Archive | 2012

The Sweet Apple Gardening Book


Winter is here.  The plants are asleep, safely tucked under a soft blanket of fallen leaves and dreaming of fragrant, warm Springtime breezes.   A perfect time for me to snuggle up by the fire with a good book. Maybe one about gardening.

But not a garden book crammed with monthly to-do lists, or plant lists, or lists of lists.  Nor one dashed off by a writer who doesn’t garden, yet for some reason feels empowered to give gardening advice.   A wrong turn if ever there was one.

No, I’m after a hands-in-the-dirt storyteller, a gifted writer passionate about plants and willing to tell-all about their gardening trials, tribulations, and joys.

Like Celestine Sibley.   Sibley, who died in 1999, was a reporter and columnist for the Atlantic Journal and Constitution and the author of over a dozen books.  My favorite, The Sweet Apple Gardening Book (Doubleday, 1972; Peachtree Publishers, 1989), is a wise and wonderful, homespun, often humorous account of her hands-on gardening life in rural Georgia.

“The doing is the thing,” she said about gardening.  “And if by some happy chance you should have a little success, ah, the satisfaction that is!”

Just consider her experience with roses.  At first she styled them “an exclusive club that blackballed me at every meeting.”  And then suddenly her luck changed when she discovered “a rosebush with the will to live”, a mislabeled “nameless little pink semiclimber that gives me a bloom or two almost every day between April and October.  Not enough to set a rosarian’s pulses hammering, I know, but one of its blooms on the table in a rose-painted cream pitcher … makes me feel like a millionaire when I sit down to breakfast.”   (Haven’t we all had a similar experience?)

And I relish her take on pest prevention:

“There’s a Theory circulating among my friends and neighbors that I don’t rise up and do battle against the creeping, crawling, hopping, flying, boring, sucking wild life that makes free with my garden because I’m either too lazy or too squeamish …. And while there’s an element of truth in this theory, it’s not the whole truth …. I do worry that I might kill villains and heroes indiscriminately ….”

Common sense also prevailed when she commented on Vita Sackville-West’s idea to plant an apple seed in a flower pot to commemorate a birth, and then to watch, according to Sackville-West, ‘the growth of the infant tree keep pace with the growth of the human infant.’   “It’s a happy idea,” said Sibley, “but if you’re in a hurry and more interested in fruit than ceremony you might do better to buy a dwarf tree.  After all, the baby has passed the seed stage and the tree might as well be up, too.” Amen!

A great admirer of Thomas Jefferson’s fifty-eight years of meticulous garden record-keeping (“How I love that Garden Book!”), Sibley most appreciated the planning bits.  “Mr Jefferson did a lot of this”, she said, “and along about mid-July I wish that I had done the same. That is the season when the what-might-have-been’s get you.  It’s too late to plant many of the things that you really meant to get into the ground last spring. Maddeningly enough, you can’t even remember what many of them were.”

Finally, in the Epilogue of the 1989 edition of the book, Sibley summed it all up:

“Since I wrote this Book 17 years ago I have edged forward a bit and I have backslid a bit. My garden knowledge and accomplishments have been — to use both a scriptural and horticultural reference — no bigger than a mustard seed, but my pleasure in working the earth has doubled and redoubled.”

Double ditto for me.

How I love this garden book! I think you will too.

Fabulous Camellias for Northern Gardens: Autumn Flowering Sasanquas

Camellia lovers, no need to envy Scarlett O’Hara her camellia friendly, hot, sultry, climate.  Thanks to the breeding efforts of Clifford Parks, William L. Ackerman, and others, we now have an extraordinary selection of beautiful, winter-hardy, evergreen camellias available for northern gardens.  I am particularly fond of Fall blooming sasanquas that defy cold, frosty conditions and grace my garden with a profusion of flowers (often fragrant) when little else is in bloom.

Consider my three favorites:

C. x ‘Survivor’ lives up to its name and then some.  It has survived  -9 degrees F. without injury.   A sasanqua and oleifera hybrid, ‘Survivor’ blooms for months, displaying an abundance of small, single, white fragrant flowers from pink buds.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Another snowy-white flowering lovely, C. sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’, has large, fragrant, semi-double flowers, pink buds, a long bloom period, and particularly nice dark-green foliage.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Pretty in pale pink, C. sasanqua ‘Jean May’, flaunts her showy, fragrant, multi-petaled blossoms from September until winter’s hard frost.

copyright 2012  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

All three recently suffered thru a brutal October-November assault from Hurricane Sandy and a nor’easter, with no ill effect to bloom or to foliage.  (Would that my other plants had fared as well.)

Camellias prefer well-drained acid soil rich in organic matter; composted leaf mulch would be a welcome additive.  Apart from this basic rule, here are a few additional time-tested culture tips for Northern gardens:

First, the best time to plant is in the Spring, between mid April and late May, so the camellias have time to establish before their first winter.  Fall planting may be ideal for the South, but too risky for Yankee gardeners.

Second, the best location for camellias is a north or northwest exposure with protection from wind; exposure to early morning winter sun can cause leaf burn or even death.

These essential culture tips and much more practical information can be found in the book, Beyond the Camellia Belt, by the noted cold-hardy camellia breeder, William L. Ackerman.  A must-have reference.

I purchased my dazzling trio from Camellia Forest Nursery.  (See Links).

SUPERSTORM SANDY & Rosa ‘Pretty Lady’

Thank goodness, after two hellish weeks we finally have power again.  Suffering a nor’easter hot on the heels of SUPERSTORM SANDY, we had all but given up hope.

The garden is a mess, littered with fallen trees, branches, leaves, and blackened plants.  So it is with both wonder and delight that I can report that one shrub, the floribunda rose ‘Pretty Lady’, is in pristine condition, blooming away and wondering what the fuss is all about.

