seasonal stakeout

Horticulturist Nellie Gardner in the Darwin Martin House courtyard. Photo by David Clark

Horticulturist Nellie Gardner in the Darwin Martin House courtyard. Photo by David Clark

Nellie Gardner is trying to learn how to relax. This is not an easy thing for someone who spent her adolescence on a self-sufficient farm on resource-poor land in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Gardner’s free-spirited parents, former teachers who decided to exit the grid altogether, learned self-sufficiency as they went. Gardner and her siblings worked alongside their parents and didn’t go to high school, something that didn’t stop her from attending an Ivy League college.

“Since we were always scrambling for our next meal, we were always working, moving, and thinking about how we were going to feed ourselves,” she says. “It did affect my ability to relax as an adult. Even my non-work pursuits have to have a purpose … it’s bad,” she says, laughing.

On the bright side, growing up in this hardscrabble setting, Gardner learned many useful skills those of us raised in suburbs might envy. She’s used these skills to renovate six historic homes, run a cut flower business for 25 years, and earn the position of horticulturist for the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Martin House Complex in Buffalo and for Graycliff, the Martins’ former summer home on Lake Erie, also designed by Wright. The Martin House, completed in 1905 and once home to Darwin and Isabelle Martin and their extended family, is Buffalo’s most popular tourist destination.


Panorama of the Martin House from the visitor center taken in 2009 after building restoration but before garden restoration. Free for use by Cygnusloop99 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.

The front of Darwin Martin House in 1969. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

The front of Darwin Martin House in 1969. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Isabelle Martin working in her cutting garden circa 1908. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Isabelle Martin working in her cutting garden circa 1908. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Gardner says, “This position at the Martin House and Graycliff pulls together so many of my interests and abilities—history and historic homes and landscapes, architecture, horticulture, education … I really feel called to be here to help tell the story of the Martins and their relationship with plants.” Gardner says that landscape architects regard the Martin House landscape as the most significant of Frank Lloyd Wright’s landscapes because of how highly developed it was, and will again be. “They also say that the landscape of the Martin House is at least 40% of the story of this place,” she says.

Gardner had been a volunteer for several years at the Martin House and was eventually recruited as horticulturist in 2011. For several years she commuted from her Spencerport farm—and the farmhouse she’d renovated—until last spring, when she sold the Spencerport property in order to move to Clarence Center so she’d be closer to work. The hardest part about leaving the Spencerport property was letting go of its beautiful sandy loam soil, a remnant of the ancient Lake Iroquois. “It was easy to grow flowers there,” she says. “I developed my own recipe for growing as well as for bouquet making.”

Her interest in soils and plants as a young person led her to study agriculture at Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) in the late 1970s and then agronomy at Cornell. Gardner won an international cattle-judging competition while at NSAC, and that, she says, helped her get into Cornell. After Cornell, she studied ecology in a master’s program at SUNY Brockport. (It’s a good thing Gardner was in no way discouraged when her advisor at NSAC told her to “do something more suitable for a woman, like be a secretary.”)

Gardner went on to develop pest scouting methods and disease forecasting systems for Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) while working in integrated pest management (IPM) at the Geneva Experiment Station, and she served as CCE Vegetable Specialist in Batavia. Eventually she struck out on her own as a professional agricultural consultant, where for seventeen years she helped large growers lower their input costs while reducing crop risk, improve their scouting methods, and computerize their crop and farm records to enable better decision making. Concurrently, she started Flower Fields, her cut flower enterprise, and completed one historic house renovation after another.

“The homes I rehabilitated sold immediately,” she says, “because I had restored the feeling of cohesiveness and comfort that comes from all of the house’s features being of the same era. I’d buy lighting, kitchen cabinets, flooring, and other features from ReHouse in Rochester that were era-appropriate and would restore the visual coherence of the home. That’s why I’m so drawn to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, because it’s all about the subliminal effects of coherence that add up to making you feel good when you enter a space. It’s a masterful achievement of making the house and landscape a unified whole.”

Gardner brought this vision to her volunteering at the Richardson Olmsted Campus in Buffalo, where she developed and gave tours of the Olmsted-designed grounds of this former psychiatric treatment center. “Your surroundings can affect how you feel and not everybody understands that,” she says. “The people who ran the Richardson Campus knew that and they harnessed the healing powers of nature by involving the patients in the enjoyment and cultivation of the grounds. Olmsted, himself a farmer as well as a landscape architect, got it.”

• • •

The original courtyard gardens with peonies for cutting, circa 1905. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

The original courtyard gardens with peonies for cutting, circa 1905. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

The courtyard today as Nellie Gardner plants and maintains it. Photo by Michelle Sutton

The courtyard today as Nellie Gardner plants and maintains it. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Nellie Gardner’s first encounter with the Martin House complex was in the early 2000s, when she took a tour with her brother, also an appreciator of Frank Lloyd Wright. At the time the complex, first completed in 1907 but having suffered neglect mid-century, was newly under restoration via the Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC), founded in 1992. On Nellie’s first visit, an ugly 1960s-era apartment building loomed right in the middle of the complex, and the landscape no longer resembled Wright’s vision for it.

Gardner gravitated toward the institution because it held so much historic promise, it united so many of her interests, and there was so much work to be done. In 2006, she began volunteering in the gardens and researching them, especially original owner Isabelle Martin’s cut-flower gardens, some of which were under glass. Gardner spent many hours in the University of Buffalo archives, which also has a digital collection, learning about Frank Lloyd’s Wright intentions for the landscape, including his vision for harmony between the house and landscape.

When the MHRC recruited her to be its horticulturist, she continued the work of restoring the central gardens of the complex with the help of volunteers. Bayer Landscape Architects of Honeoye Falls have created plans for bringing back the most ambitious original feature of the grounds, a 95-foot-long floricycle, a semi-circular mixed planting of shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and annuals wherein a grouping repeats 12 times. Originally installed in 1905, the floricycle created an outdoor gathering place for family events like the wedding of Darwin and Isabelle’s daughter Dorothy in 1923. Some of the original floricycle shrub specimens, including snowberry, lilac, spirea, and mockorange are in waiting on other parts of the property. “At one time there were 18,000 plants in the floricycle,” Gardner says.

In her research, Gardner found that at its peak, there were over 300 different plant species on the grounds at large. She says, “There were English borders, picking borders, lots of sturdy old-fashioned perennials like phlox, anemones, peonies, irises, and even plume poppy. We’ll be editing that list—for instance, we may forego plants that are on the NYS Invasive Plant List—at least those that are a problem in our region. And whereas they planted wisteria right against the house, we will put it on trellises well away from the buildings, so it doesn’t degrade structures like it once did.”

The grounds were once dotted with American elms and surrounded by elm street trees. The only remaining tree original to the landscape is a European copper beech that Darwin Martin planted in 1905 in consultation with Wright. However, trees have been added over the decades and Gardner is studying to be a Certified Arborist so that she can better manage the tree collection. “I would have loved to have been here to experience the overarching canopy of the American elms,” she says. “You can tell from pictures that they made it feel very intimate within this setting and encouraged a relationship with nature. When you’re here at night and there’s no one around, you can feel what that must have feel like—that intimate communion with nature.”

Gardner also teaches classes for the community in the gorgeous main Martin House on topics like pruning, flower arranging, and wreath making. (Her signature for the latter is incorporating ornamental hot peppers that she grows herself; her wreaths will be featured later this year in a story in Country Gardens magazine.) Gardner also coordinates the garden volunteers and leads tours of the grounds. She is the only paid garden staff for the Martin House and Graycliff. She is a busy woman.

• • •


Gardner’s cutting garden in Clarence Center. Photo by Michelle Sutton


Gardner has operated Flower Fields in several different places over the course of 25 years. Photo by Michelle Sutton


Farmer is Gardner’s new family member and is also very much interested in historic restoration. Photo by Nellie Gardner

One of Gardner’s favorite things to do in her free time is to take multi-day bike or kayak trips along the Erie Canal. “I love studying the canal’s history and how our cities and state grew up around it,” she says. When she lived in Spencerport, she and a friend ran a tour boat on the Canal that made local forays. “Someday I’d like to get a tour boat and take people on the Canal all the way down to NYC,” she says. “I’d take them into towns along the way that have these historical treasures. For example, there’s the Peppermint Museum in Lyons, which at one time was the peppermint capital of the world. The museum is housed in the former packinghouse of the H.G. Hotchkiss Essential Oil Company and the lower level opens out onto the canal, where they would receive peppermint from farmers and ship out peppermint oil. It gives you a whole different perspective on the town.”

Gardner continues to run Flower Fields on a much scaled-down level. She keeps in touch with her son Casey, an agronomist who lives in San Francisco. She misses her dog Wags, her best friend of eighteen years, but is delighting in her new dog, Farmer, a rescue who is still a puppy. She is working on a memoir about her childhood and reading lots of memoirs by people she admires. “I feel a real kinship with people from earlier times,” she says, “but most especially with Darwin and Isabelle Martin, because of their relationship with nature—they loved beauty and they got their hands dirty daily pursuing the unified whole.”

Recommended viewing: Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House: Domestic Symphony on YouTube


Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designed a unique residential complex for wealthy Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin and his family between 1903 and 1905. The most substantial and highly developed of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses in the eastern United States, the Darwin D. Martin House received National Historic Landmark status in 1986. The house is considered by leading Frank Lloyd Wright scholars as one of Wright’s finest achievements of the Prairie period and, indeed, of his entire career.

The complex consists of six interconnected buildings designed as a unified composition, including the main Martin House and a pergola that connects it to a conservatory and carriage house with chauffeur’s quarters and stables, the Barton House, a smaller residence for Martin’s sister and brother-in-law, and a gardener’s cottage added in 1909. The landscape design for the grounds of the complex is highly integrated with the overall composition of buildings.

The Martin House is a prime example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie House ideal, with strong horizontal lines and planes, deeply overhanging eaves, a central hearth, prominent foundation, and a sheltering, cantilevered roof. The complex contains 394 examples of Frank Lloyd Wright designed art glass, including the famed “Tree of Life” window.

—Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, editor, and writer.


story and photos by Michelle Sutton except where indicated

Native plants for shade at Amanda’s Garden

Native plants for shade at Amanda’s Garden

Ellen Folts

Ellen Folts

In 2016, Amanda’s Garden celebrated 25 years of growing and selling native plants in Livingston County. Raised in Lake Placid, Amanda’s owner Ellen Folts remembers hiking with her mother and aunts—lovers of wildflowers—in the vast forests of the Adirondacks. Folts recalls being transfixed by her first sighting of Dutchman’s breeches in the woods along the shore of Meachum Lake near Malone, NY. “I thought they were the coolest thing ever,” she says. As a teenager, Folts went out botanizing by herself with Peterson Field Guides. Her early passion for native flora set the course for her future vocation.

For 25 years, Amanda’s Garden was located in Springwater at Folts’s home property; the new location in Dansville officially opened in the spring of 2016. Folts and her husband Ron bought the new property in 2013 after carefully scoping out the site to make sure it would provide the right conditions for the nursery. She says, “We knew that this property typically keeps at least a foot of snow in the winter, which we need to protect overwintering nursery stock.”

The reason for the move from the Foltses home nursery to the Dansville location? The oak tree canopy at the home site had filled in; the dense oak shade was a problem for production as was the root competition from the oak trees with young plants in growing frames. Folts also wanted the acreage to make the nursery more of a destination, complete with hiking trails, a pond teeming with frogs, and abundant wildflower gardens featuring the more than 150 species she grows.

The extended Folts family, including daughter Amanda (30) (the nursery’s namesake) and son Cassidy (27), is key to the success of the operation. Family reunions are held annually in spring at the nursery, where the practiced hands of the volunteers do several days of potting and propagating while family get caught up with each other.

For this jamboree, they make their own potting mix from leaf compost, rice hulls, composted bark, and an organic preventative biological fungicide product that helps protect the roots from diseases. “We grow most of our plants from seeds or spores, rather than dividing them, to encourage genetic diversity,” Folts says. “In the case of the fern spores, we grow them in plastic containers on a light stand at home, then when they get potted up to 2 ¼-inch containers, we bring them up here to the nursery.” The nursery trays used for seed propagation are made from pressed peat, they’re compostable, and they last about three years. This is a strategic choice, because blue cohosh takes three years to germinate—the longest of any plants in her stock.

Folts grows from seed she collects—including seed on the nursery property, which sports many indigenous plants—and by buying from nurseries in the same
ecoregion, called the Laurentian. She grows mostly plants native to the Northeast, with a few outliers from further west as far as Illinois and south to North Carolina. “I limit the range so that I can keep the genetics found in the local ecoregion; I sell very few plants from outside that region.”

