Monday, April 30, 2012

Digging Sunday

Day 102
The Daily DuBrule

Sunday is my gardening day. I have almost two acres and about 4 hours to care for them a week so let's just say I get a little behind. Sunday I started to remove the 'Lemon Queen' sunflowers from my gorgeous clump of deep purple, double Japanese irises. I love both these plants, but the perennial sunflower spreads really fast and grows 6' tall so it needed taming. I had the bright idea to move it to the back border, replacing an invasive plant that needed to GO.

Let's just say that I did a lot of digging. Digging up all the lemon queen was easy. I dug up a fair amount of gooseneck loosestrife as well. I inherited this insane spreading white flower when I bought the property and it is trying to take over my universe. I am surprised that it is not on the invasive list in CT. Truly.

The invasive plant that I was dealing with is Silphium perfoliatum, called the cup plant or compass plant. I have to say this plant gave me great joy in the early days of my gardening career when it was sold as a bold, late summer flowering perennial and I planted it in the Natureworks gardens. Everyone asked about it. I called it the living bird bath as the foliage meets the stems and forms cups that fill with water. I would tip the plant over during my walks and show people how much water would pour out. Even dew would collect in these cups. 

Imagine my surprise when this plant appeared on the invasive plant list as banned in CT. Alan Armitage writes about it as a U.S. native. It was also listed in other books I had as native. It turns out it is native to the tall grass prairies of the midwest. In fact, it is listed as endangered in Michigan. Not in Ct. It spreads really fast here and because it is not native to CT, it made the list. This plant seeds like crazy. The seedlings immediately root hard and fast into the ground. You can't pull them out, you have to dig them out. That is what I did for four hours. Heavy duty digging, getting the babies and established clumps out to make room for new plants, including my 'Lemon Queen' sunflowers which, by the way, are still soaking in a wheelbarrow of compost water as I ran out of steam and never planted them. 

The lesson here is that native is not always native. It depends on where it is native to. After owning my business for nearly 30 years, I have many stories of plants we were sold as the next great plant only to find ourselves ripping them out years later. Burning bushes. 'Rosy Glow' barberries. Lythrum. We plant, we learn, we change, we adjust. And we dig.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Coral Fay

Day 101
The Daily DuBrule

I have a peony in bloom on April 28th! For anyone who keeps track of these things (that would be me), those are strange words. Peonies are late May and June bloomers. Tree peonies usually bloom first, followed by herbaceous peonies. 'Coral Fay' is an herbaceous peony (it dies to the ground in the late fall). It is a bit shorter than my other peonies and the foliage is distinctively different, a little more finely cut. I have read that it is related to the fernleaf peony. The color is rich and vibrant. 

As I walk around my yard observing the progress of my many other peonies, I see the buds swelling and the ants crawling on them. They are after the sticky sap that the buds exude. We prefer to say that the "ants are tickling the peonies" to help them open. The pattern of our plants being 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule continues. Even with the very cold nights and chilly days we have experienced this week, the peonies seem determined to put on their brief, but grandiose display for Mother's Day instead of Memorial Day. 

My Mustards

'Ruby Streaks'
Day 100
The Daily DuBrule

First of all, I have to say that I am amazed I have hit DAY 100 of this blogging business. Now onto the subject at hand...

I discovered mustards a few years ago when I was given a paw paw tree and there were mustard greens growing at the base. I nibbled on them and was amazed that they were spicy and delicious. That winter I attended a talk at UConn given by Rosalind Creasy, my Edible Landscaping guru. She discussed mustards and said "whenever you would use mustard from a jar, use mustard greens." I remembered that. 

In the spring, I sowed my first seeds of 'Ruby Streaks' mustard. It was on the top of my list as an edible landscape plant with its ferny foliage and deep wine color. It grew like crazy and I did just as Rosalind said and put the leaves on my sandwiches. Yum. Of course I ate them raw when in the garden and I used them in stir fries. 

The original broad leaved, red mustard that came with paw paw tree also appeared as self-sown seedlings in my garden. That was a few years ago. I have not planted either of these greens ever since! They come up in the early spring and by late April I have enough to eat every day if I want to. They bolt to seed in the heat of the summer and I let the seed pods ripen. Then I cut them off and move them to a new bed and lay them on the soil. By early fall, I have an entirely new bed of mustard greens for free.

Mizuna in the middle of red mustard
Last summer I planted a spicy summer mesclun mix. It was delicious and, true to the label on the seed packet, did really well in the heat and gave me greens for many months. One of the greens was mizuna. This has frilly green foliage. I love it raw but most people cook it. It has returned this spring, another self-sown gift.

So right now I am eating lots of mustard and mizuna from my garden and I haven't done a single thing to have them there except plant some seeds in years past. Talk about low maintenance food production! Nutritious too.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wood hyacinths

Day 99
The Daily DuBrule

Last year in early May I decided that my garden was lacking blue flowers. I had tons of Doronicum pardalianches in flower, yellow daisies everywhere. I had lots of pink due to the Silene dioica which has self sown all over the place. The giant bleeding heart added to the show. I craved blue.

Meanwhile, back at Natureworks, our shady borders will filled with wood hyacinths. Bingo. That's what I needed! I made a note of it and miraculously, despite the disruption of the hurricane and October snowstorm, I found the note, grabbed the bulbs, and eventually got them in the ground. They are starting to bud up now. 

