Hydrangeas in All Their Glory

Can you think of a more beloved plant in New England than the Hydrangea? Its flowers have many forms, ranging from beautiful rounded mopheads in shades from light blue to rich, almost purple blue; to showy panicles in shades of pink and white; to delicate lacecap flowers in tones of pink and blue. New varieties are expanding the range of flower color into the red spectrum. In terms of size, there are varieties ranging from 2ft to 8ft in height. Some varieties can even be grown in containers. And the climbing hydrangea is as beautiful as it is unusual. Some varieties are also available in tree form. This means there is a hydrangea for every location!


Hydrangea macrophylla “Twist n’ Shout”


There are 6 species of Hydrangea commonly grown in our area: 

  • Hydrangea macrophylla, perhaps the most familiar to us when we think of Hydrangeas 
  • Hydrangea paniculata, increasingly popular for its reliable blooming habit 
  • Hydrangea arborescens, the most shade tolerant of all Hydrangeas 
  • Hydrangea serrata, the hardiest of hydrangeas, whose elegant lacecap flowers are like jewels in the garden 
  • Hydrangea quercifolia, with its striking oak leaf shaped leaves 
  • Hydrangea petiolaris, which will climb fences and trees 


For more information about each of the 6 species of Hydrangeas, including information about when to prune, see our Hydrangea Plant Care Guide. 

Hydrangeas come into bloom just as the first flush of roses is fading. Beginning in late June and continuing into the fall, they offer a strong presence and a long season of interest in the garden. The flowers subtly change color as they mature, often remaining on the plant into and through the winter, fading to a lovely tan color. The stems of the plants remain upright through the winter, adding structure and form to the winter landscape. 


Hydrangea flowers and interest to the landscape even in winter!


We love Hydrangeas for the wonderful show of flowers they provide. However, in some years, winter conditions can affect that show. In harsh winters the dormant flower buds may be damaged, either by extreme cold or by an unusually warm period followed by a sudden return to frigid conditions. Temperatures of minus 10-15 degrees, which we experienced in early February 2023, combined with a lack of insulating snow cover, may mean a diminished show this summer. 

Plant breeders are doing wonderful things to improve the performance and increase the varieties of Hydrangeas available to us. They have a bright future. And a long past. Hydrangeas have been found in fossils from 45-60 million years ago!  

When in season, select Hydrangeas are available on our online store for pick-up and local delivery!


Shop Hydrangeas Online


Rhododendrons + Azaleas: A New England Favorite

Rhododendrons, the quintessential New England foundation planting, are so familiar to us we refer to them fondly as ‘Rhodies’. When we think of them, we most often think of the varieties with large evergreen leaves that have showstopping trusses of pink, lavender, or white flowers in late Spring. In addition to the classics we know and love, there are many other varieties to consider, such as those that offer flowers in soft yellow, rich purple, and even red. As well as the familiar large leaf varieties, there are lovely small leaf cultivars to consider. Rhodies can range in height from low growing 2 foot tall varieties to substantial 12 foot (or more) varieties. Smaller varieties work well in mixed borders while the larger varieties can be planted as a hedge or a single specimen, to act as a privacy screen.

A conversation about Rhodies wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their cousins, the Azaleas. Azaleas are as much a mainstay of home landscapes in our area as Rhodies. They are beloved for the color they bring in the Spring and early Summer and their easy care, low maintenance nature. There are evergreen varieties and beautiful deciduous varieties whose fragrance will fill the garden. Azaleas look great as part of a foundation planting or in a mixed border with perennials and other shrubs.

Deciding which variety of Rhodie or Azalea to choose will depend on the available space and the light conditions in your garden. Generally, azaleas prefer partial shade but they will tolerate considerable sun. The large leaved Rhodies are a better option for shady sites.

If you are wondering whether you have an Azalea or a Rhododendron, the easiest way to tell is to look at the flower and count the stamens. Azaleas have five stamens. Rhodies have 10 or more.

Rhodies and Azaleas are grown around the world. In addition to our New England gardens, they are known to provide one of the most beautiful backdrops in sports. The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA is almost as famous for the billowing masses of colorful, mature Azaleas and Rhododendrons that line the course as it is for the skills of elite golfers. Just think, we can create that beautiful back drop in our own gardens!

For more information on caring for Rhododendrons and Azaleas see our care guide.


