Plants are like people in the sense that they thrive in communities, and they tend to shine brighter in the company of good friends. This June, our Rose Garden at the farm provided a glorious illustration of the power of harmonious relationships. In a long, meandering border planted with roughly 70 Roses, each variety is enhanced by its proximity to perennials that provide complementary or contrasting color, form, and texture. As the garden hit its peak in June, it offered visitors a textbook example of how to plant Roses and their preferred companions for best effect. While the peak has now passed, the garden will continue to provide rolling waves of bloom, thanks to the perennials that keep company with all the Roses. If you happen to live nearby or are in range to make a visit, we hope you’ll come by and take a stroll. In the meantime, we thought it might be helpful to showcase some of the perennials that do such a great deal to bring magic to the Rose Garden. We hope they inspire you to plant some of your own.
Click through to our website to find more perennials that serve as excellent companions for Roses, and consider adding some to your garden.
A few years back, we repurposed a somewhat tired shrub border and installed a new garden highlighting Roses and some of their favorite companions. After all, there are sooo many Roses out there – we can’t grow them all, but we wanted to get to know a few new cultivars, learn about unfamiliar older varieties, watch for cold hardiness and disease resistance, etc. It’s been very educational and, in fact, we’ve had very few outright “misses”; no plants that clearly aren’t what we thought they were.
Aside from all that, it’s a lovely garden, and it’s perfuming the entire nursery at the moment. If you live in the area or can manage a visit, we hope you’ll swing by.
At White Flower Farm, we welcome hundreds of visitors each year during the growing season, and we invite them to take leisurely strolls around our display gardens. But because not all of our customers and fellow gardeners are in range of the farm, and because even those who visit might like an occasional behind-the-scenes peek at what’s happening here, we’re introducing What’s Going On in the Garden?, a series of occasional emails devoted to providing glimpses of what’s blooming in our borders, along with notes about the activities in our gardens and greenhouses. We hope you’ll enjoy this chance to garden alongside us.
To start the series, we had to begin with this year’s Tulips, which were spectacular. In the midst of a cold and often gusty spring, these jewels of the early season taught us all something about beauty, resilience, and grace.
The farm’s head gardener, Cheryl Whalen, and her staff always incorporate plenty of Tulips into display beds, but new this season, we had the pleasure of watching the Tulip trial garden we planted last fall come to life. Last October, our horticulture team and gardening staff worked together to plan and plant the garden, and the bulbs were laid out in neat, tidy rows, each carefully labeled. The purpose of the trial was to grow each and every variety we offer – roughly 130 in total – and watch the individual varieties develop, study their characteristics including color, height, and blossom time, and make certain their performances were consistent with what we advertise. The trial also allowed our staff to conceive of new Tulip combinations. The earliest Tulips began blossoming in early to mid April. Mid-season varieties came on strong shortly after, and the Tulip season ended with a grand finale in mid-May. As the trial garden demonstrated, planting an array of Tulips with various bloom times allows gardeners to orchestrate waves of color, a rolling sequence of bloom at a time when the garden – and gardeners – are starved for color.
This year’s unusually cool spring meant the Tulips were forced to endure a hard frost, and we all kept our fingers crossed that night. In the morning, the plants were bowed down and seeming to shiver, their stems and foliage showing the alarming watery appearance that indicates potential tissue damage. When this happens, the key is to leave the Tulips undisturbed. Touching them may cause tissue damage that could significantly worsen the effects of the cold. In this case, the sun’s heat soon warmed the atmosphere, and by that afternoon, the Tulips were standing themselves back up by degrees. Plants subjected to a freeze may not always rebound, but if the duration of the freeze is short, they are often able to shake it off. The Tulip show went on, the flowers bringing bright pops of gorgeous color to the landscape. The spectrum of Tulip colors, sizes, and forms – from classic goblets and Parrots to fringed and Peony styles, made the trial beds pure joy to behold, and they were a magnet for visitors to the White Flower Farm Store and display gardens.
