Switch Grass

Panicum Heavy MetalOrnamental grasses have been part of the plant palette on Nantucket as long as I have been gardening here.  They are deer resistant, low maintenance and easy to grow with little pest or disease problems.  They are also beautiful.  Although there are many native grasses available, most of the species that we sell are of Asian or African origin.  Maiden grass and fountain grass are neck and neck for our top sellers.  Unfortunately, both have the potential to produce viable seeds by the thousands in warmer climates.  There is a fear that these vigorous plants could become invasive, if temperatures continue to rise.  Luckily, there are many grasses that have evolved in North America that are well-adapted to our growing conditions.  Switch grass, aka panic grass, is one of those.

The botanical name for switch grass, Panicum refers to its flowers, which botanists call paniculate, or many-branched.  Panicum virgatum, is the most common species we sell in this genus but there are also other species available in commerce.  As a whole, switch grasses are extremely adaptable.  They thrive in full sun in average soil with even moisture, but they tolerate short periods of drought and light shade.

Although many cultivars have a naturalistic, almost weedy, appearance there are many varieties on the market that have tidier habits as well.  ‘Northwind’  has a very tight, upright form; ‘Heavy Metal’ is also very upright, but somewhat looser.  If a tall, narrow form is called for, try ‘Thundercloud’.  A large cultivar like ‘Cloud Nine’ would replace a tall maiden grass very well in a design.  Where a shorter plant is desired, ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ or ‘Shenandoah’  would swap in nicely.   Try ‘Dewey Blue’, ‘Dallas Blues’ or ‘Prairie Sky’ if bluish foliage is up your alley.  Still others have been selected for red/purple streaks in the foliage.  ‘Ruby Ribbons’ ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ will all show purple on the leaves during the growing season.

For a complete list of the switch grasses we carry check out our Switch Grass Pinterest Board

Tomato Training 101

Chocolate Sprinkles tomatoI hate growing tomatoes.  They seem to get every problem that plants can get:  early blight, late light, anthracnose, grey mold, damping off, powdery mildew, nutrient deficiencies, tomato horn worms, aphids, nematodes, spider mites … the list seems endless.  That being said, every year we have a few tomatoes left over at the nursery that find their way into large pots for staff enjoyment.  They are most often neglected and the harvest is minimal if any.  But once again, I’ve gone for it.  We have some ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Sungold’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’ and ‘Lemon Boy’.  I’m determined to have a bumper crop this year!


twineI am by no means an expert on tomato culture, but I have done a lot of reading over the years.  I’m still a little stymied when it comes to the perfect nutrition for these plants, but when it comes to training, I think I have it down.  We’re lucky to have a greenhouse at the nursery.  Growing these veggies under a roof seems to be making a big difference already.  Here is my set up:  I tied a thick length of twine to one of the purlins (supporting pipes) that runs down the length of the greenhouse and allowed it to dangle down to the plants in each pot.  Next I tied each plant to the twine, with a loose figure eight knot using some flexible tape.  I planted two tomatoes in each plastic nursery pot, super deep.  Then I filled them up with nursery growing mix and some slow release fertilizer to get them going.


trainingIf left to their own devices, these plants would sprawl on the ground, forming a tangled heap with smaller, lesser-quality fruit.  Judicious training and pruning should encourage fewer, but higher-quality, tomatoes that are held close to the support and easy to pick.  Proper pruning also maximizes air flow and sun exposure as well, hopefully reducing fungal infections.



Leaf axilAs the plants grow, I select two leaders and continue to tie them loosely to the twine support as they grow.  I prune away any other shoots.   I have continued to prune the vines every week.  Most of the growth is at the tip of each leader, but there are also many side shoots that emerge from the leaf axils along the vine.  I pay close attention to those shoots and pinch them off when they are a few inches long.  If I miss a few, and their diameter increases, I use my pruners so that I don’t damage the vine trying to tug them loose.






