Tag Archives: good for cutting

Digiplexis x ‘Illumination Flame’

digiplexus

Sometimes amazing things happen when you cross similar plants from different regions: Digitalis (European Foxglove) and Isoplexis (Canary Island Foxglove. The result: beautiful perpetual blooming 3′ spires of tubular flowers, which are colored sunset coral in bud and then open, exposing yellow throats with hints of apple green. This particular selection, ‘Flame’, is the first of the Illumination series introduced by Charles Valin which won the prestigious award of Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2012.

Last year we grew Digiplexis ‘Flame’ in a large pot. It began to bloom in early June and carried on for months, well into September. The blossoms are sterile, which tricks the plants to be constantly in flower.  We brought the container into the cool greenhouse to winter over and it’s back up and about to start the show all over again. This year we’ve also planted it in our garden beds for the constant color it provides. We envision it as the vertical complement to Dahlias and Summer Phlox in a sunny, enriched , well drained border which gets an average amount of irrigation. I can attest that the hummingbirds were regular visitors, as were bees and butterflies, and I suspect it is deer resistant as well.

Because Digiplexis inherited its hardiness genes from its Canary Island parent, it will only winter over outdoors in zones 8-10, (although one of our customers bragged to me the other day that hers wintered over outdoors in a protected spot in zone 7).  Dig  up the roots after the first frost, as you would a Dahlia and store in a cool spot that stays above freezing for the winter. Gardeners in warmer winter climates don’t have to worry about this, and I can only imagine the display in their garden year after year!

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Anemone sylvestris

anemonesylvestrisweb Anemone sylvestris, is simply lovely and so innocent-looking, but perhaps it should be introduced to you as a potential ground cover. Commonly known as Snowdrop Anemone, this super hardy gem begins blooming in mid-late spring, producing nodding buds which open to 5 petaled white blossoms centered with a ring of yellow stamens. The blossoms, buoyantly dance on 12-18” stems, which are good for cutting, emit a soft early spring fragrance.   Although it is a European native, it looks right at home in naturalistic landscapes here in the US, spreading vigorously by rhizomes, and it is very effective for disguising early spring bulb foliage. The wooly seed heads that develop once the blossoms fade add visual interest later in the summer.  Occasionally, a small flush of flowering in takes place early fall.

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Anemone sylvestris is happiest in a rich well drained soil, and is hardy in zones 4-8. It is not fond of extreme heat, so best to hold off in southern gardens. There are no serious insect or disease problems and it is deer resistant.

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Helleborus 'Ivory Prince with sprigs of Foxtail Asparagus and Pink Flax leaves

Using Hellebores as Cut Flowers

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince with sprigs of Foxtail Asparagus and Pink Flax leaves

Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince with sprigs of Foxtail Asparagus and Pink Flax leaves

The end of winter is upon us and the first Hellebores have begun to open, providing lush exotic blossoms for Slow Flower arranging, at last. I couldn’t help myself a couple of weeks ago and cut a bouquet from plants growing in the cold frame. Alas, after only a few hours, they had begun to flop over and looked wilted in the vase. I don’t recall this happening before, so I did some research.

Here’s a little botany. There are basically 2 categories of Hellebores: the caulescent group, which means the blossoms are born in multiples on stems produced the previous year (includes the species foetidus and argutifolus) and acaulescent group, which send up flowering stems from the plants base as winter’s end draws near (i.e. the orientalis hybrids, commonly known as Lenten Rose). In the past few decades, breeders have been crossing the 2 groups and we now have hellebores that fall somewhere in between.  The acaulescent types, meaning the showy Lenten Roses, should be picked when the flowers have aged a bit and the ovary (the seed pod in the center) has begun to swell, which is the same time that its pollen and anthers will have begun to drop. These slightly aged blossoms last longer cut (in the past, I must have unwittingly cut older blossoms). If you must pick young just opened buds, cut short stems. Note that the caulescent types, such as H.  foetidus, hold up better without flopping.   Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’, shown here, is a cross between the 2 types, and offers the best traits of both.

Cut stems, Hot water, Dip cut stems for 30 seconds

Cut stems, Hot water, Dip cut stems for 30 seconds

The next step is to condition the stems in hot, almost boiling water. Dip the stems into hot water and let sit for 30 seconds. Remove, then place in a vase of water with a tiny bit of vodka, or about 1 T. vodka per quart of tap water.  I have read that some people skip the hot water treatment and instead sear the stems over an open flame, but that makes me hesitate.  Hellebore blossoms will hold up longer in a cool room.

