The Magical Garden of Green Animals


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




Edinburgh's Beloved Botanic Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roses Bloom at Elizabeth Park


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Spring Fling with Fritillaries


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

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

Fritillaria meleagris - White Flower Farm

Fritillaria meleagris - White Flower Farm

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


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

Fritillaria persica at Avant Gardens

Fritillaria persica at Avant Gardens

Spring garden with Fritillaria persica at Chanticleer

Spring garden with Fritillaria persica at Chanticleer

A Fritillaria persica alba has soft white blossoms.

A Fritillaria persica alba has soft white blossoms.

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

Scarlet Crown Imperial from Phoenix Perennials

Scarlet Crown Imperial from Phoenix Perennials

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

Fritillaria imperialis Aureomarginata from Bluestone Perennials

Fritillaria imperialis Aureomarginata from Bluestone Perennials

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

Spring Ideas from Blithewold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating a Layered Garden

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Michaelmas daisy welcome autumn.


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

10 Favorite Mail-Order Nurseries

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


Bluestone Perennials

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

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!





The Surprising Beauty of Hosta Flowers

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

Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield

Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield

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

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

Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet'

Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet'

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

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

Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

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

Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

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

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

Photo by Joan Butler

Photo by Joan Butler

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

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

Falmouth Estate Offers Gardens and Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Poetry, Garden and Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midsummer Garden Bursts into Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tranquil Beauty in the Seattle Japanese Garden


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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Bluebells Welcome Spring

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

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

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

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

White Spanish Bluebells with Bergenia, Ajuga, and Geranium macrorhizum

White Spanish Bluebells with Bergenia, Ajuga, and Geranium macrorhizum

Sources: Breck's, White Flower Farm

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)

Flower Show Fever

By late February, most gardeners are just itching to be surrounded by green foliage and fragrant flowers. Seed trays beckon at Home Depot, though it's way too early to start most seeds indoors. You can feel the magnetic pull of primroses at the grocery store. You visit nurseries with greenhouses just to be around plants. Even though it's been a mild winter, cabin fever is rampant.

It's no wonder that flower shows are thronged in late February and March. This year I squeezed in both the Rhode Island and Connecticut flower shows into a two-day flower show marathon. Both shows are held during the same weekend every year, which coincides with the end of February school vacation. Both are smaller than the Boston Flower Show, but feature landscape displays, floral arranging competitions, horticulture exhibits, lectures and vendors. 

This year's theme of the Rhode Island show was "Spring Fling" - delighting all the senses. Visitors could "see" and "smell" the flowers, "touch" spring's bounty through interactive exhibits, "hear" a variety of live musical performances, and "taste" goodies prepared by local chefs through a new "Garden to Table" culinary series. One of our favorite exhibits was this "She-Shed" pictured above - everyone needs one of those!

We heard several entertaining and informative talks, including one on the garden design process, Roger Swain's "Vegetables for All", rose gardening in New England, and how to adorn the garden with trees, art and stonework.

Both the Rhode Island and Connecticut shows are held in large convention centers with attached parking garages, and are easy to access from the interstates. They both offer refreshments and lots of shopping options. The Rhode Island show was heavier on jewelry and home improvement vendors, and we were accosted by gutter guard salesmen at least 3 times.

The Connecticut Show was located in a larger hall, and as a result the landscape exhibits were larger in scale and complexity. 

Several exhibits were geared toward children, such as this whimsical garden tea party.

Others illustrated beautiful use of stone, water and decorative objects. The Connecticut Show had three lecture halls with simultaneous seminars all day, so there was more content to choose from. I learned more about roses and was entertained by the headliner Mar Jennings, a self-described "America's top lifestyle expert" and TV host who illustrated "Casual Luxury" in the garden.

The best feature of the Connecticut Show were the 300+ exhibitors, many of whom actually sold PLANTS, garden tools, and garden decorations. Needless to say, I saw no one departing empty handed. So mark your calendars for the third weekend in February 2017 and look forward to this respite from winter!

