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

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:

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

Winter Blues-Blue Poppy Envy

  Blue poppy

Only on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for two to three weeks, the Himalayan Blue Poppies are stunners and considered a rare garden treasure. Almost extinct in their native habitat of Bhutan, photographers flock to Longwood to capture some photos of these amazingly true blue spectacles.  Sporting deep sky blue crepey petals with mauve highlights and a ring of golden stamens and anthers, the plant is much sought after to add to gardens.

blue poppy

Unfortunately, in North America it can only be grown in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of New England successfully. Meconopsis grandis is the national flower of Bhutan, a country high up in the Himalayas, above 10,000 feet, and wants cool, cool temperatures, like 45 to 50 degrees F. The conservatory at Longwood Gardens is certainly warmer than this so the flower is fleeting in its beauty.

Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens
The Winter Blues Festival is all about blue flowers at Longwood until March 25
Blue hydrangeas and white orchid balls decorate the conservatory at Longwood Gardens
Pride-of -Madeira, Echium candicans is part of the display
One last petal hanging on
One last petal hanging on

Once considered a myth and brought back to the west by plant hunters, the Blue Poppy is a challenge to grow for the most experienced gardeners and a mark of distinction for any gardener succeeding in its cultivation.

On the cusp of opening
On the cusp of opening

Requiring moist and cool conditions, Longwood Gardens, one of the few places to see them, forces the variety Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ into bloom every March and increases their number each year because of their popularity.

Thousands of pots of Blue Poppies at Longwood Gardens in the production greenhouse, photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

blue poppy
Photo courtesy of Pam Corckran

Drawing large numbers of people, especially photographers getting that perfect shot, the colors are unbelievable-saturated blues with streaks of mauve plum tones- on a large 4-5 inch flower.

Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress
Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress

A shade of blue rarely seen in other flowers,  the foliage is also stunning with grass-green hairy stems and leaves. Longwood Gardens gets their Blue Poppy plants shipped to them from an Alaska grower in the fall and they grow them in perfectly controlled greenhouse conditions to force them into bloom for display in the spring. Longwood has two different batches that it refreshes the flowers with so they can extend the brief bloom time for visitors.

Blue poppy

Growing in the warm clime of the conservatory, the mauve highlights were evidence as a sign of stress. The ephemeral quality of their blooms is part of their attraction and charm and visitors flock to see them.

blue poppy

Demanding a rich loamy well draining soil in partial sun in cool conditions is the primary ingredient to successfully growing this garden gem. Way too hot in my mid-Atlantic climate, I get to photograph them and enjoy them at Longwood Gardens in the spring. For more information on how to grow them if you are in a better suited climate than mine, go to Himalayan Blue Poppy Care.

Every year at Longwood ,the Blue Poppies are used in different areas of the Conservatory

blue poppy
Photo courtesy of Pam Corckran

For my post on growing cool season poppies, go to Cool Season Plants  or Poppy Love. To see the famed Blue Poppies, go to Longwood Gardens by March 25.


It is a double treat at Longwood with the Orchid Extravaganza
Blue and white at Longwood Gardens

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

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

Five Easy Pieces- Springtime Centerpieces For Your Easter Table

Just a few plants, curly willow, some eggs, and a bunny makes a simple centerpiece
Easter Basket with curly willow handle

Winter is still hanging on with a snow clumps still dotting the yard, but Easter is next week and the springtime ideas are blossoming. I need to get my focus on spring and slough off the dreary winter with fresh spring creations to spot around the house to raise my spirits.

My collection of bunnies

Bunnies of course figure prominently. I have a small collection of them that I have accumulated over the years. Also, my curly willow is put to use on wreaths and nests and accents. Curly willow is the best tree I ever planted for usefulness. A tall slender tree sprouting wildly curling graceful branches, I harvest almost all of the branches for use in floral arrangements.

Cut curly willow branches covered in snow
I chop back my curly willow every spring with a chain saw

By the end of February, the branches have finished putting on all their yearly growth and are starting to sprout tiny leaves, and that is the best time to harvest. Chainsawing the large limbs off the tree, the branches lay on the ground to make it easy to cut off the nice curling stems. Pliable while still green, you can make all kinds of creations from the branches. Better than grapevine, it is easier to work with.

