September 11, 2015


Fritillaria palidiflora in a Michigan garden, from last years' NARGS garden tours - I must order more right now!

I am certain that your mail box (both the digital one as well as the physical one) is full of Dutch Bulb catalogs. I've been growing bulbs now for about forty years, and over that time, I've noticed some things which have changed, and which have not changed. What has changed of course is how aggressive or desperate bulb companies seem to be - with catalogs appearing earlier and earlier - even in June just after the spring bulb season is over.

Winter will come, believe me - don't regret not ordering any bulbs this year! Be sure to place your orders early enough so that you can get what you want.

I can justify why and how I order bulbs so many ways, and I am certain that some of my reasons won't even make sense to many of you, as they are personal to the way I garden. I usually factor in rarity, the desire to try a variety or species I have never grown before (Dutch Iris for the greenhouse this year)- so something new has to make my list, then I add something super early blooming to add cheer to February or March (small rarer crocus species), unusual or rare greenhouse bulbs always make my lists as do nostalgic bulbs which I either remember as a child, or which I have neglected for a few decades (poeticus narcissus for example).

I am going to share my strategies for ordering autumn bulbs in this post, but please share with me any of your questions, either here in the comments section, or on my Facebook Page. I'll answer all of them- really!

1Order the fall blooming bulbs ASAP - colchicum, autumn crocus and the bulbs which are precious and sell out fast such as rarer fritillary species

2. Quantities of desirable bulbs are next - Move onto the high quantity, early sell out varieties and species such as Camassia, the larger Fritillaria  which tend to sell out early as well, but which are also often difficult to find in large quantities in mid-season.

I adore miniature narcissus, but they are so expensive and hard to find. I usually just get a couple of new bulbs every year, but rarely have any to enter into a competition such as this collection entered at a local daffodil show.

3. Be The Early Bird, or loose - Search catalogs for anything that says 'new', and order that.  It's not hard, since most catalogs look the same year after year - that it, until you spot that amazing tiny dwarf narcissus that hasn't been listed in decades, and then when you decide that the cost is worth it, it's gone - just saying'). The early bird my friend, be the early bird.

Camassia are all the rage today, and it's no surprise to me why this North American native is quickly becoming so popular in naturalized plantings, such as this bed in front of our house.

4. Trendy bulbs will sell out first - Deciding what to order first or what to wait on is not really like gambling at all. It's pretty clear what will sell out fast.  My tiering strategies can change with a popular Pinterest image showing a field of bulbs used by Piet Oudolf, and I know that. Like many things, selection is often dictated by fashion and desirability. if you want new purple or black  tulips, parrot tulips, dwarf narcissus, yellow velthiemia, and anything with the words 'snow' and 'drops' in it --- plan on it selling out fast. The same goes for trendy naturalizing bulbs like Camassia, the smaller Fritillaria which aren't Royal Crown's or the common snake head lilies ( as it's the small  and tall species which sell out fast), and of course - anything that says "limited quanities' -- these are all desirable,  and must be ordered now or you may loose out.

It's all about timing when it comes to forcing bulbs, many require 16 weeks for proper vernalization such as these muscari which I forced this past winter.

5. Forcing bulbs? order them soon - I force many bulbs, and since most require at least 12-16 weeks of cooling, the earlier one can pot them them better (except for tulips, which should be potted neither too early nor too late, mid Oct. is perfect.). I also like to order paperwhites and amaryllis early. paperwhites are a great value if ordered in volume - a crate price can reduce the bulb price by half, and it's such a luxury to have piles of them to play with, or to gift with.

I always see rare or new varieties of bulbs such as this green-centered narcissus on display at the Seven States Daffodil Show earlier this year, it's not that common so I might order this 'Mesa Verde' from a specialist grower (it's $75 BTW), but an all yellow generic "King Alfred"type may be something I would wait for a sale on.

6. Meh or common bulbs can wait until later -  Yellow daffs, or red or yellow tulips? Wait for sales unless you want the better, newer varieties. I may bash those big-box stores, but I am not below buying bags of yellow daffodils for $6 or Dutch crocus late in the season for a buck. I buy a few as filler bulbs throughout the season, but I also take advantage of mark downs after Halloween, if our soil is not yet frozen. Closeout sales are fine for most narcissus and crocus, but be careful with the late planted tulips or Fritillaria  since their internal flower buds may abort if stored improperly (indoors) or if planted too late in the season. I've planted species crocus as late as January in soft, melted spots in the garden - the bulbs were practically free.

At my friend Mike Fusaro's house in nearby Conneticutt, naturalized crocus bloom in quantities one could never imagine affordable, but buying them on sale or wholesale will help.

7. Take advantage of late season sales on-line from good sources as well. Many times, narcissus or crocus go on sale late in the season, and good values can often be had.

My amaryllis collection from last winter, which happened to be a snowy one here in New England, were find enough, even though I bought them at a local garden center. I could tell that they had ordered large bulbs, so I passed on  ordering them on-line for one year.

