10 Outstanding Mail-Order Nurseries to Try in 2019

Once the holidays are over, I begin thinking about new plants for the garden. Here are some of my favorite mail-order nurseries for perennials, trees and shrubs that you will want to peruse in 2019. Do you have other favorites? Please share them with others in the comments section!


Peony’s Envy

Peony’s Envy is home to more than 700 varieties of tree, herbaceous, and intersectional peonies that enjoy cult status among aficionados. In addition to ordering online, you can visit Peony’s Envy from May to mid-June to see and smell the luscious blooms in person. The seven-acre production garden is also a beautiful display garden, with formal flower beds, stone walls, and meandering paths through the woodland. peonysenvy.com


Avant Gardens

Avant Gardens has been known for over 25 years as a specialty nursery that offers rare and surprising perennials, trees, and shrubs. You will find a lilac here, but it will have golden foliage. The daphne will be only 12” high—perfect for a rock garden. The mimosa tree will have rich maroon foliage, and the bleeding heart will sport white flowers atop bright yellow leaves. Located in southern Massachusetts, Avant Gardens has some of the best unusual plants for New England gardens. avantgardensne.com


Van Engelen

Located in Connecticut, Van Engelen offers a wide range of spring and summer-blooming bulbs at wholesale prices. What that means is that quantities begin at 25 of one bulb, and range up to 1000. The selection is excellent, with 28 varieties of alliums, Orienpet, Asiatic, Chinese Trumpet and naturalizing lilies, 15 varieties of fritillary, and much more. vanengelen.com


RareFind Nursery

RareFind prides itself on selling plants that you cannot find in your local garden center. Special collections include witch hazels, azaleas, magnolias (including unusual yellow-flowered varieties), hydrangeas, and carnivorous and bog plants. rarefindnursery.com



Logees specializes in tropical plants, citrus trees and unusual edibles, begonias, orchids and houseplants. If you are looking for Passion flowers, clivia, jasmine, or almost any other tender plant, you will enjoy browsing through Logees’ extensive website. logees.com


Cricket Hill Garden

Cricket Hill Garden was one of the first nurseries to collect and propagate tree peonies imported from China. Their vast collection has grown to include herbaceous and Intersectional peonies, as well as unusual fruit trees and berries such as PawPaw, mulberry, medlar, elderberry, persimmon and more. treepeony.com


Broken Arrow Nursery

Broken Arrow Nursery is widely acknowledged in gardening circles as a source for rare plants, particularly trees and shrubs. Owner Dick Jaynes is a world expert on Mountain Laurels, and you can purchase many of his hybrids as well as unusual firs, Japanese Maples, magnolias, and variegated and weeping varieties of virtually any tree or shrub. brokenarrownursery.com


Forest Farm

Forest Farm has been collecting and propagating unusual plants for more than 40 years. They feature and astounding 146 varieties of maples, 23 varieties of oaks, 66 varieties of pines, 14 gingkoes, as well as bamboos, ferns, grasses and shrubs. Their website is highly informative with excellent search capabilities to help you find just the perfect plant for your space. forestfarm.com


Plant Delights

Owner Tony Avent collects rare and unusual plants from all over the world during his frequent plant hunting expeditions and from other prominent collectors. He also conducts his own plant breeding programs with special focus on hostas, trilliums, cyclamen and other perennials. These plants are trialed for several years in the nursery’s field beds before they are introduced to the public. There are more than 1700 varieties available on the website. plantdelights.com

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Garden Vision

Garden Vision has specialized in epimediums since 1997, and offer more than 200 hybrids for sale. Like other plant species, epimediums have developed collector status, and Garden Vision is fondly referred to as the “Epi-Center of the Universe.” Most of the epimediums were collected or hybridized by plant hunter Darrell Probst. epimediums.com

Hakone Grass - A Four Season Stunner


It can be tough to find perennials that dazzle in all four seasons,  but Hakonechloa macra, commonly called Hakone grass, is a plant that fits the bill. Hakone grass is a beautiful perennial grass with gracefully arching leaves that sway in the breeze. It grows slowly to form a cascading mound of eye-catching foliage and has a strong presence in the garden year round.


Although most grasses prefer full sun, Hakone grass is a shade-loving grass native to moist mountain and woodland areas in central Japan. Mt. Hakone, gives it both its genus name and common name, and it is also commonly referred to as Japanese Forest Grass. Its native habitat also gives a clue to its water requirements. Although this grass can grow in full sun and deep shade, it needs consistent moisture – not wet feet, but regular watering. 

Garden of Wayne Mezzitt.

Garden of Wayne Mezzitt.

Hakone grass is a tough, long-lived perennial that is easy to grow and has no serious insect or disease problems. It performs best in part shade and humus-rich, well-drained soil. Leaves may scorch in hot summers, particularly when consistent moisture is not maintained. A winter mulch is recommended, but I have found no need for this. Clumps spread slowly by rhizomes, but are not invasive. The plant ultimately grows to about 24” wide by 18” tall, and produces delicate sprays of green flowers in summer. The leaves have a papery texture that resembles bamboo. Hakone grass is best divided in spring, but because it is a slow grower, division will not be necessary for many years.


The foliage turns a soft copper color in late fall, and can be left on the plant to provide winter interest. It should be trimmed to the ground in early spring before new shoots emerge.


There are two popular varieties of Hakone grass. Just as its name implies, ‘All Gold’ gleams in the garden and holds its brilliant color from spring through fall. It will be chartreuse in shade, and yellow gold in full sun.


‘Aureola’ is a golden-striped form that grows to 15” tall and features gracefully arching green leaves variegated with gold longitudinal striping. It is slower growing and less winter hardy than the straight species or ‘All Gold'. Leaf variegation color is affected by the amount of sun exposure and the growing climate. 


Hakone grass has many uses in the garden. It can be grown as a specimen in a container.


It can be massed as a ground cover in the landscape.

"Grass Painting" at Bedrock Gardens.

"Grass Painting" at Bedrock Gardens.

Shady entrance area at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.

Shady entrance area at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.

Hakone Grass makes a perfect focal point in the shade garden.

At the Elizabeth Park perennial garden.

At the Elizabeth Park perennial garden.

Hakone Grass is brilliant in all four seasons. It adds bright color in early spring, and is a brilliant companion to spring bulbs.

Early spring with ajuga at Elm Bank.

Early spring with ajuga at Elm Bank.

Mid-spring with tulips at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

Mid-spring with tulips at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

It adds softness to paved areas and stone elements, and drapes beautiful on slopes and over garden edges.

Garden of Joyce Hannaford

Garden of Joyce Hannaford

Garden of Joyce Hannaford

Garden of Joyce Hannaford

Its fine texture makes a lovely contrast with hostas and shade perennials, including heucheras, epimediums, ferns and hellebores.


Once you start growing hakone grass, you will continue to find new ways and new places to use it!

