Garden Cocktails


As my husband and I drove for five hours to visit the beautiful gardens of Mount Desert Island, Maine, we listened to an Audible rendition of Amy Stewart's The Drunken Botanist to pass the time. Like many gardeners, I have become more interested in cultivated and foraged edible plants in the past few years. How could I put my sage, lavender, lemon balm, mints, lemon verbena, basil, rosemary, blueberries and peaches to better use?

A collection of new botanical cocktail books caught my eye, from The Drunken Botanist, to Adriana Picker's The Cocktail Garden, Amy Zavatto's Forager's Cocktails and C.L. Fornari's The Cocktail Hour Garden. After years of drinking nothing but wine, I was intrigued by the promise of "drinks for long hot summer afternoons spent among flowers in the garden; wine spritzers for breezy evenings on the back porch; champagne cocktails for celebrations under the apple tree; and fruity party punches for that garden party gathering with style."

The Drunken Botanist delivered a fascinating mix of botany, chemistry, history, etymology, mixology, gardening know-how and drink recipes during our journey north. When we arrived at the Asticou Inn, we were delighted to find a long porch where you could spend an afternoon with a Blueberry Mojito or a Porch Sipper and watch the boats sail in and out of Northeast Harbor. The recipe for a Porch Sipper and other delicious garden cocktails follow.


English Garden


2 lime wedges
5 mint leaves
1 1/2 Tb Belvoir Elderflower Cordial
2 oz white rum
2 oz apple juice

Mix in a highball glass with cubed ice, garnishing with a mint sprig.


Strawberry Gin Smash


1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 lime wedge
3 fresh strawberries, 2 hulled and sliced, 1 for garnish
3 oz gin
Club soda
Fresh mint

In a tall glass, combine the sugar and a squeeze of juice from the lime wedge. Muddle with the back of a spoon to dissolve the sugar. Add the sliced strawberries and lightly muddle. Fill the glass with ice and add the gin. Top with a splash of club soda and garnish with the last strawberry and a sprig of mint.


Lavender Gin & Tonic


3 oz gin
4 oz tonic water
1 Tb fresh lime juice
Lavender simple syrup to taste (see recipe below)
Sprig of lavender for garnish

Mix in a highball glass with cubed ice, garnishing with a lavender sprig.


Kiwi Margarita


2 oz Grand Marnier
1 1/2 oz Tequila
2 oz lime juice
2 1/2 oz kiwi simple syrup

lime + fresh kiwi slices for garnish
coarse salt for the rim

Trace the rim of your glass with a lime wedge and dip in a mix of coarse salt. Fill the glass with ice. In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, grand marnier, kiwi simple syrup and lime juice with ice, and shake for about 30 seconds. Pour over ice and squeeze in lime slices and garnish with kiwi slices

Kiwi Simple Syrup

4 kiwi fruit
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool. Puree the kiwi fruit in a food processor or blender. Add the cooled sugar syrup and blend.



Cucumber Spritz


1 oz vodka
1 oz dry vermouth
2 cucumber ribbons (created with potato peeler)
2 oz sparkling water
2 oz tonic water

Combine all the ingredients in a long glass filled with ice and stir.

Herb-infused Simple Syrup


2 cups sugar
5 cups water
2 Tbs. fresh herb

Add all of the ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn down the heat to low and let simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the syrup to cool. Once cool, strain the herbs, then pour through a coffee-filter-lined strainer to remove any particles. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.


Asticou Inn Porch Sipper


1 oz lemon juice
3 oz grapefruit juice
2 oz vodka
2 Tb rosemary syrup (see recipe above)
rosemary and grapefruit slice for garnish

Mix in a tall glass with cubed ice, garnishing with a grapefruit slice and rosemary sprig.

Sit back and enjoy the view!




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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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!

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.

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.


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!





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


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.

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

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. 

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

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

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 

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

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

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.

 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.

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;

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;

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

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

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

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

Recovering from an Epic Winter

This year’s winter broke many records here in the Boston area, and the effects of it are evident both in my home and in my garden. Of course, I am not alone – most homeowners have broken trees and shrubs due to this year’s heavy snow.

Here are a few tips on how to remedy the damage, and what to do in the garden right now.

This cypress "heather bun' has so many broken branches that it is probably beyond repair.

This cypress "heather bun' has so many broken branches that it is probably beyond repair.

1. Prune broken branches on trees and shrubs

Broken branches on trees and shrubs should be pruned off below the break. Most damaged shrubs will also benefit from heavy cut-back, allowing new growth to restore their appearance.

