Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sea Kale

Day 131
The Daily DuBrule

Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a fabulous perennial. Rarely is this plant offered in the trade and that is a shame. It's related to cabbage and broccoli. The leaves are big and blue and yes, they are edible. The sprays of white flowers appear in May and are quite fragrant. I have had it growing in one of the beds at Natureworks for over 15 years. I planted one plant, back in the day, when wholesalers sold this plant on a regular basis. Not any more. No one that I know of has it for sale, including me. Not that I am lacking plants. After my sea kale finishes flowering, I let it go to seed. New baby plants spring up around the original plant. I leave them as they offer really good foliage structure and anchor the edge of the border all summer long. Plus, I love the crazy look on people's faces when they see what looks like a cabbage plant and then ask "what IS that?" The reason I don't have plants for sale is that they are a devil to dig up successfully. They have essentially no feeder roots. Underground, all you see is a swollen stump of a root. If you do dig them, they have to be set into loose soil and put in the shade until they start to grow, Inevitably, someone overwaters them and they rot. Plus, in the spring when I have the best chance to do this, I am just to busy to remember. I would love to add this plant to my seaside gardens. Perhaps by singing its praises in this blog I will finally get serious about propagating it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Great Scapes

The scapes are in the bottom of the picture
Day 130
The Daily DuBrule

It's garlic scape time! My garlic plants are trying to flower and I am not going to let them. Instead, I am going to cut off the curly flower buds (scapes) and eat them. Yum! 

I didn't know about garlic scapes the first year I planted hard neck garlic. It's kind of a backwards crop. You plant the garlic cloves in the fall, they emerge in the spring. By June, the plants are gigantic. The scapes appear right around Memorial Day. The first time this happened, I was curious as I love all Alliums. I wanted to see what they looked like. It turns out the round,pale lavender flowers are a big fat nothing. My experiment took a lot of energy from the developing garlic bulbs and they were small and disappointing. 

I began studying how to grow garlic after that. It turns out the scapes are a delicacy, a whole entire crop unto themselves. I saw them for sale at
Whole Foods for an insane amount of money per pound! Considering I plant about 150 heads of garlic a year, I had plenty of scapes to eat and share. They are delicious in stir fries, or chopped up in any kind of dish. You can make garlic scape pesto which is so delicious. You can brush them with olive oil and grill them. 

Now, when late May rolls around, I instinctively look for my garlic scapes to appear. I bring them into work and share the bounty and they become a part of my meals for many weeks. In July, I dig the garlic and dry it. Two harvests from simple cloves of hard neck garlic. A very easy and very efficient crop indeed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Our Fringe Tree

Day 129
The Daily DuBrule

Last year, long before Hurricane Irene or the insane Halloween weekend snowstorm, a giant sugar maple tree in our shade garden by the road at Natureworks crashed down onto Rt. 22 at 7 a.m., during the rush hour. This is quite a busy road in the mornings and late afternoons. It was a miracle that it didn't fall on a car. It scared one of my employees just about out of her skin as she happened to be walking by when it happened. It was a rainy morning, and the wind was blowing, but trooper that she is, she decided to come into work anyway. So did I. When I pulled into the driveway and saw her eyes bulging out of her head and she explained why, I realized it was the end of an era for our shade garden. 

I knew this tree would die eventually. A few years earlier, I had planted a 'Diane' witch hazel nearby, hoping to grow it to a good size before having to take down the tree. When the giant maple fell, the witch hazel was buried beneath its branches. My heart sank.

The rain continued to pour down that morning. I called the state of CT to report the tree down as my shade garden is actually on state property. The neighboring paving company had immediately come to our rescue and dragged the tree off the road with a big machine, but it had to be cut up and removed. I assumed that the state would take days, if not weeks, to cut up and remove this tree and that I would be looking at a mess for a long time. Imagine my surprise when less than an hour later, a state truck pulled up and the chainsaws started up. I ran outside in the pouring rain and begged the workman at the top of my lungs to try and save the witch hazel. They must have though I was insane. Miraculously, and to their credit, when they were done, the witch hazel was alive and had sprung back to its original position, albeit a bit bent.

The shade garden was no longer in full shade. A mature ash remained, but at the southern end, the witch hazel wasn't big enough to block the sun. All of my carefully chosen deep shade plants were going to fry. 

You don't get many chances to plant a tree on a small crowded acre. This was a golden opportunity. The great debate began amongst my staff. We finally settled on a native fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus. It went into the ground quickly afterwards. It is in full bloom this week and happy as a clam. The shade garden is still pretty sunny, but most of the plants don't seem to mind that much. Every yard, every garden, every landscape is an ever-changing work in progress. 