The Importance of Water

Water, that most precious of resources. It is the basis of all life forms, without which we, our gardens, and all the creatures who inhabit them could not survive. In recent years we have been faced with significant drought conditions. While lawn turf will go dormant in times of drought and then green up when rains return, this is not the case with our ornamental plantings. To help our gardens cope, we need to ensure they have sufficient water but at the same time, we don’t want to see our water bills go through the roof!  

Newly planted trees and shrubs are the most sensitive to water deprivation. Ensuring that water reaches the roots is critical to the plant’s survival. And even established trees and shrubs will appreciate periodic watering in times of drought.  

There are several ways this can be accomplished in a water-wise manner: 

  1. Leave a hose on a slow trickle at the base of the plant sufficient to soak the root mass. 
  2. Slowly pour large buckets of water around the plant, allowing each bucket full to soak into the soil. 
  3. Hook up a dripper hose on a timer which will relieve you of the burden of finding time in your busy schedule. 
  4. Know which of your perennials are more drought tolerant (ex. Sedum, Coneflower, Yarrow) and those which need regular watering to look their best. Using a watering can or a hose on a very gentle trickle applied at the base of the plant is the best way to apply water where it is needed most.  


Sedum are drought tolerant plants.


When and how much we water our plants is of course influenced by how much rain we receive. While it is tempting to skip your watering duties when we get a light afternoon shower, be mindful that a light shower is not likely to be enough to soak the depth of the root ball. This year our plants are particularly stressed because they did not have an insulating blanket of snow to help protect them from drying out and in addition, our Spring rainfall total is well below average. Knowing that established plants require at least an inch of water every week, it is helpful to keep an eye on your weather app or an old-fashioned rain gauge to track weekly totals. 

And remember, most plants prefer deep infrequent waterings to frequent shallow ones. See our planting guide for more information! 


Uncle Mike’s Guide to Tomato Patio Gardening

There’s nothing like harvesting your own fresh tomatoes! Even if you don’t have a lot of space, you can still enjoy this delicious summer staple by growing tomatoes in containers.

Important tips for your patio tomato garden:

  • When choosing your container, bigger is always better. The larger the container the better the plant and harvest will be. You’ll also see fewer problems with blossom end rot, lack of water, and overall health from lack of nutrients because more soil will hold more nutrients and water.


  • When choosing your tomato varieties bigger is NOT always better. Try to grow the medium to small size tomatoes instead of the large ones. Large tomato varieties like big boy or beefsteak are less forgiving with lack of water.


  • Always fertilize. Plants in containers use up nutrients more quickly and you’ll need to replace these nutrients by using fertilizer. Uncle Mike plants his tomatoes with an organic granular fertilizer like Espoma Tomato-Tone and adds Neptune’s Harvest throughout the season with every other watering.



  • Tomatoes grown in containers tend to be more susceptible to blossom end rot. Many people don’t realize that blossom end rot is a calcium deficiency not a disease and the cure is calcium, not a fungicide. This makes fertilizing even more important as a preventative step. You could also try adding Espoma Organic Garden Lime or MagiCal for extra calcium. Remember, prevention is better than a cure. It’s best to keep this fertilizer and/or calcium in the soil before you have a problem because if your plants do develop blossom end rot the fruit should picked off and discarded. Don’t wait to feed!


  • Use the proper soil. A typical soilless potting mix could dry out too fast for your tomatoes. Add a little compost to a regular potting mix or use a raised bed mix like Castline Raised Bed Mix or Organic Raised Bed Mix.


Uncle Mike’s Favorite Tomato Varieties for Containers:


Not a generic term but a variety. A dwarf plant with medium size fruit. Great for containers 10 inches in diameter or larger.


Patio tomato

Better Bush

A good dwarf plant with small to medium fruit. Plant in containers that are 10 inches or larger.

Moby Grape

This grape is a determinate variety so the plant won’t get too big and it’s everything you will expect from a sweet grape tomato. Plant in a 10 inch container or larger.


Moby Grape tomato


This is another dwarf plant that stands somewhat vertical and not too wide. The fruit is delicious. Plant in a container 10 inches or larger.

Tiny Tim

A very small plant with small cherry sized fruit. Truly tiny, this one is a great conversation piece as it only gets about 12 in tall! Ideal for a patio table when you have company over. This one can be grown in a very small pot, 6 inches or larger.