Wood hyacinths used to be called Spanish squill and there scientific name was Scilla hispanica. Simple to remember. Then the botanists changed the name to Hyacinthoides hispanica. Okay, I can handle that. The good thing about them is they appear when most of the other early bulbs are finished. They spread easily in sun or shade and make great cut flowers. I have seen entire woodland gardens naturalized with these beauties. In England, they grow 

Call them whatever you want, I just think it's pretty amazing that they are now growing in my gardens, adding a much needed blue color in the land of pink and yellow. The lesson here is to take notes NOW about the bulbs you are missing. You will certainly forget these omissions by late fall. Place a little post it on your September calendar: "Buy wood hyacinths!" You will consider yourself a genius when you flip the calendar page and there it is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Neat Native Bulb

Camassia (Quamash)

Day 98
The Daily DuBrule

I have heavy clay soil in my back yard. We're talking the kind of stuff that you could make pottery out of. Dig a hole during a wet spring and it will fill up with water. Bulbs hate that. Except for Camassias. They thrive in wet soil. So, I planted a ton of them in my lower borders and they all started to bloom this week. They are blue. Not purple. Blue. Pretty spikes, totally perennial, soft and beautiful. I am thrilled. 

With all the talk about native plants, its rare that you hear about planting native bulbs.  Daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, Scilla, none of them are native to CT, never mind the U.S.A. Enter Camassias, prized by native Americans. In fact, the bulbs were eaten and ground into flour. Click here to read an interesting Wikepedia article on Camassias.  They belong here and I am so glad I have a yard that makes them happy. 

A Most Amazing Collaboration

Day 97
The Daily DuBrule

I just found out that one of my clients passed away a couple of days ago. I am so sad. I have known this woman for decades as she loved to shop at Natureworks. A few years ago she asked me to help her with her garden. When we met that winter, she shared with me that she was very ill and knew that she wasn't going to be here for very long. Therefore, she wanted to create the garden of her dreams to enjoy in the time she had left. I was stunned with her honesty and courage.

We proceeded to collaborate on one of the most interesting gardens I have ever designed in my career. She gave me carte blanche. All she wanted was a detailed plant list so she could veto a plant that was not amazing enough. The criteria for this landscape was wild and wacky plants. Brilliant, intense colors. Fun foliage. Variegation. The crazier the better. I pulled out all the stops and put together combinations that blew both of our minds. 

I hooked her up with the man who built my raised beds and he built lots of them for her. Due to her illness, she had to have tops on the sides of the beds so she could sit. Every kind of edible plant was included. She had fresh produce into the early winter and lots of it came back in the early spring. She planted perennial crops like rhubarb and asparagus.

As time went on, this brave woman rode the typical roller coaster ride of a terminal illness. Myself and my crews and staff rode it along with her. There were months of rejoicing and hope as she seemed to get a lot better. There were scary times when she was away from the garden for weeks on end. The projects just kept on coming. We rented machinery and cleared tons of invasive and enlarged the garden. We eliminated lawn and replaced it with more beds. She had contractors build an amazing, gigantic stone water feature. She had an oversized, outdoor checkerboard. We landscaped the backdrop for an inflatable outdoor movie screen and she showed movies in the summer for the neighborhood kids who adored her. Her garden was filled with pieces of custom made sculpture. Ergonomic art that moved in the wind. A giant rusty metal venus flytrap. A garden of glass flowers along the shady side of the garage. Little metal men carting around gnomes, watched over by curious pink flamingos. The yard was a wonderland.

Talk about living for the moment. This two year journey that we took together taught me so much about enjoying the time that you are given. To garden is to believe in tomorrow. I will never forget her creativity, determination, grace, and courage. Godspeed my friend.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Day 93
The Daily DuBrule

After a wonderful night of steady rain, I couldn't wait to go outside and see how my garden was doing. Imagine my horror when I came upon the juniper tree outside of my office window and found it covered from top to bottom with orange slime. Eeewww! I knew immediately what I was looking at and my heart sank. Cedar apple rust. When I lived at the beach, the eastern red cedar in my yard had the same problem. 

Cedars and I now realize some junipers are the alternate host for this fungus. Galls form on the plants. I admit I didn't notice them and I used this juniper to make a giant wreath for my front door at Christmas time so I was up close and personal with the foliage, that's for sure. When the galls mature, they swell up after a long,cool rainy period and produce, according to (the Missouri Botanical Gardens website, one of my favorite online references) "orange, gelatinous telial horns". I don't know what telial means but orange and gelatinous sure nails it. The creeping crud would be another way of putting it. These "telial horns" produce spores which infect apple trees and other members of the apple family. That is the second part of the equation- the fungus that appears on the leaves of these trees, which, according to "the leaves...will develop raised orange structures that will ooze from the center, turn black, and appear as black dots. In late summer, this area will produce the orange and brown rust colored spores that will infect the juniper hose, completing the cycle." Sounds wonderful.

I don't have any apple trees nearby, but I do have a pear tree directly across the yard from this juniper. There's a quince around the corner and many of my neighbors have crabapples. Way down the hill in the back, I can see a large, old apple tree in bloom. I wonder if it will be affected? 

