Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Wild Rose Flower Farm

Danielle Smith at her Wild Rose Flower Farm both at the Farmers Market

Danielle Smith at her Wild Rose Flower Farm booth at the Farmers Market

While shopping at the Greenfield Farmers Market last year I met Danielle Smith at her Wild Rose Flower Farm booth. I found the name of her farm, Wild Rose, irresistible, of course, and she was always surrounded by a bounty of lovely spring bulbs, and later an array of dahlias, zinnias, sunflowers, delphiniums and all manner of other annuals. At the Winter Market I bought a wonderful wreath to hang on our new front door.

All this summer we tried to set a date to talk about her gardens, but we never pulled it off until the fresh flowers were pretty well frosted and she was concentrating on her dried flowers which are equally a delight. We finally got to meet in her studio where she puts together bouquets and arrangements for weddings and other events, as well as for farmer’s markets and other outlets like food coops.

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

Looking at the bright sunny room with dried flowers hanging from racks and the floor covered with containers of dried flower bouquets waiting for the final Farmers Market of the year, it was hard to imagine that she had ever turned her face away from the color and excitement of the floral world, but she said she came late to flowers.

After graduating with an environmental degree from the New College of Florida in Sarasota, Smith began her career on organic vegetable farms. “I really thought it was not okay to love flowers. I disdained all frivolity,” she said. Even after a stint working on a flower farm Smith had to fight what she came to call her internalized misogyny and kept “my attraction to all things bright and soft and frilly to myself like a shameful secret.”  It took years to acquiesce to her delight in flowers.

That acknowledgement led her to the founding of Wild Rose Flower Farm. She rents land in Florence, not far from the Art and IndustryBuilding where she has her studio. Although she was ready to give up her total devotion to organic vegetables and embrace “the magical and miraculous, sensual and seasonal, riotously colorful and abundant world of flowers,” she was not willing to give up her principles about growing plants organically and healthily.

Like any farmer Smith works in her field, weeding and pruning, and then harvesting on early summer mornings. She then brings her harvest to her studio where she has a cooler. On a really hot morning she may have to make more than one trip so that the blossoms don’t have time to wilt. Once the flowers have cooled and drunk their fill she can put them together into arrangements.

Danielle Smith of Wild Rose Flower farm

Danielle Smith of Wild Rose Flower Farm

Smith is an organic flower gardener because she is thinking about the larger need to grow all plants, not only edibles, without poisons. She is thinking about protecting bees and other pollinators, about protecting the water systems, and about protecting workers from the effects of dangerous chemicals on flower farms operating on a much larger scale than acre of land she rents near her studio.

I first became aware of the threats Smith works against when I read Amy Stewart’s book Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Flower Business. Many flowers on florists’s shelves come from half way around the world where they may have affected pollinator colonies and water sources. They have also used immense amounts of energy to fly to our shores and around the world.

My Peace Corps daughter Betsy Reilley served in Kenya (1987-89) and was stationed near LakeNaivasha, a large freshwater lake that now provides water to 127 flower farms around its shores. These farms produce 35% of all flowers shipped to the EU, plus they ship flowers to Russia, Japan and the U.S. Our Valentine roses probably come from Kenya. Just think of all the watering those roses and other plants require. These farms take an enormous toll on the environment.

All of which is to say it is as important to buy local flowers as it is to buy local vegetables and meat. Local organic flower farms like Wild Rose are protecting our local environment and the world environment as well. Wild Rose Flower Farm is a part of the nationwide Slow Flowers movement.

Slow Flowers is the name of a new movement that promotes flowers grown in the United States and sold locally. The flowers will reflect the seasons, although through the magic of greenhouses there can be blossoms even in December. December also means evergreens and colorful natural ornaments like winterberries, red and gold.

Right now Smith is preparing garlic and flower braids, small terrariums she planted with succulents that she has been raising since the spring, more dried flower bouquets, and starting to think about the wreaths she will make like the one I bought last year.