Jet Star

Both the plant and the fruit are not too big. Uncle Mike loves this tomato because it’s will be quick to produce nice medium size fruit with a thin skin. It’s also considered to be one of the least acidic tomatoes out there good for pots 12 inches or larger.

Black Krim

This is a nice heirloom variety is a medium-sized plant that produces medium-sized fruit. Purplish in color and very tasty, you can plant it in containers 12 inches or larger. Watch out for heavy watering or rain as they come close to ripening because they crack very easily!


Black Krim tomato



This is medium to large tomato that’s on a determinate vine. If you want to try a large tomato in a container this on is the one to try. It’s crack resistant as well. Use a pot that’s at least 12 inches in diameter.

San Marzano

This is a sauce tomato but most sauce tomatoes are determinate so that means it’s a bush type plant and will tolerate containers. In addition to being great for sauce, these are awesome for salads, salsa, and cooking too!

Celano Patio Grape

This is our first dwarf grape tomato; it’s a semi-determinate hybrid with very sweet fruit. This plant will produce an abundance of grape tomatoes perfect for snacking! Best in containers that are 10 inches or larger.

Little Napoli

A fantastic sauce tomato you can grow right on your patio. Disease resistant, determinate, produces small oblong fruit, delicious in cooking or eating fresh from the vine!


Theoretically, a tomato can be grown in any size pot if you keep the plants watered and fertilized. But following Mike’s recommendations for container sizes will make it easier for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor (and it should mean less labor too!)


Weeping Ornamental Cherry Trees: A Gift From the East

Looking for a small, elegant and unique flowering tree for your landscape? One that is hardy, low maintenance and sure to draw admiring glances from your neighbors? Look no further than the weeping cherry tree. Available in pink and white flowering varieties, their delicate blossoms open along gracefully arching fine branches.

But weeping ornamental cherries are more than one-season wonders. Their glossy green foliage brings a sense of calm to the summer garden. With the arrival of fall, the leaves turn golden. In winter, the bronze bark offers rich color and interest. And despite their delicate appearance, weeping cherries are completely hardy and will come through our worst winters without missing a beat.

These trees first came to our country’s attention early in the 20th century. In 1912, the government of Japan gave a gift of 3,000 trees to the people of the United States. The first two trees were planted in a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, by First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. With planting complete, the stunning display of flowering trees became known as The National Cherry Blossom Festival. Next year’s Festival is planned for March 20 – April 14. If you plan to be in Washington DC at that time, you are in for a treat!

And to bring the story full circle, in 1915 the United States Government reciprocated with a gift of flowering dogwoods to the people of Japan.

Check out our printable care guide for more information on planting and caring for these beauties!



Choosing the Right Pottery for Your Home, Porch, or Yard

Pottery is an investment that can add interest to your home and show off your personal style no matter what plants you choose to put in them. But with so many styles and colors to choose from, deciding what’s right for you and your plants isn’t totally straightforward. We are here to help demystify the process with a few things to keep in mind when choosing a container for your home, porch, or yard.

Size Matters.

When it comes to pottery, size is a major factor both for your budget and for the health of the plants you place in your pots. You may be tempted to go big so that you never have to re-pot but be careful! When plants are planted into containers significantly larger than their nursery pots the root system is not robust enough to absorb all the water in the soil and that can lead to root rot. A good rule of thumb when transplanting into a new container is that the diameter of the new pot should only be about two inches wider than the plant’s current pot.

If you fall in love with a decorative container that’s too large for your plant but you know that it will eventually grow into it you can slowly acclimate it to the larger pot using inexpensive grow pots that fit inside your decorative container or by using an Ups-A-Daisy, which will reduce the amount of soil you need in the pot until your plant’s root system is ready for more.

An Ups-A-Daisy can reduce the amount of soil needed to fill your pot!


On the flip side, you do not want to try to cram a plant in a six-inch diameter grow pot into another six-inch diameter decorative pot, particularly if the decorative pot has a tapered bottom. Never go smaller, your plants need room to grow.


Drainage and Airflow are Important.

You may have noticed that when you buy plants, they usually come in plastic containers with several drainage holes along the bottom. Air is every bit as important to a healthy root system as water. Roots cannot breathe when the soil is sopping wet, all the air molecules get crowded out by water molecules. If you are planning to transplant directly into a decorative container, drainage holes are a must. It is even better if you can get air moving under your plant. Pot feet or Ups-A-Daisys are a terrific way to do this.

