Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Saturday Drive

Day 73
The Daily DuBrule

Today was the final day in a week long marathon of teaching pruning. I did a really fun hands-on class in Colchester to a very enthusiastic group. I enjoyed my road trip to the home of the woman who hosted the workshop as it brought me through some gorgeous woodlands on winding roads that I had never explored before.

I was struck by the greenness of the woods. As I looked more carefully, I realized that everything I was seeing that was already green was an exotic invasive. Barberry. Multiflora rose. Honeysuckle. And the most prolific of them all on this journey, garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has large, rounded leaves and clusters of white flowers. It seeds so prolifically that it can cover large tracts of land within a few years. If you dig it up, the roots smell a bit like garlic. It reminds me of a clump of hollyhock foliage. What makes this plant so destructive is that the roots have allelopathic properties. That is a fancy word that basically means it gives off chemicals from its roots that inhibit other plants (or beneficial bacteria in the soil) from growing. 

As a baby seedling, it is easy to pull up. Once its established, you have to dig it up. The worst thing you can do, if you don't have the time to remove it, is let it go to seed. If nothing else, mow it down and NEVER let it flower. 

These invasives green up earlier and stay green later into the season than our native plants. That's one reason why they can get a foothold so easily. Late March is an excellent time to spot them. As you survey your own property, "read the woods" and see if you identify the plants that have already leafed out. Any effort to eradicate invasive species done now will really pay off later when you are so busy tending your gardens that it will be the last thing on your mind. 

Here is a great link to see pictures and read the gory details on this exotic invasive scourge of our woodlands. Read it and weep. Then take action.

Friday, March 30, 2012

My Secret

Day 72
The Daily DuBrule

Nah nah nah nah nah. I know something you don't know. I know where there is an entire hillside covered in Dutchman's britches (Dicentra cuccularia) and it is in full bloom right now. 

I am an active observer of native plants. In early spring, I have lots of favorite locations that I purposely drive by looking for specific wildflowers. Dutchman's britches is a harbinger of the beginning of the spring wildflower season for me. Also called squirrel corn, this diminutive beauty is found in woodland settings, usually on rocky slopes. It looks like a miniature form of dwarf bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia). Its flowering season is brief, usually just a few weeks. Then the seeds ripen and the plant self sows readily. It is easily propagated in nurseries which makes it one of the best spring ephemerals to buy and plant if you are trying to create your own woodland garden. It goes dormant within a month after blooming.

I finally started spotting this little beauty today as I made my rounds all over the shoreline. It's about time. With the early spring weather, I was surprised it took so long. Ironically, my route today just happen to take me past my favorite stand of Dutchman's britches. I won't tell you where it is because this place is sacred to me. I don't want to take a chance that anyone would go there and start trying to dig them up. Not that I think anyone that was a big enough plant geek to read The Daily DuBrule would do that or anything.

A few years ago, when I spotted this particularly gigantic stand of my favorite early spring wildflower, I pulled my car over, grabbed my camera, and decided to inspect it closer. That is when I found out that mixed in with the Dutchman's britches was red trillium. Wow! As far as the eye could see, the forest floor was carpeted. This is a really good reason to work really hard to keep invasive barberries, burning bushes, honeysuckle, and multiflora roses out of our woods. If they get in, this plant won't be able to coexist. The good news is that if you clear the invasives, many times these wildflowers come back. But not always. Stay vigilant, fellow wildflower lovers. Don't let these magnificent gifts of Mother Nature disappear. 

Change is Constant

Day 71
The Daily DuBrule

I was driving down Rt. 22, heading back to Natureworks after a VERY long day on the road. I rounded the curve and my shop suddenly appeared in the horizon. Wow! Why was that so unusual? For the past 15 years, you couldn't see Natureworks as you approached from the north because a thick tangle of invasives had grown up between us and the factory next door. The former owner was very protective of "the line" and became very upset if we tried to clear this horrible mess. The line itself was unclear.

Enter the wonderful new owner, enlightened environmentalists who are deeply committed to making our section of town beautiful. They had a proper survey done and I was thrilled to see that I had gained quite a few feet which we desperately need. Together we hatched a deal. They would arrange for all of the invasives to be cut down and hauled away. We would plant a really pretty border that would be wildlife friendly.

It was actually quite shocking to see the property line cleared. As dangerous and messy as it was (half dead trees just waiting to crash down on our plant benches during the next wet snow, big thick poison ivy and bittersweet vines everywhere), we had grown used to this cocoon of greenery embracing the retail store. I am sure the birds had too as it provided a lot of shelter for them. I feel guilty about that. 

Another thing I think about is where does all of that cut bittersweet go? No matter where you dump it, you are still spreading the invasive seeds. These are tough questions with no good answers.

All I can do is carry on, restoring this space to the most wonderful wildlife habitat garden I can dream up as quickly as I can. It's spring and it's a BUSY spring and this is not going to happen overnight. But trust me, it's going to happen and all creatures great and small will eventually benefit. For now, at least you won't accidentally drive by Natureworks anymore because you didn't see it as you approached. That's the short term blessing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hydrangeas are so Complicated!

Day 70
The Daily DuBrule

I have  been on a marathon this week, teaching pruning which means I have spent endless hours looking for pictures to illustrate what to do and what NOT to do to your plants to make them healthier, happier, and better looking. 

I have a new strategy for teaching this topic (one of my very favorite things to teach, I must add). I talk all about the different kinds of plants, the ways the buds are set up (old wood-new wood, if you don't know what that means then go to my website and download the handout), studying the natural growth habit of the plants, respecting the plants... I LOVE to prune. I find it relaxing, close to an art form for me. Zen and the art of pruning. I do it to unwind and relax. It makes me really look at the plants and try and figure out what would look good and what would make them healthy.

