Archive for April, 2016

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.


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.


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.


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. 




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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.


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


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.


Some early blooming hybrid herbaceous peonies had buds freeze.


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



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!


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!

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