Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

Pinching to Maximize the Show

Mid- to late-June is a good time to pinch back perennial plants. The result will make them bushier and less leggy. Candidates for this in my garden include asters, Montauk daisies, phlox, chrysanthemums and sedum.

When Nancy DuBrule came to my garden earlier this month for a consultation, she showed me how to trim back my perennials so they will branch out and not need staking later on.

Here's how it works with my Global Warming mum as an example:

Afterwards you can see how the top part of the plant was snipped away. Last year I did not pinch back these plants and they grew very tall. It will be interesting to see if they become wider this year.

Here's another example with the Montauk daisy:
As you can see, the plant is already huge! I trimmed it back by half so it will branch out and not be floppy in the fall. Again, last year I did not prune these plants and they had to be held up with twine so the flowers wouldn't end up on the ground.

Another cool pruning technique I learned is pinching to extend the bloom cycle of plants. This causes the plant to branch and slows down the flowering for three weeks. The part of the plant that was not trimmed back will begin to flower, and then a few weeks later, the front half will join in. This is a way to get more blossoms from one plant over the summer. Nancy explained that if the plant normally blooms for 3-4 weeks, it will now bloom for 6-8 weeks. It was too late to use this technique on my shasta daisies, but I did use it on my sedum and my phlox.

Ideally this is done in mid-June but can still be done this week.

Do you use this technique in your garden?

Prized Peony Varieties Bloom at Cricket Hill Garden

Sturdy umbrellas shelter peony blooms from sun and rain.

Vivid Rose herbaceous peony.
THOMASTON, Conn. - You won't find Sarah Bernhardt at Cricket Hill Garden.

Instead, what you will find is a collection of cultivated plants that are prized for their multicolor, and unusual colors. "We're not going to do the same old white, pink peony," said Kasha Furman, owner of Cricket Hill Garden.

"We've been growing peonies for more than 25 years," she said. Over the years, Furman and her family have grown hundreds of varieties and rejected many that have not met their standards. For example, you won't find a tree peony that is too slow to grow or will hide its flower inside the foliage. They also won't carry herbaceous peonies that have weak stems (ahem, Ms. Bernhardt, you're beautiful, but we are talking to you).

"Don't waste your time on things that are too slow growing. We've rejected many peonies that need staking," she said.

To maximize peony bloom to a five- to six- week window involves growing tree, herbaceous and intersectional peonies. "You can have blooms from mid-April through the third week of June in most climates," she said. "We specialize in peonies because they are such hardy plants and long-lived."

Cricket Hill Garden are organic growers and do not use herbicides. "We work with cover crops to improve the soil." Clover is one crop that is used extensively in the seven acres of terraced gardens.

Her favorite? "Tree peonies - they are more exotic and they are big."

A bench at Cricket Hill Garden.
A Peony for Everyone
Cricket Hill Garden offers three different varieties of peonies to customers: tree, herbaceous and intersectional.

Herbaceous are the most common peonies found in gardens, often inherited from family members. Grown in USDA zones 3-8, these peonies bloom from early to mid-spring. In the fall, the plant dies back to the ground. Maiden's Dress is a pink herbaceous peony with 5-6 inch flowers.

A tree peony is a woody shrub that blooms in mid- to late spring. "They lose their leaves like an oak tree," said Furman. While herbacous peonies die back at winter time, with tree peonies the wood remains. "They're their own special animal," she said. "They are early blooming and can grow in partial shade." For best flowering, aim to give tree peonies 5-6 hours of sun a day. Flying Swallow in a Red Dress has huge 8 inch silver red flowers.

Bartzella in bloom.
Intersectional peonies are hybrids between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies. It is difficult to cross the two, which adds to their value. "They took pollen of a tree peony and combined it with herbaceous. The seed became the first intersectional," Furman said. Intersectional peonies are known for their vibrant color palettes with leaves and flowers that resemble tree peonies. Their growth habit is similar to herbaceous peonies but do not require support. After frost in the fall, intersectional peonies are cut back to ground level. They bloom in early June at Cricket Hill Garden (USDA zone 6a). Bartzella is a yellow intersectional peony that is a strong grower with 7-9 inch semi-double flowers with a light lemon scent.

While the peonies bloom in spring, Cricket Hill Garden is open regularly for its Peony Festival. On site are more than 400 tree, herbaceous and intersectional peonies. Peonies ordered now from Cricket Hill Garden will ship in the fall while the plants are dormant. (To see how Cricket Hill peonies compare to competitors, click here.)

I visited during the last week of "Peony Heaven," as Cricket Hill Garden refers to it. It is worth the drive to be able to walk, admire and envision how the flowers would look in your garden. I'm already marking my calendar for the next year to go back when the tree peonies are in bloom, which is the beginning of May.

With the addition of Kasha's son Dan to the business, Cricket Hill has expanded their plant offerings to also include edible plants for sale. "He's growing all sorts of unusual trees," she said. Dan took time to share with me the edible plants Cricket Hill is beginning to offer and hoping to offer in the future. Check out the next blog post to learn more!

To learn more about Cricket Hill Garden or for more information on peony care, visit their blog here.


