Enkianthus-A Shrub to Know and Grow

Enkianthus campanulatus ‘Showy Lanterns’, the red vein enkianthus has always captured my interest with its striking hanging bell-like flowers. In the springtime, this shrub is covered with a profusion of pink-red flowers that cluster thickly along the branches. The  Royal Horticultural Society awarded its Award of Garden Merit to the red vein enkianthus. The cultivar ‘Showy Lanterns’ is my favorite.

‘Showy Lantern’ is a compact, slow-growing selection made some years ago by Ed Mezitt of Weston Nursery in MA. Growing to 5′ tall and 3′ wide, this slow-growing shrub bears heavy clusters of dark pink bell-shaped flowers which give off a soft fragrance in mid-May. Sized for a smaller garden, this shrub rarely has any disease or pest problems and should be more widely planted.

Fall color is shades of orange and gold which can set your garden aglow for weeks.  Enkianthus are deer resistant and prefers a slightly acidic soil, but has proven tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. This plant rewards the patient gardener with all season interest with beautiful spring flowers and fall interest. Native to Japan, Enkianthus is hardy in zones 5 to 7 and prefers full sun or partial shade.

I call it the ‘ugly duckling’ shrub as it can be pretty homely when you first plant it out, but within a couple of years transforms into a beautiful shrub. Because it can be gangly looking at the nursery, people don’t pick them up. But a deer resistant, shade tolerant small shrub that displays clusters of beautiful flowers deserves a place in everyone’s garden.



Take Four-Springtime Miniature Gardens

Growing a tiny garden on your desk at work or on your windowsill is the perfect project to start spring. Creating a miniature scene combining small plants, miniature furniture, tools, moss, and colorful pebbles combines crafting with gardening. Shopping at a big box store or local nursery for tiny terrarium plants instead of taking on a big outdoor project that costs a lot of money is my idea of a quick spring project to lift your spirits.

Tiny packets of seed and a trowel are ready to use in the garden

Miniature Garden

A garden designer by trade, I normally design life-size, but also love to design gardens in miniature- especially in the winter when I am housebound. There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying.  Garden features that I have only dreamed about having – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, and arbors – are so easy to create in miniature and a fraction of the cost.

Nurseries and plant centers are catering to this gardening trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and miniatures, even in the dead of winter.

Using the same container and plants, but changing the accessories


I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A wide shallow wide container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa or Shapecrete.  See my chapter on making shallow heart shaped containers for succulents. If that is too much trouble, then use shallow ceramic or wooden containers with drainage holes. But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.

Pathways always outline the space; I used a sprig of kiwi vine on the right

Planting DIY

  • After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting medium
  • Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in an interesting design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses and different colors to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.
  • Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternanthera, small grasses, creeping thymes, sedums, sempervivums, mosses, silver falls, trailing rosemary, wire vine, mini liriope, and miniature alpines, like armeria. The plants will eventually outgrow your garden, so you need to refresh and edit the garden periodically. If my thyme or ajuga gets out of hand, I dig it up, separate and use the extras to make a new garden.After planting your selections, I take moistened sheet moss and press it in between the plants to cover the soil. This covering gives you a base to place your stepping stones and other accessories. It also prevents the soil from coming loose and overflowing the container when you water. After creating a pathway, I like to scatter coarse aquarium gravel around the stones to give them definition. As a last flourish, scatter small bits of beach glass or ‘mermaid tears’ to make the path stand out.
  • Here is the fun part! I am always on the lookout on my travels for small pieces to use in my gardens and you can find them in the most unexpected places. Christmas decorations are a surprising source and I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans as ornaments.
  • Don’t worry that the piece will not be the exact scale for your garden –  no one is measuring! Just make sure that you don’t clutter the garden up too much, so use only three or four minis. I love using miniature wheel barrows with a tiny terra cotta pot or a bird house on a stake. Small resin animals, twig arbors, fences, miniature benches or chairs add to the charm. These make a perfect gift for someone who is housebound and cannot garden outdoors.
A resin house is the focal point of this garden


Use a mister to water your garden every 4 to 5 days, and more if the container is in the sun.  Use small trimmers to keep everything pruned to scale. As the plants grow, you will need to transplant them to another container and replace with a new miniature plant.  The gravel or crushed shells will need to be refreshed periodically.  I have been successful with keeping my gardens both indoors and outdoors.  Usually, I place my gardens in partial sun outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors for the winter, keeping it on a windowsill with bright light

