Authors Posts by Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

After an uncertain spring, the Island favorite blooms far and wide.

Oakleaf hydrangea’s white flower heads age beautifully to burgundy. Photo by Susan Safford

Cutline quote: “Oakleaf hydrangea’s white flower heads age beautifully to burgundy.”

It would seem that the nation is in the grip of hydrangea mania. Sales campaigns for new introductions are planned and executed almost like military campaigns, q.v. the blue pots and logo of ‘Endless Summer.’ Consequently, sales of hydrangeas of all species and varieties are booming, and not least on Martha’s Vineyard. The evidence is everywhere that the Island is enjoying a hydrangea love affair of immense proportions.

Is there another plant whose blooms are more anticipated or more closely inspected, or whose coloration is more discussed?

Due to unexpected weather patterns, there was no way to prune hydrangeas correctly during the spring of 2015. Didn’t matter if one waited, or did not wait; there were so many bud-shriveling temperature shocks that garden owners all over the Island questioned whether their gardeners were pruning their hydrangeas incompetently and incorrectly.

This makes a great selling point for the newer hydrangea types of the ‘Endless Summer’ sort, which form flowering buds on old wood as well as new, throughout the season. If a temperature shock aborts buds formed on last year’s growth, replacements form shortly.

Now that we are in August, aging effects taking place on hydrangea flower heads are changing their coloration to the subtle and artistic colors we now see. The “petal” part of the flower actually turns and hangs upside down, and the deeper colors form on the undersides.

Everyone’s favorite, the mophead hydrangeas, H. macrophylla, may form new flowering buds after a light pruning. H. arborescens cultivars such as ‘Annabelle’ may do likewise, but most of the lacecap types bloom once only, after which the flowers age. Hybridizers are working, however, to breed a lacecap with continuously forming flower buds.

As the name hydrangea would indicate, hydrangeas are water lovers. The leaves of mopheads and lacecaps hang limply and they look very sad indeed, if grown in full sun or hot locations. Yet one sees this commonly, hydrangeas planted in baking locations: front of buildings, alongside asphalt streets, in planters outside storefronts. They look miserable! Partial shade is best for flower bud initiation, performance, and maintenance.

Drought-stressed hydrangeas are far more liable to be browsed by deer, at a cost of lost flowers. Either install them with a permanent drip line, sort of like a hydroponically grown plant, or avoid such locations altogether. Using good fertile soil that is free-draining and laying a temperature-moderating mulch are good cultural practices for these plants, which put out lots of energy in producing new canes and oversize foliage, but do not like soggy soil.

Or plant instead the frothy yet coolly elegant, white-flowered panicle hydrangea, H. paniculata grandiflora (“peegee” hydrangeas), which may be grown in full sun. These are gracing gardens all over the Island right now and, while different from a blue or pink mophead, are glorious and graceful, equally an icon of summer with their H. macrophylla cousins. Flowers of peegee hydrangeas also age beautifully, some, such as ‘Pinky Winky,’ having been selected for this trait.

I have so far failed to mention the oakleaf hydrangea, a North American native hydrangea of an entirely different species. Bold in texture, gorgeous for fall foliage color, this plant is a study in strong texture and form: white cone-shaped flower heads aging to burgundy in a good year, and oversize dimpled leaves mimicking an oakleaf shape. Plant them in partial shade, with the same humus-rich, well-draining soil that mopheads and lacecaps enjoy.

Mopheads, ‘Annabelles,’ and oakleaf hydrangeas encompass but a few members of a large family. Put Michael Dirr’s “Hydrangeas for American Gardens” (Timber Press, 2004) on your Vineyard coffee table and watch your friends reach for it; it contains cultivar info about the above and all their relatives, with many excellent photos and more information.


In the garden

The fair will be underway by the time this column sees print. See you there.

Meanwhile, sowing successional crops must be underway in order to see results before light levels diminish in fall. Good fall crops include beets, radicchio, carrots, Swiss chard, greens of all sorts — brassicas, spinach, lettuces — peas, and edible pod peas. Depending upon an individual garden plot’s siting and light levels, another crop of bush beans may yield well.

Most clumps of daylilies will look better if de-stalked and dead-leaved. Some, such as ‘Stella d’Oro’ and those with ‘Returns’ in their names, may be completely cut back; fresh new foliage will sprout. Cut back spent growth of biennial plants such as lychnis, lunaria, and foxglove; leave clustered basal leaves if any. The seedheads may be laid or shaken around the garden to produce future seedlings.

When cooler weather and rains come, many perennials will flush new growth and flowers if cut back or deadheaded now. Examples include coreopsis, nepeta, phlox, and geraniums. Remove deadheads from platycodon, butterfly weed, echinops — and religiously deadhead annuals.

Top up mulch and attend to watering. I had two nasty surprises at my place with new plants that were a little out of the way; it is shocking how little time it takes for significant damage to occur during drought. (I hope they will claw back now that I have them on my radar.) All recently planted trees and shrubs are vulnerable for a year after planting.

Feed containers with slow-release or soluble fertilizer — the middle number, phosphorus, should be high to boost blossom production. Watering is necessary almost daily during these blazing days. Once the plants dry out and wilt, they split open and the leaves yellow. At that point it is difficult to bring them back up, but you can trim back the growth somewhat, dead-leaf, and, after rehydrating, try a weak feed.

Ecologically informed, authentic, and local.

Keynotes of the West Tisbury library plantings are the orange daisy, Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Nights,' along with Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ and Pycnanthemum montana. Photo by Susan Safford

In a community such as Martha’s Vineyard, where gardening and natural preservation standards are high, each gardener and every garden benefits from natural plantings unique to the location.

The town of West Tisbury, known as the Athens of Martha’s Vineyard, has expended a great deal of care on its library project. The naturalistic plantings there exemplify that care, and are a beautiful public asset, thanks to all involved in the project. Laura Coit, wearing two hats as the library’s head of circulation and the plantings’ designer, chose plants to match the site: open, sunny, low maintenance, and heat tolerant.

Billowy switchgrass, mountain mint, echinacea, heliopsis, aster, amsonia, beetlebung, bayberry, and physocarpus form the backbone of this garden. It could be called “prairie in a parking lot,” as the movement and airiness of the plants is indeed what an Easterner thinks of as prairie. Additional plants include lavender, baptisia, liatris, beach plum, and butterfly weed. They demand little while performing to the colorful utmost in this highly visible location.

