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

Taking Care of Your Body

This Summer has been one of the busiest in recent years here at Surfing Hydrangea.  Contractor sales have been higher than ever and retail business is also strong.  For me, it’s been strange to not be at the nursery, in the thick of things, during the busiest part of the year.

As many of you know, I have been out of commission since the beginning of June.  I started back to work the second week of August after two months off.  What seemed to be just another sore back this spring, shifted into extremely painful sciatica issues in late may.  Apparently I badly herniated one of the disks in my lower back and ended up having back surgery in June.

It really gets one thinking about how our physical bodies are connected to our livelihood in the green industry.  For me, seasons of spring pruning, garden maintenance and fall clean-ups really did a number on my body.  Add a few years of nursery work, wrenching heavy boxwood up out of the chips and moving large containerized plants all over the yard and VOILA! Stuck on the floor, laying on my side with a pillow between my knees for two months when I could have been selling plants!

I’m a shining example of what NOT to do.  I seldom paid any attention to how I lifted things.  I worked hard, and not very smart.  My body has paid the price.  Please, please please, take care of yourself out there!

  • Avoid twisting when lifting heavy objects like buckets of mulch.  When possible, use a wheel barrow instead.
  • Try to bend at the knees and use your legs to lift, instead of bending at the waist and rounding your back.

  • Avoid bending for long periods.  If the shell driveway needs to be weeded, put the whole crew on it for half an hour instead of sending out one person to work on it for four hours.
  • Break up monotonous tasks that involve bending with other work that allows you to straighten your back.  i.e. Alternate cleaning the day lilies with deadheading the tall butterfly bush.
  • Landscaping is hard work, and often a little frantic.  It’s so important to move steadily forward, but avoid running around the job site.  The likelihood of tripping on an errant rake is much higher if you aren’t paying attention to your feet.
  • Strain caused by repetitive motions is cumulative. Try to limit repetitive motions if possible, or break them up.  i.e We know that gardeners have to bend over to cut down ornamental grasses in the fall.  But, do we need to send out a crew to cut down all the grasses in the customer list for an entire week?  Consider breaking it up so that crew members can recover from the strain, while continuing to work on other tasks, like fall pruning or fencing.
Those of us who are out there, year after year, really love our jobs!  Pay attention to how you use your body.  If you are mindful, you can garden as long as you want.  But trust me, if you aren’t mindful, there is a distinct possibility that your body won’t let you.
-Brad MacDonald

Grow Bags

The industry standard for large woody plants has always been balled and burlapped, or B&B. In this production style, liner trees are grown in the field until salable size. In order to ship them, they are dug with a mechanized spade. The root ball is wrapped with burlap, twine and/or a wire cage. Most often, digging is done in the spring or fall while the plants are dormant.  There are several drawbacks to this style of growing: Most of the root system of the plant is left in the field, so transplanted trees must rapidly grow a new root system during the first year of planting to support the top growth. The root balls of field-dug plants can be extremely heavy, which can make planting difficult and expensive. Unless trees are root-pruned, it is not advisable to dig trees while in leaf; this limits custom orders to Spring and Fall. Some also believe that the difference between the native soil and the soil in the root ball can inhibit establishment.

A new system for growing larger nursery stock in bags has been gaining popularity.  Liner trees are planted in a felt-like bag with a relatively light soil mix. These are then planted in the field, bag and all. As the root system of the small tree grows it fills the bag and some roots penetrate the bag into the surrounding soil. The bags encourage a well-branched, fibrous root system that is easily harvested with minimal root disturbance. The roots do not circle around the trunk, as roots often do in plastic containers.

Trees grown in these e bags establish extremely quickly, without the transplant shock that is associated with B&B material. This system also allows for a much smaller and lighter root system that is far easier to handle and plant, decreasing costs from harvesting to installation. Keep in mind, the bags MUST be removed just prior to planting. Having stocked trees grown this way, we advise a sturdy staking system at planting. Tree that we have brought in to the nursery grown this way have tendency to blow over in a much lighter wind than conventional B&B trees.

