This is where you will find  our irregular, random garden ramblings, musings, or answers to common questions.  Any advice or opinions  here are our own, and entirely subjective and free, so you know what it is worth!

What's New in 2024?

A good portion of the spring has been spent moving things back to where they should be. Some of our Senna marilandica and Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks' have decided to move themselves to the front of the garden over the years, and had to be put back in their place, or at least coalesced into one spot. We also moved Aruncus 'Chantilly Lace' to a sunnier location to encourage it to flout its colorful foliage mode.

Two of our plantings were removed in 2024 due to poor performance or being too attractive to animal damage:

Finally, while collecting our new replacement plants, we ran across and irresistably cute Hosta cultivar, 'Curly Fries.' This is a small specimen or accent Hosta that sports chartreuse, narrow, arching, ruffled leaves. It is reminiscent of Hosta 'Stiletto,' only yellower and narrower. We found a spot for it in the shade garden that gets some morning sun to help it keep its color. We can't resist Hostas. Of all the varieties we have planted, only one has not naturalized well.

You will notice a new icon in our Plant listings. If you see the white flag 🏳️ icon, this indicates a plant we have removed from our garden. In most cases, this is becuase the plants simply do not perform well, or are too high-maintenance. However, sometimes we remove plants becuase there is no longer a place in our garden where they can thrive. This is particularly a problem for sun-lovers, as we have very few sunny spots left in our gardens.

2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

April 20, 2024

The USDA updated its Plant Hardiness Zone Map in 2023, based on weather data from 1991-2020. The new map puts most all of Central New York into Zone 5b. This is quite a change from the 1990 map, which placed much of our region in Zone 4b when we first started our perennial garden. This change represents a increase of 10 degrees Fahrenheit in minimum winter temperatures, from -20° F to -25° F in 1990 to -15°F  to -10° F in the latest maps. In the last few years, it has been rare for us to see minimum low temperatures below -5° F during the winter season. The good news for perennial gardeners in Central New York is additional choices in perennial plants that can thrive in this region.

More New Stuff

June 15, 2023

A couple of new plants caught our eye to fill in some holes. First up is Brunnera macrophylla 'Sterling Silver'. Brunneras are showy silver-leafed plants that produce welcome sprays of dainty blue flowers in spring. 'Sterling Silver' is a cultivar with impressive, round, 8-9 inch silver leaves. Brunneras are rarely bothered by deer, and thrive in full shade under trees with root competition, or in part sun. Ours have spread and self-seeded with abandon, but be aware that Brunneras will not come true from seed.

Our second splurge is a smaller cultivar of Aruncus, 'Chantilly Lace'. We love Aruncus because of their low maintenance and prodgious late spring to early summer blooms. 'Chantilly Lace' is unusual in that it takes on a different appearance depending on light exposure: in sunny conditions, leaves are smaller and new growth is reddish-yellow, and the plant assumes slightly smaller proportions; in shadier settings, leaves are larger and dark green, and the plant grows up to 36 inches high by 48 inches wide. We located ours in a relatively sunny location in the hopes that it will retain some of its fetching foliage color.

What's New in 2023?

May 28, 2023

A few things have had their run, and were removed from the beds this year. Our stand of Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' was removed due to being increasingly shaded out by trees. In its place is a small serviceberry tree (Amelanchier canadensis 'Rainbow Pillar') . We also removed Anemone tomentosa robustissima, for being a little too robust, and being a deer magnet. In its place went a compact deer-resistant shrub, Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird'.

Two new perennials caught our eye, and have to have a place in the garden this year. The first is Hosta 'Autumn Frost', a medium sized, fairly upright blue hosta with striking yellow margins. The second is Spirea japonica 'Double Play Candy Corn', a small mounding shrub with pineapple yellow leaves that emerge as bright red new growth throughout the season. This one is obviously a commercial success, as it sells out immediately everywhere. Both of these plants are a great way to brighten up a section of the perennial garden with yellow highlights. We will see how these do over the next couple of years, but we hope they are good performers so we can keep them around.

Rough Start to 2023

May 27, 2023

A warm April, with daytime temperatures in the 80s encouraged premature emergence of growth for perennials and trees. A 28° F frost on May 18 killed tender new growth of red oaks and Hibiscus, causing them to start over with newly budded growth. Many perennials were also severely affected, including frost-sensitive Rodgersias, Astilboides, and also Astilbes, Thalictrum, and some Hostas.

