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Spring 2020: Rhododendron Elepidotes

As though we don’t have enough trouble with a killer virus, now we have to deal with killer insects — the Asian Giant Hornets a/k/a the “murder hornets.” They decapitate bees and then feed on them. They can wipe out a hive in a matter of hours.

And they don’t stop with bees. In Japan, hornet stings have killed up to fifty people a year. Beekeepers are especially vulnerable; a hornet’s stinger can easily puncture a beekeeping suit. (As one beekeeper described the stings: “It was like having red-hot thumbtacks being driven into my flesh.”)

Asian Giant Hornets are aggressive killers and now they are in the U.S.  Several were found in Washington State. Thankfully, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, they have not migrated East — yet.

For more info on the hornets — and for all other horticultural inquiries — call the Cornell Phone Help Line: 631-727-4126, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-12 noon. Or email: sib7@cornell.edu or aw242@cornell.edu.  An invaluable resource.

Before moving on to my summer garden, I want to feature, for your consideration, a choice group of May-blooming, large-leaf, evergreen elepidote Rhododendrons:

Rhododendron ‘Loderi King George’ is one of my all-time favorite plants. Bred in Great Britain, King George received an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. From pink buds the shrub produces masses of gorgeous, large, richly-perfumed snow-white blossoms in May. The fragrance carries on the air in the garden — and in the house. Photos below.

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

For decades in my zone 7 organic garden the plant has been a hardy, reliable yearly bloomer. The evergreen foliage does suffer winter damage but it is quickly replaced in Spring by new green growth. Provide acid, well-drained soil in a shady site sheltered from wind.

 

Rhododendron ‘Mario Pagliarini’ is another sweetly fragrant, hardy May bloomer. Dressed in healthy evergreen foliage and abundant, large, lilac-pink flowers — that age to white with traces of pink — Mario is a wondrous sight to see. And to smell — the fragrance carries on the air. Photos below.

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

After 15 years or so my shrub is now about eight feet high and nine feet across, so provide adequate space for Mario to express himself. R. ‘Mario Pagliarini’ thrives in shade and rich, acid, well-drained soil.

 

Rhododendron ‘Vinecrest’ is a multiple-award-winning shrub bred for extreme winter-hardiness. I can attest to the breeder’s success. After suffering single-digit frigid weather, Vinecrest’s evergreen foliage remained in pristine condition and its flower buds were undamaged.  Winter hardiness is an essential attribute. Yet, for me, it is the ethereal beauty of the May butter-yellow flowers and peach-colored buds that make Vinecrest irresistible. Provide shade and rich, well-drained acid soil. Photos below.

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

(Note: R.’Vinecrest’ is not fragrant, though some have suggested otherwise.)

 

Embrace the exciting world of Rhododendrons. Your garden will thank you.

 

Finally, my Grandpets would like to say hello. In order of appearance, my beautiful Grandcat, Callie — who never met a box she didn’t like — followed by my lovable Granddogs, Sammy and Zoe. Rescue pets all.

copyright 2020 — Jessica Amsterdam

copyright 2020 — Jessica Amsterdam

copyright 2020 — Ashley Cox

copyright 2020 — Ashley Cox

 

Be well. Stay safe.

Spring 2020: Mezitt Rhododendron Chorus Part 2

Part 2

All of the Mezitt Rhododendron lepidotes featured here are very cold-hardy, disease/insect resistant, and do well in both sun and shade:

Rhododendron ‘Mrs. J.A. Withington 111’

I adore R. ‘Mrs. J.A. Withington 111.’ In April/May this flamboyant blue blood is entirely draped in a glorious cloak of purple powder puffs. Quite a sensation. As a bonus, the shrub’s evergreen foliage turns bronzy-green in the Fall.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Rhododendron ‘Lilac Crest’

R. ‘Lilac Crest’ is like a lilac-pink-white mini Mrs. Withington. It is more compact and its May flowers resemble little pom-poms. The semi-evergreen shrub’s flower buds are white with lilac-pink tips; when the white flowers fully open, they are flushed with color.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Rhododendron ‘Landmark’

Garden literature often styles R. ‘Landmark’ as a long-awaited red-flowering lepidote. In the right light and at a distance the flowers may look red. But, in truth, the showy May bloom is a rich dark pink — highly attractive to bees. In Autumn the evergreen foliage turns mahogany-bronze.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

For decades the chorus of six captivating Mezitt Rhododendron lepidotes featured here and in Part 1 have flourished in my shady, organic garden and I treasure them all.

My friend the late Hank Schannen, founder of Rarefind Nursery, was also an accomplished Rhododendron hybridizer. Here is Hank’s famous take on Rhododendron plant culture:

12 Criteria For Success With Rhododendron

  1. Drainage
  2. Drainage
  3. Drainage
  4. Drainage
  5. Drainage
  6. Drainage
  7. Acid pH
  8. Dappled shade
  9. Able to water when needed
  10. If containerized, loosen roots (viciously)
  11. When in doubt, plant HIGH
  12. Hmm—More DRAINAGE

Be well. Stay safe.

2020 Spring Fragrance: Pieris, Skimmia, Magnolia

Insects Rule!

A recent scientific study revealed that when insects chew on organic fruits and vegetables the plants respond by significantly increasing antioxidant compounds. If insect feeding triggers a plant’s defenses, ultimately resulting in more nutritious, healthier produce, must we now seek out insect-damaged food?

An interesting conundrum.

Not, however, my focus here. With the deadly Coronavirus currently shadowing our lives, I want to celebrate and share with you plants that nurture the soul: Spring-blooming, beautiful, fragrant, disease/pest-resistant woody ornamentals:

Pieris x ‘Spring Snow’ Z 5-7

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

P. x ‘Spring Snow’ is an evergreen, compact, early-Spring-blooming cross between P. japonica and the U.S. native P. floribunda. From showy pink buds the shrub produces luminous, snowy-white upright flowers that release their fragrance on the air, attracting bumble bees, butterflies and this gardener. After more than twenty-five years my shrub is now only about three feet tall, ideal for both small and large gardens. It has been a healthy, reliable bloomer despite frigid winters and hot, humid summers. Foliage new growth is bronzy-red before turning dark green and is toxic to deer, so they leave it alone. Pieris x ‘Spring Snow’ is insect-resistant as well. (Grow in shade and you won’t be troubled with lace-bug. In my shady organic garden all the Pieris have been deer-proof and insect-free.)

Provide organic-rich, well-drained, acid soil and regular water.

 

Skimmia japonica Z (6)7-8(9)

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Skimmia is as close to perfect as a plant can be. The shrub’s magnolia-like, thick-textured, dark green leaves are evergreen, and if rubbed or bruised emit a strong herbal scent that effectively repels deer. In early Spring, Skimmia produces masses of fragrant flowers–even as a young plant. It has flourished and bloomed for me every Spring for more than thirty years, filling the garden with delicious perfume. In late summer/fall the female plants produce decorative clusters of fat red berries. (Skimmia japonica is dioecious and requires both male and female plants for fruit.)

The shrub does well here in zone 7, despite periods of horrific weather. Zone 6 may be iffy, but with global warming — and a little protection — surely worth a try. Essential requirements include moist, acid, well-drained soil, and, most important, SHADE.

 

Magnolia ‘Pegasus’ Z 5-8

 

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

This lovely Magnolia was named after the Greek mythological winged horse Pegasus, which, according to legend, sprung out of the gruesome monster Medusa’s neck when Medusa was killed. (Pretty imaginative, those Greeks.) I’ve included photos of the Horse and the Magnolia so you can judge for yourself whether the name fits. To my mind it’s more of a match when the flower opens wide. Earlier, the flower looks more like a tall tulip.

