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A Garden Of Contained Exuberance

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Every year at The Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge Mass., the curators invite some of the region’s most talented garden and landscape designers to create individual container gardens that are sited throughout the garden. The exhibit is called “Contained Exuberance.” Tucked away in different spots around this 15-acre horticultural gem, visitors come upon these surprise arrangements as they stroll the grounds viewing the permanent beds and display gardens, which are open to the public from May to mid-October.

I was flattered to be asked to design a group of pots this year for the second time. A few years ago, I created an arrangement of succulents of all varieties planted in my own collection of repurposed galvanized tubs, barrels and buckets. I was assigned a spot in full sun on a stone terrace, so I wanted to choose something heat tolerant and tough, but unusual. There are countless varieties of succulents, from the huge-leaved Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri (Donkey ears) to the tiniest baby fingernail-sized chartreuse Sedum ‘Ogon.’ I absolutely adore succulents! Many look like they were either designed by Dr. Seuss or landed on earth from another planet.

This year I chose a spot in the shade and decided to use three graduated vertical containers created by concrete designer Justin Madsen of Marveled Designs, which matched the beautiful bench that he would be displaying at BBG this summer in their “Benched” exhibit. For plant selection, first I chose a color palette, in this case, purples and greens. I specifically focused on foliage plants rather than flowers to minimize maintenance, with no need for deadheading. Removal of yellowing leaves is about all that’s called for and just a few times during the growing season; the more aggressive growers can be trimmed and shaped to keep in balance with the various plants in relation to each other.

Because the light green containers are simple in shape with a contemporary style, I selected a few feature plants that offer dramatic form and interesting texture, exhibiting one or more of colors in the palette. I underplanted them with smaller-leaved choices to soften the hard lines of the pots and to carry the color story through all the vessels. Some act as “ground covers,” some as fillers and some as trailers, to drip down the sides of the pots in soft contrast to the hard surface behind them.

In the tallest pot, I used Alternanthera dentate ‘purple knight,’ Alocasia ‘Regal Shield’ (elephant ear) and Ipomoea batatas ‘illusion emerald lace’ (sweet potato vine). In the medium pot went Alternanthera dentate ‘rubiginosa,’ Dypsis lutescens (areca palm) and Ipomoea batatas ‘sweet Georgia deep purple’ (sweet potato vine).

In the smallest pot, I planted a Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (purple fountain grass) and underplanted that with Asplenium bulbiferum (mother fern). I hoped the purple fountain grass would maintain both green and purple leaves for my color scheme if it was sited in mostly shade rather than turning solid reddish-purple as it does in full sun. I’m happy to report that it has performed as planned, and I’m very pleased with the way it turned out.

There are nine container arrangements created by designers on view at BBG into mid-September along with a fascinating group of benches of all kinds, not to mention that the display gardens are all in their glory right now! It’s worth the trip to take in all this horticultural beauty before the season ends.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/17/16 at 09:47 AM • Permalink

When The Rain Doesn’t Come…Ever

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

I tend to write about the things that are on my mind. These days I’m obsessing about our lack of rain, lying awake nights worrying about the plants I installed in gardens this year. Everywhere I go, people are talking about it. A few nights ago, it rained for 4.5 minutes, exactly. There had been a promise of rain in the air all day. It just felt like it was going to let loose and go on for a while. But alas. That promise was repeated today and it was totally disappointing once again. With the current forecast, there’s no relief in sight.

Like many in these parts, my well does not recover very quickly, so I cannot water with abandon. I have to be very selective about what I water and how I do it. My priorities for watering are, first, plants that have been put in the ground this year and are not established yet. Next are plants that were installed last year and still need some extra help. And then, containers in full sun that dry out in this weather seemingly minutes after they are drenched. I’m letting the grass go dormant. It’ll green up again when (and if) we do get rain. The only silver lining is that mowing isn’t necessary.