So, I teach for 90 minutes and everyone, I mean everyone is chomping at the bit because all they really want to know is "why don't my hydrangeas bloom?". It's complicated. There are so many different kinds of hydrangeas. They are like the poster child for pruning classes. Some bloom on new shoots off of old wood. Some bloom on new wood only. Others maintain a woody framework and bloom on new wood off of that. Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on the tips of new wood. Aargh. It's enough to make you crazy.

I have had people admit to me that they have come to my summer hydrangea talks 3 or more times just because they don't get it yet. Let me tell you. If you understand pruning, you will understand hydrangeas. They represent every kind of blooming habit there is. Trust me on this.

If you want to learn how to prune, step back and really study your plants. Sit and stare at them. Study them in bud, study them in the winter. When they are flowering, figure out where the flowers are formed. Do they come from the tips? Do they come right off the branch (like redbuds?). Test the waters, be daring. Do some pruning on some old, resilient plant and see what happens. 

Pruning is actually like creating living sculpture. Lose your fear, gain a ton of respect for the plants, and you are good to go. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Magnolia Meltdown

Day 69
The Daily DuBrule

I can still remember sitting in the classroom at Rackliffe Hicks School of Agriculture back in the 70's. My professor of woody plants Mr. Bradley had dragged us all over campus, showing us a wide array of trees and shrubs. I was in heaven. I was a sponge, soaking up information and loving every minute. We were introduced to Magnolias, star and saucer. They were early spring blooming trees, so gorgeous and tropical looking. It was probably early April when I sat in the classroom and looked out the window at my new favorite tree, the saucer magnolia. The day before, it was stunning. I couldn't take my eyes off it. That fateful day, it was a mass of brown, mushy flowers. I was stunned. How was it possible that such a giant, magnificent tree could be frozen? It turns out that these early blooming Magnolias live life on the edge. 

This year, I could see it coming. Two to three weeks of insanely warm temperatures in March, unlike anything I have ever experienced in over 30 years of gardening. Plants have opened before my eyes that have no business blooming now. I knew it couldn't last. So it was with a sinking feeling that I heard the dire forecast for early this week and then felt the cold wind sink deep into my bones on Monday evening.

This morning, I got up to survey the damage. I walked up to my perennial Lathyrus vernus and touched its leaves. Brittle and crispy and frozen solid. I pulled my hand back. Man, if I am not careful, I will shatter this plant into tiny bits. It was 6:30 a.m., way too early to tell what had really happened.
Lathyrus vernus, spring vetchling, laughs at temps in the 20's!

Later this afternoon, as I drove home in the warmth of the sunshine, most of the plant world looked fine to me. But it was the Magnolias that had taken the hit. Giant gobs of brown flowers everywhere. So sad. When I stopped home for a pit stop before heading to Colchester to give a pruning talk, I quickly glanced around the yard. Wow. The Lathyrus was green and gorgeous. My weeping cherry tree was fine. All of the early spring blooming bulbs were happy as clams. I had survived this dip into the 20's pretty much unscathed. 

The magnolias along my route weren't so lucky. I still think it is worth it to own such beautiful, dramatic, early spring flowering trees. Each year its a risk. But when they are in bloom, nothing comes close to their beauty. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spicebush Love

Day 68
The Daily DuBrule

What's that soft yellow plant that is blooming in all of the wet woodlands this week? It is Lindera benzoin or spicebush. It is called this because if you scratch the bark it smells spicy. I discovered spicebush when I lived on Leete's Island in Guilford. The "Lower Road" as it was called was a road that went straight through inland wetlands. Every spring I would observe this yellow cloud of flowers, usually right before the forsythia blossomed. I finally figured out what I was looking at: a wonderful native understory tree.

The reason this plant is so important is that it is the larval food plant of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Larval food plants are critical for the continuation of a butterfly species. The mother lands on the plant and "drums" to release the scent which tells her this is the very plant that will support her young. Butterfly larvae are host specific. If they do not feed on their larval food plant, they will die. 

After this plant flowers, it turns into an unobstrusive green tree all summer long. Late in the summer the flowers turn into red berries that provide a feast for the birds. This is yet another benefit for habitat creation.

You may never see a spicebush swamp and say "Oh my goodness, I LOVE it!" like I do. In fact, I take the back roads at this time of year just to observe this in bloom. But now that you know what it is, you will certainly appreciate its place in the scheme of things. Ain't nature wonderful?!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Asparagus Days Ahead

Day 67
The Daily DuBrule

I remember quite a few years ago I hosted my family for Easter dinner. It was probably around the middle of April. It was one of those magnificent, warm, sunny days in the spring (kind of like every day we've experienced this March for the past two weeks) and all of us kept wandering outside to breath in the spring air and observe what was going on. My nephew was especially interested in the snakes that I discovered living in the rocks that formed the waterfall of my pond. My brother-in-law was fascinated by the tiny tips of asparagus poking through the soil in my raised beds. We proceeded to have a wonderful feast and after dinner, we went back outside to enjoy more of the day. That was when we all stopped dead in our tracks. The asparagus had grown a full 3" in just a few hours! No one could believe it!

Thursday of this week, that being March 22nd, I saw the first spears of asparagus in that very same raised bed. I had been checking for days, but all of the sudden, there they were, 4" tall! Those little devil dogs, they did it again! Man do they grow fast once they decide to appear above the soil line. I was tempted to pick them and eat them raw, but my new plan is to cook them on Monday for my husband as it is my night to cook and I haven't breathed a word of it yet.

