2020/2021: Look Back & March Forward

A beloved 100-year-old fig tree in Kenya, condemned to make way for an expressway, was granted a reprieve last month because of Kenya’s “commitment to environmental conservation.” Saving the ancient fig warmed my heart.

Quite different from the Trump Administration’s flagrant disregard of environmental conservation and protection here in the United States. There have been more than 60 federal protective rules and regulations reversed or rolled back, resulting in a significant increase of probable harm to our health and well-being. (See also Blog post: “Jan/Feb 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert”.)

Thankfully, remedial action will begin on January 20.

Now a look back at my garden year 2020 with a focus on three easy-care, beautiful, interesting, flowering shrubs you may wish to add to your 2021 garden:

Rhododendron ‘Jenny Tabol’ is a large-leaf evergreen that produces in May an abundance of unique, butter-yellow flowers with pink highlights. Rhododendron ‘Zulu’ is a tall, semi-evergreen, Glenn Dale azalea that dazzles in May with masses of purple bloom; in the Fall its foliage turns autumnal shades of orange, pink, and gold. Both shrubs have flourished for many years in well-drained, acidic, rich organic soil in shade. Photos below.

copyright 2021 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2021 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2021 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2021 – Lois Sheinfeld

Pieris japonica ‘Angel Falls’ is an extraordinary evergreen shrub with all-season interest. It is a sport of P. Valley Valentine and has similar rose-pink, fragrant, April flowers. But unlike Valley Valentine’s green foliage, Angel Falls sports vibrant, showy green and white variegated foliage. A sight to see in winter paired with its magenta flower buds. Purchased as a one-gallon plant, after nine years the shrub has grown about 2 feet and has assumed the form of a dwarf tree. Culture requirements are the same as the Rhododendrons. Photos below.

copyright 2021 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2021 – Lois Sheinfeld

I am looking forward to Spring 2021. I have fabulous plants on order and after twenty-five years of avoiding bulbs because of voles, I’ve planted tulips, daffodils and crocus. I’ll let you know how that turns out. And I hope, with vaccination, it will finally be safe for me and my husband to hug our kids.

From our family to yours: Wishing You All a Joyous, Healthy, New Year!

Be well. Stay safe.

2020 Autumn Garden All-Stars

The Earth has been spinning dangerously off its axis.

For years we have suffered one crisis after another fed by nonstop incompetence, corruption, and lies. Environmental protections have been eviscerated. It continues even as I write this. But the people have spoken and on January 20, 2021 we will have the opportunity to set this Republic on a true and just course.

Much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

In the garden, sadly the Oaks never displayed Fall color — their foliage fast turned from green to brown. But the following Autumn-All-Stars didn’t disappoint:

Nyssa sylvatica (Sour Gum, Black Gum) Z 4-9

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Often called one of our most beautiful native trees, Nyssa is especially admired for its reliable, vibrant Fall color. It is disease-resistant and will grow in sun or shade in well-drained, moist, acidic soil.

Because of its long taproot, it is difficult to move. When I had to transplant one of my established trees, it lost a few feet from the top and it took about three years to fully recover. While it is quite happy now in its new position, you can avoid the problem by carefully choosing a planting site with an eye to the future.

Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ (Burning Bush) Z 5-8

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

This disease-resistant Asian shrub isn’t fussy about soil pH but does prefer well-drained soil with regular water. It will prosper in sun or shade but its Fall color will be affected: In sun the foliage will turn fiery red; in shade, it’s more likely to turn pink, as in the photos above. E. alatus can attain a height of 15-20 feet. My cultivar ‘Compactus’ is about 11 feet—smaller but not really compact. (Since I planted it — over twenty-five years ago — dwarf cultivars have become available.)

In addition to being easy-care, the shrub produces showy red-orange Fall fruit beloved by birds, resulting in volunteer seedlings popping up in the landscape. I welcome volunteers, but others do not and have called for the plants to be banned from commerce. Angry birds have drafted a petition in opposition.

Finally, consider these three fabulous Japanese Maples clad in flaming autumnal attire:

Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa yatsubusa’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Acer palmatum ‘Iijima sunago’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Acer palmatum ‘Aoyagi/Ukon’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

In my organic garden they all flourish in rich, moist, well-drained, acidic soil, in shade.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Be well. Stay safe.