There are many techniques for saving water and using it judiciously. I cringe when I see people scattering water willy-nilly over the leaves of plants just until the surface of the soil or mulch looks wet. Nothing is getting to the roots where the plant can take it up into its stems and leaves. Watering must be done at the base of plants and not with a strong stream, which runs off, but with a dribble or a trickle so it has a chance to percolate the layers of soil and seep deep into the base of the root zone. Deep-watering several times a week, rather than brief, daily watering, provides enough moisture for growing plant roots in hot weather.

Soaker hoses winding through the flowerbeds are an excellent method of allowing moisture to reach the base of the plants without losing most of it to evaporation. Hooking up a battery-operated timer to the soaker hose allows you to avoid watering at peak use times and taxing your system or your well. Setting timers for longer periods, less frequently, is better than watering every day.

When it’s hot and dry for long periods, the surface of the soil, even if it’s mulched, becomes baked and hard. When this happens, water can be wicked away from where you want it to go. Gently loosening the area around the base of the plant allows water to reach the desired destination.

The same condition happens with containers. Commercial potting mixes can become water repellent if they get too dry. The potting soil dries up, shrinks and become hard so that when watered, it runs down the inside of the pots and out the bottom without permeating the root ball. You’ll see the water escaping through the drainage holes and think it has been sufficiently hydrated but, in reality, it hasn’t been watered at all. Using your fingers or a small tool to carefully disturb the crusty surface around the base of the plants will improve the saturation conditions.

One important tip to keep in mind: during the heat of the day, especially if plants are sited in direct sun or are exposed to prolonged windy conditions, leaves will look wilted even though you may have watered that morning and the soil appears to be wet. This is a self–defense mechanism employed by the plant to protect the roots. It closes the pores in the leaves to prevent too much transpiration of moisture. If the leaves recover and perk back up late in the day, it doesn’t need more water. If they stay limp, then don’t wait, spot water immediately.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/26/16 at 09:56 AM • Permalink

Garden Dialogues Explore Synergy Between Designer And Client

Salisbury estate. Photo: Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

By Lisa Green

Thanks to the myriad of house and garden tours and “open days” throughout our region, garden aficionados have fairly frequent access to some magnificent private gardens. There, the artful landscapes self describe the what and where of garden design, but missing is the why and how these particular Edens came to be.

On July 31, two distinguished residential estates in Salisbury, Conn. and Millerton, New York will set the scene for Garden Dialogues, a special tour series that benefits The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Larry Weaner, one of the foremost landscape designers in the country — and the designer for these two properties — will engage in a conversation with his clients on the collaborative process between client and designer.

The day offers a unique form of a garden tour in which both the client and the designer participate, revealing how the project was realized. How do designers and clients work together? How do clients get their vision across? What makes for an enduring collaboration?

Millerton estate. Photo: Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

The day begins at a contemporary property in Millerton, where a nuanced treatment in which formal planting arrangements and dramatic stonework dissolve gradually into designed meadows and carefully managed woodlands. In the afternoon, the tour moves to a large estate in Salisbury, where designed natural landscapes run up to and envelop a Georgian mansion with stately formal gardens. The owner, who has won national awards and recognition for management of her estate, will be joined by her on-staff horticulturalist in this Dialogue.

“We get rave reviews from people on the Dialogue series,” says Nord Wennerstrom, director of communications for the Cultural Landscape Foundation. “They connect people to places, which is our mission, but they also give people a depth of understanding they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Each tour lasts about an hour and a half, and participants are invited to bring a lunch to enjoy on the grounds at the first tour. Weaner is providing a jitney from a meeting location in Salisbury to each venue. Tour size is limited and reservations are necessary. The event is tax deductible and proceeds benefit the educational programs of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Garden Dialogues: New York-Connecticut
Sunday, July 31, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/15/16 at 01:04 PM • Permalink

Dispatch From The Garden: Color…And Not

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

The White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle featuring cleome, cosmos, and veronica.