Funny thing, I never intended to buy this extraordinary rose.  Years ago, after watching a DVD about an English rose garden, I went searching for a hybrid tea named ‘Lovely Lady’, a favorite of the garden’s curator.  It wasn’t available on this side of the pond, so eventually I stopped looking.

Then sometime later I saw R. ‘Pretty Lady’ listed in a mail-order catalog.  Not remembering (as is my wont) that my quest was for ‘Lovely’ not ‘Pretty’, and for hybrid tea not floribunda, I ordered it.

Happy I did.  Rosa ‘Pretty Lady’ is a marvelous find.  She is fragrant, very disease resistant, and a nonstop bloomer with lovely pale apricot-pink flowers and lustrous, dark green foliage.  ( Check out pre-storm and post-storm photos below).  Fate works in strange ways, doesn’t it?

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012  -  Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Slowly but surely we are recovering from the storms, and I’m looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with family.  If you also have turkey on your mind, here’s a tip:  Before roasting, use the aromatic stems of rosemary to spread marinade on the bird and then throw the stems in the pan to flavor the juices.  Much better than synthetic brushes which are impossible to clean.

Moreover, according to Bancke’s 1525 “Herbal”, rosemary gladdens the spirits and delivers one from evil dreams. “Smell of it oft,” Bancke further advised, “and it will keep thee youngly”. (Who wouldn’t want that?)

And when ancient Greek scholars sat for examinations, they wore garlands of the herb to improve their memories.  Hasn’t quite worked yet for me, but hope springs eternal.

Autumn Color: Lindera angustifolia

I’m besotted.  Every day I stand in awe before Lindera angustifolia, the Asian Spicebush, utterly transfixed by its dazzling Fall foliage display of fiery orange and pink.  (Not to mention the elegant silvery-gray leaf reverse.)

The shrub is new to my garden and now I can’t imagine the garden without it.

British author, Dame Penelope Lively, got it right:  “For me”, she said, “gardening is a sequence of obsessions — the tingle of discovery, the love affair with the latest acquisition”.

My plant is about three feet tall but will reportedly grow from eight to ten feet.  What a spectacular autumn sight that will be!  I feel faint just thinking about it.

Clusters of small yellow flowers will appear on the stems in early Spring, but only female plants will produce berries; the shrub is dioecious and requires male fertilization.  Like its kissin’ cousin, Lindera benzoin (our native Spicebush), L. angustifolia’s leaves have a spicy fragrance, though opinion is split as to whether the flowers are also fragrant.  I’ll let you know when it blooms for me. (BTW, the same spicy, herbal foliage is enjoyed by Skimmia japonica and ensures it’s deer-resistance; deer don’t like the smell.)

In accordance with its culture preferences, I planted L. angustifolia in a shady area that gets a bit of filtered sun in the afternoon.  The soil is moist, acid and well-drained.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Autumn may well turn out to be my most favorite season.

Hot Tips: Osmanthus x fortunei ‘UNC’

On a beautiful autumn day in October, some years ago, my husband and I visited the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina and were immediately captivated by the most wonderful floral fragrance.  We searched all over the Arboretum for the source.  Finally, quite a distance from where we started, we found it, the sublimely fragrant shrub, Osmanthus fortunei ‘UNC’.

Earlier, on the recommendation of others, weighted with the promise of flowers with “overpowering” scent, I rushed right out to buy Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Gulftide’ and O.h. ‘Goshiki’.  How very disappointing. Sure they have fragrance, if you stick your nose into the flowers.  But fragrance on-the-air, blossoms filling the garden with their delicious perfume?  Not!

Don’t get me wrong.  They are both nice plants.  Gulftide has lovely glossy green foliage, and is very cold hardy;  Goshiki has beautiful green and gold variegated foliage.  As I said, nice garden plants. But on the fragrance front, the raison d’etre for my purchase, they fall far short.

Yet on the other hand, another variety, Osmanthus fragrans, delivers on fragrance but isn’t cold hardy here.

Which brings me back to Osmanthus x fortunei ‘UNC’, a hybrid of O. heterophyllus and O.fragrans, and for me the very best of both parents.  This hardy beauty sports handsome, evergreen, holly-like foliage and in autumn produces abundant clusters of tiny white flowers that waft their exquisite perfume all about the garden.  This year the flowers opened mid-September and now in mid-October are still releasing their intoxicating fragrance into the air. ( photo below).  Can’t beat it.  Aromatherapy in my own backyard.

These easy-care plants flourish in well-drained acid soil in sun or shade.  (Mine are in shade.)

O. x f. ‘UNC’ is not widely available — and for a time was not available at all.  I found and purchased my shrubs at Camellia Forest Nursery (See LINKS) which currently offers small, well-grown plants that should reach blooming size in one or two seasons.  Grab them before they fly out the door.

You’ll thank me for this one.

OCTOBER 2013 UPDATE : My small plants bloomed! (Hope yours did too.)

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Autumn Update: Iochroma & Clerodendrum

Iochroma ‘Royal Queen Purple’ has fully lived up to expectations — and then some.

She has been a spectacular non-stop blooming machine for over four months with no end in sight.  As soon as one flower cluster fades, another takes its place, to the delight of hummingbirds and bees.

Planted in a large container, the Queen achieved five feet by six feet and was fertilized only once, not monthly as was suggested.  And she receives filtered afternoon sun, not full sun all day.  She may be royal, but she doesn’t require pampering.

Downside?  Her stems were so heavily laden with royal-purple blossoms, they did need a bit of support. That’s about it.  And I suspect that if she were grown in the ground, even that would not be required.

For me, an unqualified success.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Clerodendrum trichotomum has just begun to reveal its Autumn splendor.  When the pink calyxes open, the pea-sized fruit inside has a greenish hue before turning a rich, metallic cerulean blue.  A sight to behold.