8. Sales are great, but you also get what you pay for - bulbs are sold by size or grades, and bulb growing is a big business in the Netherlands, which is where 99% of your garden bulbs come from. The most premium or largest bulbs will have more vigor and generally more flower buds, so that $38 amaryllis bulb from White Flower Farm is premium and may produce 3 stems extending your season throughout the winter, vs that $12 bulb from the nursery. It's your choice, but with narcissus, tulips and narcissus - price often means a larger bulb.

9.Consider long-lived bulbs an investment, so build your portfolio for growth - much like your 401K, some bulbs perform better over time - the afore mentioned Camassia for instance only gets better, forming clumps which can be divided over time. The same goes for daffodils and narcissus, and many of the smaller bulbs such as snowdrops, scillas and chinodoxa which can reseed. You may see a pattern here - cost, since many of the longer lasting bulbs cost more. I have clumps of snowdrops around the garden that I planted in high school nearly 40 years ago, so even though I may cringe at the $20 cost for a rare selection, I know that it will divide and seed for me, which often helps me (or not) justify the cost vs the same price for a gorgeous dark amaryllis that will die in a year.

If you've skipped growing this beauty - Corydalis solida, it's time to try it. I can't get enough of them, and yes, it's a bulb plant - unlike other corydalis. Look for varieties in Dutch catalogs, or if you really want to splurge - order some from Odyssey Bulbs or if you are adventurous-  from Ruksans in Latvia who has more than 30 varieties! (but you'll have to wait a year. Still, check out his collection of another must-have which he carries in far-too many selections - Anemone ranunculoides, oh my.).

10. Don't forget your soul - splurge a little, or try something new which you have never grown- long term growth is fine, but a spectacle and wowness is also worth something, right? Don't be too conservative. It's OK to splurge a little on some tall, magnificent lily tulips that will be yanked after one year - remember, these are flowers - try to think of that first, sunny day in February or March when you spot that golden crocus  and it blooms through the snow - what is that worth to you? Or that brilliant, blue-skied day in mid May when those orange, carmine and fuchsia colored tulips bloom en-masse making your heart swoon and the traffic stop in front of your house - sometimes, the experience alone is worth most any cost. After all, isn't that why we garden?

September 10, 2015



It's true. I have what I am calling "too-late-blight" -- "too late" because it's too late for me to do anything about it, and honestly, it's mny own fault.  Many are suffering from an outbreak of Late Blight, or Phytophthora infestans again this year, and although the outbreak is not as widespread or early as the devastating outbreak of 2008, this one still had caught many gardeners by surprise.

I blame myself for this outbreak however, for as I've admitted many times before - generally speaking, I am a lazy gardener (well, aside from all of those other crazy garden projects such as chrysanthemums which might be getting more of my attention).

The season started out fine, with healthy plants and a terrific fruit set - but notice the lack of mulch. In many ways, I was just asking for trouble.

And so, my tomatoes hath suffered that trilogy of solanumatious plagues - thy early blight, thy leaf spot and now a devastating outbreak of thy late blight - and all of the strains, apparently). I've learned my lesson - even if an outbreak seems unavoidable, I should at least take precautions - if only to extend the season a few more weeks. Some plastic mulch and more resistant varieties might have helped, as well as some organic fungicide and iron.

A plate of tomatoes from our garden in late July. We entertained many with plates like this - at least until mid August when vines started to loose their foliage. That said, even without leaves, there are still tomatoes ripening on the vines, they just aren't nearly as pretty.

I did do a few things right, such as trellising my plants up high, spacing them properly apart, both in rows and in the bed, but it's what I didn't do which has gotten me in trouble. Like most any guy, I can rationalize away most anything I did or didn't do, but the truth is that when it comes to Mother Nature, there are just some things which one cannot deny. She always seems to win out. In my case? My tomato bed is embarrassingly sad - (i.e. "dead"). Not a complete failure, as I did seem to harvest many tomatoes, but the plants are a sad, sad example of what any tomato bed should never look like.

By the ends of July when this image was taken, the signs of Phytophthora infestans began emerging.

I know that I am not alone. Many gardeners in the Northeast as well as in spots around the country are experiencing outbreaks of Phytophthora infestans (according to the maps on the website usablight.org, which doesn't yet show an outbreak where I live, but once I mail in my leaves, it will change). My friend and fellow garden blogger Margaret Roach over on awaytogarden.com has a terrific post and podcast about this very subject (and a link to an interesting new app -- which maybe I should invest in for next year), you really all should go check it out.

For a few weeks, I did have an abundance of tomatoes - we still have some, but them all seems to ripen at the same time.

I should confess that I did take some big risks this year with my tomato crop. First I tried some new varieties which were intended for greenhouse culture and not for outdoor use. I am not certain, but this may mean that they were more susceptible to disease (need to check on this - so if anyone knows, please advise), but most failed before the end of July, even though I had an impressive harvest of early fruit. By early August, most of my plants were infected to a point where even the removal of affected leaves became too much to keep up with. All hope was lost. At least, I still had a good fruit set, and far too many tomatoes coming into the kitchen - a problem every home gardener should be dealing with in August. The only problem was, I knew that by early September, I would have no tomatoes at all.