Many people are obsessed with bright blooming color in the garden all season long and I don’t blame them. When I began gardening seriously, I was focused on colorful flowers, too. My taste hasn’t changed; my heart still catches in my throat when I spy blooms in brilliant hues: peonies, dahlias, coneflowers, clematis (and on and on). I’ve already professed my love for chartreuse, but I’ve also developed an appreciation for subtle tonal combinations. One of the most difficult skills to develop as a garden designer is achieving continuous three-season bloom. I’ve certainly gotten better at it after all these years, but I’m always striving to improve. Every time I consider purchasing a plant to install in a garden, I automatically think of this aspect of design.

One reason it’s so hard is many perennials bloom for only a couple of weeks, so planning to have multiple plants ready to burst into flower, just as Plant A, B and C are finishing up, is quite a challenge. This scheme must be repeated from spring through fall. Long-blooming annuals can assist in this goal. It can be expensive to invest in them every season rather than rely on perennials to achieve the all-season garden, but I feel they earn their keep if maintained properly (fertilized, deadheaded and well watered), filling the gaps and endlessly pumping out color whether planted in the ground or in strategically placed containers. Self-sowing annuals (cosmos, larkspur, verbena bonariensis, etc.) are a one-time investment but have to be controlled.

‘Silver Falls’ dichondra planted in an unused fountain to resemble water spilling over the tiers at the Hooper garden in Canaan, N.Y.

On the other side of the color story is white. In the past few years I’ve been creating some all-white scenarios within the context of other gardens. All white is a misnomer because silver, gray, chartreuse, light yellow and other pale foliaged and flowering plants are used, too. Dark green leaves and flowers with bright hues recede as the sun fades. Whites, pastels, chartreuse and silver-gray, which can look faded in the sun’s brightest light, almost float as they emerge from their darker surroundings, reflecting any available light from the moon or other sources. The plant choices depend on whether your light conditions are full sun, shade or a combination, but there are dozens of plants that not only offer sparkly white or pale blooms but also offer fragrance, especially at night. Many light-colored flowers attract pollinators who are busy working the graveyard shift, and exude a perfumed fragrance which helps them be found. 

Any of the panicle-flowered hydrangeas or arborescens types are excellent choices for white gardens. ‘David’ phlox, white or blush pink petunias, Casa Blanca lilies, moonflower, flowering tobacco, and trumpet flower are just a handful of the flowers that will give off a lovely fragrance. Lamb’s ear, ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra,  ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, white thunbergia, ‘Virgin’ or ‘White Swan’ coneflowers, ‘Becky’ daisies, ‘Bridal Veil’ astilbe, white liatris and salvia are excellent choices to carry through the white theme. 

I site these little “moon gardens” where they can be enjoyed after the sun goes down as well as during the light of day. If your days are so hectic that you barely get home by sunset, you could use a spot in the garden that invites you to sit back and relax in a sparkly haven of tranquility. And with our crazy weather patterns, evening is often the only time you can stand to be outside anyway.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/12/16 at 02:18 PM • Permalink

A Beautiful Shade Of Green

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Sun king brightens a semi-shade slope with angelina sedum at the base.

My favorite color is green and I absolutely love chartreuse! It just makes me happy, and whatever you call it — pistachio, acid, lime, neon, yellow-green, golden — my closet is filled with variations of this color. It’s a very versatile color to use in the garden, and my mission is to integrate it into garden designs and container plantings whenever I can. A little chartreuse goes a long way though and has to be used judiciously.

Groundcovers, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees all have chartreuse versions. There’s something available at any point on the scale you wish, and it mixes well with almost any other color. Using it with complementary colors like scarlet, berry, pinks and reds is an easy choice. I also love the greener shades of chartreuse in combination with violet, lilac, deep purple and blues. For “hot” combos of color, it works well with yellow, coral, orange and other citrus-y tones.