Here in zone 7, the promise of fragrant flowers and blue fruit at the same time was not to be.  ( See “August 2012: Clerodendrum,Hydrangea,Phygelius”).  No problem.  In fact I prefer it this way, appreciating each superb feature in its turn.  Too much of a good thing the other way, don’t you think?

Sited in shade with a bit of filtered sun, C. trichotomum flourishes in my organic garden in acid, well-drained soil.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Both plants add to the garden’s Autumn magic.

Addendum: Photo update of Clerodendrum a few weeks later:

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Autumn Magic: Lespedeza and Callicarpa

About twenty years ago, on a brisk Fall day, I visited a beautiful lower-Manhattan community garden. There I saw Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ for the first time and was instantly smitten.  It has graced my garden, on and off, ever since.  I say on and off because the voles are equally smitten.  ( See Archives, April 2012, “Hot Tips: Vole Damage Prevention”).

While styled a woody shrub, in my zone 7 garden it behaves like a herbaceous perennial, dying back in Winter and returning in Spring.  Not a problem, since an established plant can grow a formidable six feet high and six feet wide in one growing season.

In Spring and Summer the shrub is clothed in lovely blue-green foliage.  Then in the early Fall, the long, slender stems are smothered in magenta pea-like flowers, creating an enchanting fountain of resplendent  blossoms. Breathtaking!  I’ve paired Gibraltar with a standard form of PeeGee Hydrangea (H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) whose snowy white flowers turn pink about the same time.  As you can see from the photo it was love at first sight, with Lespedeza reaching up to embrace PeeGee before cascading down.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

I’m mad about magenta. But if it isn’t your thing, I also have and recommend an equally impressive white-flowering form of Lespedeza, L.t.’White Fountain’. As a bonus, this cultivar sports lovely golden foliage in late autumn. An ideal partner for Callicarpa dichotoma, which turns autumnal gold at the same time.

Splendid Fall foliage is but one virtue of Callicarpa dichotoma. Aptly named Purple Beautyberry, this ornamental shrub is acclaimed for it’s spectacular Autumn display of purple berries. Though again, if purple doesn’t move you or if it’s too much of a wow, try the more refined, yet elegant, white-berried form, C.d. var. albifructus.  I have and like both.

Copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

In my garden, Lespedeza and Callicarpa flourish in shade and well drained acid soil.  Apart from the aforementioned voles, which regard both as menu favorites, the plants have been trouble free.

More Autumn beauties next time.

August 2012: Clerodendrum,Hydrangea,Phygelius

If, like me, you are mad about fragrant plants, you will love Clerodendrum trichotomum, the Harlequin Glorybower.  The buds on my deciduous shrub have just started to open and the perfume is heavenly.  The flowers are also a welcome late summer gift for butterflies.  Cerulean blue, pea-sized fruit nestled in dark pink calyxes follow the bloom.  (Note the blue caps on the ends of the dancing flower stamens. Putting us on notice of the fruit to come?).  Flowers and fruit may even appear at the same time.  Very showy.

My shrub is about 7 feet tall but in warmer climes Glorybower can grow into a magnificent 15-20 ft. tree. Tree or shrub, it’s disease-and-pest-resistant. The only downside is its propensity for invasiveness.

I should mention that C. trichotomum’s other common name is Peanut Butter Tree; when the leaves are bruised they are supposed to smell like peanut butter. I put it to the test. Result? Stick with Glorybower.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

You can never have enough hydrangeas.  Mother Nature agrees.  She (in league with the birds?) has graced my garden with a bountiful selection of the most beautiful flowering volunteers.  Many of these, in glorious bloom now, are probably the offspring of Hydrangea paniculata.  At least I think so.  The foliage is the same and the bloom time corresponds; short of a DNA test, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc., etc., and so forth.  One of these plants is over 6 feet and flaunts gorgeous, brobdingnagian panicles of fertile and sterile flowers.  When the fertile buds open, intoxicating fragrance fills the garden.  I’m in awe. And so are the bees.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Please forgive me for saying this ad infinitum:  Be careful when you weed.  A volunteer may turn out to be one of the best plants in the garden.  Mine did.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


As I reported in May, Phygelius x rectus ‘Moonraker’, planted in the ground last summer, suffered very little winter dieback.  It’s now over two feet, multi-stemmed, with masses of elegant, long, pale yellow trumpets. A big success.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

This Spring I experimented by planting in a container the hummingbird magnets, pristine-white-flowered Phygelius aequalis ‘Snow Queen’ and the glowing-pink-flowered Phygelius aequalis ‘Sani Pass’.  They have been in continuous, harmonious bloom ever since.  (For best effect, I remove the spent flowers).  Check out the closeup photos below:  P.a. ‘Snow Queen’ weeps golden tears and P.a. ‘Sani Pass’ is a party-girl in red lipstick.  A fabulous duo.  Compact and ever-blooming, P. aequalis plants are perfect in pots.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Late summer in my garden.  Not bad at all.

Hibiscus ‘Jazzberry Jam’ and Passiflora ‘Incense’: “One is Silver and The Other is Gold”

While I was strolling thru the garden, two summer flowering dazzlers put me in mind of the old nursery rhyme, “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.”  I would like to share these two remarkable plants with you.

First up, Passiflora x ‘Incense,’ my golden oldie.  About fifteen years ago, I was obsessed with the unique beauty and intoxicating perfume of Passionflower vines and planted a half dozen.  With the first frost they all died, never to be seen again — all except P. x ‘Incense’, which died back in winter but returned the following summer and for every summer since.  This by itself is pretty amazing for a tropical vine in zone seven, but as a special bonus Incense produces passion fruit.  The plant is a doer!

And a spreader.  Many baby vines pop up in the garden, traveling underground from the mother plant.  Perhaps a problem for some, but not for me.  I either stick a support next to them (they can grow to eight feet and bloom the first season) or I just yank them out.  One other thing:  Incense requires adequate water, doesn’t like it dry.  Otherwise, it’s easy care and problem free.

