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It’s been a frenetic spring for the crew at Cricket Hill Garden. On top of all of our usual work, this year we are also clearing three acres. This additional space will provide us with more growing space as we expand our nursery.

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View from the tractor of the new area. The clearing is set in a larger area of mixed hardwood second and third growth woodlands.  About 60-70  years ago this was a pasture for the farm that occupied this land in the early 20th century. The large timber trees are sent to a saw mill, and the smaller diameter pieces down to 4” will be used to grow shiitake mushrooms. The clearing will give us the sun and space to grow more fruit trees and peonies.

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Meanwhile, in a less chaotic area of the nursery, first peony of the season opened on 4/25. It’s Paeonia meirei, a rare wild species from Yunnan province, in southwest China. 

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‘Hosui’ Asian pear is also in full bloom.

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We came across this cluster of herbaceous peony seedlings deep in the woods! I guess it goes to figure that even the squirrels are peony fanatics around here. 

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We are still pruning away winter damage. The worst effected of our tree peonies are some of the Central Plains, or Zhongyuan cultivar group from central China. This is the most damage we have ever seen in our quarter century of growing these cultivars. While none of the damage is fatal, there will be many fewer flowers this spring on some of our old favorite tree peonies. 

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More winter damage, with new growth coming from lower buds which held onto their dormancy in our warm fall and early winter and were thus unaffected by the Valentine’s Day freeze of -10 F.

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Some damaged buds are still making a valiant attempt to flower, without any petal formation. More fully formed flower buds can be seen below the aborted blossom.

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Some of the beds in our display garden are a carpet of trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) this time of year.

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Weed control is one our biggest problems at the nursery. We are committed to organics and have never used chemical herbicides.  It takes a lot more time and energy to apply mulch on our production beds than it would to spray, but  we also live where we work and believe that everyone is healthier without a dose of glyphosate.

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For our tree peony graft beds, we hope that the combination of landscape fabric and a coir fiber mulch disk will greatly reduce the time we will spend hunched over this summer yanking weeds.

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The distinctive chartreuse stems of ‘Golden Wheel’ stand tall in the nursery. 

 

 

 

Just as one can never “step twice into the same river,” so to do we gardeners know that no two seasons are exactly alike. So far 2016 has provided us at Cricket Hill Garden with unprecedented challenges relating to our wildly fluctuating spring temperatures. Some of our tree peonies and fruit trees have not fared well after a very warm fall, a generally mild winter punctuated by brief periods of bitter cold and a spring which as seen a highs in the 70s and lows in the teens.

Tree peonies and many of the fruit trees are perfectly hardy to the -10 F we saw over Valentine’s Day weekend if they are fully dormant. This year, because of the warm fall and winter, many buds on early blooming tree peonies and fruit trees (particularly members of the genus Prunus such as peach, cherry, apricot and plum) were not totally dormant when the extreme cold struck and were thus much more vulnerable. The later blooming tree peonies, including the Chinese rockii, Japanese and hybrids were fully dormant when the severe winter cold struck and appear unaffected.

The plants most badly injured by our low of 17 F last week were the earliest blooming, and thus most far advanced, tree and herbaceous peonies. These were not uniformly injured; we saw the most damage in our nursery beds on recently propagated plants. For even the most badly injured cultivars, established specimens in our display garden came though without too much damage. The bottom line is the wild weather this spring once again demonstrates that peonies are tough plants which will continue to add beauty to a world with wild weather and changing climates.

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Plump buds on ‘White Screen Reflects a Blue Jewel‘ lookin’ good a week after a hard freeze! 

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Tree peonies which had damaged buds going into to last week’s freeze are looking pretty sorry. Luckily we only see a few cultivars badly effected like this.

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Some early blooming hybrid herbaceous peonies had buds freeze.

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Early to leaf out and bloom hybrid herbaceous peonies which were divided last fall were the worst effected of any peonies in our nursery.

 

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Some 1 yr. tree peony grafts also suffered some damage. On very young plants like this we always pinch off the flower buds. This year a mercurial Mother Nature saved us the trouble!

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All in all, the peonies in our nursery are looking great as we hopefully move into warmer and more stable weather. We looking forward to a great season!