Do you have a tip that you would like to share for keeping Hellebore blossoms fresh?

Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’

gladiolusboone72L

You won’t think funeral parlors when you see this lovely species of Hardy Gladiolus. That’s right……I said hardy. For the past 6 years ‘Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’ has not only wintered over, (including our recent epic one)  but has multiplied, producing many bulb offsets in one of our raised planting beds. Elegant 3′ stems display apricot yellow blossoms which make lovely cut flowers in early-mid summer. It thrives in full sun and for the record, I will state it is hardy in zones 6-9 when grown in a soil that is well drained in winter. Incorporate a few shovels of sand into your soil when planting. For insurance it would be a good idea to lay a protective mulch of sterile hay or evergreen boughs in the colder parts of zone 6.

In cold climates (zones 1-5) you could easily lift the bulbs for winter storage and keep in a cool dry space that stays above freezing. Gladilolus dalenii ‘Boone’ can easily be grown from seed, and we have noticed some variation in color from seedlings…ranching from the softest of yellows to slightly deeper pale oranges, sometimes with darker orange highlights.

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Forcing Winter Branches

The witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Jelena’, is already in bloom

You wouldn’t know it by looking out my window today, but this past Sunday afternoon it hit 50 degrees. I walked about the garden taking inventory, and just as I had hoped, buds were beginning to swell on spring flowering trees and shrubs. To my delight, the Hamamelis (witch hazel) blossoms were beginning to open. It was a perfect time to cut some branches for forcing indoors.

Forcing is not difficult, but it helps to understand a few basics. Many woody plants (trees and shrubs) set their flowering buds during the previous growing season. They must undergo a dormant period (about 6 weeks) of cold temperatures. A sustained warm moist spell following this dormant period will break dormancy. You need to mimic this warm moist spell to trick your cut branches into thinking it is spring.

1. Walk about your garden in search of subjects, observe, and prune.

You can actually tackle some pruning as you search for stems for forcing. As you select branches, remember to consider the shape you want your tree or shrub to grow. Prune on a mild day, preferably in the afternoon. The day’s warmth will aid the plant in taking up water and sugars from the roots. Branches force more easily if they are less than 1/2 inch in diameter.

One of the easiest plants to break dormancy is Forsythia. Other plants to consider are Willows (Salix), Witch hazel (Hamamelis), Winter hazel (Corylopsis), Quince (Chaenomeles), Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus), Flowering Cherry (Prunus).  I thought I would experiment a bit while I was taking inventory , so I also cut branches of Spirea, Magnolia and Birch (Betula).

2. Hydrate your stems

After you have gathered your array, fill a deep bucket or large pan with warm water, (for really big branches a bathtub works quite well). Submerge your cut branches in the warm water and leave them in a warm spot overnight.  You can add a small amount of lemon-lime soda or even Listerine (approx. 1T per quart of water) which will act as a preservative. The next day, under very warm running water, make fresh cuts to your branches. If you have thick branches (1/2? or more), you can split  and splay the stems an inch or so for better water absorption. Begin to arrange, or keep these stems in a cool space (45-50 degrees) for a week or so, until you are ready to use them.

A gathering of branches for forcing

3. Create your arrangement

In a fresh vase of water with a bit of preservative, create your arrangement. Some branches will burst open immediately, but others will need more coaxing. Remember your first attempts are about experimenting.  Branches which have an interesting shape or color will look fabulous even if they do not force (I’m thinking about the curly willow I used). Every week or two venture outside and select more branches. Take notes on what stems forced well in early February, and which ones might require more time outdoors as winter weather transitions into early spring.

The Phlox Trials…

New Varieties of Phlox with Allium ‘Millenium’ and Echinacea ‘Milkshake’

…New Selections for Cutting

It’s easy to be seduced by catalog images. I was when I saw some of the recent Phlox paniculata being bred in Holland.  The inflorescence were distinct from our more familiar forms: the florets were smaller, slightly curled and edged in contrasting colors.

Last year I planted Phlox paniculata ‘Sherbert Blend’. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. The panicles were small, and the florets appeared pale pink with a faint cream edge in the garden, although the images in the catalog promised me a warmer, pink shade. I shrugged the color discrepancy off, thinking this may be due to weather or soil conditions, or maybe the plants would show their true colors with maturity. I have since discovered that this Phlox’s color range changes with the time of day, and is true especially in early morning light.

