Monthly Archives: June 2015

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!

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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



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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

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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

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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

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