10 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues


Tired of winter already? It's only the beginning of February, and we still have two months of snow and frigid temperatures here in Massachusetts. Here are ten ideas for coping with the winter blues for gardeners.

buxton begonia society

buxton begonia society

1. Get involved!

Local garden clubs and plant societies offer a wealth of programming for their members. Joining a plant society is an excellent way to deepen your knowledge of a particular plant family, meet experts in that field, and make new friends! There are New England branches of the Hosta Society, Rhododendron Society, Dahlia Society, Hydrangea Society, Daffodil Society, Herb Society and many more!

snug harbor farm valentine bouquet workshop

snug harbor farm valentine bouquet workshop

2. Learn and create

Even if you are not a member, you have access to excellent gardening lectures, classes, and workshops offered by local nurseries and organization such as Mass Hort, Tower Hill, Trustees for Reservations, Arnold Arboretum, Berkshire Botanic Garden, and New England Wildflower Society to name just a few. See the events listings offered on their websites.

boston flower and garden show

boston flower and garden show

3. Attend a flower show

With exuberant landscape displays, floral design competitions, lectures, and gardening vendors, flower shows offer a rich preview of spring. Here are the 2018 dates:
Connecticut Flower Show: Feb 22-26
Boston Flower and Garden Show: March 14-18
Maine Flower Show: March 22-25


4. Become a bookworm

Organize a monthly Garden Book Club with your friends,  garden club, or library. For book suggestions, see the Books page. Learn, discuss and enjoy!

better homes & gardens

better homes & gardens

5. Create an indoor garden

Get your creative juices flowing by planting a miniature indoor garden. Whether it's a bowl garden of succulents or a basket of miniature houseplants, the possibilities are endless. Transform an old aquarium into a terrarium, add miniature accessories for a fanciful fairy garden, or create a hanging kokedama planting!


6. Swap and share

Have your houseplants outgrown their space or are you just tired of them? Organize a houseplant swap with your garden club, friend or neighbors and enjoy growing a new plant for free!

my variegated African violet cuttings 

my variegated African violet cuttings 

7. Propagate the plants you love

Many houseplants including African violets, begonias, and pepperonias are easy to propagate from leaf cuttings. Cut the leaf stem, dip in a rooting hormone, plant into a container of potting soil, water and cover. New leaves usually appear in 4-6 weeks. Restaurant take-out containers with clear lids are great for this purpose. 

cymbidium florals, portsmouth, NH

cymbidium florals, portsmouth, NH

8. Surround yourself with flowers

One of the things that I miss the most in winter is the sweet scent of flowers and blooming shrubs. Visit your local florist for a quick olfactory pick-me-up, purchase some flowers, and create an arrangement that will fill your home with beauty and fragrance.

fine gardening

fine gardening

9. Force flowering branches

February is a great time to force branches of spring-blooming trees and shrubs. Cut the branches, split the ends with a knife for maximum water uptake, place in a bucket of water in a cool room out of direct sunlight, and mist frequently. Buds open in 2-4 weeks depending on the variety. Great plants for forcing include forsythias, bodant viburnums, cherries, crabapples and magnolias.

mike's backyard nursery

mike's backyard nursery

10. Try winter propagation in the garden

Many deciduous shrubs can be propagated in winter from hardwood cuttings. I tried this last winter and had good success! Shrubs best suited for this technique include abelias, hydrangeas, red-twig dogwood, pussywillows, forsythia, spires, deutzias and more. Ask your friends if you can take cuttings from their shrubs and try this easy technique! For more information, see this blogpost at Mike's Backyard Nursery.

Any other ideas for beating the winter blues? Please leave them in the Comments section.

Come in From the Cold at the Roger Williams Botanical Center


If you are looking to come in from the cold in January, New England features several lovely indoor gardens (see related article). One of the newest is in Providence, in a park that has provided leisure, entertainment and education for residents and visitors for almost 150 years.

Roger Williams Park was created in 1870 after Betsey Williams bequeathed 102 acres of farmland and woodland to the city of Providence to be used for public purpose. A portion of the gift included land that was originally purchased from the Narragansetts by her great, great, great, grandfather, Rhode Island’s founder Roger Williams.


Horace Cleveland, a leader in the Urban Parks Movement, created the design for the park. It was intended to serve as an escape for residents of highly industrialized Providence in the late 19th century. Today, the Roger Williams Park contains a zoo, a museum of natural history, a planetarium, the Botanical Center,  Japanese Gardens, Victorian Rose Gardens, the Providence Police Department’s Mounted Command center, the boathouse and boat rentals, historical tours, a carousel, playground, the Temple to Music, the Roger Williams Park Casino, and many miles of walking paths.


The Botanical Center opened in 2007, and at 12,000 square feet is the largest public indoor display garden in New England. It includes two main greenhouses: The Conservatory and the Mediterranean Room. The Conservatory has the feeling of a large courtyard surrounded by elegant tall palms. Unlike most greenhouses, this one is airy and open, with a central area for ceremonies or social events. A fountain bubbles and colorful tropical plants bloom beneath stately trees. Immense birds of paradise hide among the palms, like storks in the jungle.


The Mediterranean Room is built around a long stucco wall with a circular gate. A densely planted pond with giant koi dominates the room. The Orchid Society displays delicate orchids growing in a moss-draped tree in one corner, and the Carnivorous Plant Society exhibits pitcher plants and delicate wild flowers in a raised bog garden. A small waterfall and a Mediterranean fountain provide soothing background music. All in all, there are over 150 different species and cultivars of plants including 17 types of palms. Upcoming projects include a Flavor Lab designed for chefs and farmers to compare the taste of vegetable varieties, and a Journey Through America exhibit featuring plants native to South, Central, and North America.


The Botanical Center’s outdoor display gardens are equally attractive and well worth a visit in the warmer months. The Winter Garden has gorgeous specimens of umbrella pines, a Lacebark Pine, Metasequoia, and other unusual conifers; Sargent cherries and trees with distinctive bark such river birches; hellebores, evergreen ferns, and bamboo. Other displays include a beautiful Perennial Garden, with large plantings of bee balm, balloon flower, phlox, daylilies, coneflowers, and blackeye susans. A Pine and Hosta Dell, Wooded Hillside Garden, Overlook Terrace, and Rain Garden offer interesting plantings to view. Downhill from the greenhouses, gorgeous roses and clematis cover the arches of the Rose Maze.


1000 Elmwood Ave., Providence, RI 02905, (401) 785-9450

HOURS: Tues. –Sun. 11–4

Holiday Gifts for Gardeners 2017


Here are some gift ideas for the gardener on your holiday list:


Arianna Necklace

Pure silver Fig leaf, accented with a tiny faceted labradorite, brought together by a delicate gold vermeil branch, to gracefully adorn your day! 18" long.

$95 The Alchemist's Garden


The Green Thumb Gardening Gift Box

Includes (3) Assorted seed packets, The Curious Gardener book, Floral drawer sachet, Cherry bon bons candies, Water spritzer bottle, Spade, Foam knee pad, Garden stepping stone, Pretzel sticks, Moisturizing hand cream, Gardening gloves, (2) Herbal teas

$62 Hayneedle.com


Garden Conservancy Membership

A membership to the Garden Conservancy will provide pleasurable days of touring gorgeous private gardens.

From $50, Garden Conservancy 


Meyer Lemon

An heirloom dwarf lemon with delicious golden-yellow fruit, Meyer Lemon makes a fine potted plant and it’s one of the hardiest lemons for cool temperatures. The fruit is more flavorful than store-bought lemons and is prized by chefs. It bears heavily at a young age, flowering and fruiting year-round.

From $24.95, Logee's


Aged Scallop Planters

The gentle ripples of the scallop planter make for a cheerful sun bonnet impression around your plants. A genuine classic shape that has stood the test of time, and that continues to be a favourite in all sizes.

From $23.75, Campo de' Fiori


Plantable Wire Lantern

With a glass hurricane inside to hold your favorite pillar candle, this open-weave wire lantern welcomes a planting of seasonal greens or an abundant display of fresh cuts.

From $48, Terrain


Deluxe Soil Knife

The one gardening tool you can't be without! Use it to: divide plants, plant bulbs, flowers and herbs, dig out weeds, remove rocks, cut through roots, plant in pots, clean out cracks, cut twine and ties, and for so much more!

$22.49, AM Leonard


Copper Roof Birdhouse

These handcrafted birdhouses are a focal point in flower gardens or nature sanctuaries. Durable construction and beautiful materials made these houses perfect gifts.

From $69, Wooden Expression


Bioprotect Year-Round Greenhouse

Protect plants from chilly temperatures and wind, so you can plants out weeks earlier and to harden off transplants. Once the weather warms up, slide out the polycarbonate top panel, leaving the screen to foil most insects, slugs and wildlife.