Same plants, different accessories





Containers With Pizzazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Shade Container
Shade Container

Container Finesse

Updated May 2018

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact. For pollinator containers, go to Nectar in a Pot- Movable Feast 

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color
Container with a variety of plants for all summer color-Canna, trailing zinnia, trailing petunia, sweet potato vine, coleus, verbena, and salvia

Take pictures of creations that you like and copy them, but add your own personal touches to make it your own. Once you have done enough containers, the combinations are second nature, starting with just one really wonderful plant and working from there.

Succulents- you can go on vacation and leave these without worrying!

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was a secret to coordinating your colors in an arrangement.  Choose a piece of fabric or piece of art that you really like, and take it with you when you plant shop.  Of course, you can’t take a painting with you, so grab refrigerator magnets with famous paintings on them from museums, cut a swatch from fabric, or cut out paintings from magazines.  Inspired by a Van Gogh, my most successful container used the colors from his iris painting. Van Gogh’s painting has that intense blue which so many people adore – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

I have plenty of room to plant in my beds but I really enjoy planting in containers because they become a piece of art in miniature. This is my opportunity to try new annuals that are untested by me,  and go wild with the color combos.  Bold, vibrant,  and sizzling color, is the driving force for many of my combinations. To browse the new Pantone colors for 2018, check out Pantone. 2018 Ultra Violet. That inspired me to create containers with intense purples. I love the new AAS Winner Purple Evening Scentsation. It has wonderful color and an even great fragrance! I can smell this one from 20′ away!

Purple Scentsation Petunia, from AAS

Coral Bells waiting in my cold frame

Coral Bells are usually my starting point for color inspiration as they come in some unusual colors not normally seen in the plant world.

A variety of Heucheras
A variety of Heucheras or Coral Bells
Painter palette of colors
Painter palette of colors

I find that there are too many containers with pastel and hum drum hues, and that I rather create a bold and striking container.

Bold container
Bold container


Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season

Portable and colorful, this single plant of Croton can be moved to accent anywhere in the garden
Portable and colorful, this single plant of Croton can be moved to accent anywhere in the garden

I rarely keep my flowers in the pot all season.  They just fizzle by the end of the summer and I get tired of them! Sometimes I have three seasons of containers –  a winter one with an evergreen and some pansies and other cool weather flowers, then I move on to petunias, supertunias, cannas, lantanas -everything that likes heat, and finally to fall plants –  mums, asters, grasses, cabbages, and ferns. I mix and match perennials, shrubs and annuals to get the most versatility and longevity out of my pots. To see my post on Fall containers, go to Creative Fall containers. For early season containers, go to Seasonal Containers.

Seasonal container-miscanthus, chrysanthemum, autumn fern, cabbage, artemisa, ivy


Edibles in containers are big now and rightly so. So many leafy crops have gorgeous foliage and shouldn’t be relegated to the vegetable garden, and it is a great way to grow your veggies in limited space. One of my all time  favorite fillers is curly parsley. Colorful kale, lettuce, spinach, and other herbs like thyme are also great. Or, you can have an entirely edible container selection, and include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, cucs. The sky is the limit. If it is too late to start seeds, there is a huge variety of midget sized plants available at any nursery that have been developed for container culture.

Little Prince eggplant from Renees Gardens grow great in containers
Little Prince eggplant from Renees Gardens grow great in containers
Container with edibles
Container with edibles-kale, lettuce,, pansies, angelina sedum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during hot summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a choice of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light weight faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra-cotta ones. The faux pots will last for years and you can leave them out all winter, plus they are inexpensive and portable. There are even self-watering ones available which have a water reservoir built into the container.  Regardless of the type of container that you have, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.  If there aren’t any, drill some using a large bit on a portable drill and be sure to make them large enough, at least 3/4 of an inch in diameter. In addition, elevate your containers for air circulation. I use pot feet to elevate.

