A star in the mid-summer garden no matter what you call it

I am named after no one in particular. I know because I asked. I asked because I have always hated my name and wondered why of all the names out there Cheryl was chosen for me. My parents  and their families  are Polish. Our roots in this country are barely established. They are also strongly Catholic, again a very defining affiliation, so  I guess I would have expected I would have a Polish, or at least a Biblical name. Not so much.

Names fascinate me, because at least up until recently ( in most cases other than my own,)  a name usually told a story, or at least some small part of one. They connect you to a history, a culture, a family. My brother in law was telling me about a friend of theirs who, while in the maternity ward with their youngest, was taking record of the other baby names and could not help but be horrified to see this name on a bassinet…..La-ah. To the uninitiated,  that would be pronounced lahdashah, but the letters in “dash” are represented by the symbol  - .

It makes me sad to think how disconnected this child will always be. Made up names, especially ones that are so beyond normal rules of pronunciation and comprehension , do not ground you to anything. They say nothing  endearing about who you are or where you came from, and that is always how I felt about mine. Cheryl was not a popular movie star name, had no clear affiliation with a race of people or country of origin, no great story of why that name belongs to me exists.  To boot, I have never had a nickname, or a cute abbreviation, leaving me only the one icky  and unconnected name.

Somehow, conversely,  that has translated to me always being very curious about names, which has naturally led to an obsession with plants names and the consequent study of them in both their common and botanical Latin form .

The plant I am talking about today has more names than any one thing should have. It has common names referencing a country, someones offspring, , a bird, several other plants, and even a weapon.

It has been botanically named and renamed until i am no longer sure what is the correct and current one to use.

to whit….it is a member of the Iris family ( iridacea) yet called variously an orchid and a lily.

It It is a gladiolus, yet  has born the name acidanthera

It has been known in botanical Latin  as Gladiolus callianthus ( beautifully flowered)

Gladioulus murielae ( after botanist Ernest Wilson’s daughter Muriel)

Acidanthera bicolor ( obvious when you see it bloom)

Acidanthera murielae

and commonly as Abyssinian gladiolus ( from Ethiopia)

Peacock orchid

Fragrant gladiolus and

Sword lily

Yikes. Anyway, just pick one and call it that . I will stick to Peacock Orchid for now, because I am sensitive to yucky names, and personally like that one. Peacock orchids, unlike other gladiolus are graceful . They nod instead of standing ramrod straight and are anything but funereal. They are planted out as little corms, here (Z5) in late spring after frost or even a little before, and by midsummer have grown to 2-3 ft and start blooming. The flowers are a creamy white with a maroon center, and mildly fragrant. DSC_0025.

There are many great reasons to love this plant. First..it is dirt cheap. you can get the corms anywhere and plant them in the ground or in pots. They are only hardy to zone 7, but in colder areas  if you lift them at the end of the season and store them in perlite over the winter in your house, you can plant the old bulbs as well as all of the offsets they produced next year, This translates to $$$ saved on annuals .As someone who gardens on an acre and plants as many as 50 containers a year, cost matters. I warmer areas they will multiply if left in the ground.DSC_0016.

Secondly, you can easily stagger the bloom time by planting the corms in waves , and if you do this in pots, will have many plants to  place in any  area that needs a pick me up  when the long summer takes it’s toll on the garden. You can move the growing plants from the pot into the ground , drop the pots into more decorative pots, or place them pots and all in the ground. Your choice, all will work.DSC_0032

Third, they are easy. They are full sun plants, but will tolerate part shade and so far they have suffered no pest damage here. I have them growing in the ground and in 3 different containers and they all look beautiful. In one container I have a black eyed susan vine working its way up their stalks and into the tree above them, which was a brilliant idea if I do say so myself.

Peacock orchids  combine very well with other containers plants both when it has just its dramatic foliage as well as when it is is bloom because the color is subtle.DSC_0035DSC_0022

Whatever you call it, be sure add it to your “need to plant” list next spring



nice to meet you, hydrangea involucrata

Every one in a while I become completely enamored with a plant, or a group of plants, In the past few years I have all but become obsessed with the genus hydrangea. Until recently I did not have enough shadier areas and soil moisture is always a concern, so I stuck with the paniculatas like ‘Limelight’ and grandiflora, and  for 4 years have been doing a blooming experiment moving around an ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Penny Mac’. I also have two old macrophyllas, ‘Nikko Blue’ and an unnamed lace cap that have been here since the garden originated and will only bloom if the weather is  conducive.

