Tag Archives: perennials

News from Yesterday

First I went into the greenhouse and took pictures of the seedlings coming up, because they make me happy.

scallion seedlingstomato seedlingsSome are mine, for the Garden and the Plant Sale, and some are Andy’s, for Agronomy.

pepper seedlings

parsley seedlingsThen I looked out the window and saw Louis taking the cover off the overwintered perennials, so I went outside. I was glad to see that not only are the plants alive (I’m a worrier), but have even been thriving out there, under the blanket (which is now off).

pulmonarialeopard's baneOnce I was outside, an advance scout for Spring caught my eye. Hands freezing, eyes tearing from the cold, I walked around the Garden. I found just a little bit of color to share with you.





Fall Is the Best Time To Plant

digging spade

“Fall is the best time to plant”  That’s what I tell my students (and anyone who asks). The shorter days and cooler temperatures make it easier for transplants to spread their roots without us hovering nearby with the sprinkler. Usually there’s some rain too, though not this fall, not much. But the dry weather is not nearly the problem it would be in the spring and so we are madly digging and dividing perennials all over the garden.

Why divide? After a few years — as few as 3 or as many as 10 — perennial plants begin to lose vigor. Often they grow toward the outside, leaving an empty space in the middle like a bird’s nest. They may flower less, have smaller leaves, or flop over more. They may also have gotten too big for their space in the garden. Dividing re-invigorates the plants, and as Tracy Aust says, “It can be very satisfying, having a rejuvenating effect on perennial and gardener alike.”

Of course, after digging and dividing and transplanting, you may have more plants than you can use.  I overwinter many garden-dug perennials for our spring plant sale, but space is at a premium this year. A truckload of perennials has been donated to two local schools, saving me from having to compost them. Thanks Jayne and Hilary, for gardening with the kids!

One last thought about digging and dividing: the plants may not look great at first but in the spring they’ll look better than ever.

hosta bed The Hosta bed under the Metasequoia was dug up and replanted.

pink chrysanthemumsOver near the Co-operative Extension parking lot we  put in new plants to go with these great Chrysanthemums that look like pink daisies.

bee balm/monardaLauren and I dug, divided, and replanted Bee Balm in the ericacious garden and the sunny border. We also took some Siberian Iris out of a bed that was too shady and put in Ligularia, which I think will do well in this moist, shady spot.

digging Joe-PyeAdam and Ben got started digging up the monster Joe-Pyes in the back of the sunny border. Topping out at 10-12 feet this year, their root balls are two feet across. They are going to be moved back so the rest of the plants can breathe.

dahliasStill no frost here, so flowers continue to bloom, especially dahlias, which seem to get bigger and more colorful every day.

The Queen of Flowers

It was all about the rhododendrons and azaleas in May, but now comes the glorious reign of the Queen of Flowers — the peony.

Peonies have been cultivated for thousands of years.  In China they are known as the “flower of riches and honor”.  In ancient Greece,  they were believed to have been obtained by Paeon,  physician to the gods,  from the mother of  Apollo on Mount Olympus. In the European and American “Language of Flowers”, which emerged during the Victorian era, they symbolized happy marriage, compassion, and bashfulness. I think of them as anything but bashful!


I think it’s the fragrance that wins me over. Like roses, but somehow better than roses…sweet and smelling of summertime.  Of course the blossoms are spectacular too! Most of the herbaceous or garden peonies grown today are hybrids of either Paeonia lactiflora or Paeonia officinalis. There are hundreds of cultivars. The flowers can be single or double. The colors range from white to pink to red and even to yellow.  The newest innovation in peony breeding is a cross between  herbaceous and tree peony types. Herbaceous peonies die back in winter, regrowing in spring, while tree peonies lose their leaves in winter, but leave woody stems. The cross “Intersectional” peonies have the leaf and flower form of the tree peony but die back, and have a bush growth habit like herbaceous peonies.


A frequent comment from visitors leaning in to admire the peonies is about the ants climbing busily all over the buds. Why are they there? Are they bad for the plants? And less frequently: Do they help the plants? Here’s an answer from the Heartland Peony Society based in Kansas City, Missouri :

“Peonies and ants: Talk about ‘Old Wives Tales’ ! Peonies in general do NOT attract ants, but some peony flower buds do. Do not try to get rid of the ants on your peonies. This is a natural and temporary activity. It is believed that peonies produce small amounts of nectar and other ant attractants to encourage ants to help in opening the dense double flower buds found in many peonies. The ants may be found covering certain varieties and avoiding others, this is totally normal.

Once the buds have opened the ants will disappear – also normal.Some people think ants are REQUIRED to open the flowers, but this does not to appear to be true.It seems a debatable question whether ants are beneficial or harmful. I think they are neutral.

Should you spray a pesticide to get rid of the ants? That is a definite no.  Since the ants are not harmful and some pesticide residues are harmful, why endanger yourself, the plants or the peony’s pollinator (good insects) with poisonous sprays? Instead just enjoy the unique interaction of ants and peonies; an evolutionary effect thousands of years in the making and posing no problems in the long run.”

ant on peony

These beautiful plants are easy to grow. They are hardy from USDA zone 8 to zone 2. They do best in full sun, and prefer soil rich in organic matter , with an ideal pH of 6 to 7. That said, they are tolerant of a wide variety of soils as well as drought tolerant once established. Once they are established, peonies prefer not to be moved, and can go many years without being divided.

Saturday evening as I left the garden, there were two peony buds beginning to open along the walkway into the greenhouse. This morning when I looked, there were 22 fully open flowers! Like many things in the garden, peony time can be fleeting, depending on the weather. They don’t mind the heat, but rain beats them down rather quickly. The peonies here are mostly the old fashioned double varieties that need to be staked–the flowers are huge, too big to be supported by the stems. So I have them all staked, a labor of love, and they are beginning their spectacular display. In addition to the walkway, they are on the stage, along the west side of the Rose Garden, and behind the CE Outreach Center in the Kathy Mallon Garden. Come and see them, breathe deeply, and let summer begin!

peony and iris


plants for sale

plant sale greenhouseI face the Plant Sale Season with a mixture of anticipation and dread:

First, anticipation:  I dream big about the possibilities of the growing season. I might find that perfect plant for my home garden (but where would I put it? I couldn’t wedge another plant in with a shoe horn!)  I could buy that perfect plant for someone else who would love it.  It’s great to see all the enthusiasm for gardening… everyone is a potential gardener in May!

Next, dread: The amount of work and the logistics of holding a plant sale. Will people show up? Will we raise money for the Botanical Gardens? Will we have the plants people want? Do we have enough change, enough signs, enough advertising, enough help?

Regardless of all the above, the Botanical Gardens will be holding it’s 2nd Annual Plant Sale this Saturday May 14th. The Greenhouse will be open from 8 AM to 2 PM and we will be here offering annuals, perennials,  vegetables and more. Trees and shrubs from the Gardens and the Horticulture Program at URI will also be available. Screened compost can be purchased at this time as well. The greenhouse elves are busy bagging the compost right now!

compost bag

All proceeds from our sales go to the upkeep of the Botanical Gardens and Horridge Conservatory, free and open to the public year-round. That way, you can get a plant you love and donate to a good cause at the same time. While you’re here, take a walk around the gardens and maybe see how that special tree you just bought actually looks in the landscape. The Azaleas are blooming, the Dicentra in the shade garden is  at it’s peak, and the sweet fragrance of Viburnum carlesii  / Koreanspice Viburnum is around every corner.



Find directions to the Greenhouse on the calendar page of our website, cels.uri.edu/uribg. (Click on the May 14th plant sale.)  See you Saturday!


halesia carolina

The Garden in Autumn

anemone and sedums

Anmeone japonica 'Queen Charlotte' resting on sedums.

Thoughts of the garden in the fall could be really gloomy. Spring is so hopeful, and summer is glorious. Fall leads to…winter. No garden there. So, to stay cheerful, I’m going to talk about the great fall flowers blooming now at the Botanical Garden.

First is one of my favorites,  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Hylotelephium).  It’s interesting all year, with green flower heads that look vaguely like broccoli in the summer, but right now it really shines. The pinkish flowers turn a darker purplish- red at this time, eventually to deep maroon and then brown. I leave it into the winter to catch frost and snow, for something to look at in the quiet November landscape.

Next: Fall Blooming Anemones. They don’t look  golden and fall- like, they look like spring all over again. The white  ‘Honorine Joubert’ and the pink ‘Queen Charlotte’ are both blooming now in the sunny border. In some spots, the tops were eaten off by deer earlier, but there are still flowers on the 3-4 foot tall stems.

Agastache ‘Heatwave’ has been a real eye-catcher since it was planted three years ago. These huge (3 ft wide  x 4 ft tall) plants in the mint family have long stems of pink flowers in the middle of summer. Hummingbirds and bees adore them. Slowly the petals fall off but the pink calyxes remain, darkening as the days go on. At this time of year they still look good and are a bright spot in the garden.

Toad Lily, Tricyrtis formosana, is a great fall-flowering shade plant. (It’s not a lily and toads don’t eat it!)They are inconspicuous most of the year, but at their best right now. Small ( two-inch) flowers with white to pink petals with purple spots range along the curved stems of the 24-inch plants. These were also tasted by deer earlier and are flowering nevertheless.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is another fall  perennial that most people know. They come in shades of pink and purple and rarely white, with yellow centers. Many cultivars have been developed from this easy to grow plant, which is found in the wild throughout New England. My current favorite is ‘Alma Potschke’ , a beautiful warm rose pink that blooms for weeks in September. It’s just about done but I had to include it, it’s been such a pleasure to see in the garden.

White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is blooming now in the sunny border, with clusters of bright white, fluffy looking 1/2 inch  flowers. It’s an eastern US native and grows very well here with a little shade. Snakeroot is  not much to look at the rest of the year but plays it’s part  at the end of the season.

There are plenty of annuals still around…the zinnias, petunias, and sunflowers still blooming away even as they begin to look a little tattered. Some late summer perennials hang on with a few flowers here and there until frost — Gaura, Rudbeckia, and Phlox come to mind. The location of the plant makes a difference too. The Actaea in the sun has long since gone to seed, but the Actaea at the shady end of the Kinney Wall still  has flowers. OK, I’ve cheered myself up. Color and life  in the garden go on,  and will  for a little while longer.

aster alma potschke

Aster 'Alma Potschke'