P. x ‘Incense’, beloved by bees , butterflies, hummingbirds, (and me), proves its worth year after year.  A hardy Passionflower.  Who would have thought?

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

New to my garden this year, Hibiscus ‘Jazzberry Jam’ (Rose Mallow) had me spellbound as soon as I saw the first flower.  ZOWIE!  Ten inches of ruffled, screaming pink!  And the plant is multi-flowered, blooms for months, and is three feet tall.  I love a bit of razzle-dazzle, don’t you?  Jazzberry is touted as a perennial.  I hope that’s so.  But with all its bells and whistles, even one season would suffice.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Gold and silver.  Old and new garden treasure.

Summer 2012: Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

In the last post, I mentioned that hydrangeas like to make whoopee. Yet of all the flowering plants in the garden, Rose-of-Sharon is by far the whoopiest. I started with two plants, one with white flowers and the other with blue. Now, years later, I have so many colorful, blooming volunteers –white, blue, dark pink , light pink, multi shades of purple etc. — I don’t know what to do with them all.  And they keep coming nonstop. My own fault. I’m so curious to see what colors will turn up, I hesitate to weed out the masses of tiny seedlings. Mea culpa!

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

If you want to avoid that sort of thing, there are sterile (mostly sterile?) plants available, like the lovely, pure white H.s. ‘Diane’ a.k.a. ‘Diana’. Years ago I was awestruck by the beauty of the allee at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. (Unfortunately, I’m told it no longer exists). But without self-sown seedlings, I would miss the joy of anticipation and surprise. In fact, when the plants produced sports with green and white variegated foliage, I was absolutely giddy. In my world, cause for celebration.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Rose-of-Sharon is an easy plant to grow: it will flourish in sun or shade, acid or sweet soil, and while it will naturally grow to tree size, it can also be hard-pruned and thrive as a small shrub with large flowers.  Though reportedly prone to an assortment of pests and diseases, that’s not my experience; in my organic garden, these reliable summer bloomers have been uber-healthy and problem-free.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Do try them.  With Mother Nature’s help, you may even wind up with a sensational volunteer that will knock your socks off.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Summer 2012: Heavenly Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are immensely popular and rightfully so; they are showy, easy-care flowering shrubs that work for you, not the other way around.  In the Hamptons, a garden favorite is the familiar mop-head hydrangea, H. macrophylla, a standout with its fabulous pink, blue and purple flowers.  But there are other less well known, equally worthy hydrangea beauties, and I’d like to celebrate a few of my favorites:

Hydrangea x ‘Sweet Chris’ (Big Smile Hydrangea), a cross between H. macrophylla and H. serrata, inherited the best attributes of both parents.  Many hydrangeas are chameleons and change flower color depending on the ph of the soil — pink in sweet, alkaline soil, and blue or purple in acid.  Sweet Chris takes it one exciting step further.  In my garden (acid soil) the gorgeous lace-cap flowers are bi-color with fertile centers of rich ocean blue, contrasted with lacy caps of pink sterile flowers with serrated edges and blue button noses.  A hydrangea designed by Dior.  Irresistible.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

New to my garden this year is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hanabi’ which means fireworks in Japanese.  (It is sometimes sold as ‘Fugi Waterfall’, or ‘Shooting Star’).  Hanabi’s exquisite, lacecap type flowers have huge pink fertile centers surrounded by long-stemmed, pink-blushed white, double sterile flowers, which parachute from the center like birds in flight.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

With my acid soil, I expected the flowers to be blue, not pink.  In fact, Hanabi shares a garden bed with the bluest of blue lacecap macrophyllas.  A mystery, to be sure.  Hydrangeas are surprising as well as heavenly.


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Update on H. angustipetala ‘ MonLongShou’ (Golden Crane Hydrangea):  Back in February I wrote about wanting (lusting after?) this treasure.  (For details and a photo see: “More 2011 Successes and 2012 Obsessions”).  But for months it was touch and go as to whether I could actually get it.  So my grateful thanks to Paige Patterson of Marders Nursery in Bridgehampton, N.Y.;  through her diligent efforts I now have two small plants in my garden.  One came with just a sliver of a flower — yet it was big enough to smell.  I’m happy to report that Golden Cranes’s flowers are indeed fragrant.  Hallelujah!

Finally, be aware that hydrangeas love to make whoopee.  As a result, my garden boasts some extraordinary volunteers.  Yours will too.  Makes life interesting.

June 2012: Rhododendron ‘Summer Summit’

According to nurserymen and growers in the U.S., the current trend in garden design seems to be two-fold:  a focus on easy-care shrubs along with a preference for small  —  even dwarf  — plants.

For more than thirty years I’ve always favored shrubs (and trees) over the very popular high-maintenance perennials.  But for me, bigger is better.  And no plant proves that point quite so well as the majestic Rhododendron ‘Summer Summit’.  Just give it a bit of room, and stand back.

In my shady organic garden, the Summit is healthy, vigorous, and wonderfully over-sized in every way.  For starters, the shrub dominates the landscape and is a sight to behold with its towering 16 foot tall and 10 foot wide tree-like stems.  And when it blooms in June, it’s nothing short of glorious:  a shower of beautiful, huge, snowy white blossoms set off by expansive rings of long, elegant, dark green leaves.  (Indoors, one truss will amply fill a large container, and the flowers last a long time).

While tropical in look and habit, this late-blooming David Leach hybrid is hardy to -20 degrees F., and to my mind it’s one of Leach’s finest introductions.

Doesn’t every garden need at least one fabulous, flowering, trouble-free giant?

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

June 2012: Roses

No doubt about it.  Roses and hydrangeas reign supreme in June, and this year they are spectacular.

Roses first.

