The Beekeeper’s Garden

shirley poppiesIt seems a bit presumptuous, to be writing about gardens for honey bees, as I am no authority. However, we do keep bees here at Stonewell Farm, and aim to keep them as healthy and well provided for as we can. Our gardens were well in the making long before we began keeping bees.  For the sheer pleasure of having an abundance of blooms and color, we planted annual cutting gardens with cosmos, larkspur, china asters, sunflowers, zinnias, gladiolii, dahlias. In February’s dead of winter, I scattered millions of charcoal colored  poppy seeds upon the blank,white canvas of snow, as if making a sketch for a richly colored painting that would materialize four or five months later; for our pleasure and stimulation, not the bees.


But now we’re gardening for the bees as well. Gone are the Plume Poppies (macleaya cordata), pretty, in fact striking, but also poisonous to honeybees. We’ve learned that the Agastache, which is invasive here, and which we’ve been trying to weed out, provides a great source of nectar and pollen for honeybees, and so we’ve adopted a cautious tolerance of it; leaving some for the bees, in gardens which are not so particularly “curated” (which just so happens to be in the environs of the hives), and tearing it out where it will create aesthetic and horticultural conflicts with us. We have never been ‘lawn’ people.  We do have large, expansive stretches of “grass”, which means a green groundcover, but anyone can see that it’s mostly weeds cut short. Since there’s an abundance of dandelions and clover, both of which provide significant sustenance to honey bees, we’ve adopted an attentively diplomatic laissez-faire policy of allowing these plants to flower….attempting to mow when we think we’ve struck a balance, or compromise, between satisfying the bees and our neighbors. That means mowing before the plants set seed, and keeping the blades at the highest setting, to allow for the emergence of more blooms.

It just so happens that the plants we love are also plants that the bees love, and so now, the wheels begin turning for future garden plans and where we’ll put all these bee-friendly plants. Here’s a short list of plants that honeybees love, for those who would like to contribute to their welfare.

  • Agastache
  • Cosmos
  • Mint
  • Poppies (papaver orientale, papaver rhoeas, escholzia. papaver nudicaule)
  • Nepeta
  • China Asters
  • Clover
  • Dandelions


Designing the Cutting Garden

annual flowers for bouquets

Classic ‘Cutting Garden’ flowers

Much of our gardening business work is designing residential ‘cottage’ style gardens. When we meet with new clients, we ask them to complete a four page questionairre, which provides detailed questions about their color preferences, allergies, lifestyle, as well as some multiple choice questions about their “dream garden”. One of these questions asks if the client would like a ‘Cutting Garden’ and this bears a footnote explaining what a ‘Cutting Garden’ is. ” A cutting garden is a garden area, arranged much like a vegetable garden, but the crop is flowers, with the purpose of providing material for floral arrangements. These are usually planted in rows to facilitate hoeing and weeding, as well as to accommodate effective staking configurations.”

Eight out ten times, the client writes YES, however, after all these years, we have only installed one cutting garden for a client. I suppose that when folks figure out that a cutting garden is somewhat labor intensive, not quite as labor intensive as a vegetable garden, but close enough, it discourages would be floral arrangers, from having one. It’s a shame, really, because, where a kitchen garden feeds the body, a cutting garden feeds the soul.

Why a separate ‘Cutting Garden’, people ask. Why not just tiptoe into your cottage garden or perennial border with a pair of secateurs and harvest some flowers for the house? Well, yes, many people do this, and if you have a very large garden it is an option, however, you’ll deprive the ‘borders’ of some of their floral beauty, and, anyway, many of the lovely bouquets you see at Farmer’s Markets, and particularly those that be associate with ‘Summer’ are composed of classic cutting garden plants, which are annuals; Larkspur, Cosmos, Dahlias, Zinnias, China Asters, Statice, Sunflowers, Bells of Ireland, and these need to be planted every year, which would mean leaving plenty of blank spaces in your perennial borders for the planting of annuals. Furthermore, that means leaving ‘open-ground’, that is, ground that is not mulched (the seeds won’t emerge from mulch) and this introduces some very nit-picky weeding. No. In my mind, it’s more efficient to have a dedicated cutting garden, and it’s easily done

Designing a Cutting Garden requires no greater skills or horticultural knowledge than common sense and a ‘back of the seed packet’ familiarity with the plants one wants to grow. Here at Stonewell Farm, we plan the cutting garden with rows that are running on a North-South axis. This way, the rows will all receive as much East-West sunlight as possible. This can get a little tricky if you’re growing very tall sunflowers, for instance, in which case, its best to plant them in a quadrant of their own so that they won’t cast too much shade on their neighbors. That said, we try to keep plants of similar heights in rows close together.

