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Sampler of White Flowers for Summer and Fall

Casa Blanca lilies

Casa Blanca lilies at Mike Collins and Tony Palumbo’s garden

Last week I talked about some of the white spring flowers, but a whole array of white flowers bloom well into the fall. I can only mention a few.

White Flowers for Summer

One of the more unusual white flowers that grows in my garden is Artemesia lactiflora. Most of us think of artemesias as having silvery foliage and insignificant flowers. My Artemesia lactiflora grows in a very upright clump with reddish-maroon stems and very dark toothed foliage. The tall flower stalks have open sprays of small white flowers. It’s very hardy, deer proof and a good spreader.

When I looked up online nurseries for Artemesia lactifllora I saw that all the descriptions said it grew from four to five feet tall. Not in my garden. Everyone agrees it is not a demanding plant, and some say drought tolerant. The Plant Delights catalog says given a damp spot it will be spectacular. My garden is well drained. Maybe that explains its meager three foot height. Or the problem may be that I do not have Artemesia lactiflora Guizhou a particular cultivar. I don’t remember where my plant came from.

Garden phlox is a gorgeous midsummer bloomer that comes in many colors. It seems to me that interest in tall garden phlox has declined recently, with a matching decline in cultivars. Often the only available white is David which gained its fame because of its mildew resistance. Powdery mildew does not damage phlox, or even migrate to another type of flower, but many people find it objectionable. Phlox has no other real problems. David starts blooming in August and lasts into September.

I recently found an online nursery, Perennial Pleasures in East Hardwick, Vermont that specializes in phlox and sells over 90 phlox cultivars including Flame White, a very short white phlox, Flower Power which begins blooming in mid-July, Midsummer White which is very tall, mildew resistant,  the earliest blooming of the phloxes and one of Perennial Pleasures favorites. There are other whites including the heirloom Miss Lingaard which is mildew resistant, and many other shades of pink, purple and blue.

Everyone loves daisies and Shasta daisies make it possible to have their cheerful blooms in the garden. Many Shasta daisies like Alaska grow to two feet or so and can get floppy, but that can be moderated by cutting them back in the spring. Tinkerbelle is a dwarf Shasta, only eight inches, and it is perfect for front of the border.

All Shasta daisies belong to the Chrysanthemum family, but are sometimes listed as Leucanthemum. Fluffy really looks more chrysanthemum-like with very double, shaggy flowers around a yellow center. Remember, all these summer bloomers like sun, good garden soil which should be enriched every year; they will tolerate some drought.

A wonderful vine is the pale moonflower vine. How lovely to have big white fragrant flowers that you can watch open as it gets dark. Moonflowers are like giant morning glories. Some people say they have trouble getting them to germinate, but soaking the seed for 24 hours can help with that. Once you have a thriving vine it may very well self-seed every year.

I grow white Henryi lilies near the house and they have been very happy at the end of my Herb Bed. I had the big glamorous white Casa Blanca lilies in the Lawn Beds, but deer always ate the swelling buds. If you don’t have deer Casa Blanca lilies are easy to grow and can tolerate some shade where they look especially beautiful. I haven’t had trouble with lily beetles, but that may be a blessing of the Heath climate.

Boltonia on Bridge of Flowers

Boltonia on Bridge of Flowers

White Flowers for Fall

Asters come into bloom in late summer and fall. Aster novi-belgii Bonningdale will reach a height of two feet or a little more and produce clusters of double white flowers around a yellow center. Asters should be treated like chrysanthemums by pinching them back until July 4 for stronger, bushier growth and more flowers. They should be deadheaded to prevent reseeding; Asters are tough long-lived plants that will make a substantial clump in two or three years when they can be divided. They are not fussy about soil.

Boltonia Snowbank, sometimes known as false aster or starwort, is a grand tall plant, up to five feet with starry daisy-like flowers. It can be pinched back in the spring or even be cut back for bushy growth in the fall. This is a vigorous plant that will need dividing every three years , but you can also dig up the new plantlets that spread out around the mother plant to give away. Because of its size and its exuberant bloom late into the fall this is a great addition to the perennial border. There is also a pink variety.