If they are not broken, branches on many shrubs like boxwood, holly, azalea, yew and juniper that were bent by the heavy snow may recover. Gently pull them back up, and tie them into position with twine, velcro or old pantyhose. (I like to reuse the green velcro that comes on lettuce from the supermarket.) To prop up bent branches, you can use the single stem green wire perennial stakes that are sold at garden centers.

2. Examine woody plants for rodent damage

Rabbits and voles can injure trees and shrubs by eating their bark or roots. This damage may not attract your attention or you may attribute it to deer, but during winters with heavy snowfall, voles will actually tunnel up through the snowdrifts and eat bark and evergreen leaves that are several feet off the ground. Carefully examine your woody plants for bark damage. Any branch girdled more than two thirds around should be cut off below the damage. If any plants are leaning at an odd angle, check to see if their root systems are intact. You may lift the shrub and see that its roots have been devoured by voles.

The edges of these species tulips were already nibbled by deer

The edges of these species tulips were already nibbled by deer

3. Keep deer at bay

The deer were especially hungry this winter, and found their way into many new gardens, including mine. While solid fences and deer fencing are ideal barriers, many gardeners believe that small measures may change the traffic patterns of the deer enough to keep them out of their gardens. Like other animals, deer are sensitive to certain smells, so you can try spreading the odorous Milorganite fertilizer in your garden to keep them away. Other gardeners hang bars of Irish Spring soap. You can also use repellent sprays such as Deer Scram and Repells All. Click here for a homemade spray repellent recipe.

4. Stay off the garden beds

Although it’s tempting to start actively gardening, stepping on wet garden beds and lawn areas is harmful to the soil. The soil becomes so compacted that when it finally dries out, it is a collection of rock-hard clumps. Plants will not thrive if their roots cannot penetrate these dense clods.

5. Wait on the mulch

Because its main purposes are to cool the soil, suppress weeds, and retain soil moisture, mulch is best applied in late spring or early summer. Applications made too early in the spring while the soil is still cool delay root expansion of newly planted perennials and annuals.

cut down ornamental grasses

cut down ornamental grasses

6. Get a head start on spring chores

Although it’s mid-April, keep in mind that this year’s spring has been delayed by 3-4 weeks. Focus on chores that you would normally do in late winter, such as general garden clean up, pruning, and cutting back perennials and grasses. This is the ideal time to prune fruit trees and summer-blooming shrubs such as weigela, butterfly bush, redtwig dogwood, and spirea. You can also start seeds and summer flowering bulbs and tubers indoors to give them a head start on spring.

Gardening in Late March: 10 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Spring

Homemade Deer Repellents

remove last year's hellebore foliage so that you can appreciate the new flowers

remove last year's hellebore foliage so that you can appreciate the new flowers

Tips for Winter Pots

As the temperatures drop and the garden tucks in for its winter slumber, containers step out of their supporting roles to take a star turn in the garden. Here are a few tips and inspiration photos for creating beautiful winter pots.

Jazz up your winter landscape with pots, hanging baskets and window boxes planted with evergreens or overflowing with assorted cuttings from conifers, berries, seed heads and dried flowers.

You can plant pots for winter interest as long as the plants are hardier than your growing zone. Here, early blooming snowdrops surround a planted red-twig dogwood. Black mondo grass adds the beautiful texture and dark color. Planted pots need good drainage in the winter, which is provided with this brick and pebble patio. If you site them on the driveway or other solid hardscape, elevate the pots with pot feet or bricks to let excess water drain out eaily.

Don’t be stingy with your outdoor containers! Empty urns just draw attention to what is missing.

Beautiful winter arrangements are not just for the holidays. You can use a combination of living and cut plants to dress up your pots from late fall through late winter.

Hanging baskets lined with moss are gorgeous when decorated with cut evergreens.

The same plants that bring interest to the winter landscape bring pizzaz to winter containers,  such as the red-twig dogwood pictured here.

Remember to keep your containers in scale with their environment. Most homeowners select a container that’s too small for their space.

If you live in a townhouse and condo, winter containers are a perfect "gardening outlet". These winter pots combine abundance and whimsy with their magnolia leaves, fruits, cones, dried hydrangeas, and a twig reindeer head.

Branches provide height, visual weight and texture for your containers. Birch, red twig dogwood, golden willow and harry's lauder's walking stick are particularly decorative.

Here twig balls add a whimsical flair.

By combining many different types of evergreens, you can achieve a rich "tapestry" look of contrasting textures in various shades of green.

Simple modern pots set off classic boxwoods and a voluptuous evergreen arrangement. 