While it was difficult to decide which of my bewitching, lushly fragrant roses to talk about, Rosa ‘Belle Vichyssoise’ won out because of the fascinating history of Belle’s rose-class, the Noisette.

In the early 1800’s John Champneys, an amateur rose hybridizer in South Carolina, developed the first reblooming rose in the western world, R.’Champneys’ Pink Cluster’.  Then, as the story goes, he distributed the rose to a number of people, including his French-born neighbor and nurseryman, Philippe Noisette.  Philippe, in turn, sent the rose or seedlings of the rose to his brother, Louis Claude, a nurseryman in France, who used the roses as seed parents in his own hybridization program.

Louis invited the renowned botanical painter Redoute to draw one of the roses.   On the drawing Redoute wrote:  “Rosa Noisettiana, Rosier de Philippe Noisette.”  The rest is history:  Redoute’s paintings became world famous, along with the name Noisette, and all the hybridized roses in the class are now called Noisettes — not Champneys.

Was Champneys robbed?

William R. Prince, of the Prince Nursery in Flushing, New York, the  purveyor of plants to many notables, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, certainly thought so.  In 1846 he wrote:  “The origin of the first varieties of this remarkable group has been announced erroneously to the world by various writers, arising first, from the want of candor on the part of Philippe Noisette of Charleston, when he transmitted the plants to Paris; and secondly, from the ignorance of those who have discussed the subject.”

Was Champneys robbed?  Probably.

But don’t let this sorry history deter you from enjoying the splendid Noisette, my treasure, Rosa ‘Belle Vichyssoise’.  Unlike most Noisettes which prefer southern climes, Belle is winter hardy here in the northeast, zone 7.  She is in continuous bloom from late Spring thru Fall, flaunting fat clusters of small pink blossoms that perfume the air with intoxicating fragrance.  And she enjoys robust health, a sine qua non in my organic garden. Truly a must-have rose.

I purchased mine from Roses Unlimited (

copyright 2012 - Lois Sheinfeld

Update on Rosa ‘Golden Fairy Tale’. ( See “2011 Successes”)

This year R. ‘Golden Fairy Tale’ is better than ever. No change in the foliage—-still clean and healthy. It’s the flowers. The shrub is bursting with them; one large stem even jumped the fence looking for new worlds to conquer. The blossoms are fragrant and  beautiful from bud to mature bloom. Another must-have rose.

I purchased mine from Palatine Roses ( on the recommendation of one of the owners, Eva Schmitz.


copyright 2012 - Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 - Lois Sheinfeld

Driveway Garden

Some plants have great survival skills and problem-solving smarts.  When voles invade their soft, cosy garden beds, rather than meekly accepting extinction they pack their bags and move into the protective sharp gravel, vole-safe driveway (and paths), where they flourish and increase.  Siberian Iris and Astilbe are two good examples.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld



copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


My driveway is prime real estate — the Central Park West of the garden.

Even Digitalis grandiflora (syn. D. ambigua), the yellow foxglove, which owing to its toxic nature is rarely bothered by voles, never misses an opportunity to add to  its driveway holdings.

copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Actually, in lieu of a driveway, a gravel path will serve the same purpose. When I thought the voles finally got every last one of my Grape Hyacinth bulbs I was surprised and delighted to find them popping up in the stone paths. (Ditto for the digitalis.)


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld

Needless to say, I’m especially cautious and restrained when weeding. You never know what wonders you may find—or for that matter where they may be found. ( See also the Nov. 2011 post, “Prunus ‘Snow Fountain’ “).

As Louis Pasteur once said: “Chance favors a prepared mind.”

“The Darling Buds of May”: Rhododendrons: ‘Ben Morrison’ & ‘Calsap’

There are two May flowering plants that demand a mention.

Rhododendron ‘Ben Morrison’ always reminds me of the late Hank Schannen, plantsman-hybridizer extraordinaire, because it was his favorite evergreen azalea. Not surprising. Ben Morrison, beautiful in bud and flower, is a boldly handsome bi-color standout in orange-pink and white with a vibrant reddish-orange flare. In addition to these  attributes, Ben is a reliable, hardy bloomer and immensely popular with one and all. Sort of like having your very own May fireworks display.

copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld

My second “mentionable”, Rhododendron ‘Calsap’, is a dazzling elepidote whose only real drawback is its silly name. With lovely lavender buds which open to luminous, snowy white flowers, graced with knock-your-socks-off purple-red flares, this beauty lives to be admired. And Calsap possesses both the good health and hardiness lacking in one of its similarly flowered parents, R. ‘Sappho’.

copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld


Take a tip from the bees and try one or both for May magic and year-round enjoyment.

Copyright 2012 – Lois Sheinfeld



May Surprise: Azalea Leaf Gall

At the beginning of May I found a very unusual and interesting growth on my azalea, Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’. It looked like a baseball-size, smooth, light green fruit. Wow, I thought, a HUGE seedpod.

So wrong!

Jim Fry, an azalea guru, set me straight. My azalea had a fungus disease, Exobasidium vaccinii (or E. japonicum), otherwise known as azalea leaf gall. During cool wet Spring weather the fungus enters the tissue of plants, incubates over winter, and the fleshy galls appear the following Spring. When the galls turn white—looking as though they have been dusted with flour— they are actually coated with fungal spores which can infect other plants. Cut them off before they reach this stage.

The fungus doesn’t kill the plant or cause serious damage but the galls do replace flowers.While a single plant sporting a bouquet of galls might be quite a garden showpiece, don’t be taken in. The fungus spores are airborne takeover artists.

Reportedly, the French solved the problem of galls the French way. They eat them. Adventurous diners, the French. Me, not so much.

R.’ Gibraltar’ is a gorgeous deciduous orange azalea. One of the best. Don’t let the possibility of galls stop you from having it in your garden.

