Drying Hydrangeas: An Experiment

It had rained in the night, so the flowers I sought, all dappled with raindrops, seemed to laugh at the purpose I had in mind for them. How would they fare as dried flowers?

On that morning in early August, I approached as many different Hydrangea shrubs as I could find in the White Flower Farm gardens – and there were plenty! I wondered if different species and cultivars would dry better than others. There were three relatively simple drying methods I wanted to try, but I still had questions about the best Hydrangeas for drying, when to harvest them, and which of the methods would be most effective.

Cutting the Blooms

With boots drenched from the wet grass and pruners in hand, I clipped stems from seven varieties of Hydrangea that were exhibiting the most interesting blossoms at the time. My selections included three different flower forms: Mophead (the classic rounded form), Lacecap (flatter and more delicate with their hem of sterile florets), and Panicle (shaped like ice cream cones). I gathered blooms at varying stages of maturity, and because I would be trying three different drying methods, I cut at least three stems from each of the shrubs, one for each trial. Scroll below to see the players.

From left to right: Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea) Invincibelle Mini Mauvette®, ‘Haas’ Halo,’ and Incrediball® Blush.
From left to right: Hydrangea paniculata (Panicle Hydrangea) ‘Little Lamb,’ Little Quick Fire®, and Vanilla Strawberry™.
A single plant of Hydrangea macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea) Endless Summer® Summer Crush® demonstrating color variation due to different stages of bloom.

Cutting flowers is a bit of a science. I timed my cutting for early morning when blooms are freshest, and I made sure my pruners were clean and also sharp so they would not crush the stems. I angled my cuts to create the largest surface area for water absorption. I transferred the cut stems immediately to a bucket of water as this helps prevent air bubbles from going up the stems, which can cause the blossoms to shrivel prematurely.

There is an additional consideration when cutting flowers for a vase, basket, or other vessel. It may be important to leave a certain amount of stem. This is particularly true when cutting for dried blooms. I chose to leave stems about 12-18” in length, allowing plenty of stem for different drying methods and for display in medium-sized vases or baskets.

Fresh cuttings of Hydrangea arborescens Incrediball® Blush showing color variation among young and old blossoms.

Preparing for the Drying Process

After trundling buckets of cuttings between the gardens and home, I selected an underlit interior hallway for the drying. The low light would help keep flower colors from fading. The blooms could linger there for as long as the process would take, and that was yet to be discovered. With my drying spot ready, I took the first steps in each of three drying methods.

One by one, I removed the Hydrangea blossoms from their buckets and stripped the stems of leaves. This step reserves whatever moisture is in the stems for the flowers only. It also removes foliage that will shrivel, become unsightly, and break once the stems are dry.

Next, I followed the three different methods for drying:

Hang-Drying Method

I hung one batch of stems upside down on a string I had suspended between two doorframes. I angled the string slightly away from the wall to allow for better air circulation around the blossoms.

Dry Vase Method

I inserted other stems into old canning jars with no water in them. I tried not to cram in too many blooms, again to permit air to circulate among them.

Wet Vase Method

For the final batch of stems, I made fresh angled cuts as well as vertical cuts about 1” long up the center of the stems to encourage water absorption. I placed these in jars with 1-2” of water. The idea was to allow these stems to dry more gradually as the level of water diminished over time.

Ready for drying to begin.

End Results & 3 Takeaways

Over the course of one week, I suffered a few losses but also gained an assortment of dried blooms! More importantly, the mixed results helped me come away with three insights for drying Hydrangeas.

1. Drying can happen relatively quickly. After one week, all the blossoms had totally dried except one (a particularly blue Macrophylla). Those that were in vases without water or hanging upside down dried the fastest, even in the first couple of days. It took a little longer for the stems in vases with water, but once the water was gone after 6-7 days, they were all dry except the one. It should be noted that it was an exceptionally hot week, which may have quickened the pace.

Hydrangeas in vases without water dried within days. For those that had water, the process took a little longer but no more than a week (except for the bright blue Mac).

2. Each method works, yet with some discrepancies among varieties. No method stood out as particularly superior to another. However, a couple of Hydrangea varieties responded to specific methods better than others. For ‘Haas’ Halo,’ a lovely Lacecap type, one blossom that was hang-drying lost its flat silhouette due to gravity while stems upright in vases held their shape. In the case of Invincibelle Mini Mauvette®, the bloom that retained its beautiful rose coloring best was the one in the vase with water, perhaps due to its more gradual rate of drying.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Haas’ Halo’ performed well in vases without water (left). Hang-drying was less successful, however (right).
Hydrangea arborescens Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® kept its pretty mauve-pink when dried more slowly in a vase with water.

3. Older blossoms perform best. For all the varieties tested, one rule (or lesson) proved true: The more mature the blooms, the better they dried. Older blossoms had few if any unopened flower buds, and very often their colors had begun to fade or transition from one color to another. This was especially evident with the varieties for which I had a range of flower stages, especially Incrediball® Blush and Summer Crush®. Of the three Panicle Hydrangeas, Little Quick Fire® had the most mature flowers and outperformed the others.