My asparagus patch has been in the ground for 7 years. You have to wait three years to begin harvesting the spears (which is the new growth) and then, you can only cut them for 3 weeks as it will weaken the plant. After year 4, you can harvest for 6 weeks. We harvest asparagus just about every single day during that precious period of the spring and eat it in every way, shape, and form with most meals. My favorite way to prepare it is to cook it in a little olive oil with a pat of butter and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. 
My asparagus ferns are such a pretty sight!

I used to hate asparagus. My mother would buy it in the can for Easter and boil it until it was mushy. Yuck. Sorry Mom, but that did not do justice this delicious, nutritious perennial vegetable that not only feeds us in the spring but also provides me with a lovely hedge of asparagus fern foliage all summer and fall. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Day 66
The Daily DuBrule

Violets represent one of the most beloved and one of the most maligned plants in the gardening world. First of all, let me say that I admit to everyone that I am a violet lover.  Okay, I've said it. A plant that makes people roll their eyes in frustration, a plant ripped from gardens and sprayed with herbicides and banished from lawns makes me happy. Go figure. I must be nuts, right? Wrong. 

In the picture above you will see Viola labradorica, the Labrador violet, a native plant that graces my gardens both at home and at Natureworks. How can you not love this little plant? Purple diminutive leaves. Adorable flowers. It's March 24th and this is in full bloom up against my foundation. I saw it this evening as I did my "walkabout the estate" and exclaimed in delight. Yes, it seeds around. So what. It's charming. Cute as a button.

According to the American Beauties website that focuses on native plants ( some of the many benefits of Viola labradorica are:
  • Nectar source for butterflies and other pollinators
  • Larval food source for many fritillary butterflies
  • Good ground cover for shady areas
  • Provides cover for small wildlife
  • Cardinals and other songbirds eat the seed

Another violet I love is 'Freckles', white with purple spots. This too spreads around my gardens to its hearts content and I let it. It's just too cute for words.

I pick bouquets of violets and place them in tiny glass vases and put them on the windowsill. People candy them, dipping them in egg whites and then in sugar, and decorate cakes. A few years ago, I happened upon a perfect circle of purple violet in my front lawn. I called it my fairy ring. While my neighbor was engaged in spreading poisons to eradicate every non-lawn grass plant, which he considers noxious weeds, from his property, I was celebrating this magical arrangement of one of our native plants growing in a circle in my front yard. 

Violets have been picked by children and given to their mothers for generations. They have graced lapels and been the inspiration for May baskets and other old fashioned floral tributes since mankind has been writing about flowers. I refuse to fall for the theory that they are the enemy. They are the state flower of no less than four states in the U.S.A. They have been used as a medicine (both the leaves and the flowers) for as long as mankind has been recording such things.

Recently, one of my customers emailed me that she has written a book about the fragrant violets that were grown as cut flowers for the florist industry. When this book is published, I am going to have her give a talk and do a book signing at Natureworks. I beg you to look twice at the "weeds" your world. Most of them have uses and significance to humankind beyond your wildest dreams. With spring in full swing, embrace the weeds and respect their place in the web of life. Keep an open mind, do a little research, and you just might be surprised!

Deadleafing 101

 Day 65
The Daily DuBrule

Yesterday I came upon a magnificent stand of Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten rose. They were in full bloom, yet they looked bedraggled because they were still wearing their winter leaves. They needed deadleafing.

This is a process where you carefully go into a plant and remove the tired, old, ratty looking foliage to the base, dancing around the new leaves. It is a grooming technique to make plants look a thousand times better. 

Deadleafing is often done in late summer to Alchemilla mollis, Brunnera, and a host of other foliage plants showing the effects of drought and heat. It is a renewal process, a new lease on life for the plants. Fresh new foliage continues to emerge and within a few weeks, the plants look fresh as a daisy.

With Hellebores, its often hard what to decide to do as the green, leathery leaves are often the only game in town in the shady perennial garden in the winter. I say "off with their leaves" as soon as the flower start to show. They deserve all the glory, and tired looking foliage just brings the display down.

By the way, these Hellebores have downward facing flowers. The new ones are being bred for upward facing flowers. That is a VAST improvement. The insides of these flowers were speckled and spotted and stunning but unless held them in you hands and faced them towards you, or unless they were planted on a hill and you were viewing from below, you would miss this.

I Hellebore heaven right now, with all kinds of gorgeous new varieties in full bloom everywhere I go. What a wonderful perennial this is.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March Madness

Day 63
The Daily DuBrule
Weeping cherry branches on April 18th, 2004

Today when I arrived home I found our white weeping cherry (a.k.a.) our "wedding tree" in full bloom. We call it our wedding tree because it normally blooms on April 18th, the day I married my husband. Huge hunks of this flowering beauty graced the hall, stuffed into buckets and vases everywhere along with forsythia. In fact, I remember stopping by the highway exit on the way to the wedding and cutting a couple of armloads of forsythias from an embankement for even more color on my special day. Today is March 22nd, almost a FULL MONTH earlier than my wedding day 8 years ago.

As usual, if I get home before dark, I grab a glass of red wine and walk my property. The tour tonight was very revealing. All of the buds were completely frozen off of my red quince in late winter after a prolonged warm spell in December caused them to swell. Lo and behold, seemingly overnight, new buds have formed and this radiant beauty is about to burst into full bloom. I have breadseed poppy rosettes of foliage in the beds on the south side of my house, a sight usually reserved for late April or early May. Almost every daffodil I own is either in flower or in swollen bud. Forsythia: in full bloom. March madness indeed.