Almost every bit of the Vineyard’s 100 or so square miles is prized and valuable, too valuable to misuse or abuse with out-of-the box, bad landscaping practices. Enabled by drop-in landscaping, constant irrigation, and chemical fertilization, the could-be-anywhere garden designs that look as if they are straight out of a catalog are very 20th century and outdated.

Much of the current paradigm we live within cannot endure, or we ourselves will cease to endure. We must, in gardens, create an era with a new set of design touchstones: strong desires for the ecologically informed, authentic, and local. Although every garden is to an extent artificial, having been planted, not found, authenticity is a sought-after quality. It implies that the garden has been achieved by paying attention to where it has been placed and what generated it. It is creating, by human hands, what is suited to live and grow successfully in that exact place with a minimum of inputs and aftercare.

Which is neither to despise traditional gardens, nor to make their owners feel bad. Nor is it to impose a “plant Nazi” attitude regarding non-native versus native plant material. It is about each one of us opening our eyes and appreciating where we are, rather than pining for an “Italianate,” “Californian,” or “English” garden, for example, when we are coastal southeastern Massachusetts, one of the best, most beautiful places on Earth.

Although “permaculture” does not mean “native,” the two ideas easily complement each other. Implementing the 12 permaculture principles (generally credited to Dave Holmgren; see Wikipedia: has helped many designers of “native” landscapes and, although phrased in somewhat abstract terms, these are actually ways to guide the gardener and designer to achieve something practical and easy to maintain on the ground.

A simplified permaculture overview might consist of the following concepts:

  • Copy the forest, tree canopy descending to smaller trees, then to shrubs and bushes, with smaller shade plants and groundcover beneath the canopy.
  • Use groupings and associations, such as soil and pH preferences, shade or sun conditions, or drought resistance.
  • Notice micro-areas (microclimates and niches) in your garden, and use to advantage: full sun, shady spots, stony areas, moist areas where rainwater drains.
  • Use the widest possible variety of plants to enhance diversity; for example, allowing a portion of lawn to revert to pollinator-friendly meadow, simply by mowing only once or twice annually.
  • Plan your area in zones based on use and accessibility; for example, plant your herb garden and greens in the areas easiest to access, such as along a walk near your kitchen.
  • Access: design features, such as changes in level or gateways, should allow accessibility for young and old people, wheelbarrows, lawn furniture, etc.

Inspiration for creating naturalistic Island gardens may be found in source books such as “The Living Landscape,” Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy; “The American Woodland Garden,” Rick Darke; “Bringing Nature Home,” Doug Tallamy; “Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants,” W. Colston Burrell.

Varied habitats

The Vineyard encompasses many different habitats, to be left intact, it is hoped (albeit enhanced), when previously undeveloped land is built upon. The Vineyard has hardwood and coniferous woodland, scrub oak ecosystem, exposed sites and sheltered sites, seashore, inland, sandplain, moraine, outwash plain, old pasture, wetland, in-town — this is not Nantucket, which we think of as all moors! — and each of these may be treated in ways to reinforce its innate charm and uniqueness.

There are many lists and compendiums of native plants for reference. The Polly Hill Arboretum’s Plant Selection Guide’s ( filters help users select for Island site and landscape qualities. However, it is preferable to census, augment, and edit what is already on your land, than to expend the time and money establishing bought-in nursery stock after a clear-cut.

“Form ever follows function” is a motivating, inspirational quote from Louis Sullivan, the early 20th century American architect. This eliminates the fussiness that is often the hallmark of poorly designed projects. A further guidance for our homes, gardens, and landscapes today is that they should be created and maintained using natural and local materials as much as possible, and that practical functionality and pleasing aesthetics are inseparable.

In the garden

Deadhead lavender and cut back nepeta, which have grayed out despite the lack of rain. In the case of lavender, care may be exercised and each stem cut back to a node, or whole handfuls may be grabbed and heartlessly cut in one fell swoop. Either way, the plants should begin to look better within a day or two.

Same applies to nepeta — many forms of this indispensable perennial have billowing growth that overwhelms neighboring plants and looks like an undifferentiated mass. Cut the plants back, and soon they flush with new growth and lavender-blue flowers.



And, after a cold start to spring, forests of dill, and beans are on the way.

To get the hibiscus to fit into the new pot, we trimmed the roots. – Photo by Susan Safford

It took me a long time to get my vegetable garden in hand this season. So cold, so dry — that is how we started in spring 2015. Now, as I brush off mosquitoes and concern myself with fungal and foliar problems, that seems far behind me, and I smile: “Be careful what you wish for.”

My brother sent me seed from the Netherlands for a bush bean, Naaldboon ‘Niki,’ a very fine, needlelike “haricot vert” type that I have sown and now eagerly await. Even the plants themselves are very attenuated. These will be for fresh table use. After a lengthy, cautious wait (beans dislike cold), I finally made a sowing of the wonderful pole bean ‘Fortex,’ and now the plants are in bloom. These are planned for supplying most of the freezer crop.

My mother, with a German background, loved the herb dill, pined for it, and prized it when, in the early ’50s, she could find it here. In my garden the onion plants started off with a bang; so did self-sown dillweed. I could only weed for a bit after work, and the onions were quickly overrun by the forest of dill.

It actually took me until July, carefully plucking to spare the onion plants, to clear all 15 rows of ‘Copra,’ and I fear that this season the quality will not be there. Many people have reported extraordinarily thick and vigorous dill this year. The easily leapt-to conclusion is that it had something to do with the winter conditions.

However — silver lining — when my daughter was here for a visit in early July, she commented on the numbers of pollinators in the vegetable garden. She said she does not see that level of pollinator activity in Charlottesville, where she tends a number of food gardens.

Of course, there are other plants in my garden, such as intentionally bolting lettuce, cilantro, radicchio, and leeks, with a lot to offer pollinators, but my daughter’s opinion is that in spring the umbellifers offer especially good pollinator support. These are plants, many of which are biennial and bloom the second year only, with a flower structure that can be described as umbrella-like; in addition to dill and cilantro, second-year parsley, carrots, and celery are examples. Instead of pulling, leave some to flower, not only for the myriad pollinators but also for seed production.