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 Autumn Joy: Disanthus & Viburnum

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden communing with nature. I find that closely observing and working with plants, while dreaming and scheming about future plans for the landscape, is calming and restorative. Especially so in Autumn when the leaves turn color. It’s a magical time. The native Dogwoods are usually the first to capture my attention. Photo below.

dogwood in Fall

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld


But this September I was distracted when the circus came to town! My goodness, Mother Nature has a sense of humor. Meet the uncommon, whimsical clown, Saddleback Caterpillar. Photo below.


copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

Yeah, yeah, I know it is eating my rhododendron…….yet, it makes me smile. So do two uncommon, deciduous ornamental shrubs that enrich my Autumn landscape. Consider:


Disanthus cercidifolius Z 5-8

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

This 6-10 foot Asian native shrub has elegant blue-green heart-shaped leaves in Spring and Summer. In Autumn it explodes into spectacular color. Photos above. Disanthus is disease-resistant — disease-free for me — and thrives in well-drained, acidic, organically rich soil in shade. It dislikes drought. Protect from strong wind.

I was filled with trepidation when I had to move the established plant to another area in the garden. I needn’t have worried. It didn’t drop a leaf. A most reasonable, accommodating plant.


Viburnum setigerum (Tea Viburnum) Z 5-7

copyright 2020 — Lois Sheinfeld

Tea Viburnum is a native of China where monks used the leaves to make medicinal tea — which explains its common name. The shrub can grow 8-12 feet and has attractive dark green foliage which turns red in Fall. But it is the abundant, showy clusters of fat, cherry-red berries that make this a standout plant in the Autumn garden. Photo above. Grow in sun or shade, in rich, well-drained, acid, moist soil. Disease-free for me. (Note: It is said that Viburnums are very social — they like to party. So, to ensure heavy fruit display I grow it with other Viburnums.)

Be well. Stay safe.

Summer 2020: Color Me Purple

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats,” said the late British author, Iris Murdoch. Since the pandemic turned our lives upside down, taking time to savor the good moments makes a lot of sense. Consider seeking comfort in the garden with the following plants — joyful “small treats” that flourish despite summer’s oppressive heat and humidity:

Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ (Mimosa Tree) Z 6-9.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

I am enamored of the dark purple, fern-like foliage of A. julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’, an awesome hybrid Mimosa tree. Malevolent voles killed the first tree I planted in the garden. A pox on them! They ate the roots when the tree was well-established and in bloom.  I planted the current tree — shown above — four years ago with sharp-stone vole-repellent. (See post of April 2, 2012: “Hot Tips: Vole Damage Protection”.) So far, so good.

In the early Spring, don’t panic if your tree looks dead. It leafs out late. And the new foliage will be green — but don’t despair, it will change to purple. The tree just likes to fool with us. Summer Chocolate does well in sun or part shade, in well-drained acid or sweet soil. Late-summer pink flowers will attract butterflies. An additional “small treat.”


Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) Z 3-9

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Balloon flower is a summer-flowering, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, long-lived perennial. It is aptly named for its delightful, puffy flower buds. The plants grow in clumps on sturdy stems to about 2 feet and produce flowers in clusters. While I occasionally cut flowers for the house, in the garden I don’t remove the faded flowers or their resulting seed pods. Therefore, I’m gifted with lots of volunteer plants. Yet, be aware: If you want continuous bloom all summer long, regular deadheading is essential.

My plants thrive in organically rich, well-drained acid soil in shade. Choose the planting site carefully. Platycodon grandiflorus has a chunky, fleshy, root system, which — much like the Magnolia — resents disturbance. In Asia, people eat the roots, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory/digestive benefits. Not to everyone’s taste, though.


Canna ‘Australia’ (Canna Lily) Z 9-10

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Canna Lilies are tropical, rhizomatous perennials that love heat, humidity, and lots of water. C. ‘Australia’ with its showy black-purple foliage, and vibrant red-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds, is an easy-care Summer/Fall superstar.

I grow my Cannas in large pots. After the first frost, I remove the dead foliage and stems and then winter store the pots in my unheated basement. I ignore them until late May when I bring them outside. Once the plants are watered and fertilized they quickly grow to full size. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. Never lost a plant. And when you plant in pots, voles aren’t a problem. An added bonus.