In addition to selling at the nursery and at Rochester’s Proud Market and Gathering of Gardeners symposium, Folts sells native plants online, orders that average $40-50 each, and ships them bare root. She also sells to nonprofits like state parks and land trusts; customers have included Central Park; Clark Reservation, Letchworth, and Knox Farm State Parks; the Chautauqua Institution; the Roemer Arboretum at SU NY Geneseo; and the Town of Perinton. Even though the paperwork was daunting, becoming a certified woman-owned business helped Folts secure large orders from New York State. Folts also teaches courses on all facets of native plants, with propagation as her favorite.


Jenny Apple, Associate Professor of Biology at SUNY Geneseo and Chair of the Spencer J. Roemer Arboretum Advisory Board, on Amanda’s Garden
I help maintain the Spencer J. Roemer Arboretum on the SUNY Geneseo campus. The Arboretum is a 20-acre woodland undergoing ecological succession since it ceased serving as pasture in the 1960s. As an ecologist interested in promoting biodiversity and controlling invasives, I have been eager to plant more natives in our Arboretum.

Ellen came out to our site and prepared an excellent report providing recommendations for plants to use in different areas, ranging from the understory beneath a grand old oak tree, a more formal flower bed to be replaced with natives, and an open meadow dominated by exotics and aggressive perennials where we wanted to establish a diversity of plants to attract pollinators and monarchs.

She gave very thoughtful suggestions to ensure that floral resources for pollinators were available throughout the season along with a variety of colors and flower types for their aesthetic appeal. Thanks to her suggestions and the many plants we have purchased from Amanda’s Garden, our Arboretum’s gazebo garden is filling out nicely, with lovely colorful blooms from spring into late fall.

Ellen has been incredibly generous with her knowledge. In her consultation, she also provided strategies for trying to suppress invasives and unwanted vegetation and promote the success of our plantings. She pointed out plants we already had that we could collect seeds from for propagation on our own. At a workshop she gave at the Rochester Civic Garden Center on propagating native perennials, I learned many tricks and tips for collecting, prepping, and planting native seeds, which I put into practice with student volunteers.

My own yard has also benefited from her inventory and her great suggestions. I appreciate all her efforts to spread the word about the many benefits of native plants. I can’t get enough of observing and photographing all the incredible and beneficial insects they attract!


Laurie Hunt, Rochester
I was inspired to make my first trip to Amanda’s Garden because of a Facebook post saying it was National Pollinator’s Week. She gave me a tour of the grounds and everything pretty much looked the same to me, what most people might think of as weeds. I dubiously took home a few plants and started my love affair. Ellen did a home visit and identified which plants in my wooded backyard to keep and which to remove. She recommended plants to create diversity in the landscape. My yard is now primarily planted with native plants from Ellen and I keep adding more. People now come to me for advice! And I can’t walk in the woods without identifying native plants and pulling out invasives. It’s all Ellen’s fault.


Ryan Bass, Garrison
I’m an avid birder, and Amanda’s Garden has helped me design a bird-friendly garden. I’ve noticed a marked increase in birds in my native habitat garden vs. other areas of my property. It is no mystery that native plants attract insects and insects attract birds. Sometimes, public perception is “bugs are bad, so what can I spray on them?” In contrast, Ellen’s approach educates the customer on what plants are “larval hosts” to ensure butterflies and moths can sustain future generations. She recommends species that attract predator insects for those “problem” bugs. Finally, she promotes creating a diverse habitat (not a monoculture) to attract wildlife and foster a harmonious environment. I also have really valued her consultation on problem sites where so little will grow—dry shade, poor drainage, or areas of high deer browse. I’ve found that once established, if a native plant is sited in the right location, it is virtually maintenance free.



New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) brings bold colors to the fall garden.

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) brings bold colors to the fall garden.

The delightfully showy wild ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum)

The delightfully showy wild ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum)

Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolpendrium)

Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolpendrium)


What do you recommend for those with construction-ravaged or otherwise infertile non-native soils, and what role does mulch play, if any?
Incorporate leaf compost or manure into the top 6” of soil and then mulch with a thin (no more than an inch) layer of compost or pine bark; you don’t want to mulch so deeply that you cause perennials to rot or you prevent plants from self-seeding. The fall leaf drop can stay atop your garden to provide insulation to your plants; in the spring, go out there and gently rake most of the leaves off and compost them. In that way, you keep the butterfly and other larvae that overwintered on the leaves on your property. (The few leaves that remain in the garden can contribute organic matter to the soil over time.) If you have spring ephemerals like Dutchman’s breeches coming up in March, be careful you don’t pull those right out when you’re raking. After raking each spring, put down a fresh inch of pine bark mulch to eventually break down along with the leaves.

What are some of the most underutilized native plants?
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) grows in a beautiful mass and has a great smell. Barren strawberry (Geum fragarioides) can grow in sun or shade, it’s evergreen and makes an excellent groundcover, and it has little yellow strawberry-like flowers. It’s not particular about soil and it’s not invasive—it’s easy to pull up.Flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) has pretty flowers and handsome leaves. It can be invasive but for filling up a bank, it’s perfect. Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) has beautiful white flowers and can take over a conventional garden but it’s great underneath a maple tree where it’s dry and you can’t get anything to grow, plus it attracts beneficial insects.

The underutilized mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)

The underutilized mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)

What are some of the easiest-to-grow, and some of the most particular?
The ones I call “the woodland staples” are fairly easy to grow if given some shade: ferns, sedges, wild geranium  (Geranium maculatum), early meadow rue (Thalictrum dioicum), Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), and wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) will grow anywhere, sun or shade it’s happiest in a ditch or other wet place, but in the hot dry sun it will just stay shorter. Marsh grass of Parnassus (Grassa parnassus) needs sandy soil and full sun, yet needs to be kept fairly moist. Hepatica (Hepatica americana) has to be on an incline— when you see it in the woods you’ll notice it’s always on its little hummock or hill. Without that, its crown will rot. The lilies like Turk’s cap (Lilium superbum) and Canada lily (Lilium canadense) you have to situate correctly—they like well-drained but moist soil and about two to three hours a day of direct sun.

The tiny, striking marsh grass of Parnassus (Grassa parnassus)  Photo by Ellen Folts

The tiny, striking marsh grass of Parnassus (Grassa parnassus)
Photo by Ellen Folts

Can you tell us a few interesting things about your propagation techniques?
-We do most of our seed sowing in trays and leave them out all winter because many native perennials need stratification.

-The ferns we do in plastic boxes; we put half an inch to an inch of soil in there, moisten it, then sterilize the medium in the microwave for five minutes. When the medium cools down, we sow our spores using a piece of paper to gently tap them in. If the box gets contaminated by moss or algae we sometimes lose ferns, but you also have to be careful they don’t get too dry. We sow them in January and put them on a light stand; they’re not ready until two years later.

– Some plants like doll’s eyes (Actaea spp.) don’t even come up the first year and bloodroot (Sanguinary canadensis) sometimes comes up the first year, but sometimes doesn’t. We sow all of our woodland wildflower seeds, like those of bloodroot and trillium (Trillium spp.), as soon as the seed’s ripe, because a lot of them are hydrophilic and if they dry out, they will take an inordinately long time to germinate.


Fern propagation takes careful monitoring of light and moisture levels.


• • •

This article barely scratched the surface of Folts’s knowledge and offerings. To learn more about her and Amanda’s Garden, see


Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, editor, and writer.


Where Are They Now?

by Megan Frank on November 10, 2016

by Michelle Sutton

I followed up with some of the fascinating people I’ve profiled in UGJ in the past: Gordon Ballard, Nina Bassuk, Sally Jean Cunningham, Karen Hanford, Mary Hirshfeld, and Todd Lighthouse. What are they up to now? How has their gardening life changed? Here they are, in their own words.



Gordon Ballard and Husband Brian Olinski

Gordon Ballard and Husband Brian Olinski

In the ten years that have passed since our story in UGJ, so many things have changed both in our lives and in our gardens. Most importantly, I am happy to say that my partner Brian, then of eight years, is now my husband of two years! (Yes, 18 years total).

Of course, neither of us has slowed down or downsized our gardens. The surprise snowstorm of October 12-13, 2006, changed our entire approach. For starters, as storm-damaged trees had to be removed,we went from being 2/3 shade gardens to having many more full-sun gardens. We had to remove 100 feet of privet hedge that ran the length of the yard, giving us the opportunity to add a wood fence to support vertical plantings. And we decided we wanted the gardens to be spaces we and our guests could more fully inhabit, so we created three distinct outdoor living rooms, complete with a Key West-inspired 15 x 15-foot, steel-roof bar that we call “El Gordo Cantina.”


El Gordo Cantina

The original centerpiece, our 3,000 gallon koi pond, is no longer. After 15 years, the liner finally disintegrated four years ago and we chose not to rebuild it. Instead, we created a new flagstone patio and added rock gardens and new garden beds. Something we learned from that koi pond was that a HUGE pond created exponentially more work!

With all of our new gardening spaces, we have concentrated on adding more rare and unusual plants into our collection. We currently have 100-plus daylily and 125-plus hosta varieties. Our gardens are now considered a real showpiece in the WNY community, a place to host bus and garden club tour-goers as well as several large garden parties attended by the “Who’s Who” in the surrounding horticultural community.

I am now celebrating 34 years in the specialty advertising printing business and still am actively involved in the Buffalo Bills Monday Quarterback Club, having served two years as its president in 2008-2009. I also co-chair the advisory council at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. When not dividing perennials, starting seeds, or just getting his hands dirty, my husband Brian stays busy with his IT job and independent computer work.



Cornell Professor Nina Bassuk continues to teach, lecture, conduct original research, and direct the Urban Horticulture Institute that she founded in 1980.

Nina Bassuk, photo by Michelle Sutton

Nina Bassuk, photo by Michelle Sutton

Like all horticulturists, [husband] Peter and I like to try things that may not be considered possible. We put in a high tunnel (unheated hoop house) two years ago and have been trying to grow figs in Ithaca, which is definitely pushing the envelope (we really, really love figs). The trees are bushy and have lots of figs, but the challenge is getting the fruit to ripen; last year they didn’t, but we’re hoping they will this year. Meanwhile we also grew tomatoes in there and in late September, they look like summer tomatoes at their peak, still flowering and fruiting! It’s looking like we may get tomatoes through Thanksgiving. Maybe they’re trying to tell us we need to grow tomatoes and not figs. The high tunnel is a means of extending the growing season on both ends, but also we’ve noticed much less disease and insect pressure on the plants in the tunnel.

We’re always trying things out and some years we kill a lot of plants—that’s ok, that’s one way you learn. Sometimes the stated hardiness for things is just not so; for instance, people will say that hardy rubber tree (Eucommia ulmoides) is only hardy to Zone 7, but we’ve grown it for multiple seasons in Zone 5 in our landscape.

We love to go to specialty nurseries and we’re always trying new cultivars. At the Brooklyn Botanical Garden we saw a mimosa tree with purple-brown leaves, Albizia julibrissin ‘Chocolate’ and decided to try one even though it’s not hardy—so it gets moved into the garage in the winter. We have lots of plants we bring in and out of the greenhouse, like grapefruit, oranges, and lime trees. Someone was cleaning out their lotus pond and gave us some roots; we tried throwing a brick with a lotus root attached into our small pond, and now we have extraordinarily beautiful lotus flowers and leaves. We also have phragmites grass that we’ll have to dig out. I’m very sorry I planted false spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia), as it comes up everywhere. You make mistakes but you just keep learning and working at it.




Sally Jean Cunningham, photo by KC Kratt

Where am I now? For me there’s been an arc with some change, some of it painful, and some great new things entered my life—a husband and new jobs. But my core definition has remained the same: I’m a writer, a teacher, and a gardener. I just express some of it differently.

When you interviewed me about a decade ago, I was still reeling from losing my position as an Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension agent, after fourteen years there. It was just like a divorce. I loved the Master Gardeners (still do), and love the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora where CCE Erie is housed. Like the divorced woman seeing her old house, I couldn’t even enter the building. But change is a catalyst for new opportunities. I went to work for a great garden center called Lockwood’s Greenhouses, became an official CNLP (Certified Nursery & Landscape Professional), began to write for The Buffalo News and Buffalo Spree Magazine, stayed on WIVBTV (Channel 4), and kept on giving talks and selling my book Great Garden Companions. I kept spinning those plates in the air for several years, and then a larger commitment called to me.