-Brad MacDonald

Spider Plants

During the winter when we have to spend more time indoors than out, the avid gardener can start to get lonely for plants. This winter, I’ve found the cure: houseplants! I have to admit, I’ve never been the kindest to houseplants. I’m great with shrubs, annuals and perennials outdoors. But for some reason, I’ve never been able to commit to the proper care of live plants indoors. I’ll pick up a Boston fern at Bartlett’s in the fall and watch it slowly languish over the winter from neglect. Generally, it will be pretty much dead by spring and I can toss it into the compost heap about the time I plant my carrots in the vegetable garden.

This fall, I decided to try something a little different. I’d been living in a basement apartment, and I knew I couldn’t bare to be down there all winter without some kind of greenery. So I committed to keeping my Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant) alive. My partner even bought several other plants to keep it company. Of the whole foliage contingent at my place, the spider plant has been the most successful.

I’ve moved it all over the house; from the bright, humid bathroom, to the dim, dry living room. It doesn’t seem to care in the least. I’ve let it completely dry out several times during trips off island, and it keeps going strong. In fact, it seems to love it! No matter how much I neglect it, the thing just keeps on pushing out babies left and right. When I can be bothered, I snip off the little plantlets that pop up and dangle over the side of the pot. I stick them in glass of water, and watch them root over the course of a few weeks. I’ve had so much fun that I’ve even potted a few up and given them away to my friends!

So after turning my nose up at houseplants for years, the spider plant has converted me! I am now a happy indoor gardener. If you’ve killed hundreds of dollars worth of lucky bamboo, diefenbachia and ficus trees like me, fear not! A $12.99 trip to Stop and Shop might make all the difference in your indoor gardening success. Give the Spider Plant a try! Soon enough you too, could have a whole house filled with calming plants to keep you company during the cold days of winter!

Off-Island Nursery Tour

One of the highlights of last week for Britt and I was a visit to several of our purveyors off-island. After a long summer of selling plants here at Surfing Hydrangea, it was a real treat to take a business trip. With over thirty years combined experience in the green industry, we still find a trip to see our growers valuable and interesting.

Our first day was spent with a morning of travel and a visit to a grower with a vast series of fields and green houses. Literally thousands of cultivars of annuals perennials, shrubs, grasses and trees were neatly row-ed up in groups at various stages of growth. We were told they have over 40 miles of cover able green houses! I was particularly taken aback by the hydrangeas. We sell a great deal of hydrangeas each year, and at times I feel like I am swimming in mop-heads and floating on a sea of panicles. But I was stunned to see thousands upon thousands of ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas in their customary blue pots.

Perspective. The green industry is huge.

Plant GroupOn our second day we visited one of our favorite growers in Franklin, CT. This operation grows the best quality perennials and vines in our region. We walked around fields and fields of flowers in full bloom. I was surprised to see that their largest crop of shade plants were grown outside under a huge stand of oak trees. It reminded me of our little shade section, shaded by a stand of aging pines. Even when growing is more and more mechanized, it’s refreshing to know that low-tech, natural approaches still have a place.

The hectic pace of summer past, and a great visit to our growers behind us, we’re back at Surfing Hydrangea, re-invigorated and ready to power through the fall. Plants are Cool!

-Brad MacDonald

How to Prune Mop Head Hydrangeas

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Cassel' - Blue Cassel Big Leaf Lacecap Hydrangea

There are a lot of things that define what kind of gardener a person is.  Some of us are spring clean-up people, some are fall clean up people; some like to prune woodies in fall, some in spring. If you are a spring pruner, it’s the perfect time to get out your pruners and go to work! One of the plants often pruned this time of year is Hydrangea macrophylla.