Anyway, there's nothing I can do but stare out the window where I write this blog and watch these orange globs ooze and grow. I'm not going to cut down the juniper and if I cut them all off, there would be nothing left. Eventually they dry up and probably won't hurt the plant. I could try spraying the susceptible alternate host plants with copper but I know I won't bother considering how busy I am and how big they are. It's just one more gross, disgusting thing to observe in this fascinating ecosystem called my yard. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Earth Rejoices

Day 95
The Daily DuBrule

I am thrilled to hear the sound of a long, steady rain falling upon our parched earth. How fitting it is that the spring drought has ended on Earth Day. Mother Earth rejoices. It was getting kind of scary, just how bone dry it had become. Thursday evening and Saturday morning I did perennial division demonstrations at Natureworks. As far down as I could dig with my shovel the soil was dust bowl dry. Not a drop of moisture to be found. The soil simply fell off of the roots as I lifted the clumps onto my tarp.

I have been trying very hard to water my vegetable seedlings but I admit I wasn't as diligent as I should have been due to the extremely busy spring season we've been having. My spinach finally sprouted but then shriveled up in the 90 degree heat on Monday. One entire bed of red lettuce never sprouted at all. The peas all appeared last Tuesday, after waiting for two weeks. Now that we are having deep soaking rains, I should see a lot more action AND the weeds are going to go CRAZY!

I'll take it. I would rather have extra weeding to do in exchange for happy plants. Plus, many of my fellow gardeners and I have been secretly sharing with each other just how unsettling it has been, this extreme dryness and heat so early in the season. I guess we need to be ready for just about anything during these strange times on our planet earth. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Money Plants

Day 94
The Daily DuBrule

This week my money plants (Lunaria annua) are in full bloom. You never know where these plants are going to show up. This year, they landed beneath the Potentilla, nestled in behind Phlox subulata 'Purple Beauty'. Exact same color. Ain't nature wonderful! They are exactly the same color and in bloom at the same time.

Money plants are also called honesty or silver dollars. They are true biennials. The first year they are green, leafy specimens. It's so easy to weed them out if you don't know what they are. The second year they send up flower spikes in May. Wait a minute, this year it's April. Anyway, they bloom in full sun or deep shade for about 4-6 weeks. After flowering, they set up seed pods which are flat, rounded discs. By late fall, the pods turn an ugly beige/brown color. What's the big deal with this? Well, when ripe, you gently slough off the outer skin and voila! Silvery, shiny, translucent, papery  pods appear, the joy of dried flower arrangers everywhere. That is why they call them silver dollars or money plants. 

I used to add them to wedding bouquets when I was a florist, part of the symbolism and meaning of flowers. Honesty. Money, i.e. prosperity. A great symbol for starting out in life.

The plants in my yard came from my friend and employee Jane. She grows tons of old fashioned plants. I brought the uncleaned dried stems home and cleaned them right in the garden. As you take off the outer skin, the seeds of the money plant fall to the ground. I left them over the winter and in the spring, dozens of baby plants appeared. I nurtured them over the first summer and the second spring they flowered and then ripened to become the first money plants in my new yard. Now I have them every year.

When I was in Paris for my honeymoon in late April in 2004 I was surprised to see Lunaria bedded out in many formal public gardens along with bulbs and annual poppies. They earned a special, sentimental spot in my heart. After thinking about it, I realized that the French were onto something, choosing for their spring color scheme a long blooming flower that would marry with the bulbs for their entire flowering span. Bedding out in public spaces means plants are installed, they bloom, then they are switched out for the next round of constant color. In American yards, money plants are so temporary. When I see a stand that is well established, I know the gardener has spent the previous summer not only recognizing the plants but also leaving them to grow in their garden as unexciting green leaves in order to have a dazzling display for the following spring.

When I first bought the Natureworks property in 1990, I inherited a stand of Lunaria that had white flowers instead of purple. For the past 22 years this plant has thrived in our shade gardens. I simply let the seed pods ripen and clean them in the gardens in the late fall, hanging the silvery seed pods in bunches in the kitchen and weaving them into arrangements that I toss together. People always ask what they are when in flower, wondering what this upright white flower stalk is that is blooming under the trees in the spring. "It's honesty" I tell them. What a great name for a great plant. 

Intoxicatingly Wonderful

Day 93
The Daily DuBrule

Viburnum carcephalum
It smells like a day in May in my yard. I walk outside and it melts me. This is what spring is all about, that woozy feeling of complete and utter joy. My Viburnum carcephalum is in full bloom. This is like Viburnum carlesii only bigger in every way. The flowers are just enormous. The plant grows about 12' tall. It was one of the very first shrubs I planted in my yard and today it is covered with hundreds of flowers. I can smell it from every corner of my property. I have vases with blossoms all over the house. I brought a giant cluster to work yesterday and everyone was just so happy. 

'Yellow Cheerfulness'
Of course, this Viburnum isn't the only thing that smells wonderful in my yard this week. I have two kinds of Hyacinths on the north side of my courtyard fence that opened later than all the rest. I have all kinds of late blooming daffodils such as 'Yellow Cheerfulness' and 'Winston Churchill' that are pure delight. My lilacs are open- that is kind of scary as it is 3-4 weeks early for them to be in bloom, but nevertheless, there they are. My Phlox divaricata has been out for two weeks. The purple Iris pumila smells like grapes if you get down on your knees and stick your nose in it. But the Viburnum wins the prize for Most Fragrant Flower. 