Elevating your pots makes them more prominent. Here a formally centered classic urn on a plinth creates a beautiful front entrance.

ith a big snowstorm in the forecast on the day before Thanksgiving, I quickly ran through the garden with pruning shears to fill the 7 urns around my house. Yews, hollies, golden cypresses, leucothoe and winterberry holly received their annual trimming as I filled up my pots. What a great way to spend a few hours out in the winter garden!

Selecting Spring Bulbs for Your Garden


It's not too late to add spring bulbs to your garden! Here are some tips and design ideas to inspire and guide you this fall:


Snowdrops (above) may be naturalized in the lawn or planted close to the entryways to your home so that you can enjoy them in late winter. I planted mine in a bed of hellebores and hostas. They complement the hellebores in late winter, and their dying foliage is hidden by the hosta leaves unfurling in late spring. 


Grape Hyacinths

Grape Hyacinths prefer full sun, but they can be naturalized in a woodland setting of deciduous trees where they will receive sun in the spring before the trees have leafed out. (Chanticleer Gardens)


Erythronium can be massed, planted with other spring bulbs, or with woodland wildflowers. 


Daffodils can be naturalized in the lawn, but the foliage must be allowed to die back naturally before cutting. A meadow area is best for this.

I interplant daffodils with daylilies. As the daylily foliage grows, it hides the yellowing daffodil leaves. I also moved my forsythia and PJM Rhododendron shrubs so that they back my spring garden, and echo the yellows, blues and violets of the perennials and bulbs.


The white dangling bells of Leucojum are beautiful complemented by the dainty blue flowers of Brunnera. (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

Species Tulips

Species tulips bloom in April, and last many years in the garden. They look fabulous massed, and  interplanted with grape hyacinths. In my garden, they are backed by chives, which provide spring blooms in the garden and are a staple in my cooking. 


Alliums complement the blues, violets and yellows of my spring garden. I love the giant 'Gladiator' and 'Globemaster' varieties. As a bonus, they are not eaten by voles or rabbits. Above, Alliums provide spring color to the daylily border at the back of my house.


With so many colors and varieties of tulips available, selecting a few for your garden can be overwhelming. Thinking about companion plants can help.

Above, variegated red-twig dogwood is beautifully accented by white and purple tulips.

Maroon and white tulips are breathtaking with a 'Crimson Queen" Japanese maple. (Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

Deep purple tulips combine beautifully with Frittilaria Persica. The color is further enhanced by the addition of red-leaf lettuce. (Chanticleer Gardens)

Daylilies and hosta for dinner?

Although my garden is mostly ornamental, I’ve always longed to incorporate more edibles. My efforts at vegetable gardening have repeatedly been met by failure – I’ve been outwitted by chipmunks, rabbits and woodchucks, defeated by grasshoppers, cabbage flies and other pesky insects, and the weather never seems to cooperate with the type of vegetable that I grow that season. So it was with great interest that I discovered Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos in the bookstore of Longwood Gardens. I devoured the book in one evening, and am looking forward to tasting many of her recommendations.

As Ellen explains in the introduction to her book, many of our favorite garden plants have edible parts that have simply been overlooked. And since many of us gardeners already know what we’re growing in our own backyards, plant identification is easier than foraging in the wild. Sixty-five familiar plants you didn’t know you could eat are the stars of this impressively comprehensive guide, and Ellen stresses the “ease and elegance” of foraging these familiar greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, tubers, and fungi in yards and nearby environs.

I was surprised and delighted to find that some of the perennials that grow with unabashed abundance in my garden are on the edible list. Here are 5 of my favorites:

1. Daylilies

Do you have an abundance of the orange “roadside” daylilies somewhere on your property? Mine grow right in my compost pile where they were discarded several years ago. I have always known that dried lily buds are integral to Chinese hot and sour soup. But did you know that you can eat them fresh – either raw in salads where the taste is reminiscent of green beans, or lightly sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper?

The best surprise about daylilies? You can eat the tubers, which are like mini potatoes! They are small like baby fingerlings, and are best harvested in fall and early spring when they are plump and full of starchy goodness. Like potatoes, they can be roasted in the oven with a light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper.

2. Dahlias

Every year when I dig my dahlia tubers for storage, I feel like a farmer harvesting her potatoes. Little did I know that dahlia tubers can be eaten like potatoes – boiled, roasted or baked. Apparently they don’t have a strong flavor, so they are a good vehicle for gravies and spices. They can also be grated and used like zucchini in quickbreads. Although I have a hard time picturing all those gorgeous dahlia flowers going to waste, dahlia tubers would be fun to try at least once!