Peony Partners


From early childhood, peonies had a special place in my heart. Perhaps it was that their bloom time coincided with my June birthday. Or my mother's often recounted memory of the lavish peony bouquet that Dad had gave her in the early days of their courtship. I loved the soft colors, full blooms and heavenly scent of peony blossoms. Like other June brides, I included peonies in my wedding bouquet, and they were the first perennials that I planted in my garden.

Although gorgeous on their own, peonies can be paired with other perennials and shrubs that will serve as complements or offer contrasts in shape, form or texture. Below are examples of peony partners from my own garden and others that I have toured.


Pale pink peonies in my garden are paired with purple heuchera, geranium 'Biokovo' and the colorful foliage of weigela 'My Monet', which is only 2' tall at maturity.


The spiky form and soft blue color of catmint complements all types of peonies, as seen at The Mount.


Digitalis offers a strong architectural form that contrasts well with peony flowers.


On the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, peonies are paired with pale pink poppies and alliums.


I enjoy underplanting peonies with purple heucheras and  Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'.


Siberian and bearded irises provide a strong complement to peonies with their large flowers and statuesque form.


Baptisia, with its spires of blue, white, purple or yellow flowers, creates a great backdrop for peonies.


The large flower heads of alliums balance the prominent flowers of double peonies at Ambler Arboretum in Pennsylvania.


This lovely combination of coral peonies and purple alliums was a prominent planting feature at Longwood Gardens this spring.


Light pink peonies cascade over the fading blooms of hellebores and perennial geraniums. Hellebores thrive in sunny spots as long as they are watered regularly.


A boxwood hedge creates a stately and serene background for peonies in a Delaware garden.


Shrubs that flower at the same time as peonies, such as mountain laurels (above) and rhododendrons, provide pleasing counterparts. At Winterthur, the peony garden is framed by several old fashioned 'beauty bush' (kolwitzia) shrubs, which can be trained into a tree form or left as a weeping shrub.


A gold smoke tree, Cotinus 'Golden Spirit', provides a stunning backdrop for coral peonies at Longwood Gardens. In my garden, weigela 'Wine and Roses' sets off the dark blooms of peony 'Karl Rosenfeld'.


The maroon foliage of a 'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple provides a stunning backdrop to peonies in bud and bloom.


In my cutting garden, the peonies are backed by an ivy-covered stone wall that has both aesthetic and functional benefits. It shields the peonies from wind and radiates warmth on cool spring days.

10 New Perennials for Your Garden


March is a great time to peruse plant catalogs, websites and flower shows in search of the new and garden-worthy. Here are 10 intriguing new plants for this year's perennial gardens.


Astrantia major 'White Giant'

This long-flowering favorite of butterflies and floral designers produces tidy mounds of greenish white flowers, each framed by a burst of white bracts tipped and veined in green. The flowers are held high on slender stems, making them great for cutting, and they’re contrasted to perfection by dark green, serrated leaves. An excellent cut flower if stems are harvested when the uppermost blooms are fully open. Astrantias prefer full sun or partial shade and average soil that doesn’t go dry. White Flower Farm


Geranium 'Azure Rush'

A compact sport of G. Rozanne, the light lavender-blue 2 ½” flowers feature the same vigorous, long-blooming, heat-tolerant qualities on a more compact, rounded shape. 18" tall, full sun to half-day sun. Geranium Azure Rush is a Blooms of Bressingham variety selected for outstanding qualities, reliable growing performance and stunning beauty. Bluestone Perennials


Clematis 'Chevalier'

Though technically a vine, this clematis grows to a small size and can be left to mingle horizontally in the perennial bed. Very free-flowering, Chevalier produces starry, rich purple flowers over a long bloom season.  It can be grown in containers. Height: 4-6 feet, blooms all summer. Brushwood Nursery


Hosta 'Sapphire Pillows'

Another great blue hosta from Don Dean and a must-have for the hosta collector! Leaves are intensely sapphire blue with heavy corrugation, slight cupping at the mid-rib, and fold at the tip. The blue will hold very late into the season when kept from direct sunlight. Lavender flowers in summer. 23" tall x 45" wide. New Hampshire Hostas


Hakonechloa 'SunFlare'

This Japanese Forest Grass sports bright yellow cascading leaves tipped with rich burgundy.  Cool weather brings green and orange highlights. Great color addtion to a shade garden! Santa Rosa Gardens

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Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine'

An amazing new corydalis from China that is taking the trade by storm.  Will take full sun or light shade in superbly drained soil and grow to a stunning 24" wide clump topped with fragrant, wine-purple flowers from mid-April through November. Lazy S'S Farm


Peony 'Julia Rose'

An Itoh peony with glorious tonal variations of vibrant pink, soft cream, and peach on a compact plant with beautiful foliage. Itoh peonies are crosses of a tree and an herbaceous peony. Peony's Envy


Dicentra Spectabilis 'White Gold'

This select form of Bleeding Hearts brightens the mid-spring garden with brilliant golden foliage and pure white blossoms on arching stems. Plants grow to 2' tall x 3' wide, and in bloom might reach 30". Avant Gardens


Baptisia  'Purple Smoke'

This 3-4’ tall plant produces numerous dusky-purple flowers atop gray-green leaves that are carried on charcoal-colored stems. An outstanding cultivar introduced by the NC Botanical Garden. Broken Arrow


Hemerocallis 'Ruby Clare Mims'

Ruby Clare checks all the boxes for the perfect summer border—a high bud count, pleasing fragrance and reliable reblooming nature. Large, 6" blooms are held at a moderate 29" height and feature rosy red petals with a pale highlight at the eye. Contrasting white, toothy edging and a striking yellow-green throat add to its appeal. Breck's

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!

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 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!

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

More Hellebores, Please!

Hellebores have become one of my favorite plants since I began growing them about 10 years ago. They bloom at a time when the garden is mostly dormant - from late fall to early spring - and bring a smile to my face every time I see them bravely holding up their blossoms against the harsh weather. They are easy to grow, virtually care-free, and there are wonderful new varieties introduced every year.

This hellebore Niger began blooming in early December due to our warm winter this year.

This hellebore Niger began blooming in early December due to our warm winter this year.

Hybrid hellebores are expensive to purchase (about $17 for a one-gallon pot) because it takes three to five years for them to bloom, and growers generally only sell blooming plants. You can buy smaller plants through mail order. But the most economical way to increase your collection is to propagate your own plants. You can divide all hellebores except the caulescent varieties (H. argutifolius, H. livius and H. foetidus).

Unlike other perennials, hellebores are long-lived plants that do not need to be divided to remain vigorous. In researching hellebore division, I have found a range of recommendations as to when to divide your hellebores - from dividing them in early spring, to mid spring while they are still in bloom, to waiting until mid-summer, to early fall (September to October). Since opinions on this vary so widely, I think that it is safe to do the division in any of these seasons. I have done it successfully in early summer, while the flowers were still visible on the plant, but after their beautiful display in early spring. The keys to successful division seem to be:

  1. Make sure that there are flower buds in each division
  2. Divisions should not be allowed to dry out after replanting
  3. Divisions should have enough time to establish a healthy root system before winter 

To divide a hellebore, dig up the entire plant, wash the crown free of soil in order to better see what you are doing, and then cut between the growth buds with a sharp knife. Try to leave at least three buds in each division so that the plants will recover quickly.

