Essays we have written over the years and articles featuring Glover Perennials that give insight into why, what and how we grow.
Don’t Let Your Garden Be A Pollinator Desert!
It has been six years since I wrote “Gardens are the New Nature” as the introduction to our 2010 catalog. Inspired by the newly released book at the time Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy, it was a watershed moment for me and I think many of us in re-thinking the purpose of gardening. Like most horticulturists, my schooling was in Ornamental Horticulture. Beauty is at the heart of our garden design decisions. Function comes into play from a human perspective: privacy screening, shading, storm water mitigation, etc. The goal is to use plants for their beauty and to perform functions that benefit people. What Douglas Tallamy opened our eyes to is that there is another reason to garden – to help restore balance to Nature by nurturing biodiversity in our own back yards.
Our gardens are the new Nature.
Awareness of gardening for this new purpose has certainly been rising. From honey bees to Monarch butterflies, news of the plight of charismatic pollinator species such as these is gaining more attention by the general public. The good news is this new purpose can easily be complimentary to our other gardening purposes.
Designing for a pollinator friendly garden uses some of the same principles we already know for traditional garden design:
- Plant an overlapping succession of flowering plants from spring through fall.
- Plant in masses.
- Plant a diversity of flowering plants.
Other principles for designing and maintaining a pollinator friendly garden:
- Select plants native to the region. Native plants are much more likely to attract pollinators than non-natives. Native pollinators have co-evolved with native plants. Pollinator emergence is timed with the flowering of their favored plant species! Personally, I do not believe we must go all native. However, to have a healthy percentage of our garden plants be native not only is easily attainable but can also be equally beautiful. At Glover Perennials we focus on offering natives with ornamental appeal. With over 200 herbaceous and woody species native to the Northeast U.S. in our 2016 catalog, there are plenty of plants to choose from (see page 182 for our list of NE U.S. native species).
- Select for a variety of flower forms and colors. Different pollinators are attracted to different flowers types. The greater the mix of flower types (composite, umbelliferous, tubular, nodding, etc.), the greater the diversity of pollinators you will attract.
- Emulate the look of nature. Native bees are either cavity or ground nesters. Give them some places to nest. Keep a standing dead tree or fallen log in your landscape. Keep some leaves in your beds. Do not cut back all your herbaceous plants in the fall/winter. Avoid disturbing & compacting your soils.
- As we continue to gain more knowledge about our human impacts on the ecology of our communities, we are learning to embrace Nature in our gardens. Not only does science lead us to this conclusion, I think it feels right too! Pollinators (and other wildlife) depend on it!
Tips for planting an alternative lawn on the North Fork
Click here for the article.
It seems to be a basic human instinct to be attracted to the sounds of birds in one’s surroundings. Birdsong imparts a feeling of tranquility that touches you deep in your soul. But songbirds offer much more than comforting background music. They are one of nature’s best pest control experts. By encouraging songbirds to your garden, you invite voracious insectivores to keep bug levels in check thus avoiding the need for insecticides. As it turns out, songbirds need our help as an increasingly human impacted world offers fewer and fewer refuges for their survival. You don’t need to be a birder to successfully attract songbirds to your garden. Plant the right plants, add a water feature and they will come.
Songbirds need four basic elements to inhabit an area: food, water, shelter and nest building materials. Other than water, plants can provide the rest either directly or indirectly. Songbirds as a group feed on insects and other small creatures like worms, seeds, berries and nuts. Native plants as a whole provide these food sources best. Have all three plant layers in your garden: trees, shrubs and a ground layer of flowers and groundcovers. Trees like oaks, birch, cherries and eastern red cedar are good choices. Shrubs and vines are extremely important for shelter, nesting sites and berry and insect food sources. Top shrubs and vines include: myrica, viburnum, lindera, sambucus, rhus, ilex, aronia, rubus, vitis, callicarpa, cornus, vaccinium, parthenocissus, lonicera, cephalanthus, rosa, itea. The ground layer is also important for shelter, nesting sites and seed, berry and insect food sources. Top ground layer plants include: helianthus, echinacea, solidago, liatris, verbascum, eupatorium, chamaecrista, rudbeckia, coreopsis, aster, phlox, opuntia, fragaria, iris, dennstaedtia, boltonia, agastache, mertensia, dicentra, podophyllum, arctostaphylos, hibiscus and grasses including panicum, andropogon, schizachyrium, sorghastrum and typha. When planted densely, the shrub and ground layers offer maximal opportunities. Lastly, don’t cut back your herbaceous plants in the fall. Wait until early spring. You will be amazed at the bird activity on those seed heads!