Be well. Stay safe.

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!

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: or  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.

Spring 2020 Floragloria Chorus: Rhododendrons

In 1899 a musical, Floradora, opened in London and was a smash hit. After a long run in England, the show crossed the pond and opened in New York to equal acclaim. The show’s fame was largely due to its Floradora Girls, a chorus of women — clad in pink, carrying frilly parasols — who captivated audiences.

In 2020, in my Spring garden, we treasure the chorus performance of Mezitt Rhododendron lepidotes — a captivating, flowering extravaganza in pink and purple:

Part 1

Rhododendron ‘PJM’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

The Mezitt-Weston Nurseries’ breeding program was launched with the introduction of the rightly popular Rhododendron ‘PJM’, named for Weston’s founder, Peter J. Mezitt. In April, glowing lavender-pink blossoms — favored by bees — blanket the shrub, and in Autumn\Winter the evergreen, small-leafed foliage turns a deep mahogany-black.

PJM is very cold-hardy, disease and pest-resistant, and thrives in both sun and shade. (Note: All of the Rhododendrons featured here share these attributes.)


Rhododendron ‘Weston’s Pink Diamond’

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

This luminous, semi-evergreen beauty starred in the 1983 sixtieth anniversary celebration of Weston Nurseries. Graced in April with luxuriant, ruffled, double silvery-pink flowers, and then in Autumn with resplendent foliage in shades of red, orange and gold, R. ‘Weston’s Pink Diamond’ has been celebrated in my garden for twenty-five years.


Rhododendron ‘Weston’s Aglo’

As Pink Diamond’s flowers fade in May, its garden side-kick, R.’Weston’s Aglo’, comes into its own with abundant clusters of radiant pink flowers with vibrant red flares. Bees love the flowers as much as I do. In the Fall, the glossy evergreen foliage turns a rich bronze-green. R ‘Weston’s Aglo’ has flourished in my organic garden for more than two decades. (The shrub is a sibling of the popular R.’Olga Mezitt’—Aglo is Olga spelled backwards.)

A copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Stay Tuned: Part 2 Next Post.

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 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


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!

Autumn 2019: Caterpillars & Foliage Undersides

Caterpillars are fascinating.

Consider the camouflage trick of the peppered moth caterpillar: To protect itself from bird predators it can change its color to white, green or brown to blend in with the bark color of the trees it feeds on. According to a recent study, these caterpillars can actually sense the color of the tree’s bark with their skin as well as with their eyes.

The monarch butterfly employs a different defense against predatory birds. It has developed a unique immunity to the toxins contained in milkweed plants. Its caterpillars feed only on these plants, store the milkweed toxins in their bodies, and then transfer the protective poison to the adult butterflies. Birds have learned to give monarchs a wide berth. I was delighted to find a gaggle of monarch caterpillars feeding on my recently planted swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Photo below.

copyright 2019 — Lois Sheinfeld

[Note: For more information about swamp milkweed see post of Feb. 2, “2019: A Choice Selection of Garden Plants.” And when you need an ID, the illustrated field guide Caterpillars of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press 2005) is an excellent reference.]

In Autumn, migrating monarchs and other butterflies visit the fire engine red flowers of my favorite Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.’

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Along with Dahlias, containers of colorful mums provide eye-popping appeal.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld


And my Autumn garden is enriched by a group of time-tested shade plants with decorative red and purple foliage undersides:

Begonia grandis ‘Alba’ is a low-growing herbaceous perennial that produces masses of charming snowy-white flowers on pink-flushed stems in September/October. But it was the red undersides of the foliage that captivated garden writer Alan Lacy. “If placed where it catches the last low rays of the sun from behind” he said, “B. grandis offers a sight that is one of the epiphanies of Autumn.” My plants thrive in moist, rich soil. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld


Heuchera ‘Stainless Steel’ is another low-growing, shade-loving perennial. Its showy silvery leaves with  an eggplant-purple reverse are beautiful until frost. Yet for me, its greatest asset is its longevity. I’ve been seduced by countless orange-pink and russet-brown heucheras — so-called perennials — that didn’t survive more than one or two seasons. H. ‘Stainless Steel’ has flourished in my organic garden for more than a decade. Hardiness counts. Photo below.