Day 128
The Daily DuBrule

Yesterday I went out to the vegetable garden to prepare for planting my tomatoes. I quickly realized that if I didn't thin my radish seedlings immediately, I would not have a good crop. Thinning is such a crazy thing to do. I have to force myself to thin my plants. After all the work involved in preparing the seed bed, carefully rolling the seeds in Organic Plant Magic dehydrated compost tea powder, and successfully timing the root crop planting with the phase of the moon, it seems like EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY RADISH SEEDS SPROUTED. I guess that's what I wanted, but I thought I had so carefully sowed them far apart. Oh well. I proceeded to sit on the edge of the raised bed and remove almost half of my precious seedlings. 

One tiny radish was actually ready. I washed it and popped it into my mouth. It was crispy and spicy. That helped my mood. Knowing that by thinning out the rest of the radishes I would have hundreds of these yummy radishes in a week or so made me happy. It will make my husband even happier. He LOVES radishes.

When I explained to him what I did in the garden, he was dumbfounded. He had never heard of thinning nor could he wrap his mind around the concept. All he knows is that when the radishes are sitting in a bowl, drenched in red wine vinegar and olive oil, and he is gorging on radish salads day after day, whatever it is that I do is worth it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Gift of Solitude

Day 127
The Daily DuBrule

This week, no matter where I went to plant gardens, I didn't have enough plants with me. I was mostly planting annuals and tropicals in containers and borders. The properties I was working on laughed in the face of a truckload (or a barge load) of plants. Friday I went alone to two beautiful seaside gardens to finish up. The day before Memorial Day weekend is usually chaos. Workman coming and going, everyone scurrying about fixing things and opening the pool and making sure everything is in working order. I was astounded to find myself alone in some of the prettiest gardens I tend.

Being alone while gardening is a rare occurrence for me. If I don't have a crew with me I am at Natureworks being peppered with questions. What a gift! I relaxed into the work and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. It rained a bit and my knees were muddy but that didn't bother me. I listened to the birds and the waves and had a day of solitude before a busy Saturday at the garden center. 


Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day Madness

Day 127
The Daily DuBrule

The holy grail of holidays is coming up. For a landscaper, "get it done by Memorial Day" are the marching orders from most of the clients. This is simply impossible to do and makes for an insane couple of weeks. Why Memorial Day? It marks the official start of summer, which is crazy since summer really begins 24 days after this holiday. It used to mark the date of the last frost and was the official tomato planting day. Now that date, at least where I am, is around the middle of May. Tomatoes can certainly continue to be planted on May 29th and well beyond. It has been the traditional date to get your annuals in. Guess what. Some of the most unusual annuals I have ever seen are just beginning to arrive. They weren't ready earlier. I plant this stuff all throughout June. Perennials and shrubs? No need for a deadline here. 

Still, the pressure is on and the old paradigm remains. That is why people in my business collapse in puddle of mush on the floor on Memorial Day and sleep in the sun. It's a crazy week to be a professional gardener.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Redfield Primroses

Day 126
The Daily DuBrule

I will never forget my visit to the Redfield brothers' gardens. It was in early May and the hillsides were carpeted with Phlox stolonifera. All kinds of wildflowers were popping up everywhere. There was a large rock garden with plants I had never seen before. It was inspirational.

The Japanese primroses that they are famous for weren't in bloom yet, but after seeing their garden, I knew they too would be very special. I bought them in 3" pots and started encouraging customers to plant them in wet, shady spots. The results were stunning.

These primroses are in bloom in my garden right now. I finally live in a house where heavy, wet clay soil is the norm. I planted a few of the 'Redfield Hybrid' Primula japonicas at the base of a large winterberry. It basks in the afternoon shade of a nearby maple. They are at home and self seeding as expected.
The trick with these and all primroses is to divide them regularly. Then, look for babies-there will be plenty. Move them to where you want them and the following year they will bloom. I remember fondly the day that my friend Carol came into Natureworks on a busy Saturday morning in May and said "if you don't come up to my house this weekend, you will miss the show!". Carol happens to live right up the street from the shop and her garden is a gem. I had just finished my Saturday morning walk and I looked around and then hopped into her car. Like a couple of crazy teenagers on a joy ride, I escaped to her yard for 15 minutes to see her plants in full bloom. It was worth it! The funniest part of this tale is that when I returned to Natureworks, my staff was relieved. They couldn't imagine where I had gone and were worried about me!

Carol's wet, woodland garden ablaze with thousands of 'Redfield Hybrid' Japanese primroses has inspired me to plant these easy care perennials in many more gardens. For many years, I enjoyed them along a stream in a Guilford property, one of the most beautiful woodland gardens I have ever had the honor to work on. I hope the new owner of this property knows what she has inherited and doesn't weed out all the babies of these primroses that took so long to establish. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Day 125
The Daily DuBrule

Do you know about ninebark plants? Physocarpus opulifolius is a great group of plants. We have a native green leaved ninebark, but these hybrid cultivars are way beyond that! Pictured above is 'Centerglow', so named because as the leaves open they glow with a brilliant bronze orange color. In the summer they are a coppery burgundy. Other varieties are a darker wine color. 

