March 12, 2014

Revisiting, Revising and Editing Those Lists

I need to audit my tomato collection. It's time to balance our how many heirlooms to grow, and how many hybrids. Am I the only one who thinks that the heirloom tomato is over-rated a bit? Just a tiny bit?

While there is still plenty of snow on the ground (at least here in the North Eastern US), I am taking some time to look through the many 'To-Do' lists, and 'Must Get' lists which I have made over the past year, as well as taking some time on a cold Saturday night to look through photos in iPhoto - I find this a great way to revisit plants that I want to order, or remind me about plants I want to remove or edit-out to the garden, and sometimes a better way to remind me about some plants not to continue growing at all.  Here is what I found.

Click below for more:

1. Audit That Heirloom Tomato list

I think that I really need to revisit my heirloom tomato variety list, as many are oh-so-pretty, but either tasteless ( yeah, some are….sorry), too small or just not productive enough. Don't get me wrong, I love their looks, all colorful and yummy looking, and indeed - many do have sensational flavor compared to some hybrids, but many have their faults.  I've found that I cant' depend on a garden populated by mere heirlooms alone. I need some good, healthy normal tomatoes too. Ones that I can put-up and can, some that I can process into sauce and salsa, and then plenty to eat fresh. So, it's time for a blend of both choice heirlooms and super strong hybrids.

This white flowered abutilon, or flowering maple  is still young, being trained as a standard, but there are plenty of plants that can still be added to my container collation for summer color.

 2. Revisit Summer Tubs and Specimen Plants

I think that you can tell from the many photos on my site, that I keep large pots of specimen plants everywhere, but often the case is, not all plants are deemed worthy enough for the title 'specimen' plant. Some, under-perform, and need either a development opportunity, or need to be terminated. More so, I feel that new blood is often in order, and each year I add new pots to the collection - - younger, more vigorous plants, mew varieties, hard-to-find species, or some that will grow into beautiful, old specimen plants ( sub tropical trees, South African bulbs,  tropical shrubs, the plant could fall into most any category), the only rule is that they must raise the bar on what I am growing right now.

Yesterday I spent most of the day dividing Agapanthus in the greenhouse ( I know, it's absolutely the wrong time of year to do this, but it's about the only time that worked for me - I may forfeit blooms in this coming year, but waiting another year until July didn't make much sense either.). I will admit that I am somewhat bored with the manyAgapanthus I have, yet when they bloom, they do add necessary color to the landscape in mid-July through mid-August, and as I am fortunate to be able to winter them over in a greenhouse, it is more than a luxury few in New England have, so I really shouldn't complain.

Agapanthus make spectacular tubbed plants for norrtern gardeners, but they quickly can become root bound, and then, bloom poorly. 

Then there are the wish list plants that I want to add ( like those acacia tree seeds I planted this week for example - obviously a longer-term plan for the greenhouse just in case I win the lottery.). This week, I've  also ordered a large collection of rosemary varieties ( at least 12), as I am curious to see the differences between them all, and the best way to do this, is to grow every one together, in sort-of what the British  gardeners call a 'trial', where they grow every named variety together in one garden, so that one can evaluate them effectively.

Even when not in bloom, Agapanthus in tubs provide texture which is also mobile in the garden.

On that note. I'm also considered more trials this year ( I won't do them all, but my trial list does keep evolving). How about adding a collection of potted exhibition Fuchsia's ( the upright forms), or scented geraniums ( pelargonium selections), but I still haven't made my mind up yet. They are all potted collections, and I do have the space and means, but perhaps not the time for them all. Ugh, Oh Martha, if I had your time, money and farm, what I could do! I would quite the MSLO and focus on what passions - if only, but bills need to be paid, and life can be a time-suck, and I have to admit, I'm not doing all that bad when it comes to doing what I love, I know I am fortunate as it is, even though I can only work in the garden a few hours each weekend.

This photo of a very dark-eyed daylily that I took at a local flower show, reminded me that I need to order it. This one is called 'Gillian', and it is only $12 at Champion Daylilies. Forget about Stella!

3. Order varieties of Daylilies and Siberian Iris that I saw this summer in other gardens and shows.

Color photos on websites and in catalogs are fine, but sometimes seeing a plant in person makes all the difference in the world. It happens to me all the time -- I see plants in other peoples garden or in private collections, and especially at botanical gardens and plant society flower shows, and I take note, usually with my camera, as i have it handy all the time, or I write it down. I try to take a photo of the name tag too, which helps me later ( like…in the middle of winter) when I am placing orders.