copyright 2019 — Jessica Amsterdam


Henna Coleus.  Any celebration of shade plants with vibrantly colored undersides must include award-winning Henna Coleus.  As my loyal readers know, I’ve been singing the praises of this dazzling annual for years. Unlike other Coleus that are quick to give up the ghost at summer’s end, Henna would be happy to flaunt her ruffles at your Thanksgiving table. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld


Finally, my Autumn garden has been graced with an ever-increasing number of Cornus kousa dogwood volunteers  displaying extraordinary blood-red, over-sized fruit. Photo below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

And I think I know who to thank for that.

copyright 2019 – Jessica Amsterdam

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 Part 3

It all began with a fabulous Peony.

I was checking out the exhibits at the New York Flower Show when I was stopped in my tracks by Paeonia ‘Largo’. It was love at first sight. As soon as I discovered that Klehm’s Nursery was the mail order source, my order went in. That was nearly 30 years ago.

The New York Flower Show is now long gone but P. ‘Largo’ is alive, healthy and continues to dazzle. And I’m still ordering outstanding plants from Klehm’s Nursery. Here are a few from my 2019 order:

Clematis viticella ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ Z. 4-9

copyright 2019 – Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery

This award-winning deciduous climber produces masses of small, vibrant red flowers with contrasting yellow stamens from June to Fall. Thanks to its viticella genes, Madame Julia possesses excellent resistance to the dreaded Clematis wilt. It blooms on new growth, so hard prune to the ground in early Spring. The Clematis will attain a height of 9-12 feet. Provide fertile, moist, well-drained alkaline soil. Attracts butterflies.


Clematis viticella ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’ Z. 4-9

copyright 2019 – Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery

This heirloom, award-winning, distinctive Clematis is true to its name: From midsummer to midautumn it produces abundant, elegant, dark-magenta, multi-petaled flowers. Like Madame Julia and other viticellas, it is hardy, vigorous and disease-resistant. After hard-pruning in early Spring, the plant can attain a height of 10-13 feet in one growing season. Provide fertile, moist, well-drained alkaline soil. Attracts butterflies.


Baptisia ‘Vanilla Cream’ (Decadence Series) Z. 4-9.

copyright 2019 – Walters Gardens

Baptisia is a tall, deer-resistant, American native perennial that attracts butterflies. It is a tough, long-lived plant that succeeds in nutrient-poor, well-drained acid soil. It is slow-growing at first because it expends considerable energy in producing a deep and extensive root system. Carefully choose the planting site: while the deep, extensive roots support a long-lived plant, successful transplanting is all but impossible.

Baptisias thrive in poor soil because they are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. A partnership has evolved between the plants and specialized root-colonizing bacteria. The bacteria live in nodules on the plant roots and take nitrogen from the atmosphere and turn it into a form the plant can use. As quid pro quo, the plant provides the bacteria with sugars created through photosynthesis. Pretty neat!

Baptisia’s natural foliage is blue-green and its flowers resemble the bloom of Lupinus and Delphinium. After flowering, the plants produce decorative seed pods that rattle when you shake them. Much like maracas.

B. ‘Vanilla Cream’ is a new cultivar in the Decadence Series. It sports unique grey-green foliage and a compact size of 2.5-3 feet. Its flowers have pale yellow buds opening to showy, creamy white blossoms.


Baptisia ‘Pink Lemonade’ (Decadence Deluxe Series) Z. 4-9.

copyright 2019 – Walters Gardens

Plants in this Series have taller stems and exciting new flower colors. B. ‘Pink Lemonade flaunts yellow flowers that mature to raspberry-purple, and both colors appear at the same time on the charcoal-colored stems.  A striking display.

Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery,, 1-608-883-2356


Finally, I have to end this post with a photo of Paeonia ‘Largo.’ She insisted.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

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,, 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 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! 

November 2018: Rhododendrons

Wow! I was reading an illustrated article about the gardens at Winterthur when I turned a page and there, strutting her stuff, was one of my favorite plants: Rhododendron ‘Winterthur-Dexter #7’. Quite a beauty! (“Azaleas and Rhododendrons at Winterthur,” JARS Vol.72, Number 4, Fall 2018, pp. 179, 180.)