These shrubs bloom off of last year's wood. The flowers are round globes of white flowers. As they age, the calyxes of the flowers are revealed and they are a brilliant red. Eventually, the shrub is covered with red seed pods. In the winter, the bark is tan and a bit exfoliating (peeling) and I think it is very attractive. The habit is arching and the height ranges from 4-5' tall to 8-9' tall.

Physocarpus in late June with feverfew
I have found this shrub to be very hardy, thriving in full sun or partial shade. Deer will nibble on it, but it's not at the top of their list. Everyone comments about it when they tour the Natureworks gardens. I plan on adding quite a few more Physocarpus plants to my home landscape in the next few years. Good foliage color, easy care, and durable. It fits my criteria just fine. 
A crazy combo with Maclaeya cordata


Spirea x vanhoutteii in my garden today
Day 123
The Daily DuBrule

What causes a person to select one plant over another to plant in their yard? Often, it is because the plant brings back memories of childhood. Many years ago I offered a workshop called "Garden Memories". The morning session was spent sharing stories and writing down what we remember from our childhoods in the way of plants, flowers, and gardens. I was stunned at the depth of emotion that was revealed in this exercise. For my own story, I spoke about how I grew up in the north end of Hartford in a city yard. I have no recollection of anyone ever gardening. Yet, the yard had many shrubs and roses as I can see now when looking at the thousands of old slides I inherited from my grandfather. 

I do remember playing beneath a bridal wreath spirea shrub. Of course, I had no idea at the time what the plant was, I just know that now in my life this plant sings to me and I recognize it in a very deep part of my psyche. 

Me, in a wagon, with roses in the background!
The second half of my workshop was helping the students design their own gardens incorporating the plants from their past to make their present landscapes more personal and meaningful. That is what I do for myself when I choose to plant shrubs that I now know were a part of my life growing up. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lovely Ladies

Cypripedium acaule
Day 122
The Daily DuBrule

In the past two days I have encountered wild lady's slipper orchids on two occasions. The first was immediately after my sister arrived for a visit, down from northern Massachusetts. Look at this, she said, showing me her cell phone. Everyone is always showing me teeny tiny plant pictures their cell phones these days. This time, I was immediately able to identify a very large stand of these native orchids. They were growing in the woods around her local library, on conservation land.

In the afternoon, we went together to a gathering at a private home in Guilford. From the picnic area I could see a pink glowing flower in the tall grass. There was a perfect, gorgeous lady's slipper growing right next to our little party. Of course, we all had to kneel down and inspect it and I had to take pictures of this exotic, strange, wondrous flower.

Tales were thrown around about who has had lady's slippers in their yards or discovered them while hiking. The nice thing was that it appears this precious native wildflower is coming back in certain parts of our area. Many people are aware of how WRONG it is to try and dig them up. That doesn't work anyway, as they don't live if you dig and move them. There are nursery propagated plants that take a minimum of seven years to flower from seed and now there are tissue culture propagated plants as well.

Alan Armitage says it best in his book Native Plants: "Lady's slippers are now routinely propagated through tissue culture, but these plants are expensive and in limited supply. Even so, buying such plants is not difficult and highlights your intelligence; digging them from the wild shows you are dumber than a rock..."

Yup, I couldn't agree more. Let's hope that if you find lady's slippers you worship them and photograph them and don't tell anyone who isn't a highly evolved environmentalist where they are located. That way they can slowly multiply and grace our woodlands in the merry month of May for years to come. 
Lowbush blueberries surround these native orchids

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Painted Daisies

Day 121
The Daily DuBrule

I have been growing painted daisies since the early 1980's. I remember when discovered them. I was tending the garden of my very first clients. They had many of the basic perennials and I was a greenhorn, pretty new to the business, and a sponge for new plants. I was so impressed with the brilliant red color of the flowers and the long wiry stems that make them ideal cut flowers. 

Fast forward to 2008. I finally had a big sunny garden of my own. I had been selling perennials for over 30 years. Painted daisies had gone out of fashion and were not an easy sell in my garden center. I hardly used them in my designs. They had simply fallen out of favor for flashier, new introductions. What the heck, I thought, why not try them in my garden? Well, the result has been wonderful. I started with three small plants, I now have four as a self-sown baby has thrived. Thus, I have a large "drift" of these brilliant, showy flowers. I do cut them and use them in arrangements. That's what they are meant for!
Despite the fact that I don't normally group two kinds of daisies together that bloom at the same time, I am quite enamored of this serendipitous arrangement that has evolved in one of my borders. In the background is a huge, flowing mass of the greater leopardsbane (Doronicum pardalianches). My painted daisies are in front. The glowing golden centers of the painted daises echo the yellow ones behind. It kind of works, don't you think?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Some Plants Have to be Fragrant

Day 120
The Daily DuBrule

Plant breeders think they are so smart. They take an old fashioned flower like Dianthus and then they create plants of every color. They make them bloom longer and repeat bloom and they make the stems stronger and shorter so the flowers don't flop. The create banded and swirled and speckled varieties. But they forget one thing: fragrance. It is common knowledge that the fragrance has been bred out of our favorite old fashioned plants like roses and Dianthus. 

