All posts by Katherine Tracey

Smitten by Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum x hybridum 'Striatum'

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’


Other forms….Unfurling





Just a few images to share….loving the various species and  forms in the genus Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal).  We currently have about 15 selections, ranging in size from tiny 6″ Polygonatum humile to  6′ selections of P. biflorum. and are always seeking out more.

quick facts: Solomon Seals is in the family Asparagaceae. Most forms are hardy in zones 5-8, (a few in zones 3 & 4). They slowly spread by jointed rhizomes, and enjoy well drained soil in partial to full shade. Long lived and almost indestructible, Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants that holds its good looks with little care all season.

Asparagus Ferns to Know and Grow

Perhaps your grandmother had a big hanging basket of Asparagus Fern on her shady porch…you probably didn’t think much about it, but there it lived, thriving with little care, living in the same pot for what seemed to be years on end. Yes-sir-ree…a testimony to a plant which could thrive on neglect.


Just planted….Asparagus setaceus plumosa, with 2 begonias in an 8″ square pot.

Despite their fernlike ambience, this group of foliage plants are not ferns at all, but members of the Lily family (Liliaceae). An inspection of the root system reveals a mass of bulb-like tubers, (think lily bulbs). Being pot bound doesn’t discourage their vigor and although they like bright light, Asparagus Ferns can exist satisfactorily with quite a bit of shade. They do not need a constant supply of moisture, and prefer a soil that is sharp draining. Take note: Asparagus Ferns make great companions to Begonia  which like similar conditions… bright light to shade, and a soil that doesn’t stay wet.


Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (L) and densiflorus ‘Myersi’ (R)

The most familiar species is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known for it’s arching stems of apple green narrow leaves. (For those who need to be on top of all things botanical…the genus is now Protasparagus, but that may be too much information for some. ) The next most commonly encountered form is the Foxtail Asparagus, A. densiflorus ‘Myersi’, with its  gorgeous chunky plumes.

Now, let me introduce you to  a few siblings, which offer variety but require the same easy care, and of course are suitable as cut greenery for arrangements.


Clockwise from upper left: A. densiflorus ‘Cwebe’, A. setaceus plumosa, A. setaceus pyramidalis, and A. macowanii

Asperagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is not dissimilar to Grandma’s form, but ‘Cwebe’ tends to be more upright, growing, to 18-20″ tall, and has an interesting bronze tint to the new growth. Asparagus setaceus plumosa is  very lacy,  and is familiar to those who purchase cut greens for arranging.  Asparagus setaceus pyramidalis also has lacy, fine textured foliage with an upright thrust. Perhaps the sweetest of all is Asparagus macowanii, commonly called Ming Fern, with very delicate forest green foliage. As a young plant A. macowanii  is quite small in stature, but if grown in a conservatory or outdoors where it is hardy, it can reach a height of 5’ at maturity.

Anemone x ‘Wild Swan’


Like everyone else, we have fallen for Anemone ‘Wild Swan’.  Exquisitely simple white petals reversed in periwinkle blue surround a boss of yellow stamens in anemone like fashion and are held on 18-20″ stems. A hybrid of Anemone rupicola and possibly hupehensis,  it was selected by British plantswoman Elizabeth MacGregor a decade ago, and took her years to build up stock.  At last it debuted at Chelsea Flower Show in 2011, and caught the eye of many a gardener on both sides of the pond.

We finally acquired some tissue culture propagated plants in 2015. In its first year in the garden, ‘Wild Swan’ began blooming  in late spring,  then rested once the summer heat set in.  We found that in September,cooler temperatures encouraged  a second round of flowering stems. (In cool summer climates, the show may in fact carry on all summer. ) All of last year’s plants have come back up in the garden, after inconstant winter weather. We’re hoping for a more robust show this year.

Anemone x ‘Wild Swan’ enjoys a soil with good drainage and full sun or partial shade. It is hardy in zones 5-8.

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Spring/Winter Flipflop


Snow-kissed Magnolia Buds

Argghhh! So much for an early Spring in New England. March began with May temperatures, but the weather decided to chill out after April Fool’s.  Trouble is… all those  warm days and mild nights encouraged the garden to wake up early.