Before I started paying attention I thought of Japanese anemones as spring bloomers. However, it is Anemone sylvestris like Madonna that is the low growing anemone that blooms in the spring, in sun or shade and resistant to both deer and rabbits. Japanese anemone like the three foot tall Honorine Joubert blooms for a long season in late summer and well into the fall. Honorine Joubert has sprays of two inch flowers, white petals around a golden crown of stamens and a greenish center. Andrea Atkinson is similar except that it is shorter. Japanese anemones develop into generous clumps and they make quite a show in the fall.  In spite of their delicate appearance they have strong wiry stems. I have enjoyed mass plantings at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in September

Between the Rows   February 7, 2015

White Flowers That Bloom in the Spring – Tra la

Double bloodroot

Double bloodroot blooming on the Bridge of Flowers

As I look out at the newly white fields, I cannot help but think about the white flowers that bloom in the spring. There are so many, from shrubs, tall perennials, and low blooming groundcovers. White flowers bring a cool serenity to the garden and they are visible after sunset in the gloaming.

Many of us have a desk or a favorite chair by a window where we read or do other close work like quilting. When we look up from our work the view out that window gives our eyes a chance to rest on the longer view and our mind is refreshed by the peacefulness of that view. Over recent years I have become very aware of the views from my windows which are large expansive views across broad fields, but I am beginning to think about smaller, more intimate views that may be framed by new windows.

Some people love white flowers so much that they create a White Garden composed of foliage and a collection of white flowers that will bloom from spring into the fall. Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville West’s White Garden in England is one of the world’s most famous gardens. But you don’t need a whole garden designed around white flowers. White flowers will happily bloom alone or in joyous community with other color.

If you want a white garden that will glow in the gloaming, it is best to choose plants, including shrubs, that have some substance. I have three white lilacs that bloom in mid-May. One is the hedge of nameless white lilacs that have been growing and blooming here at the end of the road for decades. I bought Beauty of Moscow with its fat pale pink buds that open into double white blossoms locally, and the third is Miss Ellen Willmott, named for the woman who created the great gardens at Warley Place, a gift from a friend.

Lilacs are familiar to everyone, but a more unusual spring blooming shrub is fothergilla which reaches a height of about three to four feet and produces bottle brush blossoms in early to mid-May, when the foliage is just beginning to appear. There is a fothergilla on the Bridge of Flowers and it never fails to attract the attention of visitors.

Another suggestion from the Bridge of Flowers might be the stark white double bloodroot, a low growing native plant that begins blooming at the end of April. The double bloodroot is most definitely a substantial flower that spreads in the shade and would be noticeable from some distance away. This looks like a delicate spring flower but it is very hardy.

As far as I am concerned peonies share a great deal with lilacs. Both are tough carefree perennials that are subject to few diseases or insects. They are very hardy and will thrive for generations with little care. Festiva Maxima is an old white variety with a few crimson flecks among the petals. It is fragrant, as tough as they come, and among the first peonies to bloom in late May or early June. Bowl of Cream is another fragrant older variety; like Festiva Maxima the heavy blossoms are eight inches across.

There are many white peonies, old and new, that bloom in early, mid and late seasons. One of the benefits of peonies is how handsome the foliage remains after bloom is finished. It stays clean and green and makes a good background for other flowers perennial or annual, you may wish to plant in front.

Of course, one cannot talk about spring bloomers without talking about bulbs. Mount Hood is a tall trumpet daffodil with creamy buds that open pure white. This is a daff that makes a definite statement. Weena is a daff of similar size, pristine white with a rolled rim trumpet.  If you enjoy a bit of pink with your white daff, Pink Silk has a pale pink trumpet surrounded by white petals. Any daffodils should be planted in a generous group, or graceful waves.

All the plants that I have listed as spring bloomers have what I call substantial bloom that can be seen from a distance, from a house window or across a garden expanse. Still we do not want our gardens to bloom all in one note or one texture. There are more delicate whites that bloom as well. Snow Baby is a 4-8 inch pure white miniature trumpet daff that blooms very early in the spring. A clump of these would be lovely.

Cantabricus, from Brent and Becky, is even tinier than Snow Baby with white blossoms described as being megaphone shaped.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and OldHouseGardens are two companies that have excellent and varied bulb collections, offering fall planted and summer blooming bulbs.

White Siberian irises

White Siberian irises

I have a group of white Siberian irises planted around out old dug well. They are so dainty looking but they are extremely hardy and carefree, spreading freely. These were growing in front of the house when we bought it and so are nameless. Snow Queen is a tall, three to four foot Siberian iris that you might find in nurseries now. An extra benefit of Siberian irises is that they do not mind damp sites, although they do perfectly well where it is drier.