This year I tried 2 other selections: Phlox paniculata ‘Jade’, with lovely white florets rimmed in celadon green, and Phlox paniculata ‘Aureole’ or ‘Neon Aureole’ which has tight clusters of bright fuchsia florets, edged in white and green. Our supplier’s catalog described plants as being only 16-20″ tall, but already I’m observing stems in the 24-30″ range. So far, mildew has not been a problem, and plants have set side shoots for rebloom quickly, once the first main stems have been cut. All emit a slight, old fashioned, sweet fragrance.

Grow these Phlox in full sun, in average garden soil and provide good air circulation. Blooming begins in July and carries on into August. Although these new Phlox make fine border plants, they have are more subtle than the big panicled forms with huge florets. I’m considering moving my plants into a new bed I’m creating just for cutting, since I know the floral display in the garden will be sacrificed for many more summer bouquets. Here are some closeup portraits of each Phlox used in the pictured bouquet:

Phlox paniculata ‘Sherbert Blend’

Phlox paniculata ‘Jade’

Phlox paniculata ‘Aureole’

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Even though the sun was shining today, I was still feeling discouraged by yesterday’s snowfall. As I went out to make sure all the greenhouses were properly closed for the day I caught a glimpse of pink, shimmering in the late afternoon light. Greeting me with optimistic charm was the pink pussy willow Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’ . I had planted one last fall, and it was set off quite dramatically by the freshly fallen snow.

Salix chaenomeloides is the Latin name for giant pussy willow. It is native to Japan but adapts well to a wide range of garden situations including sandy, average and even quite moist soil. Plants can get quite large, 15′ or more, but in order to have a steady supply of branches which will bear the rosy red catkins (which are male flowers by the way, are you surprised?) you should coppice (cut back to 1-2′ above ground) every 2 or 3 years. This will keep plant size a more reasonable 6-8′, and provide you with an ample supply of cut branches for winter arrangements

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’ is hardy to zone 4. You know you want one. Go for it. I guarantee that if you plant  ‘Mt. Aso’ this year, you’ll be smiling next March, even if “return to winter” weather tends to make you grumpy.

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Intersectional Hybrid Peonies

Paeonia ‘First Arrival’

Who isn’t impressed by the voluptuous blossoms of tree peonies, but daunted by their reputation for fussiness and stingy bloom? Well, plant breeders have been at work in recent decades, crossing the common herbaceous pony with Paeonia suffruiticosa, and in doing so have produced plants that have the best characteristics of both. These new hybrid offer the exquisite paper tissue blossoms of tree peonies, with their handsome but yet disease resistant foliage, and the reliability of herbaceous peonies, which means they die back to the earth to resurface in early spring. What’s more the stems are quite sturdy, sustaining and displaying the showy blossoms without the need for staking.

Paeonia ‘Singing In The Rain’

Intersectional hybrids like to be planted in a rich well drained neutral soil with at least 6 hours of sunlight. If you order plants bare root, you may be confused, as the eyes appear on both the root crowns like a herbaceous peony and along the “dead” stalks, as they would on a tree form. Plant the crown as you would a herbaceous peony, with the eyes just an inch below the soil surface. The eyes or buds along the should stay above ground, and will break the following spring. Once these hybrids are established they will produce a bevy of blossoms for cutting.

PaeoniaBartzella500

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

We were especially impressed at how well the cultivar ‘Bartzella’s foliage looked all summer, changing into burgundy and red tones in the fall. All cultivars grow well in zones 4-9. Only a few years ago, you couldn’t purchase these beauties for less than a hundred dollars for a small section of root, but with tissue culture and vigorous propagating, plants have become more widely available and the prices are beginning to drop. Plant bare roots in fall, or purchase potted specimens at nurseries during the growing season.

Paeonia ‘Julia Rose’

Gardener Portrait: Bill Cannon

Bill Cannon admiring an Ilex X ‘Wye River’

Talk about collecting plants for winter interest! Our horticultural friend, Bill Cannon, has devoted his Brewster MA property to growing the most varied and unusual varieties of Hollies (Ilex) of anyone we know in New England. He truly has created a Holly Arboretum, home to over 2000 Ilex plants, including 300 different species and cultivars.