A young, pink bloom of Hydrangea arborescens Incrediball® Blush shriveled (left) while a more mature flower from the same plant held its shape and color (right). This pattern was evident for all three methods.
Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer® Summer Crush® responded similarly. Younger blossoms collapsed (right), yet older ones kept much of their coloring and shape (left).
Not quite fully matured heads of Hydrangea paniculata Vanilla Strawberry™ (far left) and ‘Little Lamb’ (center) could not compete with Little Quick Fire®, whose pink-tinged flowers were showing greater age at the time of cutting (right).

This was a fun experiment. Not everything turned out perfectly, but then that wasn’t the goal. I can’t wait to try another round as the season progresses. In the meantime, I am enjoying my first basket of dried Hydrangeas.

A colorful collection of the best-drying Hydrangeas.

10 Favorites for Fall Planting

Staff at White Flower Farm Weigh In

With the promise of cooler months ahead (at least in our part of the world), it’s time to prepare for a major season in the gardening year. For a number of reasons, fall is an ideal time to add new plants to the garden. So, to get the wheelbarrow rolling, we’re sharing 10 top picks for fall planting that were chosen by staff members at White Flower Farm. Scroll below, and we hope you’ll be inspired by a diverse selection of bulbs, perennials, and shrubs that are beloved for a surplus of outstanding qualities. You may find a shared favorite, or you can continue to our website to identify your own top picks.

(1) Crocus tommasinianus

“Despite a healthy population of chipmunks, these Crocus bloom every year in early spring. They start out a dark purple and then turn lavender as they open. Plant them close together for a bouquet of Crocus that will grow over time. I can see why this heirloom Crocus has been a favorite since the mid-1800s!”
~Barb P., Nursery Manager

(2) Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’

“Graceful and dependable, ‘Blue Billow’ thrives in a slightly shady spot (sun, too) and delivers colorful blooms that get better every year. Combine it with large-leaved Hostas for a garden space full of texture and color. Pollinators also love it!”
~Rob S., Director of Horticulture

(3) Iris germanica ‘Petalpalooza’

“I got my start in gardening by weeding my mother’s patch of Tall Bearded Iris, so I have an affinity for this classic genus. If you’re looking for a ‘wow’ for the June garden, then you’ll find it in ‘Petalpalooza.’ Its ruffled, two-tone flowers will stop you in your tracks while adding a vertical accent to the garden. Autumn is a great time to plant Tall Bearded Iris, and with this reblooming variety you’re likely to get a repeat show every fall.”
~Tom B., Retail Store Manager

(4) Tulip ‘Ballerina’

“A beautiful standout from a White Flower Farm Tulip trial of over 100 varieties. The long petals of this Lily-flowered Tulip stand upright, and their color combination of tangerine with highlights of pink/magenta cannot be missed. With straight, tall stems (18-20”), this Tulip is very graceful and perfect for cutting. It has a sweet fragrance, too. Later-blooming and longer-lasting than most Tulips in our trials.”
~Mary A., Product Information Manager

(5) Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’

“A large, graceful plant with flowers on the blue/lavender end of the Lilac spectrum. It’s fast-growing but won’t flower to its potential for several years. The fragrance and color are well worth the wait.”
~Eliot A. W., Owner

(6) Allium christophii

“Showy, silvery amethyst globes, each comprised of up to 100 starburst florets, hover above early summer perennials like Lady’s Mantle and Geraniums. Cluster the bulbs between perennials to conceal ripening foliage and enjoy this deer-resistant pollinator magnet as a dried flower after bloom, in the garden or a vase.”
~Karen B., Senior Horticultural Advisor

(7) Geranium Rozanne®

“This Geranium is so versatile and requires no maintenance! Once it starts blooming, it doesn’t quit for the whole season, and that gorgeous purple color goes with everything.”
~Liz Z., E-Commerce Director

(8) Spiraea japonica Double Play® Candy Corn®

“The foliage color makes this small-scale shrub a standout for any garden. You notice it early in the season when the foliage emerges a bright red, a nice sign that spring is here! As the weather warms, the foliage changes to an orange shade with red tips. A great plant for season-long interest!”
~Ray H., Product Development Coordinator

(9) Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’

“I like this minor bulb because it’s unique. While it’s delicate, you can still see its snowy white blossoms from a distance.”
~Cheryl D., Nursery Inventory Manager/Buyer

(10) Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’

“This may have been the first plant I ever picked out for my garden, and every year I love it more. While I was initially drawn to the reddish-pink color of the flowers, I now treasure it for the molasses-colored cones that attract and support a diverse array of pollinators over a long season. I love to watch the bumblebees, honey bees, and Monarch butterflies feeding in summer, and in fall, it’s a delight to see goldfinches balancing atop the cones, feasting at the seeds. Plants spread slowly to form generous clusters. Mine pop up like bouquets amid Ornamental Grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster,’ Chelone ‘Hot Lips,’ Amsonia hubrichtii, and Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Slender Mountain Mint). The tall stems supporting these flowers make ‘Magnus’ easy to cut for meadow-style bouquets, but I prefer to keep the flowers in the garden where they support the lives of so many small but significant visitors.”
~Deb H., Senior Writer

Surprised by Shade

When summer reaches its zenith, visitors to the gardens at White Flower Farm may enjoy one of the many shady recesses on the property in which to escape the sun and continue their exploration of plants great and small. The stone wall along Esther’s Lane, lined with stately old Sugar Maples, is an example. On the side of the partition facing the lane, multiple plantings of our Emerald Isle Hosta Collection cover the ground, creating a verdant tapestry. On the opposite side of the wall, visitors will discover an even more surprising swath of shade-loving plants. The intricately woven drifts of annuals, perennials, and small shrubs combine diverse colors and textures, ultimately demonstrating the tremendous opportunity for creativity that gardeners have when designing for shade.