Now, as I examine all the gardens I tend, I’m seeing the places where I’ve used chartreuse effectively and where I could add some into the planting scenarios. “Lady’s mantle” (alchemilla mollis) is such a workhorse. It tolerates sun or shade, and the velvety medium-green roundish leaves complement other perennials. At this time in the season, a host of tiny flowers create a frothy cloud of bright green above the foliage. It definitely makes itself apparent, but in a subtle way. The stems make a lovely filler for cut bouquets. When the blooms start to fade, cut the flower stems back to basal foliage and refocus attention on the beautiful foliage.

The chartreuse flowers of lady’s mantle.

Less subtle, and a plant that earns the name “sun king,” aralia cordata is akin to a spotlight in the garden. It features a large, rounded clump of yellow-green compound leaves, topped in summer by 2-foot tall spikes of tiny white flowers. Deep purplish-black inedible berries ripen in fall and birds love them. The foliage retains a good chartreuse color throughout summer. It prefers a mix of sun and shade and if in too much shade, will not be as bright.

In containers, I like to use golden creeping jenny (lysimachia nummularia aurea) as an underplanting to upright plants like elephant ears or annual salvias. Sweet potato vine (ipomoea batatas) “margarita,” with a heart-shaped leaf, and “illusion emerald lace,” with a tri-lobed leaf, are two varieties that I go to again and again. They are quite vigorous and can be used to trail down pots or walls, or be planted in the ground where gaps need to be filled or where you want a shot of vibrant color.

In mixed borders, the relatively small gold mound spirea can be kept compact with a spring pruning every year and it creates good contrast against its darker green companions. Fine-leaved “ogon” is another spirea that mixes well. In my own garden, I let golden feverfew self-sow every season and, in the spring, transplant the small mounds of delicate chartreuse foliage to areas where I need to fill a gap or want to highlight other plants. I also use this method with “jewels of opar” (talinum limone).

There are dozens of additional plants in this exciting color story: varieties of hosta, heuchera, sedum, coleus, caryopteris, sambucus and ornamental grass. Experiment with something chartreuse this season in your garden. I think you’ll agree with me!

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/28/16 at 12:47 PM • Permalink

Amble And Admire The View: Kinderhook Garden Stroll

By Lisa Green

Kinderhook, New York loves its Dutch ancestry. To quote ourselves, “Kinderhook has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to historical architecture.” We’ve previously written about the town’s more famous buildings. But this being garden tour season, Kinderhook wants to introduce visitors to a selected handful of rarely seen private gardens at some of the oldest Dutch houses in town.

On Saturday, June 25 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Village of Kinderhook Office of Economic Development is sponsoring a Garden Stroll at five spectacular properties. Not solely a garden tour, it’s also the opportunity to see up close some of Kinderhook’s collection of preserved 18th and 19th-century homes.

One of them belongs to Sigrid Gray, former horticulture director of The Battery Conservancy in New York City for 15 years, as well as a gardener at the Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Design Museum. She relocated to Kinderhook in 2012 and chose the house in the historic district precisely because she could see its garden potential, which she’s since brought to fruition. Gray will be offering “The Naturalistic Garden” Walk and Talk at her property. It’s a stunning naturalistic garden, with an intermingling of ornamental and edible plants, foliage and bloom.

Other properties on the tour include a cottage-style garden at a 1756 stone Dutch house with Federal brick and clapboard additions; a ramble alongside and behind a circa 1840 Federal home; and a formal boxwood-and-yew courtyard garden inside the walls of a Dutch home built in 1766.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Saturday in Kinderhook without its farmers market, and the always vibrant and schmooze-filled gathering will offer tastings of wine, spirits and cider, plus performances of Carapace Farm Puppetry. As they say, something for everyone.

Proceeds will benefit beautification projects throughout the Village of Kinderhook.