Deer Deterrence Update

September 30, 2022

After a month of experience with a motion-activated water sprinkler, we can say we are categorically impressed! Since its installation, there has been little or no plant damage and no deer scat in the area protected by the device. It was taken down for a couple of nights because of threat of frost, and lo and behold, scat and plant damage returned. When the sprinkler was reinstalled, no evidence of deer presence was observed.  We give it a tentative thumbs-up to supplement your deer-deterrence strategy.  These devices may be a good supplement to repellent sprays, especially during rainy periods where sprays are less effective in protecting vulnerable plants.

Deer Deterrence

August 29, 2022

While egg-solid-based deer sprays can reduce or eliminate browsing of perennial plants, during periods of heavy or extended rains these repellents become less effective as they are washed away. This summer we have experienced significant deer damage of plants near a crabapple tree, which is a magnet for resident deer. To deter deer we decided to try a motion-activated water sprinkler strategically placed where we observe deer scat and plant damage. These devices, use infrared motion sensors to detect movement, and emit a powerful and noisy spray of water. While skeptical at first, we are pleased to note that we have seen very little deer scat in the vicinity of the sprinkler, and have observed using our security cameras deer fleeing the garden in haste after entering it. Our unit is hooked up to an outdoor faucet using a 25 foot heavy-duty garden hose to allow for periodic repositioning, and is configured to be active at night only. I have on occasion forgotten that is it in the garden, and I can confirm that if it sees you, you will get soaked! So if your repellent routine is not working, you might want to try supplementing protection with a mechanical device.

Yellow accent foliage in the garden

June 9, 2022

Flowers often steal the show, but foliage is the backbone of the perennial garden. Nothing brightens the perennial garden as much as bright yellow accent foliage, providing a much needed contrast to more typical blues and greens. Some of our favorites ❤️ are highlighted here. We like these plants so much that there are multiple copies in our gardens. 

Aralia cordata 'Sun King' is a large, impressive plant of shrub-like proportions. Its large, neon yellow leaves are like a bright, beaming star in the part shade garden. Aralia takes about 3 years to fully establish and grow to full size, but is worth the wait. Aralia does form flower spikes in summer followed by dark purple berries, but really, it's the foliage that steals the show. It's a mid- to back-of-the-border standout.

Hakonechloa macra is a stunning mop-like, low clumping grass. 'All Gold' is a solid yellow, while 'Aureola' is a yellow and green striped cultivar. Both are strong growers, and will reward you with enough plant material to divide within a few years. Almost all of our multiple specimens are divisions from a small number of original purchases. This a truly a 'black thumb' plant that anyone can grow and enjoy. It's a good choice for the front of the border.

Carex elata 'Bowles' Golden'  is a bright yellow arching sedge with attractive brown flower spikes in late spring. It provides a nice color and texture contrast with blue and green broad leaf plants like Hosta. Carex leaves are quite sharp and abrasive, so deer avoid them. This is another tough plant that is easy to grow and will survive both wet and average soil. It's compact size suits it to the front of the border, where it can be admired to the fullest.

It's early June...what's in bloom?

June 8, 2022

No sooner did the calendar tick over into June did some of the early summer (meteorological summer) blooms emerge. Stands of Iris siberica 'Caesar's Brother' are putting on a show. Geranium sanguinium 'Striatum' is already blooming its head off, and will continue to do so until frost. The more dainty Geranium phaeum 'Samobor' treats us with it's maroon-splotched foliage and dainty maroon flowers waving on tiny stalks above. The always cheery, if evening-shy, Sisyrinchium angustifolium 'Lucerne' is also at peak. The blue stars of Amsonia tabernaemontana are always a treat this time of year, and of course there are the magnificent, complex, and deep maroon flowers of Paeonia itoh 'Maroon Dragon Claw'Geum 'Mai Tai' is fading but still holding on with its peachy little flowers. Finally, the candy-red tubular flowers of Weigela florida are open to tempt hummingbirds. These blossoms will have to hold us until the real show starts in late June and early July. But it's a delight for now...

What's New in 2022?

