Tag Archives: good for cutting

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.


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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Perennial Chrysanthemums

Dendranthena 'Hannah's Garden'

Chrysanthemum from Hannah’s Garden

We are often asked, #1, “What is the difference between a perennial mum and the hardy mums sold in pans in the autumn?”

Another question is  “What is the difference between Dendranthema and Chrysanthemum?”

We understand the confusion. If it’s hardy, it must be perennial, right? The answer to #1 is “Yes, but…” And as for the Genus classification, more confusion exists. In 1999, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature announced we all should be calling the reliably perennial forms (or Korean Mums) Dendranthema.  Now we’ve been told the term Dendranthema is being axed, and we need to classify all mums under Chrysanthemum.

The mums sold in the fall, offered in kaleidoscopic colors, are hybrids of Korean, Chinese and Japanese Chrysanthemums. It is believed that the forms that survive in the coldest zones, 4 and 5, are of the Korean lineage (formerly Chrysanthemum indicum).  What we’ve also learned is that many of the “pan mums” could actually winter over in zones 5 and 6, but fail to do so, because they are planted so late in the season (Nov., Dec.) when we empty our containers. Their shallow root systems get desiccated or exposed to deep freezes and excess winter saturation. To be successful, you should plant your mums by early fall, and/or mulch heavily for root protection.

More of what you need to know: Chrysanthemum set buds when day length shortens, usually in October. If your mums start to bloom in August or early September, it might be due to long periods of overcast weather. Chrysanthemum tend to grow to 3′ in height or more and are quite floppy, unless pinched back. We’ve always followed the rule of cutting mums to the ground on or around the 4th of July to keep them compact, multi branched and floriferous. Each new shoot will bear clusters of blossoms, so the more shoots, the more flowers you will have.  (The pan mums are essentially many rooted cuttings pinched back to ensure a burst of flower power.)

We’ve acquired a small group of perennial Chrysanthemum that winter over well for most of us in zones 5-8. One very special cultivar was given to us by a customer, whose grandmother had kept it growing in her garden back in the 1940’s. We’ve been unable to track down a cultivar name, so we’re offering it as Chrysanthemum from Hannah’s Garden.

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P.S. An interesting read on Training Cascading Chrysanthemums can be found on Longwood Garden’s blog

Cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Sun’

Cornus s. 'Arctic Sun'You won’t pay much attention to Blood Twig Dogwood in spring and summer. The ordinary green foliage is attractive enough, but it does not sing “Here I am!”. It’s not until autumn, when Cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Sun’ starts to make music in clear apricot tones with the changing fall foliage. Colder temperatures transform its green branches into stalks of vibrant yellow, orange and red which glow in an otherwise increasingly dull landscape.

‘Arctic Sun’ (a.k.a. Cornus sanguinea ‘Cato’) is a compact clone of Blood Twig Dogwood, reaching only 4-5′ tall as opposed to 8-10′, and this size is useful in smaller gardens. It thrives in average to moist soil in full sun or part shade, is deer resistant, and is hardy in zones 4-7, which means it will take temperatures to minus 30F, but probably won?t be happy in mild winter climates. We recommend planting ‘Arctic Sun’ in a location so that the dazzling winter stems can be viewed from an inside perch, perhaps where you sit with your morning coffee, or where you might pass by as you enter and leave your home. You’ll enjoy the show all winter, and may even be inspired to cut a few branches for decoration.

One thing you should note is that the best color on twig dogwoods is displayed on young wood. Every two or three years you should “stool” yours plants in early-mid spring. Stooling is a simple pruning technique where you cut back the entire shrub to about 6′ above ground. The new growth will provide a more colorful display when late fall and winter arrives.

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

We seldom use the phrase “to die for” (such a price!) but this is an apt descriptive phrase for the gorgeous Paeonia ‘Bartzella’. It is one of the Intersectional or Itoh hybrids, named for the hybridizer Toichi Itoh who was the first to create crosses of tree peonies with herbaceous ones. The resulting plants are herbaceous, but with foliage and flower forms characteristic of tree peonies. They command a pretty price because supplies are limited.

‘Bartzella’ boasts large (to 9″) semi double to double warm yellow blossoms with just a hint of red at the base of some of the petals in late spring. The blossoms emit a spicy scent and are borne on sturdy stems that do their best to support such humungous bounty. The foliage remarkably remains fresh and clean all summer. Eventual height and spread should be about 3′. Plants appreciate a well drained neutral soil in full sun or partial shade (some shade is preferable in warmer climates). Care should be taken when planting the roots that the eyes should face upwards and not more than an inch below the soil surface (including mulch). Plants may take a year to bloom, but we were ecstatic when we were blessed with at least a half dozen blossoms the first year after planting. Hardiness range is zones 4-7.

Peonies are available barefoot in mid autumn, and grown in containers at better nurseries for year round sale.

Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’

Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'Fall blooming Anemones are the prima donnas of the autumn garden. This selection, commonly called Grape Leaved Anemone, begins her performance in late August. Simple and beautiful saucer shaped blossoms, consisting of 5 dusky pink petals, surround orange yellow centers on 2-3′ sturdy stems. The dance continues through September.

Some folks complain that they have trouble establishing Anemones. This is not because they are not hardy, for they can easily tough out winters through zone 5, if not 4. However, they do not want to be wet in winter, so be sure you situate them in a well drained soil. They do appreciate even moisture during the growing season, however, so irrigate as necessary, and spread mulch over their roots which will aid in keeping the soil moist. In hot summer areas, grow where some afternoon shade is available. Some people complain it spreads too much!

Another tip: Anemones prefer a neutral or slightly alkaline soil. If you’re unsure of your soil’s alkalinity, test the pH, and add ground limestone in the fall if your soil proves to be acidic. Where they are happy Anemones spread, and can be divided in spring every 3-5 years. Anemones often break dormancy late, so be sure to mark where they have been planted so you do not mistakenly unearth the sleeping roots, thinking you have a big empty hole to fill.


Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’

Hayes Starburst Hydrangea is a floral arranger’s dream. This chance discovery, by Hayes Jackson of Anniston, Alabama, differs from the species by its showy display of clustered greenish white, multi sepaled star shaped flowers. It is a form of Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea or Hills of Snow, and although native to the southeastern U.S., is cold hardy into zone 4.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’ blooms on new wood, so there is little danger of winter damage to flower buds. We recommend cutting back the woody stems to 12″ in early spring to keep the plants tidy. Hydrangea arborescens prefers to grow in full to half day sun and in a well drained soil that still gets adequate moisture. If there is a common complaint about this species it would be that the flower clusters are so heavy that they weigh down the supporting stems. Some consider this an addition to the plant’s charm, and if it is sited on a slope or above a retaining wall, you could take advantage of its cascading habit. If an upright habit is preferred, situate a large tomato cage over the cut back stalks in spring, which will lend support. The height and spread of this shrub can remain a manageable 3′  x 3′, if pruned annually.