Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Before the Snow

My Iris reticulata bulbs emerged and flowered on Tuesday. I covered them with a loose tent of evergreen boughs to protect them from the snow tonight.

If you watch carefully you will see the bulbs pushing the mulch and earth upwards. Imagine the power of a flower to do this! It blows my mind.
 Day 42
The Daily DuBrule

Ah the threat of snow caused the postponement of tonight's talk at Elizabeth Park on blended gardens. It will take place on Wednesday evening, March 14th so mark your calendars and BE THERE!

I was working from home all day with tons of stuff to accomplish. Aside from the day to day workings of Natureworks, I finished a really interesting and creative plan for a client in Branford. When I finally get to settle down to my drawing board and design, nothing makes me happier.
My motto. What I wouldn't give to really be able to get out there and garden right now. March is a tease.
Before the first flakes fell I wandered around my yard taking closeup pictures. I guess I was expecting a blizzard like last winter, or last October. Instead, this mild snow fell gently and I hope it didn't disturb the life that is emerging from my soil a few weeks early.
Overnight in my courtyard snow crocus and snowdrops bloomed. These will have no problem laying low with the snow and ice, only to emerge and bloom again.

When I walk of of my garage door I am greeted by snowdrops and Helleborus niger. What a pretty combination.
Everywhere I look there is something to delight me. The wonders of the February garden are nothing like the summer garden. Every precious bloom is a gift to be celebrated. A storm like the one we are having tonight would not even have been a blip on the radar screen last winter. Yet, I am relieved my talk was postponed. When my husband got home from work (he works 75 miles away) he said the roads were really slippery and no one should go out if they didn't have too. Okay then, I am home, I am safe, I have a vase of cut witch hazel to make me happy and a completed design on my drawing board. That is enough for now.

My witch hazel just keeps blooming. I am inhaling the spicy fragrance of a vase full of cut branches as I write this. Of course I cut them before the snow started falling...

What fun! I stripped off the bottom of the cut witch hazel branches to prepare to put them in a vase and used them as a very temporary top dressing on my trough garden filled with succulents that have never gone dormant this winter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

21st Century Foundation Planting

A beautiful mixed foundation planting with dwarf evergreens, flowering deciduous shrubs, and easy care perennials. This has interest in every season.
A typical overgrown foundation planting that completely hides the windows AND the nice stone foundation. Rip it out!
Day 41
The Daily DuBrule

I just got home from speaking to a really nice garden club in Simsbury about renovating foundation plantings. It never ceases to amaze me how many people need to call in (and pay) an expert to be told to RIP OUT ridiculously overgrown, post-mature, tortured and pruned to death plantings. Get with the program people! This is the 21st century. There is no excuse for this madness.

Foundation plantings were put on this planet to do two main things. First they anchor the home to the surrounding landscape. Second, they mask an ugly concrete foundation if you have one. My goal in foundation planting redesign is to add lots of color in every season, have the plants be in proportion, and to make the beds as wide and curvaceous as possible in order to layer the plants. I made up 12 rules. Here they are:
Nancy’s Suggestions for Creative Foundation Planting Design

  1. Do you need to hide your foundation? Brick or stone foundations are nice to look at. 3 feet of concrete is not. If you don’t need to hide it, you don’t need lots of evergreens.

  1. If you have a lot of concrete showing, can you add soil and build a low retaining wall to make the foundation disappear? Can you paint and texturize the concrete?

  1. If at all possible, avoid a narrow bed all along the house. Wider beds are better and allow for layering of plants.

  1. If a walkway leading to the front door forces you to have a narrow bed, consider a bed on the outside of the walkway. Tie the curve of this bed into other curves in the front yard.

  1. If your house is tall, sweep the bed lines outward on one corner so you can use tall plants to reduce the scale of the house.

  1. Never put large trees right next to the house. Keep them out far enough so that won’t harm the siding. Watch out for the dripline if you don’t have gutters.

  1. KNOW THE MATURE SIZE OF THE PLANTS YOU ARE ADDING. Dwarf is a relative term. A dwarf spruce simply means it doesn’t get 30-40’ tall.