Shade Is an Opportunity

Hosta ‘Patriot’ and Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ create a striking contrast of light and dark, while various Astilbes add color and texture to the border by Esther’s Lane.

An opportunity? Yes, shade is hardly a death knell for gardeners. While light is critical to a plant’s ability to thrive, it is heartening to recall that some plants require partial shade, which is 3–4 hours of direct sunlight per day. Still other plants are happy in full shade, which means little or no direct sunlight but some reflected light (not, it is important to note, total darkness). Having limited sun in your yard may catapult you into a wider world of flowers and foliage than you previously knew existed. We will explore some of the many options below.

In the meantime, shady sites have other advantages. During the heat of summer, a shade garden is a veritable oasis. Garden guests can pause in the shadows, while gardeners can work in much greater comfort. In addition, plants in these areas do not dry out as quickly as others that require full sun (defined as 6 or more hours of direct sunlight per day), meaning they are much lower maintenance.

Shade Is Cool

It’s no surprise that it’s cooler in the shade. Shade gardens, however, demonstrate another way in which plants can make you feel cool. Foliage thrives in shady areas, so green in all its various tones comes to the fore, along with occasional shades of blue, purple, silver, and white. All are visually “cool” in temperature. Flowers in these colors have the same effect, too. They are calming and peaceful, thereby contributing to the overall refreshment found in shade. Check out the following cool combinations.

A shady area of the farm beside Route 63 invites visitors with a cooling vista of green-on-green. From left to right: Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’ with greenish-white flowers; lime green Hosta ‘Final Summation’; and hybrid Painted Fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) with silvery green fronds.
The white plumes and dark green foliage of Astilbe x arendsii ‘White Gloria’ beautifully complement the blue-green leaves of Hosta ‘Sagae’ with creamy margins. A pop of yellow-green Smokebush foliage (Cotinus coggygria Winecraft Gold®) makes an effective separation between them and the stone wall along Esther’s Lane.
Top down: In the shade garden along Route 63, a massive lime green Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ steadies sinuous drifts of variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum Variegatum), Hosta ‘Fire and Ice,’ Impatiens SunPatiens® Compact Orchid Blush, Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), and Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Purple Dragon’), which appear to lap like cool waves at the base of a glowing Cretan urn.

Shade Is Hot

Just when you thought shade gardens were all about keeping it cool, enter another kaleidoscope of plants. While some flowers and foliage in shade can emphasize cooler hues, they can also tend in the opposite direction. Perhaps this is the most surprising aspect of shade gardens: visually speaking, some like it “hot.” With so many selections of plants available that feature colorful foliage, from gold to orange to deep burgundy, in addition to shade-loving blooms in hues such as coral and red, it’s easier than ever to set the shade on fire. Scroll below to experience the exciting, energizing effect of warm colors in shade.

This threesome along Esther’s Lane is a hot number. Golden waves of Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) add warmth and texture to plantings of Impatiens Beacon Salmon and Coleus Mainstreet Broad Street™.
Back in the shade along Route 63, a pageant of warm colors lights up the middle section of the bed. From left to right: Indian Pinks (Spigelia marilandica ‘Little Redhead’), a trio of Coleus (Mainstreet Broad Street™, Stained Glassworks™ Velvet, and Trusty Rusty), Begonia Big® Red Bronze Leaf, Impatiens Beacon Salmon, and dark-leaved Bugbane (Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group)).
Another Cretan pot is a dynamic focal point for a puzzle of hot-colored plants. In addition to the Coleus and Begonia varieties mentioned above, golden Japanese Forest Grass, black-leaved Elderberry (Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla Black Lace®), and Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata ‘Crimson Bedder’) contribute powerful contrasts and an overall richness to the display.

Shade Is Special

Something special happens when you stop in the garden to look more closely at plants, a habit that shade gardens certainly encourage. There are remarkable details that can be appreciated much more easily when you are leisurely strolling in the shade. Look below to see some unique finds in the shade at White Flower Farm. Hopefully these and all of the above will inspire you to enhance a shady site near you.

