Monthly Archives: March 2015

Opus Plants

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

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Making Do

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

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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.

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Success with Hydrangeas : a Down and Dirty Lesson for the Home Gardener(who doesn’t have time to read a 500 page book)

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

All Summer Beauty:What Endless Summer wishes it was, a true blue re-bloomer that goes all season long and is reported to do well even into upstate Maine where it is certainly cold and has a short growing season. A true victim of good vs. bad marketing in the nursery industry.

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!




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Slow Flowers Week 9

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

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The Spring Garden

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

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Slow Flowers Week 8

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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The March 2015 Garden “To-Do” List

MarchI am giving my talk, ‘Get Ready! The Spring Garden” Tuesday in Franklin , MA. It may or may not be canceled due to weather. Surprisingly , it may snow here.

Usually in said talk, I briefly discuss to-do lists by month. March ‘s chore list seems a little comical given the 8 feet of snow that are still on the ground, accompanied by below freezing temperatures and bitter wind chill. We are still shoveling driveways and raking the roof .

Let’s see what we can/can not do.

1.Prune late season blooming shrubs….um, can’t find them. I know they are out there but exactly where is a big white mystery.

2.Prune  trees other than birch, maple and walnut. Well, although I can actually see these, getting to them requires heroic effort and given the ever present wind I will take a pass on pruning- induced frostbite thank you very much.

3. Re-pot houseplants……except the pots and soil are in the potting shed  which  no man or beast has seen the door to in months.

4. Cut Ornamental grasses left standing for  the winter back     see # 1

5. Top dress  and or reseed lawn  which disappeared in December and may  not be seen until May or after

7. Start early veggies that will be transplanted outdoors and sow seeds of direct sowers like peas when ground is workable.   Let’s just sub  ”in May ” for ” when ground is workable” ,shall we?

8. Clean birdhouses of last year’s nest…see #2

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. So here is my  updated To-Do list for  those of us in the  New Great White North

1. Go to library . Check out many picture filled books of gardens and greenery to stave off insanity from cabin fever ( STAY AWAY from seed catalogs and nursery websites, you know you don’t have any more room in the garden and buying 6 new and unusual conifer bushes will not make the garden magically re-appear from under the snow larger than it was in Dec)

2. Make coffee or hot cocoa

3. Sit and watch snow melt

4. Go to Boston Flower Show ( March 12-15) and  roll in some dirt on one of the exhibits  even though it will get you escorted to the door and possibly arrested

5.RUN to hardware store now for shop vac/sump pump  before the rush

6.Begin pumping snowmelt from cellar

7.Make stiff drink

8.Sit and watch mud dry

9. On Memorial Day   you may commence original March To-do list








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