Knowing the aesthetic qualities of the above mentioned plants, I think you will agree that a garden for songbirds can be a garden of great beauty too!
Our offerings include an expanded range of strawberries for your gardening pleasure. It is hard to beat the joy of eating a fresh picked strawberry. We have fallen in love with alpine strawberries. Renowned for their highly aromatic scent and intensely sweet flavor, alpine strawberries delight the senses. We have embarked on a mission to explore the range of varieties and invite you to explore with us.
Native to Europe, alpine strawberries have been cultivated for centuries there. As a testament to the people of Europe’s appreciation for this delicacy, a plethora of varieties have been developed and a commercial growing industry exists to supply the demand. In addition to ‘Ruegen’, an old German variety, which we have offered for many years, ‘Weiss Solemacher’, another variety of German origins, offers sweet white fruit with a hint of pineapple. Two Italian varieties ‘Fragola di Bosco’ and ‘Fragola Quattro Stagioni’ offer sweet, aromatic red fruit. And lastly, ‘Reine des Vallees’ is a highly productive red variety from France and the variety most commonly grown commercially. As they do not produce runners alpine strawberries stay put where you plant them, whether in the ground or in containers. And as an added bonus they are everbearing only slowing down berry production in really hot weather. Enjoy!
Gardens Are the New Nature
Our gardens play a role in sustaining local biological diversity.
Although this is not an entirely new idea, few of us are actually gardening with this in mind. Why is this
becoming more important? To quote from Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy, ” in too
many areas of our country there is no place left for wildlife but in the landscapes and gardens we
ourselves create”. Although we have just begun to scratch the surface in our understanding of the
interactions between our gardens and the natural world in which we live, what is becoming clear is that
we, as gardeners, are playing an increasing role in sustaining local biological diversity as more and more
land around us is developed.
- “we simply have not left enough intact habitat for most of our species to avoid extinction”
- There simply are not enough native plants left in the “wild” – that is, not enough undisturbed
habitat remaining in the United States – to support the diversity of wildlife most of us would like
to see survive into the distant future
- “…the consensus among landscape ecologists is that 3 to 5 percent of the land remains as
undisturbed habitat for plants and animals.”
- “We can no longer safely relegate nature to our parks and preserves, assured that it will be there
for us when we need it. We can no longer replace the native vegetation in our neighborhoods
with foreign plants and remain confident that our native species will survive somewhere else.
We can no longer rely on local natural areas to supply food and shelter to the birds, mammals,
reptiles and amphibians of North America.”
These are profound statements that we cannot even begin to comprehend the full ramifications of. What
we do know is native plants sustain native wildlife. And we are also beginning to realize that
biodiversity sustains us humans, too.
Our gardens are the new Nature.