Garden Stroll
Village of Kinderhook, NY

Saturday, June 25, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tickets, $20 , available from 9 a.m. in Kinderhook Village Square

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/18/16 at 11:47 AM • Permalink

‘Books & Blooms’ Garden Tour Crosses The Cornwalls

By Lisa Green

We know, from posting countless listings over the years, that books and gardens loom large in the lives of Rural Intelligence readers. And when those two subjects are combined in one event, as they are in The Cornwall (Conn.) Library’s annual summer benefit and garden tour, we know there will be interest.

Books & Blooms begins on Friday, June 17 with a talk by Mark Prezorski, landscape curator of The Olana Partnership. He will give a presentation on Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana estate and its 250-acre landscape in Hudson, followed by a cocktail reception and sale of garden books.

Tours of five Cornwall-area gardens begin on Saturday, June 18 at 10 a.m. and encourage an exploration of the five villages (Cornwall Village, Cornwall Bridge, Cornwall Hollow, West Cornwall and East Cornwall, for those who wondered about all those Cornwalls). Five diverse gardens will be open, including Michael Trapp’s garden in West Cornwall. The antiques dealer and designer’s garden has been included on other garden days, including a Trade Secrets tour.

“He changes his garden all the time, but this year you’ll think you’re in Tuscany,” says Sandy Fiebelkorn, who’s volunteering with the event. “The garden in Cornwall Village that was on the tour last year was not entirely complete, but now it is and it’s on the tour again. It’s blooming with peonies and roses and surrounded by a hillside with ancient trees and old stone walls.”

And, by the way, the tour goes on rain or shine. “Last year it was really raining,” Feibelkorn says,“but it still happened.” And it’s good for the gardens, right?

Books & Blooms
Presentation and Reception: Friday, June 18 at 5:30 p.m.; $30 (reservations recommended)
The Cornwall Library, 30 Pine Street, Cornwall Village, CT
Garden Tour: Saturday, June 18 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Reception and garden tour, $50
Maps and tickets for the garden tour will be available at the library on the day of the event.
(860) 672-6874

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/11/16 at 10:35 AM • Permalink

A Scattershot Of Spring Thoughts

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Dark Reiter geraniums with and without flowers.

I feel like a bumblebee jumping from one dandelion flower to another right now! My head virtually spins with concerns, lists of plants to buy and making sure I remember to get to all the tasks that need doing in the spring garden.

The weather has been downright confounding! The rollercoaster of fluctuating temperatures, threatening frosts and drying winds has drastically delayed consistent seasonal warming. Those subfreezing temperatures in early April did massive temporary and permanent damage to perennials, fruit trees and evergreens.

The question I’m getting a lot lately is what to do about the severely browned evergreens like arborvitae, cypress and cedar. Extended periods of warm weather followed by a rapid temperature drop is the perfect formula for evergreen freeze damage. These types of trees had already started to acclimate to warmer temperatures and the sudden, severe drop packed a huge wallop. According to my go-to guy for anything “tree,” Doug Mayer of Newton Hook Tree Care, the only thing to do is wait. In June, look for signs of greening buds and don’t prune out the brown branches yet or you may be cutting off the emerging healthy growth. The browned needles (an evergreen’s leaves) will eventually dry and fall off. He says don’t fertilize, and make sure the affected specimens are well watered. If you don’t start to see some signs of green growth by the end of spring, you’ll have to consider replacement.

On a lighter note, I’m determined to focus on new plant combinations for container plantings and mixed borders, and not to resort to the same ol’, same ol’. Many perennials either heaved out of the ground and were lost because of the temperature extremes or suffered so much damage they deserve an honorable burial in the compost pile. This presents an opportunity to introduce something different to an area that has been static for years. Rather than just replacing them with the same plant, I’m trying to use “fresh eyes” to see how I can enliven a design with a new species or foliage color. I’m very fond of a newish selection of meadow cranesbill, “Dark Reiter” geranium. It forms a compact mound of finely cut, plum purple foliage. Dark foliage plants create excellent contrast and make all the plants around them look more interesting.