Last summer I spotted some must-have day lilies at the Massachsetts Daylily Society show, the some down facing lilies at the Lily Society show, and many Iris at the garden of Iris breeders Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer ( oh, there were SO many there that I wanted!).  Pop over to their site now to see what I mean at Joe Pye Weed's Garden. This is the ideal time to order may of these plants, I would have forgotten which ones I wanted if I didn't document them somehow (iPhoto).

For some ideas for great new Daylilies, check out the website for the American Hemerocallis Society. Join the society and get a great four color journal too with lots of ideas ( hey, it's the same journal plant buyers from the big Dutch growers look through, to see what varieties they want to micropropigate, field test and introduce ten years from now with a fancier brand name attached, but you can get ahead of the curve, by ordering a plant that you  like directly from the breeder. Often it is cheeper, and you can get plants that will never make it to market. Like a four foot tall pink daylily that branches, that could be over-looked by a buyer because it's too tall while in bud for nursery truck shelves.

A visit to a Daylily farm, especially if it is run by a daylily breeder, is one of the best placed to make selections for next years' garden.

Most of these varieties will take years before they reach the local garden center, as they will need to pass many tests that retail plants must face if they are ever to be carried in the mass market. More often than not, we, the gardener miss out on some of the finest plant material, simply because they are too tall ( I love tall), or they don't drop their blossoms, or they won't bloom while in a nursery container. I refuse to let that all stop me from owning a plant.

There are so many Siberian Iris varieties that I want to order from Jan and Marty, after my visit there this past summer, that I will need to spend sometime on their site now making a long list. These must be ordered now for spring planting, and believe me, you are NOT going to find colors like these, let along any Siberian Iris introduced in the past 20 years at a garden center. 

Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer took me through their breeding fields last summer, asking me questions like " what mustard color yellow Siberian Iris stands out to you?" I would say, "oh, this one is so incredible", and they would say, "Really? You don't think that it is too tall? How about one with a larger brown eye?" "Or one with more olive tones in it?"  Really - when there were SO many to choose from, it's difficult to make a decision. The only place to get all of these variations is directly from a plant breeder, as they may only grow a few plants to divide, before they move on to another generation. Each seed pod can produce a wide variety of progeny, all with similar characteristics, but sometimes, it just comes down to personal taste. Why let some buyer from McPlants, choose what pink iris they think you ( and about a million other people) would want ten years from now? When you can pick out exactly the one you want? 

Roscoea are in the ginger family, but the are hardy, and add a great structure to late summer plantings, as is seen here in this Toronto garden.

3. Roscoea - I gotta, gotta, gotta  get as many as I can.

I first saw the genus Roscoea at Kew Gardens a few years ago. They had a collection growing in pots, which intrigued me then, but for some reason, when I returned home, photos in catalogs never seemed to do them justice. Flash forward to this past September while visiting friends in Toronto, I saw these plants in a friends garden, and I instantly added them to my no long "don't forget to order nest year" list.

Roscoea are not easy to find, these hardy relatives of the Ginger, are said to be hardy to USDA zone 5b, mostly hardy in Zone 7, so they are worth a try in my zone 6/5b garden. Finding them is the challenge, it seems most need to be imported from the UK ( like from Paul Christian Rare Plants here). Still, I am on the hunt. The foliage is somewhat tropical looking, and they flowers, which often occur in late summer or autumn look like nothing else in the plant world. Apparently, they are great for stumping plant geeks too, which is what serious plant catalog plant descriptions always say when they really want to make something irresistible.

A red flowered Roscoea in September.

In the same Toronto garden as above, I saw clematis vines growing in mixed shrub and perennial borders, trained on cedar posts and rebar posts. I think I need to do this.
4. Clematis on a stick.

I've seen clematis grown like this in the UK, and again, in this garden in Toronto. I don't know about you, but I always have a problem finding the right plant to grow clematis. I'm not one to train them to my lamp post, and I don't want them growing on the greenhouse, or tumbling over every shrub ( the way they are supposed to grow, as they grow this way in nature). But training clematis vine to a sturdy 10 foot cedar post, which they will cover within a year, and then equally engulf in blossoms the following year, will allow me to make focal points in the border, and in mixed shrub plantings, where I may not want ever shrub covered in a clematis vine. Now, to narrow down my selections!

These watercolors from the V&A museum, London, Beatrix Potter collections, show some of her early watercolor studies, and the potted fuchsias. They remind me of the ones we used to raise at the Stoddard Estate, where I used to work as a teenager as a gardener. I want to revisit this classic way of raising fuchsias, as today, most people only think of the big, flouncy flowered forms in hanging baskets that rarely do well.