$159, Gardener's Supply


Herb Pot with Tray

Your sunny kitchen windowsill is the ideal place for herbs and this set of three pots is perfectly sized to fit. Each pot is faced with a front slot, pre-printed with Basil, Parsley or Thyme and may be customized by slipping in a label of your own.

$29, William-Sonoma


The Garden Tourist: 120 Destination Garden and Nurseries in the Northeast

A travel guide of 120 gardens and nurseries in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

$21.95 Enchanted Gardens

Garden Style Holidays


November and December offer many special holiday events and workshops for gardeners. From wreath decorating to viewing amazing holiday displays, there are plenty of opportunities to get inspired. Below is just a sampling. If your organization has an event that is not listed, please feel free to add it in the Comments.


Bert Ford in his Final Holiday Hurrah!

Holliston Garden Club, Holliston, MA
Friday, Nov. 10, 7:30 pm

A festive evening of music, refreshments, holiday gifts and a demonstration of Bert Ford's floral artistry. Refreshments begin at 7:00 pm at St. Mary's Auditorium in Holliston. Tickets are $15 at the door, $12 in advance at Outpost Farm, Debra's Flowers, Coffee Haven, or at 508-488-6422.


Spice up Your Home with a Grapevine Wreath

Weston Nurseries, Hopkinton, MA
Sunday, November 12

Create a grapevine wreath fragrant with the scents of the holidays – dried oranges, apples, lavender, quince, moss and cinnamon sticks. A perfect way to welcome guests at your door. Registration: $45, includes all materials; bows available for an additional $10.


Holiday Tablescaping Workshop

Snug Harbor Farm, Kennebunk, ME
Nov. 19, 1-2 pm

A workshop focused on constructing centerpieces and tablescapes with seasonal flowers and gourds. We will build out of terracotta or glass bowls, getting your holiday table dressing ready to go through the week. The cost of the class provides each student with their own centerpiece creation. More can be made, paying a la cart for additional dressing. Class size is limited, so sign up early to secure your place. Please bring your own clippers and tools. We’ll provide botanical materials and vessels. Cost is $75.


Christmas at the Newport Mansions

Newport Mansions, Newport, MA
November 18 - January 1

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House--three National Historic Landmarks and icons of the Gilded Age in America--are filled with thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths.  Thirty decorated Christmas trees reflecting individual room decor anchor many of the magnificent spaces.  Dining tables set with period silver and china complete the elegant setting. Windows of each mansion are lit with individual white candles, in keeping with the colonial tradition. New for 2017, a gingerbread model of each house, created by amazing local pastry chefs, will be on display in its kitchen. 


Wayside Inn Holidays

Wayside Inn, Sudbury, MA
November 28 - January 7

Each room of the historic Wayside Inn is decorated by a different garden club with hand-made creations for the holidays. The inn features a holiday menu, and advance reservations are recommended.


Ornament, Decorative Boughs and Wreath Sale

Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate, Canton, MA
Thurs - Sat., Nov 30 - Dec 9

Ye Olde Bradley Estate Shoppe will be open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays for the first two weeks of December!  Ornaments, decorative boughs and wreaths made by staff and volunteers will be available for purchase.  Free holiday hot drinks to warm you up for the holidays! Music and raffles for fun stocking stuffers!


Christmas at Castle Hill: The Season of Carols

Crane Estate, Ipswich, MA
December 1 - 2

Visiting Castle Hill at Christmas is a time-honored tradition for many New England families. Don't miss this year's spectacular "The Season of Carols". Each room in our 1920s mansion is festively decorated for a beloved Christmas carol. You'll find live music and dance, fresh baked cookies and cider, a treasure hunt, family activities, and a visit with Santa. Make Friday, date night with evening tour hours, a cash bar, light appetizers, and festive music. Come with friends on Saturday for great decorating ideas, shopping in the Castle Hill gift shop and Harbor Sweets pop up cafe, and more. Bring the children on Sunday to visit with Santa, take photos, and hunt for carol-themed items in our holiday treasure hunt.


A Christmas Home for Everyone

Canton Garden Club, Canton, MA
Friday Dec. 1 - Sat. Dec. 2

Three homes decorated with different holiday themes. They include: “Home for the Holidays” at 34 Century Drive, “A Sporting Christmas Home” at 10 Kings Road and “A Cozy Woodland Christmas” at 5 Bailey Street. For tickets email [email protected]


Holiday Marketplace

Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, MA
December 2-3

A holiday marketplace of one-of-a-kind Christmas decorations and gifts made be a select group of local craftspeople. A Gallery of Wreaths created by volunteer designers, refreshments and goodies from the Garden Shop also included.


Holiday House Tour

Village Garden Club of Dennis, Dennis, MA
Dec. 9, 10-4

The tour features 6 homes in Dennis and East Dennis that are festively decorated for the season. One home will have a small holiday boutique, another will feature a harpist.

Tickets will be $30 the day of the tour at Carleton Hall, Old Bass River Road, Dennis.
Advance tickets are $25 and available starting Nov. 1. Email [email protected]


Holiday Open House

Peckham's Greenhouses, Little Compton, RI
December 2 & 3, 9am-5 pm

Holiday plants and unique gifts for sale.


Christmastime Teas

Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme, CT
December 5 - 23

As music of the season quietly plays, nibble delectable scones with clotted cream, assorted savory tea sandwiches, and seasonal sweets as lovely as they are tasty. Let the warmth of holiday cheer spread with each sip of Miss Florence’s Tea. Served in a delightfully eclectic assortment of china, the unique and elegant beverage is a blend of superior Ceylon and China black teas enhanced with a touch of vanilla and other delicate spices. It is created over a two-day process just for the Museum by Sundial Gardens in Higganum, Connecticut. Quite a day to remember – and all against the backdrop of the Lieutenant River cloaked in its wintery splendor.


Wreath Making Classes

The Farmer's Daughter, South Kingston, RI
Fri., Nov 24 - Sat., Dec. 30

Cost of the class is $70.00 Class includes: all materials, wine, cheeses, mulled cider, goodies and a great time! Pre-registration is required, call 792-1340. We suggest that yo u bring a light pair of gloves and your favorite shears.


Festival of Trees and Snow Village

Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Elm Bank, Wellesley, MA
November 24-December 10

The Festival of Trees, displayed in the Hunnewell Building, offers beautifully decorated holiday trees that are donated and decorated by local businesses, garden clubs, and individuals. Visitors “vote” with their raffle tickets, in hopes of being the tree winner at the end of the festival. Visitors can also enjoy the decorated buildings and grounds at The Gardens at Elm Bank with a stroll or a horse-drawn wagon ride. For the young at heart, there are Santa Visits and other activities.

Snow Village at Elm Bank is a wonderful addition to the holiday spirit of the Festival of Trees. Bill Meagher of Needham graciously donated the product of his thirteen year "hobby" of building Christmas villages and trains.  It is a bit different each year as he continues to tweak the arrangement.  Massachusetts Horticultural Society is delighted to share his enchanting displays with model trains winding through villages and vignettes, including Christmas in the City (Boston of course!), Fenway Park, and hundreds of decorated houses and lights. This amazing scenery in miniature is sure to get kids of all ages excited about the holiday season.


Winter Reimagined 2017

Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA
November 24 - January 7

As evening falls at Tower Hill, visitors have the opportunity to marvel at glittering lights displayed throughout acres of formal gardens. The prized collection of trees and shrubs, along with illuminated paths, sculptures, and fountains, come to life in the glow of the lights. Inside, guests will see hand-made and nature-inspired ornaments, a wishing tree forest, an up-cycled igloo, and two towering conservatories brimming with subtropical plants and seasonal music. Stop in the Garden Shop for unique plant-centric gift ideas.


Christmas at Blithewold

Blithewold, Bristol, RI
November 24 - January 1

Every year, Blithewold transforms into a dazzling display celebrating the magic of Christmas. Each room of the Mansion is filled with elaborate holiday decorations, and the gardens become a glimmering winter wonderland! Enjoy a winter marketplace, holiday teas and musical performances.

If your organization has an event that is not listed, please feel free to add it in the Comments below.

New Hampshire's Garden of Whimsical Sculptures

Photo courtesy of Bedrock Gardens

Photo courtesy of Bedrock Gardens

Bedrock Gardens is a 20-acre garden that Carol Stocker of the Boston Globe aptly described as a “cross between Sissinghurst and the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden.” In 1980 Bob Munger and Jill Nooney purchased this former dairy farm and began a 30-year transformation of the landscape into a collection of themed garden rooms enlivened by whimsical sculptures.