Magnolia ‘Pegasus’ has an interesting history. In 1936 Mrs. J. Norman Henry of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, received seed of Magnolia cylindrica from the Lu Shan Botanic Garden in China. She planted the seed in America and when it germinated, scions were widely distributed. M. Pegasus can be traced back to that original seed. (Note: It is now suggested that there was a bit of Magnolia hanky-panky in Lu Shan; the Henry seed may have resulted from a natural marriage (tryst?) between M. cylindrica and M. denudata. Didn’t think Magnolias could be naughty, did ya?)

M.’Pegasus’ is a very winter-hardy, healthy, deciduous tree. It has been a reliable April bloomer, and the flowers have a pleasing soft fragrance. The literature speaks of attractive, bright red cylindrical fruiting cones but I’ve never seen one. (Maybe this year?)  After decades in the garden, my tree is about 10 feet high. Provide moist, rich, well-drained acid soil and sun or dappled shade.

Be well. Stay safe.

Spring 2020: March Magic

I recently read the book Life Happens, a compilation of smart, delightful newspaper columns by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Connie Schultz. In one insightful column, Schultz recalled the time a friend’s teenage son had to pick a language in college:

“He grew up in Miami, so naturally she thought he’d pick the language he’d been hearing, reading, and speaking since he was a toddler.

Spanish, she thought. He’ll take Spanish.

Silly Mom.

He took Italian. ‘The line was shorter’, he said”

Teenagers are unpredictable.

They share this trait with Mother Nature who has moved to Crazyville.  And now, in addition to the horrors of climate change, we have to contend with the deadly Coronavirus. Clearly, there is every reason to retreat to the comfort of the garden and celebrate the awakening beauty and magic of Spring:

Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Mahogany Red’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

This upright, willowy, deciduous Rhododendron is one tough plant. Although we had a relatively mild winter this year, my Mahogany Red has been a hardy, reliable Spring bloomer after severe, frigid weather as well. The magenta flowers provide a bright, joyful glow in the March garden. In the Fall, the attractive, small green leaves turn lovely autumnal colors. Provide adequate water and well-drained acid soil.

 

Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

The fragrance of the abundant, small, creamy-white flowers of this twiggy, deciduous honeysuckle carries on the air and fills the garden with heavenly scent. It too is a hardy, reliable bloomer, and isn’t particular about soil pH. Winter Beauty does require regular moisture and well-drained soil in sun or part-shade. No Fall color to speak of, but, oh, that perfume in early Spring is enough for me!

 

I’ve had a number of herbal surprises. My rosemary over-winters outside in a container. It is usually brown and dead about now and needs replacing. But not this year. Photos below of downtrodden rosemary under a pile of snow in December, and the very same rosemary now — upright once again, green, and full of life.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

And the chives in the outdoor herb container made a surprising early comeback in March, along with the oregano. Photos below.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

It’s surely going to be an interesting year in the garden.

 

I highly recommend Connie Schultz’s book Life Happens. (Did I mention that it has two of her columns on gardening?) I also liked and recommend her book . . . and His Lovely Wife, Schultz’s insider’s take on the political campaign of her husband, Senator Sherrod Brown. Perfect reading in this election year.

Finally, in closing, my favorite true story about teenagers:

Mother to teenage daughter: “Your behavior is outrageous. Can’t you act like a normal person?”

Daughter: “I’m not a normal person. I’m a teenager.”

Mother: “Don’t threaten me!”

Happy Spring!

February 2020: A Glass Half Full

Optimism.

According to recent studies, optimists enjoy a lower risk of cardiovascular and other diseases and they have a lower mortality rate in general.  As one researcher put it: “Optimists tend to pursue strategies that make a rosy future a reality.” They live healthier and they live longer.

It was suggested that anyone can decrease the toxic effect of negativity and build a muscle of positive thinking by trying to feel more grateful. Not an easy prescription to fill: Today the United States Senate wrongfully refused to save us from a proven dangerous, self-serving, ethically corrupt President. Scary.

Yet, there is an upcoming election in November and I do believe and trust in the American people’s sense of justice. Voters will surely remove him. As Yogi Berra famously said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

We just have to survive for 9 months.

As usual, I look to my well-loved garden for insight and support. Consider this: Holding fast for nine months will probably be a piece of cake compared to the survival of the Ginkgo, a tree species that has been around for about 200 million years despite untold horrific insults — climatic and otherwise. Our tree (Ginkgo biloba ‘Elmwood’) gives us pleasure every single day and we are grateful for it. Photos Below.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Ditto for the beautiful Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’) that in brave defiance of winter’s wrath is now in full, fragrant, and most welcome bloom.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Yes, still much to be grateful for.

 

2019 Garden Year Review: Fragrant Plants

As the years roll by, I more fully appreciate this lament:

“While the spirit is still soaring eagerly onward and upward, the old bones and cartilage begin to insist that they can no longer handle the demands being made on them….What I object to is the steady process of gradual dilapidation: now it’s the knees, then the back, and in my case the eyes….I would propose we all go vigorously full speed ahead until our time is up, then fall suddenly on our faces, finished. I myself would like to meet Death in the flower garden—falling facedown onto a cushion of Dianthus gratianopolitanus.” [Sheldon, Elisabeth, Time and the Gardener (Beacon Press 2003)].

 

Yet, happily, there are recent studies designed to help us maintain our good health and well-being. For example, it has been shown that diets high in fiber — found in food like fruit, avocados, broccoli, and sweet potatoes — reduce the risk of intestinal disorder, heart disease and diabetes, and that fiber along with yogurt reduces the risk of lung cancer.

There are also positive health advantages to adopting a dog: People who own dogs live longer; they have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced symptoms of depression.

Note: If you are unable to take on the responsibility of a real dog, research has suggested that even a stuffed animal could alleviate some behavioral and psychological symptoms. In fact, even if you don’t have medical problems you might like Jennie, a robot modeled on a 10-week-old Labrador puppy. Photo below.

 

For me, the extraordinary benefits and rewards of working with nature far outweigh the problems. As I look back at the garden year 2019, I’m reminded of the immense joy I receive from fragrant flowering shrubs whose perfume carries on the air. Aromatherapy in my own backyard:

Bloom: March/April. Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (Sweetbox) Z 6-8

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Bloom: May/June. Philadelphus coronarius (Sweet Mockorange) Z 5-8

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Bloom: May/June. Cytisus scoparius ‘Moonlight’ (Scotch Broom) Z 5-8

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Bloom: June-November. Rosa ‘Belle Vichysoise’ (Noisette Rose ) Z 7-9

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Bloom: July/August. Hydrangea paniculata Z 5-8

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Bloom: September/October. Osmanthus x fortunei ‘UNC’ Z 7-9

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

When an early November freeze rudely zapped both garden bloom and autumnal leaf color change, instead of two aspirin and a nice lie-down this gardener opted for Plan B:

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

2020 is just a shiver away. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Summer 2019: Plants & Travel

Isn’t nature amazing? In Australia, a nightshade plant (Solanum plastisexum) has confounded scientists: Every time they studied the plant, the sex of its purple flowers had changed. Sometimes the flowers were female, sometimes male, and sometimes a mix of both. As one scientist observed about the unpredictable sexual expression of this very unique plant, “no one has been able to understand what exactly it’s doing, and how it’s doing it, and why it’s doing it.” (Hmm, could it just be showing off?)