But lately I have been adding hydrangeas  in wherever I can eek out space, or even evicting other plants in some cases (gasp)!

I have posted on my faves and the ones I have found to reliably bloom in colder climates, and now am branching out to try other species that are listed as hardy to higher zones but may in fact be hardy here…only time will tell!

The first I am going to tell you  about is hydrangea involucrata. The species in native to Japan and Tawaiin and is often called bracted hydrangea.  it is a close relative of h. aspera  but it stays much smaller …3-4 ft where aspera can get 10-12 ft.

The flower buds are really fascinating as they are involucral ( the word comes from the Latin for wrapper) and consist of a rosette or whorl of bracts that surround the flower cluster which  remains enveloped or wrapped  until bursting open to slowly reveal the opening flowers. I think they look like wee little eggs.DSC_0009 DSC_0004 DSC_0005

The cultivar I planted this year is called ‘Yokudanka’ which  blooms in a undefined color, sort of pinkish-green tinged cream with soft yellow at the centers.  They sort of remind me colorwise  of the flowers on hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’.The leaves are bristly which makes it a great rabbit resistant choice .DSC_0019

So far I have discovered a few things about it. It does not appreciate being let dry out, so I have a few leaves that are brown around the edges, and it’s leaves have remained bright yellowish green even though I thought they may fade to a deeper  green as the season elapsed. I am committing myself to watering it better, and have taken a few cuttings to overwinter indoors in case it does not survive the winter.

Next on my list is h.involucrata ‘Blue Bunny’,  which flowers blue on acidic soil and is said to bloom on new wood so if it dies back I still should get flowers.  You can get one here  It is listed as hardy  to z6, but in  a sheltered spot I am hoping it will do well.

This is pure speculation, but I think these hydrangeas bloom very late here (  end of July into October) because of the die back and consequently the  necessary time to re-grow , which makes them great additions to the late season garden. Mine is blooming now because it was green house grown so had an earlier start , and boy am I am happy to have it! Fingers crossed I can get it to overwinter , but even if I don’t I will grow it in a container forever and ever, it is a really cool plant!


more firsts for the garden, both good and bad

If you have been hearing a loud “WHOOT WHOOT!”  in the atmosphere lately it is probably me because I HAVE POPPIES!!! ( or shoud l I say “poppy”)

After the lupines I figured it was just too much to ask the gardening gods to let me have a poppy or two, so even though I scattered seed AND started a flat that I planted out in spring I held out no hope to see any of them make it to blooming stage. One year they actually got big enough to tease me with all their  dangly fuzzy buds, but just like every other time those were quickly eaten off by the rabbits . DSC_0020With plants that cost $$$ I am always willing to go the extra mile to protect them if necessary, but with anything from seed I sow and pray and hope maybe one day to have success.

Well, that day is now, and I refuse to complain that only one single solitary plant made it because one is enough to see plenty of flowers and to also ensure i have some seed for next year.DSC_0021poppy

The poppy that made it is unfortunately of unknown name. Erin and I went on a garden tour in Maine last year for the Garden Conservancy fundraiser and at one of the sign in tables the owners were handing out poppy seed heads. We managed to spill many all over the car  on our way home  and then again I spilled them all over the couch when I was seed organizing, but thankfully there are a million in each pod so I still had plenty to sow.  They are just delightful and I am beyond thrilled to have them whoever they are.

Another first is a day lily cross  that I had absolutely  nothing to do with. It is dreadfully ugly.  I guess I have reached the magic number of gardening years after which things start willy nilly procreating without my attention. Good for me.day lily cross

The next first , and one that is just plain gross, is the first ever sighting here of a mole.

Last week Wil called out to me from the garage in that very special tone he uses that lets me know something is wrong/scary/broken or hurt and when I came to rescue him from the big bad whatever, he informed me that a large rodent had made it’s way into the garage and I needed to locate and evict it. From his description I was expecting  a capyberra or another R.O.U.S  , but alas I could not find it and then sort of forgot about it…….that is until I went out near the pool two days ago and saw what  had once been a mole floating dead in the water. It was pretty small for what I was expecting , but really, those things are disgusting. The next day another had joined it’s sibling in the great  mole hill beyond the sky, and it was then that it dawned on me that what Wil saw in the garage was probably the mama.  I inquired about the R.O.U.S. and was told that yes, it may have been smaller than described, and yes it was moving slowly  ( it appears the size and scary frantic activity related to me originally  may have been embellished).

