Wordless Wednesday–Hydrangeas and Roses


Long time readers will remember some version of this photo. I always have it on the blog about this time of year. It’s something I call a “happy accident.”

I planted two Proven Winners OsoEasy roses (CandyOh is the variety, I believe–we’re talking probably 7 years back now) with this Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea.


rose & hydrangeaJust about every year they bloom together and look like this.

This year, as you can see, the hydrangea will have a bit of a hard time catching up but the rose is over-performing!  I guess there’s always a bonus.

Easy Care Roses and Others

This morning I am off lecturing in Connecticut. The first week of May is always very busy for me with multiple lectures. In fact, by the end of May, you’d never know that a gardener lives in the house because I am usually too busy lecturing to garden! There’s a sad state of affairs!

My topic this morning is “Easy Care Roses.” As a general rule, this is a category of roses that requires no extra “inputs” from the gardener (horrible phrase–I have no idea who came up with that) once established. By that, the breeders (and we writers who describe the roses) mean that the roses can pretty much survive on their own without supplemental fertilizer or pesticide. They also say no supplemental irrigation is required but I have found that to be more true of some roses than others. And remember, I have that heavy wet clay that holds moisture longer than most soils.

As a rule, hybrid tea roses are not “easy care.” If you want something easy care, you’ll want to look for something that’s a “shrub” rose. Before we had all these patented roses in the different color pots with the brand names all over them, shrub roses were polyanthas, grandifloras and floribundas. They might have a rugosa in their parentage but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be invasive.

Now that almost every rose in the garden center comes in a branded pot, it’s even more difficult to tell what might be a “shrub” or an “easy-care” rose.  Almost everything claims to be “easy care” but it’s not.

As much as I love the David Austin shrub roses, they are NOT easy care no matter what I do and they never will be. They are beautiful, fragrant, spectacular roses–but they need treatment and that is not for me. I am pulling out the last of mine this year.

And then there’s Knockout™, the great hope of rose growers everywhere. They can grow beside every gas station and in every traffic median. I am not happy with how they grow for me. Maybe it’s a sun thing. So I am not growing them anymore.

I do far better with smaller flowered, incredibly prickly caned roses. This describes many of the roses in the OsoEasy™ series by Proven Winners. It can describe some miniature roses. It describes polyanthas like ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Red Fairy’ which would probably grow for me under a tree (well, maybe not quite there).

Unfortunately these are not cutting roses, nor are they fragrant. But they are tough as nails and they bloom all summer (without any extra ‘inputs’ or any extra water once they are established). They also survive whatever my Connecticut winters throw at them. Minus 15 and no snow? Not a problem.What more could a gardener want?

In With The New, Part 2

On Monday I talked about where I bought plants and why I tended to prefer family owned garden centers over the box stores.

Today I want to talk about what I buy. And here I am not going to talk about actual plants so much as I am about choosing plants in general. Because I know I have readers from all over the country (and some from other countries as well.) So I want to try to give you a philosophy of shopping since what works for me in central Connecticut isn’t going to work in other places.

Of course the moment you get to the garden center, there are lots of signs. Aside from the general signs directing you toward “Perennials” or “Trees and Shrubs” or toward other general categories of plants, what you will generally find are tags on the individual plants.

These tags are what are known as “growing instructions” and give the grower’s best guess of what the plant is going to do. You’ll note that I said that I said the grower’s best guess.

This is less true for annuals, which complete their life cycle in a single year, so the grower has had ample time to observe the plant, and very true for shrubs and trees which take anywhere from 3 years or, in the case of trees, many years to reach maturity.

I am always amazed at the height ranges given for something like the Knockout rose, for example. I still regularly see that “guesstimted” at 3-4′. In my garden, before I gave it a hard pruning last year, Knockout was topping out way taller than I am last year and I am guessing it was over 6′ tall.

The same thing with the Endless Summer hydrangea. Again, I see that “guestimated” at 3-4′. Again, in my garden, unless it gets killed back by a very cold winter, it is over 5′ tall. And remember, I have horrible, wet heavy clay so my garden soil is not optimal for growing anything!