Nooney is a practicing clinical social worker, as well as an artist and graduate of the Radcliffe Institute Landscape Design program. She uses old farm equipment and repurposed metal to create a variety of abstract sculptures, arches, arbors, water features and “creatures” inspired by nature and her imagination. Munger is a retired doctor and a lifelong tinkerer. Nooney is the garden’s visionary artist and “problem maker.” He is the “problem solver,” the implementer of those visions, including beautifully patterned walkways and patios, and hydraulics for water features.


Nooney and Munger created their garden as a journey with “places to go, places to pause and rest and interesting things to see along the way.” Nearly two-dozen “points of interest,” many with humorous names, are connected by paths that wind through garden rooms, around ponds, and through woodlands.


Closest to the house, a yew hedge encloses a formal parterre planted with white flowers, with a diamond patterned bluestone path and a circular pool and fountain. The Straight and Narrow garden features a cobbled-edged path that runs between beds of native trees, shrubs, and perennials. The Swaleway’s woodland wildflowers welcome spring amidst towers of balanced stones. The Garish Garden’s playful sculptures fit in with flowers in flaming reds and oranges and trees and shrubs with bright gold foliage.


Bedrock Gardens is full of new ideas for gardeners as well as new takes on classic garden forms. The Wiggle Waggle is a wavy 200-foot long water channel, planted with lotus and water lilies. The Spiral Garden is a “twist” on a traditional maze garden, with twirling roof ventilators on spiral stands that emphasize the Fibonacci-inspired paving laid in a moss floor. Grass Acre is a “painting” of Switchgrass, Hakone Grass, and Little Blue Stem, anchored by a metal sculpture that evokes a mountain range. The Dark Woods is a grove of dead trees accented with sculptural ghosts, spiders, and other scary creatures. The Wave is a series of 26 small metal characters on pedestals backed by a tall arborvitae hedge. Several ponds and many more gardens await the visitor.


Walking through the gardens is a delightful journey. There are many places to sit and enjoy a vista or a sculpture along the way. The Japanese garden and Tea House offer quiet repose in the woods, and the two thrones at the Termi at the far end of the large pond offer a stunning view along the 900-foot axis through the garden. Nooney has designed the garden with an artist’s eye and her strategic placement of focal points and vistas takes classical garden design concepts into a contemporary setting.


Nooney and Munger want to preserve the garden for future generations and are working with Friends of Bedrock Gardens and new executive director John Forti to transition the property into a public garden.


Bedrock Gardens will close out the 2017 season with a special fundraising Fairy House and Hobbit House Festival Weekend, October 7-9, 11 am to 3 pm. Tracy Kane, award-winning Fairy Houses author, www.fairyhouses.com, will read from her books. Visitors can stroll along a Fairy and Hobbit House Trail past houses created by gardeners, artists, and children, and take time to make their own house out of natural materials provided. Chili, books, whimsical handmade creations and fairy fare will be for sale. The entire garden will be available for touring.


Bedrock Gardens, 45 High Rd., Lee, NH 03861, (603) 659-2993, bedrockgardens.org

Excerpted from The Garden Tourist, 120 Destination Gardens and Nurseries in the Northeast by Jana Milbocker

The Magical Garden of Green Animals


Green Animals is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the United States. The 7-acre estate overlooks the Narragansett Bay, and contains a whimsical garden with more than 80 topiaries sculpted from California privet, yew, and English boxwood.


This small country estate in Portsmouth was purchased in 1872 by Thomas E. Brayton, Treasurer of the Union Cotton Manufacturing Company in Fall River, Massachusetts. It included a white clapboard summer residence, farm outbuildings, a pasture and a vegetable garden. Brayton's daughter Alice gave the estate its name because of the profusion of "green animals" created by property superintendent Joseph Carreiro.


Carreiro was hired to design and maintain the ornamental and edible gardens from 1905 to 1945. He experimented with California privet propagated in the estate greenhouse, and developed a system for training these, without the support of frames, into over-sized animal shapes. Many of the animals took almost 20 years to grow into their final size. Since the Brayton home was a summer residence, it was not a concern that privet was deciduous and sheds its leaves in the fall. His son-in-law, George Mendonca, superintendent until 1985, expanded the gardens to include more than 80 topiaries, and sculpted some from yew and boxwood.


Alice Brayton inherited the estate and made it her permanent residence. She became an avid historian and gardener herself, and bequeathed Green Animals to The Preservation Society of Newport County upon her death. Today, Green Animals remains as a rare example of an estate with formal topiaries, beautiful flower, vegetable and herb gardens, orchards and a Victorian house.


The landscape is a series of garden rooms bordered by mature conifers and magnolias. The fanciful topiaries are the stars of the garden. Favorites include teddy bears, a camel, a giraffe, an ostrich, an elephant, a unicorn, a reindeer, a dog, and a horse with his rider. They are set within lovely flower beds planted with colorful perennials and annuals. Near the house and main entrance, the topiary retains a more formal style of figurative and geometric shapes. A walkway of arched topiary leads around the house to the front porch, where you can relax on a rocking chair and enjoy a view of the bay. The topiaries are all trimmed by hand using garden shears and require weekly hand trimming. Some conservation metal supports have been discreetly positioned inside the forms to provide stability in wind and snow.


The rest of the garden is equally magical. Grape arbors, fruit beds, orchards, cutting gardens and an extensive vegetable gardens sport decorations and whimsical scarecrows that delight children.


The Brayton house museum contains a display of vintage toys including a large collection of toy soldiers and vintage dollhouses. Adults will appreciate the original Victorian family furnishings and decoration.


Ribbons for prize-winning dahlias and vegetables, dating from about 1915, line the walls of the well-curated gift shop. Green Animals Topiary Garden is a delight for gardeners of all ages!




Edinburgh's Beloved Botanic Garden

Armed with an umbrella, sweater and raincoat, I toured Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden on Sunday. While July temperatures in the mid-50s and scattered downpours do not deter traveling gardeners from visiting botanic gardens, I was amazed to find the garden packed with city residents and tourists enjoying their Sunday outdoors. Mothers pushed babies in prams, dads chased after runaway toddlers, elderly couples strolled arm in arm admiring the delicate alpines, Spanish tourists snacked on sandwiches in the Chinese pavilion, a group of American teenagers chatted about their European adventures, and a Japanese bride and groom kissed for the photographer while the caterer distributed flutes of champagne to their guests. I walked around marveling at the 4' tall hardy geraniums, the swaths of Japanese primroses, the towering monkey puzzle trees, and the many plants from all corners of the world that I had never seen before.

The 500-foot long Herbaceous Border, created in 1902, is backed by a commanding hedge of 158 beech trees. The hedge is pruned annually to retain its 24' height.

The 500-foot long Herbaceous Border, created in 1902, is backed by a commanding hedge of 158 beech trees. The hedge is pruned annually to retain its 24' height.

Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis grandis) is popular in Scotland and grows to 4' with beautiful sky-blue flowers in June.

Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis grandis) is popular in Scotland and grows to 4' with beautiful sky-blue flowers in June.

Showcasing 128,000 plants from 156 countries, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a living encyclopedia of horticulture that brings out the "plant geek" in all of us. The garden was founded in 1670 as a "physic garden" by two adventurous Scottish doctors who returned from a 'grand tour' of Europe determined to grow, study and identify plants for treatment of disease. Medical students were schooled in botany by the Head Gardener until the mid 1800s. With the expansion of the British Empire, the plant collections grew rapidly, and the garden was relocated several times to accommodate new acquisitions. It has been at its current site on the outskirts of the city center since 1821.

The Chinese Hillside is the result of plant hunter George Forrest's seven trips to Yunnan between 1904 and 1932. Winding paths, a waterfall, bridge and pavilion are placed among 16,000 plants collected from Yunnan, many rare and endangered.

The Chinese Hillside is the result of plant hunter George Forrest's seven trips to Yunnan between 1904 and 1932. Winding paths, a waterfall, bridge and pavilion are placed among 16,000 plants collected from Yunnan, many rare and endangered.

Young monkey puzzle trees in the Biodiversity Garden which illustrates the evolution of plants.

Young monkey puzzle trees in the Biodiversity Garden which illustrates the evolution of plants.

One of the first things that you notice when visiting the garden are the magnificent and unusual trees set in a stately, park-like setting of 70acres. Some of these trees were moved from the garden's previous location and are more than 200 years old. Others were acquired as seeds from habitats that no longer exist, such as the extremely rare Catacol whitebean. Only one other specimen of this tree exists in the wild - in a ravine on the isle of Aran.

A stand of coastal redwoods planted in the 1920s creates a cathedral-like atmosphere and is a popular site for weddings.

A stand of coastal redwoods planted in the 1920s creates a cathedral-like atmosphere and is a popular site for weddings.