I picked a bouquet of these double daffies today!
The crazy thing is, some plants that would normally be opening with this chorus of color are barely showing their faces to the sun. Bloodroot. Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'. A host of others baffled me until I had an "aha moment" tonight. We are in a March drought. It is so darned dry that I think some plants are just stubbornly waiting below ground for the rains to arrive. This is a whole new way of observing the spring emergence of my precious flowers. Some plants seem to pop their heads up due to warm temperatures. Others want moisture. I hope it rains this Sunday/Monday as promised. If so, I will see if my theory holds true. Until then, it's out to the garden I go, every spare moment I have, to plant pansies and prune the rest of my roses and summer blooming shrubs, and cut down the Panicum grasses that somehow escaped my sickle blade last week. 

It's a magnificent month and I refuse to worry and fuss about what it all means or what will happen if or when it gets cold again. For now, I am trying really hard to just take a deep cleansing breath, soak up this unexpected gorgeous weather, and smile a happy smile. Maybe Mother Nature has simply decided to give us a magnificent gift. I'll take it. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Place for Happy Robins

Day 63
The Daily DuBrule

I had a few hours between the end of my last garden consultation of the day and my evening volunteering to choose the next scholarship recipient for the CT Nursery and Landscape Association, an annual job I love. I decided to pay a visit to the cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried. It is a beautiful place, filled with large trees and vast expanses of lawn as all of the grave markers are at ground level. The sun was shining, the air was sweet, and I easily found my special spot. 

After weeding around the markers and dusting off the winter's dirt, I sat down and relaxed in the sunshine, letting memories pour over me. It was then that I noticed the birds. Happy birdsong came from every tree and hedgerow, enough to drown out the sound of cars on the road nearby. But it was the flocks of robins that really enchanted me.

They were everywhere, flitting about the grounds, hundreds of them. Digging worms. How do the do that, knowing just where to poke their beaks in the soil to find a worm. I am sure somebody knows what signals they get that says "poke here!". What made me extra specially happy was that as I sat on the grass I saw weeds everywhere. Fernleaf yarrow. Clover, Dandelions. Ground Ivy. Sorrel. Every common lawn weed was apparent to me as I looked around. Aha. This cemetery doesn't use poisons on their lawns. As I sat there on the ground, feeling incredibly tiny in this immense sacred space, I tried to imagine what it would cost, and the labor it would take, to spread weed killers and pesticides on this lawn. I shuddered. Then I thought about just the few people I had seen in my hour there, people kneeling on the ground, sitting, engaging with the earth, and consequently the lawn. What a relief.

Lucky robins. They have found a safe place to live and, as drove in and surveyed the scene, it was clear that nobody was worse off because of it. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lily Leaf Beetles Spotted in Northford, Ct.

Day 62
The Daily DuBrule

Today was a day of great celebration. Natureworks opened for its 29th year! If I really set my mind to thinking about it, I feel old, blessed, and so fortunate to have made it to this point currently surrounded by amazing, and I mean truly amazing people helping me run this crazy business. So it's the first day of spring, the first week of spring, and it feels a bit like the middle of May. Hot, sweaty, intense. Towards the end of the day, as I was working with some of my landscape staff training our our new computer system, one of them happened to drop the bomb: "I saw red leaf lily beetles today.". Heads snapped to attention all over the shop. Customers and staff were like...What?! So early? I am not surprised. I usually get a call around the first of April from my neighbor Carol D. up the street from Natureworks. I go tromping out to the garden and scout for these nasty red beetles on my Frittilarias. That is the first plant it eats. The stinky but dramatic bulbs that come up about the same time as the daffodils. So its time to drag out the Neem and the Spinosad and the Pyrethrum. My crews sprays these organic bug killers on the plants and sprinkles Sluggo Plus (which contains Spinosad, which just might kill some of the beetles that hide in the soil) at the base of the Liliums, Tricyrtis, Fritillarias, and Polygonatums, all plants that this dreaded bright red pest will feed on. I, on the other hand, start my intensive, focused scouting for beetles and beetle eggs on every emerging lily and Fritillaria shoot in my gardens. I am a squisher at heart. I seek out the tiny red clusters of eggs on the undersides of the leaves and squish them. If I see an actual red lily leaf beetle, I hunt it down until I find it. If it thinks it can drop to the ground and bury itself in the mulch: WRONG. Last year, it was my routine every morning and every evening to do this. It worked great and I had fabulous lilies.

If this nasty, red, dreaded menace has been a problem in your yard in the past, I urge you, don't ignore this early scouting report. Nip the problem in the bud now. Get out there and find these nasty creatures, get rid of them in March before they can begin their repeated breading cycles.

Don't let this happen to you. Lily lovers, unite!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Open Pruning

Day 61
The Daily DuBrule
I have been moving around my yard working on all my roses. The goal is to open prune them, removing growth that is heading inside the plant and pruning to an outside facing bud. Since new rose shoots head in the direction of the bud you prune to, it makes sense to prune to outside facing buds. Why? Because you want the plant to be very open in the middle, increasing air circulation and decreasing the frequency of fungus. This morning I noticed that I planted crocuses in the heart of my 'Chuckles' rose. These help to show what open pruning is all about!

 Last week I worked on my 'Moje Hammarberg' rose. This is a little harder to see in the picture but look close and you will see what I am talking about. You can see through the plant. After making many major cuts in the center, I then top the plant, removing about 1/3 of the growth.

I do this pruning twice a year. Now, as the new growth is emerging, and again in July. Once the pruning is done, I add three or four shovels full of compost and Pro Gro organic fertilizer to jump start the roses. They LOVE organic compost and fertilizer!