3. Bishop’s Weed

I planted variegated Bishop’s Weed in my dry shade garden despite being warned about its invasiveness. It’s good to know that I can harvest and eat it to keep it under control! The plants should be cut at ground level and the stems discarded. Young Bishop’s Weed leaves can be added to salads, where their taste is light, fresh and reminiscent of celery. Mature leaves can be a substitute for cooked spinach in recipes, particularly Greek spinach pie. Can’t wait to try it!

4. Bee Balm

Bee balm, also called bergamot, is a member of the mint family, and both its foliage and flowers are useful as herbs. For some people, the taste resembles oregano, while others are reminded of Early Grey tea. You can actually brew a delicious bergamot tea, the chopped leaves may be used as an oregano substitute in recipes, and the chopped flowers make a colorful addition to pasta dishes, rice, pizza, tomato sauces and meat rubs.

5. Hosta

Like many gardeners, I was enamored with propagating plants early in my gardening hobby, and now I have a plethora of plain green hostas that require a crowbar to remove. It’s great to know that I can serve them for dinner! You can remove a third of the plant’s outer leaves without harming the health of the plant. New, tight shoots can be served like asparagus over pasta and rice. Slightly older shoots that are just starting to open can be briefly blanched , then sautéed and served as a vegetable with  or without sauce. In northern Japan, hosta has become a commercial crop. So what’s stopping us?

I hope that you’ve been inspired to learn more about “Backyard Foraging”. Sixty  more backyard edibles await you in Ellen’s book, which can be found at Amazon. Bon apetit!

Gardening in the Hellstrip

The hellstrip — the space between a street and a public sidewalk, also known as a tree park, boulevard, meridian, and planting strip — is getting a lot of attention these days with the publication of Evelyn Hadden’s Hellstrip Gardening by Timber Press. This comprehensive guide with gorgeous color photographs of hellstrip gardens across the country offers inspiration and visual guidance to anyone ready to tackle this final frontier.

Hellstrip gardening is nothing new to my friend Kathy, who has been adding curb appeal to her home with hellstrip plantings for 15 years. Kathy began her roadside garden when she got tired of trying to keep the lawn grass alive in the hellstrip year after year. Always keen on water conservation, Kathy wanted a low maintenance solution for this long, sunny expanse. Her large backyard garden had also become shaded over the years as the pine trees grew taller and taller, so the sunny hellstrip offered a chance to relocate her sun lovers from the backyard and to try some new plants in this totally different environment.

She began the garden by digging up a small section of sod around her mailbox, amending the soil, and planting various sedums that would be low maintenance and drought resistant. Bit by bit, the hellstrip garden grew, and then expanded to the other side of the driveway. Now it measures close to 100 feet, and boasts a wide variety of perennials. Kathy learned through trial and error which plants to grow, and which plants to avoid. Some perennials, like yarrows, were too tall and floppy. Annuals were too labor intensive, except for the portulaca that self sows and returns year after year. But there were many perennials that acclimated to this dry, sunny area with its relatively poor soil.

Mediterranean plants and herbs – many of which sport silver foliage and prefer a sunny situation with lean soil and good drainage, thrive in Kathy’s roadside garden. Sedums, Lamb’s ears, salvia, sage, alliums, fescues, rosemary, thyme, mint, sea lavender, and catmint bask in the baking hot sun. The garden delights passersby with a changing palette of blooms and foliage. In the early spring, crocus, creeping phlox and species tulips, which love the good drainage, cheer up the border with their blooms. They are followed by stately bearded irises, columbines and poppies in June, and daylilies, helianthus and coreopsis in mid summer. A prickly pear cactus at the base of the mailbox surprises visitors with its yellow flowers in July. Sedums steal the show in August. In a shadier part of the garden, hostas and heucheras provided beautiful foliage from spring to fall.

Gardening in the hellstrip has its challenges. The soil in these areas is usually cheap, compacted fill. Kathy amends it at planting time with compost, and has been top dressing with leaf mulch. Because of the distance from the house, the garden is difficult to water. Although Kathy does not irrigate regularly, newly installed plants need supplemental watering, which amounts to many trips with a watering can. Weeds easily blow into the garden and crabgrass is a particular problem. Since the hellstrip is town-owned property, large sections have been dug up utility companies several times without prior notice.

But overall, gardening in the hellstrip has been a positive experience for Kathy. Neighbors stop by to admire the garden, and Kathy receives many compliments on sprucing up the neighborhood. “The hellstrip builds community,” says Kathy. “People stop by to chat and ask about the flowers. And it gives me a chance to try plants that I couldn’t grow anywhere else in my garden.”