I purposely design for fragrance every month of the growing season. It feeds my soul. Stay tuned for more fragrant flowers as the weeks unfold.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

There's a NECKLACE in my pond

Day 92
The Daily DuBrule

I've been meaning to clean out my pond for the past two weeks. Time to strain out the algae, pull the pump out of the garage, hook it all up, plug it in, and voila. Instant relaxation. I love to sit on the wall, glass of Bordeaux in hand, after a hard day at work and relax. I've just been too busy to deal with it. Good thing too.

Last week I was astounded by the relentless and really loud mating calls of the gray tree frogs in my yard. Although the websites I consulted said "you'll never spot them" I marched out one day and there the little guy was, just exactly like the picture on the website. So, I have been visiting my pond constantly, seeing if I can spot him again. 

Yesterday, as I looked around the water, I saw what looked like a long, tangled string of tiny black beads. Really long. Like many yards long. Curly and twisted and running all along the bottom of the pond. How cool. I got a stick and picked a piece of it up and put it on the rock in the middle of the pond. It was totally gelatinous and goupy. Yuck. I had the feeling it was some kind of frog eggs, so off to the internet I went.

Sure as shootin, this WAS frog eggs. Actually, I think it was toad eggs as the gray tree frog eggs tend to be in masses, not strings. I was so fascinated. I went back out, camera in hand, and almost fell in I got so close. I got some good pictures too. 

Lo and behold, my next visit to the pond (1/2 hour later, I couldn't stay away, it was too tempting to keep going and looking) I marched out and immediately, the toad in the picture on the internet was right before my eyes on the big rock saying "Hi! Here I am! The toad that laid those eggs." Then he plopped into the water and I haven't seen him since, but that's not for lacking of looking... 

Last week, when I spotted the gray tree frog on the rock, a snake slithered out of the pond. I was really worried the snake was going to eat the frog. Well, snakes eat frog eggs. Who knew? 

What an amazing ecosystem I've got going in my own back yard. Now I am waiting to clean the pond and get the waterfall going because I want to observe the toad eggs develop. That is if the snake doesn't eat them first. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

They're Here!

Day 91
The Daily DuBrule

Today I spotted the first pine sawfly larvae on the candles of my mugho pines. These are truly disgusting creatures. First of all, when you get near them, they rise up like Medusa and wiggle around. Their black tips look to me like one big eyeball but I am sure that's not what it is. I have been scouting for them for days, actually weeks as nothing is arriving at its normal time this year because of the wacky weather.

Why are they such BAD bugs? In a few days, if left alone, they will eat away at the candles of your mugho pines. The candles are the pointy things at the tips of every branch. Every candle contains the new growth for the entire growing season. Lose the candle, lose a year's growth. 

A simple spray of neem will kill them. You may want to check back in a few days to see if you missed any. Sometimes a second batch hatches later in the season. But TODAY, NOW, go outside and deal with this problem if you have mugho pines. Timing is everything on this one. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Take me Away

Day 90
The Daily DuBrule

It was 8 years ago today that I was at my rehearsal dinner. Yes, me, the crazy garden lady, getting married. Who could imagine. And on April 18th, no less, smack in the middle of the busy season. A couple of days later, my husband and I flew to PARIS! I had never been to Europe and I was so enchanted. He had actually lived in Paris for a summer and was fluent in french. 

All I remember is that is was like being in a fairytale. It was spring and I wasn't working 15 hour days and worrying about everything under the sun. Paris weather and the blooming cycle of the plants mirrored Mother's Day weekend in southern CT. Actually, kind of like this week in 2012 if you really think about it. It was fresh and new and romantic and gorgeous. Take me away to that place again, please. 

For anyone that knows me, or has visited Natureworks lately, you will know that we have been going through computer chaos. Hell is more like it. Today I thought to myself "maybe I should just ditch it all and move to a farm somewhere far away and garden again, which is what I really wanted to do in the FIRST PLACE!!!"  Okay, that's out of my system. I guess as I am preparing to celebrate my 8th wedding anniversary during this crazy warm week of April, Paris is pulling me into her spell.
Ah, April in Paris. Wisterias dripping from arbors. Lilacs, French lilacs no less, in every shade of rich, luxurious purple. Flower vendors everywhere. The parks, with all the trees pruned to giant, round balls. How crazy is that? Outdoor cafes. Fresh baguettes every day. The walks along the river. The food. The wine. We arrived as the rain clouds floated away and for a week, the weather was perfect. As we boarded the plane to return to reality, the weather turned cold and rainy again. It was our gift, our great escape. 

I sure could use that right about now. With computers crashing and electronic gadgets giving me a run for my money, and the frustration and stress visible on the faces of my hard working and oh so dedicated employees, a trip to Paris in April seems like a million years away...and just what the doctor ordered. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

True Colors

Day 89
The Daily DuBrule

Last fall I decided to get serious about understanding the true colors and bloom sequence of many spring blooming bulbs. I was especially interested in hyacinths as my crew planted some amazing hyacinths in a client's garden in Guilford and it frustrated me that I didn't know exactly what variety I was admiring. That's the way I am, a total geek when it comes to this kind of thing.

