GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show38
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Show #38/512 - Perennial Flowers at White Flower Farm

Perennial flowers have become the darlings of the gardening world. This week we visit a nursery in Litchfield Connecticut, in the Northwest corner of the state. It has demonstration gardens that feature a wide range of plants that are hardy and loads of Tropicals. Charlie loves to visit nurseries, he likes to see the new plants, get new ideas, look at eye popping plants and learn about plants ideal for problem areas.

Lynn Baker introduces us to the area. She is the innkeeper at the Litchfield Inn located in the hills of Connecticut. The Litchfield Inn is a 32 room country inn in the beautiful town of Litchfield. Litchfield is a unique town full of history and ambiance with something for everyone. They have beautiful antique shops, gardens, garden centers, art galleries, boutiques, many talented crafts people and many historical homes. Many of the fine homes and mansions date back to the 1700's and 1800's. The first law school in the country, Tapping Reeve, is located here. Litchfield is a beautiful, interesting place that dates back to colonist days.

Today we'll concentrate on beautiful gardens and first visit with Renee Beaulieu a horticulturist with White Flower Farm. This nursery began in 1950, but the home here was built in 1930. It was then a private home belonging to William Harris and Jane Grant who were New York editors and wanted a place in the country. They wanted to get away from it all and after moving here were bitten by the gardening bug. They were self taught and became master gardeners. They thought - let's start a nursery, thus acquired about 90 acres of land, then hired several men from England trained in horticulture. Thus it was a very traditional, English operation. Everything today is grown in the fields with the exception of several greenhouses used to start some plants. Anything that had to be over wintered was and is over wintered in the fields. The business was modest until the 70's when gardeners discovered perennials. People may know about the company and their mail order business and catalog but few know they have a retail outlet and 5 acres of beautiful demonstration gardens that are open to the public from April to October. This border garden that was first planted in 2000, meaning this is its' fourth full season. It was designed by the head gardener for Christopher Lloyd, one of the premier garden designers in England. He has a fabulous garden called Great Dixter. The idea is that this is a mix of plants, it's not just perennials. Perennials have a pretty short season of interest, they're fabulous when in bloom but often boring other times. This garden is a combination of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, as well as tender plants like Cannas and lots of bulbs. In April the Daffodils start. Then in May, big swaths of Tulips are the show. Then those are dug up and Cannas are put in, because that's the right time to put them in. You have Perennials in June. The annuals really start to take over then as well. So there is something here from April till frost which here is sometime in October. This garden has things low growing, middle growing and high growing and it's blooming all the time. It features lots of big things and it has a changing color theme every few weeks. In early June it's very purple. That's when the Globemaster Alliums (Allium giganteum) are in full bloom as are the Nepetas and the Salvias. Three weeks later there is a lot of yellow punctuation. There are some new plants, for example Mullein (Verbascum). Many perennials grow to about bushel basket size but Mulleins are like skyrockets the way they grow up. They have a combination of Mulleins with some *Yarrows (Achillea millefolium) and the Nicotiana that are just starting to come into bloom. The white flower with a pretty pink eye is a Verbascum 'Chaixii Album' and is a biennial. It blooms relatively early in the season, especially for something so big. However, the Yarrow will keep reblooming. Just dead head it and it will rebloom through August sometimes into September. The Nicotianas look fabulous now through October. Purple Lamb's Quarter (Chenopodium album) is considered an ornamental plant, it is easy to recognize because of its color. If you don't dead head it, it will seed around. Just leave the ones you like and you'll *wind up with a tapestry effect. There are also nice tropical plants in this bed. The Cannas have fabulous foliage. One plant is Canna Grande which looks like a banana with enormous leaves. Its flowers are insignificant, you grow it because it looks like a banana. Some Cannas have darker foliage, really dark red and some have a more gallous leaf. Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) is the latest Allium to bloom. It has wonderful purple flowers heads on stems that look like wires. The stem is so thin the flower kind of hovers over the plants. They're tiny, the size of your thumbnail, so you plant dozens of them in a spot and they skyrocket up.

This is a huge Perennial border, by this time of year a lot of things have gone through their first bloom and if you dead head them they'll bloom again later in the season. Renee first shows us a Catmint (Nepeta), which was a complete cloud of blue in June but now it's starting to show some dead growth. Even though the Calix is still looking good but starting to fade you want to cut it back to encourage new foliage. If this were in Renee's garden, since she doesn't have a lot of time, she would just whack the whole thing back, right to the ground, she would leave a couple of inches of stem and they come back. But because this is a display garden and they don't want a bare spot for 2 weeks here she will cut more selectively. She shows us where the new stems are starting to come up at the base, Renee would cut just above those. This will encourage new growth and it will actually start flowering providing another season of blooms. If some of the stems still have flowers use them as cut flowers. Catmint in the house might cause a problem if you have a cat, the cat might just start flopping on the table.