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

She is also preparing to show off and sell her work at the 20th Art and Industry Open Studios Holiday Sale in Florence on November 12 and 13. Smith and 49 other artists and fine crafters will be showing and selling their work, paintings, sculpture and all manner of crafts. There will be music too. From the hours of 10 am to 5 pm you can tour and shop and enjoy the creative buzz. For more information logon to the website http://artsindustryopenstudios.blogspot.com/

Between  the Rows   November 6, 2016

Autumal Blooms in Early October

Zinnias

Autumnal blooms include annuals like Zinnias and cosmos

There are more autumnal blooms in my garden than I expected. I am trying to capture many of  them for my climate record.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea with white asters and pink Alma Potchke asters

Angel's Blush hydrangea

Angel’s Blush hydrangea

dahlia

One of several dahlias in bloom

Perennial ageratum

Perennial ageratum climbing into yellow twig dogwood

Lion's Fairy Tale rose

Lion’s FAiry Tale rose

'The Fairy' rose

‘The Fairy’ rose

Snakeroot and  winterberry

Snake root and winterberry

We expect autumnal blooms like asters, but surprises are like the roses and zinnias.

Asters and bees

Asters and bees

By the time the sun came out and warmed the garden the bees came out to forage. There are still plenty of pollinators in  the garden when the  sun is out.  Other blooming plants include coneflowers, geraniums, cardinal flower, and joe pye weed. It gets very cool, in the 40s at night, but no frost yet.

Choose Plantings for Your Favorite View

Section of the view from my dining room, hydrangeas, roses and lilac

Section of the view from my dining room, hydrangeas, roses and lilac

Do you have a favorite chair? Is it near a window? Does your dining table sit near a window? Do you enjoy the view from your window?

Oddly, our new house in Greenfield does not have many windows that look out at the garden. Only one upstairs window (in my office) gives a view of the back yard. The kitchen window is too high to see much of anything except the most westerly area of the garden. Fortunately there is the dining room window which looks out onto a section of the South Border, which will ultimately be the most floriferous view.

Last week my husband and I were having dinner and admiring the view of newly blooming roses, I was so happy to have this joyful view. Then I realized that the view from a window is not usually a part of garden planning or design. Yet a view that will please, whether flowery or serene green, can give us hours of pleasure.

I am looking forward to enjoying a better view of my garden. We are about to embark on a kitchen renovation which will not only give me a kitchen where I can cook and bake more easily and efficiently, it will also give me new windows that will allow a fuller view of the garden. The windows will also help define and frame an area I might want to concentrate on as I plan new plantings. They will give me another chance to create a beautiful view from inside the house.

When planning a vignette, a limited view of a small space, you have the advantage that accrues to a small space. You can plant something special that might be quite expensive, but can also be the star of this relatively small space. I’m already thinking about an intersectional peony like Bartzella.  Intersectional or Itoh peonies are hybrids of herbaceous and tree peonies. An Itoh peony would be ideal because it would have strong stems that keep the flower heads high and don’t get beaten down in the rain like herbaceous peonies. In addition, because of because its primary and secondary buds, it has a long bloom season.

If flowers are what you long for, but no longer feel up to a whole garden full of demanding flowers, it is still possible to create a flowery view. You might consider an annual bed. Just a few flats of starts will give you a riot of color. I can imagine tall annuals with gentle colors like sweet peas, cleome or cosmos or the brilliant colors of zinnias. These can be fronted with low growing annuals in companionable colors like blue Felicia daisies, pale marguerite daisies, osteospurmums (another daisy-like plant) in shades of pink, purple, blue or white, and salvias.

An annual bed might also be an experimental bed, an opportunity to try out different flowers, colors and flower forms. Starting this kind of bed will not be costly, and will not chain you to a choice, because all the frost-bitten plants will end up in the compost pile at season’s end. Just remember this is an experiment so be sure to keep a few notes so you can repeat the flowers you like next year.

A different way to have flowers in your view is to plan a perennial selection that will give you one or two flowers for each season. For example you could begin with daffodils, then have astilbe, achillea and daylilies. Dahlias have a long season of bloom, especially if you keep cutting them for bouquets. The more you cut, the longer the season and the greater the bloom. Some smaller dahlias will begin blooming in midsummer but you can have dahlias with all their shades of color and form until the first heavy frost. One autumnal choice that surprised me was the Japanese anemone that blooms into the fall. And of course, there are asters and mums, which also have many colors and flower forms.

You could plant for the birds. Perhaps you could have a small tree like a dwarf crabapple near the window along with a bird feeder and a birdbath. An expert birdwatcher once told me that the sound of water is the best way of attracting birds. The tree branches and foliage would give the birds protection and shelter if they became alarmed. My eyesight is such that I really need to be able to get pretty close to birds if I am going to learn to identify them.

