Garden Notes

Garden Notes

Culvers Root

We sell a wide variety of ornamental plants at Surfing Hydrangea. The vast majority of these are descendants of plants that were collected from Asia or other parts of the world. Although exotic plants are beautiful and often do very well here, they are not part of the ecosystem that has developed here since the Laurentide glacier began to retreat twenty thousand years ago. Many of our native fauna depend on the plants they evolved with as a food source and shelter. By planting more native plants we are supporting the animals that have been living here long before humans set foot on the island.

Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Adoration’

Culvers root, Veronicastrum virginicum, is a beautiful plant, native to moist meadows, stream banks and bright woodlands in the North East, that makes a stunning garden plant as well. This plant is particularly attractive to bees, helping to attract more pollinators to the garden. The lance-like leaves of this stately perennial are arranged in whorls, radiating around the stems at regular intervals. In early to mid-summer, spiky white, candle abrum-shaped flowers appear on the top of the 4-6′ tall stems. Veronicastrum thrives in full sun in moist to wet fertile soils, but tolerates some shade and average soil is just fine. In shady sites, they may require some staking, and don’t them dry out; they will drop their leaves quickly if they dry out even once.

Veronicastrum look equally beautiful in cottage gardens as a “see through plant” or in great swaths in naturalistic plantings in the style of Piet Oudolf. There are several cultivars available in addition to the white-flowered species in varying shades of lavender and pink. Try ‘Fascination’ or ‘Adoration’ for lilac/pink or ‘Apollo’ for a pastel lavender.


Deutzia gracilis cvs.

Deutzia gracilis

This time of year the island is popping with excitement. It’s almost Figawi, and town is starting to fill up with the summer crowd. Although it feels like we have only been graced with two days of sun all spring, our garden on Somerset Road is coming along nicely. The border of lady’s mantle is all budded up and the ferns, Astilbe and Hosta have begun to fill in the shady areas. Deutzia gracilis, one of our favorite shrubs, is just about to reach full bloom in the border.

If your garden could use a big splash of white for Memorial Day, Deutzia gracilis (Slender Deutzia) might be just the right plant for you. This medium to small sized shrub does very well in sunny locations with average soil and even moisture. But slender Deutzia also does just fine in part shade with sporadic water. We notice that our Deutzia that gets more shade tends to arch wider than it is tall, while the one that gets more sun is somewhat rounder.

The species is a shrub of medium size, reaching 4 to 5′ tall and wide with arching branches that are covered their full length in white bell-shaped flowers in late May. After the flowers fade, it’s medium green, ovate leaves provide a calm space in the garden that provides a great backdrop for summer-flowering perennials like Nepeta, Calamintha, or Geranium ‘Rozanne’. For smaller gardens, ‘Nikko’ is a tried and true compact cultivar that stays under three feet. In the past few years we have sold the Proven Winners selection, Yuki Snowflake® which seems to be just as strong as ‘Nikko’ with the same compact habit. “But I need more color!” No problem! Chardonnay Pearls®, another Proven Winners plant, has chartreuse leaves all season. A google search for “Pink Deutzia gracilis” pulls up Yuki Cherry Blossom® a selection with pink bicolor flowers. There is even a variegated selection, ‘Nikko Dawn’.

So, there you go! A beautiful shrub that won’t take over your garden, is deer resistant and never seems to get any bugs. That’s Deutzia gracilis. Try it, I think you’ll really like it.


Prices in the Nursery Industry on The Rise

Brad McDonald holding plant in the nurserySurfing Hydrangea Nursery has been in the business of selling plants since 1998. During that time, the nursery industry as a whole has changed considerably. These changes have affected the entire supply chain for plants, starting with liner producers and ending with re-sellers like SHN. Commercial growers have seen increasing costs make their operations less profitable. Prices have slowly increased over the last 5-6 years, but not as quickly as costs have mounted. Most recently, limited supply has given growers the confidence to increase prices.

Many of our customers are surprised by how expensive plants are. Others wonder how we are able to keep our prices comparable to other markets in the North East like Boston and New York. The truth is, that we price our plants based on how much we pay for them and adjust for the cost of shipping and labor. It is important to us to keep our pricing stable and fair. We work hard to cultivate strong relationships with our suppliers through an ability to purchase volume and pay quickly. These relationships often allow us to keep prices from increasing when other outlets are forced to charge more.

All that being said, prices are definitely on the rise industry-wide. Some vendors have nearly doubled their prices on field-grown trees since 2010, when they were at their lowest during the recession. At that time, many tree farms abandoned a huge amount of growing acreage and ceased planting liners for future harvest. With fewer woody plants being grown, there has also been a drop in the production and availability of liner plants. This overall decrease in infrastructure has begun to limit supply. Labor and shipping costs have also gone up. All these factors create a climate where price increases are inevitable.

We work very hard to keep stocked up during the entire season and to have those items which may be in short supply. Our goal is always to provide the highest quality plants at prices that reflect their value. We expect to increase prices over time, but only to keep pace with what is happening in the nursery industry at large.

Spring shipping has begun and a great line up of new material is rolling into the yard at a fast and furious pace. We hope that Surfing Hydrangea will be your first choice for plants in 2017!


