July 21, 2014


They are the gamechangers of the lily world - new interspecific hybrids are changing how we all think about lilies.
So get this.  This a busy week for me. I am putting the final touches on my presentation at next Saturday's Sakonett Symposium in Little Compton, Rhode Island, (come, if you can!), but first I am off to Comicon in San Diego (for my day job, a bit of research and mingling with the Bronies, a corporate website launch, and some worky stuff, and then back just in time to the East Coast late Friday night to speak at the Sakonnet Garden Symposium on Saturday morning, along with Margaret Roach and Aaron Bertlesen, the head gardener for the veg garden at Great Dixter (what company, right?). I'm kind-of freaked out, but all things considered, it should be great. 

Orientpet lilies are definitely changing the lily game - even this older cross in our gold and blue garden, the variety 'Conca d' Or', which just gets bigger and bigger each year, with more buds. This year, one of them has 25 buds.

But this weekend's lily show? I HAVE to share the photos with you! Spectacular. That's all I can say about this show, held at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA and sponsored by the New England Lily Society. At first, I was more interested in finishing my presentation than journeying over to the botanic garden on Saturday, but Joe dragged me out for a few hours, and I was so happy that he did - the show was so much better than shows in the past few years, and at first, I wondered why. Were the lilies just all later this year? Did the lily beetle suddenly disappear? I think I know the answer ( please correct me if someone out there knows why!), but I think that it's because of the new Orienpets.

The variety 'President', was one that made my list for next year.

Orienpets are recently introduced ( bred mostly in the late 20th century and introduced in numbers during the past decade a breeders learned to manage chromosome counts and experimented with newer crosses - clearly, much progress has occurred). Orinpets  simply a cross ( not-so-simply, they are known as an interspecific cross - that, between two distinct species of lilium), but to use, they are just a mix between between the Oriental lily and the Trumpet lily.  Marketed under the unfortunate name of 'Orienpet' (sometimes just 'OT' lilies), they offer gardeners a stronger, more robust lily with all of the fabulous characteristics needed for a superb garden plant. Strength, vigor and yes - scent. They are such strong growers with super-thick stems and tall, candelabras of flowers, that I have seen them marketed as 'Tree Lilies', which is a little misleading, but whatever - if it works, go for it. I am convinced that I need to get more for my garden.

In my garden, the mid-season lilies are in peak bloom. I wanted to share these pink hybrid forms of the Easter Lily, that were sent to my when I ordered some bulbs from a lily nursery, but they were out of the variety that I wanted, so they sent me 6 of these. I was not happy, as I asked for replacement bulbs in any color other than pink - still, after 3 years now, they are 6 and and half feet tall, and pretty awesome.

I love tall, fragrant lilies, and these new hybrids seem to have it all. These are hybrids of Lilium longiflorum and not Orienpets. They are hybrids closer to the common Easter Lily.

Joe checks his favorite varieties, leaving with a long list, at the N.E. Lily Society annual lily show.

 Love these Orientpets? Then check out the varieties available here at B&D lilies - just in time to order for your fall garden. They seem to be a bit more resistant to the red lily beetle, but they will still need daily monitoring with your fingers and a jar of soapy water in which to squish the scarlet bugs, but I say - just plant a few Martagon lilies or old-fashioned Asiatic lilies to act as bait, to lure the bugs away from the far nicer Orienpets (only kidding - but they do like those lilies much better!). If you live in the West, and still don't have to deal with the Red Lily Beetle, then go for all you can afford. 

Gorgeous salmon and coral toned Orienpet Lilies, beautifully displayed by color. I've never seen this method of displaying lilies before, I am guessing that because of the number of Orienpets, it was easier to display them by color because they were all entered in the same class.

Maybe it's because I am in Comicon mode, but I like to think of the Orienpets at being a Superhero - saving the lily society from a certain demise. Just a few years ago, the sand of the lily society seemed unavoidable, but not for the same reasons why many plant societies are failing - it's end seemed likely due to the infestation of the Red Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii), which appeared in the eastern US, and has quickly made raising most lilies challenging for anyone east of the Rockies. This invasive pest which looks very much like a lady bug, has been devastating to the lily world ( and it attacks other bulbous plants like the Frittilaria species with gusto). Any efforts to control the bug aside from the messy and gross task of hand picking and squishing them, does little for the population, leaving the most effect treatment of brutal systemic insecticide the only choice.