Early April Buds 2016/End of April Glory 2015

Normally, the plants in our gardens know when they are being teased with a few mild days, and hold off bursting prematurely.  The image above left was taken 4-4-16, the one on the right: 4-28-15.


The show from Jeffersonia dubia probably won’t continue after this cold


Maybe this cloche will help.

Jeffersonia dubia , the Asian form of Twin Leaf, became too excited and emerged with color last week. The next few nights will have temperatures dipping into the mid teens, and we have  one cloche on hand to add a little protection. Trouble is, we can’t do this for every early bloomer.  And, unfortunately, there is not enough snowfall so far (more is predicted, but…) to insulate before the arctic cold blows through.

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Epimedium, budded and shivering.

Epimedium, with new foliage and budded flower stems….we’re not too optimistic for a later show, but we can only wait and see.

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Helleborus viridus will take it in stride.

Hellebores and the bulbs not yet in bloom will take this in stride, but the Narcissus and Grape Hyacinth which are already showing color might not be focal points  after this big chill is over.

Buttoned Up, with blankets and heat.

Buttoned Up, with blankets and heat.

In the nursery,  many plants have started to leaf out with tender new growth.  For added protection, we’ve covered them with microfoam blankets and added portable heaters inside our frost frames to counter the low night temperatures.

Gardeners are always being challenged by the weather. It will be interesting to see which plants come through this cold snap unfazed. How is your garden faring with the early start to spring?

Early Spring Blues at Wave Hill

wave_hill_blues72Hey New Yorkers, you shouldn’t miss this scene. All at once and everywhere, Glory of the Snow, Chinonodoxa sardensis, has created carpets of  blue on the grounds of beautiful Wave Hill in Riverdale. I had an hour or so to wander the grounds before my talk in the city on Wednesday, and was able to capture a few images.


On the slope behind the building that houses the Glyndor Gallery, there were easily a gazillion bulbs just beginning to open.  I have no idea how many were originally planted, but over the past 50 years (guessing) Chionodoxa  has self sown with total abandon. Take note: it is deer resistant so it is the perfect bulb for naturalizing in a woodland garden.


Chionodoxa sardensis

From each bulb rise 4-6″ stems bearing 5-10 starry blue flowers accented with white centers which give quite a jolt of color.  Plant where you won’t mind the foliage lingering while it stores energy before dying back. Glory of the Snow starts blooming just as Crocus begin to fade and is a good companion bulb to the earliest daffodils, Adonis and Hellebores.  Hardy in zones 3-8.

February Postcards from Seattle


Trees Dancing in the Arboretum

No, Spring had not officially arrived on our recent visit, but its signs were imminent…bulbs were beginning to shoot, the Hellebores were showing color, and ample precipitation had swollen tree buds. The most exquisite sights were the moss covered trees…..trunks and branches coated in almost day glow green.


Arboretum Maple


Volunteer Park Trio



The beautiful glasshouse at Voluntary Park

The beautiful glasshouse at Volunteer Park as the sun broke through.

A feature of the Orchid show inside.

A feature of the Orchid show inside.


Tillandsia were dripping


In the Cactus house


Erica in bloom at the Kubota Garden entrance


A Kubota View


Nature did it….Green Roof Bus Stop, Bainbridge Island

The images, captured in between showers, were taken along the roadside, at the Washington University Arboretum, Volunteer Park and inside the Conservatory, and Kubota Gardens. We missed out on The Bloedel Reserve and Heronswood because of the rain, but there will absolutely be a next time!

San Diego Plant Cache!

Mike Kartuz, with our box of Begonias.

Mike Kartuz, with our box of Begonias.

Lucky us! Chris and I booked it out of MA just before the deep freeze earlier this month and caught some rays in San Diego, where our oldest son Phil now lives. And, since our business is our pleasure (PLANTS!), we always make it a point to visit a few regional growers of rare succulents and begonias.