For your first experience, select a plant that has 5-10 flowers on it. Older plants are very woody in their center. Make sure that you have a very sharp knife. I keep a small pruning saw with a serrated blade just for the purpose of dividing perennials. Make sure that each division has a portion of the center along with the newer growth from the edge of the plant. 

Plant your divisions in full shade to almost full sun. Add compost to the planting hole, firmly tamp down the soil, water, and mulch. I also water with a high-phosphorous fertilizer to encourage good rooting. Divisions should be kept moist throughout their first growing season until frost.

One of my hellebore gardens with divisions from my own plants.

One of my hellebore gardens with divisions from my own plants.

Another way to add hellebores to your collection is to grow on any seedlings that have rooted around the mother plant. Not all hellebores produce seeds - some are sterile hybrids. But many of the orientalis type do set seed every year, and if you look carefully, you will see little seedlings growing around the mother plant. These seedlings should be moved to a nursery location after they have developed a true set of leaves, so that they will not be shaded out by the mature plants. I grow them on for about two years in a nursery bed, and then plant them out in the garden, eager to see what these babies will look like when they bloom.

Seedlings with fully formed leaves at the base of the mother plants.

Seedlings with fully formed leaves at the base of the mother plants.

Two-year old seedlings in the nursery bed where they enjoy beautiful soil and no competition from other plants.

Two-year old seedlings in the nursery bed where they enjoy beautiful soil and no competition from other plants.

Hellebore foetidus produces many seedlings in my garden, and I find them in random places where they have planted themselves. Since foetidus is not a long-lived plant, you should keep some seedling growing by the mother plant so that you continue to have hellebores in that spot. Because they have finely cut foliage, these hellebores do not shade out their babies.

Hellebore foetidus seedlings

Hellebore foetidus seedlings

I have so enjoyed slowly collecting new cultivars, dividing my plants and growing on hellebores from seed, that I now have about 50 hellebore plants throughout my garden. And when I see them blooming every winter, I know that I will add more!

New Hellebores available to purchase this year

(From top left): Berry Swirl (Plant Delights), Cotton Candy (Plant Delights), Honeymoon Rome in Red (White Flower Farm), Honeymoon Sandy Shores (White Flower Farm), Double Ellen White (White Flower Farm), Love Bug (Pine Knot Farms), Mango Magic (Broken Arrow), Tutu (Pine Knot Farms)

Sources: White Flower Farm, Pine Knot Farms, Plant Delights, Broken Arrow


The Quest for the Perfect Rose

Cinderella Rose, photo courtesy of palatine roses

Cinderella Rose, photo courtesy of palatine roses

Every year I focus on updating a different section of my garden, and this is the year of the rose bed. I have always grown roses in my garden - in fact they were the first flowers that I planted when we moved into our house in 1992. Six roses came on the moving truck with us from the city -  I grew them in pots on the porch of our rented apartment in Somerville, and overwintered them in the unheated stairwell. They went into the ground in a circular bed in my front yard, created by the previous owner's leaf pile that had been left there over the winter. Most of them did not survive that exposed, windy location, pummeled by northwestern winds all winter long. I was a novice gardener, and did not realize that my tender hybrid teas needed winter protection. But despite my lack of success, I was determined to grow roses in my garden.

Aloha Rose was one of the roses that I brought from my city apartment, and it blooms to this day on my trellis.

Aloha Rose was one of the roses that I brought from my city apartment, and it blooms to this day on my trellis.

I created new beds in sheltered locations, and ordered barefoot rose collections - hybrid teas from Jackson and Perkins for the bed bordering my stone garage, fragrant David Austin roses to grow along the fence. The roses were undoubtedly fussy plants - ravaged by aphids and Japanese beetles, and stripped of their leaves due to blackspot and other fungal diseases. Despite winter protection, some reverted to their Blaze rootstock, so instead of a yellow shrub rose, I ended up with another red climber that bloomed only once a year.

But when they were in bloom, the roses were gorgeous. Every year, my children lavishly decorated the table with roses for my Mother's Day breakfast, and made elaborate bouquets for my June birthday celebration. They even brought me a bouquet of my roses when I was in the hospital one early November. So even as I debated whether I should continue growing these beautiful, fussy flowers, I knew that I could not give them up. I decided to go on a quest for roses that were winter hardy, disease-resistant, fragrant, re-blooming, and had the "cabbage-rose" look of old-fashioned roses that I love.

a birthday bouquet made by my daughter

a birthday bouquet made by my daughter

At the Connecticut Flower Show, I attended a wonderful lecture by Mike and Angie Chute (RoseSolutions) entitled "Twenty-Five Fabulous Roses". Mike and Angie just published a book of 150 easy to grow, sustainable roses: Roses for New England: A Guide to Sustainable Rose Gardening. I was delighted to learn about roses that could be grown here in Massachusetts without winter protection and without constant fungicide or pesticide application. Most of these are hybrids that have been developed in the last 15 years. While Mike shared his list of 25 favorite roses, I asked him to point out those that were also fragrant. Sadly, in an effort to hybridize for hardiness, disease-resistance and a long season of bloom, modern hybridizers had sacrificed fragrance. Of the 25 roses on Mike's list, only 6 were fragrant.


I also found a second excellent guide to disease-free roses by Peter E. Kukielski, Roses Without Chemicals. Peter is the former curator of the rose garden at New York Botanical Garden, and this book highlights 150 tough new varieties of roses that perform well in all kinds of conditions. Each rose in the book has a detailed description along with a point rating which includes scores for disease resistance, bloom, fragrance and an overall score.

Cross-referencing both lists, culling out only fragrant roses and those with full, cabbage-rose heads, choosing those hardy to our zone and those that grew in a particular size range, I came up with a list of about 15 roses. Now the challenge was to find them for sale. I decided to order them via mail-order so that I could get them in the ground early. Nurseries often do not have roses until May. I was also looking primarily for bare-root, because I think that it's easier to establish bare-root shrubs in the garden. Some nurseries have already closed bare-root orders for the season. In the end, I was only able to find about half of my list, and placed my orders at White Flower Farm, Heirloom Roses, and Palatine Roses in Canada.

My final selection (from top left): Ascot, First Crush, Lion's Fairy Tale, Mother of Pearl, Pomponella, Summer Memories, and Cinderella (top of page). I'm very excited to try these new roses, and will let you know how they perform!