A beauty with a history: Acquired in the 1930’s by H.F. du Pont for his private estate at Winterthur, #7 arrived in a flat of unnamed seedlings from acclaimed plant breeder Charles O. Dexter. The seedlings were tagged with numbers and in 2004 a cutting of #7 was acquired by me at a Rhododendron Convention plant sale. It took a long time to mature and bloom but worth the wait. Photos below. (For more information about Dexter, Winterthur and #7, see post of “June 2016: Rhododendron Razzle Dazzle”.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


R. ‘Mount Siga’ is another prized Rhododendron with an interesting provenance. Joseph Gable propagated the plant from wild seed collected in China in 1929 and introduced it into commerce in 1979. I purchased a small plant in 2006 from Rarefind Nursery and it bloomed the following year. Flowering at a young age is not its only asset. My mature Mount Siga is a winter-hardy (-10 F), disease-free, handsome, impressive, 6-foot mound-like shrub. The large-leafed foliage is evergreen and the pink flowers in May are abundant and exquisite. Truly a plant with four seasons of interest. Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


[Note: While choice Rhododendrons like #7 and Mount Siga are currently difficult to find in commerce, they may turn up at Rhododendron and Azalea Society Chapter plant sales. And there will be a plant sale at the 2019 ARS Convention; I’m told that the final plant list for the sale may be available in March.]

March 2019 Addendum:  I’m now informed the list will be available April 1.


This Fall a number of my Spring-blooming Rhododendrons have been duped into bloom by warm weather, compromising Spring flowering. Worse still, if dormancy is delayed, it may affect the hardiness and health of plants like the evergreen Azalea, Rhododendron ‘Chipmunk.’ Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Many broad-leafed evergreens, like Rhododendrons, are not entirely photoperiodic — i.e., dependent on shorter days to trigger dormancy. These plants are also sensitive to temperature change. (Yet, an alternative theory, proposed  anonymously, suggests that R. ‘Chipmunk’ et al. force their buds to open in the Fall because they suffer from green envy. Well, my evergreen Azaleas R. ‘Marshy Point’s Humdinger’, R. Bloom-a-Thon Pink Double, and the Encore Azalea R. Autumn Sunburst (aka R.’Roblet’) are bred to bloom in Spring and Fall — and they do tend to flaunt it.)

In the past I’ve planted an army of Encore Azaleas. None survived their first winter. So I’m happy to report that this is Encore Azalea Autumn Sunburst’s third year in the garden. The Azalea is winter-hardy (Zones 6-9) and it’s a reliable bloomer, producing yummy coral-pink flowers in Spring and Fall. An Encore I can safely recommend. Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Finally, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving next week. Here is my I’M THANKFUL SHORT LIST:

I’m thankful for my family.

I’m thankful for my organic garden and the wildlife it supports. (Except for voles and ticks. A pox on them!)

I’m thankful that the Democrats won the House. (A good beginning. A very good beginning.)


Autumn 2018: Showy Variegated Grasses

Louis Pasteur once said: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

This is as true for gardeners as it is for scientists. I’m constantly finding wonderful gifts from Mother Nature, volunteer plants like Japanese Maples, Weigelas, Hydrangeas and Magnolias, and I try to be “prepared” in order to avoid yanking out the good guys along with undesirable weeds.

Recently, though, I was stumped by an interesting grass-like volunteer growing in a large container of clematis. It had multiple stems ending in a starburst of foliage centered with a cluster of spikelets. I liked it a lot and transferred it to a pot of its own. Photo below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

Then I sent off a photo to The Cornell Cooperative Extension requesting an identification. The plant’s ID, Yellow Nutsedge, arrived with a warning: “Yellow Nutsedge will spread readily by seed . . . you might want to cull this plant!” And my go-to reference book on grasses and sedges agreed, calling Yellow Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) an “infamous” and “pernicious weed.” So much for a pretty face!