A must stop for us was Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista. Mike Kartuz, who is 88, left Massachusetts 4 decades ago to grow tropicals, especially Begonias, in a much kinder climate. Mike, along with “begonia volunteer” Brad Thompson (check out Brad’s Begonia webpage) have hybridized some of the most fascinating Begonias we have come across. Plants are sold in 2” pots, and they ship when the weather permits, but we always find selections on our visit that never make it to the Kartuz website.

Brad Thompson talking plants with Chris

Brad Thompson talking plants with Chris

Our next excursion was into the hills of Fallbrook to meet up with Dick and Kraig Wright, who breed Echeveria and Aloe  almost exclusively. Dick who is also 88, has been hybridizing Echeveria since the 1950’s, and if you have collected a few Echeveria you no doubt have at least one of his hybrids. Some of Dick’s most coveted selections are named after family members; we came home with Arlie Wright, named for Dick’s mother,  plus many, many more.

closeup of Echeveria 'Arlie Wright'

closeup of Echeveria ‘Arlie Wright’

While Dick and Kraig are still seeking out unique “Ech” forms with impressive size, they are experimenting more and more with miniature Aloe, which command premium prices in Japan and Korea. I was astonished that the Wrights do not hold patents on their selections but make them available to collectors who can try their own luck at propagating. Here is a link to their website .

Preparing newly acquired plants for travel

Preparing newly acquired plants for travel

After visiting these gents, we figured we almost had a full suitcase but that didn’t mean we couldn’t look a little more. The San Diego area nurseries are well stocked and we wanted to see if we could possibly identify some forms that were mislabeled or nameless when we acquired them. We asked  and took label images but still left with questions!!!

At another nursery, 2 different Echeveria tagged Arlie Wright ..the one on the right is someone else!

At another nursery, 2 different Echeveria tagged Arlie Wright ..the one on the right is someone else!

Plants being sold with incorrect names are a big problem, and we do understand how easily it can happen. Many look very different in their youth than they will at maturity, and changes to foliage color occur with different temperatures and humidity.  Oh, well…Phil and his girlfriend Annique seem to really like San Diego living, so we have good excuses  to return and fit in more plant i.d. excursions,

…wish you had a Winter Greenhouse?


The Aloes begin to bloom in January

Maybe it’s a luxury, or maybe not…

One of the perks of running a nursery is that on any winter morning I can walk out to the heated 100′ greenhouse and smell the promise of spring. We can’t afford to have the heat cranked up….the thermostat is set at 55F in the warmer half, just enough heat to keep our Begonia collection from pouting . The rear 50′ section drops to 45F at night, and this is where we store our Salvia, Phormium, tender succulents, and plants for forcing.  As the daylight hours gradually increase, early blooming plants set buds and begin to unfurl.


Today’s arrangement of cut and forced material, including Daphne, Hellebores, Echeveria, Aeonium , Begonia and Ivy

Up until a half  century ago, it was not uncommon for gardeners to have some form of greenhouse structure to protect tender plants, force bulbs and other flowers for arranging, grow herbs and to get a start on seed sowing. For the most part these were not formal glass houses, but homemade lean to’s and pit frames built into a south facing slope or dug into the earth to take advantage of geothermal warming. These “pits” were excavated to a depth of 4′ or more, with hay bales tucked along the perimeter for insulation. Recycled window sashes were used to allow light into the frames, as these were the days before plastic and polyethylene.


A dear gardening friend, Elinor Malcom, who was one of our nursery’s first customers, loved her “pit” in Carlisle MA. where she wintered over many treasures including a collection of Camellias that belonged to her mother. Ellie’s mom had been an accomplished gardener and was good friends with Kathryn Taylor, who co-authored with Edith Gregg, the book Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sun-heated Pit, first published in 1941, now out of print.  My husband Chris was lucky to find a copy in a local used book store sometime ago. (PS…your library may have a copy!)


pages illustrated with early photos of pit frames

This practical book does go into the how-to’s of small greenhouse growing, but I think the authors hit a happy nerve with their enthusiasm for solar pit houses. Ms. Taylor and Ms. Gregg showed how, with a little Yankee ingenuity and thriftiness, the average home gardener could have the luxury of blossoms and greenery during the winter months without electricity or heating units. The prose is entertaining and easy to understand and there are a number of good technical illustrations as well as charming B & W photographs.The women shared not only their successes but some of the pitfalls they encountered (no pun intended). The last chapters focus on recommended plants for winter forcing. I was greatly impressed with their expertise and ability to use materials  that were easy to be had without great expense, and I loved the simple but direct dedication at the book’s beginning: To the husbands who dug the holes”.