(Rose photos courtesy of Palatine Roses)

I’d Rather Be Blue: 10 Blue Perennials for Your Garden

Virginia bluebells, daffodils and celandine poppy in the spring

Virginia bluebells, daffodils and celandine poppy in the spring

The color blue is overwhelmingly chosen as the most popular color by both men and women, so it is no wonder that we are drawn to blue flowers. Blue is a soothing color that evokes feelings of calm, trust, honesty and loyalty. Blue flowers add a touch of tranquility and cool elegance to the garden. They make excellent bedfellows in the garden, blending and complementing other hues. I love combining blue flowers with violet, pink and white hues and silver foliage in a sunny summer border, or juxtaposing them with bright yellows and oranges for a dynamic “pop” in the spring garden.

blue campanulas, geraniums and catmint in my summer perennial bed

blue campanulas, geraniums and catmint in my summer perennial bed

Since they are less prevalent than white, pink and yellow flowers, blue flowers appeal to all gardeners. Here are some of my favorite blue perennials for Zone 5-6 gardens: 

aconitum 'Arendsii'

aconitum 'Arendsii'

1. Aconitum ‘Arendsii’

Blue flowers are particularly rare in autumn, and the deep indigo-blue flowers of Monkshood punctuate the oranges and golds of this season.

3-4’ tall, part shade, blooms September-October



2. Baptisia

Also known as False Indigo, this late emerging, statuesque perennial with spires of pea-like flowers and handsome blue-green foliage is a focal point in the perennial bed.

3-4’ tall, sun to part shade, blooms May-June 

centaurea montana

centaurea montana

3. Centaurea montana

This perennial bachelor button is a cottage garden favorite, with furry gray-green leaves similar to lamb’s ears, and large, brilliant blue flowers.

12-18” high, full sun, blooms in May

Related post: Centaurea Montana: A Cottage Garden Favorite

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Geranium 'Rozanne'

4. Geranium ‘Rozanne’ or ‘Johnson’s Blue’

Perennial geraniums with their delicately cut foliage and low spreading habit are beautiful companions to tall, upright perennials, roses and shrubs.

Rozanne: 24” tall, full sun, blooms June-frost
Johnson’s Blue: 20” tall, full sun to part shade, blooms late May-June

Related post: Geraniums: Delicate Beauty for the Perennial Garden

geranium 'johnson's blue'

geranium 'johnson's blue'

pulmonaria 'trevi fountain'

pulmonaria 'trevi fountain'

5. Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

One of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring, pulmonaria sports showy, lance-shaped leaves with silver spots, and deep blue flowers that change to violet and rose as they age.

11” tall, part shade, blooms in April

Related post: Pulmonaria Pops in the Shade

6. Lobelia siphilitica

Spires of brilliant blue, trumpet-shaped flowers on a perennial that gently seeds itself in the garden.

24” tall, part shade, mid to late summer

iris cristata

iris cristata

7. Iris cristata

A charming little plant, Dwarf Crested Iris is easy to grow, pest-free, and provides amethyst-blue flowers for the shade garden.

3-6” tall, part shade, blooms May

 Related post: Dwarf Crested Iris Brightens the Spring Garden

Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

8. Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’

This catmint sports compact mounds of aromatic gray-green foliage with lavender-blue flowers.

10” tall, sun to part shade, blooms from late spring until fall

phlox divericata 'blue moon'

phlox divericata 'blue moon'

9. Phlox divericata ‘Blue Moon’

Introduced by our own Garden in the Woods, this Woodland Phlox forms a meandering groundcover with violet-blue, fragrant flowers

8-12” tall, part to full shade, blooms in May

Related post: Woodland Phlox: A Natural Mingler

Platycodon 'fuji blue'

Platycodon 'fuji blue'

10. Platycodon ‘Fuji Blue’

With irresistible balloon-like buds that open to bright-blue, five lobed flowers, Balloon Flower is a late-emerging perennial that blooms in late summer.

20” tall, full sun, blooms July-August

“Buy Local” for Your Garden

May is a prime time to buy plants for the garden, and local plant sales offer hardy stock, reasonable prices, and sometimes plants that you cannot purchase commercially. Years of gardening have taught me that the plants that thrive best in my garden are grown close to home. Commercially produced plants are propagated and grown in highly controlled conditions, in greenhouses hundreds of miles away, and forced for early bloom. They are often pot-bound, with roots compacted in a soilless mix that dries out quickly and is difficult to rehydrate. I have had the best success with perennials, trees and shrubs that are grown locally in a climate and soil that is similar to my own. These plants are generally hardy, reliable, and quickly adjust to their new home in my garden.

I try to attend several horticultural society and garden club sales every year, and am always pleased with my new finds. So mark your calendars and make some room in your beds!

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society is hosting its annual Gardeners’ Fair on Sunday, May 16 from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm at Elm Bank in Wellesley. The “Society Row Sale” features plants sold by fifteen local plant society chapters including the Daylily, Hosta, Conifer, Rose, Herb, Lilac and Cactus societies. Dozens of heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties will also be available for purchase from Allendale Farm. www.masshort.org.

The American Rhododendron Society will be participating  in the Gardener’s Fair with its plants for sale from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. You can admire the wide array of beautiful rhododendron blooms at the Society’s truss show, which opens after completion of judging at about 11:00 am.

Thousands of outstanding plants of all kinds are offered by Tower Hill, premier vendors and plant societies at the Tower Hill Plant & Garden Accessory Sale. Saturday, May 30, open to members 9:00 -11:00 am, opens to the public at 11:00. 11 French Drive, Boylston, MA. www.towerhillbg.org


Gardeners looking to expand their epimedium collection can visit Garden Vision Epimediums in Phillipston on two May weekends in 2015: May 8-10, and May 15-17, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, rain or shine. Garden Vision is primarily a mail order nursery, normally closed to the public except for the May sale weekends. On Saturday, May 16, nursery founder and epimedium expert Darrell Probst will be on hand at the nursery to answer your plant questions. Many of the hybrids are his introductions, and many of the plants sold at the nursery are clones of wild plants collected by him in China, Japan and Korea. www.epimediums.com

Native plants can be found at New England Wildflower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, which offers the largest selection of native trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, ferns, and perennials in New England. Garden in the Woods is open daily, and plants are available for sale throughout the season. www.newfs.org

For four days only, Sister Plants, a collaborative of passionate perennial growers, holds its yearly spring plant sale in Reading, Massachusetts. New England plant lovers can choose from hundreds of varieties of lovingly nurtured perennials, shrubs, trees, and herbs. The majority of the plants are grown in local garden plots and are sold at a fraction of catalog and garden center prices, starting at just $3. May 16-17, Reading, MA, www.sisterplants.com

Most garden clubs hold plant sales in May to fund their operations. Below is a partial listing, and others may be found on the Garden Club Federation of Mass. website calendar pages (gcfm.org)

Holliston Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 9:00 – 12:00, Congregational Church Green, Holliston, www.hollistongardenclub.org

Ashland Garden Club, Saturday, May 9, 9:00 – 12:00, Montenegro Square, Front St., Ashland, www.ashlandgardenclub.org

Hopkinton Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 8:00 – 11:00 am, Hopkinton Town Common, www.hopkintongardenclub.org

Framingham Garden Club, Saturday, May 18, 9:00 – 12:00, Cushing Park, Winter Street, Framingham, www.framinghamgardenclub.com.

