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Baby Buddleias

Saturday, July 30th, 2011marketing

July 30th, 2011



Buddleia Lo and Behold 'Blue Chip'



Had enough of those big, rangy buddleias? The sinful ones that grow 15’ tall, crowd the walkway and wantonly seed themselves all over kingdom come? You know, the miscreants that outgrow their allotted space in a year or two and needed deadheading every other day to keep them blooming?

Well, take heart; the plant propagators have heard your plea. Say hello to a new family of small and dwarf butterfly bushes. Like our old familiars, they bloom from midsummer to frost, attract swallowtails, monarchs and skippers by the dozen, and provide focal points in the garden. But these new guys bloom continuously, rather than in waves. And because they’re little, they’re perfect for containers, ground cover or border use. And tah dah! They cast almost no seed.

The first dwarf cultivar, introduced a couple of years ago by Proven Winners, is buddleia Lo and Behold, ‘Blue Chip’. This mounding, 2’ high plant is well-branched, offers an entirely new form for butterfly bushes and is compact enough for edging. Mine anchors a corner of my Front Walk Garden, where I can admire both its purple blooms and the droves of butterflies drawn to it.

Another newbie is ‘Miss Ruby’. She’s a bit bigger than ‘Blue Chip’, clocking in at 4’ x 4’. She presents in a stunning shade of fuchsia-purple overlaid with red, and her foliage is well-branched and elegantly pointed.

Though the pundits say you don’t have to deadhead these new smaller buddleias, I do anyway, just for the sake of neatness. The spent flower panicles are easy to remove with garden clippers, and I simply let them drop to the ground where they quickly blend into the mulch. I figure they’ll provide a bit more free organic matter to the soil.

Buddleias in general need little fertilizer if grown in good dirt, but give them full sun. They are drought tolerant once established and seldom, if ever require additional water except at planting or transplanting time.

These butterfly magnets should not be pruned in the fall. Rather, wait until mid-March, around St. Patty’s Day, and clip them down to 18”.  I know, I know, they’ll look terribly wounded. You’ll be sure, in fact, that you’ve killed them dead. But, since buddleias are summer bloomers, they’ll make flowers on the new stems that emerge after pruning.

Buddleias are fragrant, and with some effort, can be used as a cut flower.  In the early morning or evening choose spikes which are just opening. Slit the stems and dip in boiling water. Remove foliage below the water line, and stand in deep warm water for several hours. (If this sounds like a lot of work for a vase of flowers that’ll maybe last three days, I agree with you. I’d rather let the butterflies have the blooms.)

Try the new buddleias. In this instance the sins of the fathers are not visited on the sons.


Peonies, History and Traditon

Monday, July 25th, 2011


Garden at Hildene


It’s said that every American author has a responsibility to pen something concerning the Civil War.  So, on this 150th anniversary year of the start of the War Between the States, here’s my contribution. But this column isn’t about war and death, or brother versus brother, or the rending of a nation.  It’s about peonies.

Let me explain:

As we know from our school days, President Abraham Lincoln, having successfully led our nation through its greatest trial, did not live to see the aftermath.  And he bore great sorrow, including the death of two of his sons in childhood. Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln did, however, see their eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, mature into manhood. Robert attended Harvard Law School, served in the Civil War, and in later Republican administrations was Ambassador to Britain and Secretary of War. As Chairman of the Pullman Railroad Company he became wealthy and lived much of his life in Chicago. His summer home, however, a Gilded Age estate of 412 acres, was a gracious abode known as Hildene, in Manchester Center, VT. The Georgian Revival edifice, built in 1905, became home to Lincoln descendents until 1975. Today Hildene is a museum, whose stated mission is to “Advance the Lincoln legacy through education, commitment to community and active stewardship of the family’s home and land.”

It’s a short 3 ½ hour trip from Fairfield County, Connecticut, to Manchester, Vermont.  Touring Hildene, with its antiques, tradition, and Civil War artifacts is enthralling. But for me, one of the best parts is the gardens. They boast many splendors; among them, kitchen, cutting, propagation and butterfly plots, as well as a breathtaking view from the promontory overlooking the valley below

The highlight is a spectacular French parterre formal garden, designed by Robert Todd Lincoln’s daughter, Jessie in 1907, as a gift to her mother. The pattern is that of a stained glass window; the privet edges represent the leading, the flowers symbolize the glass. As a young woman, Jessie had seen such windows in the cathedrals of Europe, and these same travels introduced her to the French parterre design.