Dodecatheon meadia or shooting star is another delicate native perennial with sharply reflexed petals that always gets attention on the Bridge of Flowers in mid-May.

Dodecatheon or Shooting Star

Shooting Star, Dodecatheon in mid-May

This is hardly a definitive list of white flowers, and yet I have only touched on white spring bloomers. There are so many other white flowers that I will continue with summer and fall bloomers next week.

Between the Rows   January 31, 2015

My Amaryllis Mystery

boxed amaryllis bulbs

boxed amaryllis bulbs

I suppose my amaryllis mystery began on December 11, 2014 when I rather belatedly bought boxed amaryllis bulbs ready for planting and blooming. I knew they would not bloom in time for Christmas, but glamorous amaryllis flowers  are welcome in January and February as well.

I potted all three bulbs up as directed. I did notice that the Athene white amaryllis seemed to have been pruned back more severely or more  recently than the other two. I kept all three bulbs together in our living space which is the warmest part of the house.

Amaryllis on January 19

Amaryllis on January 19

As time passed the three bulbs showed various rates of growth, most especially Athene. If you look closely you can see that I marked her pot with a little W in expectation of a white flower. That bulb never produced any foliage but did send up two bud shoots, one of which began to open a couple of days ago.  We will let the mis-labelling pass. That has happened often enough in the garden, indoors and out. It is the rates of growth that amaze me.  One bulb has produced two bud shoots with  one blooming; one has produced foliage and two bud shoots, one of which is beginning to open; and the third produced foliage and two bud shoots of very different heights.

Is there a solution to my amaryllis mystery?  Is it just c’est la vie? or is there a reason? All three bulbs had exactly the same care and conditions, although we have to assume kind of difference in the striped bulb now blooming.  Any ideas?

Time to Plant the Garlic

Pat - The Garlic Queen

Pat – The Garlic Queen

It is not widely known but I was crowned the Garlic Queen at the Heath Fair this year. It is only right that I was crowned by Rol Hesselbart, who gave me my first garlic cloves to use for planting. Hesselbart has been growing garlic and and saving the best bulbs to use as seed for many years. The bulbs he gave me were easily twice as big as the garlic you usually buy at the supermarket.

It was hardneck garlic, Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, that won me the queen-ship. This is the species that is best suited to the northeast climate where the winter is cold and spring cool and damp. Within this species there are many varieties that will give you a subtle variety of flavor. My variety is German, but other varieties include German Red, Purple Glazer, Siberian garlic and others. The Filaree Farm website will give you a good idea of how many varieties are available.

The hardneck is the remnant of the scape, the curly stem that will ultimately produce a seedhead, that looks a lot like a chive blossom. Scapes can be harvested when they are young and used just as you would garlic in your cooking. This year I sliced my scapes into half inch pieces and froze them. This just about doubles my harvest. I use a few scape pieces just as I would a diced garlic clove.

Softneck garlic, Allium sativum var. sativum, is the type of garlic that can be braided and it does have a longer shelf life which means it is the type you usually find in supermarkets. I have not grown this type yet, but my Garlic Crown was made with softneck garlic and I will use those cloves as seed this year, and have a softneck and a hardneck harvest next July.

Garlic is very easy to grow. It will grow in almost any soil, but it prefers a fertile soil rich in organic matter. Planting in good soil is how you grow healthy large bulbs that you can save and use for your own seed. They like sun but can tolerate a little bit of shade.

I wait until the end of October to plant. The clove will start sending out roots, and the soil will stay warm enough to sustain that slow root growth even when the air gets cold. I don’t really want it to send out any green growth. Still, if it should send up shoots that will be killed by winter weather, the plant will send out new growth in the spring.

I plant in a wide row and make three furrows about three or four inches deep and about six to eight inches apart. I take my garlic bulb and break it into cloves. Plant each clove, pointy side up and cover with two or three inches of soil. Then mulch well with six or eight inches of leaves and/or straw.

Preparing garlic scapes for the freezer

Preparing garlic scapes for the freezer

In the spring green shoots will grow up through the mulch. When the weather is warmer many people remove the mulch but I left about half of mine on, as a weed deterrent. Early in June the scapes will begin to appear. It is good to cut the scapes out, whether you use them for cooking or not, because they use up energy that should go into making nice fat garlic bulbs.