No problem predicting what human manipulators of nature — a/k/a plant hybridizers — intend. They know exactly what they are doing. They are producing beautiful, seductive plants that weak-willed plant freaks, like me, will find absolutely impossible to resist.

One day between errands I had some free time and aimlessly wandered about the aisles of a local garden center — just looking mind you — when I saw Lupinus ‘Westcountry Manhattan Lights’. One look and I was besotted.  Photo below of this bi-colored beauty — in my garden.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

I’ve never before been tempted by Lupines. Granted, they are deer-resistant and attract pollinators and hummingbirds — but the plants hate humid, hot weather. We have humid, hot weather a-plenty. Ergo, no Lupines! Until now.

Lupines appreciate well-drained acid, moist, organically rich soil in sun or part shade. The flowers open bottom to top and it is generally recommended that spent flower stems be removed if you want a second round of bloom. I removed all but one because I wanted to see the seed pods. Glad I did. Photo below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

My plant did not send up new flower stems. Was it because I left one dead stem standing? Maybe not. In her popular, informative book, We Made a Garden, British garden writer Margery Fish advised that the entire plant had to be cut to the ground, foliage included, or “there will be no second blooming.” I’m inclined to agree with her. Fish was an experienced hands-on gardener who wrote about plants she grew. (And, despite its name, L. ‘Westcountry Manhattan Lights’ was hybridized in England.)

 

I’ll be glad if the plant survives. Lupines like cold weather — they survive and thrive in northern New Hampshire (Zone 4). When my husband and I visited NH in June, we were thrilled to see fields of wild Lupine backed by the White Mountains.  Moreover, Mother Nature matched the bi-color beauty of Manhattan Lights when she partnered wild buttercups with the lupines. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Here are a few more highlights of our NH trip:

In the town of Bethlehem, we enjoyed a horse-drawn wagon tour of The Rocks Estate — a vast private property that is now a Christmas tree farm managed by the non-profit Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The first photo below is a view of the property and the second is of the handsome Belgian horses, Bert & Boomer, and the horses’ owner and driver Bruce Streeter.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

On the charming main street in Bethlehem we found out-of-print treasures in the vintage bookstore Beannacht, and we enjoyed a yummy outdoor lunch at the bistro a few doors down.

We were dazzled by the range and quality of the work of local artists displayed for sale at the League of N.H. Craftsmen Fine Craft Gallery located on main street in the town of Littleton. And it was here that we met Mortimer Moose — who followed us home. Photo below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

I could go on and on. New Hampshire is a place of exceptional natural beauty, artistic endeavor and hospitality. Best times to visit are Summer and Fall.

 

As Autumn fast approaches, I’d like to look back and share some of my favorite Summer performers:

Geranium macrorrhizum

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

This easy-care, evergreen ground cover’s foliage looks this way (photo above) for the entire Summer, even in dry shade. And it has been reliably perennial, despite heat, humidity, and topsy-turvy dramatic shifts in temperature. The showy magenta flowers in May are a bonus.

 

Kalmia latifolia ‘Carol’ (Mountain Laurel)

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

For flower-power in early Summer you can’t do better than the native evergreen shrub Mountain Laurel . It is winter-hardy to zone 6, has excellent deer-resistance and blooms well in shade. Unfortunately, too often the foliage looks as though it’s infected with spotted plague. But the cultivar Carol is the exception. Her dark green foliage is largely disease free. And the sharp color difference between bud and flower creates a very showy bi-color display. To ensure flowering every year, as soon as the flowers fade, remove the seed heads.

[Cautionary note: If Carol is planted too close to a spotted offender, she may succumb as well. And if the deer are starving, they may eat toxic Mountain Laurel foliage even though it will make them sick.]

 

Heliotropium arborescens (Heliotrope White)

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Many years ago, I would always fill a container with the vanilla-scented annual Heliotrope White. Yet, I have not planted any for decades. Why? Don’t know. These things just happen. Then this Spring, when I saw the plant at my local garden club’s May sale it brought back fond memories and I grabbed a few pots. They bloomed all Summer — and haven’t stopped yet. And the delicious vanilla scent is intoxicating. The bees think so too. Thank you Bettina and Marie.

 

Rhododendron prunifolium (Plumleaf Azalea)

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

This large, deciduous, native Azalea is a hardy, late-summer star, reliably producing significant numbers of lovely orange flowers every year.  Nothing short of a show-stopper. In my organic garden the shrub has been disease free, and after more than two decades is about 13 feet tall. Blooms well in shade.

 

[Note: Hard to believe that Scott Aker is still recommending glyphosate to home gardeners. (The American Gardener, July/August 2019, pp. 40-41). Consider my post of January 18, 2018, “Jan/Feb 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert”, and the recent multi-million dollar court judgment against Monsanto and its cancer-linked glyphosate herbicide Roundup. When will Scott Aker stop playing Russian roulette with American lives?]

March/April 2019: Early Spring

The calendar read Spring but the garden was having none of it. Warm December breezes seduced Forsythia, Spring’s herald, into untimely bloom — which was then zapped by Mother Nature’s icy hand. So now the remaining buds, exercising extreme caution, were shut tight.

Thankfully, daffodils and the deliciously fragrant flowering shrubs Pieris japonica and Sarcococca hookeriana humilis stepped up and saved the day.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Ah, Spring, at last.

Still, it’s not all “raindrops on roses.” Because of climate change, we have to contend with a dramatic increase of pollen in the air. The National Institute of Environmental Health Services recommends that allergy sufferers remain indoors from 5 a.m. – 10 a.m. when the pollen count is highest. Regrettably, that’s Prime Time for work in the garden — especially in hot weather.

But we cope and move on.

British author Iris Murdoch got it right: “One of the secrets of a happy life,” she said, “is continuous small treats.” A wonderful small Spring treat is Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). I’ve treasured this vigorous, rhizomatous, perennial groundcover for over forty-five years. I can’t imagine my garden without it. In May the plant produces enchanting racemes of very fragrant, tiny, snowy-white bells. A striking variegated-leafed variety, Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’, is also available. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Lily of the Valley thrives in moist, well-drained, acid soil in shade. All parts of the easy-care plant are poisonous and deer don’t mess with it.

But not everyone is a fan. One of our best garden writers, Allen Lacy, had this to say: “I once planted lily-of-the-valley in a far corner of my garden, for what garden should be without its graceful nodding bells in late spring? But I now have a sheet of it fifteen feet in every direction that must be confined by ripping out great numbers of plants each year. I should have known better.” In a Green Shade (Houghton Mifflin Co. 2000).

Another outstanding American garden writer/author, Elisabeth Sheldon, was even more emphatic: “Who warns people about lily of the valley?” she said. “[It] sends its troops forward underground  — under rocks, pathways, and other plants. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be stopped by a cement sidewalk, so if you want to grow anything other than lily of the valley in your shade garden, you should never let it get started, no matter how much you love its scent.” A Proper Garden (Stackpole Books 1989).

Lacy and Sheldon: Accomplished, hands-on gardeners and a joy to read.

Both writers are factually correct: Lily of the Valley likes to travel and increase. But plant numbers are depressed now because of climate change, so I welcome the volunteers. (I’m sure the voles also deserve credit for the reduced numbers in my garden — unlike deer, voles never let toxicity get between them and a yummy plant meal.)

2019: A Choice Selection of Garden Plants

On an icy cold day in January — when I was loath to venture out — I decided to slog through humongous piles of old garden magazines, a task I’d been avoiding forever. While I was sorely tempted to chuck the whole lot sight unseen, I’m glad I didn’t. It was clear as soon as I started reading: the older the magazine, the more interesting and informative the content. As for example, in a 1999 copy of Garden Design I read that in Israel a professor of plant physiology discovered that a pill would extend the life of cut flowers for a whole week. The name of that magic pill? Would you believe Viagra?