 

As our tree peonies begin to wake up for the spring at Cricket Hill Garden, we are seeing more flower and leaf bud damage than usual. The damage is most acute on the earliest blooming varieties of Chinese tree peonies. This freeze damage was caused by the few days of very low temperatures (-10° F) we experienced over the Valentines Day weekend. Fully dormant tree peony buds are hardy to temperatures below this low. Last fall’s extraordinarily warm weather caused the buds on many of the early blooming tree peonies to break dormancy in December and thus be vulnerable to freeze damage. Lucky, the vast majority of our tree peonies remained dormant throughout the winter and appear the be leafing out normally now. We do not expect this spring’s peony bloom to be any less spectacular than those in years passed, proving once again that tree peonies are a hardy, resilient plant which bloom beautifully year after year even in an age of unpredictable weather.

If there is any damage to this year’s tree peony buds, it should be quite apparent by now. Damaged buds will be brown a shriveled, while viable buds will be reddish pink.

Later blooming tree peonies, such as Japanese cultivars and the Lutea hybrids still have very little growth apparent. Because these did not break dormancy in the winter, we do not anticipate that these suffered any damage.

This early blooming variety of Chinese tree peony seems to have suffered severe dieback to the top growth. Very few buds on the woody stems look like they survived the winter. Tree peonies are resilient and already this plant is sending up new growth from the roots. It may be a few years before it next blooms.

It’s been a beautiful autumn thus far in northwestern Connecticut, with warm sunny days punctuated by just enough rain to moisten the soil in time for fall planting.

The warm weather will hopefully continue for another week or two and ripen these black figs. We find that lighter colored figs, such as our own 'Silver Dollar' variety ripen earlier and more rilable in our climate.

The warm weather will hopefully continue for another week or two and ripen these black figs. We find that lighter colored figs, such as our own ‘Silver Dollar’ variety ripen earlier and more reliable in our climate.

Its been a great year for many of our fruit trees. We don't harvest these crab apples, but leave them for the intrepid song birds will have striped the tree bare by winter.

Its been a great year for many of our fruit trees. We don’t harvest these crab apples, but leave them for the intrepid song birds will have striped the tree bare by winter.

Quince paste is on the list of weekend projects.

Quince paste is on the list of weekend projects.

'Anne' fall bearing raspberries will continue to produce until the frost. Unfortunately the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive fly, arrived in our raspberry patch this summer. The populations seem to have decreased now that the weather has cooled off.

‘Anne’ fall bearing raspberries will continue to produce until the frost. Unfortunately the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive pest, arrived in our raspberry patch this summer. The populations seem to have decreased now that the weather has cooled off.

Curing seed of our favorite Chinese cucumber. We have saved this seed for years.

Curing seed of our favorite Chinese cucumber. We have saved this seed for years.

Its no peony, but the rugosa rose we planted in the orchard is pretty spectacular on its third flush of blooms this season. Its magnate for bees.

Its no peony, but the rugosa rose we planted in the orchard is pretty spectacular on its third flush of blooms this season. It’s a magnet for bees.

Nesturtiums provide some late season color in the garden and spark to our salads.

Nasturtiums provide some late season color in the garden and spark to our salads.

Persimmons in need of planting. Another weekend project....

Persimmons in need of planting. Another weekend project….

Planting peony seeds as soon as they are ripe gives them time to germinate in the fall. This herbaceous peony will take off next spring.

Planting peony seeds as soon as they are ripe gives them time to germinate in the fall. The white root radical is visible on this herbaceous peony seed which was planted about a month ago.

We are busy planting our tree peony grafts...

We are busy planting our tree peony grafts…

A page out of our propogation log book.

A page out of our propagation record book.

A grafted tree peony planted a few weeks ago is confused by the warm weather and has begun to grow. It needs to be tucked back in (covered in soil) and told to go back to sleep until March.

A grafted tree peony planted a few weeks ago is confused by the warm weather and has begun to grow. It needs to be tucked back in (covered in soil) and told to go back to sleep until March.

Planted graft beds. We are commited to growing our peonies without herbacides and spend countless days a season weeding our nursery beds. This year we are using more plastic in hopes of cutting down on our weeding next season. Though we would prefer not to use

Planted graft beds. We are committed to growing our peonies without herbicides and spend countless days a season weeding our nursery beds. This year we are using more plastic in hopes of cutting down on our weeding next season.

We at Cricket Hill Garden will be taking our beautiful plants and delicious mushrooms on the road this summer, traveling to farmers’ markets all over Connecticut. Below you will find a our summer 2015 farmers’ market schedule. We hope to see you at one of more of these fabulous markets.

