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In the Gardens Blog

Tanacetum 'Isla Gold'

Tanacetum 'Isla Gold'It’s tough to wax poetic about a plant that thrives in roadside ditches. Tansy, or, to give its full name, Tanacetum vulgare, is one of those herbaceous perennials that gardeners admire for one season, then note to their distress that the plant is spreading everywhere and so pull out by the roots thereafter. Tansy grows easily in average, dry-to-medium, well-drained soil. It also grows easily in rich, moist soil. It grows in sun and it hangs on in full shade. Nurserymen call such a plant ‘versatile’. Homeowners often have less kind words.

But then there’s Tanacetum ‘Isla Gold’, several good-sized mounds of which can be found in the Bressingham Stroll Garden. Astute gardeners see ‘Isla’ in a plant’s name and assume that the cultivar originates at the now defunct (and mourned) Isla Nursery in Cambridgeshire, England. Isla Gold did, indeed, originate there. If your average, roadside tansy is to be tolerated as a fill-in before something better comes along, Isla Gold is twenty-four karat enjoyment.

Geranium Rozanne

Geranium RozanneThere’s a river flowing through the center of the Bressingham Stroll Garden, but it’s not of water. It’s of geraniums, specifically, a dazzling, blue-violet Cranesbill geranium called ‘Rozanne’. It’s a beautiful plant that is covered with a profusion of two-inch-wide flowers from late May through the first heavy frost. Hundreds of these hardy plants meander through the garden; the boldest statement at Elm Bank’s newest garden.

Rozanne is a story of keen observation, perseverance and technology. In 1990, Donald and Rozanne Waterer noticed a pair of particularly attractive geraniums growing in their retirement garden in Somerset, England. They collected seeds and, from the resultant seedlings, found that the offspring was exceptional, with stronger growth, larger flowers, a long blooming season and more attractive foliage than the parents. 

Carex 'Ice Dance'

Ice Dance

Carex “Ice Dance”, an ornamental sedge, has a place in every shade garden. It is prolific and breeds like a bunny rabbit. Plant it this spring and, by next year, you’ll have plugs to share with your friends. Moreover, it’s tolerant down to Zone 5. The key to the preceding is ‘shade’. “Ice Dance” best achieves its fetching, long, shiny green leaves outlined with white when placed under a tree or shrub.

When Adrian Bloom laid out the Bressingham Garden, he deliberately placed a series of this appealing grass at one of the corners of the ‘Times Square’ intersection of several walkways in the garden. ‘Ice Dance’ looked great all summer but, by the end of September, there was sun scald across the top of the grasses.

Lithodora 'Blue Star'

Lithodora diffusa
Blue Star

When planning a garden, there’s nothing wrong with playing it safe. In eastern Massachusetts, rudbeckia is a guaranteed long bloomer and geranium ‘Rozanne’, with its prolific, long-lasting dark blue flowers, has proven why it was perennial plant of the year in 2008. Both have a place in anyone’s planting scheme.

But every gardener also needs to step out on the edge if his or her hard work is going to attract second looks. Perhaps it’s a plant that pushes a zone or a shrub that prefers shade placed where it will get half-day sun. The reward for taking chances is achieving the unexpected.


Coming Clean

by Neal Sanders
Leaflet Contributor

It is time for me to come clean.

In these essays over the past year, I have shared with you what I hope are some moderately amusing insights into the world of gardening and horticulture. I have written of my brush with Lyme disease and the formulation of the Rule of Three. I have pontificated on the rite of the January Thaw and the rights of the turtles that lay eggs in my garden.

For the past nine months, though, I have been living a double life. And because I will be unmasked in the next few days (and my double life has been hinted at in the press on at least one occasion), I feel you should hear of that transgression directly from me.

I am the chairman of Blooms!

Blooms!, as you know from reading the rest of the Leaflet, comprises six distinct activities at the about-to-open Boston Flower & Garden Show. There are two floral design divisions, an amateur horticulture division, a bevy of plant societies, Ikebana, and a day of lectures. I have the overall responsibility for making certain these things happen on schedule.

I spent 35 years in the corporate world, managing ‘stuff’ (further explanation puts people to sleep), none of which was remotely horticultural. I am blessed, however, with a spouse who has achieved the rare hat trick of being a nationally certified floral design judge, a lifetime master gardener, and an astute observer of the human condition.

Because of her, I am able to parrot certain phrases that allow me to sound as though I know what I am talking about when I am speaking to the heads of the various divisions. It is a skill akin, when in a foreign country, to being able to inquire where is the nearest lavatory in the local language. Unfortunately, just as when I have been in Egypt or Greece, the words spoken in response to my question are unintelligible to my ears. Only the accompanying pointing is useful.

Despite my hopelessness to the task, the 2010 version of Blooms! will be unveiled in all its glory on Wednesday morning. If it is a rousing success, it will be the result of six astonishingly accomplished people. Like me, none of them volunteered for this. They were pushed to the front by their respective organizations or else they stepped up when they saw that help was needed.

If you are in the Blooms! area and see their names on badges, please stop them and congratulate them. In no special order, they are Carrie Waterman and Ellen Todd, the co-chairs of Amateur Horticulture; Art Scarpa, the coordinator of all things having to do with Plant Societies, Maureen Christmas and Joyce Bakshi, the irrepressible heads of, respectively, the Division I and Division II floral design competitions, and Gilbert Moore, who heads the Ikebana International display.

The time these people have given to make Blooms! possible is astonishing. Each has devoted, at minimum, many hundreds of hours over the past nine months to planning and executing their respective group’s exhibits. Over the past few weeks, their work has been non-stop. They, in turn, have each overseen several dozen far-flung volunteers who worked on committees within committees.

Two ‘professionals’ also merit gratitude for going far above and beyond anything in their job descriptions. Clark Bryan is MassHort’s director of facilities. He keeps in his head (and is slowly putting on paper) the enormous inventory of show-related property MassHort has in its basements and a warehouse. Every stick of furniture and every prop you see in the Blooms! area and in the three MassHort parcels was recycled from earlier shows, thanks to Clark’s prodigious talents. The second professional who must be thanked is Paul Miskovsky. Paul is a trustee of MassHort and a virtuoso landscaper, but he is also extraordinarily generous with his resources. If you visit the Big Red Chair while at the show, know that everything around it was supplied by Paul, and that it was Clark who had the inspiration to build an exhibit around the chair.

My job has been, for the most part, to stay out of these capable people’s way. When I have been of help, it has been to coordinate their activities with Carolyn Weston, who talked the Paragon Group into putting on a flower show, and who has choreographed the resulting taste of spring for winter-weary Bostonians. It is clear that Carolyn thrives on this responsibility and it shows in her consummate professionalism.

It is invigorating to be around MassHort these days. It’s more than just seeing the first perennial shoots coming out of the ground in the Elm Bank gardens: it’s recognizing that the organization has come through a long spiritual winter with its mission and drive intact. I hope you’ll come to the flower show this week and share a sense of that re-birth.

Neal Sanders is a frequent contributor to the Leaflet. We encourage you to read his contributions to our In the Gardens Blog where he focuses on interesting cultivars that can found in the Elm Bank gardens. Neal's first novel, Murder Imperfect, has just been published. You can learn more about it here or order it through


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