In my new garden I am concentrating on having more green than color. Green is not a single color and a green view could include bright shades like golden threadleaf chamaesyparis contrasting with dark green mugo pine. Perennials like hostas are available in dozens of shades of green from brilliant chartreuse to dark green, to blue-green. Variegated hostas will also provide a symphony of greens brightened with shades of white.

Garden art on Hawley Tour

Garden art on Hawley Tour

Another view could be a piece of art set against shrubs and flowers. I’ve never managed this, but I did get to the point in Heath where I demanded neatness of the view of the backyard. Wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, buckets of weeds, all were forbidden to mar the view of pink, white and green kiwi foliage rambling high on the shed wall above the roses. Serenity was what I wanted with my first cup of coffee in the morning.

So, what view do you have that pleases you? Flowers?  Greenery? Statuary?

What view would you like to have? When will you get it?  If not now, when?

Between the Rows  June 25, 2016

 

Review of New Garden in May 2016

View from the office on May 4, 2016

View from the office on May 4, 2016

The view of the new garden from the office at the beginning of May shows a good recovery from April snow and frigid temperatures. You can see the nearly wood filled hugel at the back border.

Hugel wood from Hawley

Hugel wood from Hawley

A big May project was collection logs for the hugel at the west end of the garden. This load came one of the two Hawley friends who donated logs to the project. We are so lucky to have good Hawley friends – who also have logs to share.

Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016

Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016

With a little help from our friends in Greenfield and Hawley we have just about all the logs we need in the hugel. Now we need soil!

May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016

Daughter Betsy and her man Mike, and Henry made pretty quick work of the 7 yards of soil/compost mix from Martin’s Farm. All of it was spread over the hugel logs in 2 hours!  It will have to settle before we can plant in it.

Bridge of Flowers plant sale

Bridge of Flowers plant sale

Of course, I needed more plants  for the lawn beds. I bought perennials and annuals at both the Bridge of Flowers plant sale and the Greenfield Garden Club Plant Sale. Beautiful plants, columbine, ferns, epimediums, geraniums, annual salvia, sedums, daylilies, and many many more, now all planted in the ground, or in container.

May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016

You can’t really see that there is bloom, but the Japanese primroses from a Rowe friend are finishing their bloom, and the lilacs in the South Border are also finishing.   The irises and roses have buds and Oso Easy Paprika rose actually does have bloom. Still, even without bloom you can see there is substantial change in the new garden in the lovely month of May

Annual Climbing Vines – Delight and Camouflage

 

Morning glories

Morning glories in Heath

Annual climbing vines add an important dimension to any garden. We have trees reaching for the sky and flowers and vegetables covering the ground. Climbing vines as simple as scarlet runner beans or morning glories and as elegant as clematis add something very special to our gardens.

I have a friend who made a small arbor for herself in the middle of her garden, where she put a chair to give herself someplace to rest between bouts of weeding. She planted scarlet runner beans all around it to provide shade and brilliant color. Scarlet runner beans need nothing more than sun and ordinary good garden soil. They can be planted indoors three weeks before the last frost, hardened off, and then set out in the garden when frost is no longer a threat. Although they make beautiful shade and attract bees, scarlet runner beans are also good to eat. Keep picking the beans and the flowers will keep blooming.

Trellis for scarlet runner beans

Trellis for scarlet runner beans

Sweet peas are another colorful and sometimes fragrant annual vine that, like other peas, welcomes the cool spring weather and soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Renee’s Garden seeds offer a large variety of sweet peas including varieties that are suitable for small containers or flower boxes. A trellis to hold these beauties up can be as simple as a wire fence or a handmade twig trellis, or a metal obelisk bought at the garden store.

Sweet Peas

Sweet peas

Morning glories remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I loved the traditional Heavenly Blue, but I usually plant Grandpa Ott, a deep purple morning glory with a wine-red star. This usually reseeds, so although an annual, I rarely have to replant. My Heath Grandpa Ott grew up an arbor post and would bloom well into the fall. One tip for planting morning glories in the ground is to soak the seeds overnight. Make sure no more frost is expected.