May 26, 2022

As usual, May is time to relocate or discard poorly performing plants, and bringing a few new plants into the garden. There are rarely any 'bad" plants, just plants in the wrong location or climate.  Spring is a good time to transplant most perennials, before they get too large, and also to allow a whole growing season for transplants to develop new root systems. We move our poorly performing plants around year to year until they 'find their spot.' When we run out of spots--well, it's time to move on to something new. It's tough love in our perennial garden.

Winter damage has nearly eliminated our sunny stand of Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Nights' over the last few years. (It may be running out of spots.) What's left has been replaced with Hibiscus syriacus 'Purple Pillar', a columnar Rose of Sharon that seems perfect for a tall narrow space at the back of the border. We'll see how that does. We also replaced some struggling Thalictrum rochebrunianum 'Lavender Mist' that was not in its ideal location with Panicum virgatum 'Ruby Ribbons'. Panicum is a well-behaved ornamental grass with winter interest. A stand of Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona' under a sugar maple just couldn't compete with thirsty maple roots. (It does great under other trees with less root competition.) We replaced it with  some of our abundant excess of Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'Polygonatum is irrepressible, gladly spreading in the shade despite heavy tree root competition. Our Senna marilandica has outgrown one of its spots, so  one of the 'extras' was used to fill an additional sunny hole vacated by our struggling Thalictrum. Finally, one of several stands of Solidago flexicaulis ran amok in a shady corner (along with copious weeds) so we ripped it out and replaced it with a relocated and overgrown Hosta 'Fragrant Blue' and a selection of cute Heucheras.: 'Apple Twist', 'Cherry Truffles', 'Peachberry Ice', and 'Timeless Night'. Heucheras now come in a bewildering variety of sizes and colors. Hostas and many Heucheras can successfully compete with tree roots in part shade to shade. Finally, we found a spot for a stunning, large-leafed Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack of Diamonds'. Brunneras look great all year round tolerate shade and tree root competition, and are not a favorite for deer browsing. You can always look for and monitor progress and performance of our newly planted varieties by looking for the 🆕 icon on all the plant pages. If you are looking for outstanding performers that are (mostly) indestructible with average care, look for plants with the ❤️ icon.

Spring is time to train deer to avoid your garden

May 24, 2022

The 2022 garden season is now upon us here in Central New York, and the perennial garden is bolting, just in time to provide suburban deer with a spring feast. Now is the time to "train" deer to go terrorize someone else's property. Our favorite deer repellent, Deer-Off, has now be rebranded as Safer Critter Ridder Deer and Rabbit Repellent. Its main ingredients are putrescent egg solids, which have been shown in controlled studies to be effective in deterring deer from browsing, and capsaicin, the source of "heat" in chile peppers, which may serve as an unpleasant sensation for deer and other browsing animals. We use the concentrate, which is mixed 7:1 with water, to make a gallon at a time for use in a garden sprayer. We have discovered through experience that the best way to mix the concentrate is to place it in a plastic bucket with the requisite amount of water and thoroughly mix with a paint stirrer attached to an electric drill. This thoroughly homogenizes the egg solid concentrate, and deters clogs in your sprayer. Application to susceptible plants will last a month of more  in the absence of precipitation. However, we find that is it necessary to re-apply after any heavy rain event. We have deer regularly visit our property, as revealed by security cameras, but rarely have significant deer damage except during prolonged rainy spells when repellents cannot be applied.

July 4, 2021

Our garden seems to be filling up with Heucheras (Heucherae?) these days. We now have in our garden 12 different named cultivars of Heuchera, second only in variety to our Hosta collection. We also have quite a few mongrel crossbred hybrids as well. There is lots to like about these plants. They come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, and all produce dainty little bell-shaped flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds. But the real show is their foliage, which can vary from bright and garish colors to  dark purple or nearly black. All will thrive in part shade, while some will tolerate more sun, and still others will perform well in shady spots. Deer and rabbits will occasionally go after them, but most varieties will bounce back after being denuded.  Pest repellents are fairly effective in deterring browsing. In warm conditions Heucheras are semi-evergreen, sending up new shoots whenever it is warm. The main threat to their longevity is frost heaving during the winter. Until fully established, they can be heaved right out of the ground over winter. They are best suited to well-drained soil.  But otherwise, these are easy-to-maintain plants that are fairly tolerant of short dry spells. Our latest addition is 'Mega Caramel,' an enormous and impressive cultivar with large rosy-green caramel colored leaves. This cultivar demands a spot in a prominent front corner of the perennial garden. It will definitely turn heads.