So now that we know that plants can’t and don’t read what’s on their tags with respect to height, why do we care? It’s important because if we are going to be placing shrubs in certain spots (under a window, for example) and the height range given is 4-6′, you had better count on the shrub perhaps reaching  its maximum of 6 feet and plan to prune it so that light gets in your window.

But, if this is a brand new shrub, just released in the last year or two, all bets are off. No one really knows how tall that shrub is going to be because no one really has trialed it to its full growing potential. The growers have grown it in their carefully controlled fields–but in the home landscape? Nobody really knows.

I can say this with complete confidence because I am a shrub trialer for a company whose name you would all recognize and I can tell you that I get some pretty bizarre results when I trial their shrubs. I have one of their roses that again–they report as getting to be 3 1/2-4′. In my yard it’s up over my head which means it’s 5 foot plus. And it’s very thorny so it’s a bear to prune. It’s a lovely shrub and I adore it–but 31/2-4′?  No!

So if you are looking for consistency, perhaps get some plants that have been around for a few years. Sometimes the “latest and greatest”–except with respect to annuals–are a little dicey in the garden.


In With The New?

If you’re thinking that I missed New Year’s Day with this post by almost 5 months, you’d be correct. But where I garden, it’s about the time to decide what has lived or died over the winter, where I have holes in any existing gardens, and what to plant in my containers.

As an aside, a friend of mine from Texas says she has a disconnect every time she hears me refer to the word “garden.”  Where she comes from “garden” means vegetable or crop planting. Clearly I am not using the word in that sense (for any that share my Texas friend’s sensibility). For me, the word refers to any ornamental planting on my property.

A trip just about anywhere brings me into contact with plants. I can’t even walk into my grocery store without walking by a decent display of annuals and perennials. So that brings up two questions: first, where do I buy my plants and second, what do I buy?

The first is sometimes easier that the second. In general, I try to get my plants from family owned garden centers. Does this mean I never shop the box stores or buy from my grocery store? Of course not. I am as susceptible to impulse purchases as the next person and if something looks really great outside the grocery store, I might just grab it.

Next, I worked for one of the box stores for over two years. They treated me very well (despite the way  some of their plants appear. I now have an explanation for that. In spring, they are literally so overwhelmed with customers that watering takes a back seat. Also, it not safe to be dragging hoses around when there are so many customers present. And they would prefer that customers not trip on hoses or slip on wet floors than worry about plants wilting. Now you know as well. Don’t fault the stores. It is part of the plan.) So I am loyal to my former employer to a certain degree.

But I worked for a family owned garden center for much longer so I try to shop those much more. If we don’t shop those, we will not have them–we will lose them to the box stores and the grocery stores. And we don’t want that.

I am already running a little long with this post. On Friday–Arbor Day in my state–I will talk about actual plant choices.

Latest and Greatest or Tried and True?

The early 2016 magazines and blogs always have the 2016 plant introductions. And some of them are pretty exciting.

First of all, from what I am reading, the “edibles” trend is no longer a trend–it’s mainstream. How’s that for fabulous? So it stands to reason that a lot of the new introductions are edible plants.

Of course, if you have been a vegetable gardener for years (and even a fruit grower) this does not come as news to you. New vegetables are introduced literally every single year. For the most part, these are hybrids, and the growers are trying to solve a problem with insects or disease–or sometimes both.

With respect to fruit trees and shrubs, for years, growers have been trying to get these plants into a more ornamental form–and to a more manageable one that would better accommodate  the backyard and not the orchard. Things that immediately come to mind are the columnar apple trees and the much smaller blueberry and raspberry bushes that can be grown in containers if need be.

Shrubs too have been shrinking in size to accommodate our gardens–and our mixed shrub borders. In some cases, the smaller shrubs lose nothing–they retain the fragrance of the original parent plant. In others, they actually gain something–larger flowers, colorful foliage, something like that.