Whatever the profession, there is a time to give back. At some point I’d worked with so many people on so many projects that I felt connected to all the players
in the regional garden and landscape industry. Garden Walk Buffalo was making our region famous, and our wonderful visitor’s bureau (Visit Buffalo Niagara) asked me to join with the Garden Walk Buffalo leader Jim Charlier to pull everyone in horticulture together and form the National Garden Festival. I directed the project but it was a team effort that included all the garden walks, our landscape industry (PlantWNY) doing amazing beautification projects, great gardeners who created the Open Garden program, our Olmsted Parks and Botanical Garden, and motorcoach tours with AAA to showcase gardens all over the region.

Through the National Garden Festival we increased tourism, raised the performance of every component, and brought even more national attention to our gardening scene. We received an International Garden Tourism award. Garden Walk Buffalo became the largest garden tourism event in the country. New York State’s landscape association and Plant WNY honored me—wow—as person of the year. And AAA asked me to develop Great Garden Travel so that now I can take people to see gardens in America and Europe. I’m still lecturing and teaching, but now some of it is on a motorcoach or airplane!

I’ll be seventy in a couple of years, so I’m accelerating that “giving back” part quickly. Collaborating with Garden Walk Buffalo (now Gardens Buffalo Niagara) and Visit Buffalo Niagara, I pitched Buffalo as the 2017 host (next August) for the Garden Writers Association to come here. We’ll be dazzling hundreds of garden writers, bloggers, and other “garden communicators” with our green and flowering region. Meanwhile I’m excited to be the AAA Great Garden Travel Tour Director and plan to take people to the Philadelphia Flower Show, to England in May, Newport in June, Ireland in late summer, and lots more of that. (See AAA, and give them your e-mail or call 1-800-242-4244. Let’s take a trip together!)

I still do some garden consulting and give garden talks. The most important topic to me is nature-friendly landscaping—helping pollinators and using native plants—that is my mission. And I must stop the clock, write the next book, and remember to share time with my family, friends, and dear pets.

So you asked about my gardening? Hah. No time for that companion vegetable garden now, but I have a casual landscape for the birds, insects, and other animals, with massive shrub and flower beds and fine trees. Gardening still centers me. Yes, there’s been change. But if you ask me again in ten years, I believe life will still be about writing, teaching, and gardening.



Sycamore Hill Gardens Japanese garden and pond, photo courtesy Karen Hanford

Sycamore Hill Gardens Japanese garden and pond, photo courtesy Karen Hanford

Each year we open Sycamore Hill Gardens as a free venue for various local not-for-profits and help them raise funds for their organizations. It’s our way of giving back to the CNY community. We’ve also hosted a few wedding ceremonies and donated those monies to the nearby Baltimore Woods Nature Center, a group dear to our hearts that has held an event here every Mother’s Day for over a decade.

In 2015, to benefit the Onondaga County Library System’s Read One Book program, we hit upon the idea of Weekday Garden Rambles. These are low-key events with 30 to 35 guests, a catered lunch, and a lot of time to ramble the gardens or traverse them on golf cart tours. These fundraisers were very successful, with minimal expense to the Library System. Since then, we’ve decided to do some Rambles of our own as a way to accommodate out-of-town groups. We also have begun to attend independent garden center trade shows and are giving thought to using our century-old barn as a gift shop or perhaps a meeting facility with local restaurant catering.

These plans do affect how we now approach our gardening. For example, to improve the view for our lunching Ramblers, we are starting more perennials and concentrating them in the beds closest to the patio lunch areas, as well as in the areas nearest to the house and barn, including the formal garden. Also, throughout the gardens we are removing spent shrubs and catering more to the needs of the 500 or so varieties of conifers and deciduous trees we’ve planted over the past 25 years.

In August of 2017, Sycamore Hill Gardens will help to host the American Conifer Society’s annual meeting. Spurred on by this deadline, we are well underway in creating a garden to showcase our Asian statuary and pottery in a former pond area. This is an ambitious project involving the construction of a dry waterfall and streambed as well as several islands in a gravel lake. A cut stone wall topped by the addition of a sunken path lined with dwarf conifers will give guests a close-up view of various small specimens without the need to clamber into beds.

Other current sources of horticulture excitement include putting the majority of our former dairy farm into the USDA Conservation Reserve Program by planting 10,000 native trees, 10,000 native shrubs, and 150-plus acres of ground nesting bird meadow mix. This project took three years of our energy, thought, and garden budget, but the increase in birdlife and decrease in soil erosion has made it worth all the time and effort. We’ve also returned to beekeeping, and we’ve returned to vegetable gardening with renewed enthusiasm and a greater emphasis on soil preparation, composting, and organic, non-GMO seeds. You are what you eat, so if we want to continue to garden well into our dotage, we need to eat the best food we can find—and most of it’s in our garden.



In 2014 Mary retired from her position as director of horticulture at Cornell Plantations. She had worked there for 36 years.

Mary Hirshfeld with 3 of her 4 dogs

Mary Hirshfeld with 3 of her 4 dogs

While I was still at Plantations I undertook a yearlong course in dog obedience training, followed by an eight- month internship with a local trainer who I respect very much. He teaches a lot of classes, as well as having private clients. I found the behavior aspect of working with private clients far more interesting than teaching classes. By the time I finished my internship, I also had ten years of working with the behaviorists that cycled through the SPCA, developing and implementing behavioral modification programs for “gray” dogs, meaning those who had issues that emerged during their behavioral evaluation. I worked for the SPCA as a behaviorist and trainer for a year and a half after I left Plantations, before several of us on the behavior and training team were laid off due to budget constraints.

I opened my own training business last July and am now working primarily with clients whose dogs have behavioral issues they would like to modify—those that are aggressive towards other dogs; guard food, toys, space, and owners; have terrible door manners; bite and tear clothing when they meet new people, etc. I really enjoy meeting new people and dogs and the minute I enter their home, I lose myself in the intellectual challenge of sorting out what is going on in this particular dog’s mind and how the owner’s behavior plays into that dynamic. I still have four dogs of my own; all are shelter dogs except the pug, Lloyd.



Todd Lighthouse with his wife Andrea and their kids, baby Lauren, Kate, and Jack

Todd Lighthouse with his wife Andrea and their kids, baby Lauren, Kate, and Jack

A whole lot has changed for both my family and business (you can see the original story about Todd here). Our family has gotten bigger. My wife Andrea and I have had two more children, Kate (4) and Lauren (2 months), in addition to our son Jack (8). We quickly grew out of our backyard greenhouse and bought some land in Lima on 15A just north of the village in 2013 where we built a large pole barn, four more greenhouses, a retail farm stand, and a large market garden employing up to seven people during the busy season.

Organic herb and vegetable transplants for home gardeners are still the cornerstone of our business, though we are coming full circle back to ornamentals. We now grow over 500 herb, vegetable, ornamental annual, perennial, fruit, and succulent varieties and offer about 75 of these to wholesale customers in our custom printed pots under our “The Living Earth” brand.

Our commitment to sustainable growing has continued to develop, as we became Certified Organic through NOFA-NY in 2011. We still make our organic compost-based potting soil, which we now sell through retail outlets under our “The Living Earth” brand. We supply dozens of organic farmers, garden centers, and natural food stores in our area, including the Wegmans Organic Farm in Canandaigua.

Our approach to growing is fundamentally the same: We embrace all life and trust the wisdom of nature in our growing processes. We provide our plants with the best growing conditions as possible so that they can better defend themselves. We’ve expanded heavily into growing produce at our new farm and will be building our first high tunnel later this year to extend our season. Growing organic produce for market has catapulted my interest in the soil web of life to almost an obsession. The “Farmer To Farmer” podcast as well as newly published books by young organic farmers inspired by Eliot Coleman has sent me down an organic farming rabbit hole I didn’t know existed.


Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.


Reprint: The Call of the Castle

by cathym on October 27, 2016

Rochester Civic Garden Center and Director Christine Froehlich

by Michelle Sutton 

Historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park

Historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park

Anyone who attends classes and other programs put on by the busy Rochester Civic Garden Center (RCGC) is surprised to find out that there are only three staff members, all with just part-time appointments. Christine Froehlich, executive director since 2007, Judy Hubbard, education program coordinator since 2003, and Marjorie Focarazzo, administrative coordinator since 2014.

The staff works with dedicated volunteers at historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park. This piece focuses on director Christine Froehlich, the ways in which RCGC has evolved since she started there, and some of the individuals who have been instrumental in its evolution.

Christine Froehlich, photo by Michelle Sutton

Christine Froehlich, photo by Michelle Sutton

Can you tell us about your education and career pre-RCGC?  

CF: In the early 70s I studied art in college at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. I knew I wanted to do something creative and I hated working inside. I applied for a job at Maymont Park, a Victorian era estate with wonderful gardens in Richmond. The superintendent of horticulture told me they weren’t hiring women, saying that “the public wasn’t ready to see women working outside yet,” but he eventually relented and we women got to work outside. This was back when public gardens had lavish budgets. I worked there for a few years and had access to talented people who taught me a great deal.

After Maymont, I went to live in the mountains of Virginia and worked as the horticulturist at Sweetbriar College, which back then had magnificent gardens, and I once again received a lot of good training. Then I moved back to Connecticut where my parents lived and in 1976, I got a job as head gardener on a small estate. This was an amazing job experience; I worked with a designer named Luther Greene who had also been a producer on Broadway. This estate was quite grand, with five or six different garden rooms and a big crew of people for me to manage. It was my first experience on a private estate of such sophistication.

I stopped working for a while to have children—Patrick (now 39), Anders (36), and Emily (34). Eventually I started going to work part time here and there on estates, and in 1984, when the kids were bigger, I turned that into a full-time design/maintenance business, which I ran until 2003 in Ridgefield, CT and then Litchfield County, CT. In the last five years of running the business, I got really burnt out, in part because I never wanted to do that much maintenance and I never wanted to have the responsibility for such a large crew. It just kind of evolved that in order to have the design work I had to provide the maintenance.

I wanted to do something else but it took some time to figure out what. During this time I got remarried in 2002 to musician Phil Sanguedolce. We met at a party where his Zydeco band was playing; he’s the lead singer and plays the frottoir (rubboard). (I love Zydeco and Cajun dance especially). We decided to move to the Rochester area, where Phil grew up, and fell in love with a house in Sodus Point, quite close to Lake Ontario.

I became friends with Rochester horticulturist Beverly Gibson who introduced me to RCGC by way of the spring garden symposium. In the meantime, Judy and then-director Susan Latoski had read my article in Fine Gardening about growing perennials in containers and wanted me to teach a class on the subject. That was in 2005. Over time I kept adding to the courses I’d teach. When Susan left the directorship, I applied for the position. I continue to teach and design and install gardens, and I do some writing. One of my favorite courses to teach is a yearly report on new plants in the trade—how they performed for RCGC, for me, and for my clients.

When you became director, what did you see as the major challenges and opportunities? 

CF: The biggest challenge was and remains not having enough funding, which is the lament of all nonprofits. Judy runs the education program and I’m in charge of making sure we have enough money to do it all. Development work on this scale was new for me, but two things helped prepare me for it: running my own business all those years, and helping run dances in Hartford, Connecticut, including some…in my own barn, with fellow volunteers. All the things that went into putting on those dances are experiences that come in handy for me now in putting on RCGC events and raising money.

The biggest opportunity I could see then and one that is being well realized is the growth potential and quality of RCGC’s education programs. Judy and I work well together, bouncing ideas off each other, then setting about making them happen. The course offerings continue to expand in variety and quality. For Judy and Marjorie and me, this is so much more than a job.

Another thing that’s been really exciting is how the grounds are being rehabilitated by volunteers under the direction of garden designer and board member Milli Piccione, and how that enables us to use the grounds for more classes, especially the popular hands-on ones like preparing gardens for spring, midsummer maintenance, and putting gardens to bed in fall. I used to have to go look for other gardens in which to host the classes but now our gardens are more developed and we can teach here. At the same time, Milli and crew are bringing back some of the historical features of the gardens. So in these ways the outside is a better reflection of what we do on the inside, and the gardens just look so much better, they are more joyful, and we get a lot of positive feedback. Milli has helped train volunteers who want to bump up their skills, which is another way that education takes place here.

Japanese anemone, photo Jane Milliman

Japanese anemone, photo Jane Milliman

View of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

View of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

View of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

Second view of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

What are some other changes that have taken place of which you and your colleagues are proud? 