The flowers of Indian Pinks (Spigelia marilandica ‘Little Redhead’), with their little yellow stars atop bright red chalices, provide unexpected flares of color. This North American native thrives in part shade to full shade.
Among the cool-toned flowers and foliage in this shady vignette, stems of Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus Nile Princess™), with their frothy green inflorescences, encircle a ceramic vessel like miniature fountains.
Another stone wall in the dappled shade of Sugar Maples forms a makeshift terrace for a medley of containers. This one features our popular Hummingbird Annual Collection, which intermingles Begonia Dragon Wing® Pink, Fuchsia ‘Billy Green,’ Coleus Campfire, Coleus Lava™ Rose, and vining Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’). Linger long enough, and you just may spy an iridescent hummingbird darting among the blooms.

Tips for Choosing Foundation Plants

Foundation plants – the shrubs and other plants that are positioned in front of a house – do more than add color and seasonal interest to the exterior of a home. Chosen well, they:

  • Serve as an expression of a homeowner’s style
  • Enhance or mirror the architectural style of the house
  • Give a residence a settled, finished look
  • Increase the value of a property while upgrading the look of the neighborhood

Stand at a distance from your front door and survey the foundation plants that surround your entrance. Do they enhance the style of your home? Do they incorporate a mix of colors and textures? Do the plants offer interest in all seasons? Are they sized properly for the space? Jot a few notes and consider whether it’s time for a bit of rejuvenation or perhaps a total redo.

Hydrangea Endless Summer® accentuates the cottage style of this shingled house while adding fabulous color and nicely proportioned blossoms from midsummer to fall.

When choosing foundation plants for your house, it’s important to consider the following:

Exposure: Be aware of how much sun or shade you have in front of your home and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions.

A grouping of Hostas and Ferns adds quiet, lush beauty to a shady corner of a foundation.

Style: Is your home formal in design or more casual? Is it a period dwelling or newer build? Consider choosing plants that reflect and enhance the architectural style of your house. A seaside bungalow would look great surrounded by Hydrangeas, Ornamental Grasses, and Shrub Roses. A Colonial of any vintage might best be enhanced by evergreens and more formal plantings. A contemporary ranch might look just right with a cushion of cloud-pruned evergreens and Japanese Maples softening its edges.

Lonicera (Honeysuckle) ‘Major Wheeler’ softens the lines of a garage and adds bright color that will attract hummingbirds to the tubular blooms.

Maximize Your Views: As you consider various plants, keep in mind the style of your home’s interior design and remember that the exterior serves as a prelude to what happens indoors. If the windows of your home look out on some of the plantings, choose and site plants that enhance these views. Frame an ornamental tree or shrub in a window. Choose some fragrant shrubs for spots beneath windows that are likely to be open in fair weather. Also be careful not to choose plantings that will block a view. Instead, make the most of sight lines and choose plant sizes, colors, and styles accordingly.

Mature Size: When selecting any plant for the front of your home, keep in mind its eventual mature size. The 1-gallon shrub you plant today may reach 8’ tall in a few years. Choose and site your plants accordingly so they have adequate space to grow and so the mature plant will fit the space.

Seasonal Interest: The best foundation plantings provide interest in all four seasons. Consider mixing plant types to create a succession of “moments.” Evergreens can be used to provide year-round color and form. They also serve as a handsome backdrop for a show of spring-flowering bulbs. Spring- and summer-flowering shrubs take their turns adding attractions around your front door. End the season with perennials and shrubs that provide dramatic autumn blossoms or leaf color. In this way, your foundation plantings are never static. They change with the seasons just as you might change a wreath on the front door or the decorations in your yard.

Color: Choose a color palette that plays well with your house. You might opt for a complementary color scheme or a contrasting one. Remember that simpler can be better. Limit the number of colors you incorporate into your landscape and repeat them in different forms and sizes. Limiting the number of colors helps produce a unified, curated look.

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ anchors a display of Impatiens and Hosta. The limited color palette of whites and pinks enhances the gray and white colors of the house.

Textures & Forms: Choose specimens that offer a variety of textures (fine, feathery, grassy, broad-leaf) and silhouettes (mounds, pyramids, pillars).

Layers: The most successful foundation plantings create layers of interest by incorporating plants of various heights. Small ornamental trees or upright evergreens can be used as the largest elements. Mid-size shrubs fill in the mid-range. And perennials in a broad array of sizes and forms – from tall grasses to low-growing ground covers – can all be interwoven to complete the picture and fill in gaps.

Whichever plants you choose for your home, they are sure to add beauty and curb appeal to your property. Nothing says ‘welcome’ quite like an inviting entrance.

 

Bold Subtlety: The White Garden

At a time of year when loud, colorful fireworks are happening all over the gardens as much as across patriotic night skies, it’s fair to wonder about the attraction of a single garden dedicated to white-flowering plants. After so many showy Peonies and Tall Bearded Iris, and now Roses galore, why focus on a subtle grouping of paler flowers? Here at White Flower Farm, it comes as no surprise that white flowers have an important story to tell. There is no better place to illustrate this than our White Garden.

The White Garden has been a feature at the farm since the 1940s, when nursery founders William Harris and Jane Grant created a 12-foot by 80-foot perennial border in front of a stone terrace and began filling it with nothing but white flowers. Inspired by the British moon garden, they considered the display to be the epitome of horticultural sophistication. It was so prominent in their minds, in fact, that their first idea for a nursery was to showcase only white-flowering perennials and shrubs — an idea that “lasted about a minute,” they later admitted. The simple yet sophisticated White Garden is nonetheless memorialized in the nursery’s name.

