a great garden related kind of day

A great kind of garden related day is when I end up with a few plants, a new gardening book, and hear a garden talk that truly resonates with me.

About two years ago I found out there was a Hosta society that serves our area. So I joined. The Delaware Valley Hosta Society. They meet a few times a year and life has gotten in the way until today where I finally was able to go to one of their meetings. Today was their spring meeting and they had a guest speaker I had wanted to meet, Jenny Rose Carey.

Ms. Carey is the Senior Director of Meadowbrook Farm , which is now a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (“PHS”) site, but was once the home of Liddon Pennock.

Liddon Pennock was THE Philadelphia Florist once upon a time. My parents knew him, so I remember meeting him growing up. He created this amazing space which he left to PHS and his legacy continues. But I digress.

Jenny Rose Carey is a well known garden lecturer and she practices what she preaches at her own gardens (follow her on Instagram at Northview Garden or via her blog Before You Garden.)

She came today to the hosta Society meeting to speak on “Glorious Shade”. That is also the title of her new book on shade gardening available through Timber Press. (I was psyched to buy a copy and have the author autograph it for me!)

An approachable and engaging speaker, I was thrilled to learn that a lot of her favorite shade garden plants were also mine! She said with regard to shade gardening, that “slow and steady wins the race.” I was interested to hear that because I never really had a lot of shade gardening to do before we moved into this house. So I have learned in part by trial and error, but I was happy to learn that my gardening instincts have been good.

She went through a wonderful list of plants that are also good companions to hostas. Plants like:

  • Red bud
  • Eastern (native) dogwood
  • Fothergilla
  • Witch Hazel
  • Hydrangeas
  • Rhododendrons/ Azaleas
  • Asarum (wild ginger)
  • Ferns
  • Twinleaf
  • Bluebells
  • Mayapple
  • Trillium
  • Bloodroot
  • Hellebores
  • Heucheras

She also taught people how shade gardens are different. A lot of people expect shade gardens to be as neat and orderly as those sunny beds with all your sun loving flowers. But that is not how they work.

Shade gardening is so very different. It’s softer, it meanders. It’s not perfect and it evolves over time. Or, this is what I have learned over the past few years and really getting into it for the first time.

The ideal shade garden to me is something less formal, less structured. My gardens go into the woods. And I keep trash and what-not out of the woods and remove invasive plants like burning bush when they pop up, but for the most part I let my woods be. I don’t want to overly clean up my forest floor, because what hits the ground is sanctuary for critters and disintegrates into making good things for the soil (fallen leaves, etc.)

Forest floors weren’t meant to be completely tidy, and that was one thing that I got out of this lecture today and it made me glad that we were doing the right thing. I also protect the tree seedlings I find that will help keep my woods going. And some of those seedlings I transplanted into different areas of my garden – like the native dogwoods and volunteer Japanese Maples!

Ms. Carey also encouraged people to have little seating areas. Paths. Water features, as in even a birdbath.

I love hostas a bit excessively, as all my friends and family know. I’m a bit nutty about them. So it was kind of a kick to be in a room full of people that love hostas too! Plenty of the gardeners I met today were from Chester County and other deer heavy areas.

So today was a great day. While not actually in the garden much, I love having the opportunity to meet and spend time with other gardeners and listen to a great gardening lecture. I also came home with a new gardening book and four spectacular hostas!

Thanks for stopping by and happy gardening!

when gardening, know your mail order grower

The photo above (and the next photo below this paragraph) were both  taken on a garden tour last spring. I love hostas! I really generally speaking have a hosta disease! I am always looking for interesting cultivars and growers who might have hostas I want to try but never have been able to find locally.

But I learned a valuable lesson recently about knowing your grower. And knowing your grower especially when it comes to mail order plants.

I have been ordering plants from reputable growers up and down the eastern seaboard and as far away as Washington state for years.

I was searching out particular hosta cultivars and decided to check eBay.  Believe it or not I have had wonderful luck with some small plant growers on eBay in the past. For example, I received wonderful woodland ferns from a small nursery outfit in Tennessee.