The common name for Dianthus is clove pinks for goodness sakes. That is because for centuries the flowers have smelled like cloves. The fragrance of these traditional cottage garden flowers is intoxicating and distinctive. So, when you see a new variety and you bend down and sink your nose into the flower and come up empty it just seems wrong. 

I love fragrant flowers. When I discovered Dianthus 'Double North' I had to have it. Not only was it fragrant, it was white and I was looking for white flowers for my courtyard which I usually enjoy in the evenings after work. Plus, it had the nice blue foliage I crave. This plant doesn't disappoint. This week I am making bouquets of this combined with lily of the valley blossoms and placing them all over the house. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Scouting as Meditation

Day 119
The Daily DuBrule

It takes a lot to slow me down at this time of year. I sit for a nanosecond and I pop up again. So much to do, so little time. So when I finally go out into my own garden and start scouting for insects to "head 'em off at the pass" so to speak, I find myself still. Totally quiet and focused. Something that is often foreign to me.

Scouting for insects daily, or even twice a day as in every morning and every night, is the number one technique I use to control pests using organic methods. If you spot the first couple of red lily leaf beetles in the early spring and then look under the leaves for their eggs and rub them off, you have just swiped away the next generation of this nasty pest. Then you KNOW they have arrived and you can keep your eye on the plants and squish them as they show up- or spray them with an organic spray such as Neem if you are "squishing sqeemish".

I realized just how relaxing scouting was the other day. I was sitting on my wall thinking really hard about the talk I had to give to The Connecticut Horticultural Society about sustainable solutions to garden pests. I didn't want to just go on and on about this spray for that. I wanted to go a little deeper. I decided to update a four page handout out the specific pests and their controls and focus in my talk on scouting, knowing your enemy, and making the plant as healthy as possible so it could resist and survive attacks. So as I sat there on the wall I stared for a good 15 minutes at my gorgeous asparagus ferns, now nearly 6 feet tall, looking for the tiny asparagus beetles. I got up and walked very slowly around the 12' long by 3' wide raised bed and inspected every square inch of the asparagus. All told I found 5 beetles. But it slowed me right down and made me really notice how the flowers were forming and how some of the stems were twisted and branched and that there were tiny little bees that were flitting about. Scouting is a gardener's way of being totally present in the moment. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

So Beautiful

Day 118
The Daily DuBrule

I wandered outside early this evening while waiting for dinner to cook on the stove. The sun had finally come out and everything in my yard was glistening and gorgeous. Perhaps it was the fact that it has been raining for days. Maybe it was the mud covered plans drying on the hood of my car in the garage or the soaking wet shoes and socks in the back hall. It was probably the utter frustration of trying so hard to get things done in this, the busiest of springs, but I was simply moved to tears at the beauty of what I saw.

I am tired. I admit it. I can't handle the multi-tasking and 14 hours days in a row like I could 30 years ago. When I am tired, I am emotional. I am also grappling with the fact that two of my friends are battling life threatening illnesses right now. I think about them constantly. I can't imagine the world without them. And I think about them in hospital rooms, inside, getting poked and prodded and simply struggling to survive while I feel sorry for myself because I have to work really hard. So when I emerge into a sparkling world of fragrant irises, voluptuous peonies, and blowsy Viburnums weighed down to the ground with flowers, I am so appreciative of my garden and the beauty of the natural world that I cry grateful tears.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Therese, my love

'Therese Bugnet' rose with culinary chives
Day 117
The Daily DuBrule

It amazes me to think that I have been in love with 'Therese Bugnet' for over 20 years. She is a lovely rugosa rose hybrid that is delectably fragrant, soft pink, and totally hardy. This rose blooms a couple of weeks ahead of most others and is a sight to behold. In my home garden  culinary chives have self sown all around her, a combination I wouldn't have thought of but now duplicate in my designs. 

Therese doesn't repeat bloom all summer but I forgive her for that because when she does bloom, she takes my breath away. In late June, I cut her back and open her back up again in the middle and she blooms a second time, although not as heavily, in the fall. Then the NEXT display of color kicks in.

The second reason why I adore this rose is that in the winter her stems turn bright red, as red, in fact, as a red twig dogwood. I cut the stems and use them to embellish pots of greenery. What doesn't get cut remains showy in the winter garden until I do my annual spring pruning. 

Red stems in late fall
Rugosa roses can be really invasive. Not Therese, who is a well behaved hybrid. I have had her in the Natureworks gardens since 1992 and she has spread only a few feet outside of the original three foot diameter circle allotted to her. The bit of rugosa blood in her lineage imparts disease resistance and hardiness and that is a good thing.