Fairbanks Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 9:00 – 12:00, historic Fairbanks House, 511 East St, Dedham

Greenleaf Garden Club of Milford, Saturday, May 16 8:00 – 12:00, Louisa Lake parking lot, Dilla St., Milford

Groton Garden Club, Saturday May 9, 8:30 – 12:00, Main Street (Rt. 119), in front of Town Hall

Foxboro Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 9:00 – 12:00, Foxboro Common

Favorite Nurseries in New England

Joan and I love to lecture about gardening and are often asked about where we obtain our plants. The short answer is “everywhere” – from specialty nurseries, local nurseries, plant swaps, big box stores, friends, mail order sources, plant societies and special plant sales. We both seek out nurseries when we travel, and almost always come home with souvenir plants. Some of my plants journeyed home with me from Cape Cod, Philadelphia, New York, New Mexico and Seattle. Some of the best nurseries in New England are destination nurseries with beautiful display gardens. Others are small home nurseries that grew out of a passion for a certain plant.

Here is a list of some of our favorite sources for plants in New England. 

Cochato Nursery

Cochato Nursery

Cochato Nursery

Specialty nursery featuring unique plants and incredible display gardens. Great selection of unusual perennial shade plants (including hundreds of hostas), plus a variety of unusual trees and shrubs for all gardens. Owners Chuck Doughty and Sue DuBrava are welcoming and knowledgeable about all aspects of the plant world. Open May 2, 2015 to Labor Day, Thursday-Sunday. 373 North Franklin St, Holbrook, MA.  www.cochatonursery.com

New England Wildflower society

New England Wildflower society

New England Wildflower Society

NEWS offers a wonderful range of native plants--with the genetic traits that make them hardy in the region and perfect for native wildlife--for home gardeners. Plants are available for sale at Garden in the Woods, 180 Hemenway Rd., Framingham, MA and Nasami Farm Nursery, 128 North Street, Whately, MA www.newfs.org

katsura gardens

katsura gardens

 Katsura Gardens

Specialty nursery featuring rare trees, unusual conifers and specialty plants. Katsura Gardens is especially known for its large collection of Japanese Maples. 112 Carver Road, Plymouth, MA.  www.katsuragardens.com 

Weston Nurseries

Weston Nurseries

Weston Nurseries

With a history of rhododendron hybridizing, including the ubiquitous PJM rhodie, Weston Nurseries is a favorite for its extensive selection of rhododendrons, shrubs and trees. Weston has always been an excellent resource for horticultural information – from the knowledgeable staff, to their catalogs and online plant library. 93 Main St. (Rte 135), Hopkinton, MA. 508-435-3414; 160 Pine Hill RoadChelmsford, MA. 978-349-0055 www.westonnurseries.com

Russell's Garden Center

Russell's Garden Center

Russell’s Garden Center

With an extensive gift and garden accessory shop, Russell’s is a fun destination year-round. I especially like their selection of perennials and roses, as well as water plants and pond supplies. 397 Boston Post Road, Wayland, MA. 508-358-2283  www.russellsgardencenter.com

Bigelow Nurseries

Bigelow Nurseries

Bigelow Nurseries

Celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year, Bigelow Nurseries has a good selection of trees, shrubs and perennials at prices that tend to better than at other large local nurseries. 455 W. Main St., Northboro, MA. 508-845-2143 www.bigelownurseries.com 

Tranquil Lake Nursery

Tranquil Lake Nursery

Tranquil Lake Nursery

Warren Leach’s Tranquil Lake Nursery is the largest grower is daylilies and Siberian and Japanese Iris in the northeastern U.S. Visitors are always welcome to stroll through the display gardens and more than 10 acres of growing fields and to choose from more than 2,500 cultivars of daylilies and 200 cultivars of iris.  45 River St., Rehoboth, MA. 508-252-4000 www.tranquil-lake.com

Briggs Garden & Home

Briggs offers a beautiful selection of annuals and perennials in addition to shrubs and trees. The nursery has expanded to include garden accents and home décor, and there is a café on the premises. 295 Kelley Blvd., North Attleboro, MA. 508-699-7421 www.briggsgarden.com

o'Brien Nurserymen

o'Brien Nurserymen

O'Brien Nurserymen

Specialty nursery. Incredible selection and quality: hundreds of hostas, plus conifers, Japanese maples, shade perennials. Beautiful display gardens. Definitely worth the trip! Owner John O'Brien is friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about plants! Mail order for hosta plants only. 40 Wells Road, Granby, CT.  www.obrienhosta.com

 Mason Hollow Nursery

Mail order and specialty nursery. Top quality plants for everyone from the novice gardener to the collector. Huge selection of Heuchera, hundreds of hostas, unusual shade perennials, conifers and small trees. Owners Sue and Chuck Anderson are a delight - and so helpful! Beautiful display gardens. Opens for the season May 9, 2015. 47 Scripps Lane, Mason NH.  www.masonhollow.com

Broken Arrow Nursery

Broken Arrow Nursery

Broken Arrow Nursery

Broken Arrow is best known for its mountain laurel collection, and has been featured in several gardening magazines. It features an unparalleled inventory of off-the-beaten-track and brand-new varieties of woody plants. Open April to October 31.13 Broken Arrow Road, Hamden, CT; brokenarrownursery.com

Snug Harbor Farm

Snug Harbor Farm

Snug Harbor Farm

Lauded by Yankee Magazine as one of the top five nurseries in New England. Fantastic containers and topiaries created from uncommon botanicals elevate gardening to the level of fine art. Open year-round.87 Western Ave., Kennebunk, ME. 207-967-2414; snugharborfarm.com

Garden Sales

Conveniently located off of I-84 in Manchester, Conn., Garden Sales is a family owned nursery owned by the Turull family. Garden Sales has an excellent selection of hostas, as well as hard to find perennials, daylilies, roses, peonies, ornamental grasses, dwarf conifers and ornamental trees. 308 Oakland St., Manchester, CT  860-649-9406 www.gardensalesllc.com

Off the Beaten Path

Completely Clematis Nursery

As the name says, a small nursery specializing in all types of clematis, both retail and mail order. Completely Clematis focuses on small-flowered species and hybrids that are easy and rewarding to grow. 217 Argilla Road, Ipswich, MA. (978) 356-3197  www.clematisnursery.com

Boulderwoods Nursery

Boulderwoods Nursery

Boulderwoods Nursery

Boulderwoods is the home nursery of Joe Bruso, an active member of the Rhododendron Society and rhododendron hybridizer. His nursery is a wonderful place to visit in May, when hundreds of rhododendrons throughout his property are in bloom. Joe also propagates other woody shrubs and trees, including the native big-leaf magnolias. Available by appointment. 61 S. Mill St., Hopkinton, MA. 508-435-8217

Garden Vision Epimediums

Garden Vision Epimediums

Garden Vision Epimediums

Garden Vision Epimediums, also known as the “Epi-center of the Universe”,  is a small, retail mail-order nursery located in rural central Massachusetts. The plants offered represent the work of Epimedium expert Darrell Probst, who has discovered many of these plants through numerous collecting expeditions to China, Japan and Korea. The nursery is primarily mail order, but open to the public for only a select few weekends in May, during bloom season. 10 Templeton Rd., Phillipston, MA. 978-249-3863  www.epimediums.com

Do you have a favorite nursery? Add it in the Comments section!