Beyond Color

As you approach the White Garden, the general impression of whites and greens invites further acquaintance. If you look more intently, individual plants begin to stand out for characteristics other than color. It is line, shape, form, texture, and value (light and dark) that begin to set them apart. At the front of the border, dense spikes of Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia Archangel™ White) create a well-defined corner. Green stalks of Salvia (S. nemorosa ‘White Profusion’), having dropped most of their snowy flowers, add further linear interest, as do the icicle-like racemes of Speedwell (Veronica ‘White Wands’). Set midway into the border, a stout specimen of Smooth Hydrangea (H. arborescens ‘Haas’ Halo’) punctuates the pools of perennials at its feet, encouraging visitors to pause and enjoy this first section of the garden.

If you linger, you notice the starlike blossoms of Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata) borne on tall, wiry stalks, hovering over the other plants like a small meteor shower.

Moving farther down the border and looking back, you’ll see another handsome vignette that borrows a distant, earthen urn for a focal point. A procession of diverse forms and textures unfolds. Spidery flowers of Cleome (C. hassleriana ‘White Queen’) explode in the foreground like miniature fireworks. Beneath them, fuzzy blooms of Ageratum (A. houstonianum ‘White Bouquet’) and the cascading stems of Salvia (S. verticillata ‘White Rain’) soften the edge of the bed. Bright white blossoms of Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum suberbum Amazing Daisies® Daisy May®) pop out against a backdrop of dark green Hydrangea foliage.

In addition to playing with multiple design elements, the White Garden demonstrates the harmonious way in which annuals, perennials, and shrubs can combine in a single space. The simplified color palette makes it easier to see how different plants can work together.

Dramatic Nuances

Juxtapositions of white-flowering plants lead to another interesting discovery, for there is a great diversity of color within the world of white. The pure white of Cleomes contrasts significantly with the lemon-cream flowers of Mullein (Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’) on bold, spear-like stalks. Similarly, the terminal inflorescences of Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), shown in the background of the photo above, have the appearance of brown butter. Petal-packed bombs of Zinnia (Z. elegans ‘Oklahoma White’) glisten like buttermilk, while small flowers of Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) gleam like pearls.

White flowers do something else. They help you see nuances of green like never before. Clean white starbursts of Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Only the Lonely’) and milky blossoms of Floribunda Rose (Rosa ‘Iceberg’) direct your eyes to the supporting foliage — glowing like the zest of fresh limes, on the one hand, and subdued and darker on the other. While the fascinating white flower heads of Gas Plant (Dictamnus albus) are past, their yellow-green seedpods and glossy forest leaves help other white blooms stand out.

Quiet Fireworks

Toward the end of the border, a large Rose bush (Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’) lends some stability to the sea of stems in front of it. There, visitors may spy a single white blossom aglow with light, like a quiet firework in a sky of dark foliage. Perhaps it can serve as a symbol of the White Garden’s bold subtlety.

The White Garden has one other claim to fame. No other garden on the property shines as brightly on a moonlit night.

Over the Rainbow: The Wide World of Iris

A breadth of colors is likely to explain why certain plants are called Iris, a term deriving from the Greek word for “rainbow.” (The ancient Greek goddess of the rainbow was also given this moniker.) With the profusion of colors found in cultivated varieties of Tall Bearded Iris alone, it is not difficult to explain the association between these flowering plants and the spectacular spectrum that stretches across the sky.

Beyond color variety, however, there is an even larger world in which Iris demonstrate an array of shapes, forms, habits, and idiosyncrasies. Follow along as we explore this diversity, with the hope it may inspire a greater appreciation of a remarkable genus.

Understanding Iris

To set the stage for the genus Iris, which comprises almost 300 species, it helps to step back to view it within the wider context of its botanical family. The Iris family (Iridaceae) includes 64 other genera also known as “Irids” — brothers and sisters, if you will, of our beloved Iris. The family tree contains well-known siblings like Crocus, Freesia, and Gladiolus, plus a plethora of lesser-known relations, from Aristea to Zygotritonia. With such an extensive family, it may be easier to understand why Iris species manifest such a variety of characteristics.

The American Iris Society, the world’s registrar for Iris, upholds some essential classifications to help make sense of this broad genus. One of the simplest groupings depends upon the structure of the plants’ underground parts where nutrients are stored. Some of the most well-known Iris grow from rhizomes — modified stems that grow horizontally in the soil and send out roots and shoots from nodes. Examples of rhizomatous Iris include the flamboyant Tall Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) and flat-flowered Siberian Iris (I. sibirica). Other Iris come from bulbs, just as Tulips and Daffodils do. Some bulbous species are Dwarf Iris (I. reticulata) and Dutch Iris (I. hollandica). A final category includes plants with fleshy roots, such as Juno Iris, a subgenus comprising multiple species.