I do grow two showy, variegated grasses with stellar reputations and I’m happy to recommend them:

Arundo donax ‘Variegata’ (Zones 6-10) is a hardy, compact, deer-resistant, green and white boldly striped form of Giant Reed Grass. Photos below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

In my garden, Zone 7, it dies back in winter and returns in the Spring. It has never flowered for me and since it doesn’t set seed it is not invasive like the standard form of Giant Reed Grass. While it has been said that Variegata requires sun, my plant flourishes in shade. This Autumn it’s been embraced by a volunteer pink-eyed aster, enhancing the garden presence of both. Photo below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ (Japanese Silver Grass. Zones 5-9) is a hardy, deer-resistant, silvery, shimmering, award-winning fountain of elegance. In the Fall, Morning Light produces abundant, pink, tassel-like flowers and thereafter plumes of white seed heads that last well into winter. In the Spring, my plant has to be cut back close to the ground to make way for the new growth. Photos below.

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright – Lois Sheinfeld 2018


I have been delighted to find a number of Morning Light’s progeny popping up in the garden.

2018: Late Summer Interest

Late summer is prime bloom time for Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus zones 5-8). My hardy shrubs are beloved by bees and hummingbirds and flower from early August thru September in varying shades of white, pink and purple. They never disappoint. Photo below.

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018


Would that I could say the same for the beautiful begonias I wrote about in June. Pounding, torrential downpours in August wreaked havoc on them. So, for late summer interest, I’ve identified a sturdy, intrepid, time-tested plant that has withstood Mother Nature’s assaults and can be successfully grown in a container or in the ground:

Hylotelephium telephium ssp. ruprechtii ‘Hab Gray’ (aka Sedum telephium ssp. ruprechtii ‘Hab Grey’)  Quite a mouthful. It must have been a slow day in taxonomy land when the plant was christened. Defined by all that hoity-toity Latin, one might expect a demanding, pampered aristocrat. Hab Gray is anything but.

This hardy herbaceous perennial has showy, succulent, gray-green foliage adorning 12-14 inch pink stems, and in late summer produces dense clusters of small, white, star-like flowers, magnets for butterflies and bees. Photos below.

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018

copyright — Lois Sheinfeld 2018

Hab Gray is drought tolerant and will succeed in zones 4-8 in well-drained, low-fertile soil. My plant has flourished for 15 years in an outdoor container. At the onset of winter, I cover the plant with conifer branches and store it under an outdoor bench until Spring. In the ground, it’s an ideal plant for a rock garden or for the front of the border.

Finally, Hab Gray has an additional asset: A detached leaf rooted in soil will form a new plant — perfect for gifts, garden club plant sales or classroom/home projects with children.


Toxic Chemical Update: A recent study has found elevated levels of the cancer-linked herbicide glyphosate in 31 tested samples of breakfast food, including Cheerios and Quaker Oats. (A study last year also reported a link between glyphosate and liver disease.)

No surprise that Monsanto—the producer of Roundup, the most popular herbicide containing glyphosate –and the manufacturers of the tainted cereal say that their products meet federal standards and the glyphosate in the food does not exceed levels set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s a joke. This is the very same Trump EPA that is trashing all reasonable and essential health and safety regulations and standards in the name of deregulation in favor of Big Business. (See post, “Jan/Feb. 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert”).

I no more trust Trump’s EPA than I trust Monsanto. Besides, a pox on EPA’s acceptable levels of poison! I don’t want to eat ANY toxic glyphosate. Or feed it to my family. Or feed it to anyone else for that matter.

Maybe that’s just me.

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.

June\July 2018: Begonias & Rhododendrons

Next time you eat in a restaurant and indulge in a calorie-laden rich desert, blame it on the music. Studies now show that loud music compels us to make unhealthy food choices. We gravitate toward healthier items when the music volume is low.

In the garden, you don’t need the right music to make smart choices.

It was a piece of cake to fill the garden’s outdoor seasonal containers: I simply adopted a bevy of healthy, showy, long-blooming Begonias:

I found the perfect apricot-pink flowered, dark-leafed beauty for my favorite pot. (Alas, no name-tag.) Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


A fixed container on the front door stair landing was paired with a handsome selection of orange tuberous begonias. (Also nameless.) Photos below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


And a large container in the back-garden dazzles with the tried-and-true, award-winning Begonia ‘Encanto Orange’. Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

Begonias appreciate compost-rich soil, shade, and, if it doesn’t rain, weekly watering.

My go-to sources for Begonias are Marders Garden Center, Bridgehampton, NY and Halsey Farm & Nursery, Watermill, NY.