For pots and window boxes, my spring resolution is to think out of the box and use more perennials mixed with annuals and tropicals, my typical choices. Flowering plants are an essential component of mixed containers but using heucheras (coral bells), for instance, provides a mass of colored foliage that can’t be beat. They’re available in an ever-expanding palette of colors that are not found in annuals. And, at the end of the season, I’ll pop them into an open spot in the garden.

Hopefully the weather will truly warm up soon and we’ll all be able to get those seedlings in the ground before they get too leggy. Oh, and another thing… what about the bumper crop of dandelions this year? The list goes on…

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/17/16 at 11:12 AM • Permalink

Get Ready For Trade Secrets, Our Very Own Garden Of Eden

Bromeliads dazzle at the booth of grower David Burdick’s Daffodils and More. Photo: Stephanie Stanton Photography.

By Madaline Sparks

If you have never been to Trade Secrets, the annual two-day garden event in the Litchfield Hills, really try to make a point to go this year. It is a Mecca for plant lovers and those who covet garden-themed antiques for inside and out. If you have been before, you know the beautiful Lion Rock Farm in Sharon, Conn., with its manicured gardens and panoramic views, is the site of the first day’s spectacular Rare Plant and Garden Antiques Sale, this year on Saturday, May 14.

On Sunday, May 15, take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a self-guided tour of four spectacular and inspiring gardens in the area: the rarely visited home garden of Michael Trapp; Carolyne Roehm’s “Weatherstone;” the extensive plantings, farmland and barns at “Old Farm Nursery;” and Bunny Williams’ and husband John Rosselli’s exquisite garden.

I can’t believe it has been 15 years since I was fortunate to attend the very first Trade Secrets event at world-renowned interior designer, author and garden expert Bunny Williams’ home in Falls Village, Conn. My friend, Naomi Blumenthal, Bunny’s then-head gardener, was a volunteer for Women’s Support Services (WSS), a non-profit organization that offers free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence in northwest Connecticut, nearby Massachusetts and New York. Naomi and Bunny hatched an idea to sell overflow harvest from their greenhouse to raise money for WSS. They added a few antique dealers and local purveyors of plants and produce and Trade Secrets was born. It was a blast and it’s only gotten bigger and better from those early beginnings.

Mossy-surfaced terra cotta pots of all sizes are displayed at a Trade Secrets booth. Photo: Stephanie Stanton Photography.

Although it has evolved dramatically in scope and scale since 2000, one thing that hasn’t changed is the mission to support a great cause: a community free of domestic violence and abuse. Another is the sheer entertainment factor for anyone who loves all things gardening as much I do. Year after year, though I may not be shopping for a fountain for my estate or few-of-a–kind exotic plants for my sunroom, the treat of experiencing these items, all in one place, from dealers and growers from the entire Northeast is not to be matched. And whether you bring a truck to load up your finds or are shopping for a few unusual annuals for your pots on the porch, your garden senses will be tickled beyond your imagination. You’ll leave with feelings of inspiration, aspiration and awe. And benefiting a good cause is the cherry on top. (And, by the way, the entire event is brilliantly and efficiently organized by an army of volunteers.)

At the Saturday event, Trade Secrets is hosting a special signing to celebrate three new gardening books: Outstanding American Gardens; A Celebration – 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy edited by Page Dickey; At Home in the Garden by Carolyne Roehm; and The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer.

For first crack at anything truly rare or unique, take the early buying opportunity from 8-10 a.m. (including breakfast) for $125. Regular admission starts at 10 for $40, and latecomers get a discount from 1 p.m. on for $20.

Purchase admission at the ticket booth at the farm. Tickets for the garden tours ($70) may be purchased at the ticket booth at Lion Rock and at the gardens on Sunday. 