RBGE's glasshouses offer ten distinct climatic zones with thousands of flowering plants, cycads and ferns. The Temperate Palm House, currently under renovation, was built in 1858 and is one of the tallest in the world. The Plants and People House showcases plants that are integral to our daily lives - sugar, cocoa, rice and coffee, as well as giant water platters. Other glasshouses feature plants of the desert, the rainforest and mountain regions. My favorite was the Lowland Tropics House and its collection of gingers that sported the most unusual flowers (see red pinecone below).

Themed gardens illustrate various habitats from around the world. The Alpine Garden exhibits plants from high mountain tops which are a real challenge to grow in Edinburgh's maritime lowlands climate. Alpines are important to RGBE's conservation work, as they can be indicators of global warming. The Alpine House and Tufa House protect these tender plants from the wet Scottish climate. Troughs are used to create individual landscapes representing miniature mountain tops.

The Rock Garden features 5,000 plants from the great mountain ranges of Chile, China, Europe, Japan, South Africa and North America. Dwarf conifers, bulbs and rhododendrons complement true alpines. The neighboring Scottish Heath Garden shows off Scotland's iconic shrub.

The Queen Mother's Memorial Garden was formally opened in 2006, and reflects the Queen Mother's love of gardening. A Celtic-style labyrinth planted with bog myrtle is surrounded by perennial beds and a charming pavilion.

The Memorial Pavilion within the Queen Mother's Garden is decorated with shells collected by schoolchildren from around Scotland. The ceiling is lined with pine cones from RBGE's gardens.

The Memorial Pavilion within the Queen Mother's Garden is decorated with shells collected by schoolchildren from around Scotland. The ceiling is lined with pine cones from RBGE's gardens.

The Demonstration Garden is used by local schools and students in RGBE's Horticulture and Herbology courses to experiment with growing crops and medicinal plants.

The Demonstration Garden is used by local schools and students in RGBE's Horticulture and Herbology courses to experiment with growing crops and medicinal plants.

Swaths of primroses, trilliums and other shade lovers thrive in the woodland garden, along with rhododendrons and magnolias. Many of these plants look like they are on steroids: Edinburgh's mild, wet climate provides ideal growing conditions.

Swaths of primroses, trilliums and other shade lovers thrive in the woodland garden, along with rhododendrons and magnolias. Many of these plants look like they are on steroids: Edinburgh's mild, wet climate provides ideal growing conditions.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is open daily except Christmas and New Year's Day, and features a restaurant, cafe, shop stocked with gifts and plants, and seasonal exhibitions and events. Admission is free, with a small fee for the glasshouses. See rgbe.org.uk/edinburgh for more info.

Roses Bloom at Elizabeth Park


June is the best time for visiting gardens that feature roses, and there's no place better in New England than Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut - the home of our country's oldest public rose garden.


The property was once called Prospect Hill, the Hartford farming estate of wealthy businessman and politician Charles Murray Pond, and his wife, Elizabeth. When he died in 1894, Charles left his entire estate to the City of Hartford for a public park in his will. The estate consisted of 90 acres and a generous fund to purchase additional land, hire a park designer, and for maintenance. He requested that the park be a botanical park and named after his wife, Elizabeth, who was an avid gardener.

Swiss-born landscape architect Theodore Wirth was hired as the park superintendent, and he worked with the firm of Frederick Law Olmstead to design this new space. Elizabeth Park reflects a combination of both schools of landscape design with European formal gardens and Olmstead's natural setting with serpentine roadways, sweeping vistas and peripheral trees.

The rose garden is the centerpiece of Elizabeth Park, 2.5 acres in size with 475 beds and over 15,000 rose bushes and arches. The arches are in full bloom in late June to early July, and are just spectacular. They only bloom once. Many of the other roses continue to bloom until the fall.

If you visit in June, be sure to see the separated Heritage Rose Garden —one of the few in the country. Also known as Old Garden Roses, Heritage Roses—Albas, Bourbons, Centifolias, Damasks, Chinas, Gallicas, Hybrid Perpetuals, Moss, Noisettes, Portlands and Teas—are extremely fragrant and bloom only in June. These roses are exhibited in raised beds that form a five-petaled rosette symbolizing a centifolia or 100-petaled rose, which is the typical form of a heritage rose.


I grew up just a few miles from Elizabeth Park, and have a personal connection to the rose garden. My neighbor and friend Donna Fuss became a stay-at-home mom when her children were born, and developed a passion for gardening, especially for roses. She and her husband Mike planted a small formal rose garden in a corner of their backyard, and as their passion for roses grew, added more and more rose beds throughout the yard. They started entering rose shows, judging, and co-founded the Connecticut Rose Society. Donna’s hobby evolved into a second career, and she became the consulting rosarian to Elizabeth Park Rose Garden. Knowledgeable, outgoing, generous, and funny, Donna became an ambassador for Elizabeth Park - fondly known as the “Rose Lady.” She shared her garden enthusiasm with everyone she met, and I owe some of my garden passion to Donna.

In addition to its rose gardens, Elizabeth Park has several other notable gardens. The Perennial Garden is formal in design, with a central wooden pavilion adorned with Clematis Jackmanii. Enclosed by a hedge of dwarf Japanese yew, the garden features 1,600 perennials arranged in “cool” and “warm” color beds accented by silver grey foliage.

The Tulip and Annual Garden is planted with 11,000 tulips each fall for a spectacular spring display, and features a American Flag in summer.

The Shade Garden features mixed plantings of herbs, perennials, ornamental grasses, woody shrubs, and small evergreen and deciduous trees. Several horticultural groups design, plant, and maintain gardens in the park. These specialty gardens include the herb garden, dahlia display garden and iris garden.

After touring the gardens, you can have lunch at the Pond House Cafe located withing the park. The cafe features eclectic cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients. The menu changes to reflect the seasons.

Elizabeth Park is open 365 days of the year, dawn to dusk, and is FREE to the public. There are no admission fees.

Elizabeth Park is one of the gardens profiled in The Garden Tourist, a book of 120 destination gardens and nurseries in the Northeast, which will be published in fall 2017.




Spring Fling with Fritillaries


Historically known as "the crown imperial", but jokingly referred to as "the Dr. Seuss Flower" by members of my garden club, Fritillaria is a sight to behold in the spring garden. All 45 members of my garden club were given a bulb to plant 3 years ago, so that we could try it and compare notes. We were all surprised and delighted by this unusual spring bulb.

There are more than 200 forms of fritillaria in the world, many of them rare alpine plants. They are popular in the UK, home of the Fritillaria Society, and of garden estates that host Frittillary Weekends. Vita Sackville-West described the fritillary as looking like something exceedingly choice and expensive, but added it was “a sinister little flower, in the mournful colours of decay”. She was referring to Fritillaria meleagris, also known as snake’s head lily, leper lily, chess or guinea flower, with pendant bells in white, purple or pink checks hanging from gray grassy stems. Despite their sinister common names, checkered lilies are charming little flowers (12" - 15" tall) native to damp meadows and woodlands in Europe. They require partial shade and abundant moisture, and are an excellent choice for naturalizing. I will never forget my first encounter with them naturalized in a lawn at Chanticleer Garden - it was a magical sight!

Fritillaria meleagris - White Flower Farm

Fritillaria meleagris - White Flower Farm

Another charming Fritillary is Fritillaria michailovski, or Michael's Flower, which is native to Turkey. Its nodding bell-shaped deep burgundy blossoms are brightly tipped in glowing yellow on arched branches. Michael's Flower looks great in a pot as well as in the garden.


Fritillaria persica, or Persian Fritillaria, sports narrow 30" stalks of deep purple-black bell-shaped blossoms with gold centers and gray-green foliage. It grows in full sun to part shade, and complements dark maroon tulips.

Fritillaria persica at Avant Gardens

Fritillaria persica at Avant Gardens

Spring garden with Fritillaria persica at Chanticleer

Spring garden with Fritillaria persica at Chanticleer

A Fritillaria persica alba has soft white blossoms.

A Fritillaria persica alba has soft white blossoms.

Tall and aristocratic looking, the crown imperial looks down on the world from its 3 foot height, usually in shades of yellow, orange and scarlet. Its bell-shaped flowers on strong stalks are "crowned" with another burst of green foliage that sits majestically atop the pendulous blooms. It prefers a sunny, well-drained soil, and attracts butterflies.

Scarlet Crown Imperial from Phoenix Perennials

Scarlet Crown Imperial from Phoenix Perennials

A new variegated fritillary called Aureomarginata emerges in spring with twisted green and yellow foliage, a smoky flower stalk and bright orange flowers crowned with spidery green leaves. It is both surprising and whimsical.