Garden of Artistic Delights

One of the highlights of the gardening season for me is the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, and yesterday’s marathon tour of nine gardens in West Roxbury and Milton, MA did not disappoint! I came home exhausted and exhilarated, my head swimming with tips from garden owners, snippets of conversations with fellow visitors, and a plethora of the new design ideas, horticultural finds and plant combinations that I had seen throughout the day.

Although all the gardens were beautiful and interesting in their own ways, there is always one garden that really captures my fancy. Yesterday it was the West Roxbury garden of Christie Dustman, a professional garden designer, and Patti Ryan, a professional furniture maker. 

Their small garden, surrounding a historic home boldly trimmed in teal and purple, was packed to the brim with artistry, unusual specimens and fantastic plant combinations. The owners’ zeal for conifers (they are members of the Conifer Society) was evident in a collection of more than fifty unusual trees and shrubs, from towering weeping cedars to miniature yews.

But it was the whimsical use of cast-off items, like basketball hoops and organ pipes, that elicited the most “oohs and ahhs”.

The garden was a complex array of vignettes created from repurposed salvage store finds and hand-built creations masterfully laid out in a small space – a delight for the artist, designer and plant collector alike! If you have a chance to see this garden next year, don’t hesitate!

I am happy to support the Garden Conservancy as a member as well as a garden visitor. The Garden Conservancy was founded in 1989 to preserve exceptional American gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public.

The Conservancy partners with gardeners, horticulturists, landscape designers, historians, preservationists, and local organizations to preserve gardens; to share magnificent spaces and gardening ideas with the public through Open Days and other educational programs; and to raise public awareness of the important role gardens play in America’s cultural and natural heritage.

Since 1995, the Open Days program has spread the garden preservation message by providing access to some of America’s finest private gardens. Each year, hundreds of garden owners from coast to coast open their magnificent spaces to more than 75,000 visitors.

Next weekend I will tour the Open Day gardens in Hartford, Conn. and the Rose Garden in Elizabeth Park. Hope to see some of you there!

Spring Perennials Dazzle “En Masse”!

Like most novice gardeners, I began my gardening hobby by collecting one of every new perennial that I found. I was intrigued by the countless varieties of blossom, leaf shape, size and habit that existed in the plant world, and driven by the “plant lust” that many gardeners share. Weekends were spent digging new garden beds to contain the growing collections. While I enjoyed my new acquisitions, I was never really happy about the way that my garden looked overall. The wide variety of plants looked great in my friends’ small gardens, but somehow did not work in mine.

Tiarella under a Kousa dogwood at the  Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Tiarella under a Kousa dogwood at the  Brooklyn Botanic Garden

As my garden grew to encompass my one and a half acres, I realized that mass plantings were the missing ingredient in my overall garden design. Visiting other gardens, particularly public gardens, has shown me that massing perennials has terrific impact. If you have a large garden, the plants must be arranged in significant groupings because the garden beds are viewed from a greater distance. Garden books recommend planting perennials of groups of three or more, but in a large garden, that group may be 30 or more for best effect.

Erythronium at Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Erythronium at Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Now as I tour gardens, I am obsessed with the power of mass plantings. Spring blooming perennials are really well suited for this design technique. Many of them are small plants with delicate flowers that will look lost in a large garden. See how wonderful they look en masse!

Grape hyacinths at Chanticleer outside of Philadelphia

Grape hyacinths at Chanticleer outside of Philadelphia

Solomon's Seal, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Solomon's Seal, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Primroses, Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Primroses, Carolyn's Shade Gardens, Wayne, PA

Bigroot geranium at Margaret Roach's garden, New York

Bigroot geranium at Margaret Roach's garden, New York

Epimedium roseum and bleeding hearts at Chanticleer

Epimedium roseum and bleeding hearts at Chanticleer

Pulmonaria at Broccoli Hall, a private garden in Dutchess County, NY

Pulmonaria at Broccoli Hall, a private garden in Dutchess County, NY

Ferns and forget-me-nots at Broccoli Hall

Ferns and forget-me-nots at Broccoli Hall

Trilliums at Broccoli Hall

Trilliums at Broccoli Hall

Primroses and vancouveria at Stonecrop Garden in New York

Primroses and vancouveria at Stonecrop Garden in New York

Gardening in Late March: 10 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Spring

Although the calendar says that we are technically one week into the spring season, the snow flurries outside say otherwise. With temperatures still in the teens overnight, I know that true spring is a ways off still. But there are a few garden tasks that should be done now, before the soil warms up, the trees leaf out, and the rapid growth of bulbs and perennials begins.

