May 17, 2017

Trade Secrets Shines, Even in the Rain

New England's most desirable ticket in the spring is Trade Secrets, a two day event and fundraiser that attracts hundreds of people looking to find rare and unusual plants, garden antiquities and artwork.

It doesn't matter - rain or shine, hot or cold, snow or mud - or all of that together, the East Coast's premier gardening event Trade Secrets draws the true plant geeks out from their home gardens to mingle with a veritable who's who of the plant, gardening, interior design and art world. Here, it all comes together for two days every mid-May and for a very good cause - to support the Women's Support Services in northwestern CT (and parts of southwestern Massachusetts and part of New York State. A critical cause which includes support help for single women, gay couples and domestic violence victims.

These planters were gorgeous.

The event draws everyone from Martha Stewart and Kevin Sharkey to garden writers like Tobah Martin with whom I hanged out with for most of the rainy, cold morning. Did I mention muddy? It's funny, but one can quickly identify who has attended Trade Secrets before - if they have, they come prepared - raincoats, umbrellas, and muck boots because one will need to park in a muddy field. If one donates more ($150.00) you can get in a few hours earlier, which is completely worth the cost (and the donation) for good plants go fast (Martha grabbed all of the podophyllun again before I could grab them!).

Vendors compete with each other as they decorate their tents.

This year I made it a point to get up at 5 am and drive from home early, but I got distracted and didn't leave until 6:30 which resulted in me getting my first speeding ticket on the Mass Pike in 15 years ($150). It's still worth it though, for not only is this a great event for buying plants and antiques for the garden, but for some of us, it's like a homecoming weekend - most every garden writer, garden editor, interior designer, top nursery owner and blogger is here, and for a few hours on the opening day on Saturday, one can see most of them - first for breakfast under the tent, and then during the big rush to shop before the gates open to the public at 10:00. 

Hard-to-find annuals from Bunker Farm which is located in Dummerston, VT. It's the 'Annies Annual's of the East! I am planning on driving up there next week to do more shopping.

It gets pretty serious, and cell phones are turned off, carts are grabbed and this crew of the elite and soon-to-be-elite in the gardening world begins -not unlike one of those 'grab-all-that-you-can-in-ten-minute- shopping sprees one used to see on old TV shows. If you can grab it, you can own it. Not easy in this crowd. but a bit easier for me, as even though I would have loved a $3000 vintage French copper tub, it ain't gonna end up in my truck. I limited myself to a few trays of rare and unusual annuals from my new favorite nursery The Bunker Farm, located in Vermont. They raise all sorts of hard-to-find annuals, as well as sell organic cuts of meat, maple syrup and other goods.

Bunny Williams (left) developed this event 17 years ago just by selling plants from her greenhouse, today it's held at Lion Rock Farm, a stunning farm with beautiful views of the Litchfield hills of northwestern CT. 

Like any outdoor event in the spring of New England, the weather can be unpredictable. Last year temperatures soared into the 90's, while this year temps were in the low 50's and it rained very hard for most of Saturday. Few cared however, as most are sturdy gardeners and were well clad with Wellies and muck boots.

Lion Rock Farm is the site for Trade Secrets, a lovely farm with beautiful grounds and barns.

The rain would come and go, but nothing stopped people from buying.

This iron dog, or Wolf  was on my wishlist - you know, that wish list that comes with a lottery ticket.

Every year I notice trends, two years ago it was expressed with iron foxes and English hunt props, last year it seemed to be rusty, iron horse heads. This year, it was the Fantail pigeon. I saw concrete ones, porcelain ones and cast iron pigeons. I think this one was terra cotta .

My first stop is always to potter Guy Wolff's tent. I parked close so that I could hand carry back pieces to my car. I bought another rhubarb forcer, a large flat pan like the one in the middle here, and a few 60 lb. pots in various historical periods, most he said were inspired by Ohio pottery in 1850. 