Fall Clean-up

Every day I see more and more trucks filled with ornamental grass clippings and spent perennials zipping around the rotary on their way to the land fill. Its the perfect time of year to get all that fall clean-up squared away before chillier weather prevails. It’s also a great time to plant deciduous trees and shrubs. Although the ground is cool, it won’t freeze for many weeks here on the island, giving time for roots to slowly grow out into the surrounding soil without the burden of keeping a canopy of leaves hydrated.

We are still well stocked up on trees going into the winter. It’s a little more difficult for us to show our customers trees this time of year, as their leaves have mostly fallen. However, a lack of leaves also makes it easy to see the branch arrangement of large trees. This can be a distinct advantage to someone who is particularly concerned about strong leader development and wide crotch angles on scaffold branches where they attach to the trunk of single leader trees. There is an ongoing debate in the green industry as to whether fall planting or spring planting is best for trees. Many landscapers prefer to plant in the fall. The arguement here is that a tree heading into dormancy continues to establish roots while the soil is unfrozen. In spring, this tree has a larger root system and is already well establish heading into its first growing season. For information on planting trees, check out our video:

We’ve compiled a list of chores to consider doing this fall. It’s a good jumping off point if you aren’t quiet sure where to start:

Fall Chore list


Crape Myrtles

 

Crape Myrtle for Fall advert-001-EditThere are very few trees that can put on a show quite as spectacular as a Crape Myrtle. They range in size from miniature shrubs, suited to container gardening, to medium-sized trees. They have lustrous, dark green leaves and huge flowers that can be seen from quite a distance when they cover the whole canopy in late summer and early fall.

My first experience with Crape Myrtles was in Florida many years ago. I remember thinking that the trees in most of suburbs looked like they had been plucked out of a Dr. Seuss book! In that part of the country, these trees are often drastically pruned into wacky shapes. That’s not my favorite look, but it’s definitely an option.

I’ve gained a wider appreciation for Crape Myrtles after noticing several of them around Nantucket town. When left to grow in their natural shape, they are quite elegant. As these trees size up, their bark begins to exfoliate, sloughing off like cinnamon sticks and leaving behind a beautiful mottled pattern. They are often grown with multiple trunks to best display this attribute. Their canopy is most often vase-shaped or rounded, sometimes reaching as wide as they are tall. If careful pruning is done, the branch structure itself can be a lovely feature.

And then there are the flowers. Botanists refer to their shape as paniculate; meaning there are many individual flowers all connected to a main stem in the middle by individual little stalks, very much like a PeeGee Hydrangea flower. They come in an array of colors mostly in shades of red, pink, purple, and fuchsia. There are also white cultivars for those who prefer a quieter statement in the garden. Flowers are borne on new wood and appear in late summer and early fall, just as many high summer perennials are getting tired. By the end of September, the flowers fade but are still of interest as their tiny fruit cling to the bare panicles. Later on, they wake up the garden all over again as their leaves change to hues of red and orange before falling to the ground as winter sets in.

Crape Myrtles perform well on Nantucket with some shelter from harsh winds. They are considered marginally hardy here, but I’ve seen many in town that are a great many years old and doing well. During prolonged cold winters, they may experience some die-back in the canopy, but they rebound very quickly once summer arrives. If you have a sunny spot with reasonably good soil, a Crape Myrtle is a great way to add some spunk to your garden.

Check out our Crape Myrtle Pinterest Board for photos and more information on cultivars we’ve carried in the past.


Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese forest grass
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

So much of high end gardening on Nantucket is focused on flowers and summer color. Although I appreciate a vibrant border filled with energetic plants, I am also a big fan of creating a restful space in the landscape. A shady area in the garden can be the perfect place to do just that. The pallet of plants used in a calming garden design is very important. Often these gardens rely less on flowers and more on foliage and texture. Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra is one of those plants that can really tie a shady garden together.

It’s graceful form reminds me of waves cresting on the shore or even water cascading over a boulder in a rushing river. The texture of the texture of the arching blades contrasts extremely well with Hostas, a shade garden staple. There are several cultivars of Japanese forest grass available for sale. The plain green, species form is seldom used here, but it is beautiful in its own right and could be used in a garden already has some variegated plants. On the flip side, the variegated cultivars, like ‘Albovariegata’ and ‘Aureola’ are striking next to large blue or green Hostas, Brunnera or Elephant ear. There is even a variety called ‘All Gold’ that has almost no green in the leaf at all, appearing yellow. Just be careful, I would suggest using yellow and variegated plants sparingly. They bring some light into a dark space, but overdone they can ruin the calm feeling that is often the theme of a shade garden.

Are you sold yet? I hope so! Japanese Forest Grass is very easy to grow if given the right conditions. Plant them in filtered light or dead shade in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. When they are happy, they will slowly spread by underground rhizomes and above ground stolons. This growth pattern allows individual plants to knit together to form masses. The cultivars differ in height and spread; height is also effected by the length of the growing season. ‘Albovariegata’ may get 2.5-3′ tall in Oregon, for instance whereas it is only 1.5′ tall in our garden. All that being said, count on ‘Albovariegata’ being the tallest and ‘All Gold’ being the shortest.


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

Spiraea
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.


Digiplexis

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.