(If anyone is interested in the science, the professor knew that nitric oxide preserves vegetables by blocking production of ethylene, which causes produce to age. When he read that Viagra induces the production of nitric oxide, he decided to experiment. And, as often happens in science, one thing led to another.)

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. If you intend to give that special someone a bouquet of roses, why not tuck in a Viagra pill. (Best to also tuck in an explanation.)

In addition to reading old garden magazines, I’ve been checking out 2019 mail order garden catalogs. Looks like a very good year for plants. My orders are in and I’ve chosen favorite nurseries and a garden-worthy selection of plants to highlight and share with you:

SELECT SEEDS, www.selectseeds.com, 1-800-684-0395.

When I was searching for an elusive Salvia cultivar, my friend and plant maven, Anne Haines, suggested I contact Select Seeds. I did, they had it, and I’m happy to recommend this excellent, environmentally friendly source. Following are three of Select Seeds’s favorite plants for Hummingbirds, Bees and Butterflies:

Salvia guaranitica (Blue Brazilian Sage) Z. 8-10

Of all the many Salvias offered by Select Seeds, this deep-blue sage is the Hummingbird hands-down favorite — and the plant also attracts butterflies. It can grow 3-6 feet and blooms from mid-summer to frost. According to Salvia guru, Betty Clebsch, author of A Book of Salvias, you may be able to increase S. guaranitica’s winter hardiness by protecting the plant with pine boughs — a method I use successfully with my container roses. Worth a try.  Plant in rich, well-drained soil, in sun or part shade with regular water. (Select Seeds also offers the fabulous and hard-to-find Salvias: S. splendens ‘Van Houttei’ and S. x ‘Amistad’; I snatched up both.)

Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint) Z. 4-8

A magnet for bees, this 1-3-foot spearmint-scented, hardy perennial blooms from July-September with showy silvery white bracts surrounding pink-flowering centers. Grow in sun or part shade in rich, well-drained soil. Mountain Mint is vigorous but not invasive like the mint Mentha. Plant this deer-resistant U.S. native, and bees — our hard-working pollinators — will thank you.

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) Z 3-9

Monarch butterflies voted this U.S. native perennial their number one favorite.  Moreover, the plant has numerous additional assets: Pink vanilla-scented flowers form in summer on erect 3-4-foot stems and when the flowers fade, the plant produces attractive seed pods. In the Fall, the leaves turn vibrant autumnal colors. Site in full sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. Site carefully because Swamp Milkweed has a deep tap-root and when established should not be disturbed.

 

BLUESTONE PERENNIALS, bluestoneperennials.com, 1-800-852-5243

Bluestone is one of the few sources — if not the only source — for my treasured Trifolium purpurascens. And their plants are shipped in biodegradable pots which do not have to be removed for planting. A plus for the gardener and less stress for the plants. Below are three plants I chose for my garden:

Trifolium purpurascens  (Black Four-Leaf Clover) Z. 5-9

copyright – Bluestone Perennials

A must-have plant for my garden and a perfect gift for gardening friends as well. Everyone appreciates a little luck, especially now that Mother Nature has become loony and unpredictable. This lucky clover is perfect for containers or as a ground cover, and will flourish in sun or shade.

Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’ Z. 4-8

copyright – Bluestone Perennials

Lovely pink-blushed flowers in summer and handsome, unique, chocolate-bronze foliage set this Astilbe apart. Shogun, an award-winning native of Japan, requires a moist, shady site. It is deer-resistant, but needs protection from voles.

Sempervivum ‘Pacific Blue Ice’ (Hens and Chicks) Z. 3-8

copyright – Bluestone Perennials

I love the look of succulents, and Pacific Blue Ice is pretty irresistible with its elegant, icy-blue rosettes. In addition, the plant is evergreen, deer-and-rabbit-resistant, and, when established, tolerant of drought. Provide a sunny site with neutral or alkaline well-drained soil. It will do well in containers or in the ground.

NOTE: Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early Spring. After experiencing the recent polar vortex, I hope we are alive to see it. 

Watch for the next post: 2019 Choice Garden Plants Part 2

2018 Unspooled: A Year In the Garden

“There is something healing in the repeated refrains of nature.” Rachel Carson.

A surprising trend is rapidly taking hold in the premier tech enclave of Silicon Valley, California: Parental concern over children becoming addicted to tech devices has resulted in home use restrictions—even total bans—of smart phones, iPads etc. “I’m convinced the devil lives in our phones”, said one techie, “and is wreaking havoc on our children.” And a top tech exec. said of his children’s screen addiction: “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”

Clearly kids need other interesting and healthy diversions. The late British author/garden designer Gertrude Jekyll recommended one close to my heart:

“I rejoice when I see any one, and especially children, inquiring about flowers, and wanting gardens of their own, and carefully working in them. For love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but always grows and grows to an enduring and ever-increasing source of happiness….I hold that the best purpose of a garden is to give delight and to give refreshment of mind, to soothe, to refine, and to lift up the heart.” The Gardener’s Essential (Godine 1986).

I’m also reminded of the words of Maribel P., a fourth grader in an inner city school, who was taking a nature enrichment class: “Sometimes I feel sad,” she said, “and with all the things about plants it makes my day feel better.”

Ditto for me, Maribel.

But I digress. With 2019 almost upon us, I thought a look back might be instructive. Here is a small, diverse sample of plants and highlights from my 2018 garden year:

January-March: Not a big fan of Winter, but in January Mother Nature decorated our kitchen door with wonderful ice art.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

April: Spring began with a heavy snowstorm; then a first sighting of our wild turkeys and the lovely early Spring flowering duo: Pieris ‘Valley Valentine’ and evergreen Azalea, Rhododendron ‘White Surprise’.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

May: May dazzled with large-leafed Rhododendrons like R. ‘Solidarity’, the signature plant of rareFindnursery, and with our beloved native plant, the Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule).

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

June: Roses owned the month of June, represented here by time-tested, fragrant Rosas ‘Leander’ and ‘Aschermittwoch.’ And we had our first sighting of the garden’s treasured native box turtles.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

July/August: Summer bloomers were center stage, especially my favorite Hydrangea, H. x ‘Sweet Chris’ and the very fragrant butterfly/hummingbird magnet, Phlox ‘Laura’.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

September\October: This Autumn we reveled in the intoxicating perfume of Osmanthus x fortunei ‘UNC’. (For years my shrubs suffered winter damage and didn’t bloom at all. Maybe our luck has changed for the better.) I wonder if the fragrance lured our shy garden snakes out of hiding.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

November: Acer palmatum ‘Aoyagi/ukon’ (Japanese Maple).

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

December: Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ was a picture of ghostly white, graceful elegance, and the birds appreciated the abundance of seeds. Good reasons to delay cutting back perennials and grasses until Spring. Moreover, top growth protects a plant’s crown over Winter. Another good reason.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Garden Year 2018: TAKE A BOW!

copyright 2018 – Jessica Amsterdam

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy, Healthy New Year! 

2018: Resplendent Trees & Climate Change

Americans have often experienced green envy when touring gardens across the pond. So I guess the Brits are entitled to bragging rights. Yet, I was a bit surprised when I read these in-your-face assertions made by English author, Penelope Lively:

“I am going to get xenophobic here: we garden rather well. I am tempted to say we garden second to none . . . English gardens do not wear a straitjacket; they are lush, exuberant, expansive . . . We have an immediate advantage: the climate. The temperate climate that means plenty of rain for those lawns, and for everything else, few prolonged extremes of either cold or heat, a long growing period.” LIFE IN THE GARDEN (Viking 2017).