1. Prune deciduous trees and shrubs

Late winter is prime pruning time for deciduous trees and shrubs, while they are still dormant. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts, and let the wounds heal naturally. Remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood, suckers and water sprouts. This is the ideal time to prune fruit trees and summer-blooming shrubs such as weigela, butterfly bush, redtwig dogwood, and spireas.

2. Pamper discolored evergreens

Evergreen foliage may become brown or bleached during winter due to excessive transpiration, sun exposure, or cold temperatures in early fall. Injured plants should be fertilized in early spring and watered well throughout the season. It’s best to wait until mid-spring before pruning out injured foliage. Although brown foliage is most likely dead, the buds, which are more cold-hardy than foliage, will often grow and fill in the shrub. If the buds have not survived, prune dead branches back to living tissue.


3. Remedy snow and ice damage on multi-leader trees

Heavy snow and ice storms cause damage by bending and breaking branches. Multiple leader, upright evergreens, such as arborvitae and juniper, and multiple leader or clump trees, such as birch, are most subject to snow and ice damage. Small trees can be temporarily wrapped together or the leaders tied with strips of strong cloth or nylon stockings to correct the splaying that occurs in winter. Large multi-stemmed trees should be cabled together by a professional arborist.

4. Prune hydrangeas

I like to leave most of my hydrangea blooms for winter interest in the garden, but now is the time to prepare the shrubs for spring growth. I carefully remove any dead branches from all my plants, cutting down gradually on each stalk to make sure that I don't remove a branch that looks dead, but is green half way down the stem. I reduce my mature paniculata hydrangeas to about half their height to keep them in scale with their garden location. My hedge of ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas is cut back to 2’ in height. This keeps the hedge at a compact height, and the plants produce stronger stems to hold up those giant white mopheads. My ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas receive a very light pruning to remove the dried flowers and restore a rounded shape.

5. Trim roses and remove winter mulch

Winter pruning should be done when the season begins to warm up and the small buds begin to swell. It is best to wait until the worst of the frosts have passed - early April this year. I remove any dead or weak stems and last year’s flower buds, and reduce shrub roses to about half their size, aiming to create a nice rounded shrub. I also gradually remove my winter mulch of compost or shredded leaves.

6. Prune Group 3 (or Type C) clematis

These are the summer blooming varieties such as the viticellas, Jackmanii types, texensis, the herbaceous species such as integrifolia and recta that bloom on new wood and the late bloomers such as Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora) and orientalis types. Clematis in Group 3 mainly flower on new wood produced in the current year and should be pruned back severely every year in late winter, when they are completely dormant, to about 12 - 14 inches. Leave at least two pairs of buds (4) on each stem of the plant. Most Group 3s are very fast growing and will reach their full height before blooming every summer. If you fail to prune these, they will develop long 'legs' that get woody and will be devoid of foliage and blooms.

7. Cut back ornamental grasses

I like the look of ornamental grasses in early winter, but by late January, they have collapsed into a mess of tangled stalks. This is a great time to clean up the grasses before new shoots appear in the spring.

8. Cut back foliage of persistent perennials

Perennials with evergreen foliage, such as hellebores, epimediums, and ginger will soon start sending out new growth or flowers. Late winter is a great time to remove last year’s tattered foliage without harming the emerging new shoots or flower buds.

9. Replant heaved plants

The freezing/thawing cycles of early spring sometimes lift entire small plants out of the ground. Check your garden for any heaved perennials and gently replant and water them as soon as possible. Heucheras, astrantias and newly planted perennials are susceptible to heaving. A layer of winter mulch or evergreen bows remedies this problem by keeping the soil at a more even temperature through the winter.

10. Feed spring bulbs

Spring bulbs will benefit with a dose of an all-natural organic fertilizer as their green tips push through the ground.

Creating a Jewelbox Entry Garden

Entry gardens are a challenge to design because they need to be interesting in all seasons. But they also provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase tiny interesting specimens that would be lost in a distant landscape.

We were delighted when our friend Deborah asked for assistance in designing a new entry garden for her suburban home. In addition to new foundation plantings, Deborah needed help with a small entry garden bed that is the focal point of her front yard.

The entry bed is a highly visible triangle bordered by the driveway, the walkway to the front door, and a winding brick path that Deborah installed herself. Mounded in the center, it has good drainage and dappled sunlight for most of the day. Deborah likes Asian-inspired gardens, and wanted to incorporate her ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple, creeping phlox, hostas, and an unusual collection of geodes inherited from her grandfather.