Curly willow is very pliable when still green
Starting a wreath or birds nest out of curly willow is easy; start with a circle that is fastened with bind wire

To make different shapes out of curly willow, just manipulate strands of the willow and use bark wire ( wire covered with a brown covering) to fasten it all together. The tendrils of the curly willow still pop out creating a rustic wild look. For a basket without a handle, you can create the handle out of curly willow by bunching branches together and binding it with the bark wire and shaping it into a curved handle very easily. Or you can create a bird’s nest of curly willow.

Bark covered bind wire is available at most craft stores

If you don’t have access to a curly willow tree, most florists and any vendor who sells flowers will have bunches for sale pretty inexpensively

1-Nest On Tripod

A curly willow nest is easy to make; it is simply a wreath with a bottom of bark-wire lattice with curly willow interwoven through the wire. Setting the nest on top of a tripod of knarly branches give it added interest. You could easily use this as an Easter table centerpiece as is. Add moss to the bottom, succulents, and a cute bunny to finish it off.

Create a tripod out of 3 sticks; here I used Rose canes

Make a curly willow wreath to set into the tripod

Gather supplies to put together your nest; fake eggs, moss, succulents, and a cute bunny
Finished centerpiece
Tripod nest as a centerpiece with some dressed up bunnies and hydrangeas

2-Urn Centerpiece

There is nothing better than an urn as an elegant vehicle to display plants and animals. Adding a curly willow wreath at the base grounds the arrangement and shows off the accessories and plants that you decide to add.

In a footed urn, add soil, and place the curly willow wreath
Add your plants; here I used a pink dianthus and blue campanula; I decided the smaller succulents in the center weren’t standing out enough and changed it to:
A larger blue-green succulent, an Echeveria, in the center and a few branches of pussy willow

3-Long Table Arrangement

My base is a simple rectangular tray with moss

For the Easter dining table, it is nice to have something rectangular and low so that you can speak across the table. Start with a bed of soft moss, add some plants still in their root ball, and add some kiwi branches, pussy willow, and succulent cuttings.

Another variation of a centerpiece with a long container- blue campanula, pink dianthus, succulents, delft blue violas, and a bunny

4-Easter Basket

Using a square container covered with moss, I add oasis and a handle made out of curly willow
Start adding cut lilies
Continue adding filler flowers; here I used wax flower and green lemon leaves
Finish off with purple statice, green pom poms, pink daisies and a polka dot bow
Use as a centerpiece at your Easter table

Another Easter basket of fresh flowers-stock, tulips, hydrangeas, and a handle of pussy willow
An interesting cluster container

5-Cluster Container

Cluster containers are simply three or more containers connected together to become one piece. I have several of these and this is one of my favorites. To get the same effect, you can group either identical or similar containers together in a cluster to act as one container. Placing short stems of lilies, daisies, purple statice, and wax flower makes a colorful easy arrangement. These cluster containers do the arranging for you! You could easily buy a bunch of assorted flowers at a big box store and  throw them in one of these and you look like an accomplished floral arranger.

Cluster container as a centerpiece

10 Annuals That Can Take the Cold

Snapdragons, Dianthus, Violas, Primrose, Alyssum, and tall perennial Foxglove make this an early spring container arrangement

After a long cold winter, gardeners are itching to get some color outside, even as early as St Patrick’s Day. Most hardy annuals tolerate light frosts, but not freezing.  St Patrick’s Day marks the start of my container season. Including edibles such as kale, lettuce, and spinach gives my containers double duty. And the leafy greens are attractive too.

A spring container with edibles, like spinach, kale, and lettuce

I use the following cold hardy annuals:

Pansies/Violas-technically not an annual, but I treat it like one

Calendula-great orange and yellow color

Lobelia-a small flowered blue or white trailer that is a non-stop bloomer. It creates masses of flowers that cascade or trail out of a container

Alyssum-honey-scented white or purple trailer

Dusty Miller-good foliage foil with felted grey leaves

Nemesia-comes in a variety of colors and the scent is fabulous

Ranunculus-multi-petaled flower which loves the cold; looks like a rose

Snapdragons-upright flower used for height, seen in cottage type gardens

Ornamental Cabbage-Yes, this looks like a full grown cabbage!; Great foliage in pinks, greens, and whites

Dianthus-The quintessential cottage flower, pinks are treasured for their blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. They come in pinks, whites, and reds and are sweetly scented

Dianthus can take lot of cold temps
Different colors of Lobelia in a broken pot

For an excellent chart of frost hardiness of annuals, go to Cold Tolerant Annuals  a publication by the University of Minnesota. If anyone knows cold, people who live in Minnesota do! Some flowers can take ice and snow, like Ornamental Cabbages and Pansies; others can take a light frost and temperatures in the thirties, like Nemesia.