As recently reported by The New York Times, England’s green and pleasant land has turned “brown and brittle”. (The New York Times, 7/5/2018, p. A8.)  Britain is now suffering prolonged drought and record high temperatures. (Sorry, Penelope.)

Climate change is real and affects us all. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to perform simple summer garden tasks in the suffocating heat.  And temperature extremes exact a brutal toll on the plants.

Now is an ideal time to identify and celebrate time-tested, outstanding garden survivors:

Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood) Z 5-9, is a deciduous, native tree, with multi-seasons of interest. In summer it produces cascading sprays of tiny, urn-shape, fragrant white flowers, beloved by bees. The lustrous, dark green leaves turn vibrant shades of red in Autumn.  After twenty years my tree is about 25 feet tall. Photos below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

 

Provide acid, moist, well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. The tree does well in sun or part-shade. Here it receives only a few hours of filtered sun, yet is a reliable bloomer. Thus far, my Sourwood has been pest and disease free and immune to Mother Nature’s insults. A fabulous, easy-care, specimen tree.

 

I’m also quite taken with the striking, unusual, Asian native deciduous tree, Firmiana simplex (Chinese Parasol Tree) Z 7-9. The Parasol Tree is a stand-out with enormous, tropical-like leaves and green bark. Photo below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

It blooms in summer with clusters of small yellow-green flowers on showy, long panicles at the ends of branches. When the flowers age and produce seed in late summer, the tree reveals the reason for its common name: the papery seed-covers separate and drape over the seeds like tiny umbrellas (parasols).

Chinese Parasol Trees can be successfully grown in a variety of soils and in sun or shade. Mine has been healthy for 10 years in acid soil and in shade. But it has never bloomed. Moreover, while Firmiana can attain a height of 40 feet my tree is only about 3 feet and doesn’t seem inclined to grow any higher. Methinks it needs sun for growth and bloom.  Act accordingly if you are into tall and parasols.

One more thing: It is believed that the mythical Chinese Phoenix Bird, feng huang, perches on the Firmiana tree.This extraordinary bird symbolizes unity and harmony — male-female, yin-yang — as well as goodness and justice. And it sings like an angel.

Provide the perch and the bird may come.

Early Spring 2018: A Vision in White

HUH??? Was Mother Nature a bit tipsy when she was staging Spring? (April photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

She took three weeks to sober up before forsythia — the official herald of Spring — finally burst into bloom.  (Photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Prunus ‘Snow Fountain,’ my ethereal and fragrant weeping cherry tree, also flowers in April and has been problem free and a reliable Spring bloomer for over 25 years. An ideal addition for a white garden– or any garden. (Photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Ditto for the Prunus glandulosa ‘Alba Plena’ (Dwarf Flowering Almond) that I purchased last year.  Alba Plena, a small, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub, survived the horrific winter without damage and then cloaked itself in showy, double white Spring blossoms. (Photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

I’m aware that P. glandulosa has been called “a very poor plant” because it doesn’t play Mozart in all seasons. Actually, I’m quite partial to plants that possess multi-seasons of interest.  But I’m a pushover for exceptional flowering beauty, especially in the early Spring when it is so appreciated. (And P. glandulosa is one tough, hardy plant. I’m sorry to report that a few of those Mozart players did not survive the winter.)

 

Talk about exceptional flowering beauty, this Spring I was seduced by the bi-color, fragrant bloom of the Annual Nemesia ‘Cherry Blue’. Couldn’t resist the razzle-dazzle. Perfect in a pot. (Photo below.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, when making plant decisions for my garden — including additions and subtractions — I’m ever mindful of the words of one of my favorite garden writers, Elizabeth Lawrence:

“A pomegranate tree was one of the first plants to come into my garden…and it was one of the first to go, for I could never find a place where the burning scarlet of the flowers was not at war with its surroundings.

Now I often wish I had kept the pomegranate and let everything else go. I have nothing to match its beauty and brilliance in flower and fruit.” 

Through The Garden Gate (1990)

April 2018: Trees, Trees, Wonderful Trees

NEWS ALERT: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt should be shown the door — or, these days, shown the tweet. In addition to having a history of ethically questionable conduct, including misuse of public funds, we now learn that Pruitt has accepted a financial benefit (bribe?) from a lobbyist.  Isn’t that a fatal no-no? Even in Trumpville?

Not that we can expect any Pruitt replacement to protect the environment. (See post, Jan.\Feb. 2018: “Toxic Chemical Alert”). A recent appointee to EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board actually said that our air is “too clean.”

All the more reason for us to hug a tree. Trees inhale toxic carbon dioxide and exhale life-supporting oxygen. As Peter Wohlleben observed in The Hidden Life of Trees: “Every walk in the forest is like taking a shower in oxygen.” Moreover, in the home garden, trees provide needed shade and a habitat for songbirds and other wildlife. They also endow the garden with a sense of permanence, beauty, and ofttimes fragrance.

In this post I’d like to focus on one of my favorite “Peelers” — an interesting tree with exfoliating bark and multi-seasons of interest — that has been problem-free in my organic garden for over twenty years:

Clethra barbinervis (Zones 5-8) is a deciduous tree, native to Japan and a kissin’ cousin of our native shrub, Clethra alnifolia. While not as well known as C. alnifolia, this showy, 10-20 foot, deer-resistant beauty deserves our attention. C. barbinervis has dark green, trouble-free foliage and abundant racemes of fragrant, snowy white flowers in July and August. The tree is a reliable bloomer; the fragrance is carried on the air and attracts bees, butterflies, and me.

When the flowers fade, attractive seed capsules are produced and persist until frost. My tree’s foliage never displays Fall color, though the garden literature speaks of it. But the mottled, exfoliating bark is handsome year round. (Photo below of bark, foliage, and flowers.)

 

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

Provide acid, well-drained, moist, rich soil. A shady site is best. Avoid dry areas; water during drought.

 

Finally, if anyone gardens in Zones 9-10, you can grow the extraordinary, ne plus ultra exfoliating tree, Eucalyptus deglupta (Rainbow Eucalyptus). (Photo below).

copyright 2018 – Jessica Amsterdam

 

UPDATE April 13, 2018: Corrupt Scott Pruitt is still on the job at the Environmental Protection Agency. Hurry up and pay your Federal income tax: Pruitt wants your hard-earned dollars to support his in-your-face opulent lifestyle—first class plane tickets, deluxe hotels here and abroad, expensive five course dinners in Italy for him and 6 of his Agency pals, etc. etc. etc. All on the public dime. He is a National disgrace!

Autumn 2017: Snap, Crackle and Pop

“Autumn is a second Spring”, said Albert Camus, “when every leaf is a flower.”

Sadly, not every leaf. This year our oaks, colorful superstars of Autumn, are clothed in dry, brown leaves that never turned their usual vibrant shades of orange and red.