Pot feet elevates a container
Pot feet elevates a container
A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra

Good Soil – Good Plants

Good soil or potting medium is critical for the health of your plants that will be sitting in the container for months or years. Use an organic mix of compost, sphagnum moss, and perlite. There are a lot of commercial potting mixes on the market so be sure to choose one that has added fertilizer to it as container plants need a good boost of fertilizer to bloom all season long, plus regular applications. Make sure that you add a good dollop of compost in the bottom of the pot – a couple of inches at least.  This is where the roots are going to reach down and use up all those nutrients to produce flowers all season long. If you must reuse the same soil, then remove the top 5 or 6 inches and replace with fresh potting medium.

Container in full summer glory

Right Plant, Right Spot

Note if your container will be in all day sunlight, partial shade, or mostly shade.  Shady container plants can be just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of colorful foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties.  For any situation,  you want something tall for the back, like a grass, cordyline, canna or caladium, and a cascader for the edge and something to fill in between- thrillers, spillers, and fillers!

A container with different types and textures of plants is more appealing
A container with different types and textures of plants is more appealing

It is an overused phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need about 5 to 9 plants. Use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. When I create a container, I want mature plants to make a big impact right away. Later on, you can prune and winnow out the ones that are failing to thrive.

Window Boxes

Shade Windowbox
Shade windowbox with begonia ‘Bonfire’


Succulent window box
Succulent window box

Planting window boxes uses the same principles as containers. To create depth you really make use of those spillers. Silver Falls, Dichondra, is a great asset for trailing down walls and planters for sun and shade, and the new begonia ‘Bonfire’ is valuable for bright color in the shade.

All three types of plants are used in this standing windowbox, thriller, fillers, and spillers
All three types of plants are used in this standing windowbox- thriller, fillers, and spillers
Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox
Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox
Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin


When selecting your plants, consider your textures. I see too many containers planted with flowers and foliage that are similar in texture and look too busy.  Try mixing it up with some broad sculptural leaves, variegated foliage, and deeply lobed leaf shapes. Using varying forms will help your plants stand out instead of blending together in an indistinguishable mass.

Good textural contrast and variety-bubblegum petunia, variegated ginger, black and blue salvia, plectranthus, secretsea
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums -Focal Points

A variegated canna as a focal point

Cannas are good selections for sunny containers –  just make sure your pot is large enough.  I have seen cannas get 8 feet tall or higher! For shade, try Caladiums. There are beautiful Caladiums on the market with very colorful unusual markings and they will shine in the shade. But be careful when you plant these as they are very sensitive to cold. Make sure the nights keep above at least 50 degrees before setting these out.


Varieties of coleus
Varieties of coleus

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Many of these new varieties are designed to thrive in full sun –  not shade –   though there are a few that prefer shade only. Literally, there are hundreds of varieties on the market and you could simply do lots of containers with just Coleus and have very colorful pots. Coleus are among my all-time favorites with beautiful striking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I pinch them off.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot-coleus, dragon wing begonia, fuschia, sweet potato vine, geranium

Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!

Maintenance includes regular watering, at least once a day when it is hot, fertilizing with a dilute or granular fertilizer at least once a week, and pinching back plants as they grow to maintain their shape.  I call this nip and tuck.  If you don’t do this on a regular basis, your plants will get leggy, unattractive, and woody.  If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will literally drown from lack of Oxygen!  Make sure that your drainage holes are large enough so they don’t get clogged up and don’t use gravel in the bottom.  I carry a long metal rod for unplugging clogged drainage holes.

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole
Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Added gravel just makes the pot heavier and does not help with drainage. Drip irrigation is an option if you have lots of containers that need regular watering and you don’t want to be a slave to your water can.  Drip is pretty simple to set up, with all the components available at a local nursery or hardware store and they just snap together. I compare it to playing with Tinker Toys!


Group your containers, especially if you have many small ones.  By grouping, you achieve a bigger impact and it is far easier to take care of them in one bunch.  If you do drip irrigation, grouping is essential as you use less tubing and you can hide the tubing in the adjacent pots. Grouping also makes it easier for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to find the nectar rich flowers.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo-coleus, trailing petunia, lotus vine, verbena, silver falls, black and blue salvia
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander



Happy Hollow- Hosta Mecca

Hosta Heaven
Hosta Heaven

Do you want a  garden trip to a run of the mill big box store? Or do you want personal attention? And do you have shady areas in your garden that need TLC and need the ideal plant for that perfect spot? Look no further than Happy Hollow nursery in Cockeysville, MD. Specializing in hostas and other shade loving plants, Sue Bloodgood grows the most extensive collection of hostas around and can share excellent advice on plantings in difficult shady areas that you are scratching your head about.

Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow
Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow

Carrying over 200 hosta varieties, Happy Hollow nursery is tucked away in a suburban neighborhood in Cockeysville, MD, and a great place to see the many varieties of Hostas. These can vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that are puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged — the variations are virtually endless. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer which are attractive to pollinators.

Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas
Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas
A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the 'littles' come in
A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the ‘littles’ come in

Two large greenhouses full to the brim with hostas and other shade companion plants, like Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Tricyrtus, and shade grasses, Sue carries many unusual and hard to find plants, like “Praying Hands” Hosta.

Praying Hands Hosta
Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands is a 2′ wide clump composed of strangely folded, dark green crinkled leaves, each with a narrow, creamy yellow border which resembles a multitude of hands folded in prayer.

Praying Hands Hosta
Praying Hands Hosta

I went to Happy Hollow when I needed some miniature hostas for some clients. My local wholesaler carried about 3 varieties of minis and I needed more. Sue Bloodgood carried at least 2 dozen varieties of minis and it was hard to choose from them all.

I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas
I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas

I fell in love with one of her hostas, called ‘Striptease’ and had to take one home.

Hosta ‘Striptease”
Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants
Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants

Boutique nurseries are becoming more and more popular when you are looking for something unusual and the selection at the big box stores can be limited. I haven’t seen miniature hostas other than ‘Mouse Ears’ or the one pictured above called ‘Striptease’ anywhere before, and I do a lot of plant shopping. Catering to a small segment of the discerning buying public, boutique nurseries are struggling to stay in business and are competing with larger nurseries that carry a little bit of everything. But Happy Hollow doesn’t sell fertilizer, pots, or bird houses – they simply sell the best hostas anywhere. And for personal attention and advice for gardening in the shade, stop in at Happy Hollow Nursery. Their contact number is 410-252-4026.

Hosta "Mouse Ears" is adorable!
Hosta “Mouse Ears” is adorable!

For more ideas on shady ground covers, go to my post “From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade “.

A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet
A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet
Millbourne 176
This one is Kabitan

For more info on Happy Hollow Nursery, go to  Happy Hollow on Facebook.

Summer Snowflake-An Heirloom Bulb

These bulbs aren’t dog proof, but I find that deer never eat them

Underutilized and unknown to many people, Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, should be planted in more gardens. Deer resistant, easy to grow, and thriving in shady situations, this bulb deserves more recognition. Resembling giant snowdrops, these bulbs bloom for weeks in late April, and not in the summer like the name indicates. If  you have deer and love bulbs and want to grow more varieties than the daffodil stalwart, this is a great candidate to add to your gardens. Looking great naturalized in the lawn or woodland, I planted mine in my garden under a deciduous tree. Getting the early spring sun that shines through the leafless tree canopy is all the light these heirloom bulbs (from 1594!) need.

The bell like flowers resemble giant snowdrops
Gravetye Giant Leucojum

Often seen at old house sites and historic homes, at one time these bulbs were planted widely. But now I rarely see them. Anything that is deer resistant and thrives in shade is valuable to the homeowner who wants early spring color. Belonging to the same family as daffodils, the foliage is very similar with hollow stems supporting the white nodding bells.

There is one named cultivar called ‘Gravetye Giant’ which is a little bit larger than the species. The flowers are larger and remind me of giant lily of the valleys. Reaching 18-24″ tall, the species is slightly smaller at 12-18″ tall.


Leucojums are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Choose a location with full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.  Plant the bulbs in fall under 3 to 4 inches of soil and 6 to 10 inches apart.  That’s it! These bulbs will outlive you and remain in place for many years and spread to fill the space, though never becoming invasive.

Available at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs for about $1 a bulb, put this on your order list for fall planting.

Gold Bleeding Heart-Favorite Shade Plant

‘Gold Heart’ Bleeding Heart is a winner for shade

The old-fashioned Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis, has been a garden favorite for years. A stalwart of the shade garden, this plant just got better with the addition of golden-colored foliage and peach colored stems instead of the usual green, that lightens up a shady corner of your garden. The long, arching racemes of pink flowers adorn the plant and really do resemble a bleeding heart.  A classic plant that is deer resistant, ‘Gold Heart’ starts blooming in mid-April and lasts for at least a month. Plants often go dormant in midsummer and surrounding plants like ferns and hostas will fill in. Long-lived, reliable, and self sowing, ‘Gold Heart’ is on my top 10 list of shade perennials.