  1. Try to use colorful and variegated foliages to add interest in different seasons. Consider using a blue, burgundy, or gold foliage theme to connect the design together.

  1. Do a SUCCESSION OF BLOOM chart for the plants you are using. The old paradigm was rhododendrons, azaleas, andromedas, mountain laurels… they all bloom in the spring, leaving the planting boring and green the rest of the year.

  1. Intersperse deciduous flowering shrubs that will bloom in the summer and fall between the evergreens.

  1. Layer perennials in front of the flowering shrubs. Use only perennials that
    1. Have a long season of bloom
    2. Have excellent foliage all season

  1. Never use perennials that go summer dormant or get ratty looking in late summer. Save them for the perennial borders in the back yard.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blended Gardens

My raised beds are surrounded by all kinds of irises, red twig dogwoods, mint, primroses, lovage, fennel, yarrow, gladiolus, chives, and more! They are one big happy family.

Day 40
The Daily DuBrule

Wednesday night I am speaking at Elizabeth Park on blended gardens. Another name for this is "edible landscaping" but that sounds too formal to me. I have been gardening this way for many years. It wasn't a plan that I implemented. It is a style I developed. 

I lived for over 15 years in a beach community where I had almost no sunny garden beds. Water was scarce and so was soil- I essentially live on rock ledge. I couldn't grow much in the way of food except a few greens and herbs. 
I love my new yard because it is open and sunny. It used to be a turkey farm many years ago. The soil is fertile, thick, and rich. Except for poor drainage, which I deal with by having 14 raised beds, it is an ideal food growing environment. BUT I just can't grow food. No way. Too plain. Too easy. I MUST mix it up. 

There are many reasons why this is such a good idea. First of all, it encourages lots of beneficial insects. It offers nectar flowers for them and for butterflies. It fools the bugs a bit, unlike acres of the same crop which is like an enormous bullseye target. It is much more fun to garden this way. I can ramble around, munching on food, picking and rubbing and smelling herbs, picking flowers for bouquets. It's just the way I like it.

Morning glories ramble through my asparagus patch.
Gardening this way should be the easiest thing you will ever do. The only rule is put things together that grow at about the same rate and take the same conditions. Weave in annuals and biennials and tender bulbs to your heart's content. Play. Have fun. Don't take the "design" of it too seriously. If you have a small yard, or only a deck or patio, mix it up in your containers. Nasturtiums underplanting butterfly bushes. Parsley at the base of tropical hibiscus plants. Windowboxes of lettuce and pansies. You get the idea. The barriers between whether something can be eaten or not really doesn't matter any more. Just grow plants. All kinds of plants. And have fun doing it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why We Do This

Gerrardanthus macrorhiza:The most talked about plant at the show. The swollen base actually lives underground and stores water. The ivy grows out of it on top of the ground. Most people didn't think they were attached!
Day 39
The Daily DuBrule
I sit here in my recliner carrying out a long standing tradition of watching the Oscars on the last night of the CT Flower Show. Since I just about slept through dinner and nodded off in every conversation my husband tried to carry on with me, I guess I have to admit that I am completely and totally exhausted. And I am not the only one. The work involved in participating in this exciting and inspirational coming-of-spring ritual in indescribable until you have done it. There are heroes on every front, to Kristie who runs the show with grace, to the people who design and install the gardens, to the organizations that join in to educate the public. The list goes on and on. 