How and when did we first meet Bill? It was perhaps a decade ago. Chris and I were at a plant sale at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens  in Worcester MA, (you often discover the coolest plants at these events), when we came across the booth of a charming gentleman with twinkling hazel eyes who was selling unusual varieties of holly. The gentleman, Bill Cannon, had brought a sampling of young starts from his vast collection.  Of course our eyes bee-lined to the perfectly shaped glossy foliage of an English Holly, Ilex aquifolium, but having lost a few in our zone 6A garden, we hesitated. Bill encouraged us to try again, which we did, and went home with a new selection, a hybrid of English and Perny holly called Ilex aquipernyi ‘Dr. Kassab’, plus planting tips.  We heeded the tips Bill provided: extra protection the first couple of seasons, plant in well drained soil and out of drying winter winds. We are pleased to report that despite experiencing a cruel winter or two, ‘Dr. Kassab’ has formed a slender 6? pyramid of small dark green perfect foliage adorned with luscious red fruit. Not bad for an almost zone 7 plant.

One of Bill’s gorgeous wreaths

Our paths crossed several years later, when I became a member of the Horticultural Club of Boston, and found Bill, a longtime member, sitting next to me at one of the meetings. It was a special December Holiday meeting, and Bill had brought in as his fund raising donation a most beautiful Holly wreath, featuring so many of the unusual cultivars of the genus he knows and grows so well.  He explained that he keeps quite busy in late November and December filing orders for these gorgeous wreaths, using material from his holly ?farm?.  When I mentioned I would love to see the ?farm?, he graciously said to please come, call first, but not to wait too late in the season, since the robins would be visiting soon and the berries might be all gone.

Ilex X ‘Dragon Lady’

I was unable to make the visit that December, or the following year or two either. Suddenly, it seemed, this year, our little Ilex ‘Dr.  Kassab’ had come into her own in our garden. I thought of Bill and his holly gardens. Chris and I had to make a visit to Cape Cod to see Bill’s exotic hollies. The weekend before Thanksgiving we gave Bill a call, and were in luck. He would be around and could spare some time from his wreath making to give us a tour.

Ilex attenuata ‘Alagold’

Our visit was perfectly timed. The Sunday afternoon weather was mild plus the Hollies were loaded with berries. What a treat and an education! Bill?s property on Main St. originally belonged to his father, who was a florist and who had, 30-40 years before, planted many boxwood and hollies on the lot for cutting and arranging. (These older trees and shrubs still provide Bill with much cut material). Bill had the family genes for growing plants, and went to UMASS for floriculture. He was employed as the nursery manager for Kennedy’s Country Gardens for years, and also taught horticulture and gardening courses in Adult Education Programs. His passion for the genus Ilex grew, and after becoming a member of the Holly Society of America, he was elected president in 2007-2008. He is now “retired”, but runs a micro nursery on his property, propagating many of the unusual Hollies he has acquired over the years, which he sells to discerning plant collectors. He continues to lecture on gardening topics, especially on his favorite genus Ilex.

Ilex cornuta ‘Berries Jubilee’

A few of Bill’s tips on growing hollies are:

1. Most people know you need male and female hollies to  cross pollinate for berry set. What you should also know is that the male cultivar needs to be in bloom at the same time as the female.

2. Hollies bloom on old wood, just like mophead hydrangeas. If you cut lots of branches for winter decorating, be aware that you’ve cut off the potential fruit set for next year.

3. Hardiness of many species of Ilex has not been adequately tested. Experiment on your property with some of the warmer zone cultivars. (We did!)

Bill can be contacted at ilexbc@verizon.net, if you are interested in scheduling a lecture or acquiring some of his rare hollies.  He takes advance orders for his beautiful wreaths, but there may still be time to get your request in.

If this article has piqued your interest in growing unusual hollies, why not join the Holly Society of America ? It’s a great resource, both for information and acquiring new and unusual plants.

Spiranthes cernua ‘Chadd’s Ford’

Image courtesy of North Creek Nursery

This quite lovely eastern native terrestrial orchid might be quite at home in your garden, especially if you have a spot that stays on the moist side with perhaps 3-4 hours, or more, of sunlight. And at this time of year,  it offers deliciously scented blossoms lovely enough for cutting and using in wedding arrangements.

Spiranthes cernua can be grown in a wide range of hardiness zones (3-8). Native populations can be found in sandy moist lowlands in diverse areas, from Florida north into Quebec and Newfoundland. It forms ground-hugging rosettes of silvery green strap like leaves, and over time, can form good sized colonies in wet soil, even in bogs or swamps. This particular selection was discovered in the Delaware Valley region and named for the southeastern PA town of Chadd?s Ford. In September and October,  Nodding Ladies Tresses, as it is commonly called, bear scented creamy white orchid blossoms arranged in a spiral fashion around sturdy 1-2′ stems. The fragrance is beguilingly reminiscent of jasmine and vanilla.

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