The descriptively named cup and saucer vine, Cobea scandens, is a fast growing tropical vine and is an annual in our climate. It will grow up to 20 feet in one season. It must be planted after threats of frost when the soil is a bit warmer. Like morning glory seeds they can benefit from been soaked overnight before planting. The two inch cup-like flowers in blue or white prefer full sun and will bloom all summer.

The lablab bean, sometimes called a hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus, another tropical fast growing vine, will also grow to 20 feet or more. Even the leaves have a slightly purple cast while the flowers are a rosy purple and the bean pods are an interesting shade of purple. The pods are actually edible, but because they contain high levels of cyanogenic glucosides they must be boiled twice before preparing for a meal. Or you can just enjoy the lush growth and flowers. This is a substantial vine and should be given an equally substantial support to hold it at maturity.

A familiar sight on Greenfield porches is the black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia grandiflora. I have seen it used in hanging baskets where the vine goes down rather than up, but whether it is planted in a hanging basket or given a trellis in full sun, this is a bright floriferous vine that will bloom all summer long.

Strictly speaking the mandevilla vine is a Brazilian perennial vine, and some people do try to winter it over in the house. My own feeling about many tropical plants like amaryllis, poinsettias and such is that they can be a lot of work to carry over to a new season and I consider them annuals. I do not make any attempt to keep them through the winter. However, if you buy a potted mandevilla at a garden center and decide to try and carry it over the winter the easiest suggestion from the New YorkBotanical Garden is to cut it back hard, to about 12 inches, and put it in your 50 degree basement for the winter. Occasionally give it water. When spring sends out promises that it is coming, bring it out into the sun, water and fertilize it and see if it will start growing and come back for another season.

If you are looking for a really exotic vine for a season you might try the black coral pea, Kennedia nigricans. This exotic is native to Australia, but the mailorder nursery Annies Annuals and Perennials sells potted plants including the dramatic black coral pea. This has handsome green foliage and a true black flower, described as wasp-like, with a bit of gold or ivory at its base. It is not a tall vine, only about three feet and about that wide, but it is suitable for growing in a large pot and a real conversation starter. It does not need especially good soil and requires little watering. This is not a plant for a wet garden.

Vines have many uses in the garden: to make a tall focal point, to make big use of a small area, to provide a privacy screen or to hide some less than lovely area of the garden. Annual vines that grow quickly and lushly can come to the rescue with very little work or financial outlay.

Between the Rows   April 16, 2016

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Seed starting supplies

Seed starting supplies

It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.

The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.

I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.

One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.

However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.

To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers.  I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.

For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.

If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.

You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.

Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.

You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.

Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.

You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.

Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.

You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.

If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.

Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.

Happy planting.

Between the Rows   March 19, 2016

 

 

 

Zinnias in Space

zinnia in Space

Zinnia in Space – photo from The Daily Telegraph newspaper UK

While browsing the web for information about plant hunter Augustine Henry I found a Daily Telegraph story about zinnias in space – space horticulture!  Major Tim Peake, the UK’s first astronaut has coaxed a zinnia into bloom in a micro-gravity environment. The seeds were planted by NASA’s Scott Kelly as part of VEG-O1 to see what plants might grow in this environment.  Lettuce was planted – harvested and eaten by the crew of the International Space Station earlier this year.

“Plants can indeed enhance long-duration missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments – environments that are artificial and deprived of nature,” Alexandra Whitmire, of the NASA Human Research Programme, said.

“While not all crew members may enjoy taking care of plants, for many, having this option is beneficial. . . . Studies from other isolated and confined environments, such as Antarctic stations, demonstrate the importance of plants in confinement, and how much more salient fresh food becomes psychologically, when there is little stimuli around.”

Hooray for appreciation of the different benefits of green and growing  things!

Autumnal Container Arrangements

 

White mums

White mums at 5 Acre Farm

The Heath Fair is over. Facebook is full of photos of kids going off to college and kindergarten for the first time. You can hardly get into the supermarkets for the ranks of rigidly potted containers of mums by the doors. It must be fall. Time for an autumnal arrangement.

