A Holiday Favorite: The Poinsettia


Red, pink or white — poinsettias are the perfect plant to add holiday cheer to your home this season.

By Marion McParland

No other plant conjures up holiday sentiments like the poinsettia. Its spectacular colors have made this plant second only to the Christmas tree as the most popular holiday plant. In fact, more than 34 million poinsettias were sold in 2013, according to the 2013 USA Floriculture Statistics report. They remain the highest selling potted flowering plant, followed by the Easter lily and potted orchids.

What makes the poinsettia so special? Did you know it isn’t its flowers, but its leaves? The colored leafy parts, known as bracts, or modified leaves, turn color in response to the plant forming flowers. The flowers of the plant are the yellow clustered buds in the center, or cyathia.

Shopping Tip: When shopping for your poinsettia, make sure to choose one with some buds that are not yet open.

Native to Mexico, the plant flourished in an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon. The perennial shrub grows 10 to 15 feet tall there.  The poinsettia was more than a decoration to the Aztecs. They extracted a purplish dye from its bracts for use in textiles and cosmetics. The milky white sap, today called latex, was used to
treat fevers.

marble poinsettia

The poinsettia ‘Marble’ is a pink and white variegated plant that will add beauty to your home all season long.

The poinsettia may have remained a regional plant had it not been for Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779 – 1851). The son of a French physician, Poinsett was appointed as the first United States Minister to Mexico (1825 – 1829) by President Madison. Poinsett had attended medical school himself, but his real love was botany. Mr. Poinsett sent seeds and plants to Col. Robert Carr, who was married to Ann Bartram-Carr, the granddaughter of the famous American nurseryman John Bartram. It was Col. Carr and Bartram’s Garden who introduced the poinsettia into cultivation and commercial trade at the first exhibition of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society on June 6, 1829, the first Philadelphia Flower Show. To learn more about the poinsettia, visit “The Poinsettia Story,” an exhibit examining the history of poinsettias and their special connection to PHS, on view in the PHS McLean Library, November 25 through December 19.

Starting this week, stop by PHS Meadowbrook Farm for a beautