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Discovering The Honeyberry

Small Fruits are making a tremendous comeback in popularity in recent years. Each year the demand for plants outstrips what is available for sale. Most of us are familiar enough with Raspberries and Blueberries, however, there are many others which aren't as well known and deserve a place in the garden. One of those which is not as well known is the Honeyberry or Haskup (Lonicera caerula)

Also know as the Blueberry of the Prairie, this wonderful plant produces fruit which is the size of an elongated blueberry and has a taste which resembles blueberries or for some people raspberries. The benefits of this plant continue with it being hardy to -55 degrees (Zone 2), as well as it being one of the first fruits of spring.  Early blooming varieties have been know to produce several weeks before strawberries. 

This non-invasive relative of honeysuckle is tough as nails and suitable for even the roughest locations. It grows to roughly 5 feet high and 7 feet wide and tolerates a wide range of soil conditions including clay soil  and aPh between 4.5 and 8.5. It's lifespan can last upwards of 50 years. In our northern climate it prefers full sun and ideally plants should be space 5-7 feet apart in rows. Make sure to mix varieties a bit for proper pollination to occur.

Honeyberries can be used in the garden and work well as a hedge. Their blue tinged foliage and yellow fall colors make them an attractive landscape plant. A layer of mulch 2-4 inches in depth will help the plants as they tend to be rather shallow rooted. They have few disease or insect problems, but should be netted when bearing fruit as birds will otherwise enjoy themselves.

Honeyberries are widely adapted, easy to grow, and have few pests. They are ideal plants for our Northern climate and will provide a tremendous harvest of fruit at the beginning of the season. We hope you try this exceptional plant.

From My Own Garden Today: The Espalier Apple

My love of gardening was greatly inspired by the gardens my grandparents had at their home in Ithaca. Both were enthusiastic gardeners. While my grandmother tended the flower borders, my grandfather's domain was the espaliered apple he meticulously maintained. It was his pride and joy. Espaliering is the long practiced art of training trees, shrubs, and woody vines against a flat surface, such as a wall. You can also train them to a freestanding fence or trellis. He was given the space on the backside of the garage - out of public view -my grandmother told me many years later with a wink.

What was originally the eyesore of the house became over the years its centerpiece. It was a great event when it came time to pick the enormous fruit which had been coddled throughout the summer. Picking time was carefully chosen to be able to maximize the enjoyment of seeing so many fruit on the tree for the longest amount of time, while still getting the perfectly ripe fruit. Baked apples became the only choice at breakfast for several weeks every fall.

The tree also became the backdrop of every family photo taken when weather permitted. As a child i recall the dread of being marched out for another photo in front of the apple. Recently i came across a group of photos which showed the growth and training of the tree over many years in the late 60s through the 70s when it filled in the space completely.

Espaliers are a fun way to explore having fruit when you have limited space or when you may need a focal point to a garden. Most any tree will work.

They don't always have to be fruit as well. Vita Sackville West spoke of the joy of training magnolias on the walls at Sissinghurst with the flowers appearing like doves on the branches.

Espaliers are a great way to let your imagination run free and see what you can create. We also have many further images and design ideas on our Pinterest Fruit Tree Board which you can find HERE.

Growing Great Plants: Holiday Rosemary Tree

We all adore the decorative rosemary trees we see at the big box and grocery store this time of year. Many of us receive them as gifts as well. Keeping them alive, however, seems to be elusive for many of us. I'm the first to admit that I've killed my fair share of indoor rosemaries throughout the years. There are a few tricks which will keep your plant alive indoors so that you can enjoy it outside again for the summer months. It took me quite a while and finally the late Alan Haskell- master of topiaries- gave me these hints to get them through the winter.

Rosemaries thrive in mediterranean climates. The trick to keeping them alive is to try and position them in a situation in your home which mimics this as closely as possible. 

(On a side note: This article applies equally as well to holiday lavender plants which look similar and prefer the same conditions indoors.)

1. They need as cool as possible temperature. They hate warm winter houses.  In my home i place them in the coolest room i have which stays around 55-60 degrees. Rosemaries can take exceptionally cold temperatures. Many people also claim that they prefer a light frost or two outside to begin the process of setting flower buds. As long as your room is above freezing your plants will do well.

2. They want as much sunshine as you can possibly give them. Ideally this means a southern exposure. If you're beginning to catch on that finding a southern exposure with cool temperatures is a little tough in most of our houses you are correct.

3. They need minimal water. Water sparingly only when the soil is dry. Overwatering is the number one cause of death from rotting of the roots. Rosemary are very drought tolerant and don't need much to keep them happy.

If you keep to these three tips, you'll see your rosemary plant not only survive the winter, but thrive once again as the days lengthen when it can be placed outside for the summer season. 

