Time for a Road Trip to Bart’s Cobble!


[Photos courtesy of the Trustees of the Reservation]

For those of you who might be traveling to New England to visit colleges in the near future, of if anyone has some time the next couple of weeks, it’s time to take a trip to Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield, Massachusetts–in the Berkshires, just a little bit over the Connecticut border.

There will be daily tours from April 15 through May 7. This area boasts one of the largest collection of spring ephemerals in the region.

I visited the area last summer in the middle of a drought. Obviously the spring ephemerals were long gone but I was still captivated by the place. You can see my post about the visit here.

A press release with more information about the spring wildflower festival can be found here. I definitely am going to try to get there myself. And I encourage anyone in the area–or nearby, or even visiting–to go. I know you won’t be sorry!

Let’s Talk About Plant Marketing

On Friday, I talked about some of the awards that are given to plants and Is aid that when you are at the garden center, it is not necessary, always, to seek out plants that have won awards to always get the best plants.

I also threw in an offhand comment about a marketing company that sells a line of plants called Proven Winners.™ And I left it there. So today I thought I would talk a little bit more about plant marketing or plant branding.

This isn’t something that a lot of folks think about but I promise you it drives the nursery growers and the garden centers nuts! Where once you went to the garden center and most plants came in little green pots, now they come in a bewildering array of “branded” pots.  Proven Winners™ is probably the best known and most nationally known brand out there but there are lots of others, some of which even pre-date them.

Remember the Flower Carpet™ rose? It too came in a branded pot–it was distinctly pale pink. It is still around, but it is not nearly so famous or well-known as Knock-Out,™ which, like other Star™ branded roses, comes in a pot that’s branded with its own distinct color. Knock-out’s is sort of an olive green. The Drift™ family of roses is white, with olive green lettering. See the branding going on?

David Austin™ roses come not only in a pot that is a distinct color (black) but that is a distinct shape (taller and square, supposedly to accommodate the tap roots).

Are you beginning to see why the growers and garden centers hate all this branding? And this is just the roses!

What does it mean for you–the buyer? Well, for one thing, it’s probably increased your cost a bit to have all these fancy pots.

Next, if you look at the tags on the plants you’re buying, almost all of these plants are now patented. They say “propagation prohibited.” What does that mean?

Technically, it means that you can’t take cuttings or in any way reproduce and grow more plants from the plant that you are buying. This is something that isn’t on anyone’s radar.

Are there plant police out there? Not that I am aware of. But if a garden club suddenly started selling a lot of a branded plant at a plant sale, without the rights to do so, technically, one of these plant companies that owns the rights to that plant could come in to enforce its rights.

I haven’t heard of it happening–but just be aware.

Wordless Wednesday–The Promise of Summer


I bought this plant in flower in February 2016. It was spectacular.

But as with any tropical plant– and my less than tropical-like home–I always wonder if I will be able to recreate the conditions it needs to re-bloom.

Happily in the case of this medinilla magnifica, I did manage to do something right. By summer,  this is what the flower should look like. 20160827_081202

Let’s hope this works!

Does Being a “Winner” Count for Anything?

After my temporary horror last week when I realized that I hadn’t done any plant shopping at all, I am now back on the theme of–you guessed it–plant shopping!

At the garden center or the box store or sometimes even at the supermarket you’ll see a lot of labels that say that such and such a plant or even a vegetable was a “winner.” There’s even a best selling brand of plants sold nationally called Proven Winners.™

You might see AAS winners, All America winners, Perennial Plant of the Year signs, signs for regional plant award winners like the Cary awards, the Plants of Merit award winners–you get the idea. But what on earth does any of that mean? Are any of these plants any better than plants that haven’t won anything?

Like a lot of things in life, the answer is yes, and no. If you’re looking at annual or vegetable plants, then I would definitely take these “award winning” designations with a huge grain of salt. You want to remember the purpose of the plant. An annual or a vegetable is a plant that is, for the most part, a plant that is designed to complete its growing in a single season.

So its “award winning” characteristics might be something like bigger flowers, bigger fruit or vegetable production, increased disease resistance, increased drought tolerance–you get the idea.

All of those sound like good things–and they are, of course. But if you live in a climate where drought isn’t necessarily a problem, a plant that’s bred to withstand it isn’t something that’s important to you.