CF: Our board of directors has gotten much stronger, and together we worked on a strategic plan, the main component of which is making the most of this building and the grounds and having them work together. The improvements in the gardens help drive attention to the castle, which can be rented for events, and to the programs that are going on here. With the enhancement of the grounds and the ever-increasing quality of our course offerings, we are getting more recognition and financial support from private donors and people in the regional green industry.

We are proud that we’re attracting new homeowners and younger people generally to come and learn about gardening. (Part of our master plan is to more things with kids and families as well). We’re doing much more with our website and social media. There’s also been an exciting change shepherded by our RCGC Board Vice President Linda Phillips that enables more people to take advantage of our exceptional horticultural library. People used to have to come our library during limited hours to borrow books. Now we have a contract with the Monroe County Library System (MCLS) whereby our catalog is online and you can pick up and return our books to a County library of your choice. That’s huge! Next up is digitizing some of the significant old bulletins and historical documents we have here that we want people to have access to.


Milli Piccione on the Castle Grounds 


Milli Piccione

“The estate gardens at Warner Castle have fascinated me for a long time. The most well-known feature, the Sunken Garden, was designed by Alling DeForest in the early 1930s. By the time I became involved [2004], the multiple gardens beds had received minimal attention for many years. I started redesign of the sunny main border in 2011. Working with a dedicated group of volunteers we planted in 2012, beginning the long-term revitalization of the estate’s upper level that guides you gently into the Sunken Garden. Last season RCGC received grant money to install the 180-foot-long historically recommended fence and to rebuild the rock wall, both vital elements of the shade border. This season the rose treillage is being installed which will, once again, connect the two borders both visually and aesthetically. The garden volunteers, with the intermittent help of the Parks Department, plant and maintain the beds. It is an endless delight and satisfaction for me to see these gardens return to life and beauty; the opportunity to guide that work is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Three gardens complete; four to go!”

Judy Hubbard on the Center’s Growth


Judy Hubbard

“The RCGC already had a good foundation when I started in 2003, so I guess I would say we’ve worked to improve on what we do best, which is to offer high-quality educational opportunities in gardening and horticulture. The key is identifying instructors with a depth of experience who are also good teachers—and we continue to find them! Rochester also has some wonderful private gardens, and finding great gardens that are new to us is pretty darn exciting. We provide an opportunity for gardeners to spend time in those gardens, meet the homeowners, and learn more about gardening from the pros—that’s definitely how I want to spend a summer evening! And of course technology has changed since I started; we are now able to have a much more interesting and useful website that we can easily keep updated. We can take registrations online, and we send out an email newsletter…All this means we can get out our message more effectively, that it is easier for new people to find us, and easier to sign up.”


Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, writer, and editor living in New Paltz, NY.


Reprint: The Artful Gardener

by Megan Frank on August 4, 2016

Jean Westcott: A horticulturist, garden designer, and animal-loving T’ai Chi instructor embraces retail

Westcott fell in love with the building at 727 Mount Hope Ave. in Rochester and renovated it to create The Artful Gardener. Photo by Jean Westcott

Jean Westcott, owner of The Artful Gardener in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood, has been designing gardens for more than 30 years. She earned a degree in Horticulture and Landscape Design from Temple University (1985) and a degree in Landscape Architecture from Rutgers University (1992). She is a recipient of the ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Honor Award for Excellence. “Every project gives me the opportunity to help someone have the oasis of their dreams, no matter how large or small,” she says.

Jean Westcott, photo by Stephen S. Reardon Photography

How did this horticulturist and garden designer come to transform the once-dilapidated building at 727 Mount Hope Ave into The Artful Gardener, a store featuring home and garden accents by regional artists? How does the store connect to animal rescue, and what is T’ai Chi’s role in bringing Westcott to Rochester?

From Zinnia Seeds to Landscape Architecture
The journey started when Westcott started gardening at the age of five, planting zinnia seeds with her mom and grandmother on Long Island. When she was ten, her family moved to Clinton, New Jersey. “It was still rural then,” she says. “I fished on the Raritan River and wandered through the woods, learning the wildflowers. Every job I had as a youth was outside, working in gardens and on commercial grounds.”

She also had a talent for playing the French horn and her first major at Temple University was music. Two weeks before her junior year, she walked into the music department and was flooded with a feeling of “This is not right.” Westcott called her boss at the time, head of grounds for a retail chain, and asked, “Is there such a thing as someone who designs these things?” He said yes, and she felt the gears click into place. “I always liked arranging things in the garden,” she says. Temple happened to have a horticulture and landscape design department, so she made a fortuitous field adjustment.

After graduation she worked for seven years as a designer for a series of landscape companies and garden centers, but she started to feel limited by not having studied the civil engineering side of things. She says, “I knew plants, but I wanted the landscape architecture training, which includes civil engineering, so that I could go into a project and design everything except the house itself.”

After she earned her LA degree, Westcott was hired by a firm called Manheimer Hertzog Horticultural Services in northern New Jersey. She says, “Other than working for myself,

that was the best job I’ve ever had. They were a company where we designed, installed, and maintained fine gardens for clients who deeply appreciated them. Being able to stay with these gardens for years, and help them become what the vision was for them, was wonderful.”

That’s also where Westcott got connected to Irish stonemason and design/build firm owner Joe Slattery, whom she teamed up with when she started her own firm, Jean Zimmermann Garden Design, in 2002. “Joe installed every job better than I could have imagined or envisioned.”

Slattery says, “Jean turns otherwise mundane spaces into something of great beauty. She is unique among LAs and designers in that she really knows her plant material—especially her use of unusual perennials. Jean can sketch a landscape view in such detail that it looks like a black-and-white photograph, and she does it so fast and with seemingly so little effort that it’s clear she is also an artist at heart and that landscape design must be another way to express that.”

Use of a container as the focal point at the center of a cottage garden, Montgomery County, PA. Photo by Jean Westcott

Use of a container as the focal point at the center of a cottage garden, Montgomery County, PA. Photo by Jean Westcott

Upstate Bound
Westcott moved to Rochester in 2006 to be with her future husband Mark Westcott, because his work as an optical engineer at Corning Advanced Optics in Fairport wasn’t portable, but her work was. When they started dating in 2005, they had known each other for seven years through T’ai Chi. They share the same teacher, Maggie Newman, who is New York City- and Philadelphia- based. Every summer, Newman teaches a T’ai Chi camp at Keuka College administered by Mark. Jean says, “Mark and I would see each other every year for camp and sometimes in NYC at workshops, and at some point it was like, ‘huh’.”

When she first moved to Rochester, Westcott commuted back to New Jersey every five weeks to meet with clients, and she still does some design work in the region, with installations handled by Slattery. Over time, she has built a clientele in greater Rochester. Joan Gaylord of Spencerport has been working with Westcott since 2009, when Gaylord and her husband purchased a home that came with extensive gardens.

Gaylord says, “Jean carefully considered my taste both outdoors and indoors. She came up with a design that incorporated my favorite plants and then worked with me all along the way as I took out the old and put in the new. Those design blueprints are very precise and are striking works of art themselves. I have learned an enormous amount from Jean.”

Gaylord is also a regular at The Artful Gardener, which she describes as being laid out like a series of garden rooms that you are pulled through as if on a garden path, with unexpected hidden areas and discoveries around each corner. She says, “There’s always something new or a new artist or new technique that catches my eye. Also I go there because it’s a peaceful place to be. In the back Jean’s got a sculpture garden that I love to walk through. She’s created a wonderful oasis in the city.”

Westcott says The Artful Gardener chapter of her life was unexpected. She drove by the little building almost every day for three years. “I could see how sweet the building was and thought, ‘I really wish someone would do something with that.’ And then a giant ‘For Sale’ sign appeared in the window. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I didn’t have the slightest idea what I’d do with it, but I called my realtor, who said it was under agreement. I thought well ok, it wasn’t meant to be … and went on vacation for a week. When I came back, there was a message in my inbox saying the agreement fell through. I just knew that fixing up this ‘old lady’ was what I was supposed to do next.”

It was Slattery who put the idea of a “shop where you sell cool stuff for the garden” into Westcott’s head. For months she worked with businessman and volunteer Norm Karsten of the Geneseo Small Business Development Center on a business plan. “He’s been such a great advisor to me and many other businesses in the South Wedge Neighborhood,” she says. In creating and operating The Artful Gardener, any skill Westcott has picked up over the years, no matter how insignificant she thought it was at the time, comes into play.

Westcott is pleased that The Artful Gardener is located in Rochester’s Ellwanger and Barry  neighborhood, which is of horticultural significance locally and nationally. “I wouldn’t have decided to have a store anyplace else,” she says. “It’s magical here.” The Westcotts live just two blocks away from the store and walk the area all the time. When Jean first walked through Highland Park, she couldn’t believe the diversity and maturity of the plants she was seeing. She says, “When you know plants, and you walk through an arboretum like that, and it’s that extensive—it makes quite an impression.”

Colonial-style entry garden with a traditional four-square layout in Bucks County, PA. Photo by Jean Westcott


Garden visitor in Rochester, NY. Photo by Jean Westcott

Garden visitor in Rochester, NY. Photo by Jean Westcott

T’ai Chi and Animal Rescue
Mark and Jean Westcott’s T’ai Chi teacher Maggie Newman is 91 and still teaching in New York City, but in 1982 she decided to turn her Rochester school over to Mark, who named it Great Lake T’ai Chi Ch’uan. There, Jean teaches three classes on Monday evenings, in beginner and ongoing advanced push hands T’ai Chi and sword fencing. Mark teaches beginner and intermediate classes on Wednesday evenings. Great Lake T’ai Chi Ch’uan is located in the Genesee Center for the Arts on Monroe Ave and shares space with Molly’s Yoga Corner.

Mark and Jean were married by Newman, who is one of just six original students of Professor Cheng Man Ch’ing who brought T’ai Chi to the U.S. in the 1950s. Jean says that it is his form that they study, and since Maggie is their primary teacher, it’s as close as they can get to learning from Professor Ch’ing, which is an honor.

The Artful Gardener is a venue that supports another of Westcott’s passions. “I really love animals,” she says. “I have three cats and a dog named Lily. I wanted to do something to benefit rescue organizations and those volunteers who give countless hours to them.” For two years in February she’s held a Cabin Fever Garden Party. The store is filled with flowers and treats for both dogs and people, there is a pet photo contest, free chair massages and a raffle with items donated by local businesses. Another event in September 2014 was a celebration of animals and the arts; a big tent outside provided space for the rescues to show animals. At all three events, hundreds of people cycled through the shop, and 15% of the days’ sales went to rescues.

Joye Turock is a cofounder of Joyful Rescues (, one of the groups that benefitted from the events. Joyful Rescues shows cats and dogs up for adoption almost every weekend in the greater Olean, Rochester, and Buffalo areas. Turock says, “We were absolutely amazed at the amount of money these events raised. We went into the first one thinking it would be this little fun event, but we were all blown away by how much financial help came from it.” Westcott plans to host another Cabin Fever Garden Party in February 2016.


Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, writer, and editor living in New Paltz, NY.


The Park’s Memorial Walk starts out in  a gardenesque setting, then makes its way into beautiful woodlands.

The Park’s Memorial Walk starts out in a gardenesque setting, then makes its way into beautiful woodlands.

Radical Welcome
The 170-acre White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford is a park for all people. Walkers and runners are welcome,
bicyclists and hikers are welcome, dogs are welcome. Birders can come do their early morning thing, including observing Eastern bluebirds in the Park’s dedicated nesting area. The entrance sign even says “Geocachers
welcome.” One need not have a loved one buried there to enjoy the beautiful natural assets of White Haven— including formidable horticultural assets. There are more than 150 different tree species in the developed areas alone, with dozens more species yet to be inventoried in the Park’s 70-plus acres of forest.

There is a wildflower meadow on the site of the green burial area (“built” wildflower meadows are high-maintenance, as anyone who’s tried one knows!). And the small staff grow more than 15,000 annuals in their own greenhouse each year for the grounds, then work diligently all summer to keep those annuals watered and protected as much
as possible from the Park’s abundant wildlife, who enjoy refuge there.

The Green Burial Wildflower Meadow  gets colorful in mid to late summer.

The Green Burial Wildflower Meadow gets colorful in mid to late summer.

A huge part of White Haven’s park-like appearance owes to the fact that there are no traditional above-grown tombstones; there are only flat bronze memorials throughout, with the exception of the natural stones and plaques on the Nature Trail that accompany the cremated remains of those who chose that option. The specimen trees and large expanses of lawn with open vistas makes White Haven feel very Olmstedian.