Above, Deborah’s previous garden had included mostly sun-loving perennials that bloomed briefly and then blended into a mass of green. We wanted to give her garden interest throughout the seasons with fabulous colored foliage, different textures and a variety of plant forms.

Because the garden is so highly visible at close range, we came up with the concept of creating a “jewelbox” entry garden – a collection of small specimen plants with intricate details that delight the eye upon close inspection.

We decided to incorporate plants that would evoke an Asian garden. We chose a color scheme of yellows and maroons to complement Deborah’s house colors. And we came up with the concept of a large tufa trough that would serve as a focal point for the bed and unite several groupings of geologic specimens.

Hypertufa troughs look like stone, but are actually made of peat moss, perlite and Portland cement, so they are much lighter than they appear. Ours is filled with hens and chicks, mini hostas and a miniature carex.

Small objects in a garden, like these geodes, are more effective when grouped.

Although newly planted, the new garden already has interest from the variety of forms.

Our plant palette consists of spiky plants such as daylilies, dwarf iris, and blue fescue; low creeping plants such as sedum ‘Angelina’, creeping wooly thyme and Irish moss; large-leaved plants such as hostas and coral bells; and feathery plants such as Japanese painted fern and miniature conifers. As the plants mature, they will create a complex tapestry of colors and shapes.

Shades of maroon from the Japanese maple, red fountain grass, heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ and the winter color of bergenia complement the home's brick façade and maroon shutters and doors.

Glimmers of gold from hosta ‘Great Expectations’, hanoke ‘All Gold’, heucherella ‘Sunspot’, yellow dwarf iris, and ‘Happy Returns’ daylilies echo the creamy yellow siding.

Four season interest will begin with miniature conifers and hellebores in winter; snowdrops, mini daffodils, creeping phlox, epimediums and bergenia in spring; alliums, irises, Astilbe ‘Key West’ and daylilies in summer; and hanoke grass, blue fescue, black mondo grass and ground-hugging sedums in fall.

Unusual miniatures include alpine lady’s mantle, carex ‘Beatlemania, and mini hostas ‘Stilleto’. 'Kii Hime', 'GinkoCraig', ‘Lakeside Cha Cha Downsized’ and 'Lakeside Baby Face'.

The jewelbox garden is grounded by a simple foundation planting of ‘Green Lustre’ hollies, hydrangea ‘Quickfire’ astilbes and epimediums, along with a hosta hedge that was already on the property.

July is Perfect for Dividing Bearded Iris

Bearded irises are relatively easy garden plants to grow, and will give good results with a minimum of care. My collection of irises came about through the generosity of a fellow gardener – an elderly gentleman from the Historical Society. We met at a Society function during my first spring in town, and found that we shared a common hobby. On a sultry, hot day in mid-summer, he dropped by with several trash bags filled with iris rhizomes. His mother had been an Iris Society member and avid collector, so the irises that he inherited and then shared with me were heirloom plants and unusual varieties. Twenty years later, their dazzling pale pink, frosty blue and midnight purple blooms light up my garden in late spring.

Here in Massachusetts, July and August are the best months of the year to plant new iris rhizomes and divide overcrowded clumps. The irises have finished flowering, and are usually dormant during the heat of the peak summer months. Iris rhizomes that are planted now have plenty of time to have their roots well established before the end of the growing season.

Bearded iris should be divided when they become overcrowded, usually after three to five years. At this point, their bloom will decline. Dividing them is not difficult, since the plants have fairly shallow root systems. I follow these steps:

1.     To divide a mature clump, carefully lift the entire plant out of the ground. I like to use a spading fork for this job, as it does not cut the roots.

2.     Next, rinse the soil off the rhizomes so that you can see any diseased areas.

3.     Separate old, exhausted, unproductive rhizomes from new, young growth.

4.     Cut off any portions that are brown inside and discard.

5.     Slice the healthy portions into chunks about 3” in length. Make sure each piece has its own roots and leaves.

6.     Prepare a planting site in full sun where the soil has excellent drainage – raised beds and slopes are ideal for this. Amend the soil with compost.

7.     Space the plants 12-24 inches apart. Clumps of three plants set in a triangle with the rhizomes facing into the center makes an attractive grouping.

8.     Lay each rhizome horizontally in its own shallow hollow. It needs to be half-buried so that the back of each rhizome is visible (like a floating whale). Tamp the roots firmly into the ground to anchor the rhizome.