So there is this grower who is a dually listed on eBay and Amazon. I figured since they were on two sites that generally try to police their sellers I was OK ordering plants. I didn’t stop to pay attention to the reviews. I should have. If I had paid attention to the reviews I would’ve saved myself a lot of trouble.

I ordered the plants and then I waited. And waited. When I received no tracking number to track my package from the seller after over a week I messaged the grower to ask if the plants had shipped and if I could have a tracking number.

I also at that time asked if I was getting bare root or if they were coming in pots. The seller said they always ship bare root.

I am not a novice gardener and I am fine with bare root plants. I figured all would be fine.

Boy was I mistaken.

The plants arrived Saturday. Poorly packaged in a small square box, they arrived mostly dead. I literally had thrown my money away.

For all of the plants I have ordered over the years mail order, never had I received any in such poor condition. And what was described as a “starter” plant (for example) looked like a piece of wilted micro lettuce.

The plants were shipped in dry newspaper in little sandwich baggies with the hosta cultivars scribbled illegibly on the outside of the baggies. There was no ventilation in the little square box and the plants were dried out, wilted, and mostly dead. And so small. I am used to mail order plants but these were puny, so not as described in my humble opinion.

I took a deep breath and contacted the “grower” to see what they would do. I gave them the opportunity to do the right thing. I wanted healthy plants, not a refund. And I was not seeking free plants. I would have been satisfied with an “I am so sorry.” Or even an intelligent conversation in the hopes of achieving an amicable resolution. After all, who likes wasting money?

The response from the “grower” was swift and nasty to be honest.  They accused me of “blackmail” and demanded (not requested) I mail back “their” plants (even though I had paid $70+ for “their” plants.

I will be honest, I was taken aback by the sheer nastiness of their attitude, and I said calmly that I was not going to put myself out MORE money to mail back sub par mostly dead plants.  

I have learned a valuable lesson. And if I had read the reviews posted online I probably would not have purchased a thing from them. If they need my hard earned money so badly, hey they can keep it.

Know your grower. And if you do not, check them out. (And yes, another case made for buying local.)

On a certain level I am disappointed, because people who are true nursery men and women are generally speaking some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Do not be afraid of ordering plants via mail order, just check out the grower ahead of time. Again, lesson learned for me. I broke my rule of checking them out.

Good customer service matters.  

in the garden


This past winter was hard on gardens. Actually, that is an understatement.

My friend Susan asked the following question on Facebook:

Chester county gardeners…. anyone else have what appears to be totally dead butterfly bushes? All 3 of mine look dead. Hydrangeas aren’t looking very good either.

Yes and yes. I know what she is talking about and so do a lot of us.

I have (or had) a butterfly bush (buddleia) that was decades old. It was a beautiful purple color in late summer. It has sent no shoots and every branch left on after this winter was dead. I had cut it back in late fall and mulched it and then put a blanket of leaves over it, but I think it may be gone. I cut off the dead branches but have not dug up the root ball. I will leave it alone to see what happens. I don’t hold out much hope, but maybe it will surprise me.

I had wanted to plant buddleia in other places, so I have already bought and planted more. Buddleia gets so tall that I prefer it in the back of things where it’s height is more appropriate. We will see how the buddleia grows.

Another usually indestructible and woody perennial that may have bitten the dust due to the winter is my Caryopteris. Caryopteris is commonly known as blue beard or blue mist shrub. This plant can take the worst of summer and still get these delicate branches of blue-purple flowers. It’s a perennial that blooms on new/current growth, but I think the winter may have rendered it D.O.A.

Caryopteris is one of those plants that I have read only lasts a few years I some cases but I have friends who have had it in their gardens for more than a few years. For me this perennial was a surprise- it had appeared when I cleared some weeds and vines away in one spot in the garden. I am not sure if I will replace it or not. As with the buddleia I cut off all the dead stuff and am leaving the roots alone.

Hydrangeas were also very hard hit by winter. I did get mine ready for winter with winter mulch and leaves and a lot of my bushes lost every bud and every stalk. Some bushes escaped relatively fine and are leafing like normal.

The more tender hydrangeas which lost everything above ground in the ice and snow are surviving for the most part. They are sending up shoots from roots.