What's New in 2021?

June 12, 2021

There have only been a few changes in our garden for 2021. Although they have performed well, we had to move our Lychnis 'Lipstick' and some of our Solidago 'Zigzag' to another location where the woodchucks and rabbits are less likely to encounter and demolish it in early spring. In their place, we installed two new pest-resistant sun-loving plants, Perovskia 'Denim and Lace'  and Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'. In another garden section, we dug out the species Tricyrtis hirta, which was too tall for the front of the border and was regularly trimmed by deer, and replaced it with Weigela 'Electric Love', a low growing deciduous shrub or woody perennial with maroon-green leaves and bright red tubular flowers in May-June. Two impulse buys were a couple of unusual Heucheras. Heuchera 'Lemon Love' is a garish yellow medium-small Heuchera that will brighten any front-of-the-border corner of the garden. Heuchera "Midnight Rose' is neither midnight nor rose, but rather a striking medium size purple-leaf Heuchera with bright pink splotches. It's audacity of color makes one want to put it somewhere in the garden. Our Heuchera collection is growing quite large, second only to our Hosta varieties.

Deer Repellents

June 11, 2021

Our favorite brand of deer repellent, Deer-Off, has been re-branded and is now available from Safer Brand as Critter Ridder Deer and Rabbit Repellent. It contains the same active ingredients as Deer-Off: putrescent egg solids, capsaicin, and garlic extract. We use the concentrate and mix a gallon at a time to spray all plants susceptible to deer browsing. Mixing the concentrate in a plastic bucket with a paint stirrer attached to a cordless drill does a good job of homogenizing the egg solids in the repellent and preventing clogs in the sprayer nozzle. Repeated treatment early in the growing season appears to reduce browsing damage during the rest of the gardening season. (Or simply sends deer to your neighbor's garden instead. Whatever works.) We re-apply after every substantial rainfall.

New Garden Season

April 17, 2021

Spring has sprung early in Central New York. About two weeks early, it seems. The winter Aconites have come and gone, Scilla and Chionodoxa are waning, and daffodils are at their peak. Crabapples and maples are already leafing out in these parts, normally something that doesn't happen until May. With Aconitum and Pulmonaria starting to bolt, it may be time to finish up the fall cleaning of the garden from accumulated leaves, cutting down of ornamental grasses, and freshening up mulch while we can still see where it's needed.  It's also time to see what, if any, winter damage has been done, and which new plants have thrived or dived over winter.

Winter aconites are a magnet for hungry honeybees in late March.

Dog Days

August 24, 2020

It has been a dry summer in Central New York, with near-record heat. Extra watering has been de rigueur during July and August. Plants that tend toward early dormancy are checking out early, including Astilboides, Bistorta, and Lynchnis. although our Lamprocapnos is still hanging on. Late August is usually a blooming lull in our perennial garden, but there are some August standouts: Angelica, Echinacea, Hibiscus, the daisy-like Ligularias (especially 'Britt Marie Crawford'), Lobelia, and Senna.

What's New?

May 31, 2020

With the end of meteorological spring, most of the spring planting and moving has been completed. (However, it seems there are always a few loose ends.) There are several new additions this year, and a few newbies left over from last year. You can find out what we have added, are trying out, or are re-trying (the triumph of hope of experience, at times), by cruising the Plants pages and looking for the 🆕 icon. This year we have added  two new perennials (so far). First is Hosta 'Dream Queen', a gorgeous blue and yellow medium Hosta. (We can't resist Hostas.) Second is Lychnis 'Lipstick', a tall, bronze-foliage plant with garish orange-red blossoms in mid-summer. It can supposedly go dormant after blooming in dry conditions, so we'll see how it does in Central New York. We are looking to re-plant an old favorite, Rodgersia aesculifolia, in a few weeks.

Holdover new plants from last year are Baptisia 'Cherries Jubilee', two Wiegela florida cultivars, the wildly colorful Heuchera 'Cherry Cola' and Heuchera 'Circus', Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Nights', Aralia cordata 'Sun King', and Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven.' The Wiegela and Heuchera have done fabulously, and look great already this year. The Baptisia was repeatedly lunched on by marauding woodchucks last season, so we will have to wait and see how it really performs this year with less munching.  The Heliopsis was set back by late frosts, but has re-emerged. Finally, we found that both our Aralia and Polemonium would not tolerate much sun and were moved to shadier locations this season.