An online search indicated Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sunheated Pit is available as a used book on Amazon, but I would also recommend checking out second hand book shops.  For those who are interested in learning more about constructing a pit greenhouse, check out these links: Mother Earth News,  Inspiration  Green, and Solar Innovations. There are now many publications on the subject, some more suited to commercial growing.

Wouldn’t it help you to get through the winter if you could walk out your door after a snowstorm and bring in a gathering of fresh flowers and greenery?

Made Good on One Resolution

slowflowercollage2015I didn’t make good on all my promises for 2015, but I was resolute to make more fun time in the garden, and to create an arrangement, once a month at least, from plants found around my nursery and gardens. Let me present my 2015 Slow Flower Calendar.

Starting in the upper left frame and  across, the first is gatherings of lichen, bark and cones during January. Some months had fewer color options, but I found there was always something new to discover and play with. My office window sill was the spot that had the best light for picture taking…notice the changing color background.  December’s composition is a wreath using some of the same found materials that I began the year with. This resolution demands repeating, don’t you think?

Happy 2016 everyone!

A Gift: The Little Fir Tree

fir500Sometimes certain people touch our lives and leave us with a message that continues to reveal. Last week, while wandering about the garden in search of wreath making greens, I caught a glimpse of a little fir tree that was a gift. This little fir is not a “show off” plant, but its presence speaks of goodness and hopefulness, qualities which most gardeners share.

The little fir tree had been a gift from a soft spoken older gentleman, Phil Sheridan, who frequented our nursery in the early years. On one visit, Phil had just come back from a Conifer Society meeting (perhaps 1998?) and presented me with a small 8” seedling of Abies siberica. The only info I could recall him sharing was that it was quite rare. Phil, who was charmingly eccentric and in his eighties at the time, then went off to peruse the nursery and selected several perennials and a young Stewartia, no more than 18” tall. “I’ve always wanted a Stewartia,” he said, and I remember thinking  then what a remarkable optimist he was.

Back to the rare little fir tree. It was tiny and grew slowly, so it lived in a pot for a number of years until it was big enough to be planted in open ground. I had no idea of its eventual size. I checked out the woody plant bible by Mike Dirr…no reference at all to A. siberica. The internet was still immature, and there was no listing in any of the search engines. When knowledgable plant people would visit the nursery I would quiz them if they knew anything about this particular species, but only received puzzled responses. Perhaps it had been mislabeled. I knew most firs preferred cool summer climates, and more often than not, our summers were warm. I finally planted the little guy anyway at the end of a mixed border, and watched him grow.

Today, the little fir tree is almost 10’ tall. It has a lovely pyramidal form and soft fragrant needles. I went back online to see if there was now more information on this elusive species, and if it was truly Abies siberica. Yes and maybe! There was information…Abies siberica, a conifer native to Siberia and other parts of northeastern Asia, reaching heights of 60’ or more…notable for the production of a resin that has anti-inflammatory properties which is used in herbal medicine. A couple of things puzzled me though. Some of the online literature described a plant with hard needles, (this fir is soft to the touch) and also stated the needle length was a bit shorter than what my fir presents. Perhaps it is a variant. More research is necessary but I  think I should be prepared for some epic height.

E. Philip Sheridan passed away in 2000,  and while I was online I searched to see if I could learn more about him. Phil was a retired English professor who dabbled in botany and zoology (I remember he once told me he had pet starlings). Everything I read confirmed what I knew of Phil: that he was a curious, generous soul and, like all gardeners, an avowed optimist.