Old is Better

Day 116
The Daily DuBrule

Sometimes an old fashioned plant, a straight species, a non-hybrid, is just what the doctor ordered. When I moved into my home eight years ago, I forced myself to observe the gardens for a full year before planting and adding new beds. I found that there were quite a few existing perennials, mostly in the colors of yellow and pink. I inventoried them all and wove them into my new master plan which I began implementing in year two. One of the greatest gifts that came with this house was a huge clump of old fashioned coral bells, also known as Heuchera sanguinea. If you remember that the inspiration for my friend Jenny's 365-day-blog was Heucheras (she did 365 days of Heuchera, God bless her), it is ironic to think that I am now singing the praises of a common, non-fancy form.

The coral-pink flowers on this plant rise up a good 24". They make ideal cut flowers and last a long time in a vase. They bloom in the garden for over a month. The foliage is the classic rosette of green leaves, scalloped and touched with a bit of silver. Hummingbirds love this plant. 

Once I realized what I had, I proceeded to divide this plant to within inches of its life. I added three large drifts to three separate spots in the front of my borders. They do a great job of anchoring the outer edge and look nice interspersed with Stokesias for later color. I also brought a nice clump to Natureworks and split it and created a large mass in the demonstration gardens there. Why? This is actually not an easy plant to find anymore and it is a classic that belongs in all old fashioned gardens. You can find 365 or more fancy Heucheras, but sometimes I think old is better. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Alllium Love

Day 115
The Daily DuBrule

Alliums make me smile. Big round globes of purple or white rise up on bare stalks, the perfect orb to contrast with all the daisies and irises and other flowers of June. The flowers are edible. Each floret explodes in your mouth with the taste of mild onions. They are beloved by butterflies and deer don't eat them. Just as the rains of May turn the last of the tulips to mush, in come the Alliums, saving the day. 
'Mt Everest'
Allium schubertii
 There is one Allium that tops them all. A. shubertii is a study in three dimensions. The color is a pale lavender but the florets explode from the center into a giant starburst at different lengths. It is best to plant this bulb where it can be seen against either a neutral ground cover or against bare mulch. Burying it in a bunch of flowers takes away from its effect.

It is very tempting to leave the seed pods on your Alliums after they have finished flowering. Don't do it. As the seed ripens, energy is taken away from the bulbs which reduces the flower buds set up for the following year. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy them for months. Simply cut them off and jam them back in the ground. No one will know, they will give you that architectural orb you crave, and the bulb will be a lot healthier. In the photo above, I studded a pot of pansies with the seed pods of my white Allium 'Mt. Everest'. I later dried them and dragged them back out to put in an arrangement in the fall.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Most Beautiful Song

The Daily DuBrule

I just spent the past two days in Farmington at the Hillstead Museum May Market. What a magnificent setting and what a gracious, lovely place on a perfect spring weekend. Friday started out with a welcoming chorus from a bird in the large tree near our vendor booth. It was so loud and so beautiful that it couldn't be ignored. As we were setting up and starting to sell our plants, the song continued. Finally, I stopped working and stood staring at the source of this song and spotted a Baltimore Oriole. What a gift!

People came over all day long to listen and watch for the this bird. It turns out that many avid gardeners are also birders. Lots of information about Baltimore orioles was passed about, including the fact that they love the tall oaks. Upon studying my favorite bird book, I read that they prefer large trees bordering open meadows. That pretty much describes the Hillstead Museum grounds. 

When I lived in my cottage at the beach, I was often woken up at dawn by the distinctive song of the Baltimore oriole. It would sit in the trumpet vine that clambered over the giant boulders outside my window. I always wondered if it was eating insects from the backs of the trumpet flowers. It turns out it was there for the sweet nectar. These birds eat caterpillars and various other insects in large numbers, a gift for gardeners bothered by tent caterpillars as well as beetles, borers, and other pests. They also eat fruit and flower nectar. 

We had an oriole couple at Natureworks last year. I hope they return and decide to make our garden center their home again this year. They are a welcome sight in any garden setting.

To listen to the sound of Baltimore orioles, click on this link.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Great Purple Tulip Experiment

'Blue Parrot'
Day 113
The Daily DuBrule

The last of my purple tulips have opened this week. Two weeks of rain have melted the flower petals from all the other varieties. All of them bloomed earlier than expected. I learned a lot from my experiment.

Last fall I brought home ten each of ten varieties of purple tulips. I picked early, mid, and late bloomers, singles and doubles, and all shades of purple. I labeled each variety with a permanent metal marker. As they opened, I took photos and noted their exact bloom time and how long they lasted as well as what shade of purple they really were since the tags on the boxes and the photos in the catalogs can be pretty deceptive.