Classic Cutting Garden Plants:

richly colored dahlias

With blooms in nearly unlimited shapes, sizes, and colors, dahlias are the essence of a late summer bouquet.








glorious gladiolas

Gladiolas are ‘hip’ again, . There’s nothing dowdy or grim about these tall beauties, that shine in an arrangement.


colorful china asters

Few flowers are as cheerful and exuberant in an arrangement as China Asters in summer.

colorful larkspur

The annual Larkspur, Consolida ambigua, is so fresh, elegant and poetic, that it’s worth the extra effort to get these seeds into the ground early, when the soil is about 55 degrees F.


What makes you glad to be alive? Zinnias.  All the colors of the rainbow, (except blue) and with the so-called 'cactus-flowered' types as well, nothing could be simpler to grow than these horticultural twins of Prozac!

What makes you glad to be alive? Zinnias. All the colors of the rainbow, (except blue) and with the so-called ‘cactus-flowered’ types as well, nothing could be simpler to grow than these horticultural twins of Prozac!




Jam a few sunflowers into a cheap vase and it looks like a million bucks! Here, the goldfinches get to them before we do, but then, what’s the downside? Goldfinches and sunflowers is a win-win, here at Stonewell Farm.


Seeds, Glorious Seeds!

Today, our order of seeds from Fedco arrived. A box load of optimism, an engine for self-reliance and sustainability, and the hope and prayer that we will, yet again, have the health and strength and spirit to do right by these tiny capsules of life, flavor, nutrition, beauty and artistry. This year I’ve ordered 38 packets of vegetable seeds and 30 packets of flower seeds. On the order sheet, which the ‘packer’, who is also a co-owner, (as Fedco is a cooperatively owned entity) checks off and signs, there was this handwritten note: ” Just saw your address and it made me smile! I am from Chester, CT! (the next town over from us). I’ve lived in Maine now since 1984. I hope your gardens do well! :). It was signed and she provided her maiden name as well as the name she now uses. So sweet.

Nothing could sum up the reason that I buy from this company better than that. Such a lovely, kind and thoughtful touch.

It’s still a bit too early to start propagating seeds in the unheated greenhouse, with the wildly fluctuating daytime/nighttime temperatures, but we’ve started the onions and leeks, and they’re going great guns in the Oak Room, thriving, along with the 46 baby chicks with whom they share the space. I will get around to taking photos; eventually. In the meanwhile, with so much more to do before Spring arrives, I direct my attention to my Stonewell Cottage business, garden design projects for clients, and the renovation of our own gardens in preparation for a major fundraising event that we’ll be hosting in June.

Happy garden planning to you!

Flower Seeds: Self-Sowers

images of perennial border with annual poppies

Annual poppies enhance the cottage garden effect in a sunny perennial border,

Today I received a bulk order of my favorite flower seeds; all 72,300 of them. These are considered self-sowers. While these are mostly annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials, once these plants become established in the garden, they will continue to cast their seeds about, ensuring that they reappear each year, albeit in unpredictable places. These include Shirley poppies, foxgloves, Sweet William, Bachelor Buttons, Cosmos sulpherus, Nigella damascena and Columbines.

The annual poppies, of which there are many varieties including papaver rhoeas, papaver nudicaule, escholzia (the yellow, orange and cream colored California poppies), along with Bachelor’s Buttons, Nigella damascena, (aka Love-in-a-Mist) and Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) enjoy full sun. But one must be able to tolerate the somewhat scruffy look of the spent flower stalks in the garden as the plants need to produce seedpods, mature and then cast their seeds in order for them to multiply.

image of foxgloves behind perennials

Foxgloves provide a nice transition between a perennial border and a woodland.

The foxgloves and columbines thrive in a bit of shade, making them perfect candidates for creating a naturalistic transition between a sunny perennial border and the edge of a woodland, which is how we use them. Here, they’re shown with salvia, nepeta, agastache and a few self-sown Shirley poppies.

As we gear up for Spring, you might want to consider ordering some of these seeds,  to cast about the gardens and create a relaxed, cottage-garden/wildflower look. They’re usually inexpensive; geez, for $3.95 I got 44,000 seeds. If only 1% decide to germinate I will still enjoy a few colorful blooms that offer the promise of future generations. Go for it!

Top Ten Flowering Shrubs – Part I

Luddite that I am, I keep a handwritten garden journal where I record observations on the gardens’ performance, To-Do lists for Spring and Fall, and Wish Lists, several of them. Perennials, or Dahlias, or Shrubs. They are long lists and the longer I garden, the longer they get. Having said that, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite shrubs, the ones we use over and over, in our own gardens and in the gardens we design for others here in New England Zone 6. To qualify for inclusion in my Top Ten Flowering (Deciduous) Shrubs, the shrubs have to meet the following criteria: low maintenance, reliable performance, flexibility and beauty. Here are the first five on the list, and the others will follow in Part II:


English: Hydrangea macrophylla - Hortensia hyd...

