Archive | 2019

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

For many years 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.

UPDATE: Sadly, Klehm’s Nursery has closed.

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