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Archive for November, 2012


Flowering Shrubs From Spring ’til Fall

Friday, November 30th, 2012

November 30th, 2012

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

I know, I know, we’re deep into the cold season here in Connecticut and who’s thinking about flowering shrubs? I’d venture to say that many gardeners are, especially as those tempting catalogs arrive, resplendent with photos of lush lilacs, bounteous buddleia and wondrous weigela.

Flowering shrubs fill many a bill in the garden as we mature, when fussing with fancy perennials becomes more and more difficult. If we wish to maintain a gracious garden into our dotage, one solution is to replace some swaths of perennials with flowering shrubs. If chosen carefully, these bushes offer not only color from spring to fall, but also structure, interest, and food and shelter for birds.

Here’s a few of my favorites, in order of bloom:


Late winter

Witch hazel. ‘Jelena’, ‘Arnold Promise’.  These large, vase-shaped hybrids desire placement at the edge of the woods and room to spread their 10-20’ wings. Their bloom, often commencing in January and February, can be quite fragrant.

Early spring

PJM rhododendron.  These small-leaved rhododendrons sport pretty pink flowers.

Quince has come quite a way from our grandmothers’ varieties. Try the new ‘Double Take’ cultivars, which are shorter, thornless, and whose blossoms in shades of scarlet, orange and pink resemble tiny roses.

Shade-loving Kerria possesses bright green stems year round and its chrome-yellow flowers light up the spring border.


Lilac. For continuous fragrant color, plant early varieties such as ‘Pocahontas’, mid-season such as the common Syringa vulgaris, and late cultivars such as ‘Miss Kim’ and ‘Paladin’.  ‘Bloomerang’ is a reliable re-bloomer.

Azalea.  What Connecticut shade garden would be complete without this beauty? (Just be sure to apply deer repellent) Lovely cultivars include compact ‘Mother’s Day’ with its large red blooms, and ‘Pink Tradition’ decorated with abundant, deep rose flowers.

Old fashioned Bridal Veil spirea blooms in June, with a cascade of white flowers. Summer blooming spireas such as ‘Anthony Waterer’ and ‘Gold Mound’ are smaller and more upright and flaunt shades of mauve and pink.  


Rose (of course). My favorites are the ‘Knockout’ series, which boast disease-free foliage, gorgeous colors, upright bush form, and repeat bloom. What’s not to love?

Buddleia:  Also know as summer lilac, these shrubs begin flowering in July and persist until frost. But instead of the rangy big varieties, consider planting the newer dwarf cultivars, which remain small, need no deadheading and are sterile. ‘Lo and Behold’ is a fine choice

Hydrangea nowadays come in all sizes and colors. I like ‘Glowing Embers’ for its red-purple color which dries nicely, and the new cultivars such as ‘Blushing Bride’ which bloom on both new and old wood.  The ‘Cityline’ series offer dwarf shrubs with full-size flower heads.

Weigela:  Much hybridizing has been done with this hummingbird favorite; it’s no longer the awkward monster that grew in grandmother’s garden. Try tiny cultivars such as ‘My Monet’; mid-size ‘Fine Wine’, and one of the ‘Sonic Bloom’ rebloomers from Proven Winners; they come in red, pearl or pink.  

Clethra is that rare entity, a fragrant, late-summer bloomer. Deep in August it bears its pink or white flowers, perfuming the mid-summer garden.

Late Summer:

Rose of Sharon is a classic late bloomer, but stick to the newer cultivars such as ‘Sugar Tip’ or the dwarf ‘L’il Kim’, which aren’t as wanton with their seedlings.

Hydrangea paniculata blooms on new wood and can therefore be pruned quite hard in spring and still bear long-lasting bloom panicles. Newer cultivars such as ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ begin ivory and over the course of several months turn quite deep pink. Stunning!


 Autumn is all about color, so consider itea, a native, shade-tolerant shrub whose leaves glow crimson in October and November.

Oak-leaf hydrangea is the last shrub in my garden to color up. It flaunts large leaves of purple, orange and deep bronze until almost Christmas.


Though a garden of flowering shrubs is easier than one crammed with persnickety perennials, upkeep is still essential.  These babies appreciate correct placement, an occasional scattering of fertilizer and periodic pruning. But if ease of care and all-season color is your goal, select some of these charmers, and enjoy your revamped garden!


Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

Visiting the Connecticut Garden and Landscape Trail

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012content

November 20th, 2012

Did you know that Connecticut has its very own Garden and Landscape Trail? Yes indeed. A joint project established by the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association and the Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association, the Trail traverses the state. It guides citizens of all ages to the fascinating facilities of the state’s green industry; the nurseries, garden centers, greenhouses and public gardens.  The website ( ) is replete with locations, admission information, (most are free) hours of operation, contact data and directions.

On the Trail you’ll view nurseries from Bethel’s Hollandia, which is Fairfield County’s largest, to Woodstock’s  Sprucedale Gardens, which is not only a family-run nursery farm, but whose owners are involved with the Connecticut Invasive Plants Council.  And don’t miss Broken Arrow in Hamden, with its amazing collection hardy trees and shrubs; Gilbertie’s in Westport, known for its vast array of herbs,  or venerable Sam Bridge in Greenwich,  as well as many more examples of Connecticut’s green businesses.  You’ll observe the best in horticulture and view all types of gardening, from seaside, suburban, or rural, to large landscapes with towering specimen trees. Want information on container plants or fairy gardens? There’ll be examples along the way. Need to know about water gardens, pond plantings or koi ponds? You’ll find what you need along the Trail.