The good news is we can still have beautiful gardens that also sustain more wildlife. Glover Perennials
has been focusing for many years on offering natives that have ornamental appeal. We are fortunate in
the eastern U.S. to have a rich diversity of native ornamentals. Many are already popular because of well
known ornamental attributes, such as:
- Asclepias tuberosa
- Panicum virgatum
- Baptisia australis
- Phlox paniculata
- Hibiscus moscheutos
- Phlox subulata
Many more, though, are not yet well known by the general public. A few examples are:
- Aster laevis
- Parthenium integrifolium
- Carex laxiculmis
- Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
- Cunila origanoides
- Rhexia virginica
- Eupatorim hyssopifolium
- Scutellaria serrata & incana
- Gillenia trifoliata
- Sisyrinchium angustifolium
- Lonicera sempervirens
- Sporobolus heterolepis
- Mitella diphylla
- Waldsteinea fragarioides
- Muhlenbergia capillaris
- Zizia aurea
For too long our gardens have been viewed as divorced from nature: here is my garden and there is a
natural area. I highly recommend reading Bringing Nature Home. It will open your eyes to the large role
our gardens play in the natural world. We now have a reason to garden that transcends our needs as
gardeners. Who knew we had such an awesome responsibility?
Toward Sustainable Perennial Production
Our “green” credentials
With so much buzz about sustainability and reducing carbon footprints, I feel compelled to give you, our customers, an insight into how we produce our plants. We are proud of our practices and give much thought to how they effect the environment, the community and ourselves.
Since our beginnings in 1997, we have strived to adopt gentle nursery practices. Most container nurseries in our region were built by first stripping away the topsoil and growing on the sandy subsoil below it. The theory behind this industry norm is the sand provides a better surface on which to grow due to improved drainage. Unfortunately this practice destroys a farm’s ability to grow in the ground crops forever. Also, the exposed sand is more vulnerable to erosion and low in microbial activity.
Our nursery is built right on top of the topsoil. We feel that as stewards of our farmland we have a responsibility to retain the soil so that future generations of farmers will still be able to use our land after we are gone from it (hard to fathom right now!).
Since relocating our nursery in 2005 to our current 23 acre farm, we have embarked on an ambitious plan to manage our farm’s ecology. What was a monocrop hay field is slowly being transformed through plantings of a diversity of natives. The ultimate goal of this effort is to attract predators such as beneficial insects and birds to thwart pest outbreaks, using nature to control pests instead of pesticides. Having the largest selection of native perennial plant species in the New York area, it is also an excellent showcase of our plant offerings! The science on this is still limited so we are venturing into new territory but hope to be a model for managed farm ecosystems some day.
Low water use
We employ several methods in our irrigation practices aimed at reduced water use. In 2006, we installed a large drip irrigation area. Not only has this reduced our water usage but it also has the added benefit of reducing foliar disease pressure by keeping foliage dry. We also have nursery sections that are hand water only areas. Hand watering, although labor intensive, achieves the best results for some crops and for some stages in the production cycle. For the rest of the nursery, we use a combination of low flow heads and hand watering depending on the situation. We feel managing irrigation is one of the most critical functions in the nursery. Managed well, it can significantly reduce losses, the need for fungicides and water consumption.
Biofiltration of runoff
We manage runoff with the use of swales. Swales are planted with our native wetland plants which slow down the runoff reducing erosion and act as biofilters absorbing excess nutrients that may leach from nursery containers. They also make a great demonstration of our wetland plants in action!
The thought of putting pre-emergent herbicides on top of our containers is abhorrent to us. This puts employees (and you) at risk of exposure to herbicides every time a pot is handled. Glover Perennials uses no herbicides in our production practices. Our nursery containers are hand weeded. Our perimeter areas are mowed instead of sprayed with herbicides. Like the swales, the mowed areas act as biofilters and help to reduce erosion.
A Passion for Plants
When I was in the 4th grade, our class was assigned to read a book titled Big Tree, a story chronicling the life of a Giant Sequoia. I remember feeling it was unfair for the teacher to have assigned such a long book (80 pages!), before opening it. Quickly into the book though, I was captivated. By the time I was finished, my passion for plants was ignited. From then on, my direction in life was guided by this passion.