Yet, with the looming threat of deadly Oak Wilt Disease (see post of July 3, “Summer 2017: Roses & Clematis”) we are grateful that our trees are still alive. Moreover, other showy plants have taken up the slack, like Enkianthus and Japanese Maples. Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Adding to the snap, crackle and pop is the fiery autumn foliage of the native Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina. Our shrub (small tree?) was a welcome gift from the birds. (Thanks to the Cornell Cooperative Extension for the ID!) Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

In addition to the Camus ‘leaf flowers’, there are real flowers to admire and celebrate in the Fall. Standouts in my garden are the repeat-blooming evergreen azaleas. Consider my long adored Rhododendron ‘Marshy Point’s Humdinger’, a time-tested reliable Spring/Autumn bloomer with disease-resistant foliage. Photo below. (For additional photos and for more information about Humdinger, see posts of November 2011, March 2013, and December 2015.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

And new to my garden is the handsome evergreen azalea, Rhododendron Bloom-a-Thon Pink Double. The shrub possesses a winning combination of abundant ruffled, pink flowers in Spring, Summer and Fall, and healthy, dark green foliage. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

{Note: Most Rhododendrons form flower buds in the Summer and Fall and bloom only in the Spring. A few of these plants are beguiled by warm weather spurts in the Fall and Winter and are seduced into bloom—as in the photo below. When the emerging flowers are zapped by the cold, Spring bloom is diminished if not destroyed altogether. Heartbreaking. Their lawyer should sue Mother Nature for wrongful death.}

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, homage must be paid to Rosa ‘Belle Vichyssoise’, a Noisette rose that started to bloom in June and continues to produce intoxicating, fragrant flowers to be enjoyed in the garden and in the house. Photos below. (For more information about Belle and Noisette roses see post of June 2012.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

2017: Summer End Game

On a recent walk about the garden I was startled to see the distinctive upside-down-baseball-bat like seed heads of the butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

I guess I have a bird to thank. Over the years I’ve planted a slew of A. tuberosa but they all died–probably from a combination of lack of sun and an overabundance of voles. I join the butterflies in hoping this plant survives. (Note: I never saw the midsummer flowers because the gravel path in that area of the garden was then overgrown with vegetation laced with ticks and had to be avoided.)

My late summer garden is a showcase of interesting seed heads like the singular display of Clematis ‘Minuet’ and the golden pinwheels of Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany’. Photos below. (For flower photos and information about these vines see my last two blog posts.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Another showy seed head is produced by the hummingbird magnet, Canna Lily Tropicanna a/k/a Canna indica ‘Phasion’. Photos of the seed head and flowers below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Tropicanna is no longer in flower so the hummingbirds have moved on to a vibrant orange flowering geranium and the gorgeous purple-stemmed, blood-red flowering, Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’. Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, to celebrate summer’s splendid End Game, a fragrant bouquet from the garden.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

Summer 2017: Clematis & Gardenias

I love tulips but I don’t have any in the garden. As soon as I plant the bulbs the voles invite all their friends over for an eating orgy. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I recently discovered a tulip-look-alike substitute, the award-winning vine, Clematis ‘Duchess of Albany.’ Zones 4-9. (Photo below.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

Don’t know what took me so long — the Duchess was introduced to commerce in 1894. And she possesses many assets, including profuse flowering from late July to September, and thereafter showy golden pinwheel like seed heads. The plant blooms on new growth and once established can grow 6-12 feet after hard pruning in the Spring. Moreover, the vine is so hardy and easy-care that it is on the International Clematis Society’s “Clematis For Beginners List”. Provide rich, well-drained soil, and water on a regular basis. With adequate support, the Duchess grows well in the ground or in a container.

 

I love gardenias and I treasure Gardenia ‘Chuck Hayes’ (Zones 7-9) in my garden. (Photo below.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

Before Chuck, I tried about 7 or 8 different gardenias and none survived . Then ten years ago Chuck arrived on the scene with the promise of cold-hardiness in my U.S. East Coast Zone 7. But when winter frost arrived that first year, I was so taken with the plant’s beauty and fragrance I rushed Chuck indoors to safety — and put him back outside the following June when the danger had passed. That’s been the modus operandi every year since.

My organic garden’s health relies heavily on beneficial insects and birds to control the damage caused by pests. Needless to say, those garden helpers don’t live in my house. I was taking a risk with Chuck since many other house plants didn’t make it. But he surpassed all expectations: No pests and no disease. A Super Hero!

Chuck is an evergreen shrub with deliciously fragrant double flowers from July to October, and lustrous, dark green foliage. He flourishes in a large container with acidic soil and regular water. He does grow quite big–about 3 feet tall and wide-and I’ve had to prune him back a couple of times.

I have been tempted to leave him out over winter, protected with conifer branches — the method I use with container roses — but these days Mother Nature has been too crazed and erratic. Maybe someday.

Summer 2017: Roses & Clematis

Trouble in Paradise:

A pox on ticks!!!! Our gardens are harboring thousands of these blood-sucking vampires. It’s impossible to avoid them. My husband and I have already suffered 4 debilitating bouts of Lyme Disease. (And I shuddered when I read that in northern New England large numbers of moose have been killed by ticks.) Enough already. WE NEED A VACCINE!!!!

Our Oaks are also in need of help. A deadly fungal disease, Oak Wilt, is killing the trees by cutting off their supply of food and water. Last year the disease spread to six new locations in New York, including the East End of Long Island where I garden. The catastrophic loss of oaks would be devastating to our landscapes and to our wildlife. As yet, there is no cure, but there are preventive measures suggested by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation:

Oak Wilt is spread by insects, especially sap beetles, which are attracted to fresh tree wounds. Therefore, prune oaks between October and February — not during the sap-flowing growing season. And learn to identify the symptoms of Oak Wilt, which include discoloration around the leaf edge and a sudden, substantial loss of summer foliage. For more information, contact the DEC Forest Health office: 1-866-640-0652; or e-mail photos of tree symptoms to: foresthealth@dec.ny.gov

Pretty In Pink:

On to happier thoughts. The roses are in their glory, releasing intoxicating fragrance about the garden. I am partial to the disease-resistant Kordes roses, like the enchanting, multi-award-winning climber, Rosa ‘Jasmina’. We revel in her delicious perfume, which travels on the air all the way to our upper house deck — over 20 feet high. Photos below. (For more about the Kordes Nursery and roses see the post: “July 2014: Celebration of Roses.”)

copyright 2017 — Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 — Lois Sheinfeld

 

I do grow and treasure one non-fragrant rose, another multi-award-winning Kordes beauty, Rosa ‘Larissa’. If you are looking for a repeat bloomer that is über hardy and disease-resistant (disease-free for me), and will flourish in a container, look no further. Albeit non-fragrant, I love Larissa’s small, densely-petaled, cotton-candy-pink flowers. Photo below. (Larissa is still in bud. Photo from last year.)

copyright 2017 — Lois Sheinfeld

 

Speaking of a hardy, healthy, floriferous bloomer that will thrive in a container, consider Clematis ‘Minuet.’ This small-flowered  viticella Clematis does not suffer from the dreaded Clematis Wilt which plagues large-flowered Clematis. A big plus. As a general rule, viticellas are extremely hardy and disease-resistant. And pruning is a piece of cake. Minuet blooms on new growth, so in early Spring I prune the old stems down to the ground. (I wait until there is no risk of frost because the old stems provide protection for the crown of the plant — and birds appreciate any remaining seeds.) In the wink of an eye, new stems emerge and the vine produces masses of charming, purple-pink edged white flowers. Photo below.

copyright 2017 — Lois Sheinfeld

 

Note: In his 1597 Herball, John Gerard did caution gardeners about the viticella Clematis: “it climeth aloft,” he said, “and taketh hold with its crooked claspers upon everything that standeth nere unto it!” Ergo, keep to a safe distance.

Wishing you all a fabulous Fourth of July! a fabulous and.

Spring 2017: Fragrant Radiance

We live in an extraordinarily trying time.