Primroses for New England

title-primula_parryi 5.jpg

The Primrose is among the first of the flowers to bloom in the spring garden. The Latin name, Primula, means “first”. Primula is a genus of about 425 species that occur in a wide range of habitats, from bogs and marshes to alpine areas. They are widely distributed in the Northern hemisphere, mostly in Europe and Asia. Most are extremely cold hardy, some to Zone 3.

Primula have linear to ovate green leaves in basal rosettes, and attractive flowers that are salvoform (thin tube with flat petals) or tubular or bell-shaped. Many are fringed. The flowers are often produced on slender to thick flower stalks in umbels, whorls or spikes.

primula rusbyi

primula rusbyi

Primula species that are native to the US are found in the western part of the country, primarily in mountain regions. They require thoughtful placement in garden settings in the New England.  Primula rusbyi, the Rusby Primrose (Z3), is native to the mountains of the Southwestern US. It has rosette-forming, toothed green leaves and salverform rose-red to deep purple flowers. It’s useful in alpine and rock gardens with reliable moisture.

Primula 'Cabrillo'

Primula 'Cabrillo'

Other Primula species, however, grow very well in our area and provide unique beauty and brilliance to the spring garden. Primula veris, or Cowslip, native to Europe and West Asia, is very successful in my garden in dappled shade in rich soil. I have planted a cultivar named ‘Cabrillo’ in a slightly low area, not boggy at all, but never overly dry. It has sweet-smelling, brilliant yellow blossoms, and is the first primrose to bloom.

red-flowered cowslip

red-flowered cowslip

Cowslip has a long history of use in herbal and folk remedies to treat a variety of ailments. Its leaves have been used in teas to cure nerves and anxiety, its flowers to treat bruises, and its roots as an expectorant to break up mucus. In 17th century England, applying water distilled from cowslip, or an ointment made from cowslip flowers, was thought to make one more beautiful.

Primula seiboldii

Primula seiboldii

Another primrose that is exceptional in our area is Primula seiboldii (Siebold Primrose, Z4). It has showy flowers in late spring held in umbels above attractive foliage. Colors range from white to soft pink to magenta or bluish lavender, and may differ on the petal reverse. Petals may be smoothly rounded or as intricately cut as snowflakes. Unlike most primroses, it can go summer-dormant to escape summer conditions that are too hot or dry for it.

I grow a cultivar called ‘Smooch’ and find it to be a beautiful, tough, trouble-free plant with gorgeous textured leaves. I love plants that make me get down on my hands and knees for a closer look – and ‘Smooch’ does just that. Its delicate complexity gets me every time – it is fascinating. It spreads from shallow, branching rhizomes, and has spread nicely in my garden.

Candelabra primrose

Candelabra primrose

The Candelabra Primrose (Primula japonica, Z4) thrives in moist to wet areas in dappled shade. It can be grown alongside a water feature or pond, or near the house by a downspout that keeps the soil moist. It is a robust perennial with rosettes of finely scalloped or toothed light green leaves. Whorls of red-purple to white flowers appear in mid-May and June.

Candelabra Primrose sets seed readily, and forms lovely colonies that display substantial genetic variation as seen in this garden in Plymouth. New plants can be grown from collected seed and planted elsewhere in the garden, shared with friends, or sold at plant sales.

primula vulgaris

primula vulgaris

Primula vulgaris (English Primrose Z4) is native to the open woodlands and shady banks of Europe and W. Turkey. It adapts well to the home garden in locations that are not dry. The species has rosettes of bright green leaves and clusters of fragrant pale yellow flowers. It has many hybrids and cultivars displaying a wide range of colors, from purples and reds, to whites and yellows.

primula vulgaris

primula vulgaris

Primroses are beautiful additions to the spring garden. They combine beautifully with other shade plants such as hosta, bloodroot, and epimedium. Given the right conditions, they will add color to your garden for years to come!

By Joan Butler

Ten New Perennials for Your Spring 2015 Garden

March is a great time to peruse plant catalogs and choose new perennials to add pizzazz to the spring garden. Every year I wish that I had more plants for this delightful season!  Here are ten intriguing plants for our Zone 5-6 spring gardens:


1. Hellebore ‘Peppermint Ice’

This hellebore’s fluffy, double flowers are a gentle pink with a darker pink picotee edge delicately veined in varying degrees of peppermint. Dark pink backs are revealed as the cup shaped flowers gracefully hang down, and the color holds even after the flowers set seed. Evergreen and deer resistant.

12-14 inches tall, full to part shade, blooms from late winter to spring   From Burpee (burpee.com)

2. Primrose ‘Bartl’

A native of the Alps, this cultivar of P. auricula is a lovely and fragrant addition to any spring garden. ‘Bartl' primrose features dainty soft purple and white blooms above a rosette of evergreen foliage. Tuck it into the rock garden, grow it on the patio, or plant whole rows into trough planters.

8-12 inches tall, part sun, blooms mid to late spring  From Wayside Gardens (waysidegardens.com)

3. Dicentra  'Love Hearts'

Compact and exceptionally long-blooming, 'Love Hearts' is a splendid new Bleeding Heart for the shade garden. Its white, heart-shaped flowers are accented with purple, and are carried above ferny blue-green foliage.

10-12 inches high, part shade, blooms spring through summer  From Wayside Gardens (waysidegardens.com)

4. Trillium freemanii 'Cairns' (Freeman's Toadshade)

Freeman’s Toadshade is a native Trillium discovered near the remote north Alabama town of Cairns (Morgan County) at 900' elevation. The leaves are nicely patterned silver and green and the violet purple petals range from narrow to wide.

8” tall, light shade to shade, blooms in spring  From Plant Delights Nursery (plantdelights.com)


5. Iberis ‘Sweetheart’

A pink form of spring-blooming Candytuft. Sweet pink flowers mature to lilac and blanket neat cushions of dark green foliage. The foliage remains attractive year round. Iberis is perfect for cascading over rock walls or edging. After flowering, lightly shear the plants to keep them neat and bushy.

6 inches tall, full sun, pin/lavender  From Bluestone Perennials (bluestoneperennials.com)

6. Heuchera ‘Glitter’

Coral Bell bling! Polished silver foliage glistens on tidy mounds. Contrasting black veins radiate pleasing patterns against mirror-like leaves. Bouquet-like sprays of fuchsia pink flowers dance above glamorous foliage.

10 inches tall, full sun to part shade  From Bluestone Perennials (bluestoneperennials.com)

7. Iris Germanica ‘Color Strokes’

Capture the blazing glory of sunrise with this sensational tall bearded iris! The golden center mimics the sun, streaking out into cloud-white standards and burgundy falls. The impressive stems exhibit strong three-way branching and produce as many as 7 buds! An iris that is intensely showy and dramatic, both in the garden and in the vase.

