed Susan).DSC_0046

    As far as perennial vines go , I started seeds of a species clematis called c.  columbiana , a native that will grow in the rock garden ,much  like it’s  it’s natural   habitat,

    and I have ordered  replacements for some  sad losses , clematis tangutica ‘My Angel’ ( unsure why it died )and Rosa ‘William Baffin’ ( rabbits) and am toying with replacing the bignonia I lost to cold last winter but am still on the fence about it. It  would need a more sheltered location and those favored spots more often go to something more desirable and difficult than bignonia, we will see.

    I am also hopeful that this is the year my climbing monkshood FINALLY blooms, fingers crossed!IMG_20150321_211530005


    While I was sitting here looking through the seed box( Pumpkin was helping) I managed to spill about 10,000 poppy seeds all over ,into, and under the couch. Really thrilled about that, but honestly ,given my luck sowing them and protecting the flowers  from the rabbits, it was probably for the best.

  • Mar 17

    Oh hydrangeas! why do you vex so many home gardeners , tormenting them with pictures of your voluptuous mop-head blooms and elegant lace -caps, only to stubbornly remain an awkward  green foliage plant  all season?  Well, I could write a book, and a very long one , on the various types of hydrangeas, why and when they bloom, and how to prune them etc, but I will stiffle all the science and give you the low down and dirty easy lesson on how to chose the right ones to make your garden spectacular.
    First, let’s tackle the blooming issue. Older hydrangeas( pre 1998) of the macrophylla persuasion that have both mop head  and lace-cap flowers bloom ONLY on woody growth they produced in the last growing season . This is called, surprisingly , “old wood”. Plants that bloom on old wood will not bloom if you prune them in the spring as you are essentially cutting off the flowers even if you can’t see them, or if we have a very sever winter or even  a late frost after a warm up in the spring you will loose the flower buds to cold. This makes them dicey choices for specimen plants. It is nothing you did, it is just the nature of the plant.

    In the late 1990′s breeding began to develop hydrangea macrophylla cultivars that bloom on old wood AND new wood, meaning growth they produce in the current year. The big bad botanical word for this is remontant . The first of these remontant , or re-blooming hydrangeas  was Endless Summer and there was a great rush to plant these  en masse . In my opinion they are duds and barely bloom at all on new wood  and I have heard many frustrated gardeners from these parts who thought they found the Holy Grail of hydrangeas express the same disappointment. Since then, the Endless Summer line has expanded and now includes a few that actually do bloom well on new wood.

    In the ensuing years many other  plant breeders  have flooded the market with re-blooming hydrangeas , so now your choices are many and it can certainly be overwhelming.

    My favorite so far? The third introduction of the Endless Summer line called “Twist and Shout”. This is a lace-cap with just stunningly beautiful ,deep rich color changes. It blooms all season long , and as a bonus has striking red stems. Plant one!!!!Twist and Shout Hydrangea

    The other lines and names of rebloomers you should look for are

    Blushing Bride- also part of the Endless Summer line, that reliably produces a bounty of white fading to blush pink mop-heads all season long.

    The “Let’s Dance” series from Proven Winners- many color variations on the traditional blue or pink typical of big leaf hydrangeas, and readily available at local garden centers

    Also from Proven Winners “Tuff Stuff”- This is hydrangea serrata, or Mountain hydrangea , and is  very long blooming reddish pink lace cap . It will bloom right up until frost. Tuff Stuff™ - Reblooming Mountain Hydrangea - Hydrangea serrata

    The “Forever and Ever “ series, also boasts reliable re-bloomers, and has great color variety. Just be aware that a few of them are quite small (2-3 ft) and some are only hardy to zone 6. ALWAYS read the plant label!

    With any of the above hydrangeas , grow in well amended soil in morning sun and afternoon shade with plenty of water.

    Pannicle hydrangeas, like Hydrangea grandifora ( often grown in tree form) or hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” sport long conical blooms that appear white or chartruese and fade to mauve. They can grow in full sun and  bloom ONLY on NEW wood , so can be pruned in the spring. There are smaller versions, like “Little Lime” that will fit better in smaller spaces so you can forgo any pruning. .


    'Limelight' - Hardy Hydrangea - Hydrangea paniculata

    As a quick aside, you should stick to buying plants that when full grown still  fit your space. You should never  really have to prune a hydrangea other than to take off spent blooms unless you planted the wrong one to begin with. Just sayin’ ;)

    Smooth hydrangeas, or Hydrangea arborescens , bloom on NEW wood and can be pruned quite drastically f you desire. The most common one is ‘Annabelle’  which is a white mop-head , but some newer introductions, such as “ Bella Anna ‘ are pink . Hydrangea arborescens Bella Anna™These are easy to care for and very hardy.

    Hydrangea quercifolia, or oak leaf hydrangea is another beauty for a shadier area. This hydrangea blooms on old wood but is generally pretty reliable . The leaf color is incredible in the fall ( either red or burgandy) and my favorite is called “Snow Queen”  ( photo: White Flower Farm)Hydrangea quercifolia Snow Queen

    So, to sum up and keep it easy , some rules

    1. If you have an older hydrangea that does not  bloom every year , or a new one that is supposed to re-bloom and doesn’t, shovel prune that darn thing and  start over

    2. Head to a decent  garden center and ask for any of the newer cultivars that RELIABLY re-bloom and that you like the flower shape and color of

    3. Plant in well amended soil in morning sun/afternoon shade for hydrangea macrophylla and serrata and quercifolia, part shade to full sun for paniculata types and water well.