But here’s the question: Do you rush out and buy “the latest and greatest” new plant introduction every year? Or do you stick with tried and true plants for your garden? Or some combination of the above?

For me, for the most part, I stick with the tried and true (unless I am trialing new plants, of course).  I have a tough site and tough soil. I don’t want to have to guess about how a plant is going to perform over an unpredictable winter (and summer for that matter–we’ve had two drought summers in a row and I don’t supplement the watering at my house, except for the first year when I am establishing a plant). But it’s really the wet cold springs that usually rot new plantings at my house. Even if I plant for a full zone colder than my actual zone and try to elevate the crown of the plant, nothing really likes “feet” in prolonged wet clay.

But that rule applies only to trees, shrubs and perennials. Remember my new year’s gardening resolution? This year I am trying a new snow pea, a scarlet runner bean with decorative leaves (as well as those flowers that should help the hummingbirds–got to do what we can for our pollinators!) And you saw the decorative amaranth seeds I bought, just for fun. We’ll see. I am not sure if I have enough sun but what the heck–I am starting them from seed so the price is right.

That’s where my experimentation comes in–in the annuals and vegetables!  If they turn out to be spectacular failures, all I have are tiny holes in the garden–and in the budget!

On Wednesday and Friday I will show you some trends from the Connecticut Flower and Garden show.



Wordless Wednesday

wave petunias

This photo was taken last Friday, November 20. The temperature has dropped into the upper 20s a few times in my region, but not too often, obviously.  These are Wave petunias, still going strong right before Thanksgiving. Crazy.

Knockout rose

And here’s a Knockout rose, put in in May, when our drought was just getting started, and the recipient of no supplemental watering all summer long. It clearly survived quite well.


Wordless Wednesday–Early June Blooms

iris & azalea

These are almost past bloom in our early season heat but my Siberian Iris and azaleas (those not eaten by the deer) are finishing up in the waterfall garden. Of course, I need to clean the pond–that’s going to be really late this year.

Redoute rose

My David Austin roses are just beginning to flower. You can see the Korean lilac from last week behind them. You can also see the progression of the rose sawfly damage on the leaf! This rose is Redoute.

Winchester Cathedral

And this rose is Winchester Cathedral–also a David Austin. For roses that are 17 years old, they do well.


This rose is ‘Charlotte.’

Crown Princess Margarthe

And this lovely rose has been saddled with a mouthful of a name: ‘Crown Princess Margarethe’

Chardonnay Pearls

Here’s another plant from last week–Chardonnay Pearls. All the “pearls” have opened into full bloom.



Finally my peonies are just beginning to open as well. I don’t know their names. They were inherited from the original owner of the house, who has passed away.



And finally, as these last photos show, it has begun to rain. While some parts of the state have gotten enough rain to erase the drought, I haven’t quite been that lucky. I got about 2″ and I need about 3″ more to erase the deficit needed. But I will take whatever I’m given since nature waters so much more efficiently than I can!

Like “Groundhog Day” But With Bugs

Every year this time it’s the same thing and I know now what to be alert for: sawfly larva!

Interestingly enough, the two plants I examine couldn’t be more different–one is a dwarf mugo pine and the other is my roses.  But the crafty little larva of these insects are on both plants and they conceal themselves nicely just the same.

Each appears just around Memorial Day in my part of the country–New England–no matter what the weather. It’s been unseasonably warm and I spotted them perhaps 5 days before the holiday this year so they were about on target. This is one of the great things about gardening in the same place for any length of time–you really get to know your garden pests!

pine sawfly larva

These are the pine sawfly larva. I use insecticidal soap with great success. Interestingly enough, I have a robin pair nesting very close by. I let these get quite large so that she could feast on them if she wanted but she shows no interest. It may be because they are not true caterpillars.

Notice my previous sentence–these are not true caterpillars. Do not try to use bt on them. You can use Neem or do as I do and use insecticidal soap.  (If you’re having trouble distinguishing them from the oak flowers that have fallen, the insects are the green and black striped things with the black heads.  They will sort of rear up nicely at you, particularly as you spray them).