Not all was lost, these newly introduced  'hybrid heirloom' type of tomatoes - this one is called 'Marglobe' which might seem a bit pricey at $20 per packet of 10 seeds, but just look at the crop of nearly 1 lb fruits. Similar to striped german types of heirlooms, this variety was bred for greenhouse culture, but I grew plants outdoors.

My list of tomato sins is long, no mulch at all ( really - none), no organic or even inorganic fungicide use, no crop rotation practiced, since I had decided to destroy some raised beds, I simply spread around old soil from some raised containers on top of existing tomato soil, (I even had some self-seeded tomatoes from last season emerge, a very bad sign) and finally - no uprooting and burning of plants once I saw the tell-tale signs of an outbreak.

This new variety, an orange tomato which is the same size and color of a mandarin orange, is  appropriately called Clementine. I still have trays and trays of them. Yummy.

I offer in my defense that I did add granular fertilizer this year, along with compost to the 'infected soil', as well as iron and lime, so hey---- never had blossom end rot!  I also watered my plants well enough. In the end, there was probably not much I could have done to avoid an outbreak, and truth be told, it wasn't as bad as the one from 2009, so I probably should not complain. We still had a rather epic year, albeit early, as my tomato pictures illustrate.   Who cares if I didn't have a single green leaf? And as for my neighbors, I don't think that there is a single vegetable gardener within 3 miles of my house so hopefully, I have not spread my spores too far.

Next year…

We've had more butterflies than any other year in our garden this year - probably due to the many pollinator plants I planted this year -- but this beauty is not one which would typically visit flowers - the Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis anthems) prefers fresh barn yard dung, and mud puddles. This one was enjoying a muddy patch under a large hosta.

September 3, 2015


Many of the recipes are approachable and easy, of a younger generation than one typically finds in New England cookbooks which can be overly puritan and laden with cranberries, winter squash and rhubarb. This targets the taco-generation with a more youthful approach.

Way back in July, Joe and I attended the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival near Burlington, VT. It was such a hot and humid day, even under the tents, that we decided to avoid the crowds and move onto some of the barn on the estate to cool off. The barns also had various vendors of New England treats and products, but one stood out to us - Jessica Robinson's table with home canning, home-made whoopee pies and her new cookbook - New England Farmgirl.

The author, Jessica Robinson showing off how to stay cool, with home made preserves and pickles.

Jessica was so warm and welcoming, which I could only imagine was difficult with hundreds of people and temperatures that were getting close to 100 degrees indoors. Maybe the heat was just getting to her and her husband, since they were so funny and friendly - but we quickly became friends. She gave me one of her books and this insane peanut butter whoopee pie with cream cheese peanut butter frosting (yum), and as Joe hates chocolate and peanut butter ( I know, right?), I had the rich, chocolate and creamy, salty and sweet delight all to myself.(as if I needed it, but I was on vacation so I rationalized away - beside, it was a cheese festival - hello?).

Now, two months later, with cooler weather arriving in New England, I am starting to bake some treats from this great book. I read the book for about a week, marveling at the photos which Jessica took herself, and at many of the similarities between her grandmother, and my mother (they are of the same generation, clearly). Her French Canadian roots show strong in the recipes which include much more than just sweet treats and baked goods (I can't wait to make the French Canadian meat pies).

Most of the recipes are simple, and not purely New England, by any means (but I am one of those folks who fall into the Whoopee-Pies-Come-from-New-England camp, even though my family never made them, not did my mother, although she was a serious baker. You will find these recipes more approachable than most New England cook books.

I had to make the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Whoopie Pies. I mean, I HAD to test them.

Sure, there is clam chowder and baked beans, but no Indian Pudding, there are hermits but no gingerbread. In many ways, this is a very personal book - actual recipes that Jessica either grew up with, remembered from her grandmother or mother, or one which she herself has invented or introduced into the mix for her own, new family. The book is clearly authentic, and offers a more modern take on what a farm-raised girl from the 80's would cook.

It's clear that Jessica was raised on a sugar bush (a maple syrup farm), which is in Connecticut, as most recipes seem to include maple syrup in place of sugar. A nice idea, but probably impractical for most young cooks, who might find that dishing out 1 or 2 cups of maple syrup per recipe is just too much of an extravagance. I would imagine that one could substitute sugar or another sugar syrup - check out this site and note if your recipe is for baked goods or not, as it makes a difference, and is rarely a 1 for 1. Aside from this note, I find no faults with this book. It is designed beautifully, very high quality printing and nice, heavy cover. Plus, Jess is just such a nice person that you HAVE to get this book and add it to your collection -

note: This is a personal review, and the publisher nor publicist has contacted me or paid me (but I did ask Jessica if I could review her book, and she provided a copy for me for free - but I did get a free whoopee pie too, so I might just be on a sugar high).