An unknown oregano variety with white flowers is big enough to season pizza for a village, more than we could ever use. We are happy to share: It is covered with bees, flies, and wasps of all descriptions, some so small as to be nearly invisible.

This plant is completely unremarkable and unshowy next to the brightly colored daylilies, phlox, and gladioli nearby, but probably does more for biodiversity and pollinator support in my garden than most of the real “lookers.”

Later in the season, the many flowers of the great Asteraceae (or Compositae) family, including — just a few names of the many — goldenrod, asters, sunflowers, and heliopsis, offer pollinators the pollen and nectar they require.

Repotting large plants

Most plant lovers acquire plants dear to them, and which (or “who”) need feeding, housing, and to be cared for, like old friends or other family members. I may have a few too many of these. The hybrid hibiscus standard ‘Kona’ has been with us since about 1983, and in the course of that time has inhabited several large pots. The primary risk with a tall plant that, like my hibiscus, spends the summer outside is blowing over in an unguarded, gusty moment. When it hits, the rim of the pot is apt to crack. Several years ago my hibiscus did just that, and the nice, rolled-rim pot developed a hairline fracture.

Repotting a large plant is an effortful endeavor; I put it off. I finally partially bit the bullet and bought a successor pot last fall, but procrastinated about performing The Act; the cracked pot seemed still so useful. The crack began to widen ….

What you see in the photo is when I could no longer wait; it took two of us, and a lot of lifting, tugging, and banging, but eventually the very potbound root ball released and slid out of the old pot, leaving it without further damage. (My husband promised to try thick epoxy on the cracked pot to see if we could save it for some other “old friend.”) The alternative is to take a hammer to the pot and bang it to pieces.

We want to avoid an endless increase in pot size; what happens next is that excess roots are pared away so that fresh soil can replace them, maintaining the root ball at current size. Take an old kitchen knife and cut and slice evenly, all around the root ball: rim, sides, and base. Try for about an inch increase in space all around. Then insert a thin, flat piece of wood, such as a yardstick, to tamp down new container mix and eliminate air pockets, all around the circumference.

Several heavy lifts later, in and out, and the fit was pretty good.



Lots of full-color photos and wonderful ideas in Charlie Nardozzi’s “Foodscaping” (Cool Springs Press, $24.99), make it a guide that it is not too late to follow. Whether you prefer a decorative garden alongside a driveway, in a front yard, or even the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street, there is something edible and handsome to plant. Especially useful for in-town lots in full sun, “Foodscaping” is stuffed with images and ideas that will assist you in achieving an exciting, dynamic garden you can eat out of.

This very nice manual sat on my book pile for far too long, having arrived after the critical moment in the season when sitting home and reading is past for me. Now, most food gardens have been planted and are yielding fresh, extremely local produce, but “Foodscaping” shows the way to continue expanding the available space in a thoughtful and beautiful way.


Among the fireflies and lilies.

Fragrant beyond belief: regal lilies, Lilium regale album. – Photos by Susan Safford

To be out at dusk amidst fireflies and the fragrance of regal lilies is summer magic.

Lilies are some of the garden’s most aristocratic elements. The members of the genus Lilium really begin to dazzle in July, although there are some that are earlier. They share the garden stage with the genus Hemerocallis — daylilies — and generate confusion with their shared names and season. But while daylilies are planted in banks and swathes, “color by the yard,” luxurious bulb lilies are generally used more sparingly: solo acts, clumps, or focal points.

The culprit: Oriental beetles spoil garden flowers.
The culprit: Oriental beetles spoil garden flowers.

The bulbs of these monocots are available in two different waves: spring and fall, depending upon when they are harvested (primarily in the Netherlands). Check your mail for bulb catalogues, and order early, as crops are often spoken for quickly. It is desirable to plant them as quickly as possible after receiving them: deterioration and disease organisms set in fast.

The lily calendar goes roughly like this: The extensive group of lilies known as Asiatics, mostly upward-facing and scentless, starts into bloom in late June and carries through most of July. Smaller classes of hybrids, such as the Chinese trumpets, bloom in mid-July. Asiatics have also been crossed with Easter (L. longiflorum) lilies to produce a small class of early, fragrant lilies. The ‘Orienpets,’ created by crossing Oriental lilies with the Trumpet class (often called “tree lilies”), Orientals, and some species carry the lily display along through August and into September.

My preference is for downward- or outward-facing lilies, with fragrance, just a matter of taste really, but all lilies gift a garden with an air of distinction. Sunny sites are mostly required, and most lilies do best planted deeply. It is a dangerous myth that deer do not eat lilies. Some years nothing happens, but then comes the nasty surprise! Spray with repellent, for the plant cannot regenerate more flower buds in the current season.

The Oriental and ‘Orienpet’ groups are stem-rooting, which helps support the tremendous show and height they are capable of growing, but some unobtrusive staking may be helpful as well. I like cages of rusted wire, 24 to 30 inches high and anchored with earth staples, placed around lily groupings (other perennials and dahlias too); they are virtually invisible.

Lilies I grow include the pictured L. regale album; a species form called L. ‘White Henryi,’ and something similar, ‘Lady Alice’; assorted Oriental and ‘Orienpet’ lilies in pink and white, such as ‘Casa Blanca’ and ‘Olivia’; the almost-invasive tiger lilies Lynn Irons calls “captain’s lilies”; and Asiatics from long ago, such as ‘Enchantment’ and ‘Connecticut King.’ In a case of small-minded plant snobbism, I disdain Asiatic lilies; they seem more suited to the cut-flower trade than to the garden, in my opinion. “De gustibus non est disputandum.”

However, unusual in Asiatic lilies, the downward-facing ‘Tiger Babies’ is a great favorite: early (in bloom now), lightly fragrant, recurved petals on a candelabra-like structure, in a subtle peachy pink. I have planted it throughout one section of my garden. It is a product of the longtime breeding program of Judith Freeman, whose many wonderful lilies are available at her website,

Many mass-market sources of lily bulbs sell rubbish or call all sorts of other genera “lilies,” such as agapanthus or camassia; be skeptical and read carefully to avoid disappointment. In addition to the Lily Garden, other good sources of lilies are Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, White Flower Farm, Old House Gardens — Heirloom Bulbs, and John Scheepers.


