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SPECIAL SECTION: The Upper Valley Home Improvement Guide

March - April 2014 VOL. 9 NO. 1

Stormtracker : Upper Valley Native

Jim Cantore page

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Cute! Baby Animals at Billings Farm What to put in that empty flowerpot? Ask Edgewater Farm $4.95 U.S. www.uppervalleylife.com Display until May 1, 2014

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Things to Do This Spring


What to Put in that Empty Flowerpot?

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Upper Valley Life

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A Conversation at Edgewater Farm By T i m T r av e r Photography by L A R S B la c k m o r e What plants should I put in that flowerpot? For the flower lover, this is a prime, and sometimes perplexing, question. An empty flowerpot begs to be filled. I asked Anne Sprague and her daughter, Sarah, from Edgewater Farm how they help their customers fill an empty pot. Their quick answer was, of course, it depends on who they are. It’s a matter of taste and style. › › › › ›

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Pooh and Anne Sprague, their children Sarah and Ray, and close family friend Mike Harrington own and operate Edgewater Farm, an award-winning diversified farm on the banks of the Connecticut River in Plainfield, N.H. The Spragues started farming on River Road in 1974 with their first crop of red-gold strawberries for a pick-your-own operation. They grew green beans, too, and added a dig-your-own perennial bed.

Anne, a McNamara, grew up with her brothers and sisters on Mac’s Happy Acre dairy farm a mile down the road. Pooh grew up on a dairy farm in Hillsboro, N.H. Pooh, son Ray and Mike Harrington manage the field crops, a CSA and supply local stores and the Edgewater farmstand with wholesale vegetables. They also keep the equipment running and the soil packs churning out for direct seed growing. They support the green-

houses in a hundred other ways. Pooh and Anne added the first few houses — pit style with cinderblock walls — in 1979. Sarah remembers those pit houses (gone now), each named after someone who helped the farm get up and running. Her first job was dead heading pansies. She was 5 years old. A trip to Edgewater — with more than 30,000 square feet of green house space, 3,000-plus flowering plant varieties,

Lynn Ambrosi of Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, N.H., gives tender love and care to hanging baskets of impatiens in the greenhouse.

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herbs, vegetable starts, thousands of outdoor pansies, and wagonloads of winterhardened perennials in the yard — is a rite of spring for many seasoned gardeners in the Upper Valley. For the beginner it can be pleasantly overwhelming. But, if you think about the 13 Edgewater greenhouses as classrooms, arranged in a row with that basic question in mind: what to plant in an empty flowerpot — or in that shady corner of the yard, or on the trellis

on the sunny side of the garage, or in a new perennial border — then the pressure is off: it’s all a learning experience. “Gardening is a forgiving art,” says Sarah. “We encourage newcomers to take risks. It’s a way to learn. If something doesn’t work, okay, or, if it works only for the moment, that’s fine, too. You can always relocate a plant. There are no wrong answers.” “A common problem for beginning gardeners is a tendency to crowd too many plants into a pot, only to be disappointed when one grows big and crowds the others out,” says Anne. “Don’t be afraid to cut a plant back. Give that a try.” By mid-May, “it’s a little easier to choose plants, because you can begin to see what they’re going to look like when they mature.” With plants, sometimes, it’s love at first sight. We see something we like and then get stuck on where to go from there. “It actually helps if you know one plant you want,” says Sarah. “We can suggest options for building around it, if you want suggestions. Or you may wander on your own and find the perfect mates.” “Some people come in looking for a ready-made combination and that’s fine, and we have them,” says Anne.

“But we’re moving away from [readymade] combinations…the industry now is so crowded with those,” Sarah adds. “It’s more interesting for us to support people putting their own creations together. It’s their project; it’s their learning. That’s the fun of it.” As for options, sometimes there are too many, and what you need is someone to tell you what to do. For example, I put several dozen white perennial poppies in an asparagus bed and was looking for a perennial to add. Sarah told me, matterof-factly, bachelor’s buttons (centaurea cyanus). They have a similar blooming time and water requirements. “The blue would go nicely with the white,” adds Anne. “Mom likes blue,” says Sarah. In many ways, deciding what to put into that empty flowerpot is a color question. Color is a major building block in pots and gardens, and an organizing principal in the Edgewater greenhouses, though by no means the only one. “Sarah likes browns, golds, earth tones, deep reds. Chocolate cosmos was a favorite of hers for a while,” says Anne. So are some of the annual grasses that stay burnished brown and almost black. “But I’ve gotten into hot pink › › › › ›

An Edgewater hanging basket in the making: scavola, coleus, verbena, cuphea and setcresia in the early stages of development. Upper Valley Life