Campo Di Fiori also had pots and decorative items, as well as some very nice begonias. They are located near me in Sheffield MA and were also on the drive home, but I had filled my car. Just another excuse to drive to the Berkshires, I suppose! They are practically next door to where I buy my clay at Sheffield Pottery (and Guy does too!).

Check out this iron Great Dane! 

These golden squirrels spoke to me for some reason. I asked where the red and gold columns came from expecting some fantastic story about an Italian Merry Go Round, but they were just from inside of a factory and were painted that color.

Ashfield Tools always stop me when I see their tent. Hand forged steel by Ned James, a tinsmith and blacksmith in Ashfield Massachusetts and the birch and ash handles come from Maine. These are long-lasting and well made tools from another era.

Berkshire Orchids had perhaps the warmest spot, in the barn. Their selection was impressive with lots of interesting species and crosses not usually seen in local nurseries.

My first stop is always Guy Wolff, where I perform a quick run around to see if there is something that I should have him hold for me before it is snatched up, and then I run over to Broken Arrow Nursery, where I try to grab as many treasures as I can, sometimes getting Chris Koppel to show me something really rare -  Broken Arrow is our areas premiere nursery for unusual and well grown specimens of plants that are always hard-to-find elsewhere.

These matching urns were to die for. Do they have optional lids?
A nice copper horse weathervane, and Guy Wolff Pottery in the back.

Guy is a friend of the camera!

The rush continued, even as the public started to arrive a few hours later. This year, the rain kept the crowds down to a more reasonable level compared to last year, but that just meant that there were more, and better goods available throughout the day.

Beyond the scenes at Trade Secrets, one is given a number, and when you buy something, runners bring your items to this field, behind the barn. When you leave, you drive around the barn and the runners place your purchases into your vehicle.

May 15, 2017

Learning How to Bee Better with Helen Yoest and Bee Better

Helen Yoest poses in her charming greenhouse. We spent a morning together when I visited Raleigh NC a few weeks ago.

Three weeks ago while visiting the Raleigh North Carolina area I  had the chance to visit with my dear friend Helen Yoest - the woman behind BeeBetter™- a non-profit dedicated to educating people about how to make their gardens more welcoming to all pollinators as well as being more sustainable. Helen is a member of many plant societies and is an active member of the Raleigh (Piedmont chapter) of NARGS, the North American Rock Garden Society, who invited me to speak at the JC Raulston Arboretum for their annual lecture and auction.

Helen is also a talented stylist, her work has been seen in many leading national gardening magazines and websites. She seems to be in constant demand, but in her own garden, it wasn't hard to see her hand with decor and plant design. It made taking good photos easy.

I made sure to spend a full day with her while visiting the area, and looked forward for coffee and a tour of her garden for who doesn't enjoy seeing another plant person's garden? Driving to Helen's home my iPhone battery ran out so I had to 'wing it', which isn't hard once you are in the general vicinity of a gardeners neighborhood, right?

I should have known that I was in for a treat as soon as I pulled up. This sign on Helen's mail box told me that this was no ordinary garden.

It's always easy to find the real gardener on a street, especially in Helen's neighborhood where there were stately homes with tidy, well kept front lawns and clipped bushed trimmed into domes, cones and topiary. Along came a garden that looked - like a garden, complete with a 'water-wise' sign near the mail box, and no front lawn. Kind of like our front yard!

Helen found this fantastic fountain which added a bit of formality in her otherwise natural landscape. It worked so well, and helped integrate her formal, southern home into the neighborhood. Of course, the birds adore it as well as frogs.

Helen was out front weeding when I pulled up to the curb, and I was laughing because we gardeners are all a bit connected in life!. I thought that I knew much about Helen's gardening style, for if you know her from her active social media matter or website, you know that she is warm and funny, as well as smart about plants and gardening.

Bee and wasp nesting shelters often sold as  'bee condos' or nesting blocks are becoming more popular with informed gardeners. They attract many native pollinators which are often solitary when it comes to their private matters. Solitary pollinators don't build hives, make honey or swarm, and most don't even sting unless squashed.