English: Hydrangea macrophylla – Hortensia hydrangea, picture from Longwood Gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Will it be considered cheating if I include several different types? The classic Mopheads, (blue or pink, depending upon your soil) Bigleaf Hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla) are stunning in the late June and July garden. A hedge of them is lovely, where they can get morning sun but some shade in the afternoon and they’re great at the back of a perennial border, if you have the depth. There are dwarf varieties available, for those with small gardens. They combine well with roses, which, if allowed to drape over them, can create beautiful color combinations. Ditto for clematis. The large-flowering white snowballs are Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ (now also available in pink…yes ‘Blushing Annabelle is on the wish list) are magnificent plants and can give even a two year old garden a quality of maturity. They can take quite a bit of shade. The oakleaf hydrangeas have airy white pannicles that light up a shady spot. Their foliage turns a rich mahogany red in the fall, adding interesting color to the shrub border.


Once again, there are several varieties, early flowering, late flowering, pink flowers, white flowers, golden leafed, dark-leafed.

Spiraea japonica: Flower heads Svenska: Rosens...

Spiraea japonica: Flower heads Svenska: Rosenspirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This is an old standard that’s had a garden revival with all the new cultivars that are now available. One of my favorites is a golden leafed version with bright pink, almost fuschia colored blossoms. It likes full sun but can take some shade, and it really lights up a shrubbery border when contrasted with dark or silver

Golden-leafed weigela provides a luminous, impressionistic quality to a shrub border.

Golden-leafed weigela provides a luminous, impressionistic quality to a shrub border.

leafed plants.

Philadelphus (Mock-Orange)

Commonly known as Mock-Orange, this shrub is lovely when flowering, yes, but, more importantly, it’s is all about fragrance.  You can smell its sweet perfume from 30′ away and that alone is reason enough to plant it in a sunny spot somewhere near a patio or where you like to spend time in your garden. There are several cultivars available, some with single blooms, others, double. I like Minnesota Snowflake, a clear, pure white, double blossomed version. It doesn’t have much going for it, other than good clean dark foliage and disease and pest resistance, when its not flowering, so plant other small shrubs or perennials at its feet to provide floral and/or foliage interest throughout the growing season.

Philadelphus lewisii. Real Jardín Botánico de ...

Philadelphus lewisii. Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

We all know this large shrub as Butterfly Bush and it’s ubiquity might make it seem a bit too common to include in this list, however, there are some truly spectacular cultivars that deserve a place in every garden. White Profusion is of a slightly smaller stature than the usual variety and yet it is positively covered with fragrant white panicles from mid to late summer. Dubonnet(wine red), Dark Knight,(deep purple) and some of the other richly colored cultivars make a wonderful grouping with White profusion, and an easy ‘island border’ that reduces mowing while, at the same time, producing lots of material

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) 'White Profu...

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) ‘White Profusion’ 2 (Photo credit: John Brandauer)

for floral arrangements, Fragrant ones, to boot!

The gardens in late Spring

English style cottage garden

Annual poppies combined with cranesbill, delphiniums and a golden-leafed caryopteris create a lively cottage garden effect.

When I bundle up in late winter and launch out into the gardens with my jars full of saved poppy and cleome seeds to scatter them about on the snow, this is exactly what I have in mind. Winters seem longer than ever and this Spring has felt like a true Spring, cool and long. The present rains are contributing magical performances in the gardens, for which we’re grateful. It’s a good year for the roses.

Honorine de Brabant climbing rose is a precious creature.

Honorine de Brabant climbing rose is a precious creature.

It’s always a challenge to create gardens that possess integrity, charm and romance. They can be either very high maintenance or easy-going low maintenance; it takes careful planning.  Pictured above is Herb Garden. Perennial herbs abound in this garden and it is relatively low maintenance.

Poppies enliven the driveway border at Stonewell Farm.

Poppies enliven the driveway border at Stonewell Farm.

This border, which is designed to flower from April through October, demands attention throughout the growing season. It’s worth it! The annual poppy seeds that I sow in February make a big statement in June. They are so beautiful and delicate.

Shirley poppies and anthemis

Shirley poppies and anthemis

Over the next few days, I’ll post more about our gardening schedule during this season. Cheers! Happy Gardening!

Volunteer Fun

Dill volunteers

Dill, poppies and a few cosmos

Assessing the grounds after a strangely mild winter, it was fun to come upon the valiant and vigorous volunteer seedlings in the gardens. Last month, while clearing the old kitchen garden fence, we rolled up the plastic deer netting and set it into a corner of the garden with the a stone on it to re-use for the new garden fence. Setting the new posts a week or so later, we noticed some seedlings around the netting pile. We moved the netting and discovered a large, vigorous patch of dill seedlings clustered in approximately 5 or 6 square feet, and interspersed with a few poppies and cosmos around and beneath the netting and near the south facing foundation of my studio. Meanwhile, in another section of the garden we noticed quite a lot of cilantro, some lettuce, and a few mustard greens. For me, the lesson to be learned here, is to pay attention when nature decides it’s the right time to start growing certain things.