The hydrangea cultivar I have which was hurt the worst by the winter is “Pistachio”. Pistachio has a cool pink and green flower head but I knew it was finicky when I planted it, the grower warned me. Well one did. I sourced this hydrangea from two places. So I am going to wait and see. If it doesn’t come back, I will pull it and replace it with a more hardy variety.

Hostas also were affected by this winter. Some are slow to emerge, and some have had their first leaves look somewhat stunted and distorted. I am told by hosta growers that this is normal given the winter we had along with a comparatively cold spring. Most of my hostas seem to be back, although there are a few just sending shoots up now.

I did lose all but one tall bearded Iris. Irises are something I am not great with, so I don’t know if the bearded ones will eventually be replaced or not. I have clumps of yellow inherited ones that I think are more like a flag iris that are returning in good shape, so maybe I will stick with those.

My daisies are back, but a lot of the cone flowers and rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susans) are not. Or not yet. I have not decided what to do about that yet, but did decide this year to plant some shorter sunflowers and zinnias. I love zinnias in the garden. They are so cheerful. Yes they are annuals, so if they do well I will collect the seeds in the fall for next year.

I think it is going to be a marvelous year for peonies. They seem to have come through the winter unscathed and are budding nicely. Peonies are so lovely and lush a flower and they smell as good as they look. Peonies are a plant I am always happy to add more of, and one of my favorite sources for peonies is Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market.

My roses seem to have come through the winter fine. They are leafing out well and I have new growth too. They have been fed for spring and now I wait for them to bloom the first time. I also cleaned their beds out well because roses can be so finicky. People think roses are so difficult to grow. Really , they aren’t – you just need a routine.

A rose tip is to remember banana peels – think of it as junk food for roses. You can cut the peels up and freeze them and either bury them a few inches down or put them in a food processor with a little bit of water and old coffee grounds (not flavored coffee grounds) and make a sludge that looks pretty gross but if you dig it in around your roses the plants will love it.

As for annuals, I was happy to see impatiens are back this year. Last year they were wiped out by downy mildew so no one carried them. I am not sure how busy Lizzies (one of their common names) will do, so I did not by many plants. And no, I am not a begonia or New Guinea impatiens person as far as bedding plants go. I do, however, like New Guinea impatiens in hanging baskets.

Other annuals I am trying this year include Lisianthus or prairie rose. This wonderful old fashioned flower is one I have not seen in years, and saw out at Black Creek Greenhouses in East Earl. Lisianthus grows wild (or grew wild) in the plain states. It is a favorite of florists because it’s rose-like flowers can last a good ten days in cut arrangements. I used to plant this all the time in my gardens growing up and then I just stopped seeing the plant in nurseries.

Some of my friends with decades-established gardens have given me some old-fashioned favorites to add to my garden this year. Lambs ears, ferns, lily of the valley, pinks, nepeta, and lily turf (lirope). These are all plants they needed to split, so some have come to me. And down the road when I have plants that need splitting, I will do the same. Gardening is a personal thing but a communal thing to share with friends and family much like a well-loved recipe. As long as I have been gardening I have been swapping plants with people.

Our local nurseries in Chester and Lancaster Counties are full of fabulous plants now. If you don’t see something you like, ask. I will comment that I have noticed prices have increased at area nurseries, which is also undoubtedly due to the hard winter we had.

Yes you can buy plants at Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe’s but the reality is cheap plants are just that, cheap. Don’t necessarily expect a lot from them as a lot of plants sold by big box stores aren’t always grown in the same zones as we live in.

These big box stores truck in plants that are not always grown in compatible growing zones that are also all gorked out on plant boost food. This means you might plant them for an instant garden fix but they may or may not survive long term or even the season. I have included the USDA’s hardiness map for Pennsylvania at the bottom here so you can see our zones. I am not saying don’t buy from these places, but merely buyer beware. Check to see if the plants say where they are from.

It is yet another beautiful day out there, perfect for gardening. Gardening is such a terrific thing you can do for yourself. And don’t think you can’t garden because you can. It’s a process, so start small and see what you like. Some people love container gardening, some growing herbs and vegetables in raised beds. Some love woodland gardening that are wild and rambling and others like gardens which are more formal.

Gardening is always good for the soul. Enjoy the day!