Spiraea 101

The increasing size of the white-tailed deer herd on Nantucket has had a huge impact on gardening.  These large herbivores seem to much prefer eating our well tended plants over the natural vegetation.  It can be devastating to walk into the garden in the morning to find whole groups of plants completely torn to the ground overnight.  These large animals sneak in and out of our gardens in the dead of night, like ghosts, often leaving behind only shreds of our prized flowers and veggies.  What are we to do?  Many gardeners have simply given up.  For those that enjoy growing food and flowers for the home, the best bet is a tall, sturdy fence and a dedicated garden.  But do we really have to forgo a beautiful landscape with successive seasons of bloom and interest?  I don’t think so.  Where deer pressure is high, I suggest planting more deer-resistant shrubs and less perennials.  Spiraeas are a fantastic way to go.

There are many species of Spiraea, but the majority of those cultivated are Spiraea japonica.  The top sellers for us are x bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’, ‘Neon Flash’ and ‘Little Princess’.  All three flower in hues of pink and red over a long period in the summer.  However, there are a great many other Spiraeas to take advantage of.  There are large varieties that will arch over the back of the border, dwarf forms that can be used as ground covers, and a lot of rounded forms that seem to be at home almost anywhere in the landscape.  They come in a range of colors from shades of red to clear white and everything in between.  With a little planning and strategic maintenance, the clever gardener can have flowers from March until September with this versatile plant.

Generally Spiraea prefer a sunny location with average to fertile soil.  That being said, they are extremely forgiving.  As long as they get a little water during droughts, they will thrive in lean soils with a good layer of organic mulch over their roots.  Part sun is just fine for most varieties, although they may tend to stretch a little more than their peers growing in the sun.  Overall, Spiraeas are pest and disease free, and require more or less the same amount of maintenance than perennials to perform their best.

A few cultural notes:

  • In the nursery, we notice Thunberg’s Ogon Spiraea tends to get powdery mildew early in the season and aphids can be a problem.  Consider spraying a fungicide like copper at the first sign of mildew and scouting for aphids while new growth is tender.  Insecticidal soap does a great job controlling these little buggers.
  • Bumalda hybrids can get fungal spots when they are packed tightly together with overhead water.  We suggest drip tubes for irrigation and a renewal pruning every few years, to keep these plants looking their best.  If the spent flowers are a problem, shear them off as the petals fall;  this haircut will tidy the plants and promote another bloom cycle five or six weeks later the same season.
  • Early flowering types like ‘Ogon’, Snowmound’, vanhouteii and ‘Tor’ can be pruned while dormant just like their summer flowering cousins, but all the growth removed would have flowered in spring.  For the largest flower display, hold off pruning until just after flowers have faded.  The ideal way to prune these graceful shrubs is by thinning, rather than shearing.  Shearing destroys the natural form and promotes a ‘witches broom’ appearance as many twigs regrow at the ends of trimmed branches.  In situations where these plants are used as hedging or topiary, ignore these suggestions; shear the plants into the desired shape while dormant and follow up in early summer with another cut.

For Photos of all these plants, check out our Pinterest Page:  Spiraea Pinterest Board

Common varieties are listed below:

Japonica and Japonica hybrids (Japanese Spiraea)

♠ These plants benefit from a light shearing after their first flush of flowers.  This treatment removes deadheads and promotes a second flush of bloom later in the season. ♠

Spiraea x bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer‘ : This widely planted Spiraea, grows 4-5’ tall and wide with Carmine-pink flowers in summer. New growth is red, changing to bronze and maturing green. This variety is prone to branch sports with variegated leaves.

Spiraea Double Play ™ Artist aka Spiraea japonica ‘Galen’:  A newer introduction with purple-red foliage in spring, that matures to a bluish green in summer.  Low, mounded form 2- 21/2′ tall and wide with rich pink flowers.

Spiraea x japonica ‘Gold Mound’:  Hybrid between S. j. var. alpina and S. xbumalda ‘Goldflame’.  New leaves emerge bright yellow and mature to a light green in summer.  Flowers are lavender pink.  These Spiraea grow 2.5-3′ tall.