There are many flowers at the Lincoln ancestral home. But it is the fragrant flurry of peony bloom in May and June that entrance both visitors and Hildene’s Master Gardener, Cindy Lewis. The hundreds of peonies date from the earliest days of the estate, and Cindy has undertaken research to uncover their heritage both so that they might be bred for future generations to enjoy, and also to ascertain if unknown varieties might be among the many cultivars.

The search has been a true horticultural whodunit. With the assistance of dedicated volunteers and Master Gardener interns, Cindy has directed the sorting of blossoms, cataloguing of specimens, creating of files, and collecting of seed, and planting-out of selected types.  She’s spent many a long winter day poring over old family records and publications such as a 1923 issue of The American Peony Society Manual. Progress has been made, and she anticipates that eventually more than twenty different varieties of peonies will be identified, each with its own cultivar file. In the meantime, the American Peony Society has registered a previously unknown cultivar, named the Jesse Lincoln. More are sure to follow.

As has been proven at Hildene, peonies are century plants; they will outlive most of us if planted correctly and sited well. Give them rich soil, average moisture, lots of sun, a bit of support when needed, and they will reward their handler with generations of fragrant bounty. Pluck them by the armloads and enjoy.

Few gardeners will ever tend as spectacular a peony garden as that at Hildene. But we can dream, can’t we? Visit Hildene (www.hildene.org) and get reacquainted not only with a measure of the Civil War heritage which we all share, but also with that regent of spring flowers, that symbol of beauty, peace and longevity, the peony.


Ugh! Slugs!

Monday, July 11th, 2011

July 11, 2011

Garden slug on the move


Do your pretty plants sport more holes than the screen door on a rental cabin?  Are slimy trails criss-crossing your morning path as you step out to grab the newspaper?

You, my friend, are most likely being visited in the night by that bane of  gardeners, the common slug. Now, he does have a role in the eco structure—he vacuums up debris. But he’ll also happily feast on your hosta and brunnera, and devour your cabbage and marigolds. Unless you wish to twist the tables and turn the slimy critter into roasted escargot with garlic, here are some ways to evict him.

First, maintain an organic garden, employing no poisons. Then the toads, snakes, and birds who dine with relish on slugs will move in and do their work.

Toads are perhaps the most interesting control. They hatch in numerous ponds in our area and by July 1st tiny toads are out and about, looking for a hospitable home in which to chomp on your slugs. They appreciate a soft layer of warm mulch to burrow into in the afternoon. They are land dwellers, and you’ll find them in all sizes in your garden. Welcome them.

Snakes are also great slug predators. I know, I know, there’s something about snakes that skeeves most of us. But garter snakes are one of the best pals an organic gardener can have.

Birds eat slugs, too. Make the wrens and robins, jays and thrushes welcome by planting multi-branching native shrubs such as viburnums and witch hazel. Put up, and maintain, bird houses. Leave a wild shrub border surrounding your property.

That old standby, the beer trap, attracts and murder slugs, though it’s messy. Sink a tuna can of cheap beer (slugs are not connoisseurs) into infested areas, and in the morning dump the slimy, drowned contents.

Slugs will not crawl over rough surfaces, as it rips their tender undersides. Therefore material such as diatomaceous earth and crushed eggshells acts as a barrier, as long as it stays dry.

Copper gives slugs a slight electrical charge, so copper sheeting, curved into collars, will protect soft seedlings.

You, the adventurous gardener, can also saunter out at night, salt shaker in hand, and sprinkle death on the critters. They’ll disintegrate before your amazed eyes.

Scissors make short work of slugs, if you can bear to cut them in half. I can’t. My favorite method is to place the News-Times plastic sleeve over my hand, and go slug hunting as I walk from the driveway to the front door. When I have a handful of the destructive creatures, I drown them, and the whole mess gets composted.

My favorite method is to sprinkle an organic pelletized product such as Escar-go or Sluggo around susceptible plants. These products contain iron phosphate, and won’t harm other creatures. But it’s death to slugs.

These are but a few of the many ways to control the slug population. And be sure to clean up the garden each fall to remove resting places for slugs and their eggs.

Start the slug hunt today, so that you aren’t overrun & overwhelmed.

You’re bigger than the slugs. You can win this battle.



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