Dendranthema ‘Cambodian Queen’

Nipped in the bud. Autumn was just beginning to rev up its motors when it was shut down. I mean, totally over. October wasn’t even out the door and my proud dendranthema moment along the road was packed under snow and then pummeled by plow trucks. The good news is that it wasn’t smashed under tree limbs because the spruce survived unscathed. But the dendranthema flowers were freeze-dried into an unidentifiable scramble when the melt finally happened a week later. Ah well.

Of course, when I say dendranthema, I really mean hardy mum. Nothing fancier. They will survive. Same time next year, they’ll do their thing. Still, I was rather proud of their glory…

I can be seriously “bah humbug-ish” about mums. I skip the non-hardy tight little bun-types entirely. But I’m fond of the rock solid hardy ‘Sheffield’ types that originated in my neighborhood. It’s a good example of growing local. So many people in the area claim credit for the champagne-colored ‘Sheffield’ variety that I’m not going to weigh in on its origins here. Suffice to say that it has regional roots. And even before I heard the local lore, I was a major fan of ‘Sheffield’.

Then ‘Cambodian Queen’ came along and it proved even more vigorous. The tissue pink color is a little more cutesy than ‘Sheffield’s sophisticated champagne, but they both stand exactly the same height and work nicely in tandem. In fact, ‘Cambodian Queen’s flower count can give ‘Sheffield’ a run for its money. And it grows like green lightning. In my hell-strip by the road, not only does it soldier on, but it’s muscling out ‘Sheffield’. I’m sure that ‘Sheffield’ will hold its own. They’re both athletes.

The other dendranthemas I’ve grown tend to be comparatively shaggy and gangly. ‘Clara Curtis’ talked a good game. But I pulled out of her fan club after she fizzled out following a sparse display of only a few floppy, leggy flowers. I haven’t tried ‘Samba’, ‘Venus’, or ‘Rhumba’ – does anyone want to weigh in on those? I was worried that they might bear an uneasy resemblance to the mounded mums I detest. The reason why I opt for dendranthemas rather than mums has to do with loose and airy — as well as hardiness.

Newbie Alert! There’s an array of “Global Warming Mums” in the offing that I can’t wait to try. Of course, they’re really dendranthemas. ‘Autumn Moon’, ‘Glowing Embers’, and ‘Purple Mist’ threaten to extend the growing season even longer than the ‘Sheffield’ types. Hard to imagine…

By the way, this post comes to you following a week of no power. Yep. My house was 42 degrees (we’re talking Fahrenheit). Plus I had two weeks of no internet connections. The October snowstorm dumped a foot of leaden snow on our still-foliated trees. I lost the apple that was on the 1790 deed to my property. And I lost a huge catalpa. Other than that, it was just a mess of strewn limbs and split trees. I was lucky — nothing fell on my house and I’m now safe, warm, and blogging again. How’d you all weather the storm?

Posted in Perennials | 14 Comments

Where I’m At Nov-Jan

Where Tovah’s lecturing in the coming months (for more details and to look farther ahead, go to

November 7, 2011 ~ 11:45 AM
Garden Club of New Haven ~ Agricultural Experiment Station
Lecture topic: Terrarium lecture & workshop
Book signing

November 13, 2011 ~ 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM
Horticultural Society of Maryland ~ Vollmer Center ~ Baltimore, Md.
Lecture topic: Terrarium workshops
Book signing
For more information:

November 17, 2011 ~ 2:00 PM
Litchfield Garden Club ~ Litchfield, CT
Lecture topic: Houseplants
Book signing

January 27 & 28, 2012 ~ times to be arranged
Callaway Gardens ~ Pine Mountain, GA
Lecture topics: January 27 ~ Terrarium workshop
January 28 ~ Infusing the Garden with Personality
Book signing
For more information:

Tovah on the Newsstand

Daily Telegraph ~ October 16, 2011 ~ Smitten by Sissinghurst.

The New York Times ~ October 19, 2011 ~ The Indoor Tree ~ an interview by Michael Tortorello.