Finally, you just might enjoy a couple of pretty closeups of the flowers in bloom in my yard. The purple crocuses, of course, that have stolen the show in my courtyard this week as the 'Arnold's Promise' witch hazel has finally dropped all its flower petals like yellow shredded snowflakes. And, one of the best harbingers of spring, Azalea mucronulatum. So much is blooming so quickly this week, I can barely keep up!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Next New Plant

Day 60
The Daily DuBrule
It's not even April yet and I have already discovered a plant that I must have immediately. I was down in Guilford for a social function this afternoon. Late, as usual, I had to park quite far away from the house. Lucky me, I got to park my car right next to this amazing, fragrant, pink flowering shrub in full bloom. From a distance I though it was Azalea mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink' as they are starting to open already. It is a deciduous shrub, open in habit, absolutely covered with the prettiest flowers. On closer inspection the following words came into my head: Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'. I learned about this plant many years ago but have to admit I have never seen it in real life, growing in the ground. I had a few in pots at the garden center, but they hung around all season and finally got adopted by a savvy horticulturalist at one of our clearance sales. I didn't sell because I didn't know how fabulous it was and so I didn't make a sign for it or talk about or anything. Now I know better.

This plant normally blooms in late March and early April in CT. Since we are having such a warm spring, I am not surprised to see it in flower today. It grows 8-10' tall and 6-8' wide. The plant I saw was loose and open, but I know I could tighten it up with careful pruning right after flowering. I stuck my nose in the blossoms and they were very sweet. Not nearly as intoxicating as Viburnum carlesii, but sweet nonetheless. I imagine in arching over a pair of Abeliophyllums as they would both bloom at the same time and the Abeliophyllums would fill in the base. 

I also now have a new plant I can force for fragrant flowers indoors. I am really excited. This bodes well for the season ahead that I am already coveting completely new plants a few days before our retail shop even opens. I just checked the availability list of one of my growers and wouldn't you know it, they have it. Add one on for me please, as their trucks are loading up and rolling in any day now.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Scents of Spring

Day 59
The Daily DuBrule

I was pulling out of the Natureworks driveway this evening after two fun-filled yet exhausting classes. As I was about to put up the chain, I looked down to see the entire shade garden in full bloom with daffodil flowers. Happy St. Patrick's Day world, this is a first in my book! I treated myself to a huge bouquet to take home. As I gathered the flowers together, I plunged my nose into the giant yellow trumpets and smelled, for the first time a year, the intoxicating scent of narcissus blossoms. Ah yes. It's all coming back to me now. Spring. The feeling of new life rushing through my veins. I must admit, it got to me. 

I came home and couldn't go in the house. The glow in the sky was gorgeous. The peepers were so loud I couldn't believe it. The evening bird song joined the chorus. The setting sun made my gardens glow. I just sat on my deck and relaxed and realized: spring is truly here.

I then wandered around the yard, checking the progress of my emerging plants. The bleeding heart is currently exploding out of the ground. The monkshood is already in leaf. The Iris reticulata and snowdrops are finished. The Lonicera fragrantissima continues to flower, impressing me to no end with it's long blooming season and sweet scent. Tons of tulips have appeared in the last couple of days.

More fun than a barrel of monkeys is my garlic patch. Last fall I tried a creative planting experiment. I love purple tulips but I am not crystal clear on the differences between the varieties. So, I planted a row of garlic, then a row a tulips, a row of garlic, etc. all the way across one of my raise beds. I labeled both the tulips and the garlic. They have both emerged in the last 24 hours. It makes me smile to see this.

Next week is supposed to be in the 70's. What happens if the cherry trees and star magnolias open 3 weeks early and then we have a cold spell? Well, they will probably freeze. If you hear that may happen, pick tons of branches and put them in vases and bring them into work and share them with everyone you know. It may not be the best case scenario, but at least they won't go to waste and the folks that don't have these trees in their yards to enjoy will be thrilled.

We are living in crazy times. We can't change the extreme weather we experience. All we can do is go with the flow, enjoy every drop of color that we are given, and not worry too much about it. The only thing constant in life as change. I guess we might as well get used to it.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cornus mas in bloom in Durham!

Day 58
The Daily DuBrule
Cornus mas. Cornelian Cherry dogwood. Ever heard of it? If you live in Durham, or if you drive through Durham (CT) every day, you will at least recognize the pictures. This is a really cool tree that blooms REALLY early, usually the end of March. It's been flowering for a couple of days now.
 Anyone who knows plants, when they see these pictures (taken today, I must add, at 6 p.m) will know why this is unusual. So I pull into a parking lot of a strip mall and walk over to this tree. A guy is sitting in a car in the parking lot. I notice him. I think to myself "he must be wondering what I am doing with a camera standing inches from the rather insignificant flowers of this tree and snapping photos for 5 minutes."  Obviously, he is not a horticulturalist, fascinated with the concept of this flowering tree, used as a street tree in Durham, blooming at lest 2-3 weeks early! Amazing!
Anyway, I got that out of my system. According to Michael Dirr, the expert in all woody plants, "few dogwoods are as durable as this underutilized, yellow-flowered, red fruited species." He goes on to say "Bright yellow flowers open on naked branches in March (where he lives, which is much further south than here I must add) and are the only show in town. The 5/8" long, ovoid, bright cherry-red fruit ripen in June and July. They serve as snacks for birds or can be used for preserves and syrup."