A  genus of perennials native to Asia and North America, the common name derives from the unusual heart shape of the flowers. All prefer evenly moist soil and little or no direct sun. They’re a boon to gardeners with shade and deer browsed areas.

Discovered in England, ‘Goldheart’ combines well with blue-leaved or variegated Hostas, Solomon’s Seal and  Virginia Bluebells. There are other varieties of Bleeding Heart and you should experiment with some of them.

Dicentra spectabliis ‘Alba’


Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’ has vibrantly colored dangling hearts

Old fashioned Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis
Gold Heart shines in the shade, next to Virginia Bluebells
Gold Heart emerging from blue flowering Ajuga
Good Heart blooming alongside daffodils

Backyard Blooms-Top 12 Cut Flowers

I grow an artist’s palette of flowers

One of the main reasons that I grow flowers in my garden is for the fresh cut flowers. Blooms to bring in by the arm load and arrange in buckets and vases, is the reason that I slave hours in the garden.

Buying fresh cuts from a florist or grocery store isn’t the same as bringing in blooms that are decorating my garden with fragrance and color. Regretting removing those blooms from my garden isn’t an issue when I can enjoy it for many more hours up close and personal in the privacy of my home.

Poppies are planted early in my cutting garden
Planting out my cutting garden in the spring

To get the best of both worlds – a beautiful garden along with beautifully arranged vases – I always designate a special area a ‘cutting garden’. Expanding year by year as I discover just another flower that is perfect for cutting, it has encroached on my vegetable garden. Less veggies-more flowers!

Blocks of flowers in a cutting garden; mesh netting supports the stems
I grow so many dahlias, I arrange them in bowls

But what defines a good cut flower?- Simply put: long bloom times, tall sturdy stems, and ample vase life.

Zinnias, Amni majus, and Bells of Ireland
Peegee hydrangea with ‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia, and Chelone


Growing specialty cut flowers for me ranges from crowd favorites like peonies and dahlias, to more obscure varieties rarely seen at a local florist, like ‘Love in the Mist’, is both a money saver and a little bit of luck. Starting many of these varieties from seed can be tricky, and some years I have a bumper crop, and other years, I bomb. Gardening is not an exact science and the more I experiment, I find that there is always more to discover.

Planting seedling plugs at Great Dixter, UK

Growing my own source of private bouquets is something I will be doing as long as I have a  garden, as I crave fresh flowers in my house and I don’t want to rely on the florist. My vegetable garden is about 50% flowers now!

Allliums and coneflowers
Growing cutting flowers for drying

Not only do I use my fresh cuts for arranging, I also dry a bunch of them for use in the Fall and Winter. See Dried Flowers for ideas.

My Top Twelve List of Fresh Cuts

  1. Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ or ‘Dondo Blue’
  2. Larkspur-comes in pink, blue and white and gives a great vertical accent to your arrangements
  3. Poppies-comes in a rainbow of colors and my bees like them; go to Poppy Love
  4. Zinnias-all kinds, but I especially love the cactus varieties
  5. Sunflowers-forget the mammoth ones (too large), but the different colored varieties with branching stems are my favorites like ‘Valentine’
  6. Dahlias-for late season interest, these are perfect! For my post on Dahlias, go to Dahlias – Divas of the Garden
  7. Lilies-Oriental and Asiatic, not daylilies as these only last a day
  8. Love in the Mist- not only beautiful flowers, but beautiful foliage and dried seed heads
  9. Peonies-a flash in the pan and they are gone, but I indulge in them when in season
  10. Tulips-forget these if you have deer; wonderful form and they grow in fantastic shapes in the vase
  11. Bishops Flower(Amni majus)-looks like a Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids
  12. Alliums-long lasting statements that make good focal flowers; go to my post on Alliums-All Season Long.
Alliums are easy to grow and deer resistant
Love in a Mist
Dried seeds heads of Love in a Mist
Bishops flower
Lavender blue of ‘Blue Horizon’ ageratum
Ageratum, Sunflowers, and Dahlias in an arrangement
Cosmos with its ferny foliage is a great cut flower, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland
Masses of sunflowers ready for cutting, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland

Out of Season

When summer is over that doesn’t mean I don’t have plant material in the house. Transitioning to colorful berries, leaves, and branches takes me into the holiday season. After that, I bring in evergreens, cones, and branches, until flowers appear again in the spring.

