Mad Gardeners get in the mood for spring plantings

Sharon, Conn. – There was still snow on the ground on Friday, March 1, when the Mad Gardeners held a spring planting symposium in one of the greenhouses at Paley’s Farm Market on Route 343. For flowers, black is ‘in’The event, attended by more than 30 area professionals — growers, garden designers, retailers and dedicated home gardeners — was an opportunity to share ideas and hear about the latest trends in the gardening world. Such as: Black is the new pink. Sounds like a diktat from a fashion magazine, but in fact, it’s the newest trend in flower colors, according to Mitch Rand of the Ball Seed Co., one of the largest horticulture companies in the world. And to prove his point he gestured to page 9 of the Ball catalogue: black velvet petunia, phantom petunia, ‘blackout’ Heuchera, black pearl ornamental pepper, “After-Dark” Agonis. But actually, the It color for this year is green, he said. Think acid and lime. Also, fragrance — after years of being an afterthought to the shape, size and color of a plant — is making a comeback.Charlie Paley, host of the symposium, and Roberta Scott, owner of Falls Village Flower Farm, (they are, by the way, siblings) may have some black varieties on hand, but both said that what they care about most is sustainability, longevity, durability. Andy Durbridge, a garden designer and the moderator of the symposium, said, “One of the things that growers do is filter, by their years of experience, the plants that work well, that thrive in our region. They weed out the finicky, troublesome plants that may not be worth the soil they’re planted in.”Scott, who presented at the symposium, said, “I don’t sell anything that I haven’t successfully grown at the nursery. If you want to be [a plant] in my nursery, you have to be disease-resistant and look good all season.” That means she usually sees a plant through several growing cycles before she recommends it. While some of the talk was about the fun, sexy stuff such as new varietals — begonias are leaving their slightly waxy, stuffy, Victorian image behind as they go either jumbo or micro in new styles and colors — the focus was also on troubleshooting and how to best serve the customer. Dangers that lurkRand talked a lot about downy mildew, a plague that was prevalent last year on impatiens. Apparently, entire swaths of the colorful, hardy, ground-covering plant have been wiped out by this fast-moving fungus. Paley noted that as of last year it hadn’t hit this corner of Connecticut, but he asks himself if he’s going to grow lots of impatiens this year. “It’s usually a pretty bulletproof plant. I used to sell a lot of it, but it seems customers are branching out.” This segued into talk of the begonia and hardier varieties of impatiens, such as New Guinea, divine and sunpatiens.Durbridge also spoke about the solid science behind mixing it up with plantings. “When you invest in a plant, that is, use a lot of one type, and it’s not so successful, it makes a very good case for mixing things up. If you have a lot of one thing and it fails, your landscape will suffer. The more variety you have, the more sustainable your garden will be.”Glories of the greenhousePaley gave the participants a tour of one of the greenhouses. Stepping inside was like walking into spring. A deep aromatic loamy smell of earth rose from the hundreds of flats of pansies getting ready for their April debut. Paley talked about the economics of the nursery business and how he balances the needs of his customers with the staggering costs of fuel oil, cardboard and plastic, of which he uses copious amounts. This year for the first time, he will be using Cowpots, the plantable invention of the Freunds of North Canaan. The seedling pots are made from manure from the family’s dairy farm.Paley also recycles as much of the plastic as he can, and yes, he welcomes returns of the 4- and 6-inch pots with his logo on the side. Falls Village Flower Farm specializes in herbaceous perennials and woody perennials, such as roses and hydrangeas. Scott said, “Some of the best perennials, that will work well, have been around for awhile.”She is a big fan of hellebores. They are, she says, “virtually indestructible. If you give them time, you can turn them into ground cover. They live forever and are low maintenance.” Scott left the audience with a long list of plants she’s excited about. The mention of blue yonder agapanthus elicited oohs and aahs from the crowd.While winter looks to be hanging around for a few weeks more, the Mad Gardeners of Northwest Connecticut are already plotting and planning, and growing in their greenhouses.Paley’s opens for the season on March 30. The next Mad Gardeners symposium is March 9 at Housatonic Valley Regional High School. And there will be a Mad Gardeners workshop March 8 at an 18th-century property in Sharon that is undergoing renovations.For information, go to

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