Is it about the money? If that was all it was, most would have stopped long ago. It's about the amazing feeling as you watch the people who attend the show learn about plants they never imagined existed. It's seeing the faces of people as they study the garden displays, dreaming in their own minds the possibilities, big and small, for their own yards.
Its hanging out in the Federated Garden Clubs area, watching people ooh and ah at the cool and unusual plants that are entered for competitions. It's in the discussions overheard as they try and understand the floral arrangements and designs and choices of the judges.
Clivia 'Golden Dragon'
It is so very worth it. We love what we do. It is just the greatest feeling there is to share that fascination, passion, and love with everyone else. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Day 38
The Daily DuBrule

Today was day 3 of the flower show in Hartford, my 6th long day of being there. So many things to to talk about, so many things I saw and shared with people. But the highlight of my day was my evening out at First and Last Tavern in Middletown. My husband and I NEVER go out on Saturday nights, we like Friday nights as it is a bit less crowded. That said, we went out tonight with my sister and her best friend who are in town to see the flower show tomorrow. As we waited in the bar for our 35 minute wait on this crowded night, my husband looked across and said "it's the fig man!". Last year I had a wonderful conversation with an older Italian man with a thick accent all about fig trees. He was really surprised that I knew anything at all about them.  I just had to go talk to him again. I introduced myself, fearless as I am when it comes to all things horticultural, and told him he was "the fig man" to us. He was amused. We proceeded to talk about the nitty gritty details of growing figs in CT for quite a while. Then he simply had to go over and meet my husband and chat for a while. I was enchanted.

So much of what I know comes from people just like Tony, the fig man. Everyday folks who grow food in their yards, who carry on traditions from the old country, who have resettled in a new land and grow their food in the old ways to make the feel happy and at home. I guess it must be quite a kick to be sitting at a bar and have an Irish/French/Scottish gardener like me saddle up beside him and talk serious plant talk. What fun I had. I hope I see him often. He has a lot to teach me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Amazing Artist Amazing Book

Day 37
The Daily DuBrule 

Today I spend some time with local artist Ellen Hoverkamp who I have know for over 20 years. She has a booth at the CT Flower Show and has just collaborated on a book with Ken Druse. Her amazing digital photos are featured in  Natural Companions: The Garden Lovers Guide to Plant Combinations.  The botanical photographs were taken by Ellen- wait until you see how beautiful her work is and how it perfectly compliments Ken’s writing. 

To see Ellen’s work go to  

 You will be delighted.

The flower show is like a giant gathering of horticultural friends who join together for four days and share their love of gardening of all forms with the tens of thousand of attendees. It also give all of us who participate to catch up and make new friends. I hope you get a chance to go over this coming weekend. If you do, be sure to visit Ellen's booth and tell her you saw her work on The Daily DuBrule!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tender Bulbs are Worth it!

My mom's favorite flower: gladiolus

Day 36
The Daily DuBrule

I know a lot about a lot of plants. I am, in fact, a total plant geek. I swoon over unusual varieties. If I meet a plant I don't know, I immediately look it up and learn all about it. How ironic that my mother's favorite flower in the world was gladiolus, one of the most common flowers grown in gardens.

I never really liked gladiolus. I considered them them gawky. I never considered growing them in my own gardens. Every year on my parent's anniversary, I would buy them a large bouquet containing gladiolus and other flowers. As the years went by, I decided to buy them just gladiolus, the exact number that matched the years they were married. Eventually I had to buy a huge urn to hold bouquets of 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 stems. The ritual ended at year 56, when my mom finally passed away. Yes, her casket spray was a glorious mixture of gladiolus and other beautiful flowers. That is when I started planting them in my own gardens.

Now I think of them as one of the most beautiful flowers in the world. For sentimental reasons, I guess, but when you cut the flowers, one stem at a time, strip off the leaves and place that stem in a vase on your kitchen window sill, they are really gorgeous to study. They come in every color in the rainbow, streaked, bicolors, you name it. I still have an issue with how rigid and gawky they are in the garden. So now, I just weave them in amongst my perennials. 