Fritillaria imperialis Aureomarginata from Bluestone Perennials

Fritillaria imperialis Aureomarginata from Bluestone Perennials

Fritillaries are members of the lily family, and their name is derived from the Latin term for a dice box (fritillus) which probably refers to the checkered pattern of the flowers. Fritillaries do not like to be disturbed after planting, so they are not ideal for containers. Crown Imperials should no be cut for vases, because that would reduce their stems too much and would weaken the plant. They also have a slight odor, which does not make them welcome indoors, but repels deer, rabbits and voles. As with other spring bulbs, the foliage should be left standing until it yellows, so that the plant can photosynthesize and store carbohydrate reserves for its dormancy.

Spring Ideas from Blithewold

Joan and I had the pleasure of presenting our lecture "Spring Ephemerals and Other Delights" at Blithewold last April. For those of you that have never been there, Blithewold is a 33-acre estate with a 45-room mansion framed by a series of lovely gardens overlooking Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The property was purchased in 1895 by Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle, and served as the family summer home. The gardens were designed in the late 1800s, and feature a 10-acre lawn, an arboretum of specimen trees, perennials gardens, and a "bouquet" or scenic woodland. Bessie and her daughter Marjorie were ardent gardeners and turned the estate into a horticultural showplace. 

Blithewold is beautiful in all seasons. In the spring, the rose garden, framed by an Asian-inspired moon gate, blooms with colorful bulbs and early perennials.

Tulips, leucojum, grape hyacinths, bleeding hearts, euphorbia and other perennials welcome you to the Blithewold estate. 

Century-old trees present a sculptural beauty even in early spring, before they leaf out. Some are underplanted with shade and drought-tolerant perennials such as epimedium (below).

The chartreuse leaves of ginkgo trees are a delight when viewed against the mature deep green conifers.

The Bosque is planted with thousands of daffodils and a carpet of spring ephemerals including mayapples (above) and erythronium, also known as trout lilies (below). These woodland plants bloom while there is ample sunlight before the trees leaf out, and become dormant in the summer.

The Van Wickles used stone from their property to create rock gardens and garden ornaments such as the whimsical stone bench below.

Flowering crabapples frame the view of Narragansett Bay. In April, you can view more than 50,000 daffodils in bloom. In May, see the Magnolias, Flowering Cherries, Honeysuckles, Weigelas, Lilacs, and Viburnum, along with hundreds of blooming perennials.

Joan and I will be back at Blithewold on Monday, May 8 at 1:00 pm, presenting our "Propagating Perennials" workshop. Hope you can join us!

Creating a Layered Garden

Every gardener wants a lush, colorful garden that brims with excitement and interest throughout the year. But how do you achieve this? By creating a "layered garden" - one in which the plantings are carefully selected to provide a succession of interesting combinations (or layers) from spring through fall.


In his excellent book, The Layered Garden, David Culp illustrates this concept with stunning photographs of his gardens at Brandywine Cottage in Bucks County, Penn. As he writes in his book:

"The key to creating a many-layered garden is understanding and taking advantage of the ways plants grow and change through the seasons and over the years, providing different textures, colors, and effects and evoking a variety of feelings. Garden layers are made up of a variety of plants, some with complementary or contrasting colors, other with interesting shapes and textures." 

I created my layered perennial garden so that I would have a nice view from my kitchen windows. I wanted to use bright, "hot" colors somewhere on my property, and this location seemed ideal since it was a little further from the house. This kidney-shaped island garden was originally planted around a lone small apple tree that later succumbed to disease. It was replaced by the white tuteur, made for me by my brother-in-law. The shape of the tuteur echoes the dwarf Alberta Spruce on the left and provides a focal point for the garden in all seasons. Although the garden has gone through many changes, the concept and some of the plantings have not changed in 24 years.

The kidney garden has grown over the years to its current size of 28' long and 24' deep. It has  always had small access paths so that I would not have to step on the soil.

The first blooms of early spring are daffodils and species tulips. I moved and divided my forsythia bush so that it would be a colorful backdrop to the blooming daffodils. The daffodils are interplanted with daylilies, so as the daylilies grow, their foliage hides the foliage of the daffodils.

The species tulips bloom in April. Unlike most tulips, they are short in stature and truly perennial. They also have beautifully mottled foliage.

In early May, Darwin tulips and forget-me-nots begin to bloom, along with the PJM rhododendrons in the background. The forget-me-nots self-sow from year to year. Once they are done blooming, I remove most of them so make room for emerging perennials.

The fritillary, also called "Crown Imperial", is a regal bulb.

Darwin tulips are more hardy than many other varieties and return year after year. I add more bulbs every 4-5 years to keep my spring show going.

One of the joys of the layered garden is that it allows for flexibility, letting me change the predominant colors of the garden several times during the year. By early June, the color scheme of the garden has transitioned to blue and yellow.

Bulbs are key to achieving a layered look. They take up little space, and their foliage completely dies back later in the season, making room for other plants.

Baptisia produces tall spikes of bright blue flowers and handsome blue-green foliage. It is now the size of a shrub, and I stake it to keep it upright all summer long.

Allium 'Globemaster' produces giant purple globes on sturdy tall stems. It's especially vibrant next to the 'Goldheart' bleeding heart.

I purchased these 'Johnson's Blue' geraniums from Bluestone Perennials more than 20 years ago. They have been divided several times, and continue to form a cloud of blue in June.

My tuteur sports clematis 'HF Young' - a variety with giant flowers. Climbing vines are another asset to a layered garden - they add height, but have a small footprint.

Centaurea montana, or perennial Bachelor's Button has beautiful azure flowers.

In late June, the garden turns to gold and green with the prolific blooms of daylily 'Stella de 'Oro'. I try to plant the perennials in large swaths so that they have impact in the garden from a distance.

Several self-seeding plants weave through the perennials. I remove some in the spring, and leave the others to create an informal English cottage look. Golden feverfew, one of the self-seeders, provides bouquets of tiny daisy flowers and bright chartreuse foliage.

Coreopsis 'Zagreb', also known as Tickseed, is a long bloomer in full sun.

Daylilies begin their show in July. 'Margaret Seawright' is a gorgeous bi-colored variety.

Daylily 'Bloodline' complements its neighbor, scarlet Bee Balm.

The feathery gold foliage of Spirea 'Ogon' and Amsonia contrasts with the strappy foliage of daylilies.

Purple Perilla is another self-sower that adds drama to the late summer garden.

Several varieties of helianthus and rudbeckia create great cut flowers for the house.

These Orienpet lilies add a wonderful fragrance to the entire garden. They came as a set of 25 unnamed bulbs from White Flower Farm.

I grew aster 'Nova Anglie' from seed 24 years ago, and if the woodchuck does not get it, it provides armloads of flowers in September.

Rudbeckia, zebra grass and perilla in the autumn garden. I like the planting to be full - no mulch visible.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Michaelmas daisy welcome autumn.


Always consider your garden's backdrop.'Karl Foerster' grass, variegated sedum, a golden cypress and burgundy Witherod Viburnum provide a lovely background for the garden in late fall as the perennials die back.

10 Favorite Mail-Order Nurseries

February is a terrific time to choose new plants for the garden. Here are some of my favorite mail-order nurseries for perennials, trees and shrubs. Do you have other favorites? Please share them with others in the comments section!


Bluestone Perennials

Bluestone Perennials was one of the first mail-order nurseries that I purchased perennials from when I began gardening. Most of those perennials -geraniums 'Wargrave Pink' and 'Johnson's Blue', lobelias and astilbes, to name a few, are still growing in my garden 20 years later. Bluestone carries a huge selection of perennials, as well as bulbs and shrubs, from reliable standbys to exciting new hybrids. If you need help with plant combinations, you can order pre-planned theme gardens, such as a Butterfly Garden, Cutting Garden or Lamp Post Garden. Robust plants are shipped in 3-1/2" x 4" plantable pots. The nursery has been family-owned and operated since 1972, and provides excellent customer service. Catalog available. bluestoneperennials.com

Brushwood Nursery

If you are looking for clematis or other climbers, Brushwood Nursery is an excellent source. Brushwood offers hundreds of clematis varieties as well as honeysuckles, trumpet vines, passion flowers, wisteria and jasmines. The informative website is a virtual encyclopedia of clematis - you will have a hard time narrowing down your choices! I was inspired to try clematis after hearing Cheryl Monroe's lecture, and she recommended Brushwood. Since then, I have ordered plants for myself and as gifts for friends, and they have all done beautifully. Owner Dan Long takes great care in selecting, growing and shipping healthy, vigorous plants. They now sell all the vines in one-gallon pots with free shipping. brushwoodnursery.com

Flowers by the Sea

I love the spiky form and delicate flowers of salvias, but you rarely find any varieties other than 'Caradonna' and 'May Knight' at local nurseries. Luckily, there is a California nursery called Flowers by the Sea, which specializes in beautiful salvias and has 52 varieties that are hardy to Zone 6. Last year I added salvias in periwinkle blue, soft pink, magenta and white to my perennial border and they bloomed until November! Plants are large and healthy and the website offers a wealth of information about growing salvias. If you sign up for their newsletter, you receive weekly Salvia deals. fbts.com

Santa Rosa Gardens

Santa Rosa Gardens offers an extensive selection of perennials with an emphasis on ornamental grasses - there are 182 varieties of grasses on offer! Most of the plants are sun lovers, and you will be pleased with the number of varieties to choose from - 13 types of agastache, 32 varieties of coreopsis, 14 Gaillardias, 44 Sedums, and more. In addition to standard 3-1/2" pots, you can also order perennials in flats of 72 if you are doing a mass planting. Santa Rosa Gardens is family-owned grower that has been in the horticulture business for four generations and offers excellent customer service.