With so many different plants in this border, with the different colors and forms Renee still has some favorites. There are some old fashioned plants like Variegated Iris (Iris pallida 'Variegata') and some new varieties like Gaillardia which has much bigger flowers than the typical wildflower and stays low and is very long blooming. Her favorite though is the new Geranium 'Rozanne' which is truly a long blooming perennial. It blooms from June through October. Geranium 'Lavender Blue' *becomes true blue in the colder months. *Common Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), another favorite, even when not in flower looks unusual, very sculptural. Another sculptural plant is the Sea Holly (Eryngium bourgatii). The Sea Holly has a little more color than the Teasel, it's a wonderful steel blue unlike any other flower.

We next try some staking, because this garden has tall plants. Tall plants add verticality to the garden, but they only stay tall until a thunderstorm hits. They need staking if for no other reason to keep them out of the mud. Dahlias definitely need staking because their flowers are enormous and bend easily. Plan for this ahead of time. For staking there are lots of possibilities. You can use bamboo and string or you could use multi-purpose stakes. This metal stake is ideal for a single stem and is nice because it is adjustable, allowing it to be moved up or down. Wrap it around the flower, then hook it in and you're done. There are taller versions that work with Lilies, Hollyhocks or some Verbascums, if they're in a windy spot. When staking be careful not to be too close to the stem because you don't want to pierce the tuber that it grows from. The ideal time to stake Delphiniums and Dahlias is before they get to the flower bud stage.

We next view a wonderful collection of Begonias from England. These are kept in a greenhouse because you wouldn't want rain to fall on them. Cheryl Karpeichik, the head gardener tends to these fabulous plants. They are so beautiful and colorful that they look artificial but are very real. This greenhouse is filled with tuberous Begonias. This is a collection of Blackmore and Langdon Tuberous Begonias. They're bred in England and come in 2 different types. There is an upright type which is on the shelving and cascading varieties which are hanging throughout. The colors are vivid. Each day Cheryl's favorites change but one she really likes is an Allen Langdon (Begonia x tuberhybrida 'Allan Langdon'). There are different categories or colors within tuberous Begonias. One is red with a little rosy pink, it makes a color not often seen. Different flowers have different characteristics, some are fluffy, some are ruffly. Some of the orange varieties have a lot of petals that look ruffly, other flowers have a smooth edge on the flower. Venus (Begonia x tuberhybrida 'Venus') has a rounded petal edge. Some have different colors on the edge, they are called Picatee, meaning the edge of the petal is lined with a color different than the rest of the petal. There are several different color combinations. One is orangy with a red edge and is called Party Dress (Begonia x tuberhybrida 'Party Girl'). These flowers are very different than other flowers. They are all tropical plants grown from a tuber. We look at a tuber. It looks like a dried up potato. The tuber has little eyes similar to a potato, they are the buds that you look for when potting up the tuber in spring. That is usually done in March when the growth starts on the tuber. First place the plant in a 4 inch pot, put the soil in the bottom and the top of the tuber should be about 1 inch below the soil surface. Don't plant too deeply because there is a danger you can over water and rot the tuber. Before it starts to grow out of the pot the plant is bumped into a 10 inch pot, their final size. All the growth is one year, you start with a tuber and all of a sudden they start to produce flowers. Once they start producing flowers they will produce flowers all summer long. We look at Cheryl's favorite of the day, it is pink and called Nectar (Begonia x tuberhybrida 'Nectar'). Many Begonias are a deep vibrant color, Nectar is light in color. There is a series of cascading Begonias out of California called the Scentiment Series. They have a scent. One is called Scentiment Blush (Begonia x tuberhybrida 'Scentiment Blush'). Most of the upright Begonias don't have fragrance but they are beautiful. Cheryl shows us how to debud a Begonia. Upright varieties are debudded because you want to encourage the flowers to become large. On one bud stem of an upright there is a large center bud flanked by 2 smaller buds. The flowers actually are male and female. The female flowers have a seed pod, the male flowers don't and have several more petals forming. We debud the female flowers because they will be smaller, just a single flower. For a showy tuberous Begonia you want to encourage the double petaled or many petaled flowers to develop and that happens to be the male flower. You pinch off the smaller bud with your fingers. Do this at the stage where you can go in without doing damage to the center bud and pinch them off at the base. Cheryl checks once a week for buds in order to encourage nice, fresh, larger flowers for their show.