Elsewhere around the farm, Tulips were showcased in a variety of ways that offer plenty of inspiration for home gardeners. Cheryl and her staff always plant bulbs in strategic places throughout beds and borders, and this year was no exception. In the beds nearest the store, Tulips were densely planted amid Daffodil bulbs. When the flowers emerged together this spring, the effect was a confetti of spring color.
Along the Lloyd Border and in other display beds, clusters of colorful Tulips were planted out amid existing shrubs and emerging perennials, creating a river of bright, bold color to draw the eye along. In some cases, Cheryl and her staff planted Tulip bulbs amid perennial ground-covers such as Myosotis sylvatica (Forget-Me-Not), Ajuga (Bugleweed), or Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny).
Tulips were also positioned in front of emerging shrubs such as Viburnum carlesii Spice Baby™ and Cotinus coggygria Winecraft Black® (Smokebush), so the emerging foliage or flowers could serve as an attractive backdrop. The colors provided by ground covers and shrubs heighten the effect of any Tulip display, creating a layered look and lively color contrasts.
Tulips, generally speaking, should be treated as annuals. While some varieties, including Species Tulips and Perennial Tulips such as Darwin Hybrids and Impression Tulips, may flower for up to three years, the majority should not be relied upon for repeat bloom in subsequent springs. At the farm, we are in the process of digging up and composting all of this spring’s Tulips and ordering the varieties we will be planting this fall. The fun of this process is that each autumn brings the opportunity to try new varieties and color combinations. Removing spent Tulips from the spring garden also opens up bare spots that can be filled with annuals or perennials that add a different kind of beauty to the garden as the season progresses.
What are we planting in the trial garden in place of the Tulips? Loads and loads of Dahlia tubers. And we’ll have plenty to tell you about that as the flowers begin to emerge in late summer.
Woodland Strawberries are about the smallest you will find. But don’t let their diminutive size fool you. These oblong berries, each about the size of a small almond, pack a remarkable amount of flavor, a burst of true, scrumptious Strawberry that puts the taste of many bigger berries to shame. You won’t find woodland Strawberries at the grocery store for the simple reason that they don’t keep. They should be picked when deep red and ripe, and eaten right away. At the farm, we love the variety called ‘Red Wonder,’ which produces intensely flavorful berries all season long.
‘Red Wonder’ also has great value as a garden plant. It does not produce runners, which are common to many Strawberry plants. Instead, it grows in neat, low mounds. Strawberry ‘Red Wonder’ flowers all season long, but in a very hot summer, it may take a break before blooming again as the nights cool down.
For moms everywhere, the last year has been a tremendous challenge. In addition to juggling the routine demands of family life, many were called upon to manage daily child-care duties and the ups and downs of remote learning all while trying to hold down their own jobs. Mother’s Day, May 9th, is a terrific time to show your Mom a whole lot of love and appreciation. Scroll below, and you’ll find a broad array of botanically inspired gifts. (For order deadlines for all of our Mother’s Day gifts, click here).
1. Lavender ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ in Pendu Pot
2. Burgundy Compact Moth Orchids in 5″ Ceramic Cachepot
3. Lavender Fields Wreath
4. Grace Bouquet
5. Serenity Bouquet
When in Doubt, Delight Mom With a Gift Certificate to White Flower Farm
If you’re not certain what your Mom might like most for Mother’s Day, you can always delight her with a gift certificate to White Flower Farm. Our gift certificates never expire, and they invite your Mom to choose whatever she’d might like from our wide array of garden plants, houseplants, garden decor, decorative accessories and gift items. A gift certificate also welcomes her to White Flower Farm, where our knowledgeable, friendly staff will be happy to answer her garden questions. Gift certificates valued at $50 and more are 10% off. Click here to order.
Today’s Roses are not your grandmother’s finicky, high maintenance plants. Thanks to the efforts of talented and patient breeders, many of today’s Roses are vigorous plants that more readily shrug off pests and diseases and bring years of classic beauty, and often fragrance, to the garden. What this means for gardeners is that growing Roses is easier than ever. For novices or those who could use a refresher, our nursery manager Barb Pierson offers these simple tips:
Helpful Tips for Growing Roses
1. If you live in a colder climate, as we do here in Connecticut, try growing Roses close to the foundation of your home. This provides plants with some degree of winter protection. Walkways are also good spots provided there is full sun. This is generally defined as at least 6 hours per day of direct sunlight.