Trade Secrets Rare Plant & Garden Antiques Sale
Saturday, May 14
Lion Rock Farm, Rt. 41 & Hosier Rd., Sharon, CT
Early Buying 8-10 a.m., $125 (with breakfast)
Regular admission 10 a.m.-3 p.m., $40; Latecomers discount from 1-3 p.m., $20
Extraordinary Garden Tours
Sunday, May 15
10 a.m.-4 p.m., $70
(860) 364-1080

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/02/16 at 08:58 PM • Permalink

Choosing A Favorite Flower Is Like Picking A Favorite Child

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. This week, we welcome Madaline Sparks to our gardening column. She is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

An armload of peonies ready for a vase.

It is pretty much impossible to ask a garden enthusiast to choose a favorite plant or flower and get one answer. I have favorites in lots of different categories: shade plants, flowering trees, low-maintenance plants, deer-resistant ones, and on and on. If I were forced to identify a favorite flower, I couldn’t possibly choose between two: peony and dahlia.

Peonies absolutely melt me! Even more so because they are so fleeting every season. They emerge in early spring with their red asparagus tip-like spires and, as the weather warms, evolve into dozens of stems covered in hundreds of shiny green leaves topped with fat golf-ball size buds. Ants scramble over them, attracted to the sweet nectar secreted by the bud. (In case you’re wondering, ants do not harm the plants, and the buds do not require the ants to open.) The anticipation of their opening is torturous for me! 

I have more than a dozen different varieties: single, semi-double, double, double bomb. Colors include white, blush, Barbie pink, magenta, fuchsia, red and coral. And, oh my, when they open, I’m in heaven. I generally cut them and bring them inside. I have a collection of vases, big and tall enough to put armloads in every room. Their fragrance delicately perfumes the air and their sheer decadence makes me happy. This practice ensures I get to enjoy them no matter what the weather brings. Downpours tend to turn fully open blossoms into blobs that look like so many wet petticoats. I can’t bear to see them wasted like that, so preemptively cutting them before they can be ruined means I get to enjoy them as long as possible.

My other favorite flower, dahlia, has a slight edge over peonies in that once they start blooming, they keep producing until frost, usually sometime in October. They are so prolific that I can cut as many as I want for bouquets inside and still enjoy their brilliant blossoms in the garden.

Ball dahlias are rounded, loaded with petals and resemble some larger double zinnias.

There are 21 different dahlia flower forms to choose from. I absolutely adore ball and pompom forms because of their tightly quilled petals arranged in a spiral shape. They look like a chambered nautilus, which just amazes me. I also love the Dinner Plates; as the name implies, they produce enormous flowers. Actually, I never met a dahlia I didn’t like but I prefer the longer stemmed varieties for cutting. The colors are killer too; choose from reds, pinks, yellows, whites, lavenders, purples and oranges. Some are striped or splashed with contrasting colors, but I am partial to solid colors in rich, deep shades.

Another big difference between these two plants is that peonies are hardy perennials and dahlias grow from tubers that can’t survive a winter in the ground in our zone. (It’s ridiculous that such incredibly beautiful flowers are produced by such odd little clumps of sweet potato-shaped blobs!) If you want to have the same dahlias year after year, you must dig them after fall frosts blacken and wither their foliage, rinse them thoroughly and store them in a cool dry spot over the winter.

If you already have dahlia tubers in winter storage, it’s still too early to move them outside. Late spring temperatures can fluctuate, leaving some gardeners pondering when to start planting tubers in the garden. Here’s an easy rule — when the garden soil is warm, then you can plant. Soil temperatures should be at least 55 to 60˚F before you plant dahlias in the garden. The soil should also be well draining. If you are adding plants to new locations in the garden, take the time to test for pooling water. If water does not drain or the soil remains soggy for eight hours, the spot may be too wet for tubers. Amend the soil, plant them in a raised bed or pick a new spot. I plant many of my dahlias in pots into ensure good drainage and maintain control over fertilizing during bloom time.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/18/16 at 11:36 AM • Permalink