Tina Puckett is a master weaver. She makes very creative baskets in very unusual colors and shapes and forms. She sells these baskets all over the world mainly through the internet, craft shows, galleries and in her workshop in Connecticut. She is well known for her work because it is unusual and her pieces are one of a kind. Every piece is totally different, she uses a lot of colors and different shapes. To start she goes into the woods and picks American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Bittersweet is a vine that grows in Connecticut, in the fall it has yellow and red berries. The Bittersweet then is the frame from which she creates a shape. Tina has a vision for the basket after working with the Bittersweet. With the Bittersweet acting as the frame, she then starts with the God's eye, once the God's eye is in place you use the spokes for weaving. Weaving a basket reminds Tina of building a house. With the framing in place (she considers the spokes the frame) she then starts a basic weave. If woven properly you never see where you began and where you end, the action is basically over and under. Reeds are used for weaving. Reed grows like Bamboo, but is solid on the inside and is cut like lumber. There are different widths and roundness. You go from one end to another until you meet in the middle, when that is done the basket is complete. A basket like this usually takes about 6 hours. She has been weaving baskets for 20 years and has enjoyed every single year. There is something very calming and soothing when she weaves and at the end you have a beautiful product. Basket weaving is a lost art and Tina would like to see more people enjoying it. To get involved, go to the internet and find a local artist who can teach you how to weave a basket.

We rejoin Renee. She is grooming a different kind of Begonia, a Dragon Wing Pink (Begonia x hybrida 'Dragon Wing Pink'). There is also a Dragon Wing Red, a cross between the little Wax Begonias and Angel Wing begonias, which are no good in the garden. This new variety is the best of both worlds, has won awards in Georgia because it tolerates heat, but it is great from Maine on South and it blooms all summer.

Renee shows us another group of plants, dry shade plants. Dry shade is always a problem for people, they just don't know what to plant. Hosta is probably the easiest thing, there are some here 50 years old under Maple trees. Ferns are another plant that work in this environment. One variety is a naturally occurring variety from Connecticut called Branford Beauty (Athyrium 'Branford Beauty'). It is a cross between the native Lady Fern (Athryium filix-femina), which is very tough, and the Japanese Painted Fern (Athryium niponicum pictum). It has a little bit of silver on its leaves and is a tougher plant. Hellebors (Helleborus) are the new darlings, they have leathery foliage are deer resistant, take absolute full shade and bloom first thing in the Spring. Another of Renees favorites is Brunnera , it has little Forget-Me-Not flowers but one variety, Jack Frost (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'), has wonderful silver markings on the foliage so it lights up a shady area. It takes absolute dense shade and dry shade.

Renee shows us another group ideal for clay soil. For clay soil, look for plants that are native plants. Native Asters (Aster novae-angliae) do wonderfully and bloom late season. Sedums aren't native but again bloom late season and attract butterflies. Old fashioned Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are also good. There is wonderful work being done with Daylilies. One is a spider form but there are lots of different colors-pinks, purples, reds. Another of Renee's favorites is Coneflower. There is a lot of selection and breeding work being done with them. They're great tough plants and butterfly magnets. One, 'Kim's Knee High' (Echinacea purpurea 'Kim's Knee High'), is a typical color of Echinacea but half the height. It's great at the front of the border and there is hybridizing being done with varieties that are fragrant. One is called Sunrise (Echinacea purpurea x paradoxa 'Sunrise') and is a beautiful pale shade of yellow with fluted petals. Fragrant Angel (Echinacea purpurea alba 'Fragrant Angel') is another beauty; pure white and very scented.

Renee this has been wonderful. You have showed us different plants and plants for problem areas, plants in your demonstration area and beautiful Begonias. For more information on plants for problem areas click on the links below. Thanks Renee this has been a wonderful, educational experience. We've really enjoyed ourselves. We thank everyone at White Flower Farm for their hospitality.


The Litchfield Inn

Litchfield Historical Society

White Flower Farm

Tina's Baskets, Tina Puckett

Plants for Clay Soil

Plants for Shade

Plants for Wet Areas

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By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Have your hanging baskets seen better days? It’s normal, by midsummer they are ready for a little TLC to bring them back to their former glory. To learn more click here for an interesting article.

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