Flowering cabbage will take a snowfall and come back fine


A hanging orb of violas, bleeding heart, parsley, red mustard, and kale, seen at Chanticleer
I love this brown-hued Viola

Lasting for 6 to 8 weeks, the containers will have run their course by mid-May, and it will be time to plant for the summer using heat tolerant plants. Most people wait to plant their containers until May in the mid-Atlantic region when the danger of frost is past. But why wait?  You are missing out on all the wonderful cold hardy varieties that will be done in by the coming heat, like Ranunculus and Violas.

An adorable Viola growing with Dinosaur Kale
Ranunculus comes in many colors
An array of Violas at a local nursery

Ranunculus is actually a corm, a small type of bulb, and the flowers look too perfect to be real. Exquisite, rose-like blossoms, they are often seen in wedding bouquets. Silky petals are layered like a rose in bright, paint box colors.

Yellow ranunculus are at the base of this sunflower topiary
Primrose, Alyssum, Snapdragons, Violas, Scabiosa, and Oriental Lilies

Buying my plants from a variety of sources- big box, wholesale nurseries, and independent nurseries with a good selection – I hold my plants in my cold frame. Staying about 10-20 degrees warmer than the surrounding air, it is convenient to stash the plants somewhere and to look at all my color combos before planting. Sometimes, when I place them in my cold frame without any thought for color, a new pairing of texture or color will leap out at me. If you don’t have a cold frame, storing in an unheated garage or shed will work too.

My cold frame full of annuals and Swiss Chard

It is really important to acclimate your annuals to the cold by gradually exposing them to colder temperatures than the warm temps in a greenhouse.

Simple container of Nemesia, African Daisy, Carex, and Phygelius, seen at Chanticleer

Using accessory elements like statues, balls, and twigs, will make the container pop.

Alyssum, pink Scabiosus, Primrose, Dianthus, Heather, Violas, Yellow Twig Dogwood
Violas, Dianthus, Hens and Chicks, and Columbine

Having flowering plants out in March and April is extremely important for the pollinators that are flying in chilly weather and have trouble finding nectar sources. You are providing a vital source of nectar and pollen for these important native bees by planting out early, as well as giving yourself a boost of color therapy after our cold winter.

Parsley is one of my favorite fillers

Trailing white Alyssum makes this container look lush

A new Pansy called Frizzle Sizzle has ruffled edges
Violas Pansies, and pink and orange Nemesia


Perennials like Coral Bells, Carex, Bergenia, Hellebores, Scabiosus, Lamium, and Evergreen Ferns, can be used in the early spring container as accents and fillers. The worn out annuals can be pulled out leaving the still performing perennials and newer heat tolerant annuals inserted in their place.

Table planted with early spring annuals and perennials
An early planting of a table with Lamium, Violas, Ferns, Pulmonaria, Polka Dot Plant, and Moss

Beehive Art-Your Apiary is a Work of Art

Architectural rendering of a beehive

Painting hive bodies a boring white was the norm when I started beekeeping 20 years ago. Fast forward to the present and everyone is trying to outdo themselves with wild and beautiful designs decorating the bee yard. Art and beekeeping?…. Great combination of two of my favorite past-times and I can give you some pointers on how to accomplish a beautiful beehive even if you have no artistic abilities. Stencils, spray paint, and stickers can all be used to come up with a design that people will think you spent hours on!

Hive body painted using stencils; photo by Beekeeping Like A Girl

Inspired by the designs seen at Beekeeping Like A Girl and IzzabellaBeez on Etsy, I am now thinking about how I can jazz up my apiary. In the past, I have used stencils as a quick pick-me-up for my hives. Once you paint a base coat, it is so easy to apply stencils and you are done! But I would like to do a full makeover of free-hand painting of my hives.

Beehive Nucs placed close together; the straw is a temporary entrance reducer

If you have lots of hives placed together in a row that look-alike, customizing your beehive makes it easier for your bees to find their proper hive and eliminate ‘drifting’. Drifting bees can get confused if all the hives look-alike and need a special homing designation to get to their particular hive.