Pot feet create airflow under your container.


Some decorative indoor containers are manufactured without holes so that indoor surfaces are protected. These are called cache pots and it is best to leave your plants in their grow pots (with all those drainage holes) and pop the whole thing into the container. Check out the video below for how to use a cache pot!



Different Materials Meet Different Goals.

Now that we understand the basics of size, drainage, and airflow, it is time to choose a container made from materials that meet your specific needs.

Terra Cotta

A favorite of plants everywhere and a classic that is making its way back into chic and modern home design, terra cotta is a smart choice for even moisture distribution and healthy roots. Because terra cotta is porous, oxygen exchange is facilitated throughout the root system, not just at the bottom. Additionally, terra cotta absorbs excess moisture to prevent plant roots from staying soggy for too long. These days, terra cotta is available not just in the classic earthy orange but also in attractive “chocolate” and “vanilla” tones to seamlessly integrate into any color scheme.

Terra cotta is the hands down favorite of most plants.

Glazed Pottery

Speaking of color, nothing offers the variety of hues like glazed ceramic pottery. Additionally, you will find a broad selection of shapes and sizes and many of these pots are crafted to be frost resistant. However, keep in mind that frost-resistant does not mean it is freeze-proof. Water expands when it turns to ice so moisture in your planters can push a ceramic pot to the breaking point during a freeze. Raising your outdoor pots off the ground with pot feet can help create airflow that will melt the ice during warmer days. When in doubt, it is best to empty your ceramic pots and bring them into the garage after Christmas to protect your investment. A dolly is helpful for this!

Glazed pottery at Mahoney’s in Winchester.

Lightweight Fiber Clay

Great for indoors or out, lightweight fiber clay offers the gravitas of stone with the easy maneuverability of durable plastic. Fiber clay is freeze-tolerant, making it a good option for year-round use but keep in mind, using ice melt around them will corrode the finish. Keep them looking great by avoiding the base of the pot when using ice melt.

Lightweight fiber clay, also known as fiber cement.


If you know you will be moving your pots around to suit your design choices or crops each season, plastic is another great and affordable choice. It’s ideal for container gardening with herbs, veggies, and annuals and available in several different colors and finishes. Do be sure to bring these inside for the winter. Plastic will easily crack if it gets too cold. Fortunately, this is easy to do since they are so lightweight!

Plastic pots are easy to stack, store, and move throughout the season.

Cedar Boxes

The ultimate choice for New England, cedar boxes are classic, beautiful, and easily withstand freezing temperatures. Cedar will naturally weather to a lovely beachy grey tone, but you can preserve the original wood color by staining with a protective finish or paint to suit your color palette. Be sure to treat inside and out to prolong the life of the wood and if you are using the container for edibles, finish with non-toxic linseed oil.

Cedar boxes are the most durable choice for year round use.

Specialty Pots

Certain plants will benefit from specialized pots to live their best life. These include orchids, which are epiphytes and like their roots to be extremely well-aerated. That’s why orchid pots have holes in the sides to provide sufficient air circulation! On the other hand, African violets and ferns like to stay consistently moist and self-watering pots are great for this purpose.

The terra cotta inner pot wicks moisture up to the plant from the decorative reservoir!






Now in bud and bloom: Lilacs




The fragrance of lilac is often associated with feelings of “home” or other pleasant memories. We seem able to remember the fragrance even decades later. The clusters of fragrant flowers that adorn the lilac bush in mid to late spring mean that summer is just around the corner.  

Lilac is easily grown in well-drained soil. It will bloom its best in full sun conditions. Choose a location that allows for good air circulation to minimize the potential for mildew on the leaves. Prompt removal of faded flower panicles will help increase the bloom count for the following year. This is also the best time to prune to control the size of the plant, if that is necessary. Pruning is best done by the first week in July. After this time, the plant will be setting next year’s flower buds and pruning will sacrifice next year’s flower show. 

Planting a lilac near the house means that the heady fragrance can waft through open windows. Planted as a hedge, they make an effective, not to mention fragrant, screen. As part of a mixed border planting, they mix beautifully with roses and peonies.  

As a cut flower, they are a delight. Fill a vase with cool water. Using a sharp pair of hand pruners, cut when the lilac panicle (the entire cluster of flowers) is one-quarter to one-half open. Use your pruners to split the stem a couple of inches up the center to allow the stem to take up water. It is not necessary to crush the stem. Crushing the stem will not help the lilac take up water.   