To return to hemerocallis — daylilies, the ones planted in swathes and banks — they are reliable sources of garden and landscape color, especially in July, and they too are monocots. Flower forms may mimic bulb lilies, although of course they last just one day, which is where the common name originates. Hemerocallis are incredible performers under good cultural conditions, and may be divided regularly. Compost and mulching are both means to keep down weeds and enhance vigor.

Modern daylilies have a different profile from the reliable roadside standby, H. fulva, the tawny daylily, plus other older cultivars such as ‘Hyperion.’ Newer cultivars, many of which are diploid or tetraploid with heavily budded scapes, have shorter, stouter stems held closer to the mounds of strap-like foliage, while the habit of older types is airier, flowers held well above foliage. Choose your own preference; neither is superior to the other.

Product feedback

I mentioned two products earlier in the year that I intended to try out in my garden and work: cinnamon leaf oil and miniclover. The cinnamon leaf oil was intended to keep squirrels off my strawberry plants, and the miniclover was intended to produce a cropped, low-growing lawn that tolerates drought, lack of mowing, and produces its own nitrogen fertilizer.

The cinnamon leaf oil was not successful, although I am not claiming I really used it assiduously and correctly. Directions for use and dilutions were ambiguous, and I was dilatory in my application of the product, partly because I could not see any results. It was also claimed to repel ants — large brown ants here chew rosebuds — but not that I could detect.

Miniclover seems like a good product, so far. I have always been at variance with the lawn culture that poisons clover in lawns with herbicide. I like the look of a turf sprinkled with cloverleaf, and what the clover does to make the lawn resilient and requiring fewer inputs. The miniclover is even more low-growing than conventional Dutch White. Seed comes pelleted and inoculated. The source is, which is also a source for other plant products of interest.


And a rose, by many other names.

Although they are heavy feeders, manure, sun, and adequate water satisfy the needs of most roses. Here, shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’. – Photo by Susan Safford

Welcome to summer, which officially started with the summer solstice last Sunday. It was a rainy day; perhaps we can take it as a good sign that adequate rain will fall on us for the rest of the season, here off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts.

It is also rose time on Martha’s Vineyard. Roses’ (and peonies’) season of bloom seems to coincide with rain. The cost is some spoiled flowers. A few of the most beautiful roses and peonies “hang their heads” in rain, due to large cupped blooms and/or possibly weak stems. Despite that, they do best with about an inch of water per week, and natural rain provides it best. Without it there will be marble-size peony buds that never progress and open, or a myriad of rose problems. More about that below.

I fielded a recent question about uneven “bloom” on kousa dogwoods, Cornus kousa. I cannot say for sure, but it probably has something to do with something unevenly affecting the roots that feed the unevenly blooming branch, such as compaction.

The condition appears quite commonly, and is sometimes nothing more than a slight delay among different parts of the tree in leafing out and producing the “flowers” — in quotes because they are actually ornamental bracts surrounding the inconspicuous, true flowers at their center. Other specimens may manifest dieback, and this might be due to insect damage or disease.

Island gardens host large numbers of these Asian cousins of the native North American Cornus florida, and many are purely spectacular just now. Striking fall color is an additional plus. To gauge the eventual spread of a kousa dogwood, visit the dogwood alleé at Polly Hill Arboretum, composed of mature specimens that are wider than they are tall! Dogwoods in general are understory trees that prefer free-draining, fertile soil, high in organic matter. They make good specimen trees for gardens that also include nearby shade trees.

Named cultivars, of which there are “136-plus cultivars and varieties” (M. Dirr, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants), exhibit different, predictable growth habits. Examples that are more compact, weep, or have a columnar form, and are worth seeking out, include ‘Baby Splash’ (dwarf, variegated), ‘Doubloon’ (tall, slender habit), ‘Dwarf Pink’ (dwarf on own roots, 8 feet by 6 feet), and ‘Weaver’s Weeping’ (strongly weeping branches, exceptionally heavy flower display).


Rose culture

Roses exercise a potent hold on gardeners’ imaginations. There are many ways to grow the elegant symbol of love and beauty. I am not going to argue with those who have their program of chemical fertilizer, fungicide, and pesticide application carefully worked out. What is beyond dispute is that many landscaping problems may be solved with a carefully chosen rose species or cultivar.

I have found what works for me: roses, well-chosen, in good soil produced by plenty of manure (and luckily, my henhouse supplies what the roses here at my place need), water, and sunshine. My rose list includes the following cultivars, all healthy and reasonably trouble-free for an unirrigated, informal Island garden: Climbers ‘New Dawn,’ ‘Westerland,’ ‘Aloha,’ ‘Coral Dawn,’ ‘America’ and its sport ‘Pearly Gates,’ and an unknown large-flowered, tough and beautiful pink climber that came from a teardown. Shrub roses are ‘Carefree Beauty’ (one of the parents of the original ‘Knockout’ rose), ‘Abraham Darby’ (may be grown as either a shrub or a short climber), ‘Carefree Celebration,’ and ‘Nymphenburg.’

But there are many roses I would not consider it worth my time to coax and coddle along to look good and do well, even if they were “planted by my grandmother.” For example, roses that are heavily predisposed to black spot, such as the original ‘Blaze,’ are a poor choice for Martha’s Vineyard, with its fogs, high humidity, and many airborne bacteria.

Most books about roses and rose growing will note flaws of individual cultivars, including cold hardiness, the above-mentioned “hanging their heads” from rain and “balling” from botrytis, and susceptibility to black spot and to powdery mildew.

With the advent of modern rose-breeding programs in the United States, Canada, and abroad, it is possible to have the healthy, luxurious roses of one’s imagination without poisoning oneself and one’s soil. Most gardeners know about the ‘Knockout’ series of roses that William Radler bred in Wisconsin; they have revolutionized rose growing for rose aficionados of every skill level. However, there are equally interesting and beautiful roses from other breeders.

The English roses of David Austin have been as notable as the ‘Knockout’ series in their ability to give fabulous results to novice rose growers, with one positive exception: one of their standout attributes is fragrance. Many “easy” roses, such as ‘the Fairy’ and the ‘Knockout’ series, have faint to no fragrance, but have been worth it to those who had been unable to have success with temperamental hybrid tea roses, and were willing to forego scent in order to have a rose that would grow and flower.