When Pruning Hydrangeas keep your objectives in mind:

  • Removal of spent flowers from the previous season.
  • Removal of dead wood.
  • Thinning out the shrub by removing:  Stems that are older than three years; Large complex branches; Branches that cross the center and tend to rub on more desirable stems; Stems that run horizontally along the ground and root, increasing the overall size of the plant.
  • Shaping the shrub into a natural-looking, balanced, spherical shape.


Follow these steps:

  1. Take a moment to look at the over-all shape and size of the plant. Is it too large for it’s space? Hydrangeas in foundation plantings tend to “eat the lawn” over time. Consider widening the bed to accommodate the mature size of the plants, instead of pruning the plant back to an unnatural-looking shape. * ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangeas, in particular, tend to get very tall and wide – covering windows and brushing against shingles on the side of the house. There is no way to keep a ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea blooming each year and shorter than 4 feet, if you are battling huge plants, consider replacing them with a smaller variety.
  2. Remove all spent flowers from the tips of the stems. All pruning cuts should be made just above a healthy set of buds. There is no need to “tip branches” if there are no faded flowers to remove. Buds overwintering in the top portion of the plant have the potential to flower.  If too much material is removed, the plant may not flower at all.
  3. Remove all dead and damaged stems. It is preferable to completely remove dead stems at ground level where possible.
  4. Remove about a third of the overall bulk of the stems, following the guidelines above. This helps increase sun and air circulation in the center of the plant, initiating flower bud formation and strong new growth from the base.
  5. If you must, cut back no more than a few feet from the top of the shrub, to get it below a window or railing.  Keep in mind, the plant will quickly grow back to it’s natural size by the middle of the summer.
  6. Step back, and take a look at your work. Make final cuts, leaving a rounded, balanced shrub.

Much Ado about Mulching

January can be a tough month for year-round gardeners on Nantucket. With a mailbox filled with garden supply and seed catalogues, it can be nearly impossible to stay inside on those random “almost warm” days. Maybe you want to get some of the hard spring clean-up work done early? Thinking about easing off some of those holiday lbs?

If a few warm, dry days are forcast, why not do your mulching? The plants certainly don’t care if you get it out of the way. Trees, shrubs and perennials all benefit from a nice layer of mulch to keep soil temperatures regulated during winter freeze and thaw cycles.

Don’t forget, plants that are suited to growing in the North East naturally create their own mulch. Fallen leaves, needles, ground cover plants and spent growth from previous growing seasons carpet the ground in natural forests and meadows all winter. We tend to tamper with this natural system. A combination of leaf and pine needle cleanup, and high winter wind can really thin down the mulch layer on top of the soil, especially if you are the kind of gardener that likes to keep your beds super-clean. If you do want to do some mulching, here are some tips:


It’s best to work in the garden when the soil is on the dry side to avoid compaction. If we have a wet spell, stay out the garden all together.

If you have mulch delivered, or you like to work from a pile in a centralized location, consider layering two tarps on top of each other before dropping the mulch off the truck. Preventing mulch from migrating onto your lawn, or into the gravel or shell in the driveway is the best way to avoid an annoying clean-up after a long day.

Be sure to pull any weeds you find growing before you begin. Some gardeners have the idea that mulch “smothers” weeds. But I guarantee you, mulch spread at the proper depth will not irradicate grass, dandilions, or any other perennial weeds.

If you use organic fertilizer, feel free to apply it before the mulch goes down. Organic fertilizers can be used any time of year, because their nutrients are only available to plants when soil organisms can break them down for plants to use. When temperatures rise in spring, and soil organisms become active, the fertilizer is in place, ready for them to break down and give to your plants.


If you are lucky enough to work off of the back of a dump truck, do so. Whenver the mulch gets too far out of reach, put up the tailgate and raise the bed. The much effortlessly slides back into reach.

Work with a partner! Mulching is hard work – split it up by having one person bring and pile mulch into the beds and another spread the piles into an even 3 inch deep layer.