In mid to late July the foliage will start to yellow. When a few of the lower leaves yellow, but the higher foliage is still green, it is time to dig up the garlic. And I do mean dig it up. Don’t pull it the way you can onions which are nearly out of the ground when they are ready for harvest. Make sure you allow for the size of the bulbs when you begin using your shovel. I have cut into bulbs when I underestimated where they were underground.

Make sure you do not allow all the foliage to yellow. If the bulb is overripe the skin will split and the cloves will be loose in the soil. You may lose some of the cloves, and they will not store for very long.

I believe this is controversial, but I do give my newly dug bulbs a shower with the hose, washing off the loose dirt. I am careful not to damage the papery skins. Once washed and dried in the sun, I bring them indoors, out of direct sun, to cure, with their roots and stems, for four to eight weeks. Once they are cured, in a space with good air circulation, I cut off the stems and roots. I use my garden pruner for this job.

It is very important to leave the stems and roots on throughout the curing period    .

Having said that, of course, I use the not-completely-cured garlic whenever I need it in the kitchen. Actually, you can even dig up a garlic bulb before it is mature in the spring. This is called green or spring garlic and has a lighter flavor. Some cooks love to use it for its more subtle flavor.

Garlic should be stored in a cool dry space. I have a mostly unheated guest room so I box up the cured garlic and keep it there.

It feels good to have a bed or two of garlic neatly planted and mulched in the fall. I feel I’ve already made a good start in the spring when I see that neat bed with little green shoots coming through the mulch.

I haven’t explored the world of garlic very much so far, but I’ve been talking to people who are passionate about the differences in flavor, so I have a new reason to grow some different varieties next year. For the moment I have all I can handle.

The larger garlic bulb properly had the scape removed early in the season. The smaller bulb did not.

The larger garlic bulb properly had the scape removed early in the season. The smaller bulb did not.

Between the Rows  October 11, 2014

Spring Blooming Bulbs – Familiar and Unusual


Narcissus poeticus

Narcissus poeticus – Pheasant eye daffodil

These chilly days and cool nights have got me thinking about spring. Or more specifically the need to plant spring blooming bulbs this fall. There is something about gardening that makes us gardeners keep one eye a season or two ahead, even as we work with the challenges and pleasures of the present.

Catalogs for spring bloomers have already arrived. The Old House Gardens catalog is a favorite because I love thinking of the long history of the bulbs they offer. For example the Cloth of Gold crocus was being grown as early as 1587, and was commonly offered in catalogs during the 1800s because it was so popular. Cloth of Gold is a very early bloomer and the bees love it. That would be reason enough to grow it. We have to take care of our pollinators especially in those difficult early and late seasons.

I grow a number of small bulbs, grape hyacinths and scillas, but a favorite is the snowdrop. I have the Elwes snowdrop growing in grass and at the edge of the herb bed. I am planning to plant the Gravetye Giant Snowflake which is actually a Leucojum, not a Galanthus. The graceful, nodding bell-like blossoms with their green tips are very similar to snowdrops, but they are held on tall 18 inch stems and bloom a little later. Both snow drops and the snowflake are deer and rodent resistant.

Because they are deer and rodent resistant most of the bulbs I plant are daffodils. Often from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs great collection. Daffodils are a favorite of mine because they are so varied from tiny bi-color Jack Snipe and pale Toto to the large cool Ice Follies and big Precocious with its white perianth and deep salmon-pink cup.

Tulips on the Bridge of Flowers

Tulips on the Bridge of Flowers

I don’t grow many tulips because critters do like the planted bulbs, and because they are not as long lived as daffodils. Still, ephemeral beauty is not to be avoided just because it does not last over the years. I have planted viridian tulips like Spring Green with its ivory blossom feathered with green, and the flamboyant fringed Apricot Parrot tulip.

There are so many cultivars of these common bulbs, crocus, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, scilla, tulip and fragrant hyacinth that I still get a shock when I open the bulb catalogs to find a whole array of other fall planted spring blooming bulbs.

Alliums are flowering onions. Even non-gardeners identify and admire the large alliums like Purple Sensation and Ambassador with their large spheres of flowerets.  There are also cultivars with white spheres like the creamy Ivory Queen and icy Mount Everest.