What I didn't really realize however was how Helen has focused her horticultural training on pollinating plants - in fact, most everything in her garden is now somehow connected to her newest venture - Bee Better - a plant-centric project with a real mission. One that focuses on educating homeowners, home and land developers (I know, right?) and even community leaders about the importance of sustainable, organic and water-wise gardening.

The Bee Better website is beautiful and informative - if you live in the central Atlantic (or anywhere, really) do visit and check it out. The Bee Better Mission is to educate homeowners, community leader and developers about the importance of sustainable, organic and water-wise garden design.

An old-fashioned bee skep adds a  nice visual touch to the garden.

Bee Better and a non-profit lead by Helen that is based in Raleigh, NC with the simple mission to help people, gardeners experiences or beginners, or even just the curious on how to build better backyards (and yeah, front yards) for bees, butterflies and all pollinators. Helen's work focuses on ecoregion 231 - which includes the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, parts of Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Maryland - basically, the 'Sweet Tea' states (and what would sweet tea bee without honey?).

Helen's creative voice can be seen even on the chicken coop, where her 'girls' were busy laying fresh eggs.

I mustn't overlook the garden, which on this April day was in full spring bloom.

As an educational Foundation, the groups informs gardeners and all people via it's website, open gardens, workshops and lectures. If you are even slightly interested in learning more about Bee Better, you can contact Helen and the organization here. (I've even seen Bee Better tags on plants at a local nursery - surely, that increases sales as people who care are drawn to plant something bee-worthy.

Inside Helen's greenhouse were decorative elements, and a desk - I asked her if this was her dreamy writing shack too (it was!). I would kill to have a quite spot like that.

The back terrace was set casually yet every inch told me that a creative gardener lived here.

Viola's self seeded throughout the font garden which would have been a chemical-loaded lawn if 'normal neighbors' lived here. I asked Helen if her neighbors thought that she was crazy - she smiled. (of course they did!). 

This Nandinia domestic 'Filamentosa' caught my eye. I have to raise nandinia in pots, wintered over in the greenhouse, but here there were many plants that we not hardy for my New England garden, but were seen growing outdoors.

This Calycanthus raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine' was certainly in it's zone - named after the J.C. Raulston himself, and introduced by the JC Raulston Arboretum (just down the road), it was in full bloom in April. Ours won't bloom for another few weeks.

May 13, 2017

Primula, Parties and Prizes - The 2017 National Primrose Show Delights Many

We hosted two nights of cocktail parties and dinners for the American Primrose Society as they held their national primrose show last weekend at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

This past weekend Joe and I hosted our annual cocktail party for the American Primrose Society who held their National Primrose Show in association with the New England Primula Society near us at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Since 2001 this has become an annual event, well, party for us. I'm beginning to think that The New England Primrose Society is really just a name for many of our best friends - a group of plant people, be they experts, beginners, or just people who are curious about interesting plants. Many really don't even enter primroses in the show, but they come for the social aspect.

Every May around the 5th we usually host a welcoming party and garden tour (if you can call it that!) at the house. Not that we have a very interesting garden at all, and to be honest, I'm kind of embarrassed to have folks strolling through our messy garden, but the greenhouse usually still has some interesting plants in it, and there are a few choice plants here and there about the garden. The truth is that most of the people visiting have serious gardens, the sort that are on real garden tours, part of conservancies and even botanic gardens, but everyone is polite and cheery ( we prime them with lots of wine and food - and really, since I like to cook, the food is probably a good leveler that gets everyone chatting and comfortable. 

Susan Schnare's self sown Juliana hybrid  won Best in Show, and it happens to be a very growable species for New England Gardeners as well. It's un-named but because it won, she will be able to name it.

This year was extra special as the special guests flown out to speak were Jodie Mitchell and Lynn Lawson, proprietors of an infamous primrose nursery - Barnhaven Primroses, now located in France. If you have even wanted to get seed or plants of some of the finest primroses available, with a provenance - than Barnhaven is your source - yes, they ship to the US. I have to say this here - if you've ever had problems growing primroses, my seed-raised Primula polyanthus from Barnhaven are the most hardy and sturdy of my garden primroses. You can check out their site, here, or order their new book From Timber Press (see below).