In the Fall, I wrote about another wonderful shade lover, Rhododendron Bloom-A-Thon Pink Double. (See post “Autumn 2017: Snap, Crackle, and Pop”.) This hardy evergreen azalea bloomed in October 2017, survived the horrific winter, and rebloomed this June. A star performer. June Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


I purchased Bloom-A-Thon Pink Double from Rarefind Nursery in Jackson, NJ. And I scored again in 2018 with their luscious offering, the evergreen azalea R. ‘Mrs. Nancy Dipple’. Finally! Nancy is mine! It’s been over ten years since I first saw her on a garden tour and added her to my wish list. Photo below.

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld


Rhododendron, R. makinoi, is an outstanding evergreen shrub for a shade garden. It is slow growing to 3 feet with a dense, rounded habit. Included among its many assets are unusual long narrow leaves arranged like the ribs of an umbrella, April/May white flowers opening from pink buds, and, in July, new foliage that emerges cloaked with white tomentum. (By late summer, the plant flaunts its evergreen dark-green foliage with tawny indumentum.) And did I mention R. makinoi’s essential attributes of winter hardiness and good health? Photos below. (Purchased years ago from Rarefind.)

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2018 – Lois Sheinfeld

All of the above are healthy choices. Indulge away!


ADDENDUM June 22: Just got word from Marders, the apricot-pink Begonia, featured above in my favorite pot, is called Unstoppable Salmon.

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!

March 2018: Helleborus and Naming Names.

Dear Reader,

I had knee replacement surgery in February. Recovery has been slow but sure. Sort of like the garden slowly but surely shedding the last insults of Winter.

Looking forward to April!

Until then, thought you might enjoy this March 2012 post about Helleborus and Naming Names:

Helleborus 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.

Jan./Feb. 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert

President Lyndon Johnson once said: “A man’s judgment is no better than his information.” True enough. Unfortunately, in Washington D.C. bad judgment often prevails despite good information.

In the 2017 November/December issue of The American Gardener, Scott Aker recommended killing bindweed with an herbicide containing glyphosate, a toxic chemical known to have a probable link to cancer.

[Scott Aker is the federal bureaucrat, who, in 2010, proposed killing the entire historic collection of beautiful Glenn Dale azaleas at the U.S. National Arboretum. He said the azalea display was too popular and caused parking problems. (I wonder what was next on his list? The Lincoln Memorial?). Public outrage rightly put an end to the Aker plan.]

Aker is now head of horticulture and education at the National Arboretum–which operates under the jurisdiction and control of the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Perhaps that explains his unfortunate embrace of glyphosate:

By executive order, President Trump mandated a widespread government deregulation review. A top official at the U.S.D.A., Rebeckah Adcock, is currently leading that Department’s “deregulation team.” Adcock was previously employed as an executive and lobbyist for CropLife America, the pesticide industry’s primary trade group.  CropLife has a vested interest in promoting pesticides and deregulation—i.e., an interest in the removal of pesticide-restrictive health and safety regulatory protections. And, as reported by The New York Times, Adcock is playing footsie with her old pals: (“At the U.S.D.A., Pesticide Lobbyists Encounter a Welcome Mat,” The New York Times, November 14, 2017, p. B1.). Republicans have applauded the deregulation teams for their “unprecedented reduction in the federal regulatory footprint.”

Note: As for Scott Aker, Monsanto, the producer of Roundup—arguably the best-selling herbicide containing cancer-linked glyphosate—is a member of CropLife. Connect the dots and close the circle.

The situation at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) is even more dire. President Trump choose Scott Pruitt to head up the Agency. When Pruitt was the Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the E.P.A. at least 14 times in an attempt to block public-interest rules he is now in charge of enforcing.

Pruitt has not disappointed the President: Since he took office, “he has held back- to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates—and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates.” ( The New York Times, October 3, 2017, p. A1.)

No surprise that the Pruitt E.P.A. will likely act in favor of industry and against the public interest, endangering the environment and American lives. And it has. Consider the Agency’s review of the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos—produced by Dow—which is one of a class of chemicals developed to attack the nervous system. Much like sarin gas.

