It’s a fine morning on the mountain above Peacham Pond where we live. I just returned from the flower farm even though it’s not even 6 a.m. yet. We have two delivery trucks coming this morning and one is coming from the mid-west and often likes to unload early. It is carrying lilac, hydrangea and shrub cuttings that will be planted for next year’s crop.

On the way into Marshfield village, I noticed that the black bears have visited again as there are upside down trash containers in a number of places. Bear numbers are increasing and we need to be more vigilant and try not to encourage them to become bad neighbors or our gardening companions.

No one needs to be reminded that spring 2019 has been slow in arriving. As I write, it has rained 12 of the past 18 days and our gardens show it. At the flower farm, we had 10 mallard ducks spend yesterday with us as the Route 2 culvert is plugged and water is being redirected into our lower daylily field. On a more positive side, the spring ephemerals are beginning to bloom and they remind us what nice companion plants they are. Single and double bloodroot have been in bloom for three days now. Trout lilies are putting up buds on tiny scapes, ferns are unfurling, hepaticas are rising, and the blues, whites, and pinks of forget-me-not flowers are obvious. Drumstick primroses are in bloom and Japanese primroses with their tall scapes and 4 or 5 rings of wonderful bloom are growing scapes too. Daffodils and crocus have been blooming for three weeks and tulips are coming on strong. Spring is reluctant this year but what we see brings smiles as we walk our gardens.

If you are growing hydrangeas other than what you might remember by the name Endless Summer ( Hydrangea macrophylla types/blues and pinks) you are probably growing either paniculatas or the arborescens types which we sell at the flower farm. This is important to know because the macrophyllas produce flowers on last year’s stems so if you conduct spring pruning, you are cutting off the buds and you will never see a bloom in 2019. I can never figure out why nurseries don’t do a better job explaining this as it frequently results in me hearing customers and visitors ask “Exactly what summer will it bloom?” Keep this in mind if you are adding hydrangeas to your landscape this spring.

A flower that is increasing in popularity is the peony. We grow 55 varieties at our farm and add new varieties each year. There are three types of peonies to consider including tree peonies, herbaceous peonies, and Itoh or intersectional peonies. All are very hardy in Vermont although from my experience, the tree peonies with their large flowers, require lots more work in Vermont because heavy snowfalls can bend and break the perennial stems. We grow the other two types and have no problems with them. Just the same, peonies tend to be a plant surrounded by too much bad press. Folks think peonies are difficult to grow but that’s just not true. They prefer full sun, don’t want to be planted in areas that are wet in the spring or hold lots of moisture all summer. They should be planted with lots of organic material worked into an oversized hole and the roots should not be planted deeper than 2 inches deep. Over time if bud counts begin to drop, it could be that fall leaves, grass clippings from the lawn mower or adjacent soils during garden maintenance have added soil over the roots. Reduce that extra burden and fertilize them each spring with a general product, organic or commercial. Peonies produce lots of foliage and lots of stems over time and as such, they benefit from somehow being staked up. Commercially available metal stakes will do the trick but I use simple green garden string and wrap the plants twice and tie them off about 14 inches above ground level. It’s cheap and it works! Finally, peonies do not need ants to produce great blooms. I smile a lot during the early summer when people tell me this or suggest that their peonies don’t have flowers because they don’t have ants. Peonies produce a waxy, protective coating on each bud and ants find this useful to building their below-ground colonies. They are visible on the plants for their own reasons and have virtually nothing positive to bring to the plants. Nurseries now offer peonies all summer and they can be planted any time, now through fall. Consider them as a 2019 addition to your gardens!