IMG_42957/15 Wilton Farmers’ Market

7/16 Westport Farmers’ Market

7/18 Norfolk Farmers’ Market

7/22 Keep it Local Wednesdays Torrington Farmers’ Market

7/23 Southbury Farmers’ Market

7/25 New Haven Wooster Square Farmers’ Market

7/30 Clinton Farmers’ Market

8/5 Old Greenwich Farmers’ Market

8/8 Milford Farmers Market

8/12 Wilton Farmers Market

8/13 Westport Farmers’ Market

8/15 Litchfield Farmers’ Market

8/20 Southbury Farmers’ Market

8/22 New Haven Wooster Square Farmers’ Market

8/27 Clinton Farmers’ Market

8/30 Coventry Farmers’ Market

9/2 Old Greenwich Farmers’ Market

9/5 Norfolk Farmers’ Market

9/10 Westport Farmers’ Market

9/16 Wilton Farmers’ Market

9/17 Southbury Farmers’ Market

9/19 New Haven Wooster Square Farmers’ Market

9/20 Coventry Farmers’ Market

For years we have grown herbaceous peonies from seed. We have a large collection of cultivars from a number of different species of herbaceous peonies, so our open-pollinated seeds have yielded some beautiful new plants. Have a look at some of our favorites from the test garden below.

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Though we are honored and humbled to be known as Peony Heaven, we grow (and sell) a lot more than just peonies here at Cricket Hill Garden. Over the last few years we have added many interesting edible landscaping plants to our garden and orchard. Some of these younger plants are beginning to come into bearing this year. These trees, with the more established pear and apple trees in the garden add up to much salivation in anticipation of the harvest to come.

Before we forget about peonies, its worth noting the 'Cora Louise' intersectional peony has had a very long bloom this year.

Before we forget about peonies, its worth noting the ‘Cora Louise’ intersectional peony has had a very long bloom this year.

This was another great week for our shiitake mushrooms.

This was another great week for our shiitake mushrooms.

We were happy to sell our entire crop this week to some very fine Connecticut resturants.

We were happy to sell our entire crop this week to some very fine local resturants.

We are looking forward to what looks to be a fine crop of 'Taylor' red raspberries ripening in about two weeks.

We are looking forward to what looks to be a fine crop of ‘Taylor’ red raspberries ripening in about two weeks.

Our native Connecticut cactus, prickely pear or Opituna humufusa, is getting ready to bloom.

Our native Connecticut cactus, the eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), is getting ready to bloom.

Mullberries are starting to ripen.

Mulberries are starting to ripen.

Two seperate visitors asked this week: "Is that a avacado?" We were happy to reply, that no, its a pawpaw! We think these trees look great in the landscape with their tropical-like foliage.

Two different visitors asked this week: “Is that a avocado?” We were happy to reply, that no, its a pawpaw! We think these trees look great in the landscape with their tropical-like foliage.

Nanking cherries (P. tomentosa) will be ripe in a few weeks. With the late spring this year and no frosts after the bloom we have a great fruit set.

Nanking cherries (P. tomentosa) will be ripe in a few weeks. With the late spring this year and no frosts after the bloom we have a great fruit set.

One of the more unusual fruits in our orchard, the 'Norris' che. This mulberry relative bears red fruit which taste like a combination of fig and watermelon.

One of the more unusual fruits in our orchard, the ‘Norris’ che. This mulberry relative bears red fruit which taste like a combination of fig and watermelon.

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Our ‘Chapin’ pear has a good fruit set this year.

'Hosui' Japanese pear. We grow our asian pears as 'no-spray' and are able to harvest delicious fruit with little insect damage  in late summer.

‘Hosui’ Japanese pear. We grow our Asian pears as ‘no-spray’ and are able to harvest delicious fruit with little insect damage in late summer.

Rhubarb in the garden, sharing a bed with red romaine lettece and nestersiums.

Rhubarb in the veggie garden, sharing a bed with red romaine lettuce and nasturtiums.

'Northern Spy' apple fruitlets. With the dry spring this year, the apple trees are not infected with scab or apple cedar rust.

‘Northern Spy’ apple fruitlets. With the dry spring this year, the apple trees are not infected with scab or apple cedar rust.

'Adams' American elderberry just coming into bloom.

‘Adams’ American elderberry  just coming into bloom.

'Samdal,' a European variety of elderberry has already blossomed and set fruit.

‘Samdal,’ a European variety of elderberry has already blossomed and set fruit.

Breba frist crop figs on our 'Silver Dollar' fig tree. These early figs will be ripe in July.

Breba first crop figs on our ‘Silver Dollar’ fig tree. These early figs will be ripe in July.

This week saw the hatch of hundreds of thousands of toads around our top pond.

This week we noticed hundreds of thousands of recently metamorphosed juvenile toads around our ponds. We love to see these garden allies in such abundance.

 

 

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