Quick stencils place artisitic bees on your hive in a minute

Splash some paint on your hives for quick abstract look, from Beekeeping Like a Girl  

For functionality, start with a neutral base coat and add at least 2 coats to get good  coverage to protect the beehive from the elements to last for years. I troll the paint sections of the big box stores for quarts or gallons that were returned and you can pick up for a fraction of the cost.

I start with neutral shades as the canvas

Everyone paints their beehives to protect them from the elements, but why not make it beautiful and eye-catching?  The bees don’t care, and this is your chance to express yourself. Lasting longer in the heat, sun, and, and bad weather that we can get in the Mid-Atlantic region, paint makes your wooden ware last a whole lot longer.

This beehive looks like a dollhouse, from Beekeeping Like a Girl

Paint the outside surfaces of the beehive and leave the insides where the bee live free of paint.  Use a gloss paint on top of your primer or base coat as it seems to slough off dirt better than a satin or eggshell paint.The color of the primer is not important.  But primer is important to seal and protect the wood, and it enables the final coat of paint adhere better, and helps the surface paint resist moisture and mildew.

This hive certainly stands out to the bees, from Beekeeping Like a Girl

I want my painted beehives to last. And if you don’t want to bother with painting it yourself, just browse IzzabellaBeez and order one of her gorgeous hand painted hives on-line.

Available from the Etsy Shop of IzzabellaBeez
Available from IzzabellaBeez


Available from the Etsy Shop of IzzabellaBeez


Available from the Etsy Shop of IzzabellaBeez

Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial


Gardeners and Hellebores

Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers?  Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year?  That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.


So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey.  Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.

 Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

Double hellebore, not sure of the variety


Nearly black Hellebore
Nearly black Hellebore
'Ivory Prince' is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers
‘Ivory Prince’ is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore
One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Float your blooms in a bowl and they last for a couple of weeks

Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.


Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.

'Wedding Party' has beautiful double flowers
‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid Hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.

Lenten Rose

The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.


The normally downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of tilted to the ground so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar.  I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece.  They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!

This hellebore has variegated foliage
This hellebore has variegated foliage



The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.

A flock of Hellebores!
A flock of Hellebores!

Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.

Seedlings surround the mother plant
Seedlings surround the mother plant

As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center.  That is it for maintenance!

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
Clump transformed and showing flowers better once trimmed
Same clump transformed and displaying flowers better once trimmed

My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!

Hellebores covering a bank

So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening?  Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.

Poppy Love

Poppies are probably one of my all-time favorite flowers for planting in the spring

For more planting of cool season flowers, go to Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers. But for your infusion of poppy info and cool facts, read on.

My hives are close to the poppies
This white one is almost translucent

Satiny, frothy, picoteed, ruffly, frilly, glowing, shimmery…………..the adjectives go on and on to describe poppy blossoms. There is nothing about a poppy that is unattractive.  Even the fuzzy hairy foliage is handsome and the seed pods distinctive. Beauty happens in the garden when my poppies blossom and attract native and non-native pollinators from miles around. When my poppies are in full spate, all is right with the world!

Red Oriental Poppy
Peach Oriental poppy

There are two types of poppies, perennial Papaver oriental, and annual ones, Papaver rhoeas and Papaver somniferon, the Opium Poppy.  The uses of the two plants are also very different. Gardeners grow oriental poppies for their glorious beauty, and they usually come in red or peach. Easy to grow with coarse downy foliage, they make lovely indoor cut flowers.

Lauren’s Grape in bloom on my property
Watercolor by Kay Sandler of my Lauren’s Grape poppies
Lauren’s Grape Poppy available from Renee’s Garden

Although it is illegal to grow opium poppies in this country to make narcotic drugs like heroin, they are grown in other countries for this purpose. Opium poppies are also responsible for producing the poppy seeds that work so well on muffins and bagels, while oriental poppy seeds are not edible and are poisonous. Plant any poppy where deer browse as they will leave them alone. 