Series such as the ‘Oso Easy,’ ‘Drift,’ and ‘Romantica’ roses also aim to allay performance anxieties among rose-growing gardeners. There are a lot out there. Before purchasing and planting, read the pot tag carefully; if possible, even do some Internet research prior to purchase of the plants you are interested in.

A hazard not always mentioned in replacing a failed rose with another is rose-replant disease: “Do not replace a rose that has failed with another in the same spot.” A way around this is to follow the advice of Fine Gardening:

“Add lots of well-rotted manure or good garden compost to the soil. Treat the new roses with mycorrhizal fungi either by brushing it on, putting it in the hole, or soaking the roots in them. Never use chemical drenches or all-in-one rose treatments, because you can harm the soil.” Read more here.

White wisteria, at the old Kenyon place on South Road, embellishes an arbor to perfection. – Photo by Susan Safford

Garden features
“And every man shall sit under his vine, and under his fig tree …” (Micah 4:4) To my mind, there is nothing as desirable and visually inviting in the garden as the features variously known as arbors or pergolas. Whether they are attached to the house (see photo) or freestanding, these structures add something captivating to the garden: One wants to go there. Porches have their advantages — such as screens! — but they lack the enhancement of the plantings that embellish an arbor or pergola. Climbers such as wisteria or roses provide scent as well.

The comprehensive Bartlett Book of Garden Elements (Bartlett & Bartlett; David R. Godine) mentions the difference between arbor and pergola: “The words arbor and pergola are often used interchangeably…. They tend to serve the same function … but arbors are smaller and simpler in design, and therefore more versatile.” Think classical when you mean pergola, think rustic when you mean arbor. Think about adding one or the other to your garden.

Lilacs like cold
These are dry, chilly times in this compressed spring season. Hydrangeas and roses all over the Island are showing the results of cold shock to their pruned canes. The frost bottoms in the State Forest reveal precisely where cold air settled, trimming those scrubby little oaks back for the umpteenth time in their long lives.
Yet Island lilacs apparently loved the cold winter and cool conditions at bloom time, sparking renewed interest in their value as easy, beautiful plants that demand little and give much.
Breeding and hybridizing has given the lilac buyer a great deal of variety to choose from, compared with the days of old-fashioned mauve or lilac Syringa vulgaris (common lilac), and the older French hybrids. Yellow-y, washed-out foliage has been improved, deep leaf color being considered preferable. Bloom time, from early to late, has been extended, both in “common lilac” types and in the class called late lilacs, including S. xjosiflexa or S. prestoniae. Nonsuckering or moderately suckering forms are also available.

Double-flowered forms have been around since the work of the Lemoines in the 19th century; however, now forms exist with more than four petals in individual florets, and ones with extremely large florets, such as Syringa xhyacinthiflora ‘Clarke’s Giant’ and S. ‘Sensation,’ have been bred.

Still fine plants, many traditional, old-fashioned lilacs eventually become quite towering, eight to twelve feet, bearing their flowers skyward. Therefore, compact introductions will please those who want their lilac flower heads more at nose level or who have less space. However, these tall shrubs make excellent privacy hedges in open sites with good light, something I hope the potential Leyland cypress buyer will consider.

Because lilacs love cold — special cultivars have been bred for warmer climates — much great hybridizing work has been done in Canada, Russia, and countries of the former Soviet Union. ‘Nadezhda’ and ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ are two stunningly beautiful, widely available Russian lilacs.

After years of chicken and geese misconduct, a couple of lilacs bought a decade ago, as “tubes” from Forest Farm, Williams, Ore., bloomed for the first time this year. Tubes — small plants — are the most practical way to buy shrubs where freight is a factor, but one must be prepared to wait. Forest Farm offers a wide selection of lilacs at

More specific lilac information may be gathered from Lilacs (Fiala & Vrugtmann; Timber Press) and the Manual of Woody Plants (Dirr; Stipes Press), or online from sites such as Select Plus International Lilac Nursery, Quebec. Deadhead lilacs now; flowers are passé, and the spring’s dry conditions left behind particularly unattractive, bright brown panicles.

Birds eat caterpillars
In the years of the previous serious fall and spring cankerworm outbreaks, with concurrent outbreaks of forest tent caterpillars as well, the weather was warm, and spring came early. The caterpillar protein glut, needed by nestlings for growth, was timed wrong; caterpillars were too far ahead when migratory birds arrived.

It seems to be a heavy caterpillar year so far, but if I understand the phenology correctly, it should be a great season for birds too, because this year the birds are here. The caterpillars are delayed, perhaps by the cool average temperatures, so it should be feast time for birds. Please keep hungry baby birds in mind when you consider poisoning caterpillars through spraying.

In the garden
Ornamental garden tasks at this time include watering recently transplanted or divided plants, and mulching, in addition to weeding, staking, and deadheading. But it is also now or never for the “Chelsea chop,” cutting back or pinching certain perennials to retard bloom times and create bushier, stocky growth that needs less staking.

After the June solstice, the light changes and puts plants into a different mode of growth, that of preparing to flower and seed, or preparing tissue for next year’s flowers. Plants that benefit are those such as platycodon, chrysanthemum, phlox, aster, sedum, and salvia.

Prune spring-blooming shrubs that have flowered, and correct for crossing branches and overall shape. New directive for bearded iris: Divide immediately after flowering, not in September. Replant with tops of rhizomes exposed and pointing toward sun, fans away from it.

Do you think it is warm enough to plant out the heat-loving dahlias? Pinch out growing tips of dahlias after the third pair of true leaves. When planting taller types, plant the support stake at the same time as the plant or tuber. I learned to use bricks to protect low-growing dahlia types, from Margaret Knight’s piece last year about gardening with hens.

Keep bush beans coming by planting shorter rows every two weeks. Bush beans make one of the most freezer-friendly vegetables, and after stripping the plants for harvest, they can be pulled, and some other later-maturing crop planted instead.

Correction: I recently learned that, contrary to my source in my last column, Hildene, Col. Lincoln’s home with the peony gardens, is in Manchester, VT, not Manchester, NH.

And some helpful hints on staking peonies.