Spirea japonica ‘Golden Princess’:  The dainty foliage emerges orangy-red, but matures to yellow.  Bares pink flowers.  Mounded habit, growing to 30″.

Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame‘:  New leaves are orangy-red, changing to yellow and mature to light green in summer.   Pink flowers.  3′-4’ tall and wide.

Spiraea japonica ‘Little Princess’:  Small leaves.  Pink flowers in summer. This compact form will grow to about 3′ tall and wide.

Spiraea Magic Carpet ™:  Dirr remarks, “Almost a ground cover variation of ‘Goldflame’.”  New leaves are orangy-red, changing to yellow and mature to light green in summer.  Pink flowers.  Mounded habit, growing to 2.5-3′ tall and wide.

Spiraea japonica ‘Neon Flash’:  Extremely similar to ‘Anthony Waterer’ but has less branch sports. Carmine pink flowers in summer.  Foliage emerges red, changes to bronze and matures green.  Rich red flowers on 5′ tall, rounded plants.

Spiraea japonica ‘Shirobana’ aka ‘Shibori’: A small shrub growing 2.5-3.5′ tall and wide.  Bears pink and white flowers on the same plant.  Some plants will display quite a lot of white, while some are mostly pink.

Nipponica (Nippon Spiraea)

Spiraea nipponica ‘Snowmound’:  These large arching Spiraea will grow from 5-7′ tall and wide.  Blue green foliage is somewhat ovate, with slightly toothed edges.  White flowers appear along the branches in late May or June, making the plant look somewhat like a gushing fountain.  Dirr claims ‘Snowmound’ is a superior plant to x vanhouteii, another white Spiraea that flowers in early summer.  Pruning may be done while the plant is dormant, but all the growth removed would have flowered in early summer.  For the largest flower display, hold off pruning until just after flowers have faded.   Shearing destroys the natural form and promotes a ‘witches broom’ appearance as many twigs regrow at the ends of trimmed branches.  In situations where these plants are used as hedging or topiary, ignore these suggestions; shear the plants into the desired shape while dormant and follow up in early summer with another cut.

Prunifolia (Bridalwreath Spiraea)

Spiraea prunifolia:  This old favorite is a large rangy plant.  The double, white flowers appear in mid April on bare stems.  Although there are always a few customers each year that request this plant, we don’t often stock it.  Other white-flowered Spiraeas are much better landscape plants.

Thunbergiana (Thunberg’s Spiraea)

Spiraea thunbergiana ‘Ogon’ aka Mellow Yellow®:  I love this plant!  The fine textured foliage is soft yellow maturing to light green.  Tiny white flowers appear on bare stems in early spring.  This arching shrub gets 3-5′ tall, but is best maintained by periodic pruning at 3′.  In the nursery, we notice Thunberg’s Ogon Spiraea tends to get powdery mildew early in the season and aphids can be a problem.  Consider spraying a fungicide like copper at the first sign of mildew and scouting for aphids while new growth is tender.  Insecticidal soap does a great job controlling these little buggers.

x Vanhouteii (Vanhoutte Spiraea)

Spiraea xvanhouteii:  Leaves are bluish green, lobed and wider than ‘Snowmound’ This large shrub grows 6-8′ tall and just as wide.  The small white flowers appear in April or early May, along the arching branches.    Pruning may be done while the plant is dormant, but all the growth removed would have flowered in early summer.  For the largest flower display, hold off pruning until just after flowers have faded.  Shearing destroys the natural form and promotes a ‘witches broom’ appearance as many twigs regrow at the ends of trimmed branches.  In situations where these plants are used as hedging or topiary, ignore these suggestions; shear the plants into the desired shape while dormant and follow up in early summer with another cut.

Betulifolia (Birch leafed Spiraea)

Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor’:  Leaves are green, wider, and stubbier than many other spiraea, but still slightly lobed and toothed.  White flowers Appear in May among the leaves.  These plants are compact, 24-36″ tall and wide with a rounded habit.