Kissed by rain
A good combo, pink poppies and larkspur

Cool Facts About Poppies

  • During WWI, the poppies disappeared from the battlefields for four years because of the trampling and disturbance of the battlefields, After the end of the war, the poppies exploded in growth, up to 2,500 poppy plants per square inch!
  • The poppy began to spread in Europe after the soils in France and Belgium had large amounts of lime left over from the rubble during the First World War. This also caused the flowers to grow around the grave sites of the war dead.
  • Major John McCrae’s poem, In Flander’s Fields, was supposedly written on the evening of the 2 May, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, in memory of his friend, Alexis Helmer.
  • A few years ago, around the Tower of London,  a total of 888, 246 hand crafted ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military death in WWI,  were individually placed in the moat. The placement culminated with a ceremony and a two minute silence to honor the dead.
Tower of London Poppy Fields
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book features enormous poppy fields and a chapter of the book is titled ‘The Deadly Poppy Field’.
  • The poppy’s use in medicine was reworked in George R.R.Martin’s Game of Thrones – where a medicine entitled ‘milk of the poppy’ is used.
  • The way opium/heroin is harvested involves picking the poppy plant, taking its unripe bulb (seed pod), making diagonal cuts along the unripe bulb (seed pod), collecting the milky-white fluid which oozes from the diagonal cuts, then allowing the gathered milky-white fluid to dry into powder.
  • Opium poppies are grown commerically in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire and Wiltshire for use in medical opiates such as morphine.
  • Poppy seeds can remain active in the soil for 8 years. Poppy seeds do contain opium alkaloids, meaning that if poppy seeds are ingested,  it can give false readings during a drugs test. As a result, people travelling on planes between countries are advised not to carry poppy seeds, and in Singapore they are classified as ‘prohibited goods’.Average seed numbers per plant can range from 10,000 to 60,000.
  •  Not all poppies are red. They also come in yellow, orange, white, blue, pink, and all shades between.
  • Poppies are considered a symbol of both sleep and death. According to Greek and Roman mythology, poppies were used on tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep.
Thousands of black seeds are contained in the seed heads
Available from Renee’s Garden 


Cold treatment is essential to good poppy seed germination. Planted in February, I look hopefully to see new shoots about 6 weeks later. My ritual of planting these beautiful flowers for garden enjoyment or to enjoy up close and personal in my house is part of my February chores. Ordering the seeds in December to get the best variety, I receive them in the mail and it looks like I am going to make lots of poppy seed desserts! For I don’t order packets of a measly number of seeds, but baggies of thousands of the distinctive poppy black seeds.

The Blue Poppy has very hairy stems and leaves
Planting poppies

Using the seeds in cooking is part of my pleasure with the seeds but not the main reason for growing these wonderful flowers. Buying large 1-2 ounce packets of seeds on line is the way to go for me. But it isn’t cheap; For a 1 ounce package of Lauren’s Grape, it runs $26.96! Below is a video of my bees on Lauren’s Grape. It is mass hysteria!

I save the seed heads for dried flower arrangements and crush them to release their thousands of seeds for planting next year. But I can’t save enough of them for my plantings so I buy more, especially of the newer varieties like Lauren’s Grape. The seed pods are ready to collect when they appear wrinkly, feel leathery and the seeds rattle inside the pod. Since they take up a lot of room in my vegetable garden, I need to collect the seed pods while green to dry them in my potting shed. The space in my garden is too valuable to keep the pods in there until ripe. That cuts down on the amount of viable seeds that I can collect.

Doubles are beautiful but not good for pollinators

Sowing the seeds early means that they get the necessary freezing and thawing necessary for germination. Taking about 5 months from seed to flower, the earlier I can start them, the better.  Starting inside is an option, but I haven’t had much luck transplanting them.

A bud of a double flower ready to burst open
Watercolor by Kay Sandler
Watercolor by Kay Sandler

If you leave poppy seed heads to ripen fully, the seeds that fall to the ground have a good chance of germinating next spring, unless a heavy mulch is applied. Mulch will smother the seeds and keep them from germinating. See how to plant poppies at Cool Season-Early Spring Bloomers.

A sea of poppy heads
Single fringed poppy flower
Check out my post on Longwood’s Blue Poppies
Photo by Pam Corckran
Angel’s Choir Poppies from Renee’s Garden
Poppy arrangement

Sources for Poppy Seeds

Botanical Interests

Renee’s Garden Seeds

A very elegant black and white

More videos:


Blue Poppy Envy

The Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ is a part of the Poppy genus and occurs in the Himalayan region of the world where it is a lot cooler than most of the U.S. The Pacific Northwest and Canada are successful in growing this beauty but not where I live in the mid-Atlantic. Fortunately, I can visit nearby Longwood Gardens in early spring to see them in person. See my post on these beautiful flowers at Blue Poppy Envy.