Lee Reich, who literally wrote the book on edible fruiting trees for the landscape, writes and teaches about this very interesting tree. The fruit is tart, but quite edible, and has been eaten by humans for centuries. I admit I have never tried the fruit of the Cornelian cherry, but I am thrilled to see these trees in bloom the day before St. Patrick's Day here in central Ct. Together with the star magnolia I saw cracking flowers in Madison, the drifts of daffodils in the shade gardens at Natureworks, and the countless other normally April bloomers that have turned my head in the past few days, all I can say is "damn the torpedoes". Bring it on! For everyone that is worried about what will happen if things bloom and then it gets cold I say ENJOY IT. Be Here Now. Live in the moment. We deserve an insanely early and delicious spring season. Remember last year? Don't we have enough toil and trouble in our lives? Let's just smile gigantic happy smiles and say "Thank you Mother Nature". Que sera sera. I'll take what comes, but give me a warm March anyday and I am a happy gal.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Grow Food

Day 57
The Daily DuBrule

As I drove to work this morning, I just kept thinking about what a great time I had last night talking about growing food with a very excited group of gardeners at Elizabeth Park. A mantra ran through my head. I wouldn't leave me all day, and BOY what a jam packed, busy, intense day I had. I kept thinking about the final question I got from someone who said that my gardens that I talked about and showed on the screen were amazing, but they were overwhelming. Where should she start?

Grow food. Grow your OWN food. It doesn't matter what it is or how little you actually end up harvesting. Just start by growing SOMETHING that you will then eat. In a pot. In a hanging basket. In a tiny bed outside of your condominium. In a small patch that you dig up in your yard. Steal a corner from your flower garden or shrub border. Start with something easy. Parsley. Lettuce. Swiss chard because the red and yellow rainbow varieties are so pretty and can be added to the center of a pot of annuals. Try one tomato plant or one pepper plant in a great big pot on the deck. Plant a blueberry bush. Grow some peppermint for tea. I remember my first peppermint plant, it grew like a weed and I thought "man, plants are fun and easy". Little did I know that it would later take over my world. But it gave me confidence and it was peppermint, one of my favorite herbs for tea, and I never had to buy it again!

I also told everyone to try one new thing that they've never tried before. A few years ago I started growing 'Ruby Streaks' mustard because I saw Rosalind Creasy (author of Edible Landscaping and Edible Flowers) give a talk and she said to just pick the mustard leaves and put them in sandwiches whenever you would spread mustard from a jar. I like zippy greens and, wouldn't you know it, she was right on! Last year I tried a new summer spinach and it worked. I picked spinach for months and added it to so many dishes. This year I am determined to grow parsnips. I just love these sweet root vegetables in the winter. I hear the seeds are hard to sprout. I'm going to give it a try anyway. All I have to lose is a tiny bit of time and the price of a packet of seeds.

So, the mantra is:
Grow food. Any kind of food. Grow it in the ground. Grow it in a pot. Grow it from seed. Buy already started seedlings. Just give it a try. Even if you live in a condominium or an apartment or a tiny cottage by the sea with no sun and rocky, acidic soil (like I did for over 10 years) grow it anyway.  Find something that interests you and plant it. It is our birthright. It is our legacy. Once you start, you will never go back. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Love Elizabeth Park!

My grandfather left me a trunk full of slides, many of the park in the 50's
Day 56
The Daily DuBrule

Tonight I spoke to a large group of people at the Pond House in Elizabeth Park in Hartford. I got there about a half hour early, about 5 p.m. and the parked was packed. Folks on blankets, basking in the sun. Teenagers playing frisbee. Joggers. Mothers pushing strollers. The greenhouse was packed to the rim with gorgeous flowering plants. There were beds of yellow daffodils in bloom. The birds were singing, the ducks were quacking, and everyone was happy. I LOVE Elizabeth Park. It sits on the border of West Hartford and Hartford. I spend my childhood there. My grandparents took us there constantly to run in the rose and flower gardens, listen to band concerts, swing on the swings, and skate on the pond. As an adult and a professional gardener, I was thrilled to return to find this park is a horticultural mecca.

I spoke tonight on blending edibles with ornamentals. This is a really fun topic. I explained that you need to understand exactly what an edible plant does for the entire growing season in order to successfully incorporate it into you flower beds. Some edibles like dill or coriander bolt to seed quickly when it gets hot. Ditto for lettuce and spinach. As pretty as they may look in the spring, they won't go the distance in the flower garden. Other food plants are absolutely gorgeous. Swiss chard comes in rainbow colors of red and golden yellow. 'Bull's Blood' beets have deep burgundy red, glossy leaves. 'Ruby Streaks' mustard is a frilly green. Peppers have glossy leaves and grow to a manageable size in any garden. Scarlet runner pole beans can climb up a trellis. Their brilliant red blossoms are edible and taste like beans! The flowers attract hummingbirds, an added bonus.

As with the other talks I have given this winter on growing food, everyone had questions. There is such a lot of interest in this topic. No matter where people live, how small the yard, even if their gardening endeavors are limited to containers on the deck or patio, you can grow food. Edible figs. Purple carrots. Kale. Yum. Give it a shot. As I said at the end of my talk, stretch a little this year outside of your edible comfort zone and grow a few new types of food in your gardens this year.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Day 55 
The Daily DuBrule

So am teaching my basic design class tonight at the Zion Episcopal Church in North Branford. This church backs up to lots of inland wetlands. Of course its been amazingly mild and warm for the past few days. I didn't have much time to linger while setting up but in my mind one word kept repeating over and over...peepers! 

I happened to mention this to the class. I have had quite a bout of spring fever lately with 70 degree temperatures, soft winds, flowers opening before my eyes. One student said "they're here!" She told me to listen when I stepped outside after class. She was right! The first peepers of the season! 

What a magical sound. It strikes deep at the heartstrings. It drills down into my psyche. Once you hear the peepers, there's no turning back. It's a milestone of the spring (or in this case pre-spring) season. 