Less familiar are alliums with looser and more unusual blossoms.  Allium bulgarium has a chandelier-like arrangement of tiny white, green and pink bell shaped flowers. Allium carnatum ssp pulchellum looks like a rosy fireworks display and A. flavum is a golden explosion with blue-green foliage. The John Scheepers catalog describes A. Hair as “a bit like an alien life form . . . with tentacle-like flowers.” This last would definitely be a traffic stopper during a garden tour.

Alliums are deer and rodent resistant. I have to say the fine stems and foliage of the drumstick alliums I have planted have been nibbled to nubs by deer long before they bloom. The other cultivars are bigger, sturdier, and smellier even when young and therefore more repellent.

Frittilaria imperialis Crown Imperial is another deer and rodent resistant show stopper. It is 36 inches tall, topped with an umbrella cluster of several pendant blossoms. Lutea Maxima is tall with a sunny yellow flower cluster and rubra maxima has a striking red-orange flower cluster.

Frittilaria meleagris, sometimes called the Checkered Lily has small, low maroon and white flowers. There is a white cultivar as well.

And of course, there are lilies. Not deer resistant, alas, but so beautiful. There are Asiatic lilies, species lilies, Chinese trumpet lilies, Orienpet lilies and Oriental lilies. All easily recognizable as Lilies, but differing somewhat in flower form, size and fragrance. Orienpets are a hybrid making use of the best aspects of the Chinese trumpet lily and the fragrance of the Oriental lily.

Lilium white henryii

Lilium white henryii

The challenge for those passionate about lilies is the arrival of the lily beetle. However the University of Maine has done research that shows Asiatic lilies may be the most susceptible to the lily beetle while some Oriental lilies are more resistant. The most resistant  cultivars they have identified were Lilium henryi ‘Madame Butterfly’, Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’, and Lilium ‘Black Beauty.’

The lily beetle is more active early in the season when the adult beetles that have overwintered in the soil emerge and almost immediately begin laying eggs. Neem oil and spinosad are organic controls that have been useful. Even so, if you have lily beetles close observation very early in the season and control, including removal by hand of the egg clusters and larvae, can save your lilies.

All bulbs need to be planted in well drained soil. Bulbs need phosphorus to bloom well which means that when planting bulbs the soil beneath should be amended with bonemeal or rock phosphate. To maintain the necessary nutrients the bulb planting should be given a fall helping of bone meal, two cups for a 10 foot square area. Repeat that feeding in the spring, when the shoots are starting to appear. A 10-10-10 fertilizer could also be spread. Whatever fertilizer I use, I try to spread it when rain is expected.

Sources: Your local garden center:;;   ###

Between the Rows  September 13, 2014

Garlic Harvest Fresh Out of the Ground

Garlic Harvest 2014

Garlic Harvest 2014

This morning I dug up my 35 hard neck garlic bulbs. My garlic harvest is looking pretty good and I am looking forward to entering them in the Heath Fair next month. Garlic is a wonderful crop. So easy. You begin with good seed garlic which you can get from a friend as I did, or go to a garlic farm like Filaree where you will be amazed at how many kinds of garlic there are to sample and enjoy. You can also go to the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange which is about all things garlic, including seed garlic – but so much more!

I plant my garlic in good rich soil in mid to late October. I put on a layer of hay or straw mulch and forget about them. In  the spring garlic foliage will  rise above  the mulch and there is nothing to do until you see the twirly scapes appear. To make sure the bulbs as big as they can be, remove the scapes. Then let the bulbs continue to grow until  the foliage begins to yellow in mid-July in our area. Then dig the garlic carefully, shake off the soil, then wash the garlic bulbs with a hose. Cut off  the stalks and set them out to dry and cure. When dry cut off the roots. Do not take off all the protective skins. Of course you can use them any time after harvest. I have learned everything I know about garlic from Heath’s Garlic King, Rol Hesselbart, who I interviewed here. He gives the best instruction and advice!

Two garlic bulbs - why is there a difference?

Two garlic bulbs – why is there a difference?

Somehow I missed removing the scapes from two of the plants. See the difference? All the plants energy went into the bulb in the  plant on the Left, but some energy went into  the scape on the Right, making the useful  bulb smaller.

Once you have had a successful garlic harvest you can save a few of your very best garlic bulbs to use as seed. That is what I have done and now when I see garlic in the store it seems very puny. But  I rarely have to worry about that any more.  If you are a cook you can save some money by growing your own. All my garlic grew in a double 8 foot row. Not much space at all.

So, Dear Friends and Gardeners, have you ever grown garlic? How did you fare?

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – May 2014

Coltsfoot and violets on the Rose Bank

Coltsfoot and violets on the Rose Bank

I begin this Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day post with a blooming mistake. Maybe three years ago I thought coltsfoot might be a good groundcover on the Rose Bank. I was only thinking of the flowers and the size of the early spring foliage – not what it would look like in June, July, August, September and October. Or how very rapidly and strongly it would spread. I don’t mind the violet which are everywhere here, and in the Flowery Mead – aka the Lawn.

Daffodils, dandelions and grape hyacinths

Daffodils, dandelions and grape hyacinths

Here is a blooming trifecta. The first dandelion appeared on May 2. Now, after the first lawn mowing and some warm weather, they are everywhere. The daffodils and grape hyacinths are happy under the weeping birch.



There is better, more lushly blooming forsythia in  the neighborhood, but this is the best forsythia bloom I have had in all  the 34 years we have lived here. I often thought about ripping out this hedge because it bloomed so intermittently and poorly, but it was just too much work. And now after the longest, coldest spring it is shouting out Hallelujah!

Primroses and snake

Primroses and snake

Because my camera is the ‘point and hope’ variety, and the shadows were so dappled, I did not see this snake among the primroses until I took it out of the camera. Do you see it?  I like snakes in the garden.

Van Sion daffodil

Van Sion daffodil

Van Sion is a very old daffodil. It was growing here when we moved in. It is a very strong grower and spreader. I have helped spread it here and there, but can’t ever seem to get all of it out  from this rose bush. Some years the outer petals are quite green which I really like, but others have called this an ugly daffodil.  I don’t see why. Look at all those happy petals.

Poeticus daffodil

Poeticus daffodil

I don’t think anyone dislikes or thinks the old Poeticus daffodil is ugly. At a tour of the daffodils at Tower Hill one year our guide told us that the all the pink shades in pink daffodils come from the narrow red rim on the cup in this daffodil. Poeticus is one of the many daffs I have moved to the eastern edge of the lawn. Someday soon I am going to try and name them.

Wild cherry

Wild cherry

Even the walk to the henhouse – or the solar clothes dryer – is a joy at this time of the year when the wild cherries are in bloom.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Just in time for Bloom day are the Dutchman’s breeches. It is too wet this morning – mist and fog – to get a really good photo of the blossoms, but I was happy to see that this has spread throughout the garden – by ants!

Epimedium rubrum

Epimedium rubrum

I love the epimediums. This clump of Epimedium rubrum is a few years old.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium sulphureum

This clump of Epimedium sulphureum is only two years old, but it is taking hold nicely.

Weeping cherry

Weeping cherry

Finally, barely in time for Bloom Day, the weeping cherry has begun to bloom.

It has been a long cold spring here in the higher elevations of western Massachusetts, so I am glad to finally be able to have some bloom and join the party hosted by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens. Thank you Carol!

Seeking Spring at the Leonard J. Buck Garden in NJ


Leonard J. Buck Garden

Leonard J. Buck Garden

I went to New Jersey, the Garden State, to search for spring and found it at the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills. My brother Tony and his wife Joan took us to the 29 acre garden which was originally part of Mr. Buck’s estate. In the 1930s Buck began working with Zenon Schreiber, a well-known landscape architect, to create a naturalistic garden that incorporated the various rock outcroppings, the sinuous Moggy Brook and two ponds.

I was searching for spring, but she was elusive, even in the Buck Garden which is, to a large extent, a spring garden. Trees were barely leafing out, it was too early for the groves and allees of azalea and rhododendron that would be spectacular by the end of May, and even the large patches of primroses were not blooming. What we did find were certain rocky areas in bloom that seemed to encourage us and remind us that spring was finally on her way.

The stone outcroppings vary in size and height, creating different microclimates. My sister-in-law- Joan and I spent a lot of time that day talking about and marveling at the power of microclimates. For example the primroses in the large boggy sections of the garden were almost entirely without bloom because this garden has also been having a very cool spring. And yet, nestled against the Big Rock stone cliff primroses were blooming happily in the sun.

Growing among the soil pockets were a number of colorful spring bloomers from the delicate red and yellow native columbine, brilliant basket-of-gold, petite iris reticulata, epimediums, barren strawberry, trillium, bluets, familiar creeping phlox, bleeding hearts and small narcissus like ‘Jack Snipe.’

It does not take long for most of us to identify the microclimates in our own gardens, and learn to take advantage of those spots where a plant will be protected from the wind, or where stone might act as a heat collector as well as a wind barrier. In those protected spots we can grow plants that are marginally hardy in our zone, or get earlier bloom.

Hellebores at the Leonard J. Buck garden

Hellebores at the Leonard J. Buck garden

There were various plantings of pink or white Helleborus orientalis or Lenten rose. I first became familiar with these lush early bloomers on the Bridge of Flowers. Last year when I attended the opening of the newly redesigned Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Michael Van Valkenburg promised that this spring the garden would be ‘crazy with hellebores’ which had been planted, along with ferns and shiny European ginger, under the new young trees.

One of the pleasures of visiting the Buck garden is the ability to see closeup woodland plants that you don’t often find in cultivated gardens. There were trilliums, red and white, just coming into bloom, guinea hen fritillarias, and sunny marsh marigolds that shone in a boggy spot.

Another sunny plant that stopped us was a clump of yellow flowers with sharply recurved petals, and mottled leaves. I couldn’t remember their scientific name (Erythronium americanum) but thought they were trout lilies. I pointed out the mottled leaves to Tony and Joan, explaining that they could be said to resemble the markings on brown trout. I thought they were also known as dogtooth violets even though they are not violets and do not resemble dog’s teeth in any way. Of course, later we had to do some research, and I was correct as far as I went. We learned the dog’s tooth refers to the little corm from which it grows.

Trout Lilies at Leonard J. Buck Garden

Trout Lilies at Leonard J. Buck Garden

Later in the day, at another garden, we saw a similar clump of flowers I thought were trout lilies again, but the petals were not curved back. We looked all over for a label, but only found one that said Bletilla striata. More research. These were trout lilies, but we learned it takes strong sun to make the petals curve back. Bletilla striata is a small purple ground orchid. No purple flowers of any kind were in sight. Which just goes to show you have to be careful when looking at plant labels. The plant they refer to may not yet be blooming, or the label may have been moved, but not with any accuracy.

While doing this trout lily research I also learned that every part of the plant is edible. One warning. I can’t anyone would actually manage to eat a large number, but in large amounts trout lilies act as an emetic. However a few blossoms to brighten up a salad will not hurt.

Most of us will never have enough trout lilies to take up roasting and eating the little corms. They are very slow growing. It takes seven years for a plant to mature, bloom and begin to reproduce. Mostly they increase by runners, not by seed. If you find a colony in a damp humusy woodland it is likely to be quite old. I prefer to just admire them because they are so lovely.

New Jersey has quite a number of public gardens that are a part of the park system. After we left the Buck Garden, and refreshed ourselves with a hearty lunch, we went on to Willowwood Arboretum, New Jersey’s largest (130 acres) and longest continually operating arboretum. You will hear more about the gardens there, as well as the trees, in the future.

Between the Rows  May 3, 2014

Touring Colleges with Rory

Rory in the rain at UMass Lowell

Rory in the rain at UMass Lowell

High schools are off this week so we had the chance to go touring colleges with grandson Rory. It was pouring all during the UMass-Lowell campus tour, but we were undaunted, and got to see the O’Leary Library, the bookstore, a dining hall, a classroom and lots of students very busily going about their business. We were also fortunate enough to speak to one of the faculty members who gave us lots of  good advice.

While we were in Lowell we stopped at Middlesex Community College and picked up various printed materials, but they weren’t giving tours this week.

Rory and The Major at UMass Amherst

Rory and The Major at UMass Amherst

Sometimes we go touring colleges for sentimental reasons. We stopped on the UMass Amherst campus where Henry and I got our degrees. They don’t have the programs Rory is most interested in, but we got to visit  with friends who are on staff and get all the local news. The campus has changed a lot – new buildings! – since we were students – even though we were rather elderly students. Comparatively speaking.

Dandelions at UMass

Dandelions at UMass

For me, I was glad to see that dandelions are blooming in the UMass Amherst valley. No dandelions in Heath yet.

Pink hyacinths on Bridge of Flowers

Pink hyacinths on Bridge of Flowers

And even happier to see that the hyacinths are beginning to bloom on the Bridge of Flowers. Just because we were touring colleges doesn’t mean we couldn’t look at flowers. It was breezy, but spring was in the air.