Country Gardens ~ Fall Issue ~ Big is Beautiful

Hobby Farm Home ~ September/October ~ Wrapped Up in Wreaths

Hobby Farms ~ September/October Issue ~ Hoofing It

Hobby Farm Home ~ November/December ~ Rural Renovation

Westchester Home ~ Fall 2011 ~ From Horses to Hostas

Old House Interiors ~ December 2011 ~ The Art of the Pot

LCT ~ October 2011 ~ Gnome Place Like Home

Passport ~ Autumn 2011 ~ Savvy Stewardship

Posted in Where I'm At | 2 Comments

Kale ‘Redbor’

Okay, so I slipped off the screen for a while. I can explain = I was finishing a book and getting all the details tied up (it will be out next July through Timber Press), more about that later in the year. Because I sweat these blogs and because I needed to garden up a storm, I just couldn’t juggle all the balls through the summer. The garden is winding down. The book is in production. And I’m back to blogging. My apologies to you all.

But what you really want to know about is kale, right? With all those bumper stickers out there urging you to eat your kale, we need to talk. During the summer, I might be prone to say that all kales are created equal on the taste test front. Correct? But after frost, I find that some varieties step to the forefront. Available from Territorial Seeds ( among other sources), ‘Redbor’ is particularly buttery (in a chewy sort of way). Anybody else with similar reaction?

Okay, now that we’ve established it’s superiority in the edible realm, let’s get right down to the beauty pageant. ‘Redbor’ is an eye opener. The leaves are deep, royal purple with flaming magenta highlights. They’re held in a tight bouquet — like curly parsley. And like parsley, they are ultra-ruffled. Sea foam comes to mind. Mine have strong stalks; they stand 2-3 feet tall and they’re densely foliated from head to toe. They’re so handsome, in fact, that I’m not even tempted to take a nibble until after frost. And then, when only the leeks, Brussels sprouts and kale remain — then the harvest of their lip smacking goodness starts.

But the real reason to grow ‘Redbor’ happens in spring. Fast forward to spring all you Winter Warriors. The daffodils are bursting. The birdies are twittering (remember the original usage of that word?). And absolutely nothing is happening in the veg garden. Except ‘Redbor’. It’s making its scrumptious little nubbins of growth that freeze every night and melt in your mouth at lunchtime.

So grow this little goody. Do it for your tastebuds. Do it for spring fever. Grow ‘Redbor’ and nobody’s momma will need to beg them to eat their kale ever again.

Posted in Vegetables | 4 Comments

Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’

Where would summer be without zinnias? As sure as the dialogue between katydids marks the hours, as sure as the sweat dribbles from my forehead as I pull the weeds, zinnias are the synthesis of summer.

You might veer for lemonade stands, but I brake for the card tables jammed with zinnias stuffed in coffee cans. Doesn’t matter that I’m growing my own. The fact that I’ve got fistfuls wading in the feathery asparagus doesn’t stop me from skidding to a stop whenever I see a display of flower-filled Mason jars as I whiz by and plunking down my money in the Honor System jar. You can never have enough zinnias in life.

Zinnias are whoppie. Zinnias are hubba hubba. Zinnias are the tarts of summer. And no garden is complete without zinnias. So that’s what this post is all about — getting you up to speed with a summer essential. I started with zinnias (‘Cut and Come Again’ if I recall) not long after my Brownie marigold project. Graduated to the Oklahoma series when it was available in separate named colors. From there, I moved up to the Benary strains. The only zinnias that were complete unrequited love were the cactus types. Total fizzle on them (advice? recommendations?). Otherwise, we’ve had a pretty good relationship over the years. Purples have always made my heart flutter. And the reds. Not to mention the whites. But now a new zinnia has stumbled upon my scene, and I’m smitten.

‘Queen Red Lime’ cross-dresses. It’s a chameleon colorwise. By red, they really mean dusky rose — a sort of smoky shade of burnt pink. Depending upon when you catch it during its phases, its dome-like heads evolve from rose on the outer petals to green toward the center. The percentage of doubles is impressive (I didn’t hit any singles whatsoever in my seed packet) and the plants have endured the drought with a stiff upper lip. In other words, ‘Queen Red Lime’ makes other zinnias look like shirkers. I got my packet from Territorial Seed ( germination.

