Garden Wisdom

"The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.."  -Alfred Austin



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Jeff, Gardener in Chief

Contrary to popular opinion, some people in the Hamptons enjoy getting their hands dirty. I'm a self-taught gardener in East Hampton, NY that enjoys sharing my gardening experiences and inspiration with others. Hope you enjoy my blog and galleries.

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Entries in native plants (5)


Say It Ain't So

Rhododendron viscosum from Meadowbrook NurseryAm I the last to know?  The owners closed Meadowbrook Nursery ( last fall due to health reasons.  

I discovered this news while browsing some favorite online plant sources this week, looking for inspiration and ideas for native shrubs. was always a regular internet stop for my plant shopping.  I found the closing announcement when I landed on their homepage.

Meadowbrook Nursery supplied me with my first native summer-blooming azaleas more than 10 years ago. Much more pleasing than the showier Japanese azaleas that bloom in spring, the native white-flowering Rhododendron viscosum add fresh color and a sweet fragrance to my June borders. (Check out my post on these summer beauties here.)

It's always sad to see a favorite retailer go out of business. But this closing is especially sad.  They not only educated me on the beauty of native shrubs but provided me with wonderful plants that have matured and become part of the backbones of my Hamptons garden. Thank you Meadowbrook Nursery.  I wish you guys well and will miss you.

Their website is still up so I plan to study their plant collections thoroughly like good garden book for potential new native additions. Hopefully, I'll find a resource to fulfill this wish list.  





Who You Callin' a Weed?

Late summer lunch

Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) created a spectacular show in my late summer garden this year.  This native perennial rises from the ground in late Spring and grows to six feet or taller by midsummer.  Starting in late July, sizable pink blooms open on tall stalks creating a colorful wall of color behind the pool.  

Although I originally planted Joe-Pye Weed for its blooms,  the privacy it provides around the pool (in and out of bloom) has become its most important attribute.

The plant's common name comes from the American Indian, Joe Pye, who used Eupatorium purpureum as an herbal remedy for typhus.

Ironically,  I learned about this native American perennial from European landscape designers Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury in their fantastic design book,  Designing with Plants.  Luckily,  I found my initial plants at a local Hamptons nursery.

I have three cultivars planted around the garden.  'Gateway' is my favorite with rich, rose-pink blossoms.   One season I added to these a lighter, but equally tall, cultivar mistakenly labeled 'Gateway'.   It now mingles well among its darker cousins by the pool.  I also have a shorter variety called 'Little Joe' planted near the car park.

Occasionally, I will find a stray Joe-Pye plant that has self-seeded in another garden bed.  If the color works, I'll leave it but prune it by nearly half in early June to reduce its height.  It will mature shorter and bloom about a week later.  I also use this pruning technique on the original groupings.  By pinching back the outer stalks, you get lower blooms in front of the taller stalks.

Joe-Pye Weed is easy to grow.  It likes moisture, especially when newly planted.  It will bloom in partial shade, but full sun ensures the tallest plants, fullest blooms and most erect stalks.  Those behind the pool are still standing tall after Hurricane Irene, providing tasty seeds for the finches.

While this perennial dies down to the ground each winter, I don't cut the stalks down until the Spring cleanup.   I read that since their stalks are hollow, cutting them too soon will allow too much water from winter rains and snow to accumulate in the stems, causing rot.

I'm thankful the Europeans saw past this plant's "weedy" American heritage.  I'm not sure what other native or imported perennial could have provided me with such a colorful show and screen.

Joe-Pye Weed makes a wonderful backdrop for tall grasses


Sweet Fern, It's Actually Neither

Female catkins add a decorative touch.You got to love a plant that thrives in the worst conditions.  Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a native plant that grows in the dry, sandy woodland clearings all around here.  A local landscaper introduced this tough trooper to me many years ago.

Its graceful, dissected leaves resemble a fern, but it's actually a shrub.  I read that the "sweet" part of its common name comes from the minty aroma its leaves emit when crushed, but I'm not tasting it to see if it is sweet.

Sweet Ferns line the shady entry by my main gate, spilling over a dry-stacked stone wall.  It gets about three feet high and slowly spreads to form colonies.   A few seedlings occasionally pop up on the soilless gravel drive.

Comptonia peregrina looking quite graceful 

Sweet Fern, like clover, fixes atmospheric nitrogen to the soil allowing it to live in the poorest soils.  So if you're looking for a low-maintenance deciduous shrub to add to informal hedges or planting beds, give  Sweet Fern a try.   For me, I can use a few plants that thrive on neglect.