A more technical classification method, which can make identifying Iris varieties easier at a glance, is based on floral structure — specifically, whether a fuzzy “beard” is present on the flowers’ lower petals, called “falls.” Bearded Iris and Beardless Iris both have their own unique types. A couple of other categories are of special interest to botanists (and will not be highlighted here). Perhaps of more relevance to gardeners are the informal groups organized around Iris characteristics of horticultural value, such as reblooming, unusual foliage, and historical status.

Flight of Floral Forms

Iris flowers are not just extraordinary for their range of colors. They are also structurally stunning — from showy Tall Bearded Iris flowers with their billowing standards (upright petals), lavish falls, and textured beards to the distinctly prostrate, beardless blossoms of Siberian Iris and Japanese Iris (I. ensata). To create a sequence of bloom in the garden, pair the June-flowering Tall Beaded Iris and Siberian Iris with Japanese Iris, which blossom slightly later. The examples below illustrate the possibility of a prolonged period of bloom with a procession of varying shapes and forms.

Iris germanica ‘Champagne Elegance’

The muted shades of bicolored Tall Bearded Iris ‘Champagne Elegance’ invite us to focus a bit more on the graceful cadence and delicate ruffles of the ivory standards and palest orange falls. This prolific bloomer carries 7–10 buds per stem. It is also a favorite example of Reblooming Iris, a type that may, in favorable conditions, send forth a second round of flowers in late summer.

Iris chrysographes black-flowered

Iris chrysographes black-flowered, a kind of Siberian Iris, is stunning for its deep reddish violet blooms that appear as dark as night. It is also called the “Gold-Marked Iris” (literal meaning of chrysographes) for the fine pattern of golden tracery at the top of the falls. With a trio of standards much smaller in ratio to the falls, as well as three prominent “style arms” among the standards, this beardless blossom has quite a contrasting countenance to that of its relation above.

Iris ensata ‘Loyalty’

The luxuriant purple flowers of Japanese Iris ‘Loyalty’ measure almost 8” across. Unlike the former two blooms, this one is noteworthy for the six equally sized petals that cascade in unison from the base of three modest, upright style arms. ‘Loyalty’ adds individual flair with bright yellow striping that emanates from the petal throats, accentuating the detailed, blue-violet veining across the petals themselves.

Beyond Blooms

While the flowers alone point to great diversity within the Iris genus, there are other characteristics that set it apart. Two of them include growth habit and leaf color.

Iris cristata ‘Eco Bluebird’

This dwarf variety of Crested Iris (Iris cristata), ‘Eco Bluebird,’ is praiseworthy for more than just its lilac-blue flowers that bloom in mid-spring and are attractive to hummingbirds. Reaching only 6-8” tall, it makes a perfect ground cover in a wide range of soil conditions.

Iris pallida ‘Variegata Aurea’

Iris pallida ‘Variegata Aurea,’ a variegated variety of Sweet Iris, is a favorite for lavender blooms that happen to possess the unforgettable scent of grapes. But this plant could also be grown simply for its foliage. The golden striped leaves beautifully echo the yellows of companion plants and appear to be aglow when backlit by sunshine.

No matter why you decide to plant Iris in your garden, one thing is certain. There are manifold reasons to add members of this genus to your collection of plants. Indeed, the infinite variation of Iris may be the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.

A Passion for Peonies & Their Companions

The afternoon sun is dappling the gardens at White Flower Farm, and visitors on this day in late May might find themselves drawn to a quiet corner where two giant Lilacs stand watch over their precious compatriots – a plethora of Peonies. In a partially shaded bed at the southeast corner of the gardens, visitors would be greeted by a diversity of Peonies: Tree Peonies, Herbaceous Peonies, and Intersectional or Itoh Peonies (a hybrid between the former two types). The wide-ranging selection means there will be a long season of bloom, from the earliest Tree varieties in mid- to late May to the hybrids and finally their Herbaceous cousins in early to mid-June. On this afternoon, lucky strollers are in time to catch the spectacular first act of this seasonal flower show: the blossoming of the Tree Peonies. These woody shrubs produce huge, silky flowers, and mature plants may carry as many as 50 of these exquisite blooms. But there is more afoot – literally. At the base of each Peony, it’s easy to spy other botanical happenings.

The pearly white blooms of Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Ezra Pound,’ nearing the end of their exhibition, are mirrored by Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’ growing in shady recesses around the taller plant. The bright white, double flowers of the Trillium echo the showy Peony blossoms above, offering a pleasantly harmonious portrait.

A bit farther down the garden path, there is a second, well-planned vignette. This time the palette has transitioned to delicate shades of pink. The blossoms of Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Seidai,’ another spectacular Tree Peony, sweetly frame sprays of Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis).

Nearby, the rosy tinges of Pulmonaria ‘Raspberry Splash,’ a colorful variety of Lungwort, continue the pink theme while the plant’s silver-spotted leaves add extra interest.

Groundcovers with exceptional leaf color provide another clever way to hide the bare patches of earth around Peonies while creating visually striking color combinations. Two such companion plants are Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and Coral Bells (Heuchera). The minty-chartreuse leaves of the former are a perfect complement for Peonies with deep magenta flowers, such as this variety of Rock’s Tree Peony, Paeonia rockii ‘Zi Lian.’ For a different flavor, pair with the rusty-leaved Heuchera ‘Mahogany,’ which accentuates the gold-and-red centers of this Peony’s flowers.