Long ago, a cut flower-growing friend clued me into the winning formula for zinnias. Water early in the season to give the plants a strong start and then keep the foliage dry to prevent diseases. Well, this summer, keeping ‘Queen Red Lime’ watered would have been a fulltime job (I have wimpy water pressure down in that garden). Still, the plants soldiered on and produced their 3 inch (and up) flowers on long stems (don’t you hate to sacrifice buds for the sake of a long stem in the vase?). They’re sturdy, they’re colorful, and they bunch up into a great bouquet, especially if you want to sprinkle in some green ‘Envy’ zinnias alongside.

I have my friends at Cedar Farm Wholesale in Ghent, NY to thank for introducing me to this lovely. Their 7 acre farm is jam-packed with cut flowers in a spectrum like you’ve never seen before. They delve into rarities you won’t find elsewhere. And they’re always testing something new. Stay tuned for more cuts they’ve introduced me to. Better still, catch them at some of the farmer’s markets that they attend. Check out their website at for lists of what’s being bundled at the farm. What’s better than a zinnia in midsummer? A vase overflowing with these cheeky bloomers. Hot. Hot. Hot. Bet you can’t choose just one…

Posted in Cut Flowers | 8 Comments

Lettuce ‘Drunken Woman Fringed Headed’

Let’s not talk about the temperature. And can we skip mention of the humidity entirely? Let’s just say that the garden is roasting. In fact, I’m using this post as an excuse to sit here in front of the fan (and I hope you’ll all sit in front of your respective fans and comment) rather than going outside to watch the lettuce bolt. Except for two lettuce varieties, the crop is pretty much creamed as of last week. I’d be a hungry kid if it weren’t for ‘Drunken Woman Fringed Headed’.

I’m new to ‘Drunken Woman Fringed Headed’. The official story is that I purchased the seeds after seeing this lettuce in action in Sylvia Davatz’s Vermont garden (check out the autumn issue of Country Gardens magazine for much more about Sylvia). But let’s get real. The honest truth is — I was tickled by the name. Isn’t everyone? Who could resist having a ‘Drunken Woman Fringed Headed’ in their bed?

For the record, she’s a comely leaf lettuce with the added gimmick of frilly, frizzled edges and a rounded leaf. But with a name like ‘Drunken Woman Fringed Headed’ — who needs good looks? Plus, she’s also got scrumptious taste going for her. Very full-bodied. This isn’t a melt-in-your-mouth lettuce like many of the Buttercrunch types. Substance is what this lettuce is all about. It’s heavy on the crunch, more nutty than buttery.

That said, beggars can’t be choosy in midsummer. And in this weather, salads are a staple. Any lettuce that doesn’t bolt will do, but good taste is a nice perk. Before this heat wave, I had a bumper crop of arugula. I hate to look at it after today — 103 degrees in the shade. Prof. Roush, what’s the lettuce situation out there? Lisa, any lettuce data to report down in PA?

There’s another plus — the Drunken Woman is open-pollinated (just as you would suspect for someone with a name like that. I’m not sure where Sylvia Davatz collected it, but I do know that the name is a translation. And it’s available through Solstice Seeds (Sylvia’s catalog) — email her for a copy at And then, when it does go to seed — Save it! Share it! Sow it next year!


Before the Drunken Woman came into my life, I wasn’t totally lettuce-less at this time of year. Thanks to my old reliable ‘Slobolt’ (Territorial Seeds —, I didn’t starve. I still wouldn’t be without ‘Slobolt’ in July and August. This standby keeps me in greenery all season long. But the two lettuces are totally different animals. ‘Slobolt’ is very, very buttery with a leaf that’s more limp than the Drunken Woman. It has a tendency to dissolve quickly in an oil dressing. So the two are perfect complements. Together, they make a great pair.

UPDATE — Oh No! I foolishly went out to weed the veggie garden this evening and I’m regretting it. A very ill-tempered wasp got caught in my sun-glasses and now my nose is approximately four times bigger than it was a few minutes ago. Not to mention my swollen eye and throbbing cheek. Guess even the wasps are crabby tonight. My advice to you all — stay safely in front of that fan!