In the Pink at the Lyman Plant House, Smith College

In the Pink at Lyman Plant House

Banish the winter blues and get In the Pink at the Annual Bulb show at the Smith College Lyman Plant House. This annual show, always fabulous, is running from now until Sunday, March 16.

It is no surprise to me that the powers that be would choose In the Pink as the theme for this year’s show. I love pink, as anyone who strolls down the Rose Walk can attest.  But there is something spring-like about all shades of pink from the most delicate aqueous shell pink to vibrant pinks, all of which find their most perfect expression in flowers.

Walking into the Lyman Plant House rooms that are perfumed with the fragrance of an early spring, it is hard to imagine all the planning and work required on the part of the greenhouse staff. I once asked Rob Nicholson, Manager of the greenhouse what it took to open the Bulb Show on the assigned date. His reply was succinct, “Patience and careful monitoring of temperature.”  That almost sounds easy.

Of course, there is work to do in the greenhouse all year to keep this wide array of plants from the tropical jungle to the arid desert in good health. I asked if they had to use a lot of pesticides and things to keep the plants in good shape.

“Of course, we’d prefer never to use pesticides, but when a collection of rare and exotic plants is kept in an enclosed greenhouse it sets up a situation where the plants inevitably are infested since they are not in a complex ecosystem where there are checks and balances. When we need to use pesticides we tend to use very mild ones that break down very quickly as we have to be able to allow visitors in the next morning. Pesticides are rated with an REI (re-entry interval) that dictates how soon humans are allowed back into the space so we are limited to those with REIs of 4-12 hours. Then I try to use ‘biologicals’ which are geared to disrupt insect metabolism such as molting cycles, rather than the old style neurotoxin types. We also use insecticidal soaps . . . which suffocated the insect pest. I find the pesticide laws are pretty inconsistent as any consumer can go to any box store and buy materials more dangerous than what we use, and misuse them,” Nicholson said.

I asked if they used neonicotinoids, nicotine based chemicals that have become controversial and are in so many pesticides. He said “The neonics we used were systemic. Granular material is applied to the soil, dissolves and gets absorbed into the plants. They have a long term effect. They were very low toxicity to humans, easy to apply, and worked well to keep our mums clean of mealy bugs.”

However, he added, “There is a lot of concern about this class of pesticides contributing to collapse of beehives. The European Union banned them last year. . . .the pesticide gets into pollen, bees collect the pollen and bring it back to the hive and taint it. As our Chrysanthemum Show in November can attract a large number of bees if the weather conditions are right (and greenhouse vents are open) we felt we could no longer use these on flowering plants that could draw in outside bees.”

Nicholson expressed his concern about the importance of protecting bees which are so vital to our food system. “. . .our country needs to take a hard look at this class of pesticides, do the proper research and then act accordingly.”

Nicholson feels strongly that we all need to be informed consumers, buy as little of any pesticide as possible, and follow instructions to the letter. All pesticides should be stored under lock and key. “As a toddler I drank pesticide stored in a Planter’s Peanuts can in my neighbor’s garage. It almost killed me,” he said. Then he reiterated the necessity to educate ourselves about “a very complex subject and industry,” especially since there are so many pesticides available that are not dangerous to the bees or to our children.

Recently there has been research that suggests acetamiprid and imidacloprid, the two most dangerous chemicals in the neonicotinoids, may cause damage to young children’s brain development. Because I have young children on my lawns from time to time I would never knowingly use products that contain neonicotinoids. That means I wouldn’t dare use common pesticides like Ortho Flower Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer or Knockout Ready to Use Grub Killer which are only two of the many products that contain acetamiprid or imidacloprid. Further information about which products contain these chemicals are on the Xerces Society website,

The purpose of the Xerces Society is to protect invertebrates like bees, butterflies and many other creatures including mussels and crabs. I take Rob Nicholson’s advice to do my research seriously. Education is key, for all of us, and the Xerces Society is one place to start. Of course, I believe that using pesticides on the lawn is totally unnecessary, and agree with Nicholson that there are many safer products to use on plants.

To feel In the Pink, (March 1-16) the Lyman Plant House is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The suggested donation is $2. You still have a week to get there.  Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke College is also hosting a spring bulb show for the next week, through March 16.  Hours 10am – 4 pm.

Between the Rows  March 1, 2014