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lately,” Sarah says. She’s a new mother. Her daughter, Hattie, is nearly a year old and looks great in hot pink. “We move through different phases, and that keeps it interesting,” says Anne. “Including the crazy gaudy,” says Sarah. Or a bright chartreuse might be the color of the pot you happen to like. How to complement that? Anne’s color choices run toward bright. That may be because she manages the farm stand’s cut flowers and spends her summer mornings bunching bright colors together. “Benary’s zinnias are a mainstay in cut flowers, but zinnias can be difficult to grow from seed,” says Anne, “so we can do that here for customers looking for bedding plants. Anne also mentioned the yellow globes of craspedia, the purple plums of amaranthus, and the rose-like lysianthus flowers (“they last and last”) as favorites. She also loves the plumes of celosia and blue and white star flowers of nicotiana, along with annual grasses,

like her favorites, papyrus — they grow a ton of it — and the fireworks of frosted explosion, panicum elegans. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be a cut flower on the market Anne hasn’t tried. At Edgewater, arrangement by color rules some of the greenhouses more than others. To walk into the impatiens or geranium houses in mid-May is to be nearly overcome by small nations of color. There are waves of breaking color in the petunia house, too. The small-flowered calibrachoas, arranged in a 100-foot long bed, come in dozens of shades — these end up in hanging baskets and spilling over the edges of many a patio pot in the Upper Valley. House five is also devoted to annual flowers: the pop and fizz of a combination. Combination favorites like angelonia; blue Felicia daisies with their yellow centers; many different color varieties of the African daisy (osteospermum); and stiff-petaled garzas. In that house you find favorite hanging basket building blocks too, verbena and scaevola in various shades and the brilliant border

addition, verbena bonariensis. Mother and daughter are often of one mind when it comes to what to combine, but they can be very different in combination themselves. Anne describes Sarah as more customer focused, she thinks of herself as task-oriented, paying attention to the biological needs of greenhouse plants — keeping plants healthy and presentable. That means an obsessive attendance to watering, feeding, house temperature, air movement and arranging greenhouse beds — no small job. It’s what literally gets her up in the middle of the night. Customers seek them both out, but it’s Anne who stays in radio contact directly with the greenhouse crew, and Sarah, two dogs in tow, who might spend an hour with an individual client. Anne’s famous for the ability to spot a wilted leaf from 20 paces. When the greenhouses close up shop in June and the farmstand kicks into gear, it’s Sarah who runs the farmstand and crew. After color, the next question for the empty flowerpot is one of foliage and fill.

Allie Boeri waters cyprus and a collection of annual grasses (pennisetum) at the Edgewater Farm greenhouses.

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Leaves are the real geniuses of the plant world. While flowers are clever, when you come right down to it, they’re merely reproductive come-ons for attracting pollinators. Foliage has staying power. Edgewater’s house six is devoted to foliage, including numerous shades of potato vine and other trailers. I’m partial to the dicondras, found in a large group of silvers, including wormwood, an artemisia. There’s other delectable foliage to consider. Edgewater has a large collection of coleus, the ultimate shade lover, in variegated colors from purple, red, green and orange. And a large collection of trailing English ivies and varieties of annual and perennial vinca. “And there’s always plectranthus,� says Sarah. The leaves of plectranthus can have a soft fuzzy quality, and yet the stems are often stiff. The branching and foliage on some brings to mind one of those acacia trees on an African savannah. “They have so many uses, and can be great lookers all by themselves.� “If the foliage is interesting, a little color can go a long way,� says Anne. “A few blossoms of torenia may be all you need.� Torenia — with its small, irregular purple or yellow flowers — can light up a large fern pot sitting on a stone in the shade. But foliage can be as common as a red cabbage plant, too. Sarah likes spiky, unusual leaf shapes and plant forms with low watering needs. Edgewater has a fine collection of unusual succulents and cacti that can stand on their own, or find a way into a combination or a succulent wreath. Sarah’s a big fan of ricinus, as well, with its deep cut leaves and sputnik-like flowers. Ricinus and many other eclectic Edgewater favorites like the giant daturas, a moth pollinated nightshade, and a large collection of salvias (mint family) — including popular varieties like mystic spires and the bright red “hot lips� — are found

in house nine. The diversity of fuschias is another surprise at Edgewater. Wellknown for their showy red, white and pink pendulous blooms in hanging baskets, they also come in a profusion of leaf and branching forms including the small branching magellanica aurea — there are literally hundreds. The options for combinations quickly begin to multiply. Houses 10 and 11 are perennial houses, shade-loving perennials in one and sun-loving in the other. More often than not, what’s in those houses or on farm wagons in the yard reflects what they’ve come to love and grow in their own borders. Gardening doesn’t end with a full flowerpot from Edgewater Farm. The flowerpot is just the beginning, a microcosm of the world of gardening. There are perennial borders to consider, berry crops, herb gardens, sunny rows of cut flowers, and places on the side of the shed for vine hydrangea to grow on its own. Hyacinth

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Enjoy the Journey!

More information can be found at www.edgewaterfarm.com Upper Valley Life

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March - April 2014

bean together with scarlet runner bean on a trellis: everything in combination. What to put into an empty flowerpot? Maybe the real question is what not to put in one. “We never want to get stuck in a rut,� says Anne. “We do like to try new things,� says Sarah. “Collaborating — that’s perfection.�

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Upper Valley Life, Mar-Apr 2014