Mother Nature has been almost as erratic and misguided as the Ruling Class in D.C.

Yet, this Spring, she seems to have had a brief change of heart: The garden has never looked as splendid, bursting at the seams with awe-inspiring bloom. Especially impressive are the Rhododendrons, like the purple-flowering variety shown below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

A few Rhododendrons possess both spectacular bloom and fragrance. One of the finest is the award-winning R. ‘Loderi King George’ (Zones 7-9). In 1920, this beauty was hybridized by Sir Edmund Loder in England and it has been prized ever since. (One of George’s parents, R. fortunei, is discussed in the previous post.) Large snowy-white blossoms produce fragrance that carries on the air and fills the garden with intoxicating perfume. The shrub’s foliage does suffer winter damage, but the plant quickly produces new pristine green leaves in the Spring. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Another intensely fragrant Rhododendron is the native deciduous azalea, R. ‘Choptank Rose Seedling’ (Zones 5-8). This seedling comes from a group of natural hybrid azaleas (atlanticum x periclymenoides) discovered along the Choptank River, on the Maryland/Delaware border. With a seedling, you never know for sure what the flower will look like. I lucked out. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Joining Spring’s sweet symphony, the Broom, Cytisus scoparius ‘Moonlight’ (Zones 6-8), produces an abundance of fragrant, creamy-yellow, pea-like flowers. When the flowers fade, purple seed pods add to the dazzle. Moonlight is an easy-care, drought-tolerant shrub that requires sun and well-drained soil. While Broom has a sorry reputation for being short-lived, my plants are over twenty years old and are still going strong. (Just protect against voles!). Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

If you are looking for a fragrant flowering, shade-loving, deer-resistant, perennial ground cover, consider Convallaria majalis’ Albostriata’ (Zones 3-7). About forty-five years ago, while touring the Lake District in England with my husband, a sprig of enchanting lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria) graced our table at dinner. I was smitten and now treasure them in my garden. The variegated form, Albostriata, is relatively new to me and is certainly worth having for the foliage alone. Note: It may occasionally revert to an all green leaf. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, an exciting plant from a warmer clime. My friend Dee lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and sent me a photo of a showy shrub blooming in her garden: Caesalpinia gilliesii (Desert/Yellow Bird Of Paradise).  This red-tongued Diva is native to Argentina and Uruguay and thrives in Zones 8-11. It isn’t fragrant but Hummingbirds love it. And so do I!  Sometimes the grass is greener.

copyright 2017 – Dee Finkelstein

Spring 2017: Resplendent Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons are Spring Superstars, gracing the garden with form, color, beauty — and ofttimes fragrance. Here are three distinctive early blooming favorites:

Rhododendron ‘Taurus’ is a standout evergreen shrub. It never fails to capture attention as it bursts into Spring with supersized buds and glowing fire-engine-red blossoms. Nothing shy about this plant. Taurus has healthy, dark green foliage, and can attain a height of six feet at maturity. (Photos below.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Rhododendron fortunei produces pink buds that open to beautiful, intensely fragrant white flowers. As a bonus, this vigorous, upright evergreen — mine is almost tree-like — sports handsome, paddle-shaped, matte green healthy leaves. If possible, site the shrub near a path in order to fully savor its heavenly perfume. (Photos below. Note: While R. fortunei has lots of buds this year, it hasn’t bloomed yet, so the photos are from last year.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Rhododendron ‘Hank’s Mellow Yellow’ is a hardy, evergreen, small-leafed shrub that thinks it’s a ground cover: After about ten years in my garden, it isn’t more than six inches tall. However, every year it increases in girth and cloaks the earth with an abundance of lovely pale yellow flowers. For color contrast, I have it edging a pink flowering Rhododendron that blooms around the same time. R.’Hanks Mellow Yellow’ is a unique and special Rhododendron. (Photos below.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

R. ‘Hank’s Mellow Yellow’ was hybridized by my friend, the late Hank Schannen, accomplished plantsman and founder of rareFIND nursery. Reproduced below is Hank’s famous take on Rhododendron culture:

Hank Schannen’s 12 Criteria for Success with Rhododendron

1. Drainage

2. Drainage

3. Drainage

4. Drainage

5. Drainage

6. Drainage

7. Acid pH

8. Dappled shade

9. Able to water when needed

10. If containerized, loosen roots (viciously)

11. When in doubt, plant it HIGH!

12. Hmmm – More DRAINAGE!!!

 

How to kill a rhododendron:

1 .Southwest corner of a house

2. Full sun

3. Heavy clay soil

4. Wet – poor drainage

5. Down spout nearby

6. Neutral/alkaline pH

7. Containerized plant is plunked into ground with root ball in pristine condition

8. Ignore Criteria above

2017 Early Spring: Camellias & Honeysuckle

Spring is really here!

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

And Mother Nature is full of surprises.

For the past three years, none of my hardy camellias bloomed and some suffered dieback and death. According to camellia guru, David Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery, the plants don’t appreciate dramatic shifts in weather — which is our new reality. So, reluctantly, I decided: No More Camellias!

Imagine my amazement this Spring when I found Camellia japonica ‘Korean Fire’ — and others — full of flower buds. I don’t get it. Last winter wasn’t much different from the previous two. But I’m not complaining. Hey, when it comes to plants, it doesn’t take much to make me a believer. I fast ordered a new beauty, Camellia ‘Erina’, and re-upped with my local Camellia Group.

Camellia ‘Korean Fire’, an award winning shrub, was raised from seeds collected in 1984 from wild plants growing on islands off the west coast of South Korea. This area endures frigid, harsh winter weather, which clearly accounts for Korean Fire’s winter hardiness; while flowerless for three years, the shrub never sustained winter dieback. Moreover, before being released commercially, Korean Fire was subjected to decades of field trial evaluations for winter hardiness, leaf quality, vigor, etc., and surpassed all expectations. Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Camellia ‘Erina’ is quite unusual.The plant has pink and white buds that produce a profusion of dainty white flowers with golden tufted centers. An elegant plant with perfect miniature camellias. I couldn’t resist. Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

(Note: There is some confusion about Erina’s parentage. Camellia Forest received the plant from a collector as Camellia tsaii v. synaptica ‘Erina’. But the leading authority on camellias, Dr. Clifford Parks, pointed out that Erina’s flowers and leaves are smaller than that species. There also seems to be a bit of an identity mix-up with the Camellia ‘Elina Cascade’.)

 

Finally, despite Mother Nature’s assaults, the Fragrant Honeysuckle, Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty,’ blooms reliably every year. From late March until late April the shrub’s creamy-white flowers release intoxicating perfume that carries on the air. A most welcome sign of Spring. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

I purchased the camellias Korean Fire and Erina, as well as the  honeysuckle Winter Beauty, from Camellia Forest Nursery. You can click onto their website at LINKS.

2017: Year Of The Rooster & Global Warming

2017 is the Year of the Rooster when evil spirits are supposed to be exorcised.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

So where was the Rooster when Mother Nature moved to Crazyville and decided to play topsy-turvy with the seasons? On February 8, in the dead of winter, we were enjoying balmy weather in the 60’s and the flowers of the Witchhazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel,’ filled the garden with fragrance.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

On February 9 — the very next day — we suffered a deep freeze along with a foot and a half of snow. The storm was accompanied by thunder, lightning, and strong winds that blew our 6 ft. x 4 ft. metal chimney-cap off the roof and smashed it into a group of bud-heavy Rhododendron, causing untold damage. And the heavy snowfall changed tall shrubs into groundcovers.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Dramatic shifts in weather continued into March when we had another run of unusually warm weather. On March 9th, Hellebores were in full bloom, fat Pieris buds were showing color, Sarcococca bloomed a month early, and the birds were singing love songs — all in hopeful anticipation of Spring. Alas, these hopes were dashed when frigid temperatures returned and heavy snow fell again on March 10th. (Photos below in order of mention.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Across the country, climate change has also caused soaring temperatures, blizzards, tornados, severe droughts and wildfires, horrific floods and mudslides. It simply belies reason that despite unimpeachable scientific evidence and real life experience, many of our recently elected representatives refuse to admit that we have a global warming problem.