And forgive me as I digress a bit to recommend another orange May beauty, my favorite tree peony, Paeonia ‘Nike’. Exquisite flowers and fragrance! (Available from Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery).


copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld


copyright 2012 Lois Sheinfeld

Hot Tips: Vole Damage Prevention

Some say when the earth comes to an end rats will be the sole survivors. My money is on voles.

Voles are underground terrorists and my garden’s Public Enemy No.1. They may look like cute, plump mice but these rodents are the spawn of the Devil and guilty of outrageously bad behavior.

After burrowing under ground they are active day and night eating plants, bulbs, roots of trees and shrubs —most everything really, they aren’t picky. Laburnum, styrax, edgeworthia, roses, camellias, azaleas, lespedezas, astilbes (Big-Mac for voles), epimedium, daylilies, woodland orchids, and even toxic hellebores and foxgloves have been ravished and killed. I could go on and on. Nothing is safe.

Female voles as young as 4-6 weeks can mate throughout the year—-that is, when they aren’t eating. Once pregnant, gestation is only about three weeks, and each litter can have 3-6 young. (One reference said up to 10 young). Do the math: With that sort of reproductive ability they can, in a very short time, overrun a planet, much less a garden. Pretty darn horrifying.

What’s an organic gardener to do?

While I harbor murderous intent, poisons and traps that also endanger beneficial wildlife (not to mention beneficial family members) are out of the question.

We have had some success with Sonic Molechasers that repel voles and other borrowing rodents with penetrating underground sonic sound at 15 second intervals. (Despite the name, moles are not my problem; they eat slugs, not plants, though voles are opportunists and will take over the moles’ sub-soil tunnels). But Molechasers are powered by batteries and therefore useless in winter when batteries run out and can’t be replaced. I was heartbroken one Spring — when the snow finally melted— to find several beloved camellia plants, loaded with buds, lying on the ground rootless and dead.

What’s an organic gardener to do?

Well, I found a natural solution that works: VoleBloc, a non-toxic soil additive consisting of coarse particles of slate,  protects plants because voles have sensitive skin and avoid tunneling through abrasive material.

So far so good. Here it is April and my camellias are still rooted and happy. Ditto for all the plants treated with the repellent. (Note: while this winter was unusually snow free, for purposes of an accurate test I did not replace any of the Sonic Molechasers’ dead batteries. VoleBloc was on its own).

Protecting plants from predator damage is never ending. Experience tells me that nothing is foolproof at all times and in all circumstances. So with that caveat, I’m happy to say that VoleBloc is working now. I’ll keep you advised.

Addendum April, 2013: I can no longer recommend VoleBloc. Not only has it become prohibitively expensive, but the voles ate the roots of two VoleBloc treated plants this past winter. I’m now trying something new. More about that soon.

August 20, 2013: I now highly recommend 3/8 Burgundy Red chip, sharp particles of stone that reliably protects plants against voles, at less than a quarter of the cost of Volebloc. I purchased the stone at Southampton Masonry in Southampton N.Y., (631) 259-8200.

2015: The Burgundy Red chip stone still works. For maximum protection, place the plant on top of a layer of stone in the planting hole, mix some stone with the planting soil, and then, after planting, place a layer around the plant.

March Bloom 2012

Rhododendron  mucronulatum ‘Mahogany Red’ usually blooms in April, but this year it jumped the gun and was in full dazzling flower in March. The bees were delighted. Not wanting to be left behind, Mahogany’s longtime garden companion, the fragrant Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, also made an early appearance with its lovely rosy-pink buds that open white. These two loving intertwiners have shared star billing in my garden for over fifteen years and have bloomed reliably and heavily every year. Both flourish in compost-rich, well-drained acid soil.

Rhododendron mucronulatum 'Mahogany Red' copyright 2012

R. mucronulatum with bee copyright 2012

R. mucronulatum intertwined with Magnolia stellata copyright 2012

Camellia ‘Governor Mouton’, a hardy April bloomer, also flowered in March because of the unseasonably warm weather. A old favorite introduced in the eighteenth century, the Governor is quite the showstopper with vibrant red flowers splashed with white. (For hardy camellia culture information, see William Ackerman’s book, “Beyond the Camellia Belt”,  and click on my post, “Exciting Plants for Shade”).

-- Camellia 'Governor Mouton' -- copyright 2012

copyright 2012

Edgeworthia chrysantha always blooms in March and this year is no exception. Despite the unexpected competition from the fabulous plants described above, Edgeworthia had no problem attracting attention with its showy yellow and white flowers that perfume the air with intoxicating fragrance; and when the flowers fade, the shrub sports beautiful, tropical like foliage for the rest of the growing season. All this on a woodland plant that appreciates shade.


               Edgeworthia chrysantha    copyright 2012


March 2012 has been both a surprise and a joy.


Hellebores and Naming Names

Big surprise! February wasn’t the “cruellest” month, not even close. (See “Birds” (February 2012.) And now that March has arrived, Spring is just a shiver away. Let’s talk plants.

These days you can’t open a nursery catalog without seeing scores of new hellebores. Breeders have gone overboard,  producing double flowers, multicolored flowers, speckled flowers and all sorts of combinations. You name it, they’ve got it.

And the plant photos are spectacular. Which is all well and good if you are gardening in a catalog. In a garden, most of the flowers are so hangdog you can’t appreciate their beauty without first getting down on your hands and knees in order to lift their heads for a peek. I don’t know about you, but since my knees suffered through two bouts of Lyme Disease (ticks 2, Lois o) I might  be able to get down, but I sure as blazes can’t get back up.

But all is not lost. There is a fella I know (and grow), Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’, who isn’t at all shy and downcast. With sturdy stems, lovely outward facing white flowers with streaks of pink and green, and blue-green foliage, he’s my kind of guy.