Spiraea betulifolia Glow Girl® :  A Proven Winners introduction.  Very similar to ‘Tor’ but with yellow foliage.  White flowers in May, 24-36″ tall and wide.  Rounded Habit.


We love foxgloves.  These stately, nostalgic biennials have been a stalwart of the early summer cottage garden for ages. Their spires of unique, bell-shaped flowers bring a magical quality to any mixed planting.  On the island, they are equally happy in sun or shade.  The tall varieties tower over the back of the border, while the more compact selections are suitable to mingle with lady ferns and hostas at the edge of shady paths.

In recent years, there has been a break-through in hybrid foxglove.  DIGIPLEXIS is the result of an inter-generic cross between Digitalis and Isoplexis, a shrub indigenous to the Canary Islands.  The resulting hybrid retains positive attributes from both plants.  They bloom in their first year on well-branched plants, with a stunning depth of color for the entire summer!

Illumination Flame
‘Illumination Flame’

Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ was the first on the scene.  Bred by Charles Valin at Thompson & Morgan in the United Kingdom, this plant bears many spikes of flame-colored flowers from late spring to fall.  The hybrid nature of this plant makes the plant sterile, so there is no fear of volunteers.  Although Digiplexis is technically a perennial, gardeners on Nantucket haven’t had much luck wintering them over in the ground.  The best bet is to plant them as annuals and enjoy their stunning flower display for a summer, replanting them the following year.  They make a fantastic statement in pots, or in mixed perennial beds, where no other plant can perform quite as they do.



Berry Canary
‘Berry Canary’

We’ve gotten more and more into growing at Surfing Hydrangea over the last few years, so I thought I would give Digiplexis a try.  We’ve grown a great crop of ‘Berry Canary’.  This plant was introduced by Walters Gardens in the United States in 2014, and promises to be just as floriferous as the original.  The hot pink flowers on ‘Berry Canary’ have a creamy, speckled throat.  This selection is somewhat more compact than ‘Illumination Flame’, touted to grow only a few feet tall.  This more proportional habit may make it suit containers even better than ‘Illumination Flame’.  We still have a few left, why not give them a try?!




Ruby Glow
‘Foxlight Ruby Glow’

The popularity of this new plant has begun a breeding frenzy.  We expect to see more and more new varieties coming to market each year.  Check out the Foxlight series introduced last year.  We’ve got Foxlight Ruby Glow in stock as well.

Hybrid Rosa rugosa

I’d dare to say that Rosa rugosa is the most widely planted species of rose on Nantucket.  The plain species form has a gorgeous deep pink, single flower; however there are many hybrids to consider as well.  A single white form, var. alba, has also been selected.

Check out the following cultivars for a little variety in your Rosa rugosa beds:

Rosa rugosa Collage

Rosa rugosa var. alba:  White single flowers

Rosa rugosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp’ aka ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’:  Introduced in 1914.  Medium-sized shrub 3-4′ tall.  Single pale pink flowers

Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’:  Introduced in 1905.  5′ tall shrub.  Large, ruffled, double magenta-purple flowers.

Rosa rugosa ‘Henry Hudson’:  Introduced in 1976.  Short shrub, growing to 2′.  Flattened, double-white flowers.

Rosa rugosa ‘Jens Munk’:  A Canadian introduction, 1974.  Light pink-double flowers.

Rosa rugosa ‘Pink Grootendorst’:  Introduced in 1923.  Taller, upright shrub growing to 5′ or more.  1″ tight, frilled pink flowers.

Rosa rugosa ‘Purple Pavement’:  Introduced in 1983.  Compact, rounded shrub growing to 3′.  Large, semi-double, deep magenta flowers.

Rosa rugosa ‘Snow Pavement’:  Introduced in 1986.  Compact, rounded shrub, growing to 3′.  Large, semi-double, pale pink flowers that  mature to white.