Andrea Vittum has been president of White Haven since 1993, and before that was vice president since 1985. “The first thing you’ll notice when you come here, along with the natural beauty, is that White Haven is called a Memorial Park, not a cemetery,” she says. “Then you’ll notice the fact that you won’t see the word ‘No’ on any of our signage.”

That wasn’t always the case. Back in 1995, Vittum organized a Vision Day for the staff, where employees at every level came together to brainstorm the mission for White Haven. There was a unanimous feeling that the Park should be profoundly more welcoming to the public. “It was a huge turning point for us,” Vittum says. “We all felt that this place was for the living as well as for the dead, and that we wanted people to have the opportunity to come here and develop happy memories…We knew that this transformation would make White Haven more of a comforting and healing place, valuable to everyone, as we all eventually have to contend with loss and grief.”

With that mission in mind, the Park put in new, welcoming signage, renovated the whole front of the main building to make it more welcoming and accessible, and began to pursue a wider range of uses and designations that would further engage the public. For instance, in 1993, White Haven became the first cemetery in the country to participate in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program sponsored by Audubon International, and in 1998, they were the first cemetery to become fully accredited in all five areas of participation, which include setting up bird sanctuaries and implementation of Integrated Pest Management to greatly reduce pesticide use.

Tree Recognition
The most recent feather in the Park’s cap is Level 1 Arboretum Certification by the Arbnet Arboretum Accreditation Program, which puts the Park on the Morton Arboretum Register of Arboreta. Information on each species and the location of specimen trees is available in the Park’s office and White Haven is working towards having an online tree walk available to anyone with a smartphone. Having conducted a tree inventory that gathered that information was one of the requirements for Level 1 Arboretum Accreditation.

The Park’s tree inventory actually began back in 1989 as a project of interest to Vittum. “I was working on getting a tree map of the whole park because even then we had close to 100 species,” she says. She was going to do a booklet about 50 of the most magnificent trees and she hired a photographer who came several times a year to photograph each tree at its showiest season. “We had this incredible catalog of photos, but then in 1991 we had a horrific ice storm in which many of the specimen trees were badly disfigured. I lost my heart for the project at the time because so many of the trees no longer looked like they did in the photos— it was very sad.”

The oldest and largest tree at White Haven, a majestic red oak (Quercus rubra).

The oldest and largest tree at White Haven, a majestic red oak (Quercus rubra).

Fast-forward to several years ago, when Vittum was reading in a national cemetery magazine about a new phenomenon of cemeteries becoming arboreta. Enough time had passed such that the wounds (to tree and heart) of the ice storm had healed. She passed her 1991 data along to Assistant Vice President Nate Romagnola and Director of Horticulture Gary Burke, who set about creating a current inventory and database of the trees in the developed areas.

“Our database has been a helpful tool when someone comes in and wants to know what the tree near their loved one is,” Romagnola says. Part of the inventory process was affixing numbered labels to the trees, which both gives a reference point to help people find their loved ones in the Park and helps Park staff more readily locate burial sites.

Vittum, Romagnola, and Burke have big plans to further their outreach. “We want to bump up to Level 2 certification by having more educational opportunities and by refining the database and increasing its utility,” Romagnola says. “We would love, for example, to have college tree ID or arboriculture classes, Master Gardeners, and other groups use the Park for educational purposes.” Romagnola thinks that more cemeteries would pursue Arbnet Arboretum Accreditation if they knew about it. When there’s already a strong tree resource in place, “it can be just a matter of getting the paperwork done,” he says.

From left to right: Adam Romagnola, Nate Romagnola, Gary Burke, and Andrea Vittum.

From left to right: Adam Romagnola, Nate Romagnola, Gary Burke, and Andrea Vittum.

Making it All Grow
As head grower, Interment and Garden Foreman Adam Romagnola (Nate’s brother) oversees the production of almost 15,000 annuals in the Park’s greenhouse. “It’s a lot of fun, and it saves the organization money over buying in all those plants,” he says. At seed-buying time, Romagnola and Burke are looking for those plants with the biggest color impact, because the bold display beds are equal in importance to the tree collection in making the grounds appealing in summer. “We choose things that are colorful and straightforward to grow, like zinnias, marigolds, celosia, salvias, geraniums, dahlias, and cannas,” Romagnola says.

“The only annuals we buy in are begonias and ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia,” Burke says. He explains that ‘Victoria Blue’ proved too fussy a germinator, and begonias have to be started in greenhouses in January. The horticulture department decided it was more economical to wait until February to fire up the greenhouse, so they buy the begonias in.

Adam Romagnola oversees the production of more than 15,000 annuals a year in the Park’s greenhouse. 

Adam Romagnola oversees the production of more than 15,000 annuals a year in the Park’s greenhouse.

Adam Romagnola says, “We tweak things every year to become better growers and to find things that are going to work in the big display beds.” For instance, one year the crew planted ‘Benary’s Giant’ zinnias rather densely, and ended up with a powdery mildew problem. They learned to use cosmos instead, which has feathery foliage and allows for better air circulation.

One year the red salvia was hit with aphids. “We learned that we needed to mix something else in with that red salvia so that if or when it died out, we’d still have something red there,” Romagnola says. “Now we interplant it with red celosia, which fills in the space if necessary.”

As to perennials? Burke says, “There are some perennial beds that we maintain, but they are high maintenance for the amount of more muted color they offer, so we prefer annual beds with splashy colors.” Burke says they’d love to grow even more annuals for display, but the greenhouse space is maxed out, and includes growing extras for replacements for deer and other mishaps. “The deer run the show when the sun goes down here,” Adam Romagnola says. “Yet we enjoy the wildlife that live here, as do the visitors. You get to see the same big bucks coming back year after year, and sometimes new ones.”

The team uses regular applications of Liquid Fence to protect the annuals. “I’ve sprayed it so much, the smell doesn’t even bother me anymore,” Romagnola says. They also try to pick plants that deer won’t favor. He says that  while the deer won’t eat the geranium flowers, they will eat the geranium buds. “Even when you put the Liquid Fence on,” Burke says, “the deer will sometimes pull the plants up and spit them out—it can be discouraging.” The deer will also sometimes munch on or strew about fresh cut flowers that families put on gravesites. Newly planted trees get trunk protection via corrugated plastic tubes, to protect the tender cambium from rutting bucks.

What’s really amazing is that all of the horticulture/grounds crew are also doing interments, so when you ask them how many full-time equivalents they have on horticulture staff, it’s very hard to say, because the burial schedule is unpredictable. “We have the freezing days when you’re jackhammering the soil for burial, but other times you’re in the greenhouse or planting flowers—we enjoy the variety of the things we do,” Burke says.

More About Horticulture at White Haven

  • The larger display beds have automatic irrigation; the smaller ones are watered by hand from a 150-gallon tank. “We like to put the knowledgeable seasonal employees on watering because they know how important it is,” Romagnola says.
  • There are five mature ash trees in the developed collection that are being micro-injected to project the trees from Emerald Ash Borer.
  • The oldest and largest tree is a red oak (Quercus rubra) in the center of the developed Park. Gary Burke is partial to a large shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) and Andrea loves the large Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis). Other interesting specimens include Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus), tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), American fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), goldenchain tree (Laburnum anagyroides), paperbark maple (Acer griseum), and six different kinds of beech trees.
  • The soil on the property ranges from very sandy in the front portion to clayey and wet in the back acreage. The property was previously an airfield, and before that, a farm.
  • The staff maintains a giant compost pile in the back, using leaves and funeral flowers as its primary components.
  • The wildflower meadow is a struggle to perpetuate, but one very cool thing is that each family who buries a loved one in the green burial meadow receives wildflower seeds and is invited to sow them, resulting in lovely spots of color come August. The staff also plants plugs every year. Adam Romagnola says, “We spend a lot of time on it, but I’m hopeful the wildflower meadow will eventually be self-sustaining.”

Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.


The SUNY ESF Gateway Center Green Roof

by cathym on May 19, 2016

Last summer I had the pleasure of touring the successful experiment that is the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Gateway Center green roof, a beautiful and instructional rooftop garden inspired by native New York dune and barrens plant communities. This green roof is open to the public during regular business hours and is not to be missed if you find yourself in the vicinity of Syracuse.

Gateway Center green roof, courtesy Andropogon Associates

Gateway Center green roof, courtesy Andropogon Associates

A Roof with a Mission  

Their campuses are adjacent, but their landscaping approaches are strikingly different. While Syracuse University uses a more conventional palette of plant hybrids and non-natives (for example, widespread use of orange petunias to celebrate the school color), SUNY ESF strives to follow a native-plant-community approach to their landscaping (using, for example, native goldenrods, oaks, sumacs, and sedges).

Thus it made sense that in 2010, when it came time to design a new 9,400-square-foot green roof, SUNY ESF wanted to use the opportunity to use plant species found in natural New York plant communities. From the common to the very rare, plants within those communities provide a richer research and teaching environment than could be afforded by the seas of sedums and other succulents that usually dominate green roofs.

This green roof is a versatile outdoor classroom and gathering place atop SUNY ESF’s award-winning new LEED Platinum Certified Gateway Center Building (completed in 2013). The green roof was designed to contribute to the Gateway Center’s highly efficient storm water management system and to aid in regulating building temperature.


Gateway Center green roof in mid-summer. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Gateway Center green roof in fall, courtesy SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Gateway Center green roof in fall, courtesy SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Rugged for the Rooftop  

The lead landscape architect for the project was Darren Damone of the Philadelphia-based firm Andropogon Associates. In order to determine the best plant species for the roof, Damone and his associates worked closely with faculty at SUNY-ESF, including Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology Don Leopold (author of Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation and Trees of New York: Native and Naturalized) and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Timothy Toland, who specializes in sustainability and holistic systems design.

In thinking about the conditions that are typical for a rooftop garden, and in their case a west-facing one, the Andropogon/SUNY ESF team recognized that they needed plants that would endure extremes of temperature, wind, and moisture. To minimize future maintenance, they sought plants that can tolerate low soil fertility/low organic matter and shallow soils. Drought tolerance was also key, as the intent was to have the plants function as they would in their native environment—without any supplemental irrigation.

The team chose two natural New York plant communities adapted to these very conditions. The first was the Eastern Ontario Dune community, a windy and dry habitat extending 17 miles along Lake Ontario. As you can imagine, the dune soil is low in fertility, drains excessively well, and is exposed to potential erosion by wind and water.

The second inspiration was the Alvar Pavement Barren community, found in limited pockets to the northwest of Watertown, NY. Alvars are harder to describe than dunes. They consist of some combination of rocky outcroppings, flat stretches of exposed limestone bedrock, deep crevices, and moss growing amidst rubble. These can be mingled with parcels of woodlands, grasslands, and shrubby meadows that are supported by only a thin layer of soil. Alvars are home to many rare plants. Alvar community plants grow in low-fertility soil with a high pH and despite the shallow soils they inhabit (or lack of soil altogether), they tolerate the drought of summer—but interestingly, they also tolerate spring flooding.

With the Eastern Ontario Dune and Alvar Pavement Barren communities, the team found an ideal match for the rooftop conditions. Their savvy matching of plants—in this case, whole communities of plants—to site is something that could be instructive to home gardeners who have extreme conditions on parts of their properties.

It would be no small feat to source these plants—some of which grow natively only in the Eastern Ontario Dune and Alvar Pavement Barren ecosystems—responsibly. Motherplants Ltd., a green roof plants specialty grower now based out of Princeton, Ontario (formerly based out of Ithaca) was contracted to propagate and procure the plants.

But first, the design team and SUNY ESF faculty developed a set of rigorous plant trial protocols and constructed a series of test frames on an adjacent building roof to mimic growing conditions.

In 2010, Leopold and colleagues obtained cuttings, seeds, and plugs and involved students in research involving planting each species at varying soil depth, media, and spacing. They collected three seasons of data, which gave evidence that plants from these specific plant communities did well in this specific unirrigated, rooftop environment.

The Andropogon Associates planting plan called for the Eastern Ontario Dune plant community to be sited on three sides of the green roof perimeter. Dune plants that are thriving there include American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), and the heartleaf willow (Salix cordata).

The internal, slightly more protected beds are populated primarily with Alvar community plants, which include American harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), northern prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), smooth rose (Rosa blanda), and various sedges (Carex spp.).

Don Leopold took this photo of the native American harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), which grows in many parts of New York State in rocky areas, be they dry or wet, calcareous or acidic. “This plant grows on alvar pavement barrens and is among many state-protected plant species on the Gateway green roof,” he says.

Don Leopold took this photo of the native American harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), which grows in many parts of New York State in rocky areas, be they dry or wet, calcareous or acidic. “This plant grows on alvar pavement barrens and is among many state-protected plant species on the Gateway green roof,” he says.

