Alice's Flower Garden

Manchester, Vermont, is a ski town in the winter and an outlet town in the summer. While tourists stream up U.S. Highway 7, few realize that, whether they turn west toward town or east toward the mountains, they are within a mile of one of this country's most spectacular cut flower gardens.

Alice's Flower Gardens is a business, but it is also a life. So don't bother calling ahead and don't worry if anyone will be there; Alice and Angie Higuera have nowhere to go and, it seems, nowhere else they want to be. On any given day you'll find Angie arranging bouquets for customers, while his camera-shy mother putters about, maintaining the immaculately mulched paths or deadheading over-the-hill plants.

Visit their garden anytime April to September. Customers are always welcome and the garden never disappoints. More important, if you live in a similar climate region (USDA Zones 4, 5, or 6), you can gather ideas from this article and begin your own planning now for next season.

Serious About Flowers

When the Higueras began to get serious about flowers, more than 20 years ago, their 2-acre lot was mostly lawn; now a 100-square-foot patch of grass beneath the antennalike clothesline is all the lawn you'll find. Except for a small vegetable garden planted for their own use, the whole place is flowers.

"The trick to a successful bouquet garden," Angie says matter-of-factly, "is to have new things blooming all the time." Yet, contrary to what you might expect given the profession, the garden has no grand plan.

"In the beginning all we had was a bed of peonies that had been in our family for at least 80 years -- Alice got the original plants from her grandmother when she was a child. Over the years, we've just kept adding things: bulbs for early spring, and more perennials to fill in the gaps later in the season. Every spring-really the late winter, at the same time we are reading catalogs and filling out orders -- we just look over last year's journal so we know what worked and what didn't."

Over the years, this constant revision has led to a stable framework of perennials enhanced with annuals that are well adapted for cutting.

The season begins with daffodils, nearly 200 different kinds, as well as other bulbs. As April turns into May, bloom continues with primroses and the first tulips. Around the last frost date (Memorial Day in this zone 4 garden), the peonies begin blooming, followed quickly by lilacs, then early-summer perennials such as bellflower (Campanula), iris, and foxglove, as well as biennials such as wallflower (Erysimum cheiri) and sweet William (Dianthus barbatus).

Midsummer brings more bellflowers plus delphinium, foxtail lily (Eremurus), globe thistle (Echinops exaltata), Shasta daisies, and Veronica. Finally, in August, annuals like cosmos, snapdragons, and zinnias take over, though plenty of perennials -- including monkshood (Aconitum), astilbe, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), oxeye (Heliopsis), balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), phlox, and row upon row of gladiolus -- remain. Come fall, the gladiolus are joined by asters, anemones, and the native turtlehead (Chelone).

Interspersed with this wide palette of favorites is a list of hard-to-find accent plants that boggles the tongue as well as the brain: Geum triflorum, Phlox divaricata laphamii, Ornithogalum arabicum, Nectaroscordum siculum, and Thalictrum speciosisissmium. Not even shrubs and climbers are safe from Angie's shears; through the season he clips fresh blooms from lilacs, beauty bush (Kolkwitzia), clematis, hydrangeas, and of course the occasional really hardy rose.

Only when temperatures reach the teens shortly before Halloween and the summer people retreat to the cities or warmer climates does the garden enter its winter somnolence.

One of the Higueras' particular skills is season extension. Most years, their signature peonies bloom from mid-May well into July, thanks to a wide range of varieties (75 at last count) and separate plantings in bright warm spots as well as in the coolest shade.

The season for gladiolus extends from the end of July into October. They do five plantings of gladiolus, a week apart, starting with 70-day varieties and ending with 95-day varieties. All together that gives a bloom season of 8 to 10 weeks. This year they planted 3,000 corms.