9.     Trim the leaves to about 6”. This will reduce transpiration while the plant is becoming established.

10.     Keep well watered. Newly planted rhizomes need moisture for their root systems to develop. Once established, irises should be watered when the top three inches of soil dry out. Over-watering irises is a common mistake once and will lead to rot.

11.     Fertilize with superphosphate or a well-balanced fertilizer with an N-P-K ration of 10-10-10. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen as they encourage soft growth that is susceptible to disease.

Bearded iris are a great addition to the garden with their beautiful flowers in spring, and their bold, vertical foliage throughout the growing season. Dividing your plants regularly will keep them vigorous and healthy and provide you with years of enjoyment!

Inspiring Containers from Chanticleer

I was astounded by the beauty of the container plantings at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Penn.  Although it was only mid-April, there were dozens of richly planted pots throughout the garden. The containers themselves ranged from formal urns to terracotta, glazed ceramics and modern metals. Many were grouped or strategically placed to enhance the garden's design. I hope that you will be inspired to create your own artistic contained gardens!

Orange tulips, red lettuce and herbs complement the terracota pots in this courtyard garden.

Red tulips, red-twig dogwood, heuchera and euphorbia in a classic cement urn.

Grape hyacinths steal the show in this pot!

A grouping of potted shrubs, perennials and annuals in different pots that complement each other!

A quiet container water garden on the stone patio.

A vegetable garden with climbing peas on the terrace!

Another interesting grouping of potted shrubs, succulents and spring bulbs.

Pansies soften the spiky form of an agave.

Potted daffodils and tulips complement the Italian accent tiles with their lemon design.

Ranunculus, pansies, and yellow-twig dogwood in an indigo blue pot!

A small centerpiece bowl of greens, herbs and flowers adorns the terrace dining table.

Texture Enriches the Winter Garden

When you are designing your garden for winter interest, think of yourself as a set designer. Unlike spring and summer, when the garden goes through many scene changes, the winter stage does not change rapidly. The overall composition is a static one, but it will not be boring if you incorporate the basic principles of design: form, line, color, repetition and texture.

Texture is a sensory perception of our environment, much more subliminal than color or form. During the winter, the garden loses much of its bright color and leafy abundance, so the texture of winter plants becomes much more apparent. When skies are clear, the bright, glittering winter light accentuates the textures in the landscape. Because the angle of the winter sun is low, it reflects light on the glossy foliage of large-leaved evergreens like hollies and laurels, and the shining bark of ornamental trees.

Whether peeling, patchy, shiny or dull, bark is an asset. Botanists have classified bark into 18 different types, including scaly, peeling, flaking, fissured, corky, cracked, and spiny, to name a few. Trees with outstanding peeling bark include the Paperbark maple, River birch, Paper birch, and Shagbark hickory.

Sargent cherry (below) is a stunner with its glossy, burgundy striped bark. Other trees with shiny, colorful bark include Japanese maples and the Prairiefire crabapple.

Stewartias (below) and Kousa dogwoods display patchy bark in camouflage colors. These ornamental trees look best sited against a backdrop of evergreens, which will help to show off their interesting bark.

Evergreen trees and shrubs provide textures with their leaves and needles, and planting evergreens with contrasting textures creates interesting compositions. The large smooth leaves of a rhododendron can be set off with the ferny foliage of Siberian cypress and the fine texture of a boxwood. The soft long needles of an Austrian pine look great next to the shiny, spiky leaves of a blue holly.

Evergreen groundcovers add texture at ground level and perk up the garden when the lawn has turned to a depressing brown. Excellent groundcovers for winter interest include broadleaf evergreens such as pachysandra, vinca, euonymous, or gaultheria, and low-growing conifers such as ‘Nana’ or ‘Blue Star’ junipers.

Although many gardeners like to deadhead spent flowers in the fall, dried blooms and seedheads of sedums, astilbes, black-eyed susans and ornamental grasses enrich the winter landscape. The dried flowers of hydrangeas, pieris and leucothoe also add a nice texture to the garden, and look particularly beautiful when dusted with snow.

Berries, fruits and hips are like exclamation points in the landscape. The fruits of a hawthorn tree, the berries of cotoneasters, hollies and junipers, or the hips of a climbing rose add a delightful texture, especially when covered with frost.

Texture in the garden is most visible and effective when seen in contrast: lustrous with dull, prickly with smooth, ribbed with flat, feathery with broad, needled with flat. As the “set designer” of your garden, you can create a beautiful winter scene with the endless variety of textures exhibited by our trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.