    4.Read the plant label once, then read it again, then measure your growing space, then read plant label a third time. Plant hydrangea in a space that will accomadate it when it is full grown and then there will be no issues and questions about pruning

    5. Enjoy your BLOOMING hydrangea!

    This Post is the first of a new feature here called Down and Dirty Lessons for the Home Gardener. You can access any post in this category by clicking on the “Down and Dirty” link in CATEGORIES to the right. The lessons will be succint and brief outlines or directions about a plant, garden technique, or design dilemma with as few big words and confusing concepts as possible, just the least and BEST information you need to make something work. I hope you ,my  dear reader who may be suffering from information overload or  may be  confused about a garden issue , will benefit from them .If you have any topic you would like to cover PLEASE let me know!




  • Mar 15

    DSC_0034Even though there has been  no time for flower arranging ,  I felt like an attempt  should be made so I would not miss a week. We are currently doing some house re-decorating, painting and spring cleaning in preparation for two things. One is  the arrival of new furniture for the much neglected living room that sits across from my office . It is small, more like a sitting room, and has become a catch -all for cast offs from other rooms and office overflow.It is now cleaned, painted and ready for it’s new look. The second thing I am preparing for  is the arrival of spring and my great disappearing act into the garden. Any house cleaning, repairs, and purging, which feels oh-so-good at the end of a long winter spent cooped up inside, must be done before the garden beckons. I have been organizing and filling great trash bags as well as my trunk with stuff  for the recycle  center, and boy does it feel good.

    Anyway, in the great sitting room  re-do, I spent some time changing the mantel display . I bought a cute little vintage looking egg print at a consignment shop,DSC_0024 then came home and printed two larger vintage bird  egg prints more from a website called The Graphics Fairy and framed them in a couple of green frames I had in the cellar ( sometimes my pack-rat behavior  pays off).Then I added in clusters of vases in blue, mercury and cream and finally  this morning gave it a sprig of bright pink flowers from a scented geranium.  The finished room will be cream, beige, sage green and a very muted blue and I am planning on using tiny pops of bright pink and purple here and there so this is a little preview . Sometimes that  one little stem of flowers is all you need :) DSC_0022

  • The Spring Garden

    Filed under Posts
    Mar 9

    For the third time in as many weeks , I will be presenting my lecture, “Get Ready! The Spring Garden ‘. Before  today it felt like it was going to snow until the end of time and just looking at the photos of my spring  gardens made me feel grumpy. But this morning I awoke  to birdsong followed quickly by the sun which will help warm us up into the 40′s. There may even be some snow melt  this afternoon! That is a cause for celebration if ever there was one.  cal.









    …..taken from a chorus in  ’Atalanta in Calydon’ by Swineburn

  • Mar 4

    DSC_0172It is week 8 of of the Slow Flower Challenge 2015, in which I am attempting  to make a fresh flower arrangement using only flowers grown here ( inside and out) or sourced locally every week for a year . If you have been following along you can see that even in the depths of winter under feet of snow and record cold I have been able to ( so far) keep up.

    This weeks arrangement is prompting a HUGE smile and sense of accomplishment from me every time I walk by it because it is the first time I have successfully forced tulip bulbs. Tulips are tricky little buggers to get the timing right. They need a longer cooling period than some of the other bulbs and I have found are more prone to freezing and turning to mush as well. This year I potted up these orange tulips and then promptly lost the label, which I am very sorry about because they did so well and now I do not know what they are. Sigh. The stayed out on the deck until the week after Christmas when they were brought indoors to the cool mud room first then a sunny kitchen window a few weeks later. They started to bloom last week.

    As always ,though , when I arrange it is  the container that is considered first. years ago, I saw an arrangement in a shelter magazine  and ripped the page  to save for inspiration . In it, white tulips and snapdragons are paired with pussy willows in a lovely silver pitcher and placed on a silver tray. To the side is a  small glass vase filled with  gray foliage and in front of the pitcher sits a silver bowl filled with green moss. IMG_20150304_085329943 In my interpretation, I have used pewter ( I have a large collection of pewter that has adorned my dining room forever and ever) Because the pitcher I chose to use was on the shorter side,  I used a little birds nest instead of the glass vase. Lacking any green moss ( currently buried under feet of snow and ice) I used dried moss and place a succulent in the center of the pewter porringer  I used in place of the silver bowl.DSC_0188

    Anyway, in this arrangement are the tulips, flowers from two  of the geraniums I overwinter indoors , a white cyclamen, pink PJM azaleas, Forced branches of red maple and redbud trees, and foliage from an arrowhead  houseplant,a spider plant,  and a hellebore and lavender that are both growing indoors.DSC_0185IMG_20150304_075417DSC_0165

    I hope you feel a little inspired  and keep following along to see what the rest of the year brings!

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Garden in the Burrow

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April 2015
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