I should have known this day was right around the corner. On Saturday afternoon, when I left class, I went back to Natureworks to unload my car. I opened the door and stepped outside. The joyous sound of a bright red cardinal singing joyously in a tree top at the edge of the parking lot made me jerk my head instantaneously. It was SO loud. Look at me. I'm singing to the universe. This is my season. Join me and sing too! I broke into a broad grin.

Little by little, the tiny milestones that mark the entry of springtime are unfolding. It's a couple of weeks early but I'm not complaining. It is such a welcome gift, an early and gorgeous March. I am appreciating every minute of it. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Harvest is In!

Black pussywillows (Salix melanostachys)
Day 54
The Daily DuBrule

It was way too hot today. I LOVE warm days in March, but this was crazy. I didn't know how to deal. I was in my car after giving a garden club talk in Farmington and opening the windows didn't cool me down. It's MARCH for God's sake. Anyway, I got through the day and came home to a yard filled with piles of cut pussywillows.

One of my criteria for my new yard was to grow stuff I could harvest and sell at my store. Pussywillows among them. So, I planted lots of plants a few years ago and lo and behold, they LOVE my yard. Thick wet clay. Perfect for pussywillows. Sunday I took out my father's pruning saw and my faithful loppers and cut every bit of harvestable growth off of these plants. Don't think I did it to be spiteful. No. With pussywillows, a hard pruning encourages tons of new growth each year.
I was left with a HUGE pile on Sunday at which point I was done. Time for dinner, wine, and a movie. Isn't that what a day off is for?
Fasciated pussywillows are like living sculpture

When I got home this afternoon, the warm, gorgeous day enticed me outside. I tried to be a good doobie and work on my class Tuesday night and the one on Wednesday and the endless email correspondence and the myriad issues at Natureworks. But NO. The day was too warm and beautiful. So, I reverted back to a previous image of myself as "harvester".  I harvested pussywillows for an hour. I cut all the branches into various lengths, sorting them by size and shape. It was so relaxing. A complete hour of forgetting that I am a business woman and a person responsible for 25 people's jobs. At this intense time of year, when spring is busting out all over 2-3 weeks early and I am trying to get a handle on who, what, and where I will be sending my four crews never mind how my retail staff is going to handle the new computer cash register and all of the accompanying trials and tribulations that go with it that I NEVER imagined possible, it felt REALLY GOOD to just cut and sort and bunch pussywillows. 
Sometimes, getting back to basics is just what the doctor ordered. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Beautiful Day in the Garden

Day 53
The Daily DuBrule

Rose 'Moje Hammarberg' got a good cleaning out and cutting back today
What a magnificent day. Warm, sunny, spring-like. A flock of robins flitted about on my front lawn and as they pulled worms out of the ground all I could think was "thank God I don't use poisons on my lawn". I spent the day doing more cutting back in the garden. Silly me, I thought I was done with that but I just keep finding more stuff I missed.

Top of the list were some summer blooming shrubs that bloom on new wood. It's really important to cut them back in the spring. This encourages lots of new, young growth which is where all the flower bud action happens. Some plants I worked on today:

Leptodermis oblonga, which only grows 3-4' tall and has tubular lavender purple blossoms in July and August.
Symphoricarpos albus, also called snowberry, an old fashioned shrub that flowers in August and gets big fleshy white berries in the fall.

Cephalanthus or buttonbush, a late summer bloomer with white round orbs of flowers that the butterflies love.

Clerodendrum trichotomum, the glory bower shrub, with fragrant white fall flowers followed by stunning seed pods. 

Finally, I cut all my pussywillows. I am going to bunch them and bring them into Natureworks to sell. Every year it is important to really prune pussywillow shrubs hard. This gets rid of the old wood and encourages tons of young, new wood which has the best pussywillow catkins the following winter. I got out my father's pruning saw and had at it, cutting out tons of dead branches and doing some major cuts, really shaping the shrubs. Quite a harvest of pussywillow branches for a beautiful day in March. 

I watched bugs hatching and flitting through the air. I watched Allium foliage emerge and grow two inches in one day on the south side of the house. I opened pruned quite a few of my roses and have the battle scars to prove it.

All in all, it was a fabulous March Sunday afternoon. I'm LOVING this early spring warm weather. Yes! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Food Glorious Food

Day 52
The Daily DuBrule

Anyone remember the musical Oliiver? Food Glorious Food. I was in the chorus of this musical in summer stock in high school This is the refrain that ran through my head today as I watched dozens of people walk into to an already popular class called Eating From Your Garden from April until November. I wasn't kidding when I made up that title. That's what I do, actually eating from March into December and beyond at this point .

I was SO THRILLED with the response to this class. People are hungry (no pun intended) for every scrap of information I can put forth on the subject of growing food. Why? Well, it hits a very deep chord in the human psyche, that's for sure. AND, we are all worried about poisons,  genetically modified organisms (gmos's) and other creepy things happening to our food supply that we don't understand and that scare us.

That aside, we all have a primal urge to grow food. It's in our DNA. It always brings me back to reality when I teach a class like this. Most people just are hungry for the basics. Succession cropping. Rotation of crop families. Testing the soil. Understanding how to deal with pests organically. Basic stuff that I take for granted, as does my staff. Yet, we realize over and over that our job is to teach the basics to people who just simply say "Help me learn to grow my own food". For me, it is simple. I want to know my food isn't grown with poisons and doesn't contain genetically modified organisms (gmo's). I want to KNOW where my food comes from. It is, when you really thing about it, the staff of life, the substance I am made of. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

We take food for granted. We waltz into the local grocery store and buy strawberries in January. Where are they from? How were they grown? If we dare to ask those questions, it is a different reality. In my world, yes, you can enjoy strawberries in January at a special occasion party in the winter, but strawberries are a JUNE celebration! Radishes in July in CT? That ain't natural. Once you've grown radishes, you will know that. So, get into the rhythm of growing food and you will never shop at the grocery store with the same mindset again.