Rosa rugosa ‘Therese Bugnet’:  Introduced in 1941.  Taller, upright shrub growing to 5′.  Red stems.  Medium pink, fully-double flowers.

Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’

Rosa rugosa is one of Nantucket’s quintessential plants, right up there with blue Hydrangeas.   These Asian roses have been grown on Nantucket since the beginning of the last century, and possibly earlier.  They do very well in our inhospitable maritime environment.  They tolerate salty winds freezing winters and drought, all the while producing loads of flowers and disease-free foliage.  They can be found planted all over the island and have naturalized in many of our dunes.

Rosa rugosa 'Hansa' flowers
Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ flowers

The botanical Latin term, “rugosa” means wrinkled.  It refers to the quilted look of the shiny green leaves.  Rosa rugosa has a beautiful pink single, or sometimes white flower.  The white-flowered plants are often labeled as the cultivar, ‘Alba.’  The fragrant, single flowers are very beautiful, but there are many cultivars available with different flowering characteristics.

We currently have a large group of ‘Hansa’ in stock.  This stunning rose was introduced in 1904, making it more than a century old!   ‘Hansa’ sports huge, fully double flowers in a deep pink color.  They flower throughout the summer perfuming the air with a clove-like fragrance.  After the flowers fade, their hips enlarge and turn shades of orange and red, making them even more interesting to look at.

For more information check out our Blog post Rosa rugosa 101

Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’

Pauls Hymalayan MuskWe sell loads and loads of climbing roses here at Surfing Hydrangea.  Happily, antique climbers grown on their own roots are coming back into popularity.  Many of these are rambling roses with long flexible canes that lend well to growing on split rail fences, up into trees and over pergolas.  These guys are large, but if planted in the right place and allowed to sprawl, they make a spectacular show in June.
We’ve just stocked a group of ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ roses that are sure to please.  This variety was introduced around the turn of the century and has been growing strong ever since.  This rose is disease resistant and very adaptable – said to bloom heavily with only half day of sun.  Although rambling roses only bloom once, they are well worth the wait.  ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ covers itself in double pink blossoms that produce an intoxicating scent.  A 30′ tall cascading curtain of roses can’t be missed!

Japanese Plum Yew

Cephalotaxus sps.

Cephalataxus harringtonia for webIsland gardeners tend to grow few evergreen trees and shrubs compared to their counterparts in America.  Admittedly, it can be difficult to grow robust conifers and broad-leafed evergreens on Nantucket.  Desiccating salty winds and hungry deer can do a real number on them, especially in the winter.   But in town, or in a protected garden, free from deer, evergreens can be grown successfully on The Grey Lady

One of my favorite evergreen shrubs in Japanese plum yew.  This elegant evergreen very much resembles it’s namesake.  Like Yews (Taxus sps.), there are several species and forms on the market today.  We tend to carry Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’ for use as a spreading form and Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’  for it’s columnar shape.

These cultivars are males, and will not bear fruit as many yews do.  The broad needles are a slightly shiny deep green color and look just like exaggerated yew foliage.  The green color persists in winter as long as the plants aren’t in an exposed location.  This makes them a nice alternative to boxwood, which can bronze or even turn bright orange in winter.  Although we can’t say Japanese plum yew is the answer to all your evergreen desires, it has proved to be very durable and somewhat deer-resistant in one neighborhood in Tom Nevers.

This plant will tolerate a number of conditions, but is best grown in shade.  It will flourish in moist, well drained soil and, once established, won’t miss a beat during short dry spells.  Try pairing the spreading types with plants that have broad, variegated or colored leaves like Hostas.  Why not go for the gold and pop in some spring bulbs like Scilla or Snow Drops to bloom in bare areas while the Hostas are still asleep in early spring?  The dainty flowers would look great set off by the deep green needles of the Japanese plum yew.  The upright form ‘Fastigiata’ makes a superb punctuation in the garden.  Plant it next to an entry or a funky container; it would also make a great hedge if well-maintained.