Santa Rosa Gardens has also started a new subscription service called My Garden Box. The nursery assembles a custom crafted collection of plants and gardens goods that you can receive on a monthly basis or send as a gift. The plants are beautifully packaged and arrive as a lovely surprise.  santarosagardens.com

Pine Knot Farms

Hellebores have a special place in my heart, and there is no better place to look for new varieties than Pine Knot Farms. Judith and Dick Tyler have been breeding hellebores for more than 25 years, with stock plants from the UK, the Balkans, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The couple authored a comprehensive book on Hellebores in 2006. I hope to visit their North Carolina nursery someday, but in the meantime, I try some of their new offerings every year. pineknotfarms.com

Palatine Roses

When I replanted my rose bed last year, I was determined to use hardy, disease-free roses. I ordered bare root rose bushes from several sources, and the best plants came from Palatine Roses in Ontario. The roses had well-developed root systems and strong canes, and flourished during the entire season with no signs of black spot or other diseases. I had blooms through November. Palatine has a minimum order of 3 roses, and the mail order deadline is March 15 for spring shipping. palatineroses.com

High Country Gardens

If you are looking to develop a drought-tolerant perennial garden, look for plants at Santa Fe's High Country Gardens. The nursery has been dedicated to improving the environment "one garden at a time", and has been a pioneer in the concept of xeriscaping - gardening with plants that need minimal water once established. Founder David Salman has introduced unique hybrids for water-wise gardens, and all plants are grown neonicotinoid-free. This nursery is a great source of sun lovers such as liatris, agastache, lavender, coreopsis, monarda and more! The site is also rich with plant description and gardening advice. highcountrygardens.com


Geraniaceae Nursery

One of my earliest "favorite plants" were the hardy cranesbill geraniums for their long-lasting dainty blooms and ease of care. I recently discovered a book devoted to this family of plants written by Robin Parer which led me to her specialty nursery in Marin County, Cal. While local nurseries sell less then 5 varieties, Geraniaceae offers close to 170 hardy geraniums hybrids, as well as erodiums and pelargoniums. If you love this family of plants, there is no better source! geraniaceae.com

Mason Hollow Nursery

If you have a shady garden or just love to collect hostas, you will enjoy ordering from Mason Hollow Nursery in Mason, New Hampshire. Owners Sue and Chuck Anderson opened the nursery in 2001, and offer an impressive array of more than 800 hosta varieties, as well as ferns, epimediums and other perennials. Plants arrive with good sized root systems and are ready to be planted in the garden. You can also visit Mason Hollow and see their lovely display gardens. masonhollow.com

Lazy S's Farm Nursery

A family-owned nursery in Virginia, Lazy S's Farm offers a huge range of perennials as well as many hard-to-find hybrids of shrubs. Do you like callicarpa? You can find 13 varieties at Lazy S. All plants come in quart pots, so it is an inexpensive way to purchase an unusual shrub if you have the patience to grow it on for a few years before it makes a significant presence in the garden. When delivered, plants are healthy and vigorous and ready to take their place in the garden. lazyssfarm.com


Growing Mushrooms at Home

Winter is a great time to focus on the tender tropicals, citrus trees, herbs, and other plants that can thrive indoors, and to do some horticultural experimentation. If you love mushrooms, it’s a wonderful time to try growing mushrooms at home.

I had ordered a mushroom growing kit as a gift for my husband many years ago. It was a total failure, so I was skeptical about investing in another one. At the same time, I was still intrigued by the idea. I visited the booth of MoTown Mushrooms at the Conn. Flower Show last winter, and spent a long while learning about their products and asking a lot of questions. MoTown Mushrooms is a small husband and wife mushroom farm in Morristown, Vermont, that is trying to educate New Englanders about the benefits of “applied mycology” and introduce them to delicious gourmet mushrooms.


A month later, I took the plunge, and bought their FungiPail at the Boston Flower Show. Mushrooms need a damp environment to grow, and I happen to have a very humid basement with a 100 year old stone foundation that stays at an even 55 degrees year round. MoTown Mushrooms sells 12 pound FungiPails that come spawned with several different types of mushrooms. Given my growing environment, they recommended Blue Oyster mushrooms, which prefer a temperature of 40 – 65 degrees F. Though I wasn’t familiar with this variety, I decided to give it a try and purchased the bucket.

blue oyster mushrooms

blue oyster mushrooms

Cooking and eating mushrooms is in my Czech blood. Hunting for wild mushrooms is a national sport in the Czech Republic — a drive in the country to forage for mushrooms is a favorite weekend activity. The most prevalent mushroom is the Boletus edulis, or porchini mushroom.

When we emigrated to the US, my parents tried to indulge their mushroom hunting hobby here. Driving on country roads, we were always on the lookout for wild mushrooms. I remember a couple of very bountiful and memorable mushroom hunts, particularly during vacations on Martha’s Vineyard. I have fond memories of fresh mushrooms made with scrambled eggs, and the rest of the bounty carefully sliced and left to dry on sheets of newspaper on the backyard picnic table.

My dad and brother after a successful mushroom hunt on Martha's Vineyard

My dad and brother after a successful mushroom hunt on Martha's Vineyard

So I was excited to try my hand at growing mushrooms at home. I placed my new FungiPail in the basement, and carefully monitored it for signs of life. The FungiPail is filled with a spawned substrate in a plastic bag, and has several openings cut into its side. Several weeks passed, and nothing had happened. I was beginning to think that I had wasted my money, when the first little bulges appeared in the cut openings of the bucket. I began misting twice a day. The mushrooms grew at an incredible pace. Within a week, the bucket looked as if it had exploded with mushrooms and I began harvesting. The blue oyster mushrooms were delicious sautéed with butter and onion. I enjoyed their earthy flavor, and dried some for future use in soups and stews.

First fruiting

First fruiting

Once the mushrooms were fully harvested, it was time for the Intermission, a period of about 3 weeks when the bucket rests before fruiting again. Sure enough, about a month later, more mushrooms burst forth. The second fruiting was smaller than the first, but equally delicious. The bucket fruited a total of 4 times with virtually no effort on my part except for the daily misting during fruiting. I definitely harvested the 3 lbs. of mushrooms that were promised, and will purchase a bucket refill at the Conn. Flower Show in February.

Third fruiting

Third fruiting

MoTown Mushrooms sells FungiPail kits inoculated with Pearl Oysters, Blue Oysters, Gray Oyster, Pink Oyster, and King Oyster, and Chestnut Mushrooms. In addition to FungiPails, they feature a cute tabletop kit, jars of glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, and inoculated logs and spawn plugs so that you can make your own mushrooms logs or stumps – my next project! 

Tabletop mushroom kit

Tabletop mushroom kit

The plug spawn can be ordered with other types of mushrooms, Shitake, Lion's Mane and Chicken of the Woods.

There are many other mushroom vendors online as well– Mushroom Mountain is another great source. You can also find mushroom growing kits at retailers including Amazon and William-Sonoma. If you have other mushroom vendor recommendations, please leave them in the comments below. Give mushroom-growing a try – it's easy, fun, and very satisfying!

Mushroom Log from William-Sonoma

Mushroom Log from William-Sonoma

The Aftermath of the Drought

Most parts of Massachusetts and, in fact, much of the Northeast experienced a summer-long drought. This affected many perennials, trees, and shrubs, both in the wild and in our gardens. As our cities and towns enacted strict water bans, we gardeners watched helplessly as our new plantings and even established plants yellowed and then browned. Although the drought seems to be finally over this month, what can we expect in the coming year as a result?