Chrysanthemums are certainly the iconic autumnal plant, but other plants can also perk up our summer weary gardens or containers. I took a tour around the area looking at what is still available, or newly arrived for fall. I stopped at Home Depot and saw all the trays and racks of plants that looked pretty good. I pulled out an identification label and was surprised to see a clear statement that the plant had been treated with neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systemic pesticides that kill a broad number of insects including bees and other pollinators. Systemic pesticides are taken up by every part of a plant so if an insect stops by for a bite or two or a sip of nectar it will be poisoned and die. Rob Nicholson, greenhouse manager at the Smith College Lyman Plant House, says they no longer use any neonics because wild pollinators come in and out of the greenhouse when the vents are open. Plant House staff do not want to poison insects that spend most of their time on important labors out in the world.

The Home Depot label says that neonics are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.  I cannot see that this is quite true. A visit to the EPA website shows all the work being done to evaluate pesticides like the neonicotinoids. I certainly choose not to buy plants that have been so treated. I very much appreciate that Home Depot does label its plants and warn us.

Five Acre Farm Greenhouse

Five Acre Farm Greenhouse

I finally made my way to Five Acre Farm in Northfield which has an array of perennials like coral bells and salvia, as well as an array of annuals to use in autumnal arrangements. There are mums, of course, in a rainbow of colors. There are also annual asters, hibiscus, marguerite daisies, ornamental peppers, verbena, zinnias and the daisy-like sanvitalia. All of these look fresh and with lots of bloom left in them, while some, like the asters, are just coming into bloom. I was particularly impressed by the fresh, healthy looking Bull’s Blood beets, Swiss chard and several varieties of ornamental kale that I would not have thought of for an autumnal arrangement.

It is hard to find fresh looking annuals at this time of the year but Five Acre Farm has made it a point to have them so that gardeners can create a bright look. Annuals that have seen better days in the garden can be pulled up and replaced with new vigorously blooming annuals.

Flowers are not necessary to have a handsome autumnal arrangement. Foliage plants can make their own statement. We might be able to find foliage plants in our own gardens. This is the time of year that we might be dividing up some of the perennials in our garden. Divisions of coral bells, Hakone grass, hostas, northern sea oats, blanket flower and others can find a happy place in a container arrangement. At the end of the container season they can be separated again, and put back in the garden to resume blooming next year.

You might also find perennials on sale at garden centers. If they are in pretty good shape, or in a small pot, they might be happy in a container arrangement. Again, when the season is over, they can be put in the garden to grow and bloom next year.

My autumnal arrangement

My autumnal arrangement

Staff member Joan Turban gave me advice as I went through the greenhouse and gave her approval when I made my selections.  My central tall plant is Mahogany Splendor, a dark leafed annual hibiscus. Surrounding it is an ornamental pepper in shades of yellow and orange and a bit of purple. The Great Yellow sanvitalia has small yellow daisy-like flowers while the Zahara Sunburst zinnia is rich orange. At the last minute I bought a cream, green and pink coleus to add a little light to the arrangement. Finally I included two gold and orange lantana plants to droop prettily.

I loosened the roots of these plants as I placed them in my large container, especially of the hibiscus which was quite root bound. I watered all the root balls, just for good measure before I crowed the plants in together. For the first time I think I might have done a good job of jamming and cramming. I gave the container a good watering and set it in front of our new house where it can recuperate in the shade. In a few days I think I will give it a sunnier spot by the back door.

Since we had the Rose Viewing this year I haven’t paid much attention to other blooming plants in the garden so it felt very good to put together this autumnal bouquet.

Do you usually put together an autumnal arrangement in your container?

Between the Rows   August 29, 2015

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ seems to be a really hot plant this summer. Several of these flowers are in bloom on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, and I have a couple blooming on my hellstrip in Greenfield.

Visitors to  the Bridge have written and asked the name of this beautiful shrub. It took me a while to identify it because  I think of it as an annual and not a shrub. However, Monrovia Nursery calls it a shrub and in zones 8-10 it is a perennial.  It has a very airy habit and the two tone flowers are delightful. Under ideal circumstances it will reach three feet tall with an equal spread.

Monrovia calls this a  waterwise plant because it does not need much watering once it is established. It loves the sun and heat. I have planted this on my curbside garden which gets a lot of shade during the day so it is less floriferous right now, but on the Bridge of Flowers where it gets full sun it is still blooming energetically. I will find a sunnier spot for it next year.

The photo is from Monrovia by Richard Schiell.