Enter my zinc metal markers and my oil based marker pens that, after about 20 years of trying, I finally found. They last through the seasons! Amazing! So above meet Hyacinthus 'Woodstock', the incredible purple hyacinth that caught my eye last April. 
'Jan Bos' on the other hand, is not RED as the label and picture shows, it's really a brilliant dayglow pink. Okay, so I learned something here.

My other colorful experiment is to plant double rows of purple tulips in between my various garlic bulbs. Now that spring is here, the garlic and the tulips are thriving. 'Purple Prince' opened a few weeks ago. This weekend, three more varieties showed their true colors. There are still quite a few left to unfold, including some on the east side of the fence around my courtyard which, thank goodness, is a bit cooler and is slowing down the show a bit.

Here today, gone tomorrow. That's the story with May tulips blooming in April in a year like this one. Thank goodness I have my digital camera to capture the magic.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Day 88
The Daily DuBrule

I'm on the warpath. In the past two days I have squished no less than 15 red lily leaf beetles on ONE patch of orange tiger lilies by my driveway. I casually walk by and look and there they are, mating, right before my eyes. I kneel down to capture them and I find another one. My new technique is to turn back the lower leaves as that is where they are hiding. My other technique is to pull out last year's dried stalks only to find them crawling out from underground. Of course, once I see one, I grub in the dirt until I capture it. I am relentless.

Once again, I got a little overzealous in my beetle searching. In the process of checking the underside of the foliage, I snapped off a bi, beautiful, thick lily stalk. Oops. That is the end of that lily's flowering adventure for 2012. What a sinking feeling. Its like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Major bummer of the universe folks. I felt a bit sickened but then I quickly recovered as more beetles made themselves known and I was back on my mission. Man, these are really prolific bad bugs. 

Other observations today- I have two flowers open on my Viburnum carcephalum which usually blooms on mother's day weekend. I have flowers opening on my Iris pumila, usually mid May bloomers. The buds on my 'Coral Fay' peony are swelling and showing color. Granted, this relative of the fern leaf peony is an early bloomer, but mid April is just ridiculous. My 'Yellow Cheerfulness', 'White Cheerfulness' and 'Geranium' narcissus, all planted to bloom for me in early May, are in flower today.

I weeded for hours. It was like weeding a dustbowl. The soil is dry as a bone and I move my little sprinkler from bed to bed trying to urge the edibles to move along in the process of sprouting and eventually providing me with food. It is a VERY strange year in the garden so far...

Anemones Now

Anemone blanda
Day 87
The Daily DuBrule

I got out of my car the other day at Natureworks and immediately went right back into the car and grabbed my camera. At my feet was a lovely stand of Anemone blanda, a white variety, that was planted at Natureworks no less than 15 years ago. It has established itself very well and has spread amongst the ferns and hydrangeas. 

These are just such a happy little bulbs. Wide open daisy faces only a few inches from the ground over fringed foliage greet you as soon as the sun hits them. Planting the bulbs is a true act of faith in the fall. They looks like tiny dried up deer droppings. Truly. Little dark brown, hard, irregular lumps of... well, they DON'T look like bulbs, that's for sure. You can soak them overnight in water to make them swell before planting and that makes them seem more alive. But usually, we just get to the job site and pop them in. They naturalize beautifully and everywhere I've planted them, they come back year after year.

Oddly enough, they are related to the fall blooming Japanese Anemones we all love and admire so much in September and October. 
Anemone japonica 'Whirlwind'
Anemone japonica 'Honorine Jobert'
These hardy herbaceous perennials grow 2-4' tall and have long stems topped by single or double flowers of white or pink. Their roots are wiry and long. They grow in sun or partial shade and spread quickly and easily in the garden. 

This genus is quite useful, with flowers in all different seasons. These are just two of the many Anemones I know, love, and plant. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Very Cool Bulb

Fritillaria persica
Day 86
The Daily DuBrule

Today I walked through the gardens at Natureworks, amazed at all of the new plants up and blooming. This really wonderful bulb plant caught my eye. Fritillaria persica is really stunning. The soft blue leaves are topped by dangling deep purple flowers. These particular bulbs were planted almost 20 years ago. At that time we had a golden leaved barberry next to it. (We have since removed all barberries from the gardens). It was a stunning combination. Over time, the barberry got too big and this bulb wasn't seen for years. When the barberry was replaced with a white Callicarpa, the early spring light this late sprouting shrub allowed gave my Fritillarias a new lease on life. They have been thriving ever since.

We call Fritillarias "stinky bulbs". My retail staff banishes the bulb bins to the fertilizer shed or else the shop smells like a skunk when you walk in each morning in the fall. Many people miss them, but I always try to plant them in my client's gardens. They are just so unusual and dramatic. Plus, they are vole and deer proof, probably due to the aroma. The trick to planting them is to plant the bulb with the top facing downward at a 45 degree angle. The bulbs are hollow in the middle and if planted right side up they fill with water and rot. Who knew? Once I learned that trick, I have had excellent luck with Fritillarias ever since.

One final note: Fritillarias are alternate hosts for the dreaded red lily leaf beetle. I scout them first, long before the lilies make an appearance. They are a good indicator for when this pest arrives and by squishing any beetles you see in early April you can get a handle on the first breeding population. That is really important right now. Last night I squished NINE red lily leaf beetles on a clump of old fashioned tiger lilies by my garage entrance. I admit that once I saw one beetle, I was a madwoman on the hunt. I pulled all the debris aside under the lilies and found lots of them hiding.  