Alice's Flowers

If you garden where there are only 90 or so days of frost-free weather, achieving six months of abundant bloom -- as Alice and Angie do -- is an art. The formula is mostly simple. One key element of their strategy is their soil. Enriched annually with compost and manure, they get the most each plant has to offer, and few pests. But choosing the right plants is important, too. All of these have stood the test of time -- and repeat customers -- in their Vermont garden.

Aster: Aster novae-angliae 'Alma Potschke' (salmon rose), 'Harrington's Pink', 'Hella Lacy' (purple), 'Honeysong Pink', 'Purple Dome'; A. novi-belgii 'Boningale' (white), 'Marie Ballard' (powder blue), 'Mount Everest' (white)

Bearded iris: 'Angel's Choir' (white), 'Beverly Sills' (pink), 'Bridal Crown' (yellow-white), 'Brides' Halo' (yellow-white), 'Carolina Gold' (gold), 'Cherubs' Smile' (pink), 'Cosmopolitan' (pink-lavender), 'Christmas Time' (white with red), 'Eve' (sky blue), 'Floating Cloud' (lemon-white), 'Going My Way' (blue-white), 'Heavenly Angel' (white), 'Night Owl' (deep purple), 'Queen of Hearts' (pink-white), 'Son of Star' (burnt orange), 'Spanish Gify' (salmon), 'Study in Black' 'Sunset Skies' (red and yellow-orange), 'Vermont' (silver), 'White Lightning'

Bellflower: Campanula latifolia 'Brantwood' (white-blue); cup-and saucer (C. mediuim); and peach-leafed bluebell (C. persicifolia)

False spirea: (Astilbe) 'Betsy Cuperus' (light pink), 'Fire' (crimson red), 'Intermezzo' (salmon rose), 'Lilli Goos' (rose pink), 'Peach Blossom' (salmon pink), 'Professor Van Der Wielen' (white), 'Superba' (rosy purple), 'White Gloria'

Foxtail lily: (Eremurus) 'Albus', Shelford Hybrids, E. stenophyllus

Gladiolus: 'Friendship' (white), 'Jester' (yellow with red), 'Nova Lux' (yellow), 'Peter Pears' (salmon), 'Priscilla' (pink-white), 'White Prosperity'

Mealy-cup sage: (Salvia farinacea) 'Victoria Blue', 'Victoria White'

Monkshood: Aconitum cammarum 'Newry Blue'; A. carmichaelii 'Barkers Variety' (amethyst blue); A. henryi 'Sparks Variety' (deep blue) and 'Bicolor' (white and blue); A. napellus (dark blue)

Ornamental Onion: Allium 'Purple Sensation'; drumstick onion (A. sphaerocephalum, red-purple); and A. flavum (yellow)

Peony: 'Arcturus' (red, single), 'Big Ben' (red, double), 'Carol' (red, double), 'Festiva Maxima' (double, white), 'Florence Bond' (white), 'Florence Nichols' (white, double), 'Gene Wild' (pink, double), 'Henry Bockstoce' (red, double), 'Monsieur Jules Elie' (light pink), 'Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt' (seashell pink), 'Nick Shaler' (pink with red, double), 'Red Charm' (double), 'Snow Mountain' (white, double)

Snapdragon: (Antirrhinum majus) Madame Butterfly and Rocket strains

Sunflower: 'Italian White', 'Sole d'Oro','Taiyo', 'Valentine'

Tulip: All Rembrandt types and the parrot variety 'Stella'

Veronica: 'Blue Charm', 'Icicle', 'Sunny Border Blue'

Zinnia: Ruffles strain, 'Cut and Come Again', 'Giant Dahlia'

Manure and Mulch

One of the most remarkable things about this garden, considering its scale and its bounty, is how simply the Higueras do things. They have no greenhouse, only a large cold frame built by Angie's brother.

"We start all our plants in the living room, in 6- by 9-inch plastic boxes on a shelf near the woodstove," notes Angie. "Once they germinate, we set them under fluorescent lights for two or three weeks. Then we transplant them into plug trays, and put them out in our cold frame. We have lights in the cold frame just in case the weather gets too cold."