A rainbow of Orienpet lilies at the New England Lily Society lily show. Yummy colors, indeed.
There is some hope - especially with these new tetraploid ( double the chromosomes is better!) lilies Orienpets could possible be a bit more resistant to the beetle, as they genetically carry a tiny bit of an older variety called 'Black Beauty' , which in some studies has shown to be less appealing tot he beetle. This is only my kitchen research, but I have found that my Orienpets need only a drop of insecticide in the spring, whereas any Asiatic variety will still get defoliated and serious bud damage in just a single night of Lily Beetle frenzy.  

As for the lily beetle, there are studies happening here in the East at the University of Connecticut, with some research showing that an introduced wasp species feeds on the larvae, and the early results seem promising. In my garden, it's the precious Martagon lilies that get the worst of the lily beetle, and it's the only plant in the garden where I use a bit of insecticide ( just a few drops near the bulb will do). I hate doing it, but I want to protect these and out native lilies the Lilium canadensis and Lilium superbum colonies which would be eliminated near our woods in just a night or two by lily beetles. They are not visited by honey bees, but I still treat oh so carefully.

Very few species lilies were exhibited this year, but this Lilum leichtinii from Japan caught my eye. Not unlike a yellow tiger lily, I liked how it was displayed in front of this old painting of one of the old Worcester Horticultural Society officers, My Photos are pretty poor due to the overcast day, and because I was using my iPad.

Most of the varieties that we saw at this show, made our wish list, and as we usually do after a flower show sponsored by a plant society, we went home and looked at our photos, especially those of the entry tags, so that we could look on-line for sources. There are only a few lily nurseries in the US ( mostly in Washington state, and a few in Canada, but I was surprised to find one in the UK that seemed to be the only one that carried the winning Orienpets that we saw today - and I was shocked to see that they sell to the US. I know where I will be sending an order next winter (as this nursery only ships in the spring). Here is their site: H.W. Hyde & Sons. I highly reccomend all of the North American specialty nurseries however, I regularly order from B&D lilies, and the Lily Nook

Lilium leichtlnii

A few Asiatic lilies were entered, but really, just a few. These were a favorite - a triple stem entry of  'Chocolate Canary'.

Not really favorite of mine ( can too pretty be a reason?), but I would imagine that this was clearly the audience favorite, because everyone I talked to seemed to mention this giant pink lily, from kids to adults. It's called 'Tabledance'.

'The Edge' An oriental lily, not an Orinpet, nor an Asiatic for that matter.

After the show, Joe and I walked around the gardens at Tower Hill. They looked so nice this summer, with interesting plantings, and many new plants. I liked this water feature with canna.

This planting makes me want to grow Galtonia candicans again. I had mine planted in the perennial border, but as an underplanting. I think it may like it better when planted in the open, as seen here.

This fountain surrounded by various succulents including sedum in bright colors, has nice border of dwarf Holly ( Ilex crenata 'Pagoda', which looks similar to a dwarf boxwood, but surely is more resistant to virus and hardy.
Lastly, this insane lily which I think is a deformed bloom of 'Mystic Dream', which typically is all green. Don't even get me started with those new double lilies!

July 12, 2014


These lilies reminded me that sometimes, we forget that bulbs can do well in pots - particularly lilies (um...Easter lilies grow in pots, right?) which inspired me to write a pot about some container ideas. It was surprisingly easy to come up with 25 - maybe I should have done 50 ideas?

Last weekend, I spotted this black plastic rain barrel at Home Depot - so for $19.99 I had an instant pond. With a little duck weed and water hyacinth, the feature provided me with some dimension and reflection where before, just a few pots sat in a rather boring arrangement. Now, I added more containers around the tub and suddenly, I have a new garden where the magnolia tree once stood.