Mama mole  is clearly not doing a good job in the mothering department. A suburban garage is not good mole raising habitat and especially not when it is adjacent to a very large chlorinated body of water. I have been searching around for tunnels  but so far nada.

We also have our first capture of the green tree frog,  a pond dweller, yet happily hanging here in the hydrangea,DSC_0001

It is curious to me when a new critter arrives and I can’t help but wonder how in heaven’s name they found their way here. We have had those yucky  yellow spotted salamanders even though they would most certainly dehydrate before they got to the nearest vernal pond . We have had foxes, of course rabbits, evil reptiles that shall remain unnamed, and every bug and bird known to exist in MA. We now have a pair of hawks that circle overhead hunting  which is a little disconcerting for corgi dog owners…word to the hawks, I keep them well fed  and thus they are too fat for you to fly off with…take note. I am patiently waiting for a bear and of all the things that have shown up here for a snack I am bewildered by the fact that a bear is not among them.Although my development  abuts state forest and conservation land on all sides and there are year round bird feeders everywhere, the only bears seen  in town are in the more populated areas that have smaller  woods close by. Curious.

As for the rest of the visitors, I wonder who is sending out the message that this former desolate sand pit is now a dream vacation land with a 24 hour buffet? Really, it needs to stop.

What follows are just some random photos of the garden taken in the past few days, a little eye candy if you will. Enjoy your week!DSC_0027 DSC_0025 DSC_0023 DSC_0019 DSC_0017 DSC_0012 DSC_0016 DSC_0004 DSC_0002 DSC_0033 DSC_0032 DSC_0028 DSC_0024 DSC_0022 DSC_0021 DSC_0019 DSC_0012 DSC_0010 DSC_0007 DSC_0007 (2) DSC_0006 sweet pea Salmon Rose

gardening by the calendar

The garden chores get accomplished around here usually when I have time. I find it hard to follow any kind of schedule . Much as I love phenology and enamored as I am with the romantic notions of gardening by the moon phases, most of the time it’s catch as can and stuff gets planted way too late or pruned according to my schedule as opposed to the plants best interest. But, Independence Day, celelbrated as it is on July 4, means two things always and always.

First, it is the last safe day here to cut back late summer and fall bloomers to either delay bloom, decrease the height of a tall variety, or enforce bushiness as opposed to legginess. July 5 ( and later) is a no-go for pruning anything you want to bloom late in the season, there just won’t be enough time for it to recover.

Second, like clockwork, July 4 is when the iris ensata will start blooming. Why? I have no earthly idea why they are so prompt. I could probably investigate , but sometimes  it is best to just enjoy the mystery of  it all. :)  iris ensata DSC_0003 (2)

Happy Independence Day!in

American Flowers Week #2 and 3

wildflowersTuesday I went with a wildflower look gathering as many smaller and less refined flowers as I could jam in the pitcher including yarrow, indian aster, coreopsis, salvia, rose campion, feverfew, spirea and the first of the sweet peas to put on the porch.clem col

Today it is clematis Betty Corning, Etoille Violette, Pope John Paul, and Comtesse de Bouchard in a little container of test tube vases set on the deck.

american flowers week

This  is week 25 of the Slow Flowers Challenge, and it has also been declared

“American Flowers Week” by those in the slow flowers movement. As such, it is time to celebrate growing our own or using locally source flowers in our homes and for our events  . There is such a wealth of choices when planning a garden you can use for cutting  and I am overjoyed every time I walk outside ,clippers in hand, to make something beautiful. To celebrate I will be filling a vase a day and hopefully posting them all here  ( and on pinterest and instagram)  although the rest of the posts will be wordless, just photos with descriptions.

Today is my favorite little English china vase filled with sedum ‘October Daphne’, rosa glauca foliage and hips , clematis’Ernest Markham’, as astillbe plume, and heuchera’ Magnum’ . In the back are two ‘Dolly DSC_0003 DSC_0004 DSC_0005 DSC_0006 DSC_0007Madison’ lilies you can’t see well . The astillbe will last only for a few days, but the clematis should last a week or more, as will all of the foliar  elements.  If any of you are celebrating with me, please link back or add a link to your photos on any social media so I can check them out!