5.  Potted Fuchsia's  For that Beatrix Potter English look.

It's true, I am spending more time on the Fuchsia web sites than I should, like Earthworks, where they have hundreds of fuchsias. I refuse to buy steroided, growth-hormone drenched fuchsias that I see every spring sold at my local garden centers, I will just kill those within weeks, or when I forget to water them just once, but there are wonderful fuchsias, both for the serious collector and for the average home gardener who might want something different as a potted plant for the terrace in the summer.

I prefer upright forms, and yes, those with pendant flowers are a fav, but I will add others to my order. Trained as standards, fuchsias make elegant statement points, especially if planted in a nice, clay pot which you will need, as the can become top heavy. Tied to a bamboo cane, and allowed to reach a certain height, and then pinched out, a standard trained tree fuchsia can live for years, as long as you can provide a cool, dark room, like a cellar for their winter dormancy.

Down facing lilies look like lanterns in the garden, they provide a form that balances out spiky plants, airy plants and shrubby ones. Pendant blossoms can make a garden feel fairy tale like. 

6. Lilies by the dozen, or 'en masse' - I need to do this more.

When I say 'lilies' I personally prefer all of the down-facing types, as they are my favorite for some reason, as the up facing Asiatics feel un-natural to me, and the up facing trumpets feel practically alien. Tall, six foot of more, stems of fragrant trumpet lilies are artistic expression points in a garden, and four or five foot tall stems of down-facing Asiatics, makes a garden feel as if I just stepped into an old painting from a fairy tale, with the pendant blossoms looks a bit like little lanterns dangling from whorled branches. Both are as if Mother Nature had plans to, at some time in her future, provide illumination in the evening garden, and don't get me started on fragrance.

'Ariadne' is a noce down facing Asiatic lily, that looks great when planted in mixed border plantings in large numbers.
They also get better with each passing year, as the bulbs get larger.

And when I mean 'en masse" I mean - planted not individually, but in a group, perhaps a foot apart from each other, so when they bloom, they appear as if one plant, or colony has formed from a mother plant which may have dropped her seed pod. This is the proper way true lilies should be grown ( by 'true lilies' I mean lilies that essentially arise from a scaled bulb, not dayliies, which botanically are Hemerocallis species, a completely different genus). Lilies planted en masse, in a perennial border, or in a mixed shrub foundation planting, are incredibly effective, and captivating, far more than any hydrangea could be. Costly? Well, if you consider that you might pay $30 -$60 for a dozen, it can seem so, but then again,  that's what one would pay for a good ( or half-way good) shrub.  It's easy to justify the cost when one thinks of it in that way.

Joe and I at the New England lily Society Show, now be honest, what lilies would you want in your garden….the uprights in the foreground, or the pendant ones in the rear? Maybe it's just personal taste, but I like down-facing pendant forms best, in the garden.

My rule this year is to order at least 12 of one variety, or not order it at all. As with daylilies, a visit to your local lily society show would help you make up your mind. There was this colonial home up the street from us, built in 1766, and along it's east side it had a border or trumpet lilies. I still think of it. I go weak at the knees for lilies that tower taller than I am, and trumpets are the finest for this because they have blossoms that tip downwards. Planted outside our living room window where they can listen to the Batchelor drifting out through the screens on summery nights as June bugs buzz against the window screens - now, that's livin'.

Joseph Tychonievich with some of Dan Jaffe's trillium selections at the New England Wild Flower Society's Garden in the Woods, in Framingham, MA.

 7. Create more 'botanically important' plant collections

OK, a bit odd to add this to this post, since I have common fuchsias and begonias listed too, but at the same time, I feel that I should ( must) start some serious collections, or start a more in-depth breeding/propagation program. I did begin a collection of Podophyllum last year, which I will continue to grow, inspired by my friend Darrell Probst, but this June, after a visit from Joseph Tychonievich where we took a side trip to the New England Wild Flower Society's Garden in the Woods, nearby in Framingham, MA, where we saw the breeding/propagating/selection program of botanist Dan Jaffe, I was convinced that Trillium might be the perfect genus to dabble with, as our soil and woodland is similar to Garden in the Woods.

 8. Grow more veggies that I can't buy at the store

Yes, I grow all of the regular, stand-by summer veggies, but I also need to remind myself to raise things that I cannot find at the store, even at our fanciest Whole Foods. Sorrel perhaps, to make some of David Chang's Sorrel Pesto, or pea tendrils. I will decide at the last minute, as my list is long, but there is nothing like being able to pick ones own fresh amaranth leaves in June. Crops like this make a home veg garden special, if not extra special.


  1. Earthworks is great, isn't it! Also, do you happen to know the name of the beautiful yellow lily you pictured?

    1. Thanks Emily. I knew someone would ask about the name of that lily, it's rather rare and difficult to grow, or even to find. Lilium monadelphum is what I had for a label, but we are not certain now that this is what it is. I probably should have taken more time to find a photo in my files of 'Ariadne', which would perfectly visualize what I imagine. You can google it, and see what I mean.