The point is, if you eat food in CT you should understand the food that grows in CT. The more you understand it, the more you will want to eat locally and in season. Even if you don't have the time or the yard or the inclination to grow any of your own food, you can still be aware of how it is produced and what is natural in this climate, in this state, in the various months that we can grow and harvest food. With that in mind, look to your local farmer's markets, C.S.A's (Community Supported Agriculture programs), and anyone else that supports local food production in CT. Support them with your dollars, your emails, your blogs, your facebook posts, and anything else in your power to move the local, organic food movement forward in our state. This is about our health, our well being, and the fabric of our communities. This is REALLY IMPORTANT right now. Spring is almost here. Vote with your voice and your buying power to make the CT organic local food economy strong and healthy in 2012 ,

Friday, March 9, 2012


Feverfew mingles with Physocarpus 'Center Glow'
Day 51
The Daily DuBrule

Now that I have passed the 50 day mark, blogging every day for 50 days, I might as well let you in on a secret. I love feverfew. So many people I know rip this plant out because it self sows so rampantly. Not me. I LOVE it. It blooms all summer long in deep shade and full sun. It makes a great cut flower. It is an aromatic herb, used in Europe for helping migraine headache sufferers. In my gardens, it weaves itself into pretty much anywhere I let it, adding a cottage garden feel and helping to fool the noses of the deer.

Herbs are just the best plants to have growing everywhere. When you are tired of the everyday world of computers and business and cars and problems, you can wander through your gardens, even if it is dark outside, and an herb like feverfew (being white and glowing in the dark) will say "hey, look at me!"  I pluck a bit of foliage and inhale the pungent, herbal scent. Yup, I can surely believe that this is a medicinal herb.

Does it bother me that this plant self seeds a lot? Nope. I can easily spot it in the spring and if it's too much, I pull it up. I don't try and transplant it an save it, I just say "bye bye" and off to the compost pile it goes. Meanwhile, for months and months into the growing season, feverfew adds a pretty filler flower to every bouquet I create.

I have a favorite woodland garden in Guilford with a long, winding driveway. In the spring, the drive is lined with daffodils and Virginia bluebells and bleeding hearts. In the summer, when my client is away on an island, feverfew takes over. Slowly but surely it has been seeding in, a welcome presence when all of this spring glory recedes and goes dormant. 

I guess I am just a cottage gardener at heart. No matter how much of a sense of order I try to bring to my world, plants like feverfew melt my heart. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It's Spring On the South Side

Foxglove plant in leafing out along the concrete foundation on the south side of my house.

Day 50
The Daily DuBrule

How is it possible? I have blogged for 50 straight days! And I still am finding things to talk about. Today we continue with a late winter tour of my garden. It was really REALLY warm today, so warm that for a while I sat in my courtyard and just watched the honeybees nectaring on the crocus and snowdrop flowers. What a wonderful sound, the buzzing of bees. It's been many months since that was a part of my world.

Everywhere I went today, the world was waking up. I saw rose leaves fully open. I spotted Aconitum (monkshood) and globe thistle (Echinops) foliage emerging. While discussing the possible pruning of Clematis, I saw swollen buds on vines that from a distance looked completely dried up and dead.
Euphorbia lathyrus (gopher spurge) looking gorgeous against my foundation.

Daffodils in bud
It's really a kick to have an early spring after the craziness of 2011. I am in heaven. Every day brings new surprises. I was tempted to plant spinach seeds this morning as I was examining the garlic breaking through the surface of the soil. I found bronze fennel foliage up high enough to nip a piece and rub between my fingers. Yum. Egyptian topping onions have enough top growth to cut and toss into salads. It's March 8th and it feels like early April. Woo Hoo!
Phlox subulata 'Betty', the tiniest of miniature creeping May pinks. Love this plant! It is especially charming with an amethyst heart shaped crystal nestled in the clump.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the butterfly bushes ever really lost their leaves this year. I spent lots of time today discussing how much to prune off of these summer blooming shrubs. The answer: as much as you want!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Getting Ready for 60 Degrees

Aren't they neat? As the black pussywillows emerge, they pop their "caps"!
Hyacinth buds

Day 49
The Daily DuBrule

Let's take a visual tour of my yard today. On the south side of my back garage, all the hyacinths are in bud. The black pussywillows are popping their "caps", at least that is what they look like to me! The peony buds are emerging from the soil so be VERY careful when you are walking around. I almost stepped on them as I leaned in close to take a picture of some variegated tulip leaves nearby.
Variegated tulip foliage with a pretty pink edge

Peony buds are emerging-I almost stepped on them!
Roses leaf buds are swelling fast. It's time to prune!
Everywhere I look, signs of life say it's spring! It feels like early April to me. The light in the afternoon is so long and lingering and gorgeous. I forced myself to stay glued to the drawing board all day, but admit I took quite a few breaks to take photos of the life emerging. Funny thing, if you check on things once an hour on a day like today, you can actually see the progress of the buds growing and swelling. Tomorrow is supposed to be over 65 degrees. We are sure going to see some action then. Stay tuned...

Winter aconite flowers push hard against the soil. Being reborn every year isn't easy!
My first large flowering crocus opened in my sunny southern alcove. It looks so pretty with the winter jasmine vine in full bloom behind it.
I'm happy to report the Iris reticulata survived last week's snow storm just fine. More and more keep emerging.