This has been an unusual year, start to finish. In April when we usually begin to plant, there was still four feet of snow along the Winooski River at the farm.
When the snow stopped falling, the rains began and people asked me if we had taken to producing waterfowl as ponds formed at the end of the field thanks to the Agency of Transportation’s lack of concern for culvert maintenance. Canada geese and ducks were prominent and greeted me each morning as I opened the gates to begin work.
Now it is three months later and we’re into the second phase of summer. The rains that fell made an incredible difference in all our plants and the daylilies and hostas in the fields, gardens, and pots have never looked so good. Daylily scape and bloom counts are extraordinary and the resulting color has stopped traffic along Route 2. Gardeners and would-be gardeners arrive daily and many ask for assurance that planting now is acceptable. Yes, it is! We offer encouragement and always have suggestions.
August and September are great months to plant new perennials and move existing plants around or divide them up. By this time many of the perennials you depend on have finished blooming and it is obvious what plants need attention and where there are places that could use additional plants. It’s also an easier time to evaluate your garden design and decide where you need more height and where you need more fall color. Trees, shrubs, and berry bushes transplant well now and have an opportunity to get well established before soil temperatures dip below 55 degrees. This soil temperature is generally when root growth begins to table off and is a good benchmark for when to have thought through your planting chores. At very least take a few pictures of what you have now so when catalogs and web announcements arrive this winter you’ll have a reference to what you already have planted.
I always talk about plants for shady areas because Vermont is one of the shadiest states in the Continental US. Almost everyone has a shady part to their property and the horticultural industry has done a good job developing plants for you to choose from. We have always offered plants that are good companions to hostas which we love but many of these suggestions go well with or without hostas. If you haven’t tried hostas before, stop and ask for a tour of our hosta display garden where +600 varieties grow. We’ll explain what plants work in the shady areas and on the perimeters and also in places where plenty of light shines through.
Pulmonarias have always been around and we have always grown some. Pulmonaria E.B. Anderson was probably our first purchase that went into the sunken shade garden at the house with an unnamed pink flowering pulmonaria that Amanda Legare from Amanda’s Greenhouse in Cabot gave us. Since then our love for this plant has increased and we have sold hundreds. Gail rotates what we offer each year and this year we have Twinkle Toes, Gail’s favorite with its blue and pink flowers, Pretty in Pink, Raspberry Splash, Silver Bouquet, a purple-flowered one named Little Star and a white-flowered variety named Sissinghurst White. Pulmonarias are a hummingbird magnet and advise you annually around May 5-6-7 when male hummingbirds have made it back to Vermont. They are also a plant that deer just plain don’t have on their menu.
Another wonderful perennial that adds plenty of color is Brunnera. It’s one of those plants that comes with plenty of pronunciations but it’s clearly one that you should consider. The leaves tell their story and the tall flower scapes with their forget-me-not blue provide a garden accent that can’t be beat. Deer stay clear of them too. This year we have offered Sea Heart, Silver Heart and Alexander’s Great but there are many more on the market.
Finally, consider adding some vertical here and there. Cimicifuga, now named Actaea is a great addition. There are darker varieties such as Hillside Black Beauty and Pink Spike that are less than five feet tall and work well with virtually any color. Actaea atropurpurea grows 8 feet tall over time and isn’t for every garden but in places the curving, bottlebrush flowers add color and movement to your garden that calms the tired gardener. They are also magnets for butterflies and moths and that entertainment is ever-changing and obviously free for the enjoyment.
Enjoy your gardens and spend some time outside in the next couple of months. In a world that confuses and saddens at times, gardens can bring a peace that is worth every minute.