The journey is not yet complete. Just around the bend, a mauve-pink flower catches the eye. Next to it are the remains of what must have been a lovely sight – a stem of spent Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica). Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Leda’ was probably only in bud at the time those familiar, blue-and-lavender bells were in bloom. Still, the present scene is no less charming.

As this particular garden walk comes to an end, there is a last treasure to behold: the weighty double flowers of a purple-red Tree Peony, Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Rimpo.’ In the foreground, stems of a white variety of Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) produce a dynamic contrast with the velvety dark Peony blossoms. A background of False Forget-me-not, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost,’ completes the picture by adding frosted green leaves and frothy, sky-blue flowers to the mix.

No matter which or how many Peonies are in bloom when you visit the garden (in-person or virtually), companion plants go a long way toward adding season-long, and even year-round, interest to a single genus planting that otherwise hinges upon peak flowering time. Whether you catch Peonies’ emerging reddish stems, their finely cut foliage and ball-shaped buds, or their magnificent blooms, this garden promises to open your eyes to exciting combinations that are always fresh.

Lilies — Radiant Stars All Summer Long

Lilies are truly the stars of the summer garden, spangling their luminous, astral-shaped flowers across beds and borders. Whether planted in sun or part-shade, Lilies add reliable interest and characteristic grace to gardens during the hotter months of the year. Their diverse colors and forms, coupled with exquisite fragrances, make them a stellar selection for every garden.

We offer an array of Lilies including Asiatic, Oriental, and Species types plus many interdivisional hybrids. Planting various kinds guarantees a succession of spectacular blooms throughout the summer. Enjoy them outdoors as colorful highlights in your borders or bring cuttings indoors to fill vases and urns galore.

Scroll below for a selection of our individual Lilies and multicolored mixes, presented here in order of blossom time to help you create a pageant of blooms throughout the summer months.

June to July:
Lilies for Early Summer Sparkle

Start the summer with Asiatic Lilies, which are the earliest of our Lily varieties to come into bloom. Colors range from the softest pastels to fiery reds and oranges that practically ignite when the sun hits them. Seldom reaching above 3’ tall, the sturdy plants never need staking and are perfect for flower arrangements because of their straight stems and heavy bud count. When sited in a sunny, well-drained garden bed, these Lilies will put on a glorious show for years.

Asiatic Lily (Strawberries & Cream Lilium Mix)

This mix of pink and white Asiatic Lily hybrids offers a refreshing color palette at the onset of warm days in the garden.

Longiflorum-Asiatic Hybrid Lily (Lilium ‘Eyeliner’)

The stunning white blossoms of this cross between an Asiatic Lily and the Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum) are delicately outlined in purple-black.

Asiatic Lily (Tropical Tones Lily Quintet)

With bright hues ranging from sunny yellow to deep reddish-orange, this sultry mix of five compact Asiatic Lilies gestures toward the hotter days to come.

July to August:
Lilies for Midsummer Magic

Orienpet and Oriental Lilies grace the garden when summer is at its peak. Orienpets, a cross between Oriental and Trumpet Lilies, bloom about two weeks earlier than Oriental Lilies. Both types are notable for their large flowers, heady perfumes, and strong stems of varying heights.

Orienpet Lily (Lilium ‘Silk Road’)

This Orienpet Lily features intoxicatingly fragrant 8” flowers, which are borne on spires up to 2′ across for longer than you thought possible.

Orienpet Lily (Lilium ‘Conca d’Or’)

The creamy yellow blossoms of this Orienpet, with centers of pure gold, mimic the sunshine that floods the midsummer garden.

Oriental Lily (Lilium ‘Stargazer’)

A bright star of the garden as well as the florist’s trade, ‘Stargazer’ has upward-facing, crimson and pink blooms edged with pure white.

August to September:
Lilies to Make Summer Linger

Oriental and Species Lilies continue the vibrant show, extending the feel of summer into early fall. These late-blooming varieties sport gracefully recurved, pendent flowers that are as fascinating for their form as for their color and fragrance. The plants are exceptionally vigorous, too, with trusses of blossoms growing on stems from 4’ to 7’ tall. Plant some and let your summer display go out with a bang.

Oriental Lily (Lilium ‘Black Beauty’)

This variety of Oriental Lily can produce 20 to 50 flowers on a dizzyingly tall plant. The deep crimson flowers, with white edges and central green stars, are stunning following the summer-long progression of brightly colored blooms.

Species Lily (Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’)

Introduced from Japan, this Species Lily dangles spotted, pink-and-white blossoms that are delightfully spicy in fragrance.

Species Lily (Lilium speciosum rubrum)

This is the last of the Lilies in our list to flower and, to our noses at least, is also among the most fragrant. Our gardens would not be complete without it.