 

From My Own Garden Today: December 20, 2017

 

The dried flower heads of Hydrangea 'Annabelle' in the garden today

Hydrangea 'Annabelle' is certainly one of those classic plants that is spectacular when in bloom. Enormous white ball shaped flowers are about as dramatic as it gets. It's always a crowd pleaser. In the past few years, with the introduction of a huge number of new hydrangeas, I've noticed people shying away from it due to its somewhat lax habit of flopping when in bloom. However, at this time of the year, in my own garden, Annabelle takes an encore and becomes the star of the show for a second time in a season with its incredible dried flower heads. Here are a few thoughts on how to get the most out of this garden favorite.

Closeup of "Annabelle" in full splendor in summer

 

Closeup of dried flower heads of Hydrangea 'Annabelle'

'Annabelle' cascading onto the steps leading to my terrace during the summer.

The main axis of my garden in Ithaca, NY is a matching pair of 200' long shady perennial borders surrounding a 40' wide rectangular swath of turf. The borders are flanked by a double row of silver willows in the lawn which are clipped every few years. The borders, as a result, are in filtered light for most of the day.

Main axis with double shady herbaceous borders backed by 'Annabelle'

 From all my years of experimenting this is where Annabelle seems to thrive. Unlike many gardeners, I tend to appreciate her at her wildest. In the eight years since i moved 30 plants to this location, along the length of the borders, I have never once touched them. I just let them go. They have only thrived and have grown to the point where they need to be divided every 4-5 years.

 "Annabelle" Hydrangea now standing out after all herbaceous perennials have been cut back surrounding them.

The result is not only a show stopping display during the season, but also now as the dreary days of winter set in. The dried flower heads become the main attraction in the garden. I've always preferred to use this  plant on the woodland edge in a more naturalistic manner, than in a structured garden bed.

Used in a more naturalistic manner during the summer

By using her in this manner we can play to her strengths and reduce all of the maintenance normally associated with this plant. As a result, we no longer have to cut her back every summer to the ground. We also get a taller, sturdier plant with woodier stems which tops off at about 3'. This also helps alleviate the flop somewhat as the stems are now woody.

Used as a transition between the natural woodland beyond and herbaceous borders of the garden.

However, the best part is seeing the transformation the flower heads go through as they dry on the stem. Green, white, beige, and then finally a beautiful tan color. In the autumn and throughout he winter the hundreds of flower heads become the main attraction as the perennials in front melt away. Thats where i find myself in the garden today- enjoying the second act of Hydrangea 'Annabelle' on this beautiful winter day.

Why Rhododendrons Curl and Droop in Winter

Now that the cold temperatures have begun to set in, ineveitably we get customers who are concerned about the drooping and curling of the foliage of Rhododendrons which they purchased in the past year.

I thought I would take a moment and explain that this is nothing to be concerned about, but a normal practice of many broadleaf evergreens. Thermotropism is a technique plants use to protect themselves from cold winter winds which may cause drying out of the leaves. Much like a human may wrap their arms around themselves when chilled or when animals huddle together, this technique helps protect the inner most part of the leaf where most of the moisture loss occurs. The colder it is the more they droop and roll. At the onset of warmer temperatures they will begin to unfurl and regain their shape. 

 

An example of curled and drooping Rhododendron foliage during cold temperatures.


Moisture loss is the number one cause of winter injury in plants. It can occur in one of two ways. The first, as mentioned above, happens when a plant is subjected to cold drying winter winds. Ideally plants should not be planted in an exposed Northern position where they would take the full brunt of harsh winter winds. If they are, shrubs can be protected by wrapping them in burlap for the winter as an extra protection layer.  The second, which is less well known, happens frequently when broadleaf evergreens are planted in a sunny Southern exposure. In this situation, on sunny winter days the foliage may get exposed to constant sunshine and warm to such a degree that the moisture contained in the leaf transpires. However, the trouble comes when the plant cannot bring moisture up from the roots due to frozen ground. The result is a plant consisting of dead, dried out leaves. For both of these situations an anti-transpirant, such as the well known brand "Wilt-Pruf" is recommended. This is a simple water based polymer spray which is applied in the fall before the onset of cold which helps the plants retain moisture in the leaves by covering it with a thin translucent film which does not let the moisture escape. It wears off over the course of several months. I always suggest that all evergreens have an anti-transpirant applied their first winter. Since most plants will not have their roots established fully into the surrounding soil, this spray is a huge help in establishing the plant through this crucial time. If your evergreens are planted in either of the above situations, it should be used every year as protection.

An example of Rhododendron foliage during moderate winter weather.

However, be aware if your broadleaf evergreens droop, curl, or turn yellow in the warmer months of the growing season. In most cases this is indicative of poor drainage and exposure to excessive amounts of water around the roots. Plants in this case should be moved or provided a significantly well drained soil.

An example of healthy Rhododendron foliage during the warmer months.

Evergreens are the foundation of our garden plantings and can be the highlight of the garden in winter. By taking a few simple steps in their initial placement and ongoing care, they will provide you with years of enjoyment not only in the colder months, but in every season of the year.
 

Related Blog Post:

How and When to Prune Rhododendrons