 

Drought Tolerant Perennials

Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers and phlox
My drought tolerant perennials: Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers, and phlox

I need water loving plants, but I have not forgotten that many need drought tolerant perennials. Some gardeners have soil that drains quickly, and we all fret about summer months when no rain falls, or have periods of very hot weather of the kind we’ve enjoyed recently. Fortunately there is a long list of plants that do not mind long periods of hot and dry weather. Some of them may surprise you.

One surprising family of drought resistant plants are the heucheras, coral bells. Coral bells will grow in full sun, but they also welcome some shade in our area. The coral bell flowers of their name are not always very notable, but it is the foliage that is the real draw. Heucheras now come in a myriad of colors from bright lime green to rich burgundy and even black. The cultivar names tell it all from Champagne and Electric Lime to Fire Chief and Grape Soda to Chocolate Ruffles and Black Taffeta. It is the foliage that makes heucheras so welcome all season long.

Fall, when temperatures are moderated, is a good planting season for heucheras as for many perennials that you might find on sale, or that you may be dividing in your own garden.

I was also surprised to see that Baptisia, false indigo, is also drought tolerant. Although I have it in my own garden, which I very rarely water, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the baptisia and most of my perennials don’t suffer noticeably from the dry summers we have had. Baptisia with its clover-like foliage and erect racemes of blue flowers blooms in the spring. There are white and yellow varieties as well. Full sun is about all they need to be happy. They develop long tap roots so once established they are not easy to transplant successfully.

Japanese anemones bloom in late summer and into the fall. I always think the white or pink blossoms look very fragile, but they have three to four foot strong wiry stems and have never minded our recent dry summers. They have been slow to take hold in my garden, but once they do they make generous clumps. I have seen waves of Japanese anemones shining in the autumnal sun at BerkshireBotanical Garden. It makes a stunning display.

A sunny and sun-loving flower is heliopsis, the oxeye perennial sunflower. It will grow to three or four feet tall and bloom for a good part of the summer, especially if you deadhead spent blossoms. It’s a relative of helianthus, the true sunflower. It attracts butterflies and is useful as a cut flower.

Coreopsis, tickseed, is a family of golden yellow flowers ranging in size from three feet like Crème Brulee, but most range from 12-18 inches tall. Shades of yellow abound, but the new Sienna Sunset has shades of apricot and sienna. Coreopsis needs no special soil, attention or watering.

It is no real surprise that lavender which grows in the Mediterranean climate of Provence in France is drought tolerant. I remember Elsa Bakalar’s lavender hedge which sometimes gave her trouble because it was too wet in the spring. I could never keep straight the names, but my favorite was the classic Hidcote which has deep purple blossoms, but she also grew Munstead which was a paler shade. There are larger varieties. Provence grows to more than two feet tall in a generous clump. Of course, it is the unique fragrance of lavender that makes it such a popular plant. Flower stalks can be harvested and dried to make sachets or potpourri.

Achilleas, yarrow, come in many shades from white Snowsport to the deep red of Red Velvet. Moonshine, with blue-grey foliage and gentle yellow blossoms is an old favorite as is the tall Coronation Gold with its large flower heads that dry well and are wonderful in fall arrangements.

Coneflower
Coneflower

Happily there are many annuals that can keep a mixed border in bloom all season. Some like zinnias, marigolds, cleome and cosmos easily tolerate hot, dry summer days. Nasturtiums can crawl over dry soil and create a kind of living mulch without demanding regular watering.

There are drought tolerant vines. Sweet peas are beautiful annual vines that don’t mind dry soil once they are established.

Clematis is a perennial vine that comes in many shades and flower forms. The rich purple jackmanii that twines over so many mailboxes and lampposts is familiar and loved, but there is the new Red Star which produces double red blossoms in early summer and then in early fall.

The trick with growing clematis is to get the pruning schedule under control. There are three groups of clematis with three pruning schedules. Catalogs or nurseries will always mark which group a particular plant belongs to. I just read a mnemonic that says Group A means prune AFTER bloom; Group B means prune BEORE bloom in early spring and Group C means CUT back hard in early spring to 12-18 inches from the ground. There is a little more to it than that, but a good beginning.

There are many other suitable plants, salvias, catmints, penstemons, Russian sage, asters and coneflowers. We should remember that even drought tolerant plants need to be watered regularly after they are planted until they are established. It is good to know that whether we have a wet or a dry garden, we will always have many choices.

Zinnias
Drought Tolerant annual zinnias

Between the Rows   August 22, 2015