Hydrangea paniculata Cultivars

Hydrangea paniculata flowers
Hydrangea paniculata flowers

We love Hydrangeas here at the nursery, and not just the mop heads.  We love them all!  My personal favorite species at the moment is Hydrangea paniculata. These beauties bloom reliably year after year, and don’t require complicated pruning to do so.  Every year it seems there are more cultivars on the market.  In fact, it’s gotten really hard to keep them all straight!

A few weeks ago, Anna took the time to compile a list of the panicle Hydrangeas we carry.  It’s a good beginning, but we are happy to answer questions in person too.


‘Angel’s Blush’
Type of Flower: Lacy
Size: Fast growing to 8 to 12 ft. tall, 6 to 10 ft. wide.
Color: Long-lasting, 10 inch-long white flower clusters in early summer.  Rosy-red as they age in late summer and fall.

Type of Flower: Mounded
Size: 3ft tall to 3-4ft wide (Dwarf)
Color: Creamy white flowers in summer, providing a nonstop show until frost. In fall, flowers may turn a pinkish hue.

Type of Flower: Compact, mounded
Size: Dwarf Form 2-3ft both in height and width
Color: White to ivory

Type of Flower: Lacy
Size: 3-4ft Tall & 3ft Wide
Color: Starts off white but quickly turns to a rose.
‘Fire & Ice’

Type of Flower: Lacy
Size: 3-4ft Tall & 3-4ft Wide
Color: Blooms open creamy white in early summer, turn pink in mid-summer, becoming deep red in fall.

Type of Flower: Mounded
Size: 15-30ft Tall & 10-15ft Wide
Color: Giant white flower heads turning pink with age.

‘Great Star’
Type of Flower: Large, starry blooms.
Size: 6-7ft Tall, equal in width
Color: Creamy White

‘Kyushu’ or ‘Snow Mountain’
Type of Flower: Lacy
Size: 15-20ft Tall to 10ft Wide
Color: Mid July flowers are white and turn pinkish to almost purple with age.

Type of Flower: Mounded
Size: 6-8ft Tall, equal in width
Color: Unique chartreuse blooms in mid-summer that changes to pink in fall.

‘Little Lamb’
Type of Flower: Mounded
Size: 6-8ft Tall and 4-6ft in Width
Color: White

‘Little Lime’
Flower Type: Mounded
Size: 3-5ft both in height and width, considered as “dwarf” variety
Color: Green, turning pink in the fall

‘Little Quick Fire’
Flower Type: Large, loosely held blooms
Size: 3-5ft both in height and width
Color: Open creamy-white, quickly turn a deep rosy-pink

Flower Type: Mounded
Size: 8-10ft Tall, 10ft Wide
Color: Creamy pink

‘Pink Diamond’
Flower Type: Cone, mounded
Size: 8-10ft both in height and width
Color: White flowers that age to pink

‘Pinky Winky’
Flower Type: Large Lacy Blooms
Size: 6-8ft Tall
Color: The large white panicles open in mid to late-summer, and as summer turns to fall the florets at the base of the panicles turn pink

Flower Type: Lacy
Size: 6-8ft Tall and Wide
Color: Begins white, turns pink as the summer progresses.

‘Sweet Summer’
Flower Type: Mounded
Size: 4ft. Tall and Wide
Color: Shows white and shades of pink at the same time.

‘The Swan’
Flower Type: Starry like blooms, lace-like qualities.
Size: 4-6ft Tall and Width
Color: Primarily white, shows shades of pink and ivory.

Flower Type: Lacy
Size: Reaches 8-10ft Tall Spreads 6-10ft
Color: White and shades of pink

Flower Type: Lacy
Size: 6-10ft Tall and 6-10ft Wide
Color: Mostly white with shades of pink

‘Vanilla- Strawberry’
Flower Type: Mounded
Size: Reaches 6-8ft tall, spreads 4-6ft
Color: White, pink to pinkish-red