Don Leopold says that if you visit the Gateway green roof in mid-April, you may be treated to a sight unusual in New York: blooming prairie-smoke (Geum triflorum). It is a very rare plant in NYS, limited to Jefferson and Dutchess Counties. “Despite its rarity, it is thriving on the Gateway Center green roof and is the first of dozens of plant species on the roof to bloom each spring,” Leopold says. “Prairie-smoke can be easily cultivated in the home garden if given a well-drained, gravelly-sandy and infertile substrate in full sun.” Behind it you can see wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and to the left is shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). Photo by Don Leopold

Don Leopold says, “Found on the Gateway green roof, the common juniper (Juniperus communis) is well-named as one of the most geographically widespread and highly adaptable woody plant species in the world. It is abundant on the Great Lakes alvar, where its form is typically a low, spreading shrub. Elsewhere, this species can be an upright, pyramidal small tree.” Photo by Don Leopold


Don Leopold says that if you visit the Gateway green roof in mid-April, you may be treated to a sight unusual in New York: blooming prairie-smoke (Geum triflorum). It is a very rare plant in NYS, limited to Jefferson and Dutchess Counties. “Despite its rarity, it is thriving on the Gateway Center green roof and is the first of dozens of plant species on the roof to bloom each spring,” Leopold says. “Prairie-smoke can be easily cultivated in the home garden if given a well-drained, gravelly-sandy and infertile substrate in full sun.” Behind it you can see wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and to the left is shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). Photo by Don Leopold

According to Don Leopold, “Of the three varieties of sand cherry (Prunus pumila) that occur in New York, var. pumila is the rarest, being restricted to the narrow band of natural dunes along the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario. It is an ‘S1 Heritage element,’ a state ranking applied to species that generally have between 1 to 5 occurrences in the state. You will find it within the ‘dunes’ perimeter planting of the Gateway green roof.” Photo by Don Leopold

According to Don Leopold, “Of the three varieties of sand cherry (Prunus pumila) that occur in New York, var. pumila is the rarest, being restricted to the narrow band of natural dunes along the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario. It is an ‘S1 Heritage element,’ a state ranking applied to species that generally have between 1 to 5 occurrences in the state. You will find it within the ‘dunes’ perimeter planting of the Gateway green roof.” Photo by Don Leopold


According to Don Leopold, “The sand dune willow (Salix cordata) is a rare upland shrubby willow restricted in New York State to the narrow band of natural dunes along less than 20 miles of the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario. It is an ‘S2 Heritage element,’ a state ranking applied to species that generally have 6 to 20 occurrences in the state. Because it thrives on the coarse, dry sands of these dunes, it was chosen as one of the main plants to represent the dunes on the Gateway green roof, planted on the perimeter bed. Given how well it has done there, and in our other plantings on even more challenging substrates, this species likely could have much broader use in the landscape where few other species readily grow.” Photo by Don Leopold

Project Fruition 

Motherplants brought in 3000 plugs in November of 2012, the earliest the roof could be readied for planting. Mark Winterer, co-owner of Recover Green Roofs, who collaborated on the planting, said, “We had to wait for the ground to thaw every morning before we could plant.” However, planting the plugs in a dormant state turned out to have an advantage—their moisture requirements were low, and with supplemental water provided for just the first few weeks after planting, the vast majority of the plants came through the winter and established well.

A highly porous, lightweight growing medium was conveyed to the site by a blower truck; it was intended to have less than 10% by mass organic matter (OM), because overly fertile soil would favor the growth of certain species over others, which would have upset the plant-community balance the designers sought. (Based on observing overly vigorous growth of some plants, Leopold later commented that 5% or less OM would have worked better.)

The earth was sculpted with sections of expanded polystyrene geofoam to provide some undulations for aesthetic and microclimate purposes. Jute erosion control mat, while difficult to install on a windy roof top in November, turned out to be extremely important in stabilizing the friable growing medium against erosion. Irregular flagstone slabs mimicked the exposed limestone bedrock found in an alvar environment and provide entry points for teachers, students, and visitors to gain a closer look at the plants.

Nearly four years after installation, the green roof plant communities are thriving and the beautiful outdoor gathering, teaching, and research space is fulfilling its mission. Leopold said recently, “Given that we are not aware of any similar planting on any other green roof in the U.S., I have been very pleased that the plant species that we selected have generally thrived under these very challenging growing conditions.”

SUNY ESF and Andropogon Associates received the 2014 Merit Award from the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for the Gateway Center green roof.

Michelle Sutton ( is a horticulturist, writer, and editor. 


Tombs image of the beloved katsura tree (Cercidphyllum japonicum) in Rochesters Highland Park.

Tomb’s image of the beloved katsura tree (Cercidphyllum japonicum) in Rochesters Highland Park.

By Michelle Sutton

Images copyright Michael Tomb

Michael Tomb’s mesmerizing “Skin of the Arboretum” image series began in early 2008, on a tour of Rochester’s Highland Botanical Park Pinetum with horticulturist Kent Milham. Tomb became fascinated by both patterned and abstract expressions of bark on the trees; he now exhibits truly arresting photos and photo collages of them. As with “The Hobbiton of the Bark” (see photo), he frequently employs an element of trompe l’oeil in both the subject matter and the convincing, apparent picture frame. 

Tomb identifies as a digital media artist, rather than a photographer. He has taken an average of 50 pictures a day over the last 15 years. Many of his images employ HDR (high dynamic range) software that takes multiples of an image and eliminates the “noise” from each one to get a wider range of exposure and maximum 3-D effect. 

“Many of my finished images are not one photo—each is as many as 12 or 13 frames on top of or extending each other,” he says. “Virtually every image has been manipulated. I don’t believe in the idea that there’s a clean image that’s somehow sacred. All digital cameras are computers, after all, so a program is involved in any digital photography.” 

He continues, “I’m after the image. I like to use any method available to me—so were many of the most famous film-based photographers. They often used analog tools such as filters on the camera or the enlarger and dodging and burning, even combining multiple images into one. I experimented with all those techniques back in my darkroom days. But the image still begins in my mind’s eye and works its way slowly towards a surface of some sort. There is no happy accident involved here; I know what I want and when the image finally lines up with my internal expectation, it’s finally done.”

Michael Tomb's “Hobbiton of the Bark” employs trompe l'oeil in both the image and the “frame.”

Michael Tomb’s “Hobbiton of the Bark” employs trompe l’oeil in both the image and the “frame.”

The tour where “Skin” was birthed was organized for the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, an organization with whom Tomb and his wife Marcia, residents of the neighborhood, have been very active since 2006, when a fatal stabbing of a young person 300 feet from their door galvanized them. 

Tomb says, “Marcia and I had a conversation. It was like, if we’re going to stay here, we need to get more involved. I’m a lifelong committed pacifist so I wasn’t going to suggest we get armed. The one thing I knew we could do was work toward giving the neighborhood a higher profile in arts and culture. I wanted us to make the neighborhood more special, with the hopes that that would help make it ultimately safer.” 

Using his digital media skills, Tomb had been doing some volunteer work for New Orleans recovery post Katrina and had been heartened by the level of community action he saw there. He decided to invest these skills in earnest in his neighborhood, though he and Marcia still make frequent trips to their beloved New Orleans.  

He says, “One of the first things we researched together was the urban planning concept called ‘Placemaking’. The residents themselves re-design their common public living spaces to make them more inviting and special. The results are places that the community creates and owns together. The idea is both old and new; in fact I discovered an article written in 1882 in one of Rochester’s most beautiful (if forgotten) horticultural journals, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine, that described what is now known as ‘Placemaking’. And when I republished it on our neighborhood’s online ‘Virtual Scrapbook’, links to it were retweeted by national experts who support the movement. This is now something I’m totally committed to as a way to develop cities.”


Snow on the trunk of a London planetree (Platanus x acerifolia) in Tombs Highland Park neighborhood.

Snow on the trunk of a London planetree (Platanus x acerifolia) in Tombs Highland Park neighborhood.

Tomb’s mother’s family was based mostly in Rochester but at an early age, he experienced a huge cultural upheaval. His Sicilian grandfather, Frank Mully, a mason by training, had moved with his wife and family from Rochester to Bristol in the 1940s to live on a farm and eventually started that rural area’s first Italian restaurant, on Route 64. Tomb grew up on the attached farm, and growing vegetables with his grandfather kicked off a lifelong interest in gardening. After his grandfather Frank had a severe stroke, Tomb’s family literally moved into the restaurant building to help out, and thus commenced many years of Tomb’s immersion in the restaurant trade, of which he has happy memories. 

Tomb’s mother, Gemma, was only one of two college educated members on either side of the family; she was passionate about music and the arts, and about science. “She could tell you the life history of all the great classical composers, and she could play the most rollicking version of ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ on the piano,” he says. 

Gemma passed her love of the arts and sciences on to her children including her son, who in his teenage years developed passions for photography and astronomy. She also took an action that had hugely positive consequences for Tomb and his sister, who needed a more rigorous academic environment. Gemma Tomb approached the Harley School, an esteemed secular private school in Pittsford, with the result being that both children received full scholarships to attend. Tomb started at Harley in 1969 and finished in three years. “I got exposed to this amazing nurturing educational experience I wish so many kids could have,” he says. 

Among the courses he took was filmmaking, and he even had after-hours access to the school’s refrigerator-size computer. Tomb used “unshielded radio noise” from the computer to score one of his animated films. He took to computer programming, eventually developing his own personal video games. In 1972 he started attending Franklin and Marshall College, because they had a strong Astrophysics program. He became the photo-editor of the college paper and continued to school himself in computer programming. In his senior year, he had a bit of an identity crisis and dropped out and returned to Rochester where he’d hoped to work as a photographer, but he spent more of his time evaluating choices in life and the result was a renewed desire to complete his education.

Eventually one of Tomb’s best friends at Franklin and Marshall, Paul Marttila, convinced Michael to go back to college and finish his degree. They are still close. Marttila says, “We connected through a shared sense of humor; I’m proud to call him one of my closest friends for 40 years. Michael is a brilliant guy, a renaissance man. In college, we would go camping with our friends and Michael, already at that phase an advanced astronomer, would spend hours describing constellations and planets in a way that was fascinating to us. In recent years, I’ve seen him give multimedia presentations on astronomy that were amazing.”    

A collage of bark images from Tombs “Skin of the Arboretum” series.

A collage of bark images from Tombs “Skin of the Arboretum” series.

After graduating college, Tomb came back to Rochester and worked for two small computer scientific programming firms while continuing to practice his photography craft. As a requirement for designing one of the world’s first toxicity prediction systems, he expanded his training in computer graphics because of the need to represent and input molecular structures on the computer screen. 

In 1992, he started his own consulting business, helping clients with their statistical, health science, and engineering computational and programming needs. “When I went out on my own, I felt as if I had just jumped from the end of a gangplank and before landing in the water, I had to learn how to swim,” he says. The first year was lean—they ate mass quantities of zucchini and Swiss chard from their garden that summer—but he’s now very much sought after for his skills in solving problems related to new technologies, including writing software. 


Lamberton Conservatory Desert Room Panorama by Michael Tomb.

Lamberton Conservatory Desert Room Panorama by Michael Tomb.

Tomb’s one of those lucky people who is passionate about his work. He is also passionate about the horticultural history of Rochester and has launched a series called The City of Flowers Collection that he exhibited for the Highland Park Neighborhood Association. 

“I found that there was this amazing series of printing companies employing hundreds of immigrant artists that did all this folk-ish, beautiful commercial botanical art, often unsigned. This was a flourishing industry here, one that handled the visual aspects of Rochester’s nursery and seed industries. Rochester invented a new kind of commercial art called ‘plates for the nurseryman’—a nursery rep would come to the lithographer and say, I need prints of these 200 varieties, and a book of lithographs would be put together. These compilations were like the precursors of seed catalogs.”

Tomb has been collecting, mostly from eBay, prints of this botanical art, along with trade cards and early seed catalogs, all printed and designed in Rochester. He scans or photographs the images, digitally restores them, and reproduces them at a bigger scale, which enhances the folk art and even pop art aspects of the images. “This isn’t something I seek to make money from,” he says. “I wanted to pay homage to these largely unknown, incredible folk artists.”  

Tomb is also known for his work photographing Highland Park’s Lamberton Conservatory’s  interior and exterior, including on those nights during the holiday seasons when the building is open one evening a week and festooned with lights. He hopes to publish a collection of these Conservatory photos.