I have been pondering this question for several weeks, and did some research on-line and in conversations with several local experts. If you are wondering what next year may bring, here is what I learned:

Water bans may continue

Hydrologist David Boutt of UMass Amherst writes: “One reason this year’s drought is so noticeable is that it has come largely in the growing season, so everyone from farmers to homeowners and gardeners has felt its effects. It also follows an almost 15-year period of higher-than-normal precipitation. As a region we were blessed with abundant rainfall in particular from about 2005 to 2010, a bonus situation. Since then, conditions leading to this current drought started to be felt as early as 2013.”

Contrary to popular perception, droughts are seldom one-year events. “Droughts are multi-year events; they take some years to develop. And like the others, this one will be felt for longer than one season. When soils are so dry, even with the recent rainfall, it will take time for the hydrologic system to recover.” This means that even though we may see closer to normal rainfall next year, water bans are likely to continue since it will take several years our groundwater supplies to be replenished.

Droughts are particularly detrimental during the growing season

Ron Kujawski of UMass Extension explains: “With respect to influence on plant growth and health, it is the amount and frequency of rainfall received during the growing season that is of greater significance than the total amount of precipitation in a given year. When defining a drought year, the pattern and frequency of rainfall are clearly more important than the total amount of rain.”

Don’t be too hasty to replace plants

During the severe droughts, trees and shrubs will exhibit wilting leaves, marginal leaf scorch and premature leaf loss. Don’t be too hasty to replace plants that appear to have dried up, however. Plants that look dead may actually have living tissue underneath the bark or in the ground. You can check on woody plants by scratching the bark to see if there is green tissue underneath, and wait until next spring to see if these plants leaf out.

Long-term effects of drought on woody plants are not immediately visible

Keep in mind that it may take several years for a woody plant to completely recover from drought stress.  You may see plants with less vigor, increased dieback during winter, and more susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Damage occurs where you cannot see it

Robert Childs of Fine Gardening writes: “One common long-term effect of drought is stem dieback, which is a result of the loss of fine feeder roots. As soils become dry during the hottest summer months, the fine roots in the upper soil surface may be stimulated to increase in number to get what little water is available. However, they will begin to die if soils remain dry, thus putting the root system out of balance with the amount of foliage found aboveground. When rain does return, the plant may not be able to take full advantage of this much-needed water because of its reduced root mass. The result is a resizing of the canopy through branch die-back. If drought persists into the next growing season or recurs before the tree can fully recover, it may die.”

Spring blooms may suffer

“Many woody and herbaceous perennials that bloom early in the season set their buds the previous year. These include lilacs, forsythia, peonies, and many daylilies. Even the later bloomers may have less growth next year as a result of the stresses this year. So, keep an eye on these and, if they are not at their best this coming year, don't despair but have patience!” writes Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus at UVM. So if your plants do not exhibit their usual spring glory, pamper them a bit and wait patiently until the following year.  

Smaller perennials

Some of my perennials such as astilbes dried to a crisp this summer, and I was afraid that I may have lost them permanently. The recent rains have revived them, and fresh green growth has reappeared. Bob Sohlberg, hosta breeder and owner of Green Hill Farm, warned that next year’s hostas and other perennials may be smaller in size due to this year’s drought. He recommended a foliar feed of tomato fertilizer to bulk up hosta leaves next year.

Fewer self-seeders

Mark Richardson, Director of Horticulture at Garden in the Woods, noted that plants produced fewer seeds due to the drought this year. The New England Wildflower Society propagates many of its plants through seed collection, and seed gathering was much less successful this year. If you have self-seeded foxgloves or other beauties in your garden, you may see less of them next year. My weeds did not get the drought message however – they have been as bountiful as ever.

Less gypsy moths?

This was the second year in a row that a lack of springtime rain triggered an explosion of voracious gypsy moth caterpillars in Massachusetts. Drought conditions impeded the spread of a fungus that usually keeps the number of gypsy moth caterpillars under control. If we have normal springtime rain next year, the gypsy moths should decline in number.

Looking ahead

2017 may be a challenging year in the garden, but I am already looking forward to spring as I plant my bulbs and put the garden to bed. And by next April, every blossom and green leaf poking out of the ground will be a miracle, no matter how small!





The Surprising Beauty of Hosta Flowers

I had the pleasure of touring several Hudson River estates after settling my daughter for her senior year at college. One of the places I visited was the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in Hyde Park, NY. Beatrix Farrand was one of the first women landscape designers, whose work defined the American taste in gardens through the first half of the 20th century. She championed the use of perennial plants instead of annual bedding, using color harmony, bloom sequence and texture to create beautiful herbaceous borders. Bellefield is one of the earliest examples of her private work - a small walled garden with long flower borders that show single color combinations from pink to blue, purple and white.

Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield

Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield

Seeing the garden in late August, I was struck by the white border, because it showcased a beautiful combination of white phlox and the flowers of Hosta plantaginea. I have many hostas in my own garden, and appreciate them for their strong, lush foliage in a myriad of colors and patterns. But I had never thought of planting hostas en masse,  purely for their flowers.

There are more than 58 varieties of hostas that have evolved from Hosta plantaginea. They all bloom in August and are prized for their lovely pure white flowers and strong, sweet fragrance. They need ample sun to bloom, and the flowers open in the late afternoon instead of early morning like most hostas. Some of the most well-know culitvars of H. plantaginea are 'Honeybells', 'Aphrodite', 'Cathedral Windows', 'Fragrant Bouquet' and 'Guacamole'.

Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet'

Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet'

'Venus', another cultivar of H. plantaginea, has striking flowers that are fully double.

Since hostas are members of the Liliacea family, they produce funnel-shaped blooms on scapes that arise from the center of the plant. Like day lilies, individual flowers last for only one day. The plant may produce ten or more scapes with up to 50 flowers per stem, so the bloom time can last of 3-4 weeks. By planting different cultivars, you can have hosta flowers in your shade garden from May until frost.

Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

Most of us are unimpressed with the lanky scapes and violet blooms of common green hostas. But hosta flowers can range in color from deep purple to white infused with pink.

Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

If you look at hosta flowers closely, you may see colorful striations.

Others feature unusual flower scape forms, almost resembling scepters, like those of the 'Blue Dolphin' hosta.

Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

One of the latest hybridizing trends has been to create branched flowers, as seen in this example created by Tony Avent of Plant Delights nursery.

So as you plan future gardens, give some thought to including hostas purely for their floral display. They can make magnificent additions to your landscape!

Falmouth Estate Offers Gardens and Art

If you are on the Cape this summer, I would highly recommend a visit to Highfield Hall in Falmouth, MA. Highfield Hall and Gardens is the magnificently restored 1878 estate of the Beebe family, with a dramatic history and a vibrant present-day existence. It offers something for everyone – the gardener, history buff, antique collector, art lover, theater fan and nature lover.

Highfield Hall was one of the early summer mansions built on the Cape, and is one of the few remaining examples of Stick-style Queen Anne architecture in the Northeast. It was one of two mansions built on nearly 700 acres by the James Beebe family, which gathered on the Cape for the summers and entertained in grand fashion. When the last Beebe family member died, the estate was sold and used for a variety of purposes by subsequent owners – from health resort to religious retreat to hotel. In 1949, the estate was purchased by DeWitt TerHeun, a great patron of the theater and opera, who created a theater on the grounds for college students. The theater remains the home of Falmouth’s much-loved summer stock company from Oberlin College, the College Light Opera Company.

From the late 1970s to 1994, Highfield was abandoned and suffered two decades of neglect and vandalishm. In 1994, a demolition permit was filed by the owners, which propelled a group of Falmouth citizens to organize to save the mansion. The group, now the Highfield Hall & Gardens non-profit organization, was embroiled in years of legal battles to stave off demolition. Volunteers cleared the property and secured the building from further decay and vandalism, while raising money and public awareness of the mansion’s plight. Finally, in 2000, the Town of Falmouth took Highfield Hall and 6 acres by eminent domain, and authorized the non-profit grout to renovate and operate the property. The extraordinary restoration effort that followed was made possible through donations totaling in excess of $8.5 million, almost all of which were contributed by private individuals. In 2006, the first stage of restoration was completed, and Highfield was opened to the public.

For the garden afficianado, Highfield Hall provides two formal gardens, a labyrinth, as well as walking paths through a rhododendron dell, heritage beech plantings and nearly 400 acres of woodlands. When Highfield Hall was built, there were far fewer trees on the property than there are today, since wood was the main source of building materials and heat. To design their property, the Beebes enlisted renowned landscape designer Ernest Bowditch, and later Frederick Law Olmstead. The Beebes were passionate about their plantings, and many of their favorite beech trees remain on the property.