2. Remember that light changes as the angle of the sun shifts throughout the season. If you live in the upper half of the U.S., choose a site that will offer full sun year-round. The more sun you have, the more flowers your plants will produce. In the lower half of the U.S., choose spots with a little bit of afternoon shade. This protects blossoms from the scorching sun and helps your flowers last longer.
3. Roses love sandy soil. Amend your soil accordingly to provide the best footing for plants. Also choose sites with good drainage, which helps ensure that Roses overwinter more successfully. They do not like wet, cold feet.
4. Do not crowd your Roses. Plants that don’t have adequate air circulation and sunlight are more susceptible to powdery and downy mildew. Remove any spent foliage from the ground around your Roses. The leaves contain natural fungal spores that can transfer to your Roses.
5. Artificial liquid fertilizers tend to promote plant growth that is soft and tender, and this type of foliage can attract aphids and other pests. Instead, rely on compost and natural fertilizers to feed your plants.
6. If problems develop, horticultural oil and insecticidal soap can help control insects and mildews.
7. When pruning, be judicious. If you prune too hard in autumn, plants can be damaged beyond recovery. Instead, wait until spring, when plants begin to leaf out for the new season. (Roses are often not the earliest plants in the garden to respond to spring’s warming temperatures, so be patient.) Give the plant time to show its leaf buds then prune above that level.
When it comes to growing tomatoes, it seems every gardener has an opinion about how to get the biggest and best harvest. A recent staff discussion focused on techniques for amending the soil prior to planting tomatoes. The idea is to give the plants all the nutrients they need to produce a bumper crop of tasty fruits, a practice that’s particularly important for gardeners whose plots are smaller in scale or whose properties make it difficult to rotate planting beds.
Last year, one of our staff members did a good deal of poking around on the Web, which, while sometimes a hazardous pursuit, inspired her to try some traditional but more recently underused ideas. She decided to take a few chances with amendments that are more common to the kitchen waste bin or compost heap than the nearest big box store. The result? She enjoyed her highest yields ever on a varied crop of tomatoes that ran the gamut from cherries and paste tomatoes to slicers and beefsteaks. She feasted on salads, BLTs, gazpacho, and stuffed tomatoes all summer and still had plenty of beautiful, ripe fruits for making sauce and roasting tomato wedges with basil (for a bruschetta topping). She froze chopped tomatoes to use in soups and chili recipes, and froze tomato sauce, as well as the aforementioned bruschetta topping. (We’ll be running these recipes later in the season.) Needless to say, she made some of us a little jealous with her wintertime lunches. Determined to enjoy similar results and to share her rediscovered techniques with you, we ran her list of amendments by our nursery manager Barb Pierson, another champion tomato grower. Pierson applauded some of our adventurous colleague’s amendments but voiced concerns about others. What to do? We thought it best to set it all down, and let you make your own decisions based on circumstances in your own backyard.
Soil Amendments Used Successfully by Our Adventurous Colleague
Since Tomato plants are deep-rooted heavy feeders and thrive in highly organic soils, the ground must be well prepared with nutrients to sustain them throughout the growing season, optimizing growth and fruit development. Everyone has their own recipe for improving soil with organic matter, but here’s what our adventurous colleague tried with great results:
She dug deep holes (at least 15” deep, if possible. Note: this is not the depth for planting a tomato but rather it’s a hole deep enough to accommodate the amendments before planting). Into the hole, she added the following:
Fish heads (or frozen fish fillets, if you can’t get fish heads): Put 1 fish head or the equivalent in the bottom of each hole. You also can add a handful of fish and kelp meal to help boost the nutrients.
Crushed eggshells: These add calcium to prevent blossom end rot. Throw a couple of handfuls in each hole.
