Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials
Alice's Flower Garden
by Shepherd Ogden
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.