Worse still, instead of coming up with solutions,Trump & Co. are part of the problem: They are intent on repealing our clean air and clean water protections and the President’s budget mandates sweeping cuts in funding for The Environmental Protection Agency. I don’t get it. Could this be President Trump’s idea of “America First”?

I’m reminded of the ancient saying: “If you keep a green tree in your heart, a singing bird may come.”

Will any birds sing for us?

Jan.\Feb. 2017: Fragrant Native Plants

It’s the start of a New Year but we gardeners don’t have much to celebrate: Mother Nature has again locked us into a dizzying weather roller coaster. And I mean locked. The first week in January we were housebound for five days after a snow storm. With an accumulation of over a foot of snow and freezing cold temperatures, we couldn’t open a door to the outside. Then the weather turned balmy and all the snow melted. Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Warm days followed, then freezing temps again, and snow again, and then a return of the tropics AGAIN! These dramatic swings in weather are driving me and the plants cuckoo. As soon as there is a run of warm weather, the buds of a number of spring-flowering shrubs — forsythia, rhododendron, and camellia, to name a few — open and are zapped by frost. Not pretty. And too many plants just up and die.

When I think about the added stress of coping with deer, rabbits, voles, et al., I’m sorely tempted to throw in the trowel.

Ultimately, though, the pleasures of having a garden outweigh the problems. Especially the priceless joy I receive from fragrant plants providing natural aromatherapy in my own backyard. (Recently, I read about a new fragrance trend in New York City luxury apartment buildings: Lobbies and hallways are saturated with synthetic aromas blown in through ductwork or stand-alone machines. Quite frankly, I think it’s dreadful — too much like being caught in an elevator with someone heavily doused in strong cologne.)

Plantsman William Cullina once said, “My favorite part of winter is spring.” On that note, here are two of my favorite Spring-blooming, fragrant, American beauties:

Rhododendron ‘Snowbird’, a deciduous native Azalea (z 6-8), has deliciously fragrant white flowers and blue-green, mildew-resistant foliage. I grow Snowbird in organic rich, well-drained, acid soil, in a shady area close to a path. Photo below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ (z 5-9), is an award-winning, fragrant, native vine. While the lovely flowers may not be as dazzling as those of its Asian cousins, W. sinensis* and W. floribunda, its reliable bloom and restrained growth are more suitable for a home garden. And my plant does fine in dappled shade. Photos below.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

*Note: I have to constantly prune the rapacious roots of my Chinese wisteria, W. sinensis, especially when they sneak into the compost pile. Not to mention that in the wink of an eye its stems wrapped five large oaks in fond embrace.

December 2016: Singin’ The Blues

We are fast approaching the end of 2016 and I’m dreamin’ of Spring and singin’ the blues — garden blues.

Before you are seduced by the glossy photos in 2017 plant catalogs, I’d like to bring to your attention a number of captivating “blue” plants that have been time-tested in my organic garden:

Rhododendron ‘Turquoise and Gold’ is a 3 foot tall, mildew-resistant (for me, mildew-free) deciduous azalea. For twelve years the shrub has exceeded expectations with lush displays of beautiful, deliciously fragrant golden flowers, and healthy, blue-hued foliage. Photos below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’ (Korean Fir) is a compact, slow-growing (3-6 inches a year) evergreen conifer — a distinctive tree, with upright blue cones in Spring, and wondrous, tightly curled, green needled foliage with silver undersides. Photo below. (I should note that for the first few years in my garden the tree’s greenish-white cones never turned blue. Why? I haven’t a clue.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca'(a/k/a Glauca Group) is a tall, vigorous, very cold-hardy Japanese White Pine. This handsome tree has evergreen, blue-green-silvery foliage and is embellished in the Spring with an abundance of pink — yes, pink! — cones. And ‘Glauca’ has been problem free for 25 years. Photos below of the cones and foliage.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, another shout out for Henna Coleus. (See Post: “September 2016: Ode To Late Summer”.) Henna isn’t blue, but deserving of celebration nonetheless. While her Coleus container companions died in October, Henna continued to flaunt her ruffles thru Thanksgiving. I replaced the dead plants with conifer stems. A whole new look. Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

September 2016: Ode To Late Summer

Recent editions of an Oxford Junior Dictionary, aimed at seven-year-olds, eliminated the following words that the editors considered no longer relevant to the lives of modern children: “acorn”, “dandelion”, “fern”, “nectar” and “pasture.” I find this very sad.

Sadder still, was this Summer’s abysmal weather. In recent years, hot, muggy days and drought, likely caused by global warming, resulted in lasting damage to the landscape. So I too must identify and edit, weeding out plants — including long-time favorites — that will not thrive in a “modern” garden.

Yet, thankfully, Mother Nature’s bounty is infinite. Despite the egregious growing conditions, there were a number of garden successes worthy of mention:

Phlox paniculata.  This summer I grew several colorful, fragrant, mildew-resistant Phlox in a large container. I’m still enjoying the rewards — along with grateful hummingbirds and butterflies. Photo below. (See also post of January 2016, “What’s New: Klehm’s Song Sparrow”.)

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Clerodendrum trichotomum. Another plant that fills the air with delicious fragrance, Clerodendrum, commonly called Harlequin Glorybower, blooms for me in late August/early September. When the white tubular flowers fade they are followed by lovely pink calyxes. Not a bad investment for the dog days of summer. Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

Moreover, in October, the calyxes open to reveal pea-sized, showy, metallic-blue fruit. (For photos, see post of October 2012, “Autumn Update: Iochroma & Clerodendrum.”)

Glorybower is stoloniferous and begets many volunteers. While some regard this as a fault, I welcome fragrant, fruiting gifts from Mother Nature. So do the bees. Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

 

Henna Coleus (a/k/a Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Balcenna’). Henna is an award-winning Coleus and a 2016 trendsetter: Ruffles are the new IN THING for Fall couture and Henna has ruffles a-plenty. A Garden Fashionista. Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

Apart from frilly edges, Henna flaunts chartreuse centers splashed with reddish-purple, and burgundy undersides. A fabulous foliage plant for sun or shade. And Henna plays well with others. Photos below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

It has been suggested that Coleus flowers should be removed because they cause the plant to become leggy and unattractive. Not a problem with Henna, which either flowers very late in the season or not at all. (I rather like the long spikes of pale blue flowers that attract butterflies and I don’t remove them.) Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

 

Rhododendron bureavii x yakushimanum is an outstanding foliage plant. Rhododendrons are usually celebrated for their flowers, but this shrub’s sensational new stems and foliage covered in orange suede take top billing. It is one of the most admired plants in my garden. Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate.’ While this Mimosa Tree produces flowers that are magnets for butterflies, it is the exquisite purple foliage that makes it a must-have plant. And ‘Summer Chocolate’ is hardy, vigorous, and easy-care. Photos below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Update: Cornus kousa ‘ Milky Way’ still a-flower in September. Photo below.

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2016 – Lois Sheinfeld