Hampton Court's Romantic Gardens


The sixty acres of gardens and grounds surrounding Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace in Britain are majestic and inspiring. 

The earliest gardens, relatively modest gardens, were created for Cardinal Wolsey, but it was under the auspices of Henry VIII that today's ground plan largely took shape. Henry VIII was not much interested in beautiful flowers - he was more keen on the sport that took place in the Deer Park and Tiltyard, the scene of jousting competitions.

The gardens were formalized in the baroque manner under William and Mary and subsequent changes were made as 500 years of royals gardened on the property. Today's gardens may not be true to one particular era, but they are stately and awe inspiring. Even if your own garden is a small plot, you can learn from the lovely plant combinations, the cultural practices in the vegetable and herb garden, and appreciate the beauty and pageantry of the garden and palace.


The walled formal rose garden is punctuated with beautiful statuary and was in full bloom in September.


The herb garden's formal layout is reminiscent of Victorian-era bedding gardens.


The Kitchen Garden grew all of the produce and fruit for Henry VIII's court.


The ornamental bed decorated the river gateway to the palace grounds.


Ornate Victorian-style bedding gardens decorate the Fountain Garden, a strolling garden that original showcased 13 magnificent fountains and clipped yews.


The Orangery Garden (above) shows Queen Mary II's passion for rare and exotic plants. She had an orangery built to house her orange and lemon trees and cactuses.


The Privy Garden (above) has existed on the south side of the palace since it was first created by Henry VIII in 1533. The recreation that is seen today has all of the original plant varieties, statues and hedges that were installed by William III.


The Knot Garden (above) was laid out in 1924 to show the type of garden that Henry VIII may have had at the palace.


These sunken gardens (above and below) were originally ponds used to hold freshwater fish such as carp, to feed Henry VIII and his court.


Hampton Court is easily accessible from London by train. You can also visit the palace by Thames riverboat - just like the court members and royalty of centuries past.

September in Kew Gardens


Thanks to my daughter's decision to spend a Semester Abroad in London, I was able to visit several wonderful English gardens in September. The first was the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew - regarded as the world's number one botanical garden with the largest and most comprehensive plant collection. What began as a "physic garden" of 9 acres in 1759 is now a 300 acre property with an arboretum, woodland, rock garden, Holly Walk, Winter Garden, numerous perennial beds and formal display gardens.

In addition to the plants, the garden is home to beautiful conservatories, museums, palm houses, Kew Palace and several temples. Since we had only one afternoon to spend there, we focused on the horticulture. Below are some views of the fabulous garden in September.


Kew's arboretum is a living library of trees that stretches over the majority of the Gardens and is a wonderful place to see many different species of trees including rare and ancient varieties.

This specimen monkey puzzle tree was planted in 1978. The first monkey puzzle trees were brought to the UK in 1795 from chile.

This specimen monkey puzzle tree was planted in 1978. The first monkey puzzle trees were brought to the UK in 1795 from chile.


There are more than 2,000 species of trees in the vast arboretum including a collection of "Old Lions". These magnificent trees are the oldest trees with known dates in the Gardens, dating back to 1762.


Grasses and perovskia sway in the breeze and create a soft foreground for the collection of trees and shrubs.


The Duke's Garden showcases perennials with beautiful foliage such as the bergenia and heuchera above.


The large rock garden displays a range of mountain plants, Mediterranean plants, and moisture-loving species from around the world.


The beautiful Japanese Garden is comprised of three areas. Above we see the Garden of Peace, reminiscent of a traditional Japanese Tea Garden with stone lanterns and a dripping water basin.

Below, is a glimpse of the Garden of Activity, symbolizing the elements of the natural world such as waterfalls, mountains and the sea. The raked gravel and large rocks represent the motion of water as it swirls and tumbles.