We were so fortunate to have as our special guests, the proprietors of Barnhaven Primroses Jodie Mitchell and Lynne Lawson who flew out from France to speak about their new book and about their famous primrose nursery.

The Barnhaven name is so well known amongst primrose enthusiasts that it seems silly to mention it here except that others who are not primrose growers need to know some of these base-line secrets if they ever expect to achieve any success in raising these sometimes fussy (yet exceptionally hardy)plants.  Barnhaven is a name that originated in Oregon in a small but eventually very well known nursery that specialized in primroses ion the 1930'a - it's a long (and fascinating story) that you can read about here.

This new book on Primulas part of the Plant Lover's Guide series is available from Timber Press, it was written by Jodie Mitchell and Lynn Lawson of Barnhaven Primroses.

Have you struggled with primroses in your garden? Well, here's a tip - if you've lost interest with primroses - I ask you to give them a second chance, but promise me this -  forgot about silly names of strains long lost such as "Pacific Giants' or a nursery-purchased plant that you've seem to buy every year but then gave up growing.  Primroses may be a bit fussy, I agree, but not all of them are. I have to say that my longest lived primroses mostly came from other members divisions or seedings that I obtained but becoming a member of the primrose society.

I  learned very quickly after joining the American Primrose Society that they are in fact very easy plants to grow, but for some reason, they are never offered for sale at nurseries or garden centers. Probably because they dislike pots, wintering over in hoop houses or aren't in bloom when they need to be sold. A forced primrose is rarely a happy one that will want to return.

Primula is a big family, and there are all sorts to learn about, so you should first get a good book that simplifies the dozen or so broad typed (alpines, auriculas, garden types, those which like wet feet, etc). You can learn it. Believe be, I did.

Then, find out what species or strains would do well in your garden conditions. I imagine that there is a primrose just right for you. This is far too much work for a nursery to undertake, since they order plants from distributors and most plants need to have a broad application - the need to survive not being watered by staff, they need to be regionally hardy for a wide range of conditions, and no primula can do that.

Primroses which were once so popular seem to be finding a new audience with curious and more informed gardeners - I think that the future of primroses is bright, with more and more species and hybrids becoming available from a few on-line nurseries - seek them out, and try some of the fine spring garden plants which we rarely see at garden centers.

Member of the New England Primula Society enjoy cocktails and food in our new (and still unfinished kitchen, under construction).

If you visited a primrose society member, all they would need to so is to step out into their garden and dig up a division of one that they know would do well for you. That's it. Your only other option is to learn about primroses, what the most common varieties and species require, and then raise the right species or strain yourself.

My tip for rooms under construction? Pic big flowering branches to distract un-finished walls and use old desks as temporary counter tops.

This 'Chehalis Blue ' , a well-known old variety of Border Auricula was a popular winner on the show bench. It was raised by Dean Wiegert of Fredonia,Wisconson. Yes, he packed this up and brought it on a plane in a carry on!.

Don't depend on your nursery or garden center to do this. Most garden center primroses were raised in a distant location, probably wintered over in a hoop house with protection, and never saw a garden until you set them out.

Raise some seed from Jelitto or Barnhaven however in a flat, and then transplanted out late in summer, and next year you may have that primrose path you've dreamed about. And, it will return year after year. There really isn't another way when it comes to garden primroses like P. Veris, the Polyanthus types and other garden primula like P. denticulata. If you want the harder to grow auricula, then I have to be honest - they are much more difficult. Get a book and do your homework. Begin with the easier auricula like the border auricula or the alpine auricula, for they are a bit more forgiving (in a well, drained alpine bed, or an improvised alpine house). If you want show auricula or doubles, they are even more challenging, but very rewarding once you master them. Success is increased if you join a primrose society. You need help with these, and there are many who can provide secrets to their success.