This fall, explore the world of Fritillarias. There are tall ones and short one, purple, yellow, orange and red ones. Some are striped. Some are bicolored. It's an intriguing genus.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Epimedium time

Day 85
The Daily DuBrule

It is so much fun to walk around the gardens this week. Things are changing really fast. I knelt down to take this picture the other day. On a whim, I brought home this tiny gnome statue and placed it by the fence post so I would notice it and smile as I walked out the garage door. I forgot, as it was winter, that this marvelous Epimedium was planted next to it. I don't know the name of this plant but I do know that it is unlike any others I have seen. It was given to me as a gift by my friend Lisa who loves to surprise me with rare plants she knows I don't already have. It grows over 12" tall, the leaves have burgundy markings, and the white flowers with burgundy centers bloom for a couple of months. 

Gnomes just pair naturally with Epimediums. This genus looks like it belongs in a bed of moss, where the little people dwell. Today I was walking a client through the shade gardens at Natureworks and was astounded at the beauty and complexity of the various Epimediums there. Paired with Lathyrus vernus, which is now in full bloom, it knocked both of our socks off. 

Epimediums are not cheap, nor are they fast growing. But they are totally, 100% worth it as an investment in your shade garden. They laugh in the face of dry shade. They thrive where lesser plants melt down. They are not usually eaten by critters and have good leaves all the time. And when they are in flower, well, the world is a happy place and the gnomes and the fairies dance. Watch for it. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blues Today

'Valerie Finnis' grape hyacinth is SO blue!
Day 84
The Daily DuBrule

I planted these gorgeous sky blue 'Valerie Finnis' grape hyacinths along the edge of my driveway for my husband. He LOVES the color blue and these are the real deal. Put them next to purple or "blurple" flowers and they just scream blue. And look at those totally curly leaves. There isn't anything about this hardy perennial bulb that I don't like.

Today there was a blue them running through my life. As I drove up Rt. 79, north of the Madison rotary at Rt. 80, I kept seeing a particular plant in bloom along the side of the road. It took me a while to realize I was seeing blueberries in flower. Gorgeous, striking, pinkish white flowers that glowed in the muted light the world was giving off as Mother Nature was trying to send some rain our way. No luck on that front. I ran my soaker hoses on the seedling beds all afternoon as I worked on plans and estimates in my home office. It's very dry out there. A big brush fire has been raging in the fields behind Natureworks for two days. Scary stuff. Anyway, back to the blueberry bushes. I love these plants! I got home and immediately got out my camera to take closeup pictures of the flowers on my twelve plants. They were destroyed in the winter of 2011 when tons of snow split them all in half. This year they are lookin' good! 
Blueberry blossoms opening today

I have prepared a bed for 12 MORE blueberries. This native shrub loves my heavy, wet clay and naturally acidic soil. I love the harvest, so does my husband, and we share it with the birds, especially the cardinals who perch the peak of the back garage roof and swoop down with obvious glee to eat the berries. Glad to oblige. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I'm In Love...with a Heuchera!

Day 83
The Daily DuBrule

This 365 days-in-a-row blog was inspired by a fellow garden center owner on the west coast who did the same thing only she posted every single day about Heucheras! Geez! I did not want to limit myself to simply one genus so I decided to keep my blog options open. But tonight, as Diane and I were winding down from an insane Tuesday filled with surprises and stresses and challenges galore, I decided to have fun with the plants for a little bit. Diane is such a wonderful photographer that I couldn't help but dangle my new favorite plant in front of her- Heuchera 'Solar Flare'. Not for the faint of heart, this foliage plant par excellance is bold, bright, and a bit garish. As we wandered around the nursery trying to find some plants to pair it with, we finally settled on Sedum 'Angelina' and the magnificent daffodil 'Tahiti'. Wowie zowie, that is a combination to knock your proverbial socks off.

Sometimes, you just have to be bold. Pick a plant, find an exciting partner or two, and play with the plants. That's the spirit. Kudos to Diane who is such a masterful photographer that she was able to capture this combo in the waning light of a crazy April day.

The Daily DuBrule

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ready for Root Crops

Day 82
The Daily DuBrule

The moon is on the wane and its time to plant root crops. Carrots and radishes are going in my garden now. They don't mind the cool April weather. What they might mind is the dry weather. Man oh man, where is the rain? I have been faithfully watering my seed beds, even deep soaking my asparagus bed a few times, but there is no substitute for rain. It's a bit strange wanting rain as it really cramps our landscaping style and Lord knows we have enough to do right now. But the earth is dry and it just ain't natural. 

Raised beds are a natural for root crops. The soil has been worked for quite a few years and rocks, even small stones, are a rarity. Planting is a cinch. Loosen the soil with a digging fork, amend with compost and organic fertilizer, rake smooth, make a trench with a pointed hoe, and sit on the side of the bed and sow the seeds. It is especially good for teeny, tiny carrot seeds which are like dust in the wind. No matter how carefully you sow them, you still have to do a lot of thinning. That too is much easier sitting down. 