I don’t spray my whole shrub–there’s no need. I just sort of hunt down the insects and spray those. Remember, these organic sprays have no residual effect so there’s no point in over-spraying.

rose sawfly larva

Then there’s this little guy. Talk about hard to see! Yes, there’s an insect in the photo. Most of the time, they are on the underside of the leaves, which makes spraying even more difficult. Look at the most damaged leaf in the photo. Find the mid-rib on the bottom-most petal. The little larva is lying right along that and is almost the identical color.

Another way to find them is to look for their “frass” (poop–small black specks). Or you can just notice the damage.  Again I use insecticidal soap for this but neem will work. If your damage is just beginning, a strong spray from the hose should dislodge them, but be sure not to do that when the leaves will stay wet overnight.

Once your plants have these insects, they seem to recur every year, so make a note of what time of year they seem to visit you (in warmer climates it can be multiple times, particularly with the rose sawfly larva!) and start watching for them!

Getting them at the beginning, before they do much damage, is always far better than trying to feed your plant back into health!

Buying Plants from Garden Catalogs

All the delightful folks who send me catalogs will most likely not be too happy with me after they read this post but I can only talk about my experience.

In my experience, I have found that it is much better to buy plants locally than to order than from catalogs (with certain limited exceptions. If you need to order from a catalog, feel free to order from White Flower Farm or Logees–both in Connecticut, but that’s not why I recommend them.  Those two companies have the art of shipping plants down to a science.  The plants arrive with very few, if any damaged parts. because they are secured nicely in the box.)

And there, in my last statement, is the beginning of the problem with shipping plants.  Perhaps I can recommend those two companies because they are only shipping plants literally down the road to me so of course the plants arrive in beautiful condition. I have had some nightmare issues with plants arriving in terrible condition because shippers failed to secure the plants properly in the box.  When that happens, the plants shift, soil falls out, the plants dry out, pieces of the plant break off–you get the idea.  By the time the plant arrives, it is 1/2 to 3/4s dead.  Who wants to open a box to find that?

Then there are the shippers that ship “bare root perennials” but don’t exactly advertise that fact.  I’m not sure about you, but it takes a better gardener than I am to get all the “bare root” perennials to take root and grow in my soil.

Then there are the shippers that ship perennials labeled “#1” or “#2.” When you open the box what you have are tiny pots–2″ across if you’re lucky–that you paid as much as you would have paid if you’d gone down to your local nursery for them–and you paid for shipping!  And if you’re lucky, they’re properly hydrated and they don’t have mold on them after 5 days in a box!

Can you see why I might suggest that it’s better to try to find what you’d like locally?

Now, of course there are those times when what you might want isn’t available locally.  And of course it’s always acceptable to buy bulbs mail order–in fact, it’s probably preferable in many instances because your selections will be much greater.  But that’s an autumn or late summer issue, usually.

And roses are usually shipped “bare root” and that’s perfectly acceptable. Just be sure to soak the roots before planting to hydrate them. And also be aware that they’re likely to come generally well before you’re ready for them. I’ve had bare root roses arrive when I’ve still had snow on the ground so all planting was out of the question. I’ve also had them arrive in 90 degree early heat waves–again planting wasn’t really a great idea in that!

So if what you’re looking for isn’t available locally, you’ll have to order things through the mail.  Just be sure that you read the catalog disclaimers so that you know what you’re getting. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, type them into your search engine of choice.

Finally, as you can see by that tiny discussion with the roses, plants do tend to arrive at inconvenient times, to put it mildly. Even when you can sort of suggest, “Ship after May 15” or some such direction, when a box of living things arrives, it has to be dealt with immediately–not the next day or two days from now. It can wreak havoc if you have travel plans or even a busy work schedule.

So take all of this into account–and if you still want to order plants, do so  after a little local research, and only after an understanding of the type of plants you’ll be receiving (bare root? small pot? what?).  You’ll be glad you did.