So many folks, when they are shopping in the garden center in the spring, just can't accept the idea of "tender bulbs". They say things like "if I have to dig them up and store them, forget it!". Glads are so totally simple to dig and store its ridiculous. I wait till the first frost. I loosen around them with my digging fork and pull them. I lay them on a flat lattice in my back garage for a week. Then I cut off the leaves and put them in a milk crate in my cellar for the winter. Period. Gladiolus are corms, very efficient storage organs. They keep really well. No fussing around. And, when you dig them, you find cormlets, baby corms that multiply your stock each year. I love saying the word cormlets.
Freshly dug gladiolus corms and cormlets

I also grow Abyssinian gladiolus because they are graceful and fragrant. They are equally easy to raise, but because they smell so sweet, I locate them up close and personal, nearby the spots I tend to sit in the evening when I get home from work in late summer. 
Acidinanthera- Abyssinian gladiolus
Get with the program, fellow gardeners. Give tender bulbs a try. They will double the color in your garden and you will join the leagues of old fashioned gardeners everywhere who dig and store their tender bulbs in the fall. It is actually now a ritual I look forward to.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Something to Watch for

Praying mantis egg cases
Day 35
The Daily DuBrule

I was working in my gardens on Sunday. Yes, another glorious, sunny February day, close to 50 degrees. I am still cutting back plants, believe it or not. I saved the worst for last- a huge stand of gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) that I inherited when we bought this house. It's the plant that just won't quit spreading. My goal is to eradicate it some day, but I do admit I like the white flowers for cutting and it is covered with tons of bees and pollinators when it flower in late summer. BUT, it is spreading into my blueberry patch and trying to overtake my beautiful Japanese irises. 

Lest you think that I only have ONE patch of this vigorous plant, the answer is THREE. I inherited three huge patches. I have just about completely eradicated one of them- in the precious alcove on the south side of my house where I have an ongoing experiment with zone 7 plants. But the other two continue to spread. I admit failure- I have to hire my strong, young crews to dig it out for me. It is backbreaking work. And once it's dug out, what do you do with it? If you toss it on the compost pile, it just returns to grow again.

Anyway, that is not my point this morning. My point is that everywhere I go in my gardens to cut stuff down or prune, I am finding praying mantis egg cases. These guys eat bad bugs, and lots of them. Be on the lookout for them at this time of year and leave them be. They are the good guys. Beneficial insects we call them.

That sickle in the photo is what I use to cut down Epimediums.
In terms of cutting stuff down, NOW is the time to cut down the foliage of your Epimediums. It is brown by now anyway. You can take a garden sickle and make short order of the job now. With the way this year is going, you don't want to wait until the flower buds emerge because then you will be taking you pointy scissors and spending hours hand pruning each leaf so you won't shear off the buds.  
Another cutting chore now is to remove the old, winter weary leaves of your Hellebores which are either blooming or budded now. This has to be done by hand, but why degrade the look of these gorgeous beauties just as they are in flower by leaving the old leaves. New ones will emerge soon enough
My beautiful Helleborus 'Candy Love'

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hard Day's Night

Helianthus 'Happy Days'
Day 34
The Daily DuBrule

I knew this would happen. A grueling day filled with unceasing frustrations brought me home completely spent. I smiled as I passed the heart rock by my back walkway and breathed a sigh of relief. Sanctuary at last. My kind husband cooked me dinner and parked me in the recliner, cut up a ripe pineapple and served it to me. A bit of television and off to bed. Not a brain cell or a muscle resisted sleep. I awoke just after the clock struck midnight to find I had missed my first Daily DuBrule post. Ah, day 34...

There are days when the demands of life are just simply too much. Like a gigantic sponge, I absorb more and more responsibility. But owning a business is tough. It's not the gardening, the plants, the designs. It's tenacity. It's courage. It's the ability to go on when you just can't wrap your mind around the details. 

I mentioned to a couple of fellow business owners that I felt like I was running on air the other day. They shook their heads in agreement. Winter will do that to you. All the planning, preparation, and work for a season that looms on the horizon. You love spring, you love the growing season, but MAN does it take a lot of work to get there. 