They grow all their flower and vegetable plants using this system, and judging from the results the method is clearly a success.

They have no other equipment except a tiller, a wheelbarrow, and an enormous number of coated wire linking stakes used as plant supports. (These L-shaped stakes with a loop at one end of the top are sold in a number of tool and supply catalogs.)

"They're expensive, but they work really great," Angie says, "because you can encircle any size plant, and they don't get in the way of cutting."

The garden's only yearly inputs aside from plants and seeds are manure and mulch, both of which Angie scavenges in vast quantities. Mulch is spread in all the paths and around most of the plants, and turned under when any bed is renovated.

How Much Mulch?

"Oh, we probably get about 20 to 30 pickup loads every fall; I help the guys rake up the leaves, and they just bring them here to dump them. Then we let the leaves sit over the winter. I guess I spread something like 500 wheelbarrow loads this past spring."

Manure comes from nearby dairy farms -- seven dump truck-loads each fall -- and is layered with garden waste and fall leaves in long, 3-foot-tall windrows to make compost that is applied to the beds each spring. Hard work from spring to fall, the cold, snowy winters off to dream, then spring again, and a summer full of flowers: For over 20 years Angie and Alice have pursued their green dreams and lived by the work of their own hands.

Alice's Flower Gardens is on East Manchester Road, 1/2 mile east of the intersection of U.S. Highway 7 and Vermont Routes 11-30. If you're in the area April through September, stop by and enjoy a few moments of this dream, then go away with an armful of fresh flowers to remind you that a gardener's dreams can come true all season long.

Shepherd Ogden is a garden writer and founder of Cook's Garden Seeds.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

How Much Mulch?

"Oh, we probably get about 20 to 30 pickup loads every fall; I help the guys rake up the leaves, and they just bring them here to dump them. Then we let the leaves sit over the winter. I guess I spread something like 500 wheelbarrow loads this past spring."

Manure comes from nearby dairy farms -- seven dump truck-loads each fall -- and is layered with garden waste and fall leaves in long, 3-foot-tall windrows to make compost that is applied to the beds each spring. Hard work from spring to fall, the cold, snowy winters off to dream, then spring again, and a summer full of flowers: For over 20 years Angie and Alice have pursued their green dreams and lived by the work of their own hands.

Alice's Flower Gardens is on East Manchester Road, 1/2 mile east of the intersection of U.S. Highway 7 and Vermont Routes 11-30. If you're in the area April through September, stop by and enjoy a few moments of this dream, then go away with an armful of fresh flowers to remind you that a gardener's dreams can come true all season long.

Shepherd Ogden is a garden writer and founder of Cook's Garden Seeds.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

Manure and Mulch

One of the most remarkable things about this garden, considering its scale and its bounty, is how simply the Higueras do things. They have no greenhouse, only a large cold frame built by Angie's brother.

"We start all our plants in the living room, in 6- by 9-inch plastic boxes on a shelf near the woodstove," notes Angie. "Once they germinate, we set them under fluorescent lights for two or three weeks. Then we transplant them into plug trays, and put them out in our cold frame. We have lights in the cold frame just in case the weather gets too cold."

They grow all their flower and vegetable plants using this system, and judging from the results the method is clearly a success.

They have no other equipment except a tiller, a wheelbarrow, and an enormous number of coated wire linking stakes used as plant supports. (These L-shaped stakes with a loop at one end of the top are sold in a number of tool and supply catalogs.)

"They're expensive, but they work really great," Angie says, "because you can encircle any size plant, and they don't get in the way of cutting."

The garden's only yearly inputs aside from plants and seeds are manure and mulch, both of which Angie scavenges in vast quantities. Mulch is spread in all the paths and around most of the plants, and turned under when any bed is renovated.

Article published on June 23, 2008.

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