The last to bloom is 'Blue Parrot'. This tulip is really a pretty shade of lavender purple. Parrot tulips are ruffled and really unusual looking. Although this experiment is taking place at home in Middletown, I also saw purple parrots opening at Natureworks yesterday so I am correct in assuming that they are late bloomers pretty across the board. 
'Negrita' is just finishing as 'Blue Parrot' is opening

The winner of the deepest purple and longest lasting purple tulip of the ten I planted was 'Negrita' hands down. This is a fabulous bulb and I will certainly order lots of them and plant them in all of the gardens I tend. 
Most of my purple tulips were planted in a raised bed with garlic!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Slugfest 2012

Day 112
The Daily DuBrule

You know you have a serious slug problem when a friend brings her chocolate lab puppy over to meet you and the dog looks up at you and has a slug on the end of her nose. Now that is truly disgusting. With all the rain we've been having, slugs are out in full force. They are out during the day and easy to spot. So easy in fact that you can count them on your hosta leaves and keep track. Not that I do that sort of thing but I know someone who does.

When it comes to slugs, I am not a squisher. Red lily leaf beetles, no problem. But you just can't squish a slug, they are too slimy. I have been know to pick them off, put them on a rock, and step on them, but that method can be dangerous as their slime is so persistent that you could easily slip and fall in such wet weather. I will put on rubber gloves and pick them off and throw them in a bucket of salty water. Usually I just use Sluggo, iron phosphate. It's safe and effective.

Slugs multiply at a disgustingly rapid rate.  You'll be thrilled to know that slugs lay hundreds of eggs a year. The eggs hatch in three weeks and baby slugs will start laying eggs when they're only a few months old. This week I am seeing mama slugs and lots of baby slugs, so the next generation is already happily ensconced in my garden. 

I should have jumped on this problem sooner. Using Sluggo to control the first generation of slugs can really make a dent in later generations. The problem was that spring started out with a heat wave and drought in March and early April and slugs were the last problem on my mind. Now that have established themselves amongst my plants and it's going to take a lot more Sluggo, and a lot more of my attention, to deal with them.

Enter the toad eggs in my pond which I can report have happily become thousands of healthy pollywogs. I am hoping they will grow up to be voracious slug eaters. Until then, its up to me. No, not to eat the slugs, to control them. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ladybugs to the Rescue!

Day 111
The Daily DuBrule

I gave a garden tour to a great group on Tuesday, the Orange Garden Club. There really wasn't a theme so I decided wander the gardens with this enthusiastic crowd and see what came up. I was talking about the organic focus at Natureworks and how we scout for insects when lo and behold, I saw a Heliopsis completely covered with red aphids. I picked a stem (no worries, I considered it pinching) to show everyone how amazingly cool these red aphids were. EEWWW. No one could believe my attitude. Aphids are BAD. Actually, I don't think I have ever seen a Heliopsis in a rainy spring that didn't have these particular red aphids. It's normal. 

Next thing I knew, I saw one of the participants holding a ladybug in her fingers. You know the game kids play where the bug crawls from finger to finger. How perfect! "See that ladybug? It is here to eat the aphids" I told everyone. I couldn't have timed it any better.

We then proceeded to admire the next section of the garden. "Look!" Here's a ladybug on this Spirea abliflora. Wait! There's aphids on the new growth. Hey wait a minute. Look at ALL THOSE LADYBUGS." Sure as shootin' I saw ladybugs all over the plant. They were hard at work, doing their job in our organic ecosystem in magic little acre. It was like I hired them to show up and demonstrate organic principles for this group. I couldn't have asked for a better lesson. Of course if I had panicked about all the aphids and sprayed an organic spray I would have killed the ladybugs too. It's usually best to look a little closer at the amazing world in front of your eyes and see if nature has a solution before you feel the need to step in.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Buzzing of the Bees

Day 110
The Daily DuBrule

May is an insane month in my business. It is one of the most beautiful times of the year yet it strikes fear in the heart of garden center owners and landscapers. The cold weather ends and you suddenly have two to three weeks to get everything planted before Memorial Day, the holy grail of deadlines. Not that it really matters to the plants, but in the minds of many of my customers, Memorial Day is IT. It is impossible to get everything done that MUST be done. You don't dare allow yourself the guilty pleasure of stopping and enjoying the natural world when there is so much to do. You end up working so hard during the most beautiful month of the year that it disappears in a flash and you wake up Memorial Day morning completely exhausted. And the next day, you go right back to work. That's where my bees come in...
I have this outrageously beautiful pink wisteria in full bloom on my deck right now. When you sit down at the table below, the sound of the bees buzzing is all you can hear. The heady fragrance of thousands of wisteria blossoms takes you away to a faraway place. So I sit and close my eyes and listen to the buzzing of the bees and they relax me. Even if I only allow myself ten minutes of this pleasure, it helps keep me sane during this crazy month of May.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lilac Love

French hybrid lilac 'Monge'
Day 109
The Daily DuBrule

On a regular basis I am asked "What is your favorite plant?" Usually, I answer that it depends on the week. But hands down, one plant that is always on my top ten list is lilacs. I am a sucker for fragrance. Lilacs do it for me. I have an old fashioned, common purple lilac beneath my bedroom window. Heaven. Who could ask for more? 