Glover Perennials pursues the craft of growing with a passion. The sight of seeds germinating stirs our souls. Figuring out how to grow difficult plants makes us proud. Talking plants with fellow plant enthusiasts excites us. We are perfectionists. We do not take shortcuts in our techniques that might compromise quality. We do not treat all plants to the same growing regimen for our own ease. On the contrary, we dedicate extra time, brain power and resources to utilize a variety of techniques in our growing operation to ensure all plants are getting the best treatment.
Our passion also extends to our pursuit of growing plants new to us. Glover Perennials is a leader in offering new plants to the trade in the northeast. We have named and introduced a number of plants ourselves, with many more in the pipeline.
A great deal of effort has gone into putting these offerings together. Some new items have taken five years for us to finally have enough to offer. We hope you are as excited about them as we are!
Big Tree helped ignite my passion for plants and ultimately my career as a grower. Maybe you had a Big Tree moment in your life. I started reading Big Tree to my daughter Ella (she complained it was too long too!). Hey you never know…
Looking forward to sharing our passion for plants with you.
Native in the Northeast
North American gardeners are blessed with an amazing diversity of native perennials. Many can be found right in our own home towns. However, this diversity is not fully appreciated. A few natives are among our more popular perennials including Phlox subulata, Phlox paniculata and Tiarella cordifolia. Yet, there are so many more native species to be “discovered” by gardeners and plant professionals alike.
There has been a historic bias in the horticultural industry against the use of natives. Probably the most compelling reason for this is that natives were equated with weeds. If it grew in the woods, the wetlands, the fields, it surely was not “worthy” of garden use. Plants needed to be distinct from the natural world and refined by man before they were accepted by the gardening public.
People’s views about the natural world are changing. We are beginning to open our eyes and realize there are multitudes of attractive native plants out there fit for garden use. They offer advantages beyond beauty, too. Selected appropriately, native plants have low maintenance requirements because they are well adapted to our area.
Joanne and I have incorporated some natives into our own garden, many of which have become highlights of the garden. Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem) is so pleasing to look at just about all year long. I used to say that Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) was my favorite orange flowered perennial. Now, I include it among my favorite perennials, period. Heliopsis helianthoides with a heavy show of yellow daisies mid to late summer came from my grandma’s garden, so it is very sentimental to me. Towering above all else is the trellis covered wall of Aristolochia durior (Dutchman’s pipe) that screens our front porch so well. Planted in July, it still grew to the top of the trellis (10 feet!) by the end of the first year. With very large heart-shaped leaves this plant is an effective screen. Panicum amarum ‘Dewey Blue’ is a winner – graceful, clump-forming blue foliage turning buff for winter with attractive seed heads August through winter. Then there’s the Opuntia humifusa (Prickly pear cactus). Cacti always evoke curiosity – especially in kids. Our one native cactus is no exception. Just watch the spines!
Understanding the environmental site conditions that dictate which plants will grow where and the ability to choose plants accordingly is the key to successful gardening. Natives offer us an opportunity to choose plants adapted to the climate and soils of our region. With so many natives now available successful gardening has never been easier!
– Native in the Northeast
Lawnless on Long Island
Who would dare create a lawnless landscape? Or at least one where lawn is subordinate to other landscape elements? Up until recently, and even to an extent today, this would be labeled as heresy. Why is this, given that there are so many benefits to doing so? (See our ‘Cover your Ground’ for a detailed discussion on the benefits of groundcovers).
The precedent in this country for lawn dominated landscapes is well established. The original American suburbs, built after the Civil War, were designed with closely cut grass flowing unimpeded from one property into another. Other landscape elements were subordinated to the lawn. In the 1870 edition of The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, Frank J. Scott wrote “Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe, and your flowers its not too promiscuous decoration”. Even today, this design approach continues to dominate the suburban landscape.
There has always been room for trees, shrubs and other perennials, of course. But, trees would typically be found in lawns. Shrub borders would typically be surrounded or fronted by lawns. Perennial borders would typically be set apart as an island in a sea of lawn. It was all about the lawn. Lawn was, and still is, king. Just about everyone has it whether it is useful or not. And God help those who failed to mow their lawn in a timely fashion lest they face the wrath of the entire neighborhood!