And with vegetables, while disease resistance is important, some of our best heirlooms have almost none of that bred in–and they are some of the tastiest vegetables. So don’t automatically assume that these traits are things that you must have.

With perennials, trees and shrubs–things that are going to be around in the garden a bit longer, “award winning” can be more helpful. I do look for Cary award winners, for example, because they are specific to my region–New England.

The Perennial Plant of the Year is another good example. It is never a “new” plant. This year it is asclepias tuberosa–better known as Butterfly weed. I’ve probably been growing this plant for 20 years. It is a tough prairie native that has proven that it is non-invasive in all parts of the continental United States–and because it is a native milkweed that the monarchs need, we should all be planting it.

The PPA folks do their research and study up to be sure that when they name a plant that it won’t run amok in one part of the country once everyone plants it. So in that case, it really is a “winner.”

So when you go out plant buying–whenever you get to it–understand what these terms means.  And then go get some real “winners” for your garden.

Where are the Receipts?

It’s no secret that I keep a garden journal. I have kept one for 17 years now. I find it invaluable for all sorts of things.

I use it to tell me the weather (no, I really don’t see a warming–or cooling–or any other sort of trend at my particular site. But I won’t deny that overall climate change is definitely happening!), I use it to tell me when birds arrive and when they leave and I use it to tell me when plants bloom and when the leaves fall off the trees–things like that.

One thing that I have never used it for but it shocked me to realize this past weekend was that I have never started my plant buying this late in the season before. Well.

Over the last journal (so for the past 7 years) I have made a habit of stapling my garden center receipts into the journal. For one thing, they’re easier to refer back to. And for another, it’s easier for me to see what I bought when.

I can tell, for example, that right around the middle of January I always get “flower starved” and buy a phalaenopsis orchid–no matter how many I already have.

I can see what lectures I many have had when because of my receipts, even if I didn’t record the actual lectures in the journal–the plant receipts from the lectures are there.

And finally, I can see that I always start my tomato seeds in mid-April–after feeling as if this is the latest I have ever done it! So I need to get over feeling guilty about that!

But it was a total shock to see that I hadn’t bought any plants–or even been to a garden center–this entire month.

Obviously the cold, snowy, dreary month had something to do with that. And my lectures are a little bit later this year. But still–I have to get with the program and make up for lost time. Good thing the weekend is here!


Gardening Is Not About “Getting It Done”

The second half of my post on Friday talked about how you can’t just expect to plant a perennial garden in a Saturday afternoon and expect it to be “done.”

Back in the day when I worked in retail garden, there were three types of customers–the type that thoughtfully took their time, made a plan, and planted a garden. This type would be back often through the season to ask questions and to maybe add plants to the garden.

The second type was the “get it done” type. They never had enough time for anything–and it was always our fault for that. They would ask for all sorts of things, and then when we attempted to provide the requested services, they would say, “I can’t do this now. I have to go____” But at least they didn’t take calls on their cell phones while they were asking for things as my retail customers at the box stores did.

The third type was the type that could never make up their minds about anything. In the spring, it was the geraniums. They would agonize for hours–literally–over 6 geraniums, trying to choose the 6 that were exactly the same color out of thousands. Or trying to decide whether such and such a color would match their house color.

Once the mums came in in the fall, they were back, with the same agonizing choices. Or occasionally, it was over pansies.

I don’t tell you any of this to “shame” customers. I tell you this because “this” is not what gardening is about. And if you see yourself as the second or third type of customer, go home and find a new hobby.

Gardening is supposed to be relaxing. It is supposed to be a release of stress. Now granted, there are plenty of times, especially in the spring, when I get a little frustrated at all the things that have to get done in my garden and wish I had more time to do them. And that’s when I take a deep breath and tell myself that that isn’t what gardening is all about.

When the garden no longer is “fun,” or a source or relaxation or a source of peace, that’s when it’s time to find something else to do. It’s not something to rush through to get out onto the golf course. It’s not something to rush through so you can go to the beach. Why put yourself through that? Life is too short. Rip up the garden and just enjoy golf or the beach or whatever.

So if you don’t get an adrenaline rush at the garden center–or the box store–or even when you see that huge display of plants out in front of the supermarket–then maybe gardening isn’t your thing. We can’t all like the same thing, nor should we try.