The Skin of the Arboretum continues to be the series that gets the most attention. Friend and former colleague Pat Mann purchased prints of two of Michael’s fine art. She says, “I was so enamored and transfixed to the spot with two of his pieces from the Skin of the Arboretum at his opening that I just had to have them: ‘The Hobbiton of the Bark’ and ‘The Nude of the Bark.’” 

“Nude of the Bark” by Michael Tomb.

“Nude of the Bark” by Michael Tomb.

She says, “‘Hobbiton’ just jumps out at you … Michael captured an artifact of nature in such a way as to evoke a magical essence. And ‘Nude’ reminds me of Jean Arp’s ‘Sculpture Classique’ (1960), capturing the female form in very sleek simple lines, but Michael’s art and technique is even more brilliant in extracting and showcasing it from nature. His addition of color gives the feeling of a cloaked figure, uncovered, revealing the female form. I just love it. I’m glad to see Michael is pursuing his fine art; his energy is boundless, and his passion is contagious!”  

Tomb adds, “It took decades for these images to make it to my eye. I grew up in the rural Bristol Hills and many old trees, abandoned orchards, and pockets of isolated forests were like remote friends that I and my dogs visited alone. And yet it wasn’t until 30 years after I finally left Bristol that I really started seeing the surfaces of trees as beautiful abstractions. Now I can’t stop. To me the Arboretum within Highland Park is not just a collection of special trees and shrubs but these are open air rooms in a living museum of art.” 

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor based in New Paltz, New York ( 



Winter Sowing, a Gardener’s Winter Delight

by janem on November 13, 2013

By Trudi Davidoff

About ten years ago, I began sowing seeds outdoors in winter as a practical solution to a problem I had, which was lots of seeds and no place to sow them. An avid seed trader, I visited seed trading forums and exchanged open-pollinated seed saved from my own garden for other people’s offerings. Seed traders are often generous folk and send an extra bonus packet or two along with what’s been agreed upon, and in a few months’ time I had enough accumulated to fill a popcorn tin. There were annuals and perennials, shrub seed, grasses, vines, veggies and herbs too. It was wonderful, except that I live in a cottage and don’t have room for an indoor light set-up, and the cat owns the windowsills so there can be no trays of soil and sprouting seeds there to be warmed by streaming sunlight.

Then one day I was out on my patio just about stomping my feet in frustration when I had a thought: Mother Nature sows her seeds outside in winter, and I could do the same. But I also knew that direct sowing had iffy results because the seeds could be eaten by birds, bugs and critters, wash out in a storm or dry up and fail to sprout.  I could sow the seed into containers instead of direct sowing. I was a new homeowner then and like any new homeowner I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, so I could not afford new nice special sowing containers. I was going to have to rough it and scrounge and make do with what I had on hand, which was lots of recyclable kitchen containers in my green bin.  I would make my sowing containers from milk jugs, takeout containers, soda bottles, or plastic clamshells that held salad or cookies; I could be imaginative, creative, save some bucks because I’m not buying the containers, and experience that good feeling of getting a second use out of something that was being taken to the curb for collection.

Here’s how it works: Seeds are sown into vented containers that are placed outside in winter; they will experience everything that seed sown naturally, dropped from plants or blown in on the breeze, will experience. They get rain, snow, sleet, wind, hail and lots of sunshine too. But these seeds are protected from the environment. The lids shield them from downpours that could dislodge them and the vented lids let in some rain or melting snow to keep the soil moist and just as important—they allow air that has been warmed by the sun to escape. Winter sowing containers are like mini-greenhouses or cold frames.

Here we are working with seeds from temperate climates—regions with distinct different seasons—spring, summer, autumn and winter. The method does not work with plants from tropical regions that are steadily warm or hot.  It’s easy to choose what to sow: Often a common plant name will include an environment or climate from the natural world—these are all good plants for winter sowing. Some names include brook, canyon, field, lake, meadow, mountain, plains, prairie, river, valley, etc. Some examples are: bog laurel, queen of the meadow, streambank fleabane, marsh mallow, mountain larkspur, plains coreopsis, prairie clover, and river birch. Some names might include locations from temperate climates like: alpine, American, Canadian, Chinese, polar, and Siberian. Some examples are: Arctic daisy, alpine aster, American star thistle, Chinese wisteria, German iris, Japanese maple, Oriental lily, polar willow and Russian olive. Seed packets, catalogs and websites often include plant habit and germination advice—words to look for indicating a variety could be good for winter sowing might include: Pre-chilling—freeze, refrigerate or stratify for any amount of days, will colonize, self-sows, reseeds, sow outdoors in late autumn, sow outdoors in early spring while nights are still cool, sow outdoors in early spring will frosts may still occur, hardy seeds, seedlings can withstand frost, can be direct sown early, wildflower or weed; the plant name itself could contain weed, such as butterfly weed, Joe Pye weed or jewel weed.  Take a walk around your own garden and neighborhood, visit a local botanical garden and see what plants seem to be reseeding in the wilder unkempt areas. If a plant reseeds in your garden then you can try that species with winter sowing. Plants that reseed in wild areas as well as regional wildflowers are all good choices.

For flats I like to choose containers that will hold at least three inches of soil in their base, as shallower containers can dry out too quickly from strong sun or breezy days.  My favorite flats are foil take-out pans with clear plastic lids, whipped topping containers, two-liter soda bottles and clear or translucent gallon jugs that held milk, juice or water.  I’ll mention at this time that I choose to sow all my veggie and herb seeds in containers that already held food—I know that this material is safe for food; I don’t want concerns about toxins from unsafe plastics leaching into the container soil and being taken up by the roots of the seedlings. For ornamental plants that won’t be eaten I am not so worried and will sow seed in whatever is on hand that I can make into a container.

When preparing a foil base container I wash it well in hot soapy water and rinse well. I take a small paring knife and pierce the corners near the base to make some drainage slits. All containers need drainage or seeds can sit in muddy soil and rot–rotted seeds won’t sprout. I turn over the container, wipe it dry with a towel, and on the bottom I add piece of duct tape long enough to write the name of the seeds I’m sowing in that container, I use an industrial strength waterproof marker to write the name. I like a label on the bottom because under the container it can’t be bleached out by the sun. Add some soil to the container filling to about an inch from the rim, moisten with water—I like to sow at my kitchen sink and use the sprayer to gently water the soil in the container. You want the soil to be moist but not muddy, then let any excess moisture drain away. Sprinkle the seeds over the top of the soil, spacing as best suited, and gently rub or push into the moist soil until they are just covered. For the lid, take the paring knife and add a few slits to the top of the container—about once every four or five inches. These slits will vent away heat and let in rain and fresh air. Put the lid on the container, secure it around the sides with duct or strong packing tape and place it outside in safe location where it will stay for the winter until warmer days come and the container germinates.

For whipped topping tubs, use a sharp paring knife and poke three or four drainage slits into  the bottom of the tub, add a label to the bottom of the tub, add soil to about an inch from the top, moisten the soil, then sow the seeds.  Use the knife and poke a small hole in the center of the lid. Then take scissors and entering at that small hole cut out the center of the lid, leaving about an inch inside the rim. Place a piece of clear plastic wrap over the sown tub, snap on the lid which will tightly hold the plastic wrap in place. Take the knife and add a few slits to the plastic wrap for ventilation.


With gallon jugs and soda bottles, cut around the middle of the container almost all the way through without severing top from bottom. Add drainage slits, label the bottom, fold back the top, add soil, moisten and sow with seed.  To close the container fold the top back into place and secure with duct or strong packing tape.  Remove and discard the cap. The spout of the bottle vents away sun-heated air and will let in moisture and fresh air. Looking through the spout of the bottle is a great way to check on soil and seedlings after they emerge. You will find it very exciting to peer in and see your first green seedlings. Though I’ve been winter sowing for many years, it still thrills me when I see the first sprouts of the season.

Outside, the seeds are protected in their flats. The lids keep birds and critters out of the soil, in a heavy downpour the lids will soften the brunt of it and the seeds won’t be dislodged and washed away in a deluge. Any seeds that have been loosened often are floated to the sides of the container and will survive to sprout near the edges. Throughout most of the winter the soil is frozen and you don’t have to worry about it drying out, and when weather warms and there is a thaw you can check for soil moisture. Remove a lid and look at the soil—dry soil looks like brownie mix just out of the box and is light in color, and moist soil looks more like prepared brownie mix about to go into the oven.

When my dog was young I couldn’t place a container on the ground in the yard or she would think it was a toy, grab it, shake and destroy it. I had to keep the containers on the picnic table where she couldn’t reach them—they were safe up there. As the years went by the dog didn’t bother the flats anymore and I put them on the ground again but my son and his college friends would come home late at night and stumble over the containers as they made their way through the yard. And, if well hidden under snow, the containers could be mangled by my husband or me when we are digging out from a bad snow storm. I know my own yard best—I have to keep the containers up off the ground. If your yard is safe from dogs, big boots or snow blowers then your containers will be safe on the ground. Otherwise, get them up onto a table where they will safely pass through the season without being disturbed by dogs, critters and people.

Close to the end of winter season you may begin to see the first of the seedlings. Typically, those that sprout early are hardy annuals or perennials that remain semi-evergreen in winter; cold-season veggies sprout early too. Look for alyssum, centaurea, dianthus, malva, pansies, rudbeckia and violas to be among the first flowers and cabbage family, onions, chard and spinach to be some of the earliest sprouting vegetables. Germination in any flat can be staggered as not all seedlings germinate on the same day or even the same week. My picnic table gets nearly full sun during winter and in spring; when the sweet gum above it begins to leaf out, the table gets filtered shade.  The filtered shade, especially at midday when the sun is strong, helps keep direct overhead sunlight from burning new seedlings, and I don’t need to water the flats often.  The more sun that shines on the flats the more soil evaporation you get. When I cannot be home to mind the flats I move all of them into shade and also set up a sprinkler attached to a spigot timer and water the flats during midday, this way I don’t have to worry about them drying out in hot mid-spring sun or making arrangements to have someone reliable come by and water my seedlings.  Sometimes after germination the weather turns bitter and a frost is predicted.  I don’t worry about seedlings of hardy annuals and perennials but tender annuals can be nipped by a frost. I can move the seedlings to an unheated room or the trunk of my car for the time the frost is predicted, or I can drape an old comforter over the flats and remove it the next morning. I do not bring sprouted flats into a warm house—the warmth fosters fast top growth which may not be as cold hardy as the seedlings that sprouted outside in early spring weather.  If you must protect your seedlings give them tough love, no coddling. Sometimes a few seedlings will falter and die, but those that survive grow on to be hardy plants.

Transplanting should be done while seedlings are still small, usually less than an inch tall. I do not thin out flats but instead pry out an inch hunk of soil and seedlings, taking care not to tear roots, and plant this hunk into a prepared bed, spacing the hunks about every six inches or so. I let Ma Nature thin out the weakest seedlings on her own as the little plants grow and fill out. This hunk-o-seedlings method works great with wildflower blends that grow and flower together to create a natural border. Or sow a few packs of annual alyssum into a large flat, and then divide the seedlings into dozens of inch hunks to make an easy and inexpensive edging for your borders. After the seeds begin to sprout I increase the lid vents a bit to help get them used to more fresh air each week. Winter sown seedlings don’t grow very quickly above the soil, but they develop wonderful roots, and do grow quickly once planted in the ground. With the winter sowing method you can grow zillions of climate-ready seedlings—they are tough, have great roots and survive cold spring soil better than purchased transplants.

I usually begin my winter sowing around December 21st and I continue sowing flats throughout winter, only stopping when the weather is so warm at night I no longer need a jacket, and usually by that time I am already transplanting my earliest sprouts. I like to plant out the flats a few weeks after they sprout, getting the seedlings established with light watering and taper off as I begin to see new growth. Seedlings should be fed lightly at transplant and then increase feeding strength as they grow.

Winter Solstice in usually on December 21st and it marks the shortest day of the year.  Solstice sowing is a meaningful ceremony you can participate in by sowing seeds that represent remembrance, life, Mother Nature, and faith.  Seeds of remembrance should be seeds of flowers that remind us of someone we knew and loved but is now gone from our lives forever. Seeds of life should be seeds of plants that make fruit or nectar and invite birds and butterflies to our gardens.  Seeds of trees should be sown to honor Mother Nature. Seeds of Faith can be seeds for plants from a zone that is beyond our own in warmth. It will help us to remember that we accept in our hearts that Ma Nature is capable of miracles. I live in zone seven and will “Solstice Sow” seeds of plants that are hardy to zone eight.