Wildlife in the Garden

This week I'm taking a break from Floral Friday to highlight some of the welcomed wildlife that has made an appearance in the garden. The absolute, fool-proof way to attract wildlife to your garden is by not using pesticides. People forget that nature is a series of checks and balances; something is always going to come along and eat something else. (The best insect predators I often find in my garden are praying mantises and ladybugs.)

Here's a quick recap of some of the visitors who have visited in June.

I'm 99 percent sure that this is a Fowler's toad. 

This tiger swallowtail butterfly is the first to visit the garden this spring.

I actually enjoy when the squirrel visits my garden. They are so mischievous.

This pair of mourning doves goes everywhere together.
They must be nesting nearby.

My favorite bird, the wren, is difficult to photograph.

Ladybugs eat so many pests, such as aphids. I am so happy when I find
them in my garden.
Not shown is a small garden snake, who I'm hoping is catching all the slugs wrecking havoc on my strawberries.

What wildlife visits your garden?

Garden Tour Gives Glimpse of Guilford's Best Kept Secrets

One of the many flower beds featured in Garden 4 during the Secret Gardens Tour.
GUILFORD, Conn. - Imagine an afternoon of walking through the pages of Better Homes & Gardens.

For attendees of this year's Secret Gardens Tour, the "pages" were filled with bubblegum pink peonies, lush green hostas and beautiful houses.

"The gardeners have been so cooperative," said Helen Carlson, one of the founders of the event and part of the garden tour committee. "I've had fun recruiting people. Their responses are so warm."

The Secret Gardens Tour showcased nine residential gardens of varying skill levels. Six gardens were featured on Sachem's Head (a short drive from downtown) and three were located closer to the Guilford Green.

"What we try to do is to have a spectrum of gardens - simple to more complicated designs - open to the public," she said. "We select gardens with different character."

"We plan the tour so people can walk and socialize with each other." The weather on Saturday, June 14 was perfect for the event with plentiful sunshine and a breeze along Connecticut's coast. While this is the 18th official garden tour, the event has been running for 20 years. (The tours were cancelled for the last two years due to the damage sustained from Hurricane Sandy.) There were 85 volunteers working the event.

Karen Owen, a coordinator of the tours who was stationed at the second garden stop, said the committee has an idea of the area they would like to showcase each year. "Sachem's Head isn't always included in the tour," she said. Sachem's Head featured gardens with varied vistas including ponds and salt marshes.

The gardens that were featured closer to the Guilford Green were also different this year as well, according to Owen.

The admission money benefits Guilford A Better Chance (ABC), which is dedicated to helping close the opportunity gap for talented minority students.

Carlson said ABC focuses on the common good, and she feels the garden tour is a good tie-in. "Everyone loves a garden," and both the garden tours and ABC shows "that we all relate to each other and enjoy each other."

The event was organized and well run, with golf carts available to help attendees get around Sachem's Head. (Word on the golf carts was that Garden 2 was getting the most positive feedback.)

Each garden has different inspirations and scenic vistas that compliment each other. Of the nine gardens open to visitors during the tour, I selected these six to share:


Garden 2

This cottage-style garden features an ancient apple tree with a hole in its base as well as roses, lavender, lamb's ears and hostas. Statuary and seashells dot the garden borders, where the original foundation of the house was laid in 1763. It overlooks the quarry pond in Sachem's Harbor.

A cheerful dog welcomes guests to the garden.

This apple tree has a hole at the bottom of its trunk.

A little bit of whimsey in the garden that hugs the house.

The steps leading up to the pool.

Lavender blooms and pretty statuary personalize the garden. 
A manicured bed of shade-loving plants leads to ...
... this beautiful view. A garden can't go wrong this way.

Garden 3

Visitors are greeted by a long driveway lined with native ferns. The manicured grass surrounded by boxwood was added by the homeowners as an architectural element. Raised vegetable beds are also tucked in on the side. The water view includes daylilies and hydrangeas that were not yet in bloom.

Native ferns flank the driveway.
An open area connects a children's play area with the vegetable garden.
Sometimes a water view can steal the show.


Garden 4

This home and garden is situated on top of pink granite fingers that lead to the sea. With an overall cottage feel, the gardens evolve with the seasons. The vegetable garden, accented with birdhouses that face the water, is planted by the homeowner's grandchildren each year.

Irises pick up the color of the water.
The garden and home are built upon a rock ledge.

A butterfly pauses on a rugosa rose.

Agastache and alliums in the vegetable garden.

The garden is sealed off by a rock ledge on one side.


The water views play into the garden's charm.

Poppies ready for picking.

Window boxes line the deck.

A medley of spring blooming perennials.


Garden 5

Using the best use of a small amount of space, this garden offers charm and sensibility. It is perched atop a rock outcrop at the water's edge with views of Long Island Sound. The vegetable garden was completely restructured to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Peonies add romance to the garden.
Despite it's small size, this garden packs a punch.
Inside the fenced-in vegetable garden.

Yarrow and nepeta play well together.
Climbing hydrangea along the fence that provides a privacy border along the road.

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