Down and Dirty Lesson: Lavender in Cold and Wet Climates


Just a quick word about the timeliness of this post. I had originally planned it in late May, even took pruning photos  and jotted notes, then promptly forgot bout it. Today  fellow Blogger, Matt Mattus,  (from whom I have learned volumes of things and am hoping to return even the slightest of favors to )over at  Growing With Plants jogged my memory when he mentioned trying lavender in his gardens. Like many people who live where it is cold and wet, he has found success elusive.,, , but have faith , it is possible and the result of any effort given to grow it right will be a fragrant delight!

My love of English gardens and fragrant plants  led to my love of lavender. I have heard many a gardener in these parts lament the fact that we can not have gorgeous lavender “hedges” and enjoy loads of this wonderfully scented herb to cut , but really with a few steps of preparation and a annual pruning we can grow lavender quite easily in the Northeast US.

The first thing you need to do is prepare the area. Lavender wants, above all else, good drainage. Perfect drainage in fact. No moisture retentive soils , no bog or standing water. Ever.

If you have rich or heavy soil, work in quite a bit of sand and gravel, and as extra insurance, even build the planting level up above the existing ground level. Here,in The Burrow, we have a base of pure sand under everything and I still work in some gravel and raise the lavender plants up because  in the winter time we have snow cover for a long time and  that  snow melting  in spring is a danger to the rotting base of the plants if it sits too long.  That site prep of gravel and sand and raising the planting level will make all the difference in  long term survival.

As to water, I will tell you that a.) it is humid here and b.) my lavender are all planted in areas that are irrigated with the rest of the gardens throughout the season and  although they like it dry they are fine because their drainage is so good. Some are planted open areas, others nestled in tight corners. which  goes against  most advice you will hear ;again it is all in the drainage. It must be PERFECT!

The second key to long term success is an annual pruning. In the late spring, AFTER you start to see  the green growth emerging on the lavender  ( which could be as late as the last week of May), it is important to trim the whole plant back to as close to the ground as you can WITHOUT cutting past the green and live growth. If you cut below where you see green, ( or greenish-gray to be precise)  you will be cutting into unproductive wood that will not regenerate .DSC_0200

I get many questions when I am out and about regarding lavender that was previously happy but now  is woody and not blooming I have even heard it told that every two to three years you must replace lavender in order to have lots of flowers. Untrue! .Almost always the issue is that it has not been pruned annually and the wood has gotten old and therefore unproductive. Even missing one or two years will mean woody shrubs that bloom little and look like a craggy shaggy mess.

The third path to success is choosing the right lavender to begin with. There are over 30 species of lavender but  the one I have had the most success with is lavandula angustifolia. There are many varieties of this species to choose from, but the bulk of my hedges are ‘the very floriferous’ Hidcote Blue ‘ and “Munstead’ ( both named after English gardens)., and I also grow a smaller shrub called ‘Lavenite Petite’ These original plants of these varieties have been happily living in my gardens for over 12 years, which is a long time for lavender to remain productive, but I never miss a pruning and the were planted right to begin with.Below you can see a part of the lavender hedge  that lines the fence out front right after pruning., and below that what it looked like today.DSC_0203

DSC_0005I have tried many others ,with mixed success. For a few years some of the varieties of lavandula x intermedia  did well including the white variety of  ’Grosso’ and the super fragrant  ’Provence’. But after particularly wet winters they did not survive.

Last year I heard of a newer introduction called lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’ that shows great hardiness and gets good garden reviews but alas, I had to relocate the plants that make up the lavender hedges in the pool area for construction ,so will have to wait until they are all back until I have  some space to add new ones.

Having loads of lavender is just , as Martha says, a wonderful thing. I used youtube to teach me how to make lavender wands,  which I give as gifts to the hosts when I visit open gardens . I fill sachets for the drawers, and I was still cutting the foliage for arrangements in February.

So remember…sand and gravel, raised planting  and annual pruning are the down and dirty keys to success for growing lavender in the Northeast.DSC_0003



A weird plant profile: Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’

It seems strange to write a profile of a plant I would never encourage you to add to your  garden, but I think we all have those that we are grateful to have, even if they are not the best behaved

Penstemon digitalis  ’Husker Red” is truly a self-seeding thug.You let those flower stalks stay one mili-second past the their bloom time and several million seeds will find their way to all corners of the garden and you will be weeding it forever plus one day. Once it has seeded and started to grow it requires more than a tiny pull to evacuate, and will often nestle right in at the base of other plants forcing you to work very hard indeed to extricate it,DSC_0006