 

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Fragrant Shrubs Add Beauty & Perfume to the Garden

Experienced gardeners can tell the season by the scents that fill the air. Spring brings the transporting perfume of Lilacs and the unmistakable sweet spicy vanilla fragrance of Viburnum carlesii. Late spring introduces the citrus scent of Philadelphus (Mock Orange) and the delicate fragrance of select Clematis vines. Sultry summer broadcasts the perfumes of Roses, Clethra (Sweet Pepperbush), and a scented Buddleia (Butterfly Bush). Fill your garden with fragrant shrubs and vines and enjoy a range of heavenly, natural scents from spring to fall. Scroll below to find some of our favorites, and visit our website for more.

Clematis ‘Sweet Summer Love’  is fragrant, free-flowering, and easy to grow. The hardy, disease-resistant vines produce masses of small blooms that change color from reddish-purple to purple then a paler violet. The flower show begins early, generally in midsummer, and continues into autumn. Mature vines reach 10-15’ high and produce hundreds of flowers in a single season, smothering trellises, fences, arbors, deck railings, or stone walls. The lovely fragrance combines notes of almond, cherry and vanilla. ‘Sweet Summer Love’ is a winner of multiple prizes including the Green Thumb Award from the National Garden Bureau.

Viburnum carlesii is one of the most gloriously fragrant shrubs known to man. The dense flower heads, which measure up to 3″ across, produce white flowers from blush pink buds, and the perfume, which is a sweet, rich, spicy vanilla, carries a considerable distance across a lawn or garden. Plant one or two where you take your springtime strolls.

Beautiful and carefree Buddleia Lo & Behold Ruby Chip combines a tidy growing habit with jewel-tone ruby-pink flower spikes to create a decorative pollinator magnet for smaller gardens or the edge of larger borders. The fragrant flowers don’t need to be deadheaded, and they appear over a long season on a deer-resistant, drought-tolerant plant.

Rose ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ bears pink semidouble blooms from June to October, and they  emerge on almost thornless stems. The sweet fragrance of these flowers befits an heirloom Bourbon. This winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit is a perfect candidate to adorn a fence, trellis, or tuteur.

The lightly scented 2–3″ pink flowers of Clematis montana ‘Mayleen’ cascade over trellises and walls with abandon in early summer. Bronze and green foliage creates the perfect backdrop for the spectacular show. Winner of the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

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5 Top Houseplants for Great Gifting

Still looking to find that perfect gift for a friend or family member? Consider foliage or flowering plants. Either choice is an ideal gift for plant lovers, and these favorites will delight non-gardeners, too. No green thumb is required to grow any of the plants and bulbs you see here. The gift of a foliage houseplant adds natural beauty and living green to any interior. These long-lasting, low-maintenance plants also help purify the air in a home or office. If flowers are more to your recipient’s liking, our exclusive indoor Bulb Gardens and premium-grade Amaryllis bulbs arrive ready to begin growing, and they’ll brighten winter with a spectacular flower show. The bulbs need only strong light (such as a south-facing window) and occasional water to get them growing. Your recipient will have the joy of watching beautiful flowers bloom over several weeks during the winter months.

Scroll below to find 5 fabulous gifts handpicked for just about anyone on your list. The only hard part may be choosing which ones to give.


Snake Plant ‘Moonshine’ 

Snake Plant ‘Moonshine,’ an updated spin on the undemanding traditional indoor warrior, features glowing silver leaves overlaid with horizontal green accents. Known for tolerating neglect, ‘Moonshine’ (Sansevieria trifasciata) takes indirect light and forgetful care in stride. Snake Plants rarely bloom, but when they do, numerous dainty flowers in shades of white or cream appear on tall stalks.

Scindapsus ‘Silver Satin’

Forest-green leaves glazed and generously dotted with silver give this Silver Satin Pothos its distinctive look. As carefree as any houseplant could be, it asks only for occasional water (and not too much). The trailing plants look marvelous in hanging planters or cascading from shelves and tables.

Begonia ‘Escargot’

A bold spiral resembling a snail shell patterns each leaf of easy-care Rex Begonia ‘Escargot.’ Rendered in rich bands of pewter, chocolate, and green, it creates an effect that will draw your eye from across the room. Pale pink flowers are an added pleasure. It makes a stunning houseplant.

Amaryllis ‘Cherry Nymph’

The Nymph series of Amaryllis produces huge, almost fully double flowers whose rich texture and colors set new standards of beauty for this elegant genus. The large, red blooms of longtime favorite ‘Cherry Nymph’ have a shimmering, iridescent quality, and the plant’s thick, strong stems hold them high. We offer ‘Cherry Nymph’ in a variety of presentations – from bareroot bulb (for DIY potting or displaying in glass) to a bulb with a glass  hurricane or vase (shown above), to bulbs pre-potted in baskets or nursery pots. Set the Amaryllis in a room with bright light, give it occasional water, and watch the glorious flower show unfold.

Tiny Trumpets Bulb Collection

The blossoms of miniature Daffodil ‘Jetfire’ have sunny yellow petals and an extended orange corona. They’re a perfect partner for the blue flower spikes of aromatic Muscari armeniacum. We love this simple, fragrant harbinger of spring. It’s a lovely gift that provides a spirited preview of spring.

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