Standards, falls, and beard: bland terms used for the complexity of the iris flower. – Photo by Susan Safford

The “merry month of May” is traditionally characterized by hawthorns in bloom; no matter that May is almost over and the hawthorns are only just starting to flower. Despite the chilly, dry weather, there is much going on in gardens at this wondrous time of year. (And so much in the garden to simply admire and enjoy!) One is often transfixed by indecision on what comes first, as gardening to-do lists are long, and time is short.

Watering should be a priority when dry spells coincide with plants’ efforts to put out leaves or new growth. Recently planted trees and shrubs — planted within the past two years — may need supplemental watering: They are more vulnerable than fully established plantings. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, and may help increase time between waterings.


Staking craft   

Peony season means rain to me, even while we are having this drought, so a refresher course in peony staking might be useful. Many classic techniques of garden maintenance are not much known in the United States — we tend to be seat-of-the-pants, self-taught types in many respects — and gardening for ordinary people here has a short history. Thanks to Old House Gardens, this method of staking peonies at the New Hampshire garden Hildene, estate of President Lincoln’s son, is described. It’s called the Hildene star, as Hildene’s gardener, Andrea Luchini, explains:

“I stake the plants when they have flower buds so that I can easily tell where to string them. For each peony, I insert five stakes equidistant from each other, just on the outside edge of the clump. Then I take a piece of jute twine and tie it to one of the stakes, a few inches below the flower buds. Going counter-clockwise, I pass the twine through the plant going to every other stake and tautly wrapping the twine once around each, until I’m back where I started. When I’m finished there’s a jute star in the middle of the plant.

“To catch the outer flowers, I bring the twine around the outside of the plant, wrapping it once around each stake to encircle the entire clump. This method supports the flowers in sections rather than as one big mass.”


Iris: Peonies’ fabulous companion

Only a deity could imagine and form the architectural iris blossom, with its structural complexity paired with a foliage statement intensely focused and clean-lined. Unlike peonies, irises generally need no staking, with the exception of tall bearded types with heavily frilled flowers. It is for this reason, although I admire them in other people’s gardens, that I mostly stick to dwarf and intermediate bearded iris (IB iris), the former of which kicks off rhizomatous iris season, with the IBs coming a bit later.

Aitken’s Salmon Creek Garden, at, lists an IB, ‘August Treat,’ with good rebloom, mid-blue standards, lighter blue falls, and blue beards that sounds good to me. Also intriguing is their ‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ with cinnamon standards, darker brown falls, blue beards, and possible rebloom.

An 18-inch tall pure white IB from Shreiner’s Iris Gardens, at, ‘Angelwalker,’ makes a good choice for the twilight gleam a good white flower gives the garden. Check them, and others out by Googling “intermediate bearded iris.”

Not to be ignored, Siberian irises, with grasslike foliage, begin their bloom time simultaneously with the tall bearded iris. These plants have great utility in the garden as repeat-theme punctuation in the border. Clumps increase rapidly, and if yours have shown diminished bloom, it is time to divide them.

All of the irises mentioned above are great plants for the dry or unirrigated garden, and make good rock-garden subjects. They fare best in situations where they can be dry and baking after their spring bloom; in fact they will be healthier and maintain their foliage better if grown this way.


Reblooming plants

It is the aim of landscapes of a turnkey or institutional nature to have “color” all season long, while the charm of a rich and well-planted garden is the endless parade of plants and effects throughout the garden year. Who has not waited with bated breath for a favorite iris to unfold its first bud in all its beauty?

A case may be made for rejecting reblooming irises (or any reblooming version of a plant traditionally a onetime bloomer, for that matter), in the sense that these yearly but ephemeral appearances are special and precious events to the garden lover.

However, in confined spaces where every square foot must pull its weight, an iris that reblooms — or an azalea, a mock orange, a lilac — is a gift. They share the function that annual flowers perform: a long season of dependable bloom.


Rose care

Many problems of roses may be avoided by use of manure; they are heavy feeders. A chemical version is no substitute for the best feed for them: stable muck. The best time to give it to them is over winter. A problem with this seemingly simple prescription: Stable muck is in short supply in the 21st century.

Bagged “garden manure” is the likely substitute, but be on the lookout for sources of horse manure. Mellowed in a tarped heap, it will be in usable form by the coming winter. Remove as much of the bedding material as possible, as its breakdown cheats the roses of nitrogen.

Attested to by garden centers’ feet of shelf space devoted to cure-alls for them, roses in deficient soil will manifest many problems that then have to be dealt with. Roses under severe insect attack or demonstrating foliar problems should receive a soil test. Specify that the soil is to grow roses.


In the garden

Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as forsythia, viburnum, witch hazel, and fothergilla. Deadhead rhododendrons. Plant beans, and sow more lettuce.

And a note about sumac.

Emerging fiddleheads of ostrich fern, "Matteuccia struthiopteris," in a woodland setting. – Photo by Susan Safford

The air is full of bud scales drifting and blowing about as the expanding leaves free them. They create plugs and stoppers in downspouts and gutters; check on that. Pollen is here too. Early mornings are fragrant and mild, even at dawn, a welcome change from the persistent chill of April and early May, with birdsong for accompaniment.

 Martha's Vineyard hosts four species of sumac, including 'Toxicodendron vernix,' also known as poison sumac.  – Photo courtesy Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database via Wikimedia Commons
Martha’s Vineyard hosts four species of sumac, including ‘Toxicodendron vernix,’ also known as poison sumac. – Photo courtesy Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database via Wikimedia Commons

Martha’s Vineyard hosts four species of sumac (plus poison ivy, also in the Rhus family): Rhus copallinum, R. glabra, R. typhina, and Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac). The first three are widespread, and are found in dry, open sites; the latter is rarer, and is found in wetlands and swampy places. The first three form cones of red berries; those of poison sumac are white.


Quiet spring beauties

First-chosen plants for spring gardens tend to be showy: plants such as tulips, bleeding heart, flashy shrubs such as Rhododendron ‘PJM,’ flowering quince, or forsythia. As gardeners mature, so to speak, their appreciation for the subtle and less showy does too. It cannot be 100 percent showy shrubs and perennials; the garden needs tying together with some sort of basso continuo of under-planting.

Ferns and epimediums are a good case in point: perhaps not the first plants one desires for the spring garden, but over time revealing charms — one of which is seldom being eaten by deer — that grow on one. To some, these plants are mere groundcover, but to me they are very much part of the show.