I am not suggesting a no mow approach to lawn maintenance. I am suggesting to take an honest assessment of your lawn areas. Where is it useful and where is it not? Keep it where it is useful then set out to replace it everywhere else.
When Joanne and I bought our first house we immediately began to transform our front yard into a front garden. The overgrown shrub foundation planting was removed, as was about four-fifths of the lawngrass. We even removed the lawngrass in the planting strip between the sidewalk and the street. It was replaced with mixed plantings dominated by herbaceous perennials with some shrubs and small trees for structure. Plants were installed a little bit at a time (busman’s holiday!), and we noticed a significant reduction in weeding as areas fill in. That, I would contend, is a primary goal of perennial gardening: covering your ground! Once good coverage is established, maintaining your garden is no more time consuming (and quite possibly less) than mowing your lawn weekly. Warning: this approach can be addictive! Due to its ability to offer so much more beauty, and provide a constantly changing landscape through the seasons, one may be compelled to spend extra time in the garden.
Although I do not think our neighbors “got it” when we first set out to change our property, we eventually got driveby slowdowns and walkers stopping to admire our little oasis on a street otherwise dominated by lawn. Perhaps this is the greatest benefit of all to converting lawns into gardens – sharing the beauty with your neighbors.
-Lawnless on Long Island
Cover your Ground!
Anyone who has spent time weeding a garden through a whole season knows that bare ground does not stay that way for long. It is quickly colonized by volunteer plants we generally label as weeds. We could simply pile on mulch every year and be done with it, but how boring and sterile a landscape is that? Alternatively, we could apply herbicides multiple times throughout the season, but who wants to pollute the environment and expose themselves, their family and pets to unsafe chemicals? Not me. I like to walk around my garden barefoot. Besides, groundcovers make the most effective pre-emergent herbicide of all. Experienced gardeners know that weeding, as a maintenance function, drops off to next to nothing when a garden bed reaches full coverage of the ground surface. Why not beat the weeds to the punch, hold off on the herbicides and plant groundcovers?
Groundcovers do more than simply choke out weeds. When we incorporate groundcovers into our garden beds and allow some tree leaves and twigs to accumulate among their foliage, we allow decomposition to occur on site. This gives nutrients and beneficial microbes back to our garden soils. By doing so, we reduce the need for fertilizer applications and promote a healthier soil. Picture a shrub bed with pulmonarias, tiarellas and carexes as the groundcovers. Instead of sanitizing the bed each fall of all leaf matter, allow some of it to accumulate between and among plants. Not only will it improve the soil, but it will also act as an insulator to buffer the plants from winter injury.
Groundcovers can help to reduce water and pesticide needs also. We can select plants that have low water requirements. We can also reduce, if not eliminate, the need for pesticides through selection of species or varieties not prone to insects and diseases. It is also important to remember to site plants where they will thrive as a means of avoiding insect and disease problems!
By their presence alone, groundcovers discourage foot traffic when planted around trees. Foot traffic causes a reduction in soil porosity that limits the ability of tree roots to breathe which can lead to poor health. Consider using groundcovers as a way of avoiding conflicts between people and trees. Tough groundcovers such as Carex ‘Ice Dance’ and Rubus calycinoides would be good candidates for such situations.
Looked at from an ecological perspective, groundcovers are the “third layer” in our gardens just as they are in nature. Trees and shrubs comprise the first and second layers, respectively. It is these three layers together that create a diversity of habitat necessary to attract much of the wildlife in our communities. By including a “third layer” we are encouraging a greater diversity of wildlife. Birds and other animals will find the cover they need for nesting, hunting and foraging. Some groundcovers will also provide a food source in their flower nectar, fruit and seeds. As gardeners we understand that our gardens are a part of the natural world and we are their stewards.
Glover Perennials is committed to helping you select the best groundcovers for your needs.