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Bloom Report July 2024

I’m often asked what’s the best time to visit Willowwood by first-time visitors. “Will anything be blooming next month?” and to them I say of course! There are always flowers (or, as it is in the dead of winter) horticultural intrigue to be found at Willowwood. One should visit weekly in order to even try to catch everything. Even then, considering the rich horticultural history of the site and the many teams that have worked here and imparted their own horticultural flair, making regular visits to Willowwood is the way to go.

All this to say that we might just be at peak bloom. Everywhere one looks there’s a sea of color and texture, with fluttering butterflies and industrious little bees. One of the best examples is the considerable Aesculus parviflora in the Monarda Meadow that was originally gifted to the Tubbs brothers by Martha Brook Hutcheson in 1949. A large, suckering shrub native to the deep south, it has no issues growing in most soils and garden settings in New Jersey. An absolute pollinator magnet while in bloom!

Over in the Woodwalk, the Rhododendron maximum specimens that have been peppered throughout the space are flowering. Most individuals date back to being planted in 1925, making them an integral part of the Tubbs brothers’ plans for the site. If you follow the stream, either along the trail or meandering past the Stone Cottage, there’s a dreamy swath of Filipendula rubra, queen-of-the-prairie, flowering in the Alder Thicket. Paired with the heart-shaped leaves of two katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum, one of them the cultivar ‘Pendula’) trees, the combination is absolutely precious.

The Rosarie is an absolute treat for the eyes right now. As you enter you can’t miss the hot flowers of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ paired with the so-called blackberry iris, Iris domestica. The former is very attractive to hummingbirds, so you may see one or two! Cool down your hot eyes with the icy inflorescence of Eryngium planum ‘Blue Hobbit’ just across the bed. In the back of the Rosarie border the thick spires of the flowers of Acanthus ‘Morning Candle’ are framed by the lovely Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, a particularly cold-hardy cultivar. Lastly, don’t miss the lovely purple blooms of Solanum wendlandii (framed against the iconic purple door of the Rosarie here!), an unusual member of our tender plant collection.

Started at Willowwood only last year, the vegetable bed in within the core area has been incredibly productive! We are particularly taken by the ‘Bright Lights’ swiss chard and ‘Azur Star’ kohlrabi. There are also a few new annuals (started and grown here at Willowwood!) that have been particularly charming. Trachymene coerulea, or “didiscus”, have really started to take off in the display in the front of the Stone Barn, here paired with the ‘Orange Wonder’ snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) we’ve all been so taken by here. An inherently whimsical plant, the Amaranthus ‘Green Pearls’ has lived up to its name, as seen in the Cottage.

by Bonnie Semmling

Bloom Report June 2024

Our unusually wet spring has continued, leaving Willowwood particularly green, lush, and floriferous as we enter into the summer. Aside from the extra maintenance, there are much worse problems one could have! Currently the Arboretum core is freshly planted with this year’s annuals, featuring colorful and tropical species that are candy for the eyes, including our new collection of various Tillandsia species (“air plants”) under the Wisteria arbor.

The Cottage Garden is one of the most densely planted spots in the entire Arboretum, chock full of unusual and rare cultivated plants, like the firework-esque pink flowers of Pimpinella rhodantha. Old classics, like Rosa ‘Marie Pavie’ mentioned in last month’s bloom report, are now exploding forth with their lightly-scented rose blossoms, and the small blue flowers of the large Amsonia hubrichtii, threadleaf bluestar, that subtly reflect the muted tones of the Tubbs’ House.

In the Chive Walk, the Iris versicolor ‘Purple Flame’ is flowering. A native plant, the dark purple leaves on the new growth of this selection were very striking in the spring, as are the darker stems that prop up its amethyst flowers. The theme of purple continues on into the Rosarie, where the effortless-to-grow Nepeta faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ lining the path is putting on a fantastic show, nestled in with_ Lagurus ovatus_, new to the Rosarie this year.

If one were to continue through the gate into Wisley Woods, Cornus kousa ‘Rutpink’ (also called ‘Scarlet Fire’) would greet you with bubblegum-colored flowers. This selection is particularly disease resistant, fast-growing, and known for its ability to flower profusely when young. If you prefer a more modest flowering tree, take a look at the nearby Styrax japonicus.

Another woody standout is the Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow’ in the Rockery, which may be done flowering, but is still a slight to behold with its cool blue leaves_. Paeonia obovata_, also in the Rockery, had a good year. Although the season on these is short, keep it in mind for next year’s visit. In the nearby Cornus Mas Bed, you’ll find more unusual botanic splendor: Astrantia major, Nigella sativa, Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’ and others have just started to flower.

As you leave the arboretum, don’t forget to admire the unusual Rosa roxburghii in the Winter Garden; an amazing plant to grow if given enough space.

by Bonnie Semmling

Bloom Report – May 2024

And just like that, the world is awash in the verdant green of fresh spring growth and colorful flowers. Spring really came out like a lion this year! As this year’s bulb display fades, we come into mid-spring perennials and trees. Willowwood is known for our Wisteria display, and we take great pride in maintaining our plants to optimize flowering. I’m happy to report that Wisteria Watch is over and we are currently at peak bloom! We have multiple arbors on the property with Wisteria floribunda in all its pendulous purple glory and the more unusual Wisteria sinensis ‘Alba’ in Pan’s Garden. 