It can be tough to manoever a wheel barrow in tightly planted beds. Use a bucket to scoop mulch from the wheel barrow and dump it in piles throughout the beds

Small piles of mulch are much easier to spread than large ones. If your partner runs out of mulch in a particular spot you can bring him another bucket-full on the next trip.

Mulch is most easily scooped with a light pitchfork with three or four tines.

If you are working with a few friends, and you want to avoid a lull in work, let everyone make piles, then go to pick up more mulch. Your helpers can spread what is on the ground while you go to get the next load.


Never let mulch touch the crown of plants. One of the benefits of mulch is that it holds moisture. But this moisture next to the crown of plants can cause more harm than good. This is especially true with trees and shrubs. Leave a space of a few inches around the trunks of trees and the base of shrubs. This will ensure mulch doesn’t rot the bark close to the soil, or make a home for insects like turpentine beetles.

Mulch is at its best when it is spread 3 inches deep; much less and it’s not effective, much more and it is just a waste. Not to mention that thick layers of mulch can build up over time causing numerous problems. Try to be aware of the thickness of the mulch before you start and as you are working. If your garden still has a thin layer of mulch from last year, you may only need to add another inch or two.

Don’t let mulch pile up next to hardwood shingles on your house or outbuildings. The mulch will quickly rot out the lower shingles, forcing you to replace them sooner than you would otherwise.


Holiday Window Boxes


Holiday windowboxIn a recent news letter, I published this series of photos detailing how I put together a holiday window box for our sales office here at the nursery.  This design is a good jumping off point, but it’s just one take on Holiday window boxes, so, experiment!  Have fun with it!

Holiday Windowbox How To-1

Holiday Windowbox How To-2





Holiday windowbox-3Holiday Windowbox How ToHoliday windowbox-5Holiday windowbox-6

Deer Damage

Deer are awfully cute, but they can do a great deal of damage in the garden! We have our own share of trouble with them here at Surfing Hydrangea Nursery. Rabbits, rats, voles, – even house cats will take a meal of our ornamentals and edibles. But deer are by far the most distructive and expensive to control in Nantucket’s gardens.

Here are the tell-tale signs of Deer Browsing:

  • A ragged or torn appearance to leaves and twigs
  • Un-eaten twigs or leaves scattered around plants that have been damaged
  • New plants pulled right out of the ground and laying on their sides next to the planting hole
  • A visible ring of damage on evergreens, stopping at about five feet off the ground
  • Piles of deer droppings in the yard, especially next to browsed plants
Deer damage on Dicentra 2
Notice how the deer tears the stalks off, often leaving pieces behind that they drop
Deer damage on Dicentra
This close up shows the ragged look of deer damage

Gardening in Winter

Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood
Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood

Warm winter days are the perfect opportunity to finish up some of the chores you might not have been able to get to in the Fall. Just be careful not to work on days when the soil is overly soggy. Walking in and out of your garden spaces can cause soil compaction. Here are a few things that you can do when the wind dies down and your energy is high:

  • Pruning – Almost any woody plant can be pruned this time of year. Just be careful with spring flowering shrubs; most of these set their flower buds last year at the tips their branches. Pruning plants like Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Weigela, and spring flowering Viburnums this time of year can leave you with little or no blooms.  But its a great time to do formative pruning on ornamental trees. Most summer-flowering shrubs prefer to be pruned while dormant, including roses. One of the first tasks landscapers do when they return to the field is Hydrangea pruning. If the pros can do it, so can you!
  • Garden Cleanup – If you take the time to clean up your garden now, you can take it easy and wait for the daffodils to pop up in their tidy beds this spring. You can cut down ornamental grasses and any perennials still left standing. Rake up the pine needles that have piled up on the lawn.
  •  Top Dressing – There is still time to top dress your flower and vegetable beds with compost or manure. The rain, snow and freezing and thawing of late winter will weather the nutrients into the soil. It only takes a few consecutive days of warm weather for soil organisms to begin breaking down the remaining organic matter on the surface, making nutrients available to your plants when they awaken in the spring.