Posted in Vegetables | 11 Comments

Amsonia tabernaemontana

I’ve spent the lion’s share of my life searching for the right bun. You know what I mean: Girl on the lookout for something sculpted, curvaceous, tight, and nicely rounded. Oh…and green.

I thought that I had it pinned with boxwood. But then the snow plow came along and nipped that love affair in the bud. Now I’ve found it with Amsonia tabernaemontana.

When it comes to buns, small little tuffets are adorable, it’s true. But in my eyes, bigger is better. And what I love about A. tabernaemontana is that no slavish clipping is required. The mound you get does not require any scissorhand action whatsoever (as opposed to spiraea, for example, that requires pruners as an appendage-extension).

I’ve got one amsonia that’s a real stunner. Ever notice that certain individuals are more comely than others? It happens with humans, and it’s also the case with plants. Although not all my A. tabernaemontanas are equally svelte (I used them as a repetitive theme in my perennial border, so I have several). Some (especially those growing in particularly fertile soil) actually get so floppy that I have to cut them down after flowering. It’s the one closest to the road in the lean, mean soil and the hot sun that annually fans itself into a lovely orb.

In spring, it’s studded with pale blue blossoms that make a statement by sheer numbers. In midsummer, that plant is a perfectly rounded nugget. In fall, the foliage turns blazing orange. And then the stripped stems bleach silver but hang in there. Sometimes I leave last year’s sticks up most of the winter. Usually, they begin to topple when the first snow strikes. So I cut the plant back just to give the plowman one less solid object to aim his heaps at. But when I flip through the calendar, there’s only a brief interval when this plant isn’t a main, stunning element in the garden.

I know there’s nothing new about Amsonia tabernaemontana. It’s been upstaged by the feathery-leaved A. hubrichtii that is the current darling of the perennial realm. The cultivar ‘Blue Ice’ is getting loads of press at the moment. I like it, for a different role in my garden. But it doesn’t claim the same wonderful silhouette or form the substantial mass that I treasure in Amsonia tabernaemontana. Although I’ve spent many posts talking about newbies in this blog, I decided it was high time to pay tribute to an old faithful.

Oh, and friends — My apologies for going off-line temporarily. The good news is that I gave birth to a new book while I was “away.” More about that later. But I’m back and posting now. Thank you all for your patience. I missed you.

Posted in Perennials | 14 Comments

Sarracenia spp.

copyright Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

So you’re stumped. Your dad isn’t a golf kinda’ guy. He’s had it up to his neck in ties and he’s got polo shirts up the Wazoo. What to give him for Father’s Day? I’ve got it! Why not bestow a terrarium filled with carnivorous plants on your favorite role model? Wouldn’t that be the perfect accoutrement for a Man Cave? (assuming that the den in question gets some sun) Or how about gracing his office cubicle with a bug catcher in a bottle?

I just did a Terrarium Workshop at Broken Arrow Nursery ( and the carnivores were the Superstars of the event. The Sarracenias (pitcher plants) were particularly popular. And that gave me the Father’s Day idea. I mean = Show me a Dad who doesn’t love anything that dispatches a bug and I’ll point to a Pop who lives in the Arctic Zone. And who isn’t seduced by a sarracenia? Not only am I amazed at how easy they are to grow, but they’re just the right degree of gross for me. You gotta’ warm to a plant with a gaping lid leading into a long tube filled with a slimy slurry that drowns bugs. And when you’ve got little carnivorous cuties with names like ‘Love Bug’ — it doesn’t get any better than that. You can grow them in a pot set in a tray of water, it’s true. But give them an open-mouthed glass jar (so they can hunt, of course) and they’re happy as clams. The glass jar is the sort of package that might endear you to coworkers at the office.

copyright Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

Close runner up to the pitcher plants on the favorite meter would be sundews. They’re ultra-easy to grow and their eating habits are deliciously gross. Sundews capture their prey (bugs) with sticky little tentacles that sparkle like jewels with bug lure. When dinner buzzles close by, they greet it in a bear hug. The meal gets wrapped up in the tentacles and lovingly squeezed to death. Yummy.

