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May 25, 2016

– Henry Mitchell, American garden writer extraordinaire, 1924-1993

Longer Lasting Peonies in Bouquets

2016 Great Plant Picks

$3 Million Garden Restoration

Fertilize with . . . Lightning?

New at Our Blog: Iris

Although we’ve been saying “availability can’t be confirmed until June,” 32 of our rarest fall-planted treasures are once again available at our website – as of 3:00 today! Many of them are in VERY short supply (which means they won’t last long) so why not do yourself a favor and check out Our Rarest Bulbs page or our entire list of fall-planted heirlooms right now?

But wait, there’s more: Thanks to a stronger dollar, bigger crops, and better prices from a couple of our favorite growers – including the Hortus Bulborum – we’ve managed to reduce prices on 76 of our fall-planted treasures. ‘Butter and Eggs’ daffodil, for example, which was 3/$11.75 last fall is now just 3/$9.50. White Roman hyacinth which sold out early last fall at $18 per bulb last fall is now $12.50. And we’ve cut prices on ‘Clara Butt’ tulip by almost 40%, from 3/$26 last fall to just 3/$16 now. Although most of our 76 price cuts aren’t as big as that, every little bit helps, right?

While spring is still fresh in your mind, make sure you get the bulbs you want the most for next spring by ordering NOW for delivery this fall!

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Lush and romantic, peonies are fabulous in bouquets. To get the most out of yours, here are some tips from Dr. Patricia Holloway of the University of Alaska, as quoted by Debra Prinzing in her 2013 Slow Flowers:

“‘Cut peonies during the coolest part of the day. Cut once you see the true color of the flower with one or two petals separating at the top [the “soft marshmallow” stage] – or any time after that. Then the flower will continue to open in your arrangement.’ If you cut prior to this stage the buds either will not open or they will be stunted. Fully-opened blooms can also be harvested, but their vase life is shorter. . . .

“Dr. Holloway also offers this commercial growers’ tip; ‘Once cut, your flowers should be chilled in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to one week before putting them into a vase. That chilling very definitely extends vase life.’ Wrap the peonies in paper towels and lay them flat in the crisper drawer, away from the refrigerator’s other contents.”

We’ll also remind you that for future growth and bloom it’s best to leave as much foliage as possible on the plant. This is especially important during the first two years after planting, and in fact many experts recommend that you cut NO flowers the first year. We know how hard that can be, but your patience will be rewarded.

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Every year since 2001, Seattle’s Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden has released an annual list of Great Plant Picks. Although especially well-suited to gardens in the Pacific Northwest, many of these plants are also outstanding choices for gardens across the country.

Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are the focus of this year’s GPP list, and Rick Peterson provides an excellent introduction to it in Pacific Horticulture. “As temperatures warm, bees emerge from their winter slumber looking for nourishment,” Peterson writes, and since “crocus are among the garden’s earliest blooming bulbs,” the GPP list includes several such as C. tommasinianus, ‘Jeanne d’Arc’, ‘King of the Striped’, and ‘Mammoth Yellow’. A few species tulips are also recommended, including T. clusiana and T. sylvestris which will have bees “bustling around the garden with satisfaction” and, in the right spot, will “reliably return year after year.”

Other Great Plant Picks that we’re offering now for delivery this fall include:

extra early-blooming winter aconite, traditional snowdrop, and giant snowdrop,

wildflowery Grecian windflower, ‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflake, and sowbread cyclamen,

unbeatable ‘Saint Keverne’, ‘Thalia’, and pheasant’s-eye daffodils,

and elegant martagon and regal lilies.

Learn more and see the entire list organized into categories such as “Fantastic Foliage,” “Made in the Shade,” and “Plants that Make Scents” at

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Gardens are constantly changing, and every gardener knows how quickly weeds can get the upper hand – which is pretty much the story of Naumkeag, a world famous Massachusetts estate designed by one of America’s most inventive landscape architects, Fletcher Steele.

For almost 30 years starting in 1926, Steele worked closely with Naumkeag’s owner Mabel Choate to develop an eclectic series of gardens that ranged from a whimsical terrace ringed with Venetian gondola poles to the modernist masterpiece known as the Blue Steps.

On her death in 1958, Choate bequeathed Naumkeag to the Trustees of Reservations, the leading Massachusetts nonprofit devoted to scenic and historic sites. Unfortunately, the estate’s needs outpaced the Trustee’s resources, and little by little Steele’s brilliant gardens lost their luster or disappeared altogether.

But happily Naumkeag’s story doesn’t end there. In 2012 an anonymous donor promised the Trustees a million dollars to restore the entire landscape – but only if they could match that donation and finish the enormous project by this summer. Against all odds, they did! Read the whole inspiring story and see the results in the spring 2016 issue of Preservation.

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Like most gardeners, I’m a big fan of rain. But until I read a short article in the Ann Arbor News recently, I had no idea that lightning itself is also good for my garden.

“Lightning is nature’s greatest fertilizer,” writes meteorologist Mark Torregrossa. “The air around us is 78% nitrogen. Nitrogen is the main nutrient in most fertilizers. But the nitrogen in the air is not usable by plants, until lightning strikes through it. Once the air is heated by lightning, two [atoms] of nitrogen are split apart. The single [atom] of nitrogen then joins with oxygen or hydrogen and is rained into the soil. Now it’s usable by plants. A lightning storm applies more nitrogen on lawns and crops than we could ever afford to buy.”

With Google’s help, I learned that lightning can briefly heat the air it passes through to 50,000 degrees F, almost ten times hotter than the surface of the sun. That enormous energy breaks up the nitrogen (N2), freeing the atoms to recombine into nitrate (NO3), ammonia (NH3), and ammonium (NH4). The latter two are also produced by nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots of the enormous Fabacaea or legume family, but some scientists believe that lightning is responsible for as much as 50% of the nitrogen available to plants.

Although this may never convince Toby our rat terrier that lightning is a good thing, the next time a boom of thunder makes me jump I’m going to be happy for my garden.

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Every week when we post one of our latest newsletter articles to our blog, we also add a few of the best articles from our archives. More than 100 of them are now there for your reading pleasure, including these five we posted recently in celebration of iris season:

“What’s That Iris? See 100s of Photos at” (June 2014)

“If Javelinas Roam Your Garden, Plant Iris!” (Nov. 2008)

“Pallida Dalmatica in the Fields of Italy” (Dec. 2012)

“Toast the Holidays with . . . Heirloom Iris?” (Dec. 2013)

“Saving Local Heirlooms at the Pickle Barrel House Iris Garden” (March 2010)

Thanks to all of our Facebook friends – 14,190 strong as of this morning! Our most popular post last month was a photo of the first iris blooming here this season, ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’, along with photos posted by many of our fans of their old iris.

To get our weekly shot of heirloom beauty, click “Follow” under the “Liked” button near the top of our Facebook page. Coming soon – peonies, daylilies, lilies, and more!

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Late April’s articles included the great new book All the Presidents’ Gardens, finding peony gardens in bloom near you, using fish-tank gravel and a cell phone to improve your spring garden, a big honor for little ‘Green Lace’ glad, and more. You can read all of our back-issues, by date or by topic, at – and we’re gradually adding the best of them to our blog!

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