30 inches tall, full sun, blooms mid to late spring  From Wayside Gardens (waysidegardens.com)

8. Geranium 'Sweet Heidy'

Another beautiful hardy geranium for the garden! This geranium has a wide open habit, 14" tall x 18" wide, and large blue-lavender flowers with a distinctive white central pattern that contrasts nicely with the dark stamens.

14 inches tall, sun to part sun, blooms from late spring until fall  From Plant Delights Nursery (plantdelights.com)

9. Clematis ‘Neva’

Lovely, compact and long-blooming, Clematis Neva is well suited to growing in containers or at the front of the border. Allow it to spill over a low wall or scramble among the perennials!

3-4 feet tall, full sun to part shade, blooms spring and summer   From Brushwood Nursery (gardenvines.com)

10. Clematis ‘Marta’

Rich pink to light red flowers can bloom on this excellent hybrid for 5 month of the year. Very free flowering!

4-6 feet tall, full sun to part shade, blooms spring and summer  From Brushwood Nursery (gardenvines.com)

 I hope this list inspires you to add a few new varieties to your spring garden!

Designing with Daylilies

With such a wide array of flower colors, shapes, heights and sizes, daylilies are fun to collect and use throughout the garden. My own collection began with a mail order of three different pink varieties that arrived as tiny divisions and took many years to grow into sizable blooming plants.

Red and orange daylilies in my "hot color" perennial bed, accented by bee balm, perilla and daisies

Red and orange daylilies in my "hot color" perennial bed, accented by bee balm, perilla and daisies

Later I discovered Steve Green’s daylily sales in Sudbury, MA, and my daylily border was born. Now that my collection of daylilies has outgrown the border, I am looking for better ways to display them. Through trial and error in my own garden, and by visiting some outstanding display gardens, I have developed a few tips on showing off these beautiful perennials to best advantage.

Orange and yellow daylily backed by the blue oval leaves of Baptisia

Orange and yellow daylily backed by the blue oval leaves of Baptisia

When choosing a location for your daylilies, you may want to ask yourself a few questions:

1. Are you featuring daylilies as the main attraction or will they complement other plants?

Daylilies make stunning accents in the garden. A well-established daylily clump can produce as many as 400 blooms in just a single season, and can flower for 4-5 weeks.  Daylily flowers light up the solid green mass of a spring-blooming shrub border and look terrific at the base of a large stone outcrop.

The maroon highlights on this peach daylily complement the 'Crimson Queen' japanese maple.

The maroon highlights on this peach daylily complement the 'Crimson Queen' japanese maple.

2. What colors will combine well with the other plants in the garden?

Resist the temptation to collect one of every daylily that's ever caught your eye. Limiting the number of daylily colors in a flower bed makes it more cohesive. Choose daylily colors that will either complement or contrast with the other flowers in your garden. And don’t forget foliage! Plants with maroon, blue, silver or gold foliage provide stunning color contrast for daylily blooms.

Soft pastels - peach daylily and creamy echinacea at Tower Hill

Soft pastels - peach daylily and creamy echinacea at Tower Hill

Maroon daylilies combine beautifully with a purple smoke bush.

Maroon daylilies combine beautifully with a purple smoke bush.

3. What about texture?

Daylilies provide the strappy texture of their leaves and the bold, star-shape of their flowers. You can create texture contrast by using complementary plant with variegated foliage, feathery, needled or furry foliage for texture contrast, or oval and round foliage for shape contrast. Plants with daisy-shaped, spiky or tiny flowers also provide a textural contrast.

Pink daylilies against the feathery foliage of Hay Scented fern

Pink daylilies against the feathery foliage of Hay Scented fern

Soft pennisteum blooms with peach daylilies

Soft pennisteum blooms with peach daylilies

A striking contrast of blue Russian Sage and crimson daylilies

A striking contrast of blue Russian Sage and crimson daylilies

4. Is the planting intended to be admired from a distance or from close up?

The one lesson I've learned over and over again in planning gardens is that fewer varieties with more plants of each variety will provide greater impact of bloom and a better overall sense of harmony. This is particularly true if you’re viewing the garden from a distance. More plants are needed to create an impact.

A stunning mass of yellow daylilies with contrasting blue 'Rozanne' geranium and a gold conifer

A stunning mass of yellow daylilies with contrasting blue 'Rozanne' geranium and a gold conifer

5. What if you can’t resist new daylilies?

Mixed borders and dedicated daylily beds are great for accommodating impulse purchases or swaps with gardening friends. Just remember to provide a soothing background for such a busy border – an evergreen hedge or a large expanse of lawn balances the excitement of a colorful border.

Daylily Society border at Elm Bank

Daylily Society border at Elm Bank

Endless Summer, Endless Bloom

A recent vacation in Cape Cod renewed my infatuation with hydrangeas. Their billowy blossoms in shades of blue, violet and pink, decorated every garden that we passed. It was truly ‘Hydrangea Heaven’ and I started thinking about adding a few more hydrangeas to my own collection.

 When I first began gardening, I loved the lush look of hydrangea blooms, but growing the plants was baffling. My sparse garden had a sickly hydrangea bush that produced one or two blossoms, and then just sat there for the rest of the season until it dropped its leaves in the fall. Some years it did not bloom at all.  Did it need fertilizer? What about water – there was “hydra” in the name after all. Were you supposed to prune those dried branches or not? It was a confusing plant, and I certainly was not eager to add any more of them to my garden.

And then about 10 years ago, I bought my first ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea, and everything changed. Most blue hydrangeas are the “bigleaf” or macrophylla varieties, hardy in Zones 6-9. While the plants themselves may withstand temperatures below zero, their flower buds, which form at the tips of their stems as the days get shorter and cooler in the fall, are often killed when temperatures drop to near 0°F. This is especially true in winters with a stretch of mild weather followed by a rapid plunge to zero or below. When those buds freeze during the winter, there will be no hydrangea blooms the following year.

The breakthrough in macrophylla hydrangeas came in the mid 1980s, when a bigleaf hydrangea that formed flower buds on new shoots was discovered at Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul, Minnesota. This hydrangea was propagated and its offspring went through an extensive trialing process by Bailey Nurseries and Michael Dirr at University of Georgia. It was finally patented as ‘Endless Summer’. In the first year of its introduction in 2003, Bailey Nurseries sold 1.5 million of these plants across North America!

For those of us in Zone 6, ‘Endless Summer’ guarantees flowers even after a tough winter like the one we just had. This winter, all of last year’s buds on my hydrangeas froze. But thanks to the breeding of these new “remontant” (flowering more than once in a single season) hydrangeas, this year’s buds are just starting to open and I will have ample blue flowers for the rest of the summer.

If you live in Zone 5 or colder, you should provide winter protection for all your big-leaf hydrangeas, including the ‘Endless Summers’. A 4-5” layer of leaves or mulch should be applied after the ground freezes, and removed in May.

‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas require minimal care once established. They prefer 6 hours of sun in our Northern climate, with dappled shade in the afternoon. I fertilize mine once in the spring with a 10-30-10 fertilizer to encourage flower formation. After the first year in my garden, I only water the shrubs in times of drought. Hydrangeas will form large leaves, lots of green growth and few flower buds if over- watered. Over-watering may also slow the formation of flowers considerably. It’s normal for plants to wilt for a short time in the heat of the day. You’re better off to water well and less often, than giving a little all the time. And I prune my plants in late spring, after the leaf buds have swelled so that I do not cut off any healthy branches.