copyright Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

All of these carnivores are native to bogs. So a mucky soil is their domain of choice. I don’t bother with distilled water, and they do just fine with the well water that comes from the tap. (Anybody have experience — negative or positive — with treated town water?) They dote on high humidity — which a terrarium delivers (even an open-mouthed terrarium tends to be more humid than your average environment). And they need bright light, but direct sun streaming through a closed terrarium will bake the poor little predator.

copyright by Kindra Clineff from The New Terrarium

A little more challenging to host is the Venus fly trap, but you can do it in an ultra-humid closed terrarium. And I’ve got to say, there’s nothing like the jaws of a fly trap to keep everyone transfixed while dad is busy elsewhere obsessing over the grill. Warning: Don’t sneak off with some of the hamburger to feed Venus, though. She doesn’t need meat. The arm of a Venus fly trap will brown and die back after it’s caught dinner. And she doesn’t really need meat to survive. Anyway, as we all know = Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. That in itself is a trap. Happy Father’s Day!

You’ll find out more about carnivorous plants in The New Terrarium (Clarkson Potter). And I’ll try and put up some Carnivorous Plant Terrarium instructions up on for Father’s Day.

Posted in Terrariums | 20 Comments

Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’

You don’t need me to preach the Four Season Interest gospel. From your comments, I’m guessing that you’re all pretty well versed in these pursuits and no one needs to nudge you to make the scene stupendous throughout the year. Of course you want maximum mileage out of every plant on the premises. That’s why I invited Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ into the clan years ago. And that’s why I clenched my fist in its general direction years ago.

Sure hope no one recorded the moment that I vowed never to grow another Harry Lauder’s walking stick. If you weren’t around with a microphone a few years ago when the plain vanilla corkscrew hazel was being escorted off the property, then I’m safe. I put it in because I’m kinky. And so is Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. Problem was, it only really looked good when it was naked (definitely my polar opposite). Which was in winter. In summer, it was a blob of unwieldy proportions. With time, it looked even more like a whale with leaves. I was delighted when it died. At last, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ was perennially naked. It would never trouble me with its ragged clothing again. But who wants a skeleton in summer? Finally, even the corpse was bounced.

So I figured = End of story. Then along came Trade Secrets. It wouldn’t be the first time that the guys at Broken Arrow Nursery ( turned my head. And I marched home with their one and only Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’. That was a few years ago, and now it’s readily available. But to give credit where due — Broken Arrow was precocious. As usual.

Okay, here’s the description = deep wine-colored leaves that start spring lining the stems with fiery red, pleated leaf buds like folded mouse ears. But before that, those same twisting, turning stems bear little bundles of cone-like, dangling catkins. And even before that, this curvaceous exhibitionist doesn’t disappoint when it’s parading around naked, silhouetted against the snow. My ‘Red Majestic’ is more compact than ole ‘Contorta’ so it forms a perfectly proportioned package. The fellows at Broken Arrow warned that it could send up green shoots occasionally, which it does every once in a while. A few snips, and they’re gone.

The foliage always looks wonderful. And I’ve been working the echoes ever since (check out the columbine). Although I’m not always big on dark-colored foliage, you need something like this to set off the hot colors of orange and red if you’re thus inclined (which I am). It’s genius with chartreuse. And the burgundy uncorks nearby purple blossoms to make them pop. So what do you think, all you purple appassionatas? It sure kept my alliums from melting into mauve visually. What’s your vote?

Posted in Shrubs | 31 Comments

Syringa ‘Bluets’

It’s coming into my office to find me again. Climbing in through the windows, pushing the curtains aside, floating over to the computer to lure me outside. Sometimes it throws its voice like a ventriloquist. Sometimes it spreads its sweetness so broadly that who can pinpoint exactly where the buzz first began? But eventually, I always follow the deep-throated redolence back to the lilac tree on the side of the house.