The problem with lilacs is that they don't bloom for very long. It usually rains when they are in flower, which doesn't help things. This year, my old fashioned lilacs bloomed in late April and are just finishing up now. Thank goodness I have the next lilac just opening: Syringa meyeri 'Palabin', also called the Korean lilac. My plant is a grafted tree form that I dragged around with me for years until I finally found a good home for it when I moved to Middletown. It is really happy here. Korean lilacs usually bloom in late May and early June thus true to form for 2012, they are open now, 3 weeks early. The fragrance is intoxicating. You can smell this plant from across the yard. The buds are deep purple and the flowers are soft purple. If you are looking for an earlier lilac, try Syringa x hyacinthaflora varieties. They start flowering a few weeks BEFORE Syringa vulgaris and the French hybrids, thus moving the season back a bit.
My Korean Lilac
The latest introduction into the world of lilacs is a Proven Winner called 'Bloomerang'. This is a repeat blooming lilac and they are right, it does keep blooming. The flowers are a soft lilac color but they really don't have much of a fragrance which ruins it for me. As a flowering shrub that gives you months and months of color, they are the best. But if you grow lilacs for their scent, you will sink your nose into these flowers and come up empty.
'Bloomerang' lilac

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tree Peony Worship

Day 108
The Daily DuBrule

Do peonies grow on trees? I remember years ago when a customer came into Natureworks asking for tree peonies and expected them to be as big as maple trees! For anyone not already madly in love with tree peonies, the term refers to the fact that these plants are not herbaceous, therefore they do not die down to the ground in the winter. Instead, they maintain a woody framework. Over the years, they become large, magnificent specimens. In the orient, they are treasured family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Once you witness an old plant in full bloom, you will understand why.

Tree peonies are not hard to grow. They do very well in dappled shade. Peony Heaven (*Cricket HIll Nurseries in Thomaston,CT), which is a mecca for peony lovers, covers their plants when in bloom with gigantic silk umbrellas, oversized versions of those paper umbrellas found in tropical drinks. They have distinctively different leaves from herbaceous peonies, much more blue, and they bloom 2-3 weeks earlier, usually in late May. This year, with everything flowering 2-3 weeks early, my tree peonies both at home and at Natureworks opened on Friday, May 4th.

There are two issues I have had with my tree peonies. The first is that they are grafted and herbaceous shoots arise from below the base. These should immediately be cut off. The second is that my gorgeous deep coral/red specimen split in the ice storm of 2011 and I tied it back together. All seemed fine until the October surprise snowstorm of 2011 which split it again. I did a better job of putting it back together and today, well, look at the picture below:
This is one happy plant. When I arrived home from work on Friday afternoon, exhausted and laden with heavy briefcases, I strolled into the courtyard, dropped my bags, dropped to my knees, grabbed my camera, and took this picture. Then I proceeded to drag my husband outside to partake in tree peony worship. 

* Check out these two links to learn all about Cricket Hill and my friends David and Kasha Furman and their son Dan. They are an organic nursery. The pictures are awesome and will give you a true idea of how amazing tree peonies can be.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Snowballs in May

Viburnum plicatum
Day 107
The Daily DuBrule

My yard is filled with snowballs this month. When I moved here in 2004 it was the dead of winter. I could tell this really large shrub was a viburnum and it had the look of Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii', the doublefile viburnum. This fabulous shrub has double rows of single white flowers on horizontal stems in late May and June. I was thrilled. Come spring, I was astounded to see the flower buds forming and becoming giant white round snowballs. I had a magnificent specimen of Viburnum plicatum, the straight species, a plant I had alway coveted. 

This shrub was badly in need of pruning. I have spent the past 7 years removing old wood from the center and encouraging an open habit. It is coming along nicely in that regard. The snowballs start out greenish white and open to pure white. They stay in flower for almost a month. When they fall, for a brief while, it looks like snow on the ground. 

 One of my favorite combination is when my 'Red Charm' peony, which I purposely placed at the base, flowers at the same time. Red and white snowballs next to each other. It doesn't get any better than that!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Clover Lawn

Day 106
The Daily DuBrule

Very soon I am heading out to a client's house to overseed her lawn with a mixture of low maintenance grass seed and white dutch clover. This may sound crazy to a lot of people as tons of chemicals are dumped on lawns every year to eliminated broadleaf weeds, including clover. Actually, until the early part of the 20th century, clover was considered an integral part of lawn seed mixtures. It "fixes" nitrogen, taking in nitrogen from the air and fixing it in its roots, therefore feeding the lawn. 

Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual calls clover "the best weed money can buy". Tukey quotes Dr. Milton R. Carleton in his 1957 book A New Way to Kill Weeds " I can remember the day when lawn mixtures were judged for quality by the percentage of clover seed they contained. The higher the figure, the better the mixture... I can remember the loving care which old time gardeners gave their clover lawns. The smug look on the face of the proud homeowner whose stand was the best in the neighborhood was really something to behold." 

Imagine that. Well, my client totally gets it and specifically asked that white clover be added to the seed we are using to overseed her lawn that was devastated by hurricane Irene. It stays green all summer, never needs watering, and helps to feed the other grasses in the mixture. Who could ask for more?