1. Use upside-down clay pots to elevate potted plants when you display pots in a group - plants just look better when you create height in a container garden. 2. Add a water feature – even if it is a small one. A large bowl or even better, a tub of water amongst your containers will add reflection and interest ( try adding some aquatic plants to it too!). 3. Paint your stakes using a dip method or with stripes created with masking tape. A bright, coral and light blue colored tip might help you avoid poking your eye while weeding. 4. Here is a care-tip that even I sometimes fail with -water each container well - then water them again - Don't believe me? Water well, and then gently remove the pot and see how far down you actually soaked the rootball…..I go at least 3 times, then check for dryness by removing rootball – you’d be surprised how long you have to water a potted plant before the water soaks all the way through.

A few tips are demonstrated here - houseplants, tropicals, succulents, vegetables and bulbs in containers with the pot of Eucomis or Pineapple lily. Mix it up and see what happens!

5. Ordinary houseplants when used outside are refreshingly different - like when you sit in a cushy upholstered sofa on a shady lawn at an antiques show, when moved outdoors, things change with our perspective. Try placing houseplants amongst your potted annuals, (don't forget to acclimate them first!) and the same goes for perennials - a pot of blooming delphinium fresh from the nursery can be set in a container for a few weeks for display purposes, until you have time to plant them out in the border.

Containers are very forgiving with what one plants in them, so don't always feel as if you must keep succulents away from tropicals, and annuals away from succulents. I love to combine shrubs, with perennials, bulbs with succulents, and tropicals with vegetables. You never know when  combination is going to look awesome.

6. Set pots of tropical s in your perennial beds to fill temporary gaps - a tub of Phormium or New Zealand Flax can really elevate a tired bed of peonies and iris, once they've done their duty. 7. Plant some containers with herbs to keep near your kitchen door to actually pick  - I mean, right next to it– great for stormy days when taking a trip to the raised bed only means mud, and wet hair. 8. Try dwarf vegetables in containers like dwarf squash and cucumbers – they are fantastic, and sometimes produce as much, if not more than standard varieties. 9. Mix-it-up with insane color combinations with all sorts of plants, my current favorite – steel, grey and silver with black. 10. Grow trees in containers, especially Japanese maples and black pines, they can last years on your deck without protection.

Summer bulbs in pots provide instant and portable color, and few do as nicely as true lilies. These are just some bulbs that I bought on sale at our local garden center - they were marked down because the stems were already emerging a bit too early, so I bought all of them, and potted them up. After they bloom, I will plant them out into the garden.

11. Add twinkle lights to potted shrubs and trees in the summer – why wait until the Holidays when you can’t sit outside at night? 12. Pot up summer bulbs for portable wow – try gladiolus, lilies and Pineapple Lilies for something different. Go more botanical and pot up Sparaxis corms or rain lilies. 13. Pots are transportable, so feel free to rearrange containers frequently, why not? They are portable for a reason.
I use tiered structures made with concrete blocks and boards, where I can display collections of like-plants. Here, fuschia's being trained as standards, along with pelargoniums. Elsewhere, I display begonias.

14. Display plants as if you are at Chelsea - display a collection on a set of fake set of stairs using concrete blocks and boards –  Boom! Instant display. I display about 20 pots of standard fuchsia’s this way, or a collection of begonias, and I have a friend who displays his agave collection this way. 15. Add portable solar lighting to each pot – the same sort used for walks. Shove one  in each plant, and let them shine.

Can't afford garden sculpture? Useful items can be artistic and interesting too, like this kettle bell, which serves two purposes - it reminds me that I need to work out on summer mornings, and it looks pretty cool with all of my steel and galvanized containers and grey plants.

16. Pots don’t need to be clay or plastic, be creative, try planting in odd and surprising containers - plastic canvas shopping bags, felt stitched bags or even giant, oversized tin cans from when you made that purchase of tomatoes at the big box store. 17. Feed, feed feed. Potted plants need lots of fertilizer in the summer, it’s hard to over-feed them, so don’t be afraid to add a time-released fertilizer to a pot – pass on the organic fertilizer as it requires many months in which to release, and winter will be here before you know it! 18. Take this display tip from professional designers and run with it. Repeat a pattern – white pot with lime coleus, black pot with red coleus, repeat, and repeat again. Symetry, geometry, texture - act like a designer. 19. Plant a lawn in a pot. Boutique hotels know style, why not steal a style tip from them – get an epic-sized contemporary container, ( like a 5 foot tall solar-lit one) and plant grass in it. Lawn grass – just trim it weekly, or plant quick growing oat or wheat grass seed sown thickly, for that fancy, manscaped Hollywood look – just trim it with scissors as needed. 20. Can't afford garden art? Add Sculpture that expresses you. If you’re a dude, try adding garden sculpture that fits your attitude - a vintage toy like a 1960’s Tonka pick up truck, or a pair of hip Kettle Bells among your succulents – you don’t need to hide your gear!