Almost twenty years ago, based on scientific evidence linking chlorpyrifos with severe human health problems—especially with children— it was banned for inside use. Since that time, because of the results of the E.P.A.’s own studies as well as other compelling scientific evidence, E.P.A. scientists determined that there must be a total ban of chlorpyrifos. This determination enjoyed considerable public support: The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, declared the pesticide “unambiguously dangerous” and called for its ban.

Scott Pruitt thought otherwise. Result: Dow: ONE. Public Health: ZERO.

Just one day after Pruitt overruled his own scientists and refused to ban chlorpyrifos, representatives of CropLife America met with him to “acknowledge the many actions taken already to correct recent regulatory overreach.” (Yes, Dow is also a member of CropLife.)

As long as pesticide producers reap billions in profits, they will saturate the market with toxic products that threaten wildlife, domestic pets, and beneficial insects—not to mention beneficial family members. The current Administration will not protect us. Until there is a change in Washington D.C., we can at least do everything within our control to protect ourselves. In the wonderful book, “The Sweet Apple Gardening Book,” Celestine Sibley said it best:

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, repay the kindness of my invaluable friends, the birds, with a case of acute gastritis and possibly even jeopardize the health and well-being of those great gardening assistants, my grandchildren.












2018: Look to the Future

“Orchids are among the best liars on earth,” declared orchid guru Judy White in a recent issue of The American Gardener. “They have developed an arsenal of seduction mechanisms,” she explained, “aimed at attracting — and often hoodwinking — pollinators . . . . These deceptions frequently are one-way streets when it comes to reward.” The orchid is fertilized “while the duped pollinator gets nothing in return.”

Sound familiar? As evidenced by The New York Times, President Trump is a card-carrying member of the Best Liars Club. (The New York Times, “Trump’s Lies,” June 23, 2017, updated December 14, 2017.) He can teach orchids a thing or two. In addition to the lies, almost every day we suffer the trashing of essential protections by an Administration reeking with corrupt ambition and unbridled greed. Drain the Swamp? Make America Great Again? Really??? Haven’t we been duped like the unfortunate folks who signed up for the phony Trump University?

It’s enough to make one very cranky.

Yet, if we can’t have the White House we wish for — where is Aaron Sorkin when you really need him? — we can always look to the garden for comfort. As a garden writer once said: “The whole garden seems one loud voice of exultant hope.” So, let’s talk time-tested worthy plants for 2018:

Flowering Rhododendron shrubs add beauty and distinction to a garden. Moreover, they are remarkably self-reliant. The plant pictured below lost a huge branch during a horrific storm but soon produced others that flowered after a few seasons. Don’t ever give up on your Rhododendrons. They know how to survive.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld


Some are better than others at survival. Rhododendron ‘Koromo Shikibu’, an evergreen azalea, not only thrives but expands under adverse weather conditions — often at the expense of its neighbors. Although Koromo may prefer taking over half a garden to express itself, it won’t hold a grudge when subjected to yearly hard-pruning.  Photo below of the exquisite flowers. (Note: Some claim the flowers are fragrant. My plants are not fragrant, nor are the plants in the many gardens I’ve visited.)

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld


Trees are also self-reliant. Punch a hole in a tree trunk and it will repair itself. Photo below. (Using tar, etc. to cover the hole is no longer advised as it hinders the tree’s recovery. Don’t help — just stand back and admire.) For tree huggers everywhere, I recommend the fascinating, informed book by Peter Wohlleben: The Hidden Life of TREES.

copyright 2017 – Jessica Amsterdam


If you adopt a few Digitalis plants, they will seed themselves, and the progeny of these stately foxgloves will grace your garden forever. The bees will thank you. Photos below of D. grandiflora and D. ferruginea.

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2017 – Lois Sheinfeld


Finally, let’s not forget the birds. They appreciate berry producing shrubs like the Berberis thunbergii pictured below. This bird-favorite, easy-care, thorny barberry is deer-resistant, tolerates shade, and, in addition to providing  autumn interest, produces lovely primrose yellow flowers in Spring.

copyright 2017 – Jessica Amsterdam


Have hope — 2018 is but a shiver away. Think plants — and midterm elections!

Wishing you and yours a New Year as fabulous as a Flamboyance of Flamingos!

copyright 2017 – Jessica Amsterdam