If you are trying to grow and organic lawn, you must own a copy of Paul's book:

The Organic Lawn Care Manual
Author: Paul Tukey
Storey Publishing, 2007

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Long live your Brooms!

Cytisus 'Butter and Eggs'
Day 105
The Daily DuBrule

I love Scotch brooms. They smell intriguing, a unique scent that speaks to me of early May. They are great cut flowers, the ideal filler for spring bouquets. All winter long I cut the evergreen, linear stems for arrangements, including at Christmas time. That is the secret to success.

Brooms are notoriously short lived plants. Books say 7 years and, left alone, that is about right. They have few fibrous roots, being legumes, and rock easily in the wind. The tops grow long and when it snows, easily bend, break, and pull the plant down with it. The secret is a yearly HARD pruning. I'm not talking about a little pinch at the top, I am talking about cutting the plants back by 25% or more the very first year you plant them and then continuing this process every single year after that. The goal is to have thick, dense plants that are branched low. That way the plant is more stable. I also put some very strong, decorative metal stakes amongst my brooms if they seem at all loose or floppy. This seems to help stabilize them.

Brooms like sandy, exceptionally well drained soil. They will die if the soil is too wet or heavy. They need full sun. Locate them properly, continuously prune them by cutting their branches for fresh arrangements all year long, and they will give you many years of pleasure. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Forget Me Not

Myosotis going wild in my blended garden beds
Biennial forget me nots up close
Day 104
The Daily DuBrule

Tis the season for forge-me- nots. The most common form are the biennials. These form a rosette of foliage in the summer of year one and bloom in the spring of year two. I was given a plant of biennial forget-me-nots by one of my employees and planted it beneath my asparagus. The second year it was magnificent- a sea of sky blue flowers with spears of asparagus rising above. An unexpected combination that I truly loved. This year, the Myosotis have seeded down the hill to the next raised bed over. The bed is chock full of them and interspersed between them are the burgundy, lacy leaves of 'Ruby Streaks' mustard. It just goes to show you how nature can create combinations that you never would have dreamed of.
Brunnera with Stylophorum
I like Myosotis just fine but my heart really belongs to the perennial heartleaf forget-me-nots: Brunnera macrophylla. This has been one of my top ten perennials since I really got serious about gardening decades ago. It blooms in April and May, in sun or shade, and in just about any kind of soil. It is a true perennial that returns in the same spot year after year AND it self sows. I have dozens of plants in the Natureworks gardens all distantly related to the first Brunneras planted in 1991 or 1992. Who could ask for more? Nowadays there all sorts of fancy Brunneras. 'Jack Frost' has gorgeous silver foliage and blue flowers and is the Perennial Plant of the Year named by the Perennial Plant Association. I voted for it. It deserves the honor. Last week I visited a garden that had a huge hillside covered in white Brunnera woven in with purple Phlox stolonifera. That too was lovely. But I keep going back to good old Brunnera macrophylla. Green heart shaped leaves and flowers the color of the sky on a beautiful day. Sometimes you just have to accept that an old friend is still the best kind of plant to have in your spring garden.

Brunnera with Doronicum pardalianches

Ladies in a Boat

Day 103
The Daily DuBrule

Where have I been? How is it possible that I gardened for over 25 years and never knew this cool trick with bleeding heart flowers until I was in my 50's?! You take a bleeding heart blossom and oh so carefully peel it until the lady pops up. Look at her! She has her hands on her hips and the boat is most surely a pink gondola. I remember the day I was first shown this, I squealed with glee. I am simply a big kid at heart.
I just goes to prove that you can have fun with flowers in so many ways. I love old fashioned bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis). They are so hardy, and the they grow in sun or shade, and they bloom early, and they make good cut flowers. Deer don't eat them. What's not to love? Well, the fact that they turn yellow and go dormant in July after taking up a three foot diameter circle in the garden may be a problem for some, but I manage to deal with it by planting them under butterfly bushes which take up the slack later in the season. Sometimes I plant Japanese anemones around them. They sprout later anyway and then take off as the bleeding heart is dying down. 

I use bleeding hearts in just about every deep shade garden where deer are a problem. I love the pink, but the white works better with gold and green variegated plants and yellow daffodils if you are not a lover of deep yellow and rich pink next to each other. 

My grandfather used to take pictures of flowers. He had a special lens that allowed him to get super close. When he died, I inherited his slide collection. Trunks of them. I went through them, astounded to see pictures of me in so many gardens. That's probably where I got the love of gardening as I never actually owned a plant until I was 20. Anyway, not only were the boxes labeled, most of the slides were labeled too. On a box containing lots of bleeding heart pictures he wrote "flowers that look like turkeys hanging upside down". He didn't really know the names of anything he was photographing except for the thousands of roses in Elizabeth Park in Hartford. But he loved them anyway. And, in the process, he inspired me to love them too.