Fall arrangement with berries and branches in a bowl


Deciding on a place for your cut flowers is a personal decision, but you have to have lots of sun. Growing flowers in my vegetable garden which gets the most amount of sun on my property makes sense for me. Most of my other beds are full of perennials and evergreens, and shrubs, so I usually don’t have room for them in my garden beds. I will plant early bloomers, like poppies, larkspur, and cornflowers in areas that will hold late appearing perennials, like hostas. By the time the hostas are up, the early bloomers are just about done and I can remove them.

Red and white tulips-great for cutting
Rows of flowers in a vegetable garden (not mine!)

Allow enough room to maneuver around the blocks or rows for watering, weeding, and picking. I plant in blocks about 3 feet wide for good access and air flow.

Bouquet of dahlias from my garden
My veggie garden serves also as my cutting garden

Starting some seeds inside and others like Zinnias outside, I start about two dozen varieties each year. Some years I have a bumper crop of something that has done especially well, I just can’t predict what will be blooming in my garden.

Starting seeds under grow lights gets me a jump on the season

For cool season flowers like Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, Poppies, Love in the Mist, and Cornflower, go to Cool Flowers.

Bells of Ireland are a great cut flower

Pink cornflower
It’s quite an event when I bring in these large Celosia heads which I dry

Update on Neonics

Practicing beekeeping for over 20 years, I have seen the precipitous decline in bee populations. I just lost all three of my beehives this past year, more than at any time in my beekeeping career. Yes, I can replace them, but it is costly at about $180 for each mini beehive nuc. At that point, it becomes an expensive hobby! Last year, according to the USDA, my state of Maryland lost 61% of their honeybee populations, which is two times higher than the national average.

A newly installed package of bees in the spring
This pesticide contains neonics

Segue into what is making it problematic in keeping bees and that is the continued use of neonics (neonicotonoids), a systemic pesticide that persists in all the plant parts,  plus habitat loss. So, are you seeing products containing neonics in stores? You shouldn’t be in Maryland, where I live. As of May 31, 2017, there is a state ban on consumer use of neonicotinoid pesticides  slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2018, after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan  announced that he will allow S.B. 198/H.B. 211 to become law without his signature. Maryland is actually set to be the first state in the U.S. to ban neonicotinoids for consumer usage. However, it’s important to note that other pesticides affect bees too, and we will have to do much more than simply banning this class of pesticides. As of Jan 1, 2018, all such products containing neonics should have been removed in the state of Maryland.

Don’t spray herbicides on your dandelions-let the bees gather nectar and pollen from them

Check your store and the label of common products (such as Bayer Rose & Flower Care) for neonic chemicals with ingredient names like: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam, nitenpyram, and nithiazine. If you see a product containing any of these chemicals, please take a picture with your phone and send in the store name, location and date to Maryland Dept. of Agriculture Pesticide Regulation Program, Dennis Howard, email: dennis.howard@maryland.gov.

Dead honeybee

Unfortunately, the legislation does include exceptions for farmers and veterinarians, though it still marks a step in the right direction. Another exception involves pet care products, particularly those related to fleas, mites, ticks, and heartworms. Anyone who violates this rule will be forced to pay a $250 fine. Homeowners are known for applying extremely high levels of neonics by not following directions and thinking that the more insecticide they apply the better.

Neonicotinoid pesticides contribute to mortality of all pollinators such as bees, birds and butterflies. Non-pesticide-related threats — loss of forage or parasites — are made worse by neonicotinoid exposure.

Pesticide use affects all our pollinators; go to Neonic-Pesticide Free Nurseries

Pollinator extinction poses a huge threat to food security, because about 75 percent of all foods crops require a pollinator to grow.

Spurred by the high level of bee losses, several cities have enacted outright bans on neonicotinoids. Several states, like California, Alaska, New York, and Massachusetts, are currently considering legislation that would ban neonicotinoids, though none of the proposals have made it through the state’s legislature.