I have so many containers that I now have four areas were I group them together, which allows me to be flexible. If I don't like a grouping by mid summer, I can move everything around and rearange displays until it all looks right. With a greenhouse, it does make things a bit easier, as most plants are moved back in for the winter, and thus, become larger and more stately each year.

21. Plant a themed container, your inspiration can come from anywhere – like a cocktail (mohito or bloody mary  pot?) or your fav. Restaurant ( a Chipoltle windowbox with peppers, cilantro and black beans). 22. Flower Farm in a container. Flower farms are all the rage, but if you don’t happen to have a farm handy, why not plant a flower farm in containers? Try easy and fast annuals like cosmos and zinnias, or plant a box of bulbs just for cutting, like gladiolus. 23. Plant it and they will come. Have a big pot but don’t know what to plant? Try corn – Corn makes a spectacular statement, and when grown in a tomato box, one can even get ears to eat from 6 square feet!~ Google it and see. 24. Cant decide on a theme? Use a movie. groupings can really work well, try a movie theme  like ‘Under the Tuscan Sun, with a potted Olive tree, pots of lavender, rosemary and French Thyme. Or plant a vintage beer crate with a hops plant for your beau – just be sure to add lots of colorful mountain climbing rope for it to climb on – as long as 40 feet up the side of a house! 25. Vines in containers – with so many trellises and wire forms now available, there is no reason why one cannot plant morning glories, climbing nasturtiums, cardinal vine, or most any other creeper which can cover a wire form in just a month or two – just don’t be afraid to keep your morning gloried tidy with  a bi-weekly trim to keep them from taking over the family pets and children – no worries, it won’t hurt them!

My friend Jess uses a few of this tips with her Rhode Island garden. Her favorite? Arranging pots at different levels.

July 7, 2014


It's during these long days in Early July, just after the summer solstice, when many garden plants suddenly take off - and if one isn't prudent with staking and tieing, a plant with tender stems can quickly bend and snap in a gusty thunderstorm. I pride myself about my staking technique, a skill I was once horrible at, until one summer while working in high school at a private estate as a gardener - where the head gardener spent way too much time with me, teaching me the proper way to wrap a dahlia stem with soft twine ( around the stem, and then around the stake first, and then finishing off with a figure eight pattern - all loose enough to expand as the stem does, throughout the summer, but tight enough to hold the stalk steady). 

Shirley Poppies this year, focus on grey and white blends. I planted 'Angel', a pure white selection, and 'Pastel Shades', with loads of lilac-grey - a special color that is rare in the floral world.

Each plant requires a different technique, ranging from a delicate construction for the annual Shirley Poppies, whose wiry stems require a network of soft twine and bamboo, woven delicately through the fuzzy, thin and fleshy leaves, to the seemingly sturdy Dahlias that, with stems as fleshy and crisp as a stalk of celery, which can snap as easily as, well, a stalk of celery. Dahlias require strong stakes, 2 x 2 wood posts are best, or 1.5 inch bamboo will do the trick, and they are best if left at 6 feet tall, for in a few weeks, with the onset of hot and humid weather, a Dahlia will explode into growth, and will hide a 5-6 foot stake in no time.

Shirley Poppies, or annual Papaver rhoeas  will need staking, but individual stakes are both impractical and ugly, so I like to create a structure - fence-like, with bamboo canes, which I keep at full length, because I don't think that it looks all that bad. Sometimes, it's OK to see the structure, and with something like cut flower annual poppies, why not let the staking show proudly. I then weave twine in and out, creating a web that will hold the delicate stems.

