Autumn 2020 Playing Mozart: Epigaea repens

“Autumn stays the marching year one moment,” said Edna St. Vincent Millay, and it is a time to “compute, refute, amass, catalogue, question, contemplate and see.”

I’m all in. Autumn days spent closely observing and evaluating the plants in my garden led me to a new appreciation for a native plant that plays Mozart, but doesn’t flaunt it. Understated, it adds value with quiet beauty, multi-season interest, longevity — and even historical significance:

Epigaea repens (Mayflower; Trailing Arbutus) Z 4-9

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld


This Eastern North American native has trailing, thin, woody stems covered with thick, green leaves. Found in pine and oak shaded woodlands in well-drained, moist, acidic soil, Epigaea grows into a dense, evergreen, mat-like groundcover. (As shown in the photo above, in my garden the advancing foliage is about to overtake one very concerned fella.) The plant does not like to be disturbed — successful transplanting is all but impossible. If you are fortunate to have it, admire it in place.

In early April, Epigaea’s sweetly fragrant, wax-like, pink and white flowers appear amid its rusty, weather-worn foliage.

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld


In her book, The Fragrant Path (1932), Louise Beebe Wilder wrote that it was one of “the earliest and perhaps the most beloved of our wild flowers.” Perhaps it was too beloved. The plants’ survival was threatened by unchecked collecting. The flowers were in great demand.

Mrs. William Starr Dana — author of the very popular guide How to Know the Wild Flowers (1908) — recalled taking a walk in the forest and finding trailing arbutus: “I denied myself the pleasure of picking more than one or two sprays of these flowers” she said, “singularly tempting though they were, so fearful am I of the extermination of this plant, the especial pride, perhaps, of our spring woods, and the peculiar object of the cupidity of ruthless flower pickers.” Dana, According To Season (1924).

Hmm. Makes one wonder. Apart from the “ruthless flower pickers”, how many Epigaea fans exercised restraint and plucked only one or two sprays? It adds up, doesn’t it?

In 1918, the Mayflower (Epigaea repens) was officially adopted as the Massachusetts State Flower. In 1925, the Massachusetts State Legislature placed the plant on the endangered list and prohibited wild harvesting. Violators paid a $50 fine. (The fine was doubled if the perpetrator was “in disguise” or did it “secretly in the nighttime.” Shades of Agatha Christie!)

It is believed that the Pilgrims named the plant Mayflower — same name as the ship that brought them to Massachusetts in 1620 — because it was the first Spring flower they saw, a hopeful sign after an arduous trip at sea and a hard winter on land. In 1856, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote about it in his poem The Mayflowers. In part:

‘God be praised’ the Pilgrim said,

Who saw the blossoms peer

Above the brown leaves, dry and dead,

‘Behold our Mayflower here!’

As we fast approach Thanksgiving, it might be interesting for children to learn about this connection between early American history and native plants in our gardens.

Be well, stay safe. And vote!!!

2020 Summer Fragrance: Roses, Roses, Roses

There was a time in English garden history when the ne plus ultra ornament of a stately home garden was a hermitage and a hermit. Hard to believe, but true. In his play, Arcadia, set in the year 1809 at Sidley Park—a 500-acre country house–Tom Stoppard exposed the absurdity of the practice. Below, Lady Croom and her landscape architect Richard Noakes discuss the hermitage:

“Lady Croom: And who is to live in it?

Noakes: Why, the hermit.

Lady Croom: Where is he?

Noakes: Madam?

Lady Croom: You surely do not supply a hermitage without a hermit?

Noakes: Indeed, madam—

Lady Croom: Come, come, Mr. Noakes. If I am promised a fountain I expect it to come with water. What hermits do you have?

Noakes: I have no hermits, my lady.

Lady Croom: Not one? I am speechless.

Noakes: I am sure a hermit can be found. One could advertise.

Lady Croom: Advertise?

Noakes: In the newspapers.

Lady Croom: But surely a hermit who takes a newspaper is not a hermit in whom one can have complete confidence.”

I can appreciate Lady Croom’s frustration. These days it is difficult for gardeners to have complete confidence in anything. Surely not the weather. Or our good health — or even survival. But we find joy in our gardens, in our plants. Like Noakes, I don’t have any hermits. But I do have confidence in these beautiful, fragrant, healthy roses that have flourished in my organic garden:

Rosa ‘Golden Fairy Tale’ Z 5-9 is an award-winning Kordes rose introduced in 2004. Kordes roses are grown in Germany without toxic pesticides and undergo years of extensive testing before they are offered for sale. Golden Fairy Tale has a lovely fragrance, blooms from June to frost, and enjoys outstanding disease resistance. Yellow roses are particularly prone to blackspot but not this yellow rose. The abundant flowers are large and multi-petaled like old fashioned roses and the shrub can grow to 6 feet. Photos below.


copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld


One morning, I was shocked to find numerous de-flowered stems along with the detritus of the loathsome crime. Photos below.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld


Who done it? The deer? The wild turkeys? The butler? The hermit?

It was SQUIRRELS!!! We caught the rose-chomping varmints in the act.

Five bird feeders aren’t enough? Do they have to eat the roses too? And they didn’t stop with Golden Fairy Tale. Let’s just say that for a time there wasn’t a need for a lot of rose deadheading. Apart from yelling and throwing tennis balls at them, we haven’t yet devised a fail-safe squirrel prevention solution.

Rosa ‘Summer Sun’ Z 5-9 is my latest award-winning Kordes rose addition. This showy, fragrant, recurrent bloomer has clusters of multi-petaled orange-pink flowers with a creamy-yellow reverse, and glossy, dark green foliage with excellent disease-resistance. It has been disease-free and winter-hardy here for four years and running. Lovely in the garden and in the house. The shrub grows to a compact three feet and thrives in a large container. Photos below.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld


Rosa ‘Leander’ Z 5-11 is the first rose I planted in my garden. I saw it on a garden tour and had to have it. That was about thirty years ago. It is a David Austin English Rose introduced in 1982. Austin bred roses for beauty of form and for fragrance. And he succeeded. Most of his roses are fragrant and drop-dead gorgeous. As is Leander. But unlike many others I have tried which were overcome with blackspot, R. ‘Leander’ is disease-resistant — an essential asset in an organic garden. While classified as a shrub, it can be grown as a climber. The rose can grow to twelve feet and in my garden happily lends an arm to grace an arch. Leander has orange flower buds that open to orange flowers that change to apricot and finally fade to white. Dazzling at every stage. Photos below.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Masses of flowers are produced from late May to early July, but while Leander may produce a blossom or two in the fall, it isn’t a recurrent bloomer. At least it hasn’t been for me. Yet, I would not want to be without it.

For more rose photos and information click on Roses under CATEGORIES.

Finally, many States in the U.S. are now suffering a catastrophic, alarming surge of the coronavirus. New York State is not among them. Thank you, Governor. When you speak, we listen.

All of us.


copyright 2020 – Jessica Amsterdam

Have a wonderful and safe 4th of July!