Tell me that other bushes of Syringa ‘Bluets’ exist out there. Tell me that I don’t harbor the sole remaining ‘Bluets’ blooming in my front yard. Surely other gardeners are inhaling that evocative aroma of musky wine tinged with the undertone of baby powder and just a touch of vanilla right now. I was photographing the Rochester Lilac Festival last year — home of the largest lilac collection around — and promised I’d propagate one for them. For years now, they’ve been searching for it. Mine made its way to my front yard from Blue Meadow Nursery just minutes before that incredible nursery resource closed its doors. I’m bringing cuttings to Broken Arrow Nursery ( to propagate next week. Hopefully, they’ll have plants ready next year.

‘Bluets’ isn’t the first lilac to open in May by a long shot. But it’s nearly June now and a few blossoms still linger. So it’s one of the last to fade until that signature scent is just a heady echo on the warming evening air. When its prime, ‘Bluets’ umbels are plump with blossoms so double and dense that they form an absolutely solid mass of bloom. And the color is the faded glory of bluets — the little wild groundcover we called Quaker ladies when I was a kid. So there it is, the synthesis of youth spun into a maelstrom of plump interwoven petals checkering the shrub loitering by my window.

'Bluette' snuggled against my cottage

For what seemed like forever, ‘Bluets’ was stalled in its ugly duckling stage. I honestly wondered whether I’d planted a lemon among lilacs. That’s how long I waited for my first cotton candy-like wads of blossoms. And now they dapple the bush by the dozens. And ‘Bluets’, I might add, DOESN’T GET MILDEW (so far) throughout the years with nothing but rain as well as the years with nothing but drought.

If I were going to stage a story about spring, ‘Bluets’ would be in the scenery. It’s redolence would be humming the harmony while the tulips sing along. And even when the tulips get winded and run out of voice; even when the alliums pick up the tune, ‘Bluets’ is still in the brew.

Do me a favor. Read this blog again next winter. Read about the power and performance of ‘Bluets’. Glance the description of the scent one more time. And tell me — can you smell the essence of lilac season floating beyond your curtains again? Close your eyes and inhale. That’s the pulse of spring.

Posted in Shrubs | 24 Comments

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina Florida’

Often, the garden is shrouded in darkness by the time I return from my evening walk in summer. I forgot my flashlight (again). I forgot to turn on the front door light (again). Street lamps are strictly budgeted in our town (for reasons that shall remain a mystery). But no matter. I can find my way home anyway. All I have to do is follow my nose when Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina Florida’ is in blossom.

Brew up an elixir of candy canes dipped in honey spun with a hint of molasses — that’s Lonicera ‘Serotina Florida’. Float it on the air, let it rise above the perfume of fermented salmon that I spray around for the deer. Send it wandering toward the road. Then follow it back to a vine that long ago mounted its arbor (hiding the well-pump head) and sends a few stray wispy squiggles into the sky. Smother that vine in a halo of whisper pink and darker rose-colored trumpets. That’s Lonicera ‘Serotina Florida’.

This isn’t one of those naughty loniceras. Even though this honeysuckle isn’t a native, L. periclymenum isn’t on any invasive plant lists (as far as I can trace) and it truly minds its manners for me. (If anyone knows otherwise, speak now — PLEASE.) In fact, it doesn’t even stretch with the elastic athletics of the native L. sempervirens (alias Spiderman). In this case, just toss the typical vine “first year it sleeps, next year it creeps, etc” dictum to the dogs. Ever since ‘Serotina Florida’ took up its post as a wee thing obtained from Brushwood Nursery (, it has performed full strength. It never hesitated. Upwardly mobile. But that said, it’s more compact than the typical ‘Serotina’. Plus, deer don’t pester it. Zone 4. What’s not to love?

Wait. There’s more. Beyond that heavenly fragrance, there’s the truly endearing little fact that ‘Serotina Florida’ is the first vine in the garden to form leaves. In my garden, it starts action right along with the snowdrops. Just leaves until mid-May. But the leaves and stems are flushed red. Flowers come later and last until midsummer. Then berries, but the berries haven’t caused seedlings (I could make a governor joke, but I won’t).

Mine is happy on a 7 foot trellis. That said, its inter-braided woody stem has the trellis bound into a stranglehold. So maybe you shouldn’t give it your prize rose to hug. Every silver lining has a cloud, I suppose. But I tend to look at (and smell) the silver side.

Posted in Vines | 12 Comments