Syringa meyeri Palabin 

Also known as Dwarf Korean Lilac, ‘Palabin’ is smaller, denser and more rounded in its habit than traditional lilacs. It typically grows 4’-5’ feet tall and 5’-7’ wide, making it suitable for small gardens. It has very fragrant purple flowers. They are arranged in 4” clusters that are perfectly scaled to the shrub. This variety is particularly resistant to powdery mildew.  


Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ 

‘Miss Kim’ is a compact, upright variety which grows 4’-7′ tall with a similar spread. It has deep purple buds that open to reveal clusters of 3” long, highly fragrant, lavender blue flowers. The flowers bloom slightly later than other lilacs, extending that heavenly season of lilac fragrance. Leaves are very resistant to powdery mildew. They are burgundy tinged in the fall, adding to this shrub’s appeal.  


Syringa vulgaris ’Sensation’ 

‘Sensation’ is unusual in that its flowers are bi-colored. The clusters of blooms are composed of individual purple flowers, each edged in white. They are sweetly fragrant. The effect is charming. Rich green foliage is held on upright branches. In time it reaches a height of 10’-12’ and a width of 6’. ‘Sensation’ will be a sensation in your garden.  


Syringa vulgaris ‘Agincourt Beauty’

‘Agincourt Beauty’ has some of the largest flowers of any lilac. Deep violet in color and sweetly fragrant, the 6-12 inch flower clusters cover the shrub with bloom. The plant has an upright form, reaching a mature height of 8-15 ft.


Syringa vulgaris ‘New Age Lavender’

This lilac has lovely full-sized soft lavender flowers on a 5 ft by 5 ft shrub – half the size of traditional lilacs! If you have limited space but yearn for the traditional lilac fragrance, this may be the lilac for you. An added benefit is its resistance to mildew.


Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’

Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ has pale pink buds that open to large, intensely fragrant double flowers in tones of white and blush pink. Growing 8-12 ft tall, this shrub makes a beautiful statement in the garden.


Reblooming Lilacs 

In recent years plant breeders have developed lilacs with the ability to rebloom. After the first flush of springtime bloom, these lilacs take a rest in the heat of summer before flowering again later in the summer and into the fall. The second bloom cycle is not as heavy as the first, but it is still showy. Pruning immediately after the spring bloom will create a fuller shrub with more branches and encourage more flowers. These lilacs display good mildew resistance. Their compact size allows them to fit into smaller landscapes and they make a nice addition to perennial beds, mixed borders and foundation plantings.  The Bloomerang series have large and fragrant flower clusters displayed on a dense and branching shrub which is perfectly sized for the small garden. 


Syringa xBloomerang Purple’ 

Clusters of lilac purple, sweetly scented flowers cover the branches in spring and continue off and on until frost. It grows 4’-5’ in height and width, making it suitable for small spaces. It is a nice addition to the mixed border and can be used to create a fragrant, low hedge. 


Syringa xBloomerang Dark Purple’ 

‘Bloomerang Dark Purple’ is slightly larger than others in the series, reaching 6’ in height and width. Its flower clusters are larger and more rounded in form. It has striking deep purple buds which open to classic deep lavender purple flowers. 


Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Declaration’  

Introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum, this outstanding cultivar has large, dramatic clusters of deep reddish-purple blooms that can be 8”-12” in length. It has the wonderful fragrance of the hyacinthiflora hybrids. Maturing at 6’-8’ tall and 5’-6’ wide, it is smaller than traditional lilacs, making it perfect for growing near a patio or in a mixed bed. 


Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Mount Baker’ 

Lilac ‘Mount Baker’

‘Mt. Baker’ has intensely fragrant white blossoms in spring. Growing 10’-12’ high and wide, it retains branches close to the ground, giving it a full appearance. The foliage has strong resistance to mildew and remains attractive over a long season.  


Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Purple Glory’ 

‘Purple Glory’ has luxuriant deep purple flowers that are wonderfully fragrant. There is a heavy bloom set even on young plants. New leaves will emerge in spring with a purple blue blush, and in fall these purple highlights return. Dense foliage fills branches low to the ground. Growing 12’ tall and 8’ wide, it makes an attractive specimen plant and can also be massed in a hedge or screen.