Spring Garden Census

May 19, 2020

With (surely) the last frost behind us on May 14, it's time to survey the garden for casualties. The late frosts did a number on  the Astilboides, Thalictrum, and some of the Aruncus , Astilbes, and Hostas, but they have already started to bounce back. Heucheras often get heaved out of the ground over the winter, but ours have done well this year. The main casualties this year were 2/3 of our Heliopsis planting (although they are re-emerging), and a few Echinacea. Not too bad for a winter with little snow cover for much of the winter.

Whither Spring?

May 4, 2020

It's been a cool spring in Central New York, which has been great for lengthening the normally short stay for daffodils and Scilla, but has slowed down everything else. Nevertheless, perennials are starting to poke up and come to life, despite the threat of light frosts later in the week. Pulsatilla and Helleborus ('Red Racer' is especially handsome) are still in their prime , Hosta 'Stiletto' is fully flush with foliage already, and Pulmonaria and Brunnera are leafing out and setting their first blossoms, attracting honeybees and incongruously large bumblebees to work their flowers. The recent cool spell is predicted to last at least another 7-10 days as a very stubborn circulation pattern over Quebec continues to bring cool air our way.

What's in a Name?

April 17, 2020

You may notice on this site some Latin names for common garden plants that look...strange.  Rest assured, the name may have changed, but the plants are still the same. Scientists now have tools to examine in detail the DNA present in plant genomes and chloroplasts (the little photosynthetic engines of green plants). Based on similarities and differences in these DNA sequences, it is possible to determine how plants are related to one another, and whether or not different plants belong to the same genus or not. As a result of these studies, plants get reclassified from time to time. Sometimes, plants that were thought to be in unrelated are now recognized as close siblings, while at other times plants thought to closely related are spun of into their own classification. There are several examples of such reassignment on this site.  Cimicifuga simplex, for example, has now been reassigned to broad genus Actaea, Polygonum bistorta, which has spent some time classified as Persicaria in the past, has now been given its own genus Bistorta. Dicentra spectabilis (but not other Dicentras) has been given its own genus and species (Lamprocapnos spectabile). Finally, good old Sedum spectabile is, alas no longer Sedum but the mouthful Hylotelephium spectabile.

Why should you care? The Latin name is the official, unique identifier for a particular plant species. If you obtain a plant with the correct Latin name, you will know exactly what you are getting. But you may find the old, deprecated names still used in the plant trade. The plant descriptions listed on this web site list the currently accepted Latin name, but we normally attempt to list any superseded names ("synonyms" in the taxonomy trade) where applicable. So if you see a plant here that looks familiar, but has a strange name, probably plant taxonomists have been at work!

Photography at CNY Gardening

April 14, 2020

In case you were wondering (or not), we do all the photography for images seen on this web site, including the page banners. We photograph exclusively in our own garden using Nikon equipment. The most recent photos here were captured with a Nikon D7100 DSLR and a 18-140 DX f/3.5-5.6, 16-80 f/2.8-4.0 DX lens, or an 85 f/3.5 DX closeup lens. Occasionally, if in a hurry, we have used a Nikon A900 pocket camera to capture timely images. We've recently added a new Nikon Z50 mirrorless camera system to the stable, and hope to post images from that camera and its excellent 16-50 f/3.5-6.3 Z DX lens here during the upcoming season.

Some of the images on this site are quite old, going back decades, dating to a venerable, first-generation 6-megapixel Nikon D100 DLSR system. We will be updating and improving some of these images during the upcoming garden season, so you can have a better idea what the featured plants and blooms look like.

CNY Gardening is launched

April 10, 2020

This site is a labor of love by two long-term, part-time hobbyist gardeners who espouse an empirical "tough love" theory of ornamental perennial gardening. If it doesn't thrive, we move it somewhere else. If it persists in being an under-performer, we give it away.  If it is high maintenance, we yank it out. You will find on this site mostly ornamental perennial plants and that are hardy in our changeable Central New York climate that will grace your garden without breaking your back. We hope you enjoy this site as much as we do sharing it!