I've got plenty of places for carrots and radishes in my raised bed rotation scheme since I usually devote four or more beds per year to the Solanaceae family, the nightshades such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Switching out those beds with another family is simple to do. I keep track in a simple composition notebook. It's fun to look back and not only see what I planted, but also read notes about the weather, when the first woodchuck arrived, and what pest problems plagued me. 

Speaking of pests, I squished my very first red lily leaf beetle on Saturday. Let the games begin, you blasted buggers. I am now doing the old familiar scouting, checking the underside of every emerging lily shoot every morning and evening. So far, no more have been found but I'm not fooled. They're back...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bella On Wisteria Pruning

What a gorgeous Easter Sunday! My family and I were sitting outside on the deck, enjoying the sunshine when I looked up and remarked that the buds on the wisteria were amazing this year. Truly. I have been training my pink wisteria for 8 years. It is now all the way across the lattice above my deck and simply loaded with flower buds.

Bella, my crazy cat, loves to climb up on the lattice. She makes a good subject to show the flower buds of this vigorous vine in perspective. Wisterias bloom once the vine has gotten quite old. I inherited mine and it was massive to begin with. The way I learned to prune wisteria is to remove all the wild, leggy, long shoots and to cut the stems back to the main vines and major lateral branches within 2-3 internodes of the major side branches. This method forms spur wood, which is how a wisteria blooms well. Look at the picture below and you will see what I am talking about. You can see a thick, main vine and then a smaller shoot with 2-3 buds coming off of it. That's how it works.

It sounds well and good when talking about it, and if you read pruning books, the diagrams seem straightforward enough. But when you are faced with a gigantic, insane, overgrown wisteria tangle it can be quite intimidating. Remember, its the crazy, wild vegetative growth that you must take off. We're talking giant tarp loads, mountains of vines, to get down to the nitty-gritty of the main vine, the side branches, the laterals, and the spurs. 

Once you do so, you will be rewarded with amazing display of fragrant blooms, beloved by bees, that you can enjoy for a couple of glorious weeks in May. This year it might be late April. Some years its Memorial Day weekend. You just never know these days. No matter when, I will be lounging on my deck, listening the the happy bees buzzing, and inhaling the powerful perfume of this wild and crazy vine. 

It's Mum Moving Time

Day 80
The Daily DuBrule

It's a crazy thing to think about, but this is a great time to dig and divide hardy mums. If you read old gardening books, it is listed as a classic chore for this time of year. I know that your mind is miles away from mums right now. But that's how they are kept vigorous and how they are spread around the yard.

I happen to love hardy mums. We're not talking about those horrible grocery store mounds of marginally hardy color that people pop in their pots in the fall. No, I am talking about the truly perennials forms of Chrysanthemums of which I happen to be a collector.

Late last fall I planted some 'Global Warming' series mums at my Dad's house just before putting it on the market. Par for the course in my life, the day of the first open house was the day after the freak Halloween snowstorm. A foot of snow fell on my attempt at "curb appeal". Amazingly enough, a week later after the snow melted, these hardy mums were alive and still flowering. 

Today I stopped by my Dad's house to check on the place and do a bit of pruning on the roses, hydrangeas, and summer blooming Spirea. There were my super hardy mums, happy as clams, DOUBLE the size that they were last November. That's the way I like them. Yes!

So what you do is dig up your mums now, split them into 3 or 4 chunks, and spread them about your yard. Pinch them once in June and forget about them. Late in the fall you will be rewarded with tons of gorgeous color. It will keep your clumps vigorous and your late season garden glorious. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Butterfly in My Coat!

Day 79
The Daily DuBrule

Wednesday I was working from home in the morning, designing gardens and preparing estimates. It was a gorgeous day and it was hard to stay inside. "Nose to the grindstone, girl" was what I kept telling myself. You can go out in the gardens this afternoon as you have many consults to do, miles to go before you sleep. 

Around noon, I was ready to head out. I took my coat off the rack and a butterfly fell to the floor. "Oh my God, it's a dead, completely preserved butterfly." I knelt down to pick it up and its wings moved. It was alive! What is a butterfly doing here, in my house, in early April? 

I thought back to my morning. This weekend is Easter, April 8th. My mother died on Easter, April 8th, 5 years ago. I was thinking about her and my father, who passed last July, and the upcoming Easter weekend, my first without either of my parents. In fact, I had looked at all the digital pictures in my file of previous Easter Sundays for about 15 minutes in the morning, nostalgia winning over "nose to the grindstone" for a bit. 

I carefully picked up my butterfly and gently carried it outside, placing it on a Viola basket on my back deck. It started moving its wings, basking in the sun, warming up, getting used to the Middletown air I suppose. I went back in, shaking my head in wonder, and gathered my bags to leave. As I locked the back door I decided this was just too precious to ignore so I grabbed my camera and took some pictures.

Why did this butterfly move me so? I have many friends who are Hospice nurses. I have known for years that butterflies are a very powerful symbol in Hospice. They symbolize the transformation from one form of life to the next. It is believed by many cultures that butterflies represent the soul of a person that has past. For examples, the Greek word for butterfly means soul. The Japanese believe that a butterfly is a person's soul. They also believe that "one should treat a butterfly that enters the home kindly, as the soul of a loved relative or friend might reside in the butterfly and has come to visit them."