    2. I know "Ariadne"--had a clump in my previous garden :-) But I love that yellow lily--I'll Google for some info and other pix. Thank you!

    3. If that's what the lily is, Fraser's Thimble Farms seems to be a good source. Most of the pictures show a more coarse lily with less spotting, though...

  2. I'm looking to try Roscoeas this summer, as well. Was that red one also growing in your friends' garden in Toronto? I just found out that Dan Hinkley has Roscoea purpurea 'Red Gurkha', a red-flowered cultivar, of which he brought a few for sale to Plant Nerd Night in Portland, OR last weekend. Unfortunately for me, I am not moving back to the northwest until April. I emailed him asking if he'd be offering them at any other events, but he hasn't responded yet. You might try contacting him also. I interned at Garden in the Woods the summer of 2012. Dan Jaffe is a major plant nerd, so we got along quite well. I hadn't heard of Earthworks. Just what I needed, another website to drool over plants! (I've been looking at fuchsias recently, too.)

    1. I am so jealous that you live in the Portland area! My brother lives there, but not a gardener. Sometimes ( many times) I really wonder why I don't live there!

  3. Anonymous8:56 AM

    My organic seed-starting farm stand mixed up their labels last summer, and instead of my usual Roma plum tomatoes I planted a striped heirloom variety - absolutely stunning to look at and almost completely lacking in flavor. Now when I thaw a container to make sauce I add a can of mass-produced tomatoes in order to have enough taste to identify what I am eating.

    1. I know, some heirloom varieties are so tasty, others, not so much.

  4. Anonymous12:22 PM

    x2 on the beauty of that yellow lily. Really magical.
    I love your list but it exhausts me!
    I know what you mean about ordering in multiples - I tried really hard to get at least 10 of everything this year though the cost adds up fast when there are so many things I want to try.
    I did try some white Roscoea last summer but was kind of disappointed by the size and shape of the flower - small, kinda droopy and just not that pretty. They were from one of the main mail order bulb places...B&B, M&Z, something like that. The ones in your pictures are much bigger and more dramatic.

    1. I have no idea how the roscoea will fare in my garden, but we'll see. I did have seedlings from a collection that Chris Chadwell made, but they failed…..I have hopes though, for more mature plants, and I may just grow them in pots, that I can winter over in the greenhouse.

  5. john in Cranston6:22 PM

    I may have just now figured the best place for me and some clematis- on a pole. THANKS!

    Have you ever been to Tranquil Lake Nursery in Rehoboth? Acres of day lillies being bred, dug for you on the spot.
    I have never been to Joe Pye, so I can't compare, but it's a pretty great place in it's own right.

    1. John, I can't believe that I have not been to Tranquil Lake, but I am very familiar with them I my good friends' husband prints their catalog, and I work in Rhode Island, so everyone keeps reminding me! I did forget that they too have many siberian iris. Joe Pye Weed only sells via mail order, so one can't visit there without an invite, but your comment had refreshed my memory to visit Tranquil Lake!

  6. If you want to visit daylily sales gardens, I keep a map with 30 or 40:

    New England Daylily Sales Gardens

    My favorite is the first on the list:
    Harmon Hill Farm
    49 Ledge Rd., Hudson, NH 03051
    Carl & Marlene Harmon
    (603) 880-6228

    Not just because they sell the daylilies I hybridize, but because they sell about 2000 other varieties as well. All in just 2 acres. Great people selling really good plants: and that's normal in daylily sales gardens. The peak season begins in July and goes until mid August: you may need several visits to see everything blooming.

    1. Oh, Mike, I was hoping that you would comment. I PROMISE that I will vista Harmon Hill this summer, you keep telling me about it, and I know it will deliver! Thanks for sharing!

  7. This post made me drool...I want all the plants mentioned

  8. I love the idea of posting a to-do list like you have because it just captures the real enthusiasm we gardeners have when we're ready to plant. I am with you on heirlooms (everything in moderation) and especially on the Roscoae, which I have only seen in British books thus far. Let me know when you find some!

    1. Thanks, Steve. I would think that you could grow amazing Roscoea in Florida!

  9. Svetla11:09 AM

    Finally, some sense when it comes to choosing tomatoes! I am tired of fellow gardeners boasting about growing ONLY heirlooms. I like heirlooms, especially the purple ones, but I always plant Supersteak and 4th of July. Can you, please, post your hybrid choices?

    1. I know, Svetla. I almost hated admitting that some heirloom tomatoes are just unexciting. I will share my list for hybrids soon -- what a great idea!


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