BUT , ( there is always a but , huh?) It is 100% rabbit  proof. They never touch the stuff and I am pretty sure it has to do with the reddish leavesDSC_0004 (2).I have been diligently  reading  what little research is out there on anthocyanins,, a chemical  present in plants in part responsible for the reddish pigmentation. It comes into play in New England’s spectacular Fall color, and will also appear in green leaved plants when they are exceptionally dry. It is clearly prominent in Husker Red in the leaf coloring and there is work being done to see if there is an olfactory component ( in other words can it be detected by smell/taste ) that make it a deterrent for herbivores and insects. The research is so far scarce and the questions being raised show it is a very complex subject , but  I have noticed that plants that either emerge with red leaves or have them season long suffer far less predation than their green counterparts. That is anecdotal evidence  at best, but if it means that I can have asters if I plant “Lady in Black” instead of ” Alma Potschke’. I am a believer.

This penstemon , like all others, is also a pollinator magnet ,attracting all sorts of bees and that long tubular shaped flower along the dramatic red stalks tell you the hummingbirds will adore it ( and they do)DSC_0003.It brightens up the areas of the garden I let it seed in, and is one of the very few things that is planted in drifts here because I love the long delicate wands of white tinged with lavender  bringing color and life to the garden over a long period of time.  and the leaves remain through the winter  providing some interest when the ground is bare of snow and many of the other perennials are completely devoid of vegetation.DSC_0001 (2) DSC_0005

if left un-dead- headed , the seed heads are very cool  for texture later in the season, but they come with a price of more weeding out. They also smell like dirty feet , but in an arrangement that is placed out of the way , they look great.

On a rainy day like today it is a joy to look at at the garden and see  the Husker Red flowers bringing such a spark of life , via color and pollinator action. It is certainly not the only Penstemon I grow, or even close to my favorite, but it certainly has it’s place in the great scheme of things over here.DSC_0001

Now the fun begins

The months of June July and August are just phenomenal for the flower gardens. there is such bounty to choose from to cut  it seems every day I am inspired by something else. It also seems at this time I can relax a litttle and just cut a few beauties to look at up close and personal instead of doing full blown arrangements , and switch them out as much as I want.

Today when I went out to do a little pruning I could not keep my eyes off this new hydrangea called Let’s Dance Moonlight”. It is a reblooming hydrangea that was recently introduced by Proven Winners and it has just amazingingly vibrant color. DSC_0008 I have planted it in a container as it is relatively small ( 2-3 ft) and at planting time I added a little aluminum sulfate to make the flowers more blue than pink. WOWZA are they ever beautiful. I have also been eyeing this honeysuckle called  ’Scentsation’, also a Proven Winners selection for it’s intense color .DSC_0009 Putting the two together is just perfect and add in the fragrance and it is over the top!DSC_0002

Down and Dirty Lessons: Training a Climbing Rose to Maximize Bloom

I was out snapping pictures and while I was capturing the rain laden blooms on ‘Cpt Sam Holland’ , a climbing rose, I was reminded of a lesson I give often when talking about roses.

To get the most flowers out of a climbing rose you need to know a few things about how the plant grows.

First and foremost, climbing roses grow on what are called main canes,  these are the primary canes that grow out of the base of the plant, These canes should always remain on the plant  and never be pruned off  unless you have severe die-back or disease issues.

Growing from the main canes are many side shoots, called lateral canes, or laterals  for short, and these canes are where the flowers will come from. Due to a plant behavior called apical dominance, when these canes are left to grow vertically  only the top ( ‘apical’) buds will produce flowers.

On the other hand, if you train the main canes horizontally all of the buds will be in essence the top, or apical buds and they will all produce flowers. In this photo I took, although the flowers are currently hanging down with the weight of the rain water, the main cane has been tied to grow at almost 90 degrees from the base,that is why there are flowers all along it instead of just at the top.DSC_0029

Below is  the uncropped photo so you can see the twine that is holding the cane horizontally ( the green stake below that is holding the another cane trained below  this one).DSC_0029

If you are growing a climbing rose on a pillar or obelisk, the way to train the main canes is to wrap them in circles spiraling up the structure so as you get as much horizontal placement of the main canes  as possible, and hence more flowers.

Paul Zimmerman, one of my fav rose experts, has some great videos that explain the process as well and the links can be found by clicking here

The laterals, or side shoots, are also the ones you want to prune when you need to reduce the size of  the rose . the grow anew each year so you won’t loose flowers if you cut them back.

So, in a nutshell, to get the most out of your climbing rose, train the canes to grow at between 45 and 90 degree angles from the base of the plant .DSC_0002