Standard heirloom rose-flowered geraniums require strong, yet thin bamboo canes. I use raffia to tie the stems here, directly to the stake, which must be re-tied every few weeks to prevent scaring. This 19th Century method makes an ordinary geranium quite special.

Amaranth ( you know, the kind with long, red tassels known as 'Love Lies Bleeding' can be challenging to grow, with its insanely tiny seed, and utter hatred for any root disturbance, when raised well, it still will look like nothing other than a weed in the garden until hot weather arrives (around the fourth of July here). It's time to stake - but carefully, as these robust plants will form stems that can reach 2 inches in width.

'Titty Fruit' (um....yeah, that's what it's called - Google it) is an ornamental eggplant grown for it's golden yellow fruit, but the plant needs strong stakes. For now, I use thin bamboo canes, that will be hidden when the plant reaches its mature height of 30 inches.

I was delighted to see a Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) Spice Bush Swallowtail - Papilio troilus (thanks to a reader -Mike Huben -who corrected me!) The only problem? This is one of those species that just doesn't sit still for a photo, unlike it's relative the Yellow Swallowtail ( or Black Swallowtail, for that matter).  This one is visiting a Nepeta  subsessilis- I observed it only visiting this one species, yet none of the others nearby ( yet the hummingbirds prefer the N. siberica, and not this one). I wonder why? Surely, they know something that I don't.

With all of the lilies blooming, most of the Asiatics  like these don't require stakes, but the Chinese Trumpet lilies do.

July 1, 2014


This year, even the containers on the deck and around our outside sitting area are planted with blue and gold annuals. Sure, I mixed in a little apricot, and some plants leaning towards the orange tints, but it all works.

Color theme gardens really are not my thing - well, let me rephrase that, I love color, and I love gardens that respect color theory, but keeping a garden with a limited color palette feels or too restricting. But A few years back, I decided to design my perennial border - (actually, a circle with quadrants enclosed by boxwood) with a more refined palette - generally in the range of yellow and blue. Of course, in horticultural terms, 'blue' includes violet, and I stretch the yellow description to include bits of orange yellow, gold and apricot. Oh, and I'm not that perfect - later in the season there are all sorts of colors that appear.

June 30, 2014

Manboxes, Mangaves, Manfredas and that Angry Wood Pecker

I love odd color combinations, and our window boxes this summer show just how great a container can look when one gets a little creative with plant material. My rule? No green. "They're 'Man boxes' ", says my friend Jess calls them, planted in tones of tanned leather, olive drab and khaki - with just a touch of camo. Cigar anyone?

It's become a bit of a joke amongst my designer friends - how 'ugly' can I make a garden? Each year, a few of us challenge each other to see how odd a color combination can we create - since so much of what available today is just pink and blue. This year, I think I've nailed it - in what we've come to call my 'Man garden'. Window boxes planted in the tones of leather, camo, army green and olive drab. I think it's the reduced amount of green that helps these colors work. I tried adding salmon impatiens with what seemed to be the perfect shade of coral, but the foliage was just too green, so I removed them this week, and replaced them with some Begonia 'Firefly', which really complements the odd yet striking mix of earth tones.

But so much more is happening around the garden. Click below to see more:

June 21, 2014


Self-seeded biennials like Foxgloves (digitalis) continue to emerge in random locations around my garden - all tracking back to an original planting of seed-raised plants that I planted while in high school 30 years ago.

The very idea of a 'cottage garden' conjures up images of hollyhock framed borders, cockle shells and pretty maids-in-a-row, but the reality is often less-than pretty, edging on weedy, self-seeding messy beds of sturdy,  yet uninteresting perennials, often in colors that could trigger epileptic shock to an artist or designer who shrieks at the site of scolding orange poppies and inky violet lupins, along with the poison yellow of daylillies. Sturdy and long-lived is indeed how many North American gardeners define the perfect garden, but truth-be-told, there is little agreement as to what actually defines a true 'cottage garden', a term which disturbed the late Christopher Lloyd, even though he wrote 'the definitive book on the subject', as any Brit will tell us - cottage gardens can mostly be described as casually planted idealistic plantings often found in tourist calendars, cheap paintings on greeting cards and in fairy tales. 

Click below for more cottage garden inspiration:


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