Ditto for H. ‘HGC Josef Lemper’, similarly endowed and possessing even larger white flowers that fade to a light green. I saw this robust hellebore featured in the Linden Hill Gardens’ exhibit at the 2012 Plant-O-Rama held at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The folks at Linden Hill told me that the plant blooms for them in Bucks County, PA, from November to May. Wow! The real Josef Lemper must be quite something.

Or, maybe not.

Breeders name plants for all sorts of reasons. Some auction off naming rights to the highest bidder and others, like Dr. Griffith Buck, the famed rose hybridizer, named plants after friends. But as Dr. Buck discovered, it didn’t always work out. One friend refused the honor because she didn’t want to hear:  “Fleeta has a weak neck, Fleeta wilts, Fleeta fades”. (Fleeta had a point.)

The most famous name-caller of all was the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who, in the 18th century, devised an entirely new classification procedure for plants, the Linnaean binomial system of nomenclature, which is the basis of our modern method. As aptly stated in an informative article  by Kennedy Warne, founding editor of New Zealand Geographic, “Carl Linnaeus, born 300 years ago, brought order to nature’s blooming, buzzing confusion.”  (Warne, “Organization Man,” Smithsonian magazine, May 2007).

Linnaeus took advantage of his position as namer-in-chief to honor those he liked and to belittle those he didn’t. As for example, he “rewarded” one of his critics by naming a smelly weed after him. He didn’t always play nice.

(But he was quite interesting. Many of his lectures were nature studies held outdoors, walking through fields with hundreds of participants —  joyous, educational social gatherings replete with colorful banners and the jubilant sounds of trumpets, bugles and horns. Linnaeus styled these events, “inquisitions of the pastures”. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing for some. “We Swedes are a serious and slow-witted people”, protested the rector of Uppsala University.”We cannot, like others, unite the pleasurable and fun with the serious and useful”).

In the 2012 plant catalogs, plant names are followed by plant descriptions, but I don’t think we are getting the whole story — at least not where hellebores are concerned. I much prefer John Gerard’s popular Herball of 1597, because he paid attention to the “vertues”of plants. Accordingly, hellebores were recommended “for mad men”, “for melancholy,” and “for dull persons.” In other words, it’s a great plant if you are crazy, depressed or dull. Useful information.

Hellebores prefer a sweet (alkaline) soil. So, if your soil is acidic, amend with lime, or even better, wood-ash, in order to raise the ph. Provide some shade and moisture and you are good to go. (Note: Wood-ash from the fireplace also benefits other sweet-soil lovers like lilacs and peonies).

Finally, naming names isn’t limited to plants, and Linnaeus isn’t the only name-calling meanie. On a visit to the zoo, we saw a sign on a bear’s enclosure that said “Ursus horribilis”. Now, how do you suppose the bear felt? Maybe it says “Beautiful Bear” on his side of the fence, but I doubt it. (And his common name, Grizzly, isn’t much better!).

Postscript: Just read in the New York Times(3/6/2012, p.D.3) that, like me, the 5,300 year old Tyrolean Iceman had bad knees, and like me, researchers suspect that he had Lyme Disease. Wonder what he thought about hellebores.


A flock of robins flew into the garden yesterday. I’m worried about them. All of the berries have been eaten months ago by resident and migrating birds. And I don’t see any juicy worms or caterpillars afoot. Thanks to my husband, our six birdfeeders are always full, but the robins aren’t interested in seed. And while we, and they, may be lulled (or duped?) by the spring-like temperature, February has always been the most frigid–and to my mind the “cruellest”– month of winter. So who knows what mischief Mother Nature is cookin’ up for us. She now has Europe all-a-snarl in her icy grasp. Are we next?

Canadian geese are also showing up in great numbers, to the consternation of many. A Parks and Recreation Director in Greenwich, Connecticut once called them “flying rats”, and folks there thought about importing Panamanian vultures to kill them. (Hmm, does make you wonder about a town that prefers vultures to geese).

A very different perspective is offered by the Nobel prize winning scientist, Konrad Lorenz, who spent a lifetime studying the Graylag goose. I treasure his book about them, Here Am I – Where Are You; read it and you too will share his love for these smart, endearing, funny birds, who are so much like us: They flirt, fall in and out of love, experience jealousy, and fiercely protect their young. And they are not wanting in tactful diplomacy.

Consider Lorenz’s observations of two sisters, Mitsi and Resi: Among siblings, rank order is established early on and Resi was Numero Uno. One day the sisters emerged victorious from a skirmish with two geese from another flock. Mitzi’s victory was the more spectacular– she grasped the feathers of her opponent in her beak and didn’t let go even as she was towed clear across the pond. So, when she swam back, she sounded a triumphful call in Resi’s ear. Resi, who was taking a bath–her opponent fled without a fight–wanted none of that and snapped at her sister. Poor Mitzi fell silent.

But, Lorenz reports: “An amusing scene followed: as Resi continued her bathing, Mitzi would give vent to triumphful greeting every time her sibling dunked her head into the water, but would become modestly silent when the head reappeared.”

Our world would be sadly diminished if we never heard again the summoning call of wild geese: Here Am I, Where Are You?

And then there are the wild turkeys. They do like birdseed and we like them- a lot. (Did you know they also eat ticks?). Our most interesting encounter came as we were leaving the driveway in our Volvo station wagon and came upon a family of turkeys, a male, a female, and several babies. Of course we stopped the car. As the female scurried after the kids, shooing them from the driveway into the wooded area, the male puffed up his chest, fully displayed his tail feathers and stood his ground in front of the car until the whole family had retreated safely. This fluff of feathers took on a huge, steel monster to protect his family. Amazing courage! (And since it worked, I guess the turkey had quite a story to tell his pals–not to mention bragging rights).

Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey chosen as our national bird, precisely because of its bravery, but he was outvoted. He didn’t like the ultimate choice, the eagle, because he saw one stealing fish from another bird. “He is a bird of bad moral character,” Franklin said.