Self-sown, red-leaved mustard green ‘Senposai’

Letters from Stonewell: Garden Design

Spring Flower border

The exuberance of Spring.

Speaking personally, the creative work of making paintings,or creating gardens ,or designing  interiors (even writing about them), emerges from the same place; a passion for beauty, harmony,grace, clarity,colorfulness and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of playfulness.  I share a professional commonality with painters, landscape designers, landscape architects, interior designers, architects, sculptors, and, yes, farmers and gardeners. My interest in horticulture, and the studies I’ve pursued in this field, are similar to those that I pursued in painting; knowing my materials and tools, knowing the history of the craft and the art. Pigments, paints and techniques are supplanted by plants; trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and their behaviour and how they contribution to a landscape, and yet, I still garden like a painter. I see the big picture and focus on the overall effect, not the details of particular plants and their attributes.

Andrew’s vision comes from a different place. Born, raised and having lived most of his life in a designated protected area in England, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, his point of reference is farmland; sweeping vistas of sheep and heather clad hills and dales, into which are nestled villages, into which are further nestled, like Russian dolls, cottage gardens nestled within those villages. He knows those personal, private gardens. They create luxurious floral displays and fecund kitchen potagers in cozy settings that suggest homeiness, intimacy and respite. Andrew’s horticultural qualifications, through the Royal Horticultural Society, have provided him with the training and education to objectify and analyze the workings of  gardens and landscapes. He’s good at it, and, as a stone artisan, he understands the importance of hardscaping and structure in a landscape.

We share a dialogue about gardens and garden design. Perhaps not always verbal, but usually visual; we move plants around, we place shrubs and perennials in different locations, we shift ourselves and the plants to various places until we find an arrangement that we feel can,and will, in time, become settled,rich, beautiful, exuberant. Only then do we commit to a garden plan, and when that happens there’s a sense of great satisfaction we share because we know that our individual strengths have come together, in a way that could not have been articulated through language or pen and paper, but through a shared sense of beauty.

I don’t remember who it was who said that creativity is ” 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”, but whoever it was, he/she wasn’t far off the mark.

I’d like to think and write more about the process of creating a lifestyle along with a landscape into a more self-sufficient and aesthetically satisfying environement.  With this is mind, I took the plunge and registered ‘lettersfromstonewell’ as its own domain. The new location is ‘’ I hope you’ll visit often.

The Garden Enclosure; Part I: Building a rustic fence, this time, to last!

Deerproofing the Kitchen Garden with Rustic Cedar Fencing

rustic garden fence built out of cedar

cedar garden fence in a rustic style

Here we go again. We performed ‘extreme unction’ on the old kitchen garden fence, built with hardwood saplings, after the hurricane took it down. Few tears were shed. Building a fence with hardwood saplings is a fool’s errand and, when we built it, 5 years ago, we knew it and did it anyway. Why? Gardening season was upon us, we needed a rustic garden fence and we needed it fast. We used what we had on hand, a surfeit of saplings,an embarrassment of enthusiasm, and the inspirational drive to create an enclosure that would do the job of keeping undesirable creatures (deer, chickens, ducks, raccoons, etc…) out of the garden and, at the same time, enhance the rustic and humble landscape in which our home and garden sits.

The new rustic garden fence is being built with cedar, preferred by traditionalists for its durability and performance as a rot resistant fencing material. We had a supply. Challenged with ‘cedar apple rust’, a fungal disease hosted by cedars, that  afflicts apple trees and was threatening the health of both our established orchard and our newly planted apple espaliers, we made the difficult decision to cut down the 15 mature cedars (30’+ high) that served to screen the front of the property in an effiort to eliminate disease and improve the health of our fruit trees. Mindful and task-driven, we harvested the cedars trees with care and deliberation, cutting the timbers to sizes, lengths and dimensions that would suit our future rustic fence designs. We stored them and seasoned them for a year to bring us to the place where we now find ourselves; creating anew, our kitchen garden enclosure.

Happy Spring

Happy Easter

Whatever our faith might be, we have all looked forward to the hopefulness and revitalization that this season brings…all the more precious for its brevity.  This coming weekend we’re expecting some wonderful weather so while many will be out preparing an Easter Egg hunt, we will be rebuilding our garden fence to keep the adorable creatures pictured above, where they belong; on postcards or pasture but not in the gardens. We wish you a Happy Spring!