All I could think of to put at the top of this midnight ramble to inspire me was the new 12" tall Helianthus 'Happy Days. A great big smiley face of a flower that I can stare at every once in a while to remind me that, as my mother used to day B.D.A.C.-better days are coming. I guess that means tomorrow, which is already actually here, as it is the final day to get our gorgeous, jammed packed booth together before the hoards and teaming masses descend upon the convention center in Hartford for what promises to be one of the best flower shows I have seen in a LONG time. By then, things should be coming up roses in life once again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two Tiny Surprises

Scilla siberica in FEBRUARY?! 
Day 33
The Daily DuBrule

Today is "move in" day at the CT Flower and Garden show. Three Natureworkers in a caravan of trucks and vans headed north to Hartford early this morning. We made a quick stop at my Middletown home to harvest some curly willow branches. What would normally be a simple task was made more challenging by the fact that these trees were devastated for the second time last year by the Halloween snowstorm. I had already had extensive pruning done on them after the terrible ice storm in January of 2011. They grew back, only to be destroyed again. This time, I waited to have them pruned, thinking, well, we might have a really bad winter. As we all know, that didn't happen!

Anyway, my brave employee Lisa shimmied up the tree with a long pole pruner and cut back lots of giant branches that we are going to use to create a dramatic ceiling at our retail booth. As Lisa, Dave, and I were jockying the ladder into position, Dave noticed that we were stepping on Scilla siberica. What??? I have never seen these diminutive blue bulbs flower this early. So we tiptoed around them the best we could.

Once we got to the convention center, all the landscapers were abuzz with the challenges of forcing plants for the show. Witch hazels are in bloom outside this week, so if anyone brought them in to force them for even a day or two, they would have gone by. Everyone has had to think on their feet and stretch their forcing abilities for this show. Wait till you step foot inside the convention center this week. The show runs Thursday through Sunday. It is going to be an amazing display of fragrant, gorgeous color. It will make you happy, that's for sure. It is really exciting to be there at the beginning, watching the gardens being constructed and all the trucks rolling in with plants and flowers and cool garden merchandise.

When I got home, I went to my back shed to put away some tools. The door to this shed faces due south and bulbs have been up for weeks. I looked down and saw a pretty purple flower at the base of the narcissus noses. I thought it might be a self sown Viola. Nope. It was ground ivy. Growl. That spreading, invasive weed that I have been pulling up all winter was not only in my flower bed, it was blooming in February. We are in for a very interesting growing season ahead. Hold onto your hats, fellow gardeners, and let the games begin!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Itching to Garden

Three kinds of shrubs, three kinds of pruning
Potentilla before pruning
Heptacodium in bloom in August
Day 32
The Daily DuBrule

Beautiful days in February make all gardeners want to get outside and start working. What can you actually do right now? You can PRUNE! Before you drag out your electric hedge clippers, stop and read this pruning primer. I am talking about hand pruning. And only certain plants should be pruned now.

The basic concept behind when to prune is based on "old wood new wood". What that means is that there are two kinds of plants. Those that bloom in the spring, from now until mid-late June, set up their buds the previous year on old wood. Any pruning that is done now will cut off the flowers for this season. We're talking rhododendrons, azaleas, lilacs, viburnums, weigelas, mountain laurels, and a lot more. The time to prune this category of shrubs is right after blooming, usually around June. 

The second category of shrubs are those that bloom in the summer and fall on current year's wood that is produced this season. Examples are Potentilla, Callicarpa (beautyberry), rose of Sharon, mimosa trees, butterfly bushes, Caryopteris (blue mist shrub) and Heptacodium (seven sons tree). These are the plants you can work on now. In fact, with a good spring pruning to thin out and cut back old wood, the plant flowers much more profusely. 

Look at the picture of the Potentilla above. I start by going into the center of the plant and removing 3 or 4 old branches completely. This opens up the plant and allows light inside, thus encouraging fuller, bushier growth. Then I top it, usually cutting it back by about 1/3. It will have creamy yellow flowers starting in June and continuing until the fall. By using this pruning method, I have kept this plant the same size, blooming beautifully, for the eight years I have lived in my house.

The Heptacodium tree is about 15 feet tall now. It lost some branches in the snow storm last October. I am going to shape and prune it this weekend as it has no leaves and I can see its structure. It has sweetly fragrant clusters of white flowers in August, followed by coral calyxes that remain colorful all during the fall. This is a very cool tree to grow if you are looking for late season interest.