Epimediums, especially, have leapt into prominence (in the plant world) due to the plant collecting and selecting of the Massachusetts plantsman Darrell Probst. Although the plants’ bloom time is ephemeral, they are showy while they last, and leave behind extraordinary foliage that is a three-season delight.

Garden Vision Epimediums and Plant Delights are two good sources of special epimediums.

Even though they have become cliché as “just so much greenery” in hotel lobbies, ferns actually have botanical names, with which I am trying to become more familiar. They are a difficult group to learn, because many resemble one another. I try to start modestly with a few that do stand out in some unique, recognizable way.

The photograph shows Matteuccia struthiopteris, an easily recognizable running fern that is capable of forming colonies, and tolerates quite a lot of sun if it likes the soil. I like pairing Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ with Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.), but almost all of the large group of Dryopteris make good garden plants. Another favorite is the evergreen Polystichum acrostichoides, the Christmas fern.

Brent and Becky Heath’s excellent daffodil book, Daffodils for North American Gardens (Bright Sky Press, 2001), contains a list on page 65 of companion plants for bulbs, making it automatically a first-rate primer for spring garden planting. Almost everything looks good paired with brunnera or pulmonaria, many cultivars of which have interestingly marked foliage. Hakonechloa, Japanese forest grass, comes in several forms — gold, gold-striped, green, green-striped, and chartreuse-striped — and tells a quiet story, as does Alchemilla mollis.

Although it needs no introduction, the workhorse hosta tribe is a wonderful group of plants for clarifying and simplifying the garden’s texture. The major Vineyard drawback is their attraction for deer, but I do not think they can be excluded for this reason. Deer repellent, fencing or screening until larger — there are ways to have hostas, even in the heart of deer country.

Red lily beetles emerge

One of the least welcome signs of spring is the red lily beetle, Lilioceris lilii, the bane of bulb lilies. I found the first three this morning in the shoots of tiger lilies, and was able to dispatch them between thumb and forefinger. Watch for holes in foliage of lilies, and knock the lily beetles into soapy water, snip with scissors, or crush between the fingers. A surprising amount of control can be achieved this way, but eventually larvae will appear, which will be far more disgusting than the beautiful, if loathed, adults. Sprays made with neem oil are said to inhibit the larval progression to maturity.



Garden-pedia: An A-to-Z Guide to Gardening Terms is a nifty little companion book by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini (St. Lynn’s Press) that explains and defines terms that may bewilder those who did not grow up in a gardening household. Good color photographs are featured on every page. Like an encyclopedia, the garden terms are set up alphabetically; there is also an index in the back. Garden-pedia would make a great addition to the non-specialist garden library or landscaper’s glove compartment.


PHA Plant Finder

Gardeners seek answers for what to plant in special or problematic locations. The Martha’s Vineyard Plant Selection Guide, available at Polly Hill Arboretum’s website,, is just the resource that Island gardeners have needed for years. We have come a long way since Polly Hill deplored that there were “only 25 of the commonest trees and shrubs” available at Island nurseries; prices have risen too, making every garden purchase a far costlier decision. Many thanks to the PHA staff for working on this valuable tool for gardeners, landscapers, and homeowners alike!


In the garden

Mulching and watering are priorities during this period of drought and growth. Soils are dry, and newly planted material needs extra water to establish. Remove flowering stalks of rhubarb when they appear. Deadhead bulbs if they have formed seed capsules. Continue to spray deer and rabbit repellent on favorites such as fruit trees, hostas, rhododendron buds, and roses. Deadhead lilacs.

Your kitchen garden may also be your medicine chest.

Cultivate echinacea to help cure what ails you. – Courtesy Jardin Mahoney

Some of the most interesting and valuable native medicinal plants on Martha’s Vineyard are usually considered to be weeds and, at least until properly appreciated, will be seen as having little glamour. Do you like towering burdock (Arctium lappa — complete with burrs to catch in your pets’ coats) or curly dock (Rumex crispus) in your landscape? By getting used to the look, you could be availing yourself of an herbal medicine chest.

Burdock, for instance, used as root and seed, offers support for the liver, urinary tract, and skin. The plants have ornamental potential–large, coarse texture, appearing similar to rhubarb. It is eaten as a vegetable and may be made into a large array of dried and fresh herbal preparations.

Dock (in the same family as French sorrel, below) leaves may be eaten young as a cooked or salad vegetable, but should be consumed in moderation as they contain oxalates, which may interfere with digestion. The roots are used medicinally for their high iron content as treatment for anemia.

Source books for wild-crafting and growing herbs include Ancestral Plants: A Primitive Skills Guide to Important Wild Edible, Medicinal, and Useful Plants of the Northeast, Arthur Haines (Delta Institute, Anaskimin), and The Essential Herbal for Natural Health, Holly Bellebuono (Shambhala Publications/Roost Books) and Growing 101 Herbs That Heal, Tammi Hartung, (Storey Books).

Herbalists usually separate culinary and medicinal herbs, but sometimes they are one and the same. Take for example, coriander (Coriandrum sativum) or cilantro, as the leaf form is known. High in iron and magnesium, cilantro is an essential ingredient in recipes for salsas and guacamole, and figures prominently in the cuisines of Asia, India, Europe, and Central and South America. The seed, coriander, has been used as an aromatic stimulant and spice since ancient times. More recently, cilantro has been used to mobilize mercury and other heavy metals in the brain and spinal cord tissue out into normal elimination systems. Cold-hardy, coriander seed may be sown in early spring, in full sun. If allowed to, it freely self-sows, so learn to recognize the seedlings.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is another garden subject with known culinary and medicinal properties, especially antiseptic and antibiotic. Its organic sulfur content assists in detoxifying heavy metals as well as infectious microbes. On the Vineyard, garlic is planted in autumn, wintered over, and harvested the following summer. Start with quality seed garlic, and grow it in fertile soil — use your best spot or make a special bed — in full sun.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) need no introduction as a fruit prized for desserts, preserves, and eating fresh. All parts of the plant have been valued for their medicinal properties as well. Traditionally, leaves are used as an herbal tea to help with chills, colds, tonsillitis, and stomach complaints (Herbs, Phillips & Foy, Random House), and all aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. Easily grown in a corner of the garden, raspberries respond to fertile soil and annual pruning.