Bone meal: This promotes strong root growth and abundant blooms. Add a handful to each hole.
Composted manure: This provides a slow release of nutrients over the growing season. Add a couple of handfuls to each hole.
Compost: It will add basic nutrients and improve soil structure so the soil drains well yet retains some moisture. Add 2-3 handfuls in each hole.
Please note that the 15” hole will be partially filled with the amendments, which should then be partially buried by some of the soil in your garden (think of the hole as a big mixing bowl). This process of amending can be done prior to planting your tomatoes when the soil temperature is still on the cool side.
Pierson does not recommend fish heads or bone meal because “they would attract critters and most likely your plant will be dug up.” (It should be noted that a family of raccoons in the neighborhood of our adventurous colleague left her tomato plants alone, but depending on how many critters live in your area and how well your vegetable garden is fenced, you may wish to select and tailor your amendments accordingly.)
Pierson agrees that compost and eggshells add beneficial nutrients to the soil, but she isn’t sure the quantity of eggshells noted above would be enough to provide calcium throughout the season. Perhaps the thinking should be that that every little bit helps.
Pierson ends by saying, “Preparing the soil should focus on: Did you have problems the previous season? And practicing good sanitation [i.e. disposing of plants and clearing the garden beds] at the end of the season so that disease issues don’t start again. Moving your garden location is essential if problems were severe.”
But the main thing Pierson stresses for successful tomato harvest is soil texture. “Soil texture is important – turning the soil, adding high quality potting mix and focusing on drainage are very important. Roots need air to breath and to take up nutrients, compost creates air pockets in the soil. Having a light well-drained soil is the most important thing.”
So there you have it. An array of options, some or all of which are bound to improve your tomato yield. Our best advice is to take into account the conditions in your backyard and vegetable patch, and choose the amendments that work best for you. Some trial and error may be required, but that’s just the way things go in a garden. As Pierson put it, “I like the idea of trying things, that is what growing is all about. There are no right or wrong answers, only what works for you in your particular environment.”
Start the spring color show early in your garden with a variety of early blooming perennials, shrubs, and trees. From Witch Hazels, which blossom in late winter, and Hellebores, which generally flower before the last of the snow has melted, to Virginia Bluebells, Brunneras, and Magnolias, there are countless ways to incorporate a rainbow of rich colors into your spring planting schemes. What better way to celebrate the arrival of a new growing season?
The best antidote to winter is a planting of Witch Hazels. This genus of 5 species of upright, spreading shrubs or small trees provides the first big display of color, beginning in late February or early March and continuing for 6 weeks or more depending on the season (the flower petals sensibly curl up if the temperatures plummet). For an even earlier display, cut some branches in January and force them into bloom indoors. Plants thrive in average, well-drained soil.
We love Witch Hazels for the color they bring to winter gardens and for their hardy, problem-free nature. ‘Jelena’ is a favorite, with large ribbonlike petals that gleam coppery orange. In autumn, the shrub lights up again as its matte green leaves turn fiery shades of red and yellow.
Hellebores are considered aristocrats of the woodland garden. Native to Europe and western Asia, the genus contains about 20 species of perennials that bloom in early winter in mild climates and in late winter or early spring where the soil freezes hard, which makes them either the last or the first flowers in the garden. In our gardens here at the farm, they are among the first plants to bloom, bringing a splash of color to the late winter garden, sometimes blossoming amid the last of the snow. They require a moist but well-drained site under the shade of trees. Take care to amend the soil with plenty of organic matter, such as well-aged leaf mold and compost. You’ll be rewarded with long-lived, deer- and vole-resistant plants that will spread nicely on their own.
Hellebore Gold Collection® ‘Madame Lemonnier’ is a large-blossomed beauty that was discovered by a gardener in Normandy, France, where her passion for growing Hellebores turned into a full-fledged hybridization program. The plant’s 3″ upfacing blooms are rich purple red, and are held above lush green foliage on tidy, clumping plants. Under greenhouse conditions at the nursery, many of these impressive blossoms exceeded 4″. A magnificent addition to shade gardens.