Overall - success has more to do with what species or strains one obtains, and where one plants them than anything else. You can master their culture. If I can, you can. Don't give up on primroses, learn about the different species and garden types by reading - it can get confusing, but this new book from Timber Press will help, and then try the right ones that will survive in your garden.

And never- ever -  confuse Evening Primrose (oenothera) with the TRUE primroses (those organized within the genus primula)! Not the same thing.

Auricula's are always everyone favorite, and although few can raise them well, there are a few who have mastered their culture in the US.  This year wasn't the best of years for Auricula entries, but there were some nice ones like this Gold Centered Alpine Red seedling bred by Judith Sellers of New Berlin, NY. Most of the auricula's entered here were grown by Judith Sellers a talented alpine grower who keeps hundreds in her cellar windows in cold, unheated rooms which she designed in her 'round house' - such  unheated greenhouse 'rooms; work well for these traditional alpine house plants. 

A view of the prize table.

Primula kisoana, a nice garden primrose that can run (in a good way) was a surprise entry since we rarely see this species in bloom for this show. Grown and entered by Amy Olmsted of Vermont. It won first place in it's category.
An early blooming species, Primula denticulata was practically a no-show at this exhibit. A few did make the show bench though like this white P. denticulata entered by Debbie Wheeler for Massachusetts. It won Best Species and 3rd runner up for Best in Show.

Some garden forms like the species, a white Primula kisoana from Japan and China was a show stopper, this one because it had a green eye.

'Chocolate', a deep brown double auricula from England grown and raised by Judith Sellers.

If you haven't guess by now, double auriculas have the most incredible color palette. This citron colored one is named 'Forest Lemon', and exhibited with 5 plants together in one container. It won a big award - second runner up to best in show, raised by Judith Sellers of New York.

'Powder Puff', a double auricle grown by Judith Sellers.

This double auricula 'Ghiradelli 'is appropriately named for the chocolate manufacturer due to its brown color. Entered and grown by Judith Sellers. 
This blue border auricula won second place in border auriculas entered by Judith Sellers.

'Sapphire Blue' a double polyanthus won first place in it's category and a special novice award for a first time entry earning it's grower and exhibitor Dean Wiegert of Fredonia, Wisconsin a nice medal.

This Gold Laced Group primrose was grown and entered by Rodney Barker, Co-President of the New England Primrose Society. It is a very challenging plant to grow well.

Primula veris 'Sunset Shades' is a very easy primrose to grow, and a great beginners choice either from seed or established plants.

The Massachusetts Daffodil Society held their Daffodil Show again at Tower Hill Botanic Garden at the same time as our Primrose Show - always a popular pairing with the public (I mean, the line to get in was long, and the traffic was backed up for a quarter mile - and I don't think that it was because of primroses!). 

I was inspired by how the Daffodil Society exhibited their group classes, so I shoved a few of my daffodils into floral foam in my window display over the sink (really, it was because I ran out of time as guests were arriving for the Saturday night banquet which we also hosted this year.
Here is a view of the room where the Daffodil Society exhibited their classes. It was very popular with attendees at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.

On Saturday night, we hosted the Primrose Society again for a second night. this time a sit-down banquet since they could not get a restaurant together that could handle all of their needs (handicap access, food allergies, etc). I offered to cook a pasta bar with lots of selections and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves perhaps more, since with a few tables set (a bit more fancy this time) folks could talk and meet each other. People flew in from many states, and a home cooked meal allowed people to chat and enjoy the awards ceremony better.

Author Kris Fenderson (and horticulturist) ran the auction which included many rare and antique items that featured primroses on them.

I picked lots of white primroses from the garden and threw in lots of candles, ironed napkins and wine glasses to make the place feel a little more -restauranty.

Poor Joe. We could really use three dishwashers!
A nice gift from a member of the society was this pot of a rare Japanese primrose - Primula sieboldii, in a particularly strong selection.