I encourage you to give winter sowing a try. Cautious beginners should try wildflowers and cold-hardy veggies their first season—these are usually easy and successful choices. The method is adaptable. Make containers with what you have on hand, use your favorite sowing medium, sow seeds of plants that thrive in your own region—the cost of producing lots and lots of seedlings from winter sowing is a fraction of buying any plant for your garden.

Trudi Davidoff is the president of WinterSown Educational: Visit the site for FAQs, seed lists, pictures, and more, and check and Facebook for winter sowing groups.


Natural Selections: A Riot of Rudbeckias

by janem on June 6, 2013

by Colleen O’Neill Nice

Last July, my mom and I embarked on our first day-long coach tour sponsored by the Buffalo National Garden Festival. We visited several diverse gardens in the towns south of Buffalo, including an exuberant landscape sprawling across several acres. Welcoming fields of color greeted us in the bright afternoon sun. Immense daisy-like blooms of brown-eyed Susans, in hues of yellow, gold, orange, bronze and red glowed amid the colorful daylilies. With little rainfall and no supplemental irrigation, these plants were blissfully thriving in full sun with minimal water. I was immediately captivated by the flamboyant flowers. I needed to find out more.

A native to North America, rudbeckia is a genus of 23 species including annuals, biennials and perennials. Most gardeners are familiar with Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, the perennial black-eyed susan that flourishes throughout summer and fall. Newer varieties of rudbeckia have been introduced in the past several years featuring large flowers in vibrant colors. Primarily considered annuals or short-lived perennials, they are members of the largest species: hirta. These new hybrids, commonly referred to as gloriosa daisies, are drought-tolerant, sun-loving, prolific bloomers, easy to grow and self-sowing. Simply dazzling

Annual Rudbeckias

One of my favorites, ‘Autumn Colors’, delivers the largest blooms ever grown on a gloriosa daisy. Its maroon center is accentuated by fiery petals of orange, gold and mahogany. Unique color patterns dominate five to seven inch blooms. Strong stems grow 20 to 24 inches tall and 12 to 15 inches wide. ‘Autumn Colors’ won the Fleuroselect Quality Mark, Europe’s highest award for flowering ornamentals from seed. Although stunning in the garden, its long-lasting blooms are a must in a vase.

For an outstanding mix of double flowers, try ‘Cherokee Sunset’. Autumn shades include orange, gold, red, bronze and brown. Strong, well branched thirty-inch stems bloom from July until frost. It self sows easily on bare soil and should be spaced twelve inches apart to allow for good air circulation. A Fleuroselect winner, it was chosen for superior breeding, beauty and performance by the International Organization for Ornamental Plants.

Imagine a spectacular rudbeckia in shades of red and maroon with a big black eye. The first-ever, crimson flowering black-eyed susan from seed, ‘Cherry Brandy’ is blanketed with three to four inch blooms from summer through fall. Very strong stems, just two feet tall, support dozens of blooms which bees and butterflies adore. To stimulate constant blooming, deadhead plants throughout the summer as needed. Allow the last flowers of autumn to dry completely on the plants to encourage reseeding. ‘Cherry Brandy’ seedlings are slow starters, so be sure to start these seeds indoors in early to late winter.

Scrumptious, dark chocolate centers contrast with the bright orange tips of ‘Orange Chocolate’. This new color combination is unique and stunning. Plants grow 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide in sun or part shade. They are deer resistant, suitable for xeriscaping and self sow freely.

Just 18 inches tall, ‘Corona’ is compact and densely branched with large, semi-double yellow petals surrounding a brown cone. It thrives in well-drained, average soil in full sun. Its crisp blooms pair well with the mottled flowers of ‘Autumn Colors’ or the vivid shades of ‘Cherry Brandy’.

Easily propagated from seed, ‘Marmalade’ germinates in ten to fifteen days. Plants produce five-inch blooms of orange-yellow petals surrounding prominent brown cones. It is reliable and a good choice for novice gardeners. ‘Marmalade’ grows quickly (two feet tall) and blooms prolifically if watered regularly, especially throughout hot summers.

Dwarf Rudbeckias

For small gardens and containers, several petite varieties are available. ‘Goldilocks,’ in development for over twelve years, displays plentiful large double and semi-double canary-colored flowers. Just eight to ten inches tall with a bushy habit, it produces a mass of color for months. Often used in public spaces, this little powerhouse blooms under extreme conditions.

‘Becky’ grows ten to twelve inches tall with orange, yellow and cinnamon bicolor flowers. Combine it with the bright yellow petals and a floriferous disposition of ‘Becky Yellow’. Add the rusty-red colored centers of ‘Becky Cinnamon BiColor,’ surrounded by petals of yellow, orange and mixed hues. All love full sun and will reseed gently, although the offspring may not be as short as the parents. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the well branched plants that bloom from late spring until fall with regular deadheading.

Ideal for window boxes, rock gardens and the front of the border, ‘Toto Lemon’ bears three inch pastel yellow daisies on stout, very erect stems. It maintains it’s color and shape remarkably well for drying. To extend bud production, remove dead blossoms regularly. Just under a foot tall, ‘Spotlight’ has a charming chocolate-brown dollop on every slightly fluted petal. Very weather resistant, it focuses all its energy on good branching and bud production. The most compact dwarf rudbeckia, ‘Toto Lemon’ grows six to eight inches tall and ten inches wide.

The fluffy, zinnia-like blooms of ‘Maya’ are sunny-yellow with green centers. A pioneer in double flowered dwarf rudbeckias, it is a perennial in zones 5-9 and grows just eighteen inches tall. It was awarded a Fleuroselect Gold Medal for compact plant habit and excellent garden performance after trials in more than forty public gardens across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ornamental seed heads can be left intact for winter interest.

Perennial Rudbeckias

The light green cones of ‘Prairie Sun’, surround orange-yellow rays brushed with lemon-citrus tips. Masses of long-lasting flowers with hues reliably consistent create bold accents in the garden or containers. The three foot tall plants will tolerate clay soils, but prefer organically rich loams. ‘Prairie Sun’ received both the All-American Selection and Fleuroselect Gold Medal awards in 2003 for stunning petal color combination, upright stems and excellent weather resistance. Grown as a perennial in zones 3 to 8, it can be started indoors from seed in late February or early March.

To commemorate their 150th anniversary, the city of Denver developed the ‘Denver Daisy’.  The signature plant is a cross between the native Rudbeckia hirta and the award winning ‘Prairie Sun’. Seeds were distributed to the public through schools, offices and organizations to help beautify the city. Huge six-inch pure yellow blooms, marked with a prominent rich mahogany eye, surround a black central cone. Compact and bushy, this drought resistant perennial (zones 3-9) flowers for months on strong stems that won’t flop, even in inclement weather. It grows 18 to 20 inches tall and 10 to 18 inches wide. It received the 2010 American Garden Award grand prize for its large, long-blooming flowers, extreme heat tolerance and pest resistance.

Bright splashes of gold, copper and brown petals highlight the vigorous Fleuroselect gold medal winner, ‘Cappuccino’. Uniform, well-branched plants grow 18 to 20 inches tall and 14 to 16 inches wide. It is a “cut-and-come” plant, so the more you cut, the more they bloom. Through breeding, these tetraploids have twice the chromosomes of other rudbeckias, giving them exceptional bloom strength. They are a hardy, long-lived perennial in zones 3-9.

The unique quilled flower petals of ‘Chim Chiminee’ in velvety, rustic shades are impressive in a butterfly garden or mailbox planting. This fast growing, multi-branching perennial is hardy in zones 3-9 and grows 24 to 30 inches tall. Flowers bloom from July until frost if watered weekly, especially in extreme heat.

Add a sprinkling of whimsy to your garden with ‘Irish Spring’. Yellow-orange rays surround a vivid green center disk creating five to seven inch daisy-like blooms. Basal clumps of bristly, olive-green leaves surround robust single flower stems. ‘Irish Spring’ blooms the first year from seed and is hardy in zones 3-8. It will also self-seed if given optimum conditions. It prefers moist, organically rich soil but grows well in average, well drained garden beds


Rudbeckia are easy to grow from seed and are available at retail locations, through mail order and from internet seed sources. Some of my favorite on-line catalogs for rudbeckia seeds include Johnny’s Selected Seeds (, Hazzard’s Seed Store (, Select Seeds (, Park Seed ( and T’s Flowers & Things (

For indoor propagation of annual rudbeckia, sow seeds six to eight weeks before your last frost date in a thoroughly moistened sterile, seed-starting mix. Put one to two seeds in each cell of the flat, pressing gently into the soil barely covering the seeds. Keep the tray in a warm location (70-72ºF is ideal for seed germination) until seeds sprout, usually five to fourteen days. Once the seedlings appear, place the flat under grow lights or near a sunny window. After two sets of leaves develop, seedlings can be thinned by pinching or cutting weak plants at the soil line. Tender seedlings need to be hardened off before they can be transplanted into the garden. Start by leaving plants outdoors in a shaded, protected location for about three to four hours. Over a seven to ten day period, gradually increase the time spent outdoors as well as the sun exposure. Perennial rudbeckia seeds started indoors can be placed in the refrigerator for four weeks, and then moved to warmer temperatures, to improve germination.

For propagating rudbeckia outdoors, sow seeds directly in the garden when daytime temperatures reach 60ºF. Choose a site with well drained soil and full to part sun. Sow perennial rudbeckias in fall or early spring. Gently press seeds into the soil making sure they are not completely covered. Seeds need light and moisture to germinate. Keep seedbed consistently damp. As seedlings grow, thin plants to maintain good air circulation. The mature size of the plant determines the correct spacing. Allow eight to twelve inches between annual rudbeckias and 18-30 inches for perennial varieties. Plant dwarf varieties closer together, spacing plants four to six inches apart.

Cultural Conditions

Most rudbeckias tolerate a wide range of well drained soils. Plants become weak and flowers flop when soils are too rich. Root rot is a problem if soils are too moist, so allow flowerbeds to dry out between waterings. All rudbeckias thrive in full sun. When grown in light shade, the flowers may be smaller and fewer. They will tolerate dry conditions, but prefer consistent moisture.

Blooming begins in about ten to twelve weeks for annual rudbeckias and continues until frost. Perennial seeds planted in early spring will bloom the first year. To extend the flowering period, be sure to pinch off faded blooms at the base of the flower stem. To attract birds and encourage reseeding, leave seedheads intact during fall and winter.

Black-eyed Susans are easy to grow, deer resistant and not plagued by disease or pests. If plants are crowded, leaves may develop powdery mildew during hot, humid weather. New seedlings in the garden may need to be transplanted to prevent crowding. Move thinned seedlings to another area of the garden or pot them up for neighbors or community plant sales. Perennial rudbeckias do not need regular dividing, however if plants become crowded, divide clumps in early spring just as growth begins. Watch for slugs and snails that like to eat the tender growth of seedlings.

Adaptable, gloriosa daisies thrive in containers, mixed borders, wildflower meadows, window boxes and cutting gardens. Mass planted or intermixed, combinations are endless. Pair their warm hues with the bluish-purples of Russian sage, liatris, salvia or fall blooming asters. Create stunning bouquets with the abundant blooms, which last up to three weeks in a vase.

Don’t let summer buzz by without enjoying rudbeckias in your garden. Grow them from seed or purchase plants at your favorite nursery.  Your only dilemma will be ­– which variety to grow? So move over ‘Goldsturm’ and make room for the new hirta hybrids!



‘PrairieSun’ is an All-American Selection Winner.



‘Goldilocks’ is a petite powerhouse.

Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds



Crimson flowering ‘Cherry Brandy’.

Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds



Large orange and mahogany blooms of ‘Autumn Colors’.

Photo courtesy of Colleen O’Neill Nice



The vigorous Fleuroselect gold medal winner ‘Cappuccino’.

Photo courtesy of Colleen O’Neill Nice



A Fleuroselect winner, ‘Cherokee Sunset’ displays vivid double blooms.

Unique color combinations of Rudbeckia ‘Orange Chocolate’.



Marked with a prominent rich mahogany eye, Rudbeckia ‘Denver Daisy’ is distinct.



Compact ‘Corona’ is refreshing.



Easy to grow, ‘Marmalade’ is great for beginners.



The captivating blooms of ‘Becky Cinnamon Bicolor’.



‘Chim Chiminee’ with quilled flower petals.

The perennial ‘Irish Spring’.



The fluffy, zinnia-like blooms of ‘Maya’.



The fluted petals of ‘Spotlight’.



Great for sunny window boxes, ‘Toto Lemon’ is blanketed with pastel yellow blooms from summer through fall.


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