The rest of the year, I simply enjoy the bountiful blue flowers that turn to purple and green as they fade in the fall, and provide winter interest when they dry in the winter. I have 12 ‘Endless Summers’ so far, and want to try some of the other remontant varieties such as ‘Twist ‘N Shout’, ‘David Ramsey’, ‘Decatur Blue’ and ‘Penny Mac’. They are truly hydrangeas with ‘Endless Appeal’!

There’s More to Red Than Roses: 10 Outstanding Red Flowers for the Garden

As Valentine’s Day approaches and we are surrounded by endless bouquets of monotonous red roses, I long for the beautiful red flowers that grace my garden throughout the year. Red has always been my favorite color, and I was quick to incorporate it into my garden. One of my first flower beds was a “hot colors” garden that I could see from my kitchen windows – a large kidney-shaped island of fiery red, orange, and gold perennials set against a background of my neighbor’s lush green arborvitae hedge. These sunset colors define “summer” for me, and I use the perennials in endless bouquets for my home.

As time went by, my passion for red outgrew the perennial bed, and found its way into a shrub border that complements this part of my garden. Red rhododendrons, red-leaved Japanese maples and crabapples, and the bright red berries of winterberry carry on the theme. I now have red in my garden through most of the year.

When using red in the garden, keep in mind that there are “warm” reds with a touch of yellow that combine well with oranges and yellows, and “cool” reds with a touch of blue that are better with blues and purples. Silver-leaved foliage is a perfect foil for both shades, and softens the brightness of the blooms.

Here are ten outstanding red flowers for your garden:

Tulip Darwin Hybrid ‘Red Impression’

This classic red tulip never disappoints! Unlike other tulips, the Darwin Hybrids have exceptional perennial qualities, and mine have bloomed for at least 10 years! A mid- spring bloomer, 22” high with large, bright red flowers atop sturdy stems.

Rhododendron ‘Henry’s Red’

This rhododendron has the deepest ruby-red trusses that I have ever seen. With funnel-shaped flowers that have a dark red throat, it is a stunning sight in the May garden. Henry’s Red is a Mezitt hybrid, prefers full sun to part shade and grows to about 5’ tall.

Azalea ‘Hino Crimson’

A dwarf, low growing, compact shrub with brilliant red flowers in mid May, this azalea is one of the most popular and reliable evergreen azaleas in New England. As a bonus, its foliage turns a handsome dark red in autumn.

Bleeding Heart: Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’

With deep red flowers gracefully suspended along arching burgundy stems, Valentine is a sophisticated new variety of a beloved garden classic. Plants are vigorous, with plum-colored new growth and bronzy, gray-green foliage. They make a handsome show in large containers.

Daylily: Hemerocallis ‘Lusty Lealand’

Lusty Lealand sports huge (6.25”) flowers on tall sturdy stems. The deep red flowers have yellow throats and last for several weeks in July.

Bee Balm – Monarda “Cambridge Scarlet’

Bee Balm sports brilliant red frilly starburst heads atop strong upright stems. The tubular florets are very attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hardy plant that blooms in mid summer, 4-5’ tall.  


Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’

This begonia, with its angelwing-like, shiny green leaves and large drooping scarlet flowers, is my favorite annual for shady containers. It is a compact, bushy, fibrous-rooted plant, 15-18” tall, with fleshy, semi-trailing stems, and flowers that bloom until first frost. I have good success overwintering these begonias in my house.


Canna ‘The President’

 ‘The President’ Canna is known for its extremely vibrant, large red blooms, and lush, green leaves that are edged with a fine line of burgundy. Cannas add a tropical look to the garden, are perfect for containers, and prefer moist garden soil and full sun.

Cardinal Flower: Lobelia Cardinalis

This native clump-forming perennial features erect spikes (racemes) of large, cardinal red flowers on stalks rising to a height of 2-4 feet. It blooms in August to September, and its tubular flowers are very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Since it grows naturally in along streams and springs, it is a perfect plant for a Rain Garden or moist location.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

This classic dahlia cultivar is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, and no wonder! Its semi-double scarlet blooms are carried above foliage so dark it's almost black. Bishop of Llandaff grows to 36” in height, and blooms July-October.


Blue Star Glitters in the Winter Landscape

inter is the season when conifers really come into their own in the garden. They provide much needed structure, form, texture and color at a time when the landscape can look so bleak. One of my favorite conifers for year-round interest is the “Blue Star” juniper, a slow-growing dwarf evergreen shrub with an intense silver-blue hue.

When you mention junipers to a gardener, the name often conjures up images of a sea of boring groundcover in the mall parking lot. A self-described “plantaholic” friend of mine was recently looking for plants for a large sunny slope that she had just cleared. She needed plants that would hold the soil, tolerate sun without supplemental watering, and require minimal pampering on this steep terrain. When I suggested the Blue Star juniper, she looked at me with disbelief. What does a juniper have to offer the experienced plant collector?

Junipers are not all the same, however, and as with other plant species, there are many new cultivars available to the home gardener. I have come to love “Blue Star” juniper in my own garden because its intense blue color complements so many plants. For a striking color contrast of opposites on the color wheel, you can plant this juniper with gold threadleaf cypress or other gold colored plants.

In my own garden, I use ‘Blue Star’ in the sunny beds around my home, where a color palette of blues, silvers, purples and pinks complements my blue-gray house. Blue Star looks fabulous with deep pink azaleas and Geranium sanguineum, alongside the variegated Euonymous ‘Gaiety’ and fuzzy Lambs Ears, at the base of my bright blue ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas and intereplanted with Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’ in an area of partial shade. The key is in the plant “marriages”, and Blue Star is the perfect companion for so many perennials and shrubs!

Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) is slow-growing and has a low, mounded habit. It grows only to about 1 foot tall in five years, but will eventually mature to 2-3’ high. Its dense, awl-shaped foliage provides an interesting texture in the garden. The upper silver-blue surfaces of the leaves add brilliant color and a star-like sparkle. It is commonly called “singleseed juniper” because each bluish, berry-like, female cone contains but a single seed. Like other junipers, it is cold-hardy, thrives in full sun to part shade, and requires good drainage. Once established, this shrub tolerates droughts, and dry, shallow rocky soil. Horticulturalist and conifer collector Adrian Bloom calls Blue Star “arguably the best dwarf conifer ever raised.”

Blue Star’s dwarf size and neat appearance make it an ideal shrub for foundation plantings and small gardens. It is perfect for the front of a shrub border, in rock gardens, or showcased as a focal point plant to be admired for its color and shape. It also provides erosion control on slopes. It's a no-maintenance evergreen ground cover for sunny areas and a well-behaved companion that will not invade and overpower its neighbors. And for those of us in northern climates, Blue Star provides beautiful foliage that glitters in the winter garden.