Echinacea, in several species, is a beautiful ornamental and excellent cut flower, which has been widely hybridized to produce an array of colors, heights, and flower forms that were previously unknown. “Advances in immunology have shown that E. angustifolia and E. purpurea … have a marked effect on the body’s resistance to infectious diseases of all kinds, particularly the influenza and herpes viruses.” (ibid.) Root and leaves are used.

Another perennial culinary herb to tuck away in a corner of the vegetable garden is French sorrel (Rumex scutatus), prized as an early spring physic, diuretic, and laxative, and the delicious accompaniment to many fish dishes. It is the main ingredient in sorrel soup. The sorrel plant is used for its leaves primarily. Therefore, flowering stalks are usually discouraged as leaf quality then suffers. The perennial shoots emerge early in spring and are harvested for salad, soup etc as soon as they grow large enough. The flower stalks come later, just like rhubarb, but are cut out, to keep the supply of leaves coming along.

Garden sorrel (R. acetosa) and sheep’s sorrel (R. acetosella) are similar, if less choice, forms than the French. Plant out in rich soil and divide regularly, to keep plants vigorous and producing a continuous supply of brittle, tender leaves.

Raspberries, echinacea and sorrel are grown and sold primarily as container plants; planting them can happen any time the ground is able to be worked, until fall.

And looking for ways to grow some plants with little effort.

The prized Yulan magnolia (M. denudata) with seductively scented, pure white flowers, is an early-blooming species. It is worth the gamble with frost when it flowers. – Photo by Susan Safford

The old joke about Island spring, “January, February, March, March, March, June …” means expectations here are low. The flower buds of lilacs (Syringa spp.) are generally cold-hardy; however, those of magnolias, less so. Owners of magnolia trees collectively hold their breath until their trees have successfully bloomed and the season of frost-snap injuries has passed.

Hybridizing work with magnolias, those wonderful trees, has taken off in the past decade. Most gardeners and visitors to nurseries are aware of the yellow-flowered cultivars, deriving their color from the North American native, M. acuminata, and may wish to find a spotlight location for such a garden specimen. For descriptions of yellow magnolias and all others, go to the Magnolia Society’s website,

Other, newer shades and colors, such as coral and very dark, almost black, in large flowered hybrids are seen in the breeding work of the Jurys of New Zealand and Dennis Ledvina of Wisconsin. Look also for newer introductions from other outstanding breeders such as Gresham, Savage, Kehr, and de Spoelberch. The Honeytree Nursery (Canada) and Gossler Farms Nursery websites are sources of descriptions of exciting recent introductions.

Island gardeners who wanted to possess an evergreen magnolia (M. grandiflora) received a setback with last winter’s conditions. Some Island specimens I know of look pretty sorry and defoliated. Still, carefully sited and given protective barriers, such as burlap, M. grandiflora can survive and grow fairly well on Martha’s Vineyard.

Many deciduous cultivars have either been bred for frost-hardy flower buds or later flowering. As a rule, though, with these deciduous magnolias, it is desirable for flowering to occur before the leaves emerge. Consider the growth habit of the cultivar too: Twigginess and large furry buds provide much off-season interest, so a lanky type may disappoint.

It would seem that smaller magnolias, such as the National Arboretum series with girls’ names (the “little girls” hybrids), are going to be ideal for the smaller garden. Their stature is practically that of a shrub. One drawback, however, is that their buds are naturally going to be lower down, closer to the ground, and thus face more cold air in a late spring frost than a taller magnolia. Avoid planting where cold air settles or is trapped; observe the principle of cold air flowing away from the plant and settling to a lower point.

Speaking of siting, it is surprising that more effort to combine the pleasures of magnolias and lilacs is not made. Bloom time of most of the choicest deciduous magnolias overlaps with Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac; they like the same deep, well-drained, enriched loam.

Now, even though Island spring was late to begin, lilacs are budding up. The early Syringa x hyacinthiflora hybrid ‘Clarke’s Giant’ is about to flower behind our barn. Lilac time in the northeast, which to most of us means flowering of common lilac, has become earlier and earlier with the climate behavior trends of the past couple of decades, even though the total duration of bloom of all species of Syringa is still about five weeks. The Arnold Arboretum’s Lilac Sunday needed moving up; it historically coincided more or less with Memorial Day.

When it comes to lilacs, I have no more informative a volume than the comprehensive Lilacs: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia (Fiala/Vrugtman, Timber Press, 2008). This is “all you ever wanted to know” about lilacs, and more. It contains suggestions for landscaping with lilacs, and many planting combinations to enhance their effectiveness.

Combinations of white lilacs with the above-mentioned “little girls” series of magnolias is one. Another suggestion is facing down blue-flowered Syringa with blue or blue-grey leaved Hostas, such as H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ or ‘Krossa Regal.’ Lilacs suggests (without explanation) planting hostas on the northern or western side of lilac plantings in the northern hemisphere, never on southern or eastern exposures. Another planting suggestion Lilacs makes is combining a lilac with seven to 10 plants of one cultivar of peony. Choose a cultivar that shares bloom time with the lilac.


Less effort

Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth’s recent Earth Day program of Sustainable Vineyard films at the Film Center included a Q and A afterward with each short film’s protagonists. Worthy of mention after the program’s seed-library portion was the session, during which the concept of a “seed garden” came up. A seed garden is a regular garden that has been intentionally let go to seed, for the purpose of growing the coming year’s crop of seeds.

I have been trying to get certain plants in my vegetable garden to grow with little or no effort on my part: not exactly a seed garden, not exactly a permaculture garden, but definitely appropriating an easier ongoing approach to it.

Last fall I left lettuce ‘Lollo rosso’ standing until tall stalks surmounted by heads of small yellow flowers appeared. I also let arugula, cilantro, dill, and corn salad (mache) self-sow, and — voilà — am gratified to find many seedlings of each already up and growing far more thriftily than indoor sown plants.


Cornus and salix: colorful stems

Shrubby species of Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) selected to produce colorful bark, such as Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis,’ are a joy in winter when their bright color is riveting in the garden.

It is the younger, twiggy growth that produces the best color. These plants are usually pruned in early to mid-spring. This year, of course, everything has been skewed, and I did not think to mention this earlier. If your plants’ buds are only just starting to break (leaf out), the pruning, called stooling back, may still be done. Otherwise, wait: It does not necessarily need to be done every season.