Also listed are Public Gardens, (some of which may have an entry fee).  Many are of historical significance. Ever been to the Bellamy-Farriday House and Garden in Bethlehem or the Glebe House in Woodbury? Visits to such esteemed treasures are a pleasurable way to discover our state’s legacy, but for the gardener, such a trip is also an adventure in horticulture. It’s intriguing to observe what flowers Victorians grew, how the Gilded Age used statuary, or which trees and shrubs were employed for structure in bygone days.  Any time the Public Gardens are open is the right time to explore these venues, but to see the gardens in their prime, plan on a warm-weather jaunt. And speaking of warmth, don’t miss the Laurel Ridge Foundation in Litchfield, with its thousands of daffodils blooming their sprightly heads off each April.

When you check out the Trail’s website cast a glance at the listing for Special Events. These change with the seasons but currently displayed are such events as Holiday Decorating, wreath making, pruning, and putting the garden to bed. Attending such events is opportunity to learn as well as enjoy the best of the season.

The Trail brochure also showcases 39 Connecticut GardenStars. These are plants selected by month which perform well in our state and are available at Trail nurseries. These chosen ones include stalwarts such as lilac, sedum, heuchera, columbine, hosta and many more. Whether you’re planning, planting or revamping a flower bed you can’t go wrong with GardenStars!

A bonus to visiting the Trail this time of year is the fact that many of the locations are decked out for the Holidays…full of the heady scent of conifers and cinnamon, the glow of Christmas lights, and the dazzle of amaryllis, pointsettia, hollyberry and  red-twig dogwood.

Gardening, to be sure, is all about the senses…seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, tasting. And don’t forget about the 6th sense, teaching. Passing on the knowledge to the younger generation is of the essence.  Grab the kids and plan your trip!

For more information contact the CNLA or the CGGA at 800-562-0610. As the groups say on their website, the family that gardens together grows together.



Garden Renvovation 101

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

November 2nd, 2012

Garden before renovation

Garden after renovation










Did your perennials poop out this year and your vegetables vary in success? Is your dirt compacted and full of weeds? Does rainfall sluice off instead of sink gratefully into soft rich soil? Maybe it’s time for a garden redo!

Autumn is an excellent time to renovate.  The earth is still warm, but the days are cooler and the rains are more reliable. So sharpen the spade, don the gloves, grease the elbows and get to work. It’s essential to loosen the soil and add organic material to impoverished soil. In the ornamental garden certain plants may need division or removal. This is your chance to make the garden into something pleasing and fruitful instead of an eyesore.

First decide the parameters of the project. If only a small portion requires assistance, you may only need to dump on some compost. If, however, large swaths are disreputable, it’s time to roll up those sleeves. Give some thought to the process and plan accordingly. What does the garden really require? If it’s become progressively shady, resolve to replace those deer-candy daylilies with shade-loving Ladies mantle and fragrant actea. If trees and shrubs are overgrown, consider severe pruning or replacement with more appropriate specimens. In the vegetable garden, it may be time to move the whole shooting-match into a sunnier area.

As you redesign the ornamental garden, hew to the principles of “largest in back, shortest in front”.  Keep in mind your favorite colors, and employ them. This is where the garden books come in handy; as do the notes from Garden Tours you’ve taken and garden club plots you’ve visited.  Now may be your opportunity to try out that fabulous oakleaf hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ or the great new dwarf buddleias.

But first things first. Be sure to lay out paths, whether stone, beaten earth, or other paving material. (I’m trying aged pine cones in one of my beds) To remain friable and fertile, garden soil should never be walked on. Whether you grow rutabagas or roses, it all starts with the soil, so protect it.

Here’s some other renovation tips:

Determine the outlines of the bed you’re working on and cut them in or install rigid edging material.

If a spring or summer bloomer, dig out plants that need dividing or removal. Slice the rootball up, pot, and save for the garden club sale. Alternatively, harden your heart and compost the culls.

Till the soil to at least a spade’s depth, pulling out major rocks and miscellaneous roots and buried treasure unearthed on the way down.  Incorporate organic matter, such as compost.  (This is an excellent use for the compost crop you’ve produced over the season) Water, or let Mother Nature do the job for you; this will help the soil to settle a bit.

There’s still time to plant, so place new material where you think it should go in the newly-dug bed and stand back to contemplate. If all good, dig ‘em in. If you aren’t using your own divisions or don’t have the wished-for plants on hand, label the location where the new plants will live and wait until early spring. Speaking of spring, this is also prime time for setting in hardy bulbs. The work is a piece of cake in the soft dirt of a freshly-turned bed.

Mulch newly planted material; this will prevent winter frost heave and will also beautify the bed. Check the plants over the winter and push any heaved ones back into the soil.

One last thing….think about ornamentation.  Perhaps a tuteur upon which to grow morning glories,  sweet peas or humulus; or a garden statue, or a figured pot; all these make attractive garden decorations. The holidays are coming, consider putting in a request to those who know you best.

Once the renovation project is complete, you’ll be able to gaze out over your new bed all winter long. Pat yourself on the back that you accomplished the task in the fall, to be enjoyed next spring when you’ll be up to your eyes in garden work.



Garden communicator Colleen Plimpton will deliver a free lecture, All–Season Color in the Garden, at Young’s Nurseries in Wilton, CT Saturday, November 17th. Call 203-762-5511 for more info. Goodie bags will include coupons, a Holiday ornament and a chance at a Holiday Tree raffle.




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