The top picture shows three different shrubs. The soft pink hydrangea is Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit'. It blooms only on current year's wood and needs to be pruned now. The dark pink flowering shrub is Azalea 'Millenium', an upright, deciduous azalea that blooms in very late June. I can see the flower buds on it today. I won't prune it until after it flowers. The third shrub in the picture with the purple leaves is a smokebush (Cotinus). It blooms on old wood with puffy flowers that look like balls of smoke. I don't want to prune this now as the flowers are so beautiful. BUT, I lost a lot of branches on this plant during the snow storm and it has a funny shape. Plus, the more you prune it, the better the purple foliage becomes. So, I am going to prune part of it now to correct the shape and leave part of it alone to be able to enjoy the flowers.

If you understand the simple concept of "old wood new wood" you can prune your plants at the proper time and fall in love with the process. I am heading out into the garden as soon as I publish this post to soak up the sunshine and enjoy the gift of this beautiful day.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Walk Ins Welcome

Anemone japonica 'Crispa', a ruffled leaf form of Japanese Anemone
Day 31
The Daily DuBrule

I am sitting on my living room couch trying to catch my breath after a CRAZY day. I taught a class on Fabulous Ferns and Foliage Plants today. I had 15 people registered. I made some extra slide lists and got there 45 minutes early, thinking I was totally organized and on top of the world. Little did I know all hell was about to break loose. First of all, I forgot my projector. My husband (known tonight as "Dudley Do-Right, my hero") drove like a bat out of hell down to North Branford and delivered just in the knick of time. Meanwhile, 23 people WALKED IN. Oh my goodness, I was totally unprepared for this. I didn't have enough slide lists, nor enough sign up sheets. 

Eventually, it all came together. 12 hours+ of preparation paid off and I showed lots of slides of amazing shade plants to a very receptive crowd. If you were there, I thank you for your patience and understanding as I worked out the kinks of my disorganized day.  But we had FUN! Plus, I picked a ton of flowers and foliages from the garden for show and tell. Bergenia, black mondo grass, Hellebores in bloom, witch hazel, winter jasmine, Heuchera foliage, and more. It was tons of fun and reminded me once again why I love to teach. 

Creeping raspberry- gorgeous all season foliage underplanting Hellabores
My voice is gone, I am exhausted but happy, and Dudley Do-Right is making me dinner. It just doesn't get any better than this. 
Lamium maculatum 'Aureum' loves the shade and simply GLOWS

Silver Pulmonarias add much needed light to shady spots

Friday, February 17, 2012

February Flowers- What's Up with That?

Daffodils in bloom in February?
Day 31
The Daily DuBrule

I was teaching Planting and Plant Care for the NOFA Organic Landcare Course in New Haven at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station today. As I cruised in to give my talk, I saw a DAFFODIL IN FULL BLOOM! Eek! What?!? I know we are having a mild winter, but this beats all. I spoke out loud to myself in my car..."my God, look at that". When I arrived and was hanging out with the students before the class, I told a friend what I had seen. A couple of folks gathered around, concerned, asking me what's up. I said... wait for it... THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END! Only kidding. :) 

Anyway, we are in total fast forward with the spring season. I returned to Natureworks and saw our 'Arnold's Promise' witch hazel in FULL BLOOM, our winter jasmine in full bloom, and all the winter aconites and snow drops blooming their heads off in the beds by the driveway and the front walk. Even a few 'Cream Beauty' snow crocuses had joined the party. Now, granted, these bulbs are on the south side and near pavement and of course they are warmer than all the other plants, but people, this is a TREND here. I came home, walked out of my garage, only to be greeted by snowdrops and Helleborus 'Candy Love' and H. niger. AND my two witch hazels in bloom. Being someone who is a total geek about what blooms when in CT, I know we are 2-3 weeks early.

Enjoy the pictures below of other developments on this scene... 

I just found out one of my growers has pansies ready!

 I picked white weeping cherry branches to force for the flower show next week. They are moving right along and I hope they don't open too soon!

I also picked Azalea mucronulatum to force. These usually open in early April. The buds look pretty big to me.