I found these still on the shelf at a local Big Box Store in Maryland and emailed the State of Maryland

Jeana Phlox-An All-Star Pollinator Performer


Phlox ‘Jeana’, photo courtesy of Mt Cuba

A flat of ‘Jeana’ phlox sits in my greenhouse ready to plant as soon as the weather cooperates. Possessing outstanding mildew resistance of shades of lavender-pink flower clusters, this native phlox is a star in my garden and always draws a lot of interest from visitors. Pollinators cluster around the heads constantly, providing a show for weeks in the mid-summer, and giving me lots of photography opportunities. Ranking at the top in ecological and horticultural trials, this plant should be in many more gardens.

Just listen to this rave review from Mt Cuba Center in Delaware who has trial gardens testing for usefulness, beauty, and pollinator visits.

“Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is, without a doubt, the best-performing phlox from the trial. This cultivar was discovered growing along the Harpeth River near Nashville, Tennessee and named after its discoverer, Jeana Prewitt. Although there were many plants of Phlox paniculata in the area, ‘Jeana’ in particular stood out for its exceptionally mildew-free foliage. This trait carries through to the garden and is one of the main reasons ‘Jeana’ performed so well in the trial. This 5′ tall beauty also produces an impressive floral display from mid-July through early September. Interestingly, the individual flowers, or pips, are much smaller than any other garden phlox. However, that does not deter the butterflies that feed on its nectar. In fact, we found ‘Jeana’ attracted more butterflies than any other garden phlox in the entire trial. With a top rank in both horticultural and ecological evaluations, Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is hard to beat.”

The trial gardens at Mt Cuba with ‘Jeana’ Phlox ready to bloom, photo courtesy of Mt Cuba

A taller flower topping out at 4′ to 5′, I love grouping these plants for a big show of flowers plus pollinators. Sometimes staking or some kind of support is necessary, like helpful supporting plants surrounding your clump. One of the only phlox paniculatas that I know tolerating deer browsing, it is a useful landscape plant for the perennial border. The lavender pink shade goes well with many other colors and the plant behaves and doesn’t spread aggressively.

Photo courtesy of Mt Cuba


Common Name: garden phlox
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 2 to 5 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: Lavender-pink
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Hummingbirds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Deer, Clay Soil, Black Walnut
Where to purchase ‘Jeana’ Phlox? At Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries, and more than likely, the plant will have an American Beauties hang tag identifying it as a native plant choice. For local people in Baltimore County, Maryland, go to Valley View Farms. You know you are making a good environmental choice for your garden.
American Beauties Native Plants is a great resource for home gardeners with a Native Plant Library on-line. Native perennials, grasses, vines, trees and shrubs which attract wildlife and pollinators especially are listed in an easy to use resource guide. Listed by common name or botanical name, you can scroll through the many possibilities available for planting. I find the Plant Search, where you can plug in your state and specify what kind of plant that you are looking for, is most useful to me. The web site even has landscape design plans using natives for every area  of the U.S. for sun or shade.
Red Bodied Swallowtail on ‘Jeana’ Phlox


Photo courtesy of Mt Cuba
Monarchs flock to ‘Jeana’ Phlox



Floating Hellebores

Different colors and shapes of Hellbores

If you haven’t seen my posts on growing the ultimate shade plant that is evergreen, deer proof and blooms for 4 months, go to Hellebores-Low Maintenance, Deer Resistant, Evergreen Perennials. So many beautiful varieties, doubles, singles, picotees, and ruffled with colors ranging from ruby red/wine to a wonderful creamy with rosy specks, this perennial deserves a place in everyone’s garden. Long-lived, with the clumps adding girth every year until you have a huge ring of hundreds of rose like blooms, these perennials cost a bit more initially, but will give back in spades for years to come.

Lenten Roses or Hellebores are the plant that keeps giving
One of the benefits of growing Hellebores is that they throw seed and will make seedlings
Floating the blossoms is the best way to display the blooms; If you cut the blooms and arrange them in a vase, they will wilt

Floating Hellebore blossoms is the optimum way to display their wild variations of forms and colors. I find that if I cut the blooms on a stem, they will wilt. I have tried dipping the stems in boiling water and floral preservatives, but nothing helps. So enjoy them where you can see them best…… facing right towards you! For more arrangements using bowl groupings, go to Bowl Arrangements.


Lenten Roses

‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore
Nearly black Hellebore