We’ve also just entered the season of another iconic Willowwood collection: Lilacs! A walk through our extensive collections is wonderful for the senses: so many different scents and textures to enjoy, such as Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’, with its white-margined flowers and classic lilac aroma. Don’t forget to stop at the Cottage Garden, which is an explosion of different textures and colors of flowering perennials, including budding roses like the (planted in 1940) Rosa x rehderiana ‘Marie Pavie’. 

 If you’d prefer more shade, a walk in the woodwalk is always delightful, but even more so with the candy-colored masses of Primula japonica (originally introduced to Willowwood in 1930!) in bloom. This variation in flower color is completely natural and random, so every year’s display is a pleasant surprise. The Woodwalk is home to a plethora of Japanese Maples of all different textures and colors, like the Acer palmatum ‘Koto-No-Ito” with its highly dissected leaves. 

While it’s easy to lose time in the core area of the arboretum, many of our collections of more obscure species are worth taking a gander at. The lantern-esque flowers of Enkianthus campanulatus var. sikokianus in the Orchard are an unexpected color for early spring; foreshadowing for their spectacular fall color in the same red-orange. Nearby, the demurer Staphylea pinnata, the European Bladdernut flowers catch early morning light beautifully. 

by Bonnie Semmling

Spring 2024 President’s Message

Dear Friends,

For me, springtime at Willowwood has always been about the daffodils which herald the highly anticipated season in a variety of colors and shapes.  On a recent Arboretum visit I learned of a new species in full bloom which inspired a bit of a treasure hunt in search of a little gem.  It was the unexpected call of “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” that set me on a meandering path providing many wonderful encounters along the way. 

Strolling along I found our always informative Manager of Horticulture, Bruce Crawford, hard at work but willing to pause and regale me with current spring planting plans.  Designing for late spring and summer is in the works and soon a new crop of annuals and tropicals will enhance the Arboretum.  Bruce also mentioned the unique new species of daffodil that was not not-to-be missed.  His capable “partners in crime,” Anthony and Dylan were also on hand to share knowledge about the spring bulb display that was in full bloom around the Tubbs House.  The scilla looked particularly beautiful.  Without a doubt the Tubbs brothers would have viewed the scene with great delight.

Winding my way further through the gardens, the promise of spring was everywhere; green shoots galore poking through the earth, winter jasmine crept up a stone wall and magnolias prepared to put on their seasonal show.

Narcissus romieuxii,
Narcissus romieuxii,

But where oh where was Romeo? Circling back to the rockery, eureka!  Perched innocently alone, there it was, the delicate little Narcissus romieuxii, more commonly known as the Petticoat Hoop Daffodil which is native to Morocco. The soft yellow flower with its widely flared hoop is an early bloomer and the perfect way to invite interest and conversation into any garden landscape.  Have a look at the photo. Perhaps you’ll order a few for yourself next year!!!  In any event, be sure to carve out some time for a spring garden walk at Willowwood.  There is always something new to discover at our charming Arboretum.

In closing, I am reaching the end of my time as President of the Willowwood Foundation.  It has been my great privilege to serve in this capacity, as well as an officer and trustee over the past thirteen years.  The support of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and the community has meant the world to me!     We are delighted that trustee Kristen Petersen, who has a long and special history with both the Arboretum and the Foundation has agreed to assume the reins of the presidency.

With appreciation and best wishes for a happy spring,

Meryl Carmel

Bloom Report April 2024

How wonderful it is to live in a world with flowers. Right now, I can’t think of anywhere that it is more floriferous than Willowwood. Although it is still early spring, many tougher-than-they-look spring flowering bulbs and perennials are up and at it. Meanwhile, swelling buds and emerging shoots remind us that there’s much more to come. A stroll through the Rosarie is exemplative: among the bright daffodils contrasted by clumps of Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, the flower buds of “prairie smoke”, Geum triflorum, are beginning to unfurl. 

Right now, the Rockery, adjacent to the Tubbs’ House, is awash in blue and yellow. Drifts of Scilla sibericaScilla(ChionodoxasardensisScilla (Chionodoxaforbesii ‘Violet Beauty’, and Anemone blanda are punctuated by Narcissus“Rip Van Winkle”, Primula elatior (known affectionately as “oxslips”), and emerging Mertensia virginica, the Virginia bluebell. I find the Narcissus “Rip Van Winkle” to be particularly appealing, their double flowers floating over a “sea” of blue Scilla like stars on a clear night. 

While the traditional tulip display is due later in spring, a few “species tulips” are out, gracing us with their adorable blooms. Throughout the property, but especially in front of the Tubbs’ House are the cheerful Tulipa turkestanica and T. humilus “Alba Coerulea Oculata”. 

The delightful emerging gradient of flower buds of Stachyurus praecox, adjacent to the Propagation House. The specific epithet of this one, “praecox”, is a Latin term that means “early”. This one will be in full flower very soon! If you cannot wait, throughout the woodwalk one can find the fragrant, dangling flowers of Pieris japonica. Resembling, but not closely related to the “lily of the valley” (Convallaria majalis) we have to look forward to later in the season. 

Of course, we cannot forget the real star of the show: the Hellebore! Throughout Willowwood you will find a plethora of Helleborus selections, ranging from the surprisingly charming H. foetidus to the creamy flowers of Helleborus x nigercors“Honeyhill Joy”, seen here in the Cornus Mas Bed.  

By Bonnie Semmling.