It is impossible to live in a northern climate and be unfamiliar with Forsythia. The durability, vigor, and abundant yellow flowers of this early bloomer make it one of the most popular and important ornamental plants known. Forsythia Show Off® is perfect for a tight hedge or a specimen in a border. From France comes this compact variety whose golden flowers are brighter, larger, and stacked closer along the stems from soil to tip. Another bonus is the dark green foliage.
Magnolia is a genus of over 100 species of trees and shrubs widely distributed from the Himalayas to East Asia and in the Americas. Introduced Japanese and Chinese species and their hybrids, such as the showy white Star Magnolia and the pink Saucer Magnolia, draw the most attention in spring. The handful of species native to Eastern North America include the magnificent, evergreen Southern Magnolia (M. grandiflora), Sweet Bay (M. virginiana), and the large Cucumber Tree (M. acuminata).
Magnolia ‘Genie’ is a fairly compact variety, growing 12–15’. In early spring, lightly fragrant, 6″ cupped blossoms appear on slender branches, like goblets of burgundy. A second, lighter flush of bloom arrives in midsummer when provided with full sun and adequate moisture. Bred in New Zealand, this slender, well-branched variety blooms for a longer period, even when young. An ideal small tree to feature alone, in pairs, or to put the finishing touch on a mixed border.
A friend of ours once referred to this charming plant as “prompt” because of the way its beautiful silvery green leaves break ground quite early in spring. They’re followed by a haze of tiny azure flowers, which give this plant one of its nicknames, False Forget-me-not. (It’s also sometimes known as Siberian Bugloss and Heartleaf Bugloss.) Brunnera is most at home in woodlands or along shady stream beds, where it will form a lush understory of quiet beauty. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is a standout variety with frosted leaves veined and outlined in green. The plants grow to 12″ tall and as wide, and while the blossoms provide a fleeting show, the foliage looks superb all season long.
Everyone loves Virginia Bluebells (M. virginica) for their sapphire blue flowers on 18″ stems that gleam from shady spots in April and May, making them an ideal underplanting for shrubs and trees. Plants thrive in deciduous shade and moist soil, where they will seed themselves to create a charming colony.
Trilliums are spring-blooming wildflowers much prized by woodland gardeners for their delicate, 3-petaled flowers and distinctive foliage. Trillium grandiflorum ‘Flore Pleno’ is an exquisite double form that produces pure white flowers in April and May, which will enchant you and all visitors to your garden.
Whether they’re a traditional gift you love giving to friends and family every December, or it’s your first time receiving an Amaryllis bulb for Christmas, the Amaryllis is a perfect way to brighten the darkest days of winter for your loved ones. Native to the subtropical regions of the Americas, with brightly colored flowers now available in myriad color combinations, the Amaryllis rivals the Poinsettia as the official holiday season plant in the Western Hemisphere. With a few easy steps, you or your giftee can enjoy stunningly colorful blooms this winter
Amaryllis for Christmas Gifts
If you guessed that the Amaryllis became a popular Christmas gift because it blooms in the winter, then you’re correct. But the Amaryllis’ winter bloom is not its primary bloom—in its natural state (planted in the ground) it flowers primarily during summer. The bulbs can be potted and induced to rebloom in the winter, making a perfect gift to add glorious, lively color to an indoor setting. In other words, by forcing dormancy, we can encourage this summer flower to bloom in winter, resulting in a vibrant display.
Ensuring Your Amaryllis Blooms for Christmas
Though it can bring colorful life into any home throughout the winter, many prefer the Amaryllis to bloom at Christmas, while others feel there is enough color during the holidays and prefer the company of the Amaryllis in the dark days of January that follow. This versatility allows you to buy an early-blooming South African Amaryllis for yourself or a loved one, with a planned blooming around Christmas, or to give later blooming Dutch Amaryllis as Christmas gifts to be enjoyed after the holidays.