Hot Tips: Winter Protection for Tropicals

Many of us grow tropicals like dahlias and cannas but lack a greenhouse to store them over winter.  I fall into that group as well as the “Lazies”,  those of us who opt out of the hassle of lifting bulbs or tubers, cleaning them, drying them, wrapping them, etc. etc. (you know the drill).  But I don’t want to leave them out to die and have to replace them every year.  So I grow the tropicals in containers.  When frost kills the foliage, I remove the top growth and bring the containers into  my unheated basement.  Then I ignore them until spring— usually until  May when the danger of frost has past— when I  fertilize and water before placing them outside again.  In over ten years I have never lost a plant.

copyright 2011

My favorite dahlia is the exquisite ‘Bishop of Llandaff’‘ with its fire-engine red flowers, beloved by bees and butterflies; in the fall, migrating Monarchs are particularly attracted to the Bishop.





copyright 2011

I read that in its birthplace, Wales, the dahlia is pronounced Clandaff.  However its called, if you like dahlias you will love this one.





Did I mention that it has purple stems and foliage?

copyright 2011

More 2011 Successes and 2012 Obsessions

2011 Successes

copyright 2012

Everyone needs an occasional bit of sunlight to chase away the winter blues. I’m no exception. So when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, I bask in the warm glow of Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Variegated’. Endowed with green needles banded in gold, this dwarf conifer resembles one of my long-time favorites, Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’, but when its foliage matures and turns a luminous pale yellow, there’s none can match it in the winter landscape. My own burst of sunshine.



copyright 2012

Whenever I see a plant with dazzling trumpet-like flowers I’m breathless with longing.  It’s a case of lust at first sight.  (See “Hot Tips: Great New Plant”).  British Dame Penelope Lively understands.  “For me,” she said, “gardening is a sequence of obsessions — the tingle of discovery, the love affair with the latest acquisition.”  And so it was with me and Begonia ‘Bonfire.’  I filled three containers with this glorious annual and was rewarded all summer with a sea of vibrant orange flowers.  They made me happy.  Bonfire is a keeper.


copyright 2012

Ditto for Rhododendron ‘Mrs Furnivall’, an oldie introduced in 1920 but new to my garden. No demure Mrs this one. More like a Las Vegas showgirl flaunting her stuff: a luscious display of saucy pink flowers splashed with red.  She doesn’t need trumpets to be irresistible. (The bees agree).



2012  Obsessions

This year I’m after Fuchsia ‘Pour Menneke’, an annual with captivating, long, slender, soft orange trumpet flowers. (Yup, those trumpets again). An ideal  plant for a container, Pour Menneke will be available this year in England, but as far as I can tell, not available here. More’s the pity, but it takes time (Drat!) before their best newbies reach us. (Yeah, yeah, I know. HAVE PATIENCE).

NEWSFLASH: Just read an alert about the Fuchsia gall mite from Andrew Halstead, Principal Entomologist with the Royal Horticultural Society in England. He warns that this predatory insect is a “devastating microscopic pest of fuchsias that will probably eventually spread throughout Britain. Because the damage cannot be controlled, it may  lead to a decline in the popularity of this valuable garden plant.” (He’s right about that. ‘Pour (Poor?) Menneke’ is no longer on my wish list.)

No problem whatever with the fabulous shade plant, Heuchera ‘Stainless Steel’, from the breeding program of Charles and Martha Oliver of The Primrose Path, Pennsylvania. With silver foliage (flipside reddish-purple) and lush sprays of white bell flowers on chocolate stems in May, this unique beauty is nothing short of sensational. Grab it while you can.

credit: The Primrose Path

And thank goodness for Dan Hinkley, plantsman-explorer extraordinaire, who teamed up with Monrovia to offer a select group of his plant hunting finds, The Dan Hinkley Plant Collection, which will be available in nurseries and garden centers this Spring. Topping my wish-list is the lovely and rare Golden Crane Hydrangea, H. angustipetala ‘MonLongShou’. Not only does it flaunt showy white and chartreuse  lacecap flowers with scalloped-edged petals, this hydrangea is intensely fragrant.

credit: Dan Hinkley

Finally, I can’t wait for my Genie to arrive. While this one doesn’t live in a bottle, she is magical. Magnolia ‘Genie’ has reddish black buds and masses of plum-red (dare I say magenta?) flowers in the spring with repeat  bloom in the summer. She flowers at a young age, only grows to about ten feet, and is already an award winner. As the song goes: ” Who could ask for anything more?”

credit: Rare Find Nursery

New USDA Plant Hardiness Zones


  On January 25, 2012 the US Department of Agriculture released a new version of the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Based on a thirty year period of study, 1976-2005, it reflects many of the weather pattern changes since the last Map was released in 1990. (That one covered only a thirteen year period, from 1974-1986). In short, it now appears that much of the US is 5 degrees warmer.(Or put another way, since each zone covers 10 degrees, one half -zone warmer). Possibly unsettling proof of global warming?

While gardeners will surely benefit from the more accurate planting zone information, it doesn’t  explain the extreme shifts in the weather year to year and even week to week. Here it is February 1 and the weather’s been so balmy the birds are singing Spring courting songs. Compare this with last year when we had so much snow the bare ground wasn’t visible from November-May. Mother Nature is certainly havin’ a bit of fun with us.

You can download the 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone Map (national, state, or even the zone map specific to your zip code) free of charge on USDA’s website:

Speaking of birds, have you heard about the study which demonstrates that pigeons are good in math? Pretty impressive. (See The New York Times,Dec.23,2011,p.A17) Well, it put me in mind of the time when Lawrence H. Summers, then President of Harvard University, declared that women were genetically incapable of excelling in science. Do ya think he would have demanded separate math tests for male and female  pigeons? Just sayin’.