Meaning of a Butterfly That Enters the Home |

Having known this butterfly symbolism for decades, I couldn't help but imagine that my reminiscing about my parents had something to do with this butterfly's appearance in my home. Today I was telling this story to a client who had recently lost her father and has welcomed her mother into her home to live. She was deeply touched. As we finished our conversation, a yellow sulphur butterfly swooped in between us.  We both were amazed. What a lovely gift for such a special weekend.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mixing it Up

Day 78
The Daily DuBrule

I'm having fun in my vegetable garden this year. Last fall I decided to test out lots of purple tulips. I brought home a small bag of each variety- early, mid season, late, singles, doubles, anything I could get my hands on at work. I really just wanted to get a good feel for the exact shade of purple of each variety and in what order they bloomed.  I decided to put a bunch of them in one of my raised beds, alternating rows with different kinds of garlic. I labeled them all with zinc markers. How organized of me!

Garlic is a funny crop. You plant garlic cloves in the fall. They emerge in the spring as green linear leaves. Each clove becomes a head. You don't harvest it until July. It is just so neat to see this organized patch of greens alternating with purple flowers. It makes the raised bed garden look so pretty. As the tulips flower and then eventually fade and go dormant, the garlic will get bigger and bigger, hiding the gap. I think it will work out just fine.

By the way, did you know tulips are edible flowers? I have yet to eat them, but it's true. If you browse through the book Edible Flowers by Cathy Wilkinson Barash you will see recipes for tulip petals! Just like daylily flowers, it will be fun to taste the different varieties to see how they differ in flavor. Are you brave enough? Why not give it a whirl...

Mix it up in the garden. Add flowers to your vegetable garden. Add vegetables and herbs to your flower borders. It makes everything a lot more interesting. Mix it up! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Drive by Wildflowers

Day 77
The Daily DuBrule

You really don't want to drive behind my car at this time of year. I am constantly scanning the roadside for stands of native wildflowers. If I see them, I slow down, some times I even pull over. That's what happened today. Diane and I were just coming back from a consultation when I spotted a huge patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). I LOVE this plant. I love the way the scalloped leaves stand upright and unfold. I love the purity of the white flowers. It's really just amazing to see hundreds of them in bloom on the side of a busy road. I did a quick turn in the next driveway, then another turn, pulled over, put on my blinkers, and Diane grabbed my camera. Of course, this was on a really dangerous curve at rush hour. I felt like I was taking my life in my hands but... we got the shots!

The sad part of this story is that garlic mustard, that horrible invasive herbaceous weed, was also growing on the same hillside. It was trying to take over this bloodroot patch. It probably will succeed unless someone decides to step in and dig it out. At the very least, cutting off the flowers will keep from reseeding. I have watched this type of thing happen so many times. I go out of my way at this time of year to drive by my favorite secret stands of these precious beauties. It is with a sinking heart that I often discover the spot encased in honeysuckle or multiflora rose or some other thug. 
Garlic mustard invading the bloodroot.

We just have to keep spreading the word and doing our part in our part of this planet to encourage this beautiful wildness in our midst. 

Legume Love

I love Lathyrus vernus!
Day 76
The Daily DuBrule
I love legumes. Yes, you could interpret this to mean that I like to eat my beans and peas. That is true. I like ALL legumes, edible, floral, even the weeds. Why? They are just so self-reliant. They take nitrogen from the air and "fix it" in their roots to feed themselves and others around them. How generous. They are drought tolerant and really easy to grow. As a family, they grow in all sorts of places- hot sun, lean soil, dry shade, you name it, there is a legume for that spot.

This thread started out as one of my favorite, and one of the earliest legumes, started to flower. Spring vetchling (Lathyrus vernus) is one very special perennial. Pretty purple pea flowers now, in early April. It grows in dry shade or sun. What more could you ask from a plant. Oh, I know, how about holding onto its leaves after blooming and looking good later in the season. Yup, it does that.

On to sweet peas, one of the prettiest annual vines you can find. Plant them right now and they will flower in June. Most of them are really fragrant and they are classic cut flowers. They are not edible like their kissing cousins sugar snap peas, snow peas, and plain old peas (the kind you shell and cook up fresh, yum!).

Enter lupines, one of the most beloved perennials. Ever read Miss Rumphius? This children's book is about "the lupine lady" who sowed seeds of lupines everywhere. You really must have this book. I was given it as a grownup by a gardening friend and now I sell it at Natureworks. Think Johnny Appleseed but with lupine flowers. 

Baptisia 'Twilite Prairieblues' with irises

Lupines are tricky, but Baptisias are easy. This native flower has beautiful flower spikes for cutting in late May and June. Thanks to the work of the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Baptisias are now available in all sorts of gorgeous colors. Blue used to be the standard bearer for this genus. Not any more! After flowering, they become a 3' wide shrublet of clean, blue-green foliage in the border. Easy, easy, easy and good leaves too. 
Yellow Baptisia with orange iris

No discussion of legumes can proceed without talking about clover. Eek! A weed. Nope. Actually clover was an integral part of lawn seed mixes until the 1940's. Why? It adds nitrogen to the lawn and it stays green in the summer without any watering when lawns don't. At Natureworks, we actually SELL clover seed. Bees love it. It's a very important plant.

Who did I miss? Endamame soybeans, which you can grow and harvest very easily here in Connecticut. Snap beans. Redbud trees.Scotch brooms. Pink mimosa trees. What an amazing, diverse family!