Two formal gardens were part of the original plan. The West Garden, originally a cutting garden, supplied fresh flowers for the house all season long. Franklin Beebe was often found in this garden, tending his favorite flower, the carnation. Today, this garden is planted with shade and sun-loving perennials, from hostas to daylilies, rudbeckia, sedums and scabiosa.

The Sunken Garden was restored in 2011 according to a design by noted landscape preservationist Lucinda Brockway. Lucinda based her design on evidence of the Beebe’s original garden, but created a planting scheme that would offer more seasonal color and easier maintenance. The gardens are maintained by volunteers. The central boxwood-bordered beds bloom in shades of purple and blue in the summer with hundreds of salvias, ‘Rosane’ geraniums, and verbena bonariensis, accented with the silver foliage of artemesia, circling spiky yuccas. The outer beds feature peonies and re-blooming daylilies. The focal point of the garden is a tall whimsical tree scupture named “The Spirits of the Garden” by Alfred Glover, representing the passageways between the spiritual and the living in the garden.

When you visit Highfield Hall the summer, you will be treated to a wonderful art exhibit which is on view through September 14: “Kanreki: A 60 Year Journey. The 60th CWAJ Exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Prints”. This exhibit features more than 200 contemprorary Japanese prints by established and emerging artists. The prints encompass diverse techniques from traditional woodblock to intaglio, lithography, etching, aquatint, silkscreen and more contemporary digital innovations. The show debuted in Tokyo, and Highfield Hall is its exclusive US venue.



Poetry, Garden and Art

In addition to wonderful botanic gardens, New England is rich with historic estates and their beautiful gardens. If you are traveling through Connecticut on Rte. 84, you can visit one such estate located west of Hartford - Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington. Hill-Stead offers a unique glimpse into the lifestyle of a well-to-do family at the turn of the 20th century. Set on 152 acres, the estate houses a fabulous art collection including Impressionist paintings by Mary Cassatt, Edge Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and James McNeill Whistler, as well as a print collection spanning 400 years.

Hill-Stead was the first architectural project of Theodate Pope Riddle (1867-1946), who was the fourth registered female architect in the country, an early proponent of historic preservation, and caretaker of the family art collection. She designed Hill-Stead as a country home for her parents, and the 33,000 square foot Colonial-Revival mansion was completed in 1901.

When Theodate died in 1946, her will stipulated that Hill-Stead become a museum as a memorial to her parents, and "for the benefit and enjoyment of the public." She called for the house and its contents to remain intact: not the be moved, lent or sold.

Theodate's vision for Hill-Stead was not limited to the architecture - she was equally interested in the surrounding landscape. The original gardens at Hill-Stead included an expansive Walking Garden for strolling, and a Sunken Garden designed by Beatrix Farrand.

The octagonal Sunken Garden occupies nearly an acre, and boasts a summer house, brick walkways, and a stone sundial inscribed with "Art is Long, Life is Brief" in Latin. More than 90 varieties of perennials in shades of pink, blue, purple and white accented with silvery-gray foliage mimic the color palette of the Impressionist paintings found within the mansion.

July and August are perfect for visiting Hill-Stead. The tour of the home showcases beautiful antiques, decorative arts, and of course the art collection. In addition to the gardens, Hill Stead's three miles of walking trails feature a pond habits, meadows. lowland, and forests, and are a nature enthusiast's and bird watcher's paradise. The museum also hosts an annual poetry festival with five nationally acclaimed poets, poetry writing workshops, and musical entertainment. For more information, visit hillstead.org

Midsummer Garden Bursts into Bloom

Despite the high temperatures and lack of rainfall, my midsummer garden is exploding with blooms, from shrubby hydrangeas and viburnums to dainty geraniums and bold day lilies. The pastel pinks, violets and blues of June have been transformed into sunny bright yellows, rich golds, oranges and deep reds, with a big dose of white from Annabelle hydrangeas that appear in every corner of the garden. Here are a few highlights:

The native deciduous azalea prunifolium, started from a rooted cutting, is now a sturdy 3 foot tall shrub.

The native deciduous azalea prunifolium, started from a rooted cutting, is now a sturdy 3 foot tall shrub.

This unknown variety of helenium received from a friend has been cheering up the perennial bed for 15 years.

This unknown variety of helenium received from a friend has been cheering up the perennial bed for 15 years.

Beebalm, shasta daisies and a variegated grass engulf the obelisk.

Beebalm, shasta daisies and a variegated grass engulf the obelisk.

A progression of blooms in the daylily border delights me with new flowers every day.

A progression of blooms in the daylily border delights me with new flowers every day.

A chartreuse form of feverfew has self-seeded throughout the garden, and its miniature flowers bloom for weeks.

A chartreuse form of feverfew has self-seeded throughout the garden, and its miniature flowers bloom for weeks.

Clematis Huldine has outgrown its trellis and is spreading on the ground and scrambling up the wall of the garage.

Clematis Huldine has outgrown its trellis and is spreading on the ground and scrambling up the wall of the garage.

A beautiful rose daylily is complemented by 'Blue Star' Juniper below.

A beautiful rose daylily is complemented by 'Blue Star' Juniper below.

Tranquil Beauty in the Seattle Japanese Garden


One of my favorite April vacations was a visit to an old friend who had relocated to Seattle. Although my friend is not a gardener, he was a gracious and generous host who accompanied me to several public gardens that were on my "must-see" list. I was particularly anxious to visit a Japanese garden since there are few of those in the Northeast, and I was not disappointed.

There are two main Japanese gardens in Seattle - the Kubota Garden and the Seattle Japanese Garden. The Seattle Japanese Garden is a 3.5 acre garden tucked into the southern end of the Washington Park Arboretum. This small, perfectly designed jewel of a garden is one of the oldest Japanese gardens in North America, and is considered one of the most authentic and beautiful Japanese gardens outside of Japan.

The garden was conceived as a bridge between the Japanese and American people, and was created in 1960 by world-renowned designers Juki Iida and Kiyoshi Inoshita. Construction of the garden included bringing 580 granite boulders, ranging from 1,000 pounds to 11 tons,  from the Cascade mountains. These boulders were personally scouted and selected by Iida, wrapped in bamboo matting and transported to the garden where they were carefully arranged to complement the plantings.

Traditional Japanese gardens are all about form and structure, developed through the thoughtful  juxtaposition of stone, water, plants and decorative elements. The gardens are designed for tranquility and quiet contemplation. Seasonal interest is achieved through flowering trees and shrubs - cherry blossoms, azaleas, rhododendrons and tree peonies in the spring, and the colorful foliage of maples and ginkgo trees in the fall. Cedars, pines, ferns and mosses provide serene green backdrops and textural interest.

The Seattle Japanese Garden features a pond with turtles, giant koi, and herons that fly in from the neighboring arboretum. Winding paths allow you to slowly enjoy the unfolding vistas and intricate details of sculptural tree trunks, ethereal blossoms and gracious lanterns. With the gentle background melody of birds and running water, the Seattle Japanese Garden is a beautiful place to spend a few hours in perfect tranquility.

Spanish Bluebells Welcome Spring

Also known as Wood Hyacinths, Spanish Bluebellls (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are charming additions to the spring garden. The pale blue, dangling bells complement yellow daffodils, red tulips, white lily-of-the-valley, and many other spring flowers.

Spanish bluebells are bulbous perennials native to Spain, Portugal and northwest Africa. Each bulb produces a clump of 2-6 strap-shaped leaves and a flower stem with 12-15 hanging, bell-shaped flowers. The plants are 12-18" tall. The bulbs are inexpensive, readily available, and easy to grow, so if you are new to bulb gardening, they are great plants to try.

Hardy in zones 3-8, Spanish bluebells will grow in full sun to part shade, and are not fussy about their soil requirements. They are good naturalizes, spreading both through bulb offsets and seeds. Here in New England, they will spread discreetly but steadily, making a cheerful community. Like other spring bulbs, they should be planted in the fall, and will bloom in early April to early May. The leaves will disappear as the plants go dormant for the summer.

Spanish bluebells are versatile additions to the garden. In addition to the classic blue form, there are pink and white varieties available. They look great sprinkled among other spring bulbs in a sunny garden, or combined with bleeding hearts, geranium macrorhizum and epimediums in a shady border. You can plant them around the bases of hostas, and as the hosta leaves unfurl, they will hide the bluebells' yellowing foliage in late spring. They also complement spring-blooming shrubs, and look great massed in a woodland or naturalized in large drifts under deciduous trees. No matter where they are planted, Spanish bluebells create a delightful, cottage-style garden.

White Spanish Bluebells with Bergenia, Ajuga, and Geranium macrorhizum

White Spanish Bluebells with Bergenia, Ajuga, and Geranium macrorhizum

Sources: Breck's, White Flower Farm