When you buy or receive an Amaryllis bulb, it’ll likely come packaged as a dormant, bareroot bulb, or already potted with soil. Pre-potted bulbs need only water and the proper temperature to grow healthy, tall flowers. While many bareroot bulbs will need to be properly potted before watering, the large size of White Flower Farm’s Amaryllis bulbs allows them to be potted with nothing more than stones and water, if you prefer to show them off in a glass vase. Larger bulbs in any variety also produce more stalks and therefore more brilliantly colorful flowers.
Once planted, a dormant bulb takes about eight to ten weeks to begin blooming, which means that to ensure a lovely, full Amaryllis for Christmas, you should plant and water them in early November (to be on the safe side). Keep in mind, this estimate is for dormant bulbs without stems (which is how White Flower Farm will ship them to you) under optimal conditions, with proper care. Retail stores and other shops that do not specialize in Amaryllis bulbs may sell bulbs that have already started to grow stalks, which may indicate poor storage conditions.
Also, if you are replanting your own bulbs that were once planted outside, you need to force them into dormancy at the end of summer, in order to control the bloom for winter. To force dormancy:
Remove the dead leaves from your planted Amaryllis
Remove the bulb from the ground
Pot the bulb in soil
Place the potted bulb in a cool, dark, dry room, such as a basement or closet
Make sure the temperature remains between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit
Store for 8 to 12 weeks without watering to ensure dormancy
You can then transfer the dormant bulb to a new pot and soil, or to stone and water potting as described above.
Storing Your Amaryllis Bulbs
The dark days of winter have been illuminated by weeks of flowering Amaryllis inside your home. Now what? Though many treat Amaryllis bulbs as annuals—buying new bulbs each fall and winter—the bulbs are perennials and some have been known to flower annually for as many as 75 years. To ensure your Amaryllis bulbs continue to brighten your winters for years to come, you’ll want to rebuild your bulb and plant it outside in the spring, following our step-by-step guide for rebuilding Amaryllis bulbs.
With a few easy steps, an Amaryllis can deliver gorgeous color when it’s needed most. Even a novice gardener can maintain a beautiful, flowering Amaryllis for many years, which is why the Amaryllis makes such a wonderful Christmas gift.
Its graceful 2-3′ stems bear masses of 2½″ flowers all summer, in an extraordinary shade of lavender blue. An outstanding middle of the border plant with Achillea, Alchemilla, Alstroemeria, Antirrhinum, and Astrantia.
Also knows as Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ is one of our favorites because of its upright habit and good manners. It forms neat clumps of foliage 18–24″ tall. In June, the toasty brown, feathery flower spikes rise up to 5′ or more. By August they are narrow shafts of a buff color. Consider summer and fall-blooming perennials as companions: Achillea, Rudbeckia, Helenium, Asters, Monarda, Perovskia, Phlox, and Oriental Lilies.
The Black-eyed Susan, is a glorious and traditional highlight of summer. While the native plant is enchanting, ‘Goldsturm’ improves upon an already good thing by providing more and bigger flowers in a consistent bright golden yellow on upright plants that reach 40″. Plant with Salvia, Phlox, Asters, or Perovskia.
Topping out at 30-36″, this hardy, compact Russian Sage is a great choice for anyone whose garden is too small for the original Perovskia atriplicifolia which can grow to 3-4′ tall. Stems of silver-green foliage with small purple flowers erupt in a lilac haze in midsummer and the color lasts until fall. Companions include: Hydrangea, Salvia, Phlox, & Echinacea.
We find real value in this popular variety. The petals are an especially vibrant carmine-rose shade and are held almost horizontally, making a more open face than the shuttlecock shape of the species. Lovely with the blue wands of Perovskia.
Every garden needs a sampling of easy-care, late-season stars to maximize the season of bloom and carry the garden into fall. A number of the plants on our Late Season Interest Plants page also provide essential food for pollinators, who need nourishment and support as the season nears its end.
Need a shrub or two to complete your late season garden? Hydrangeas are at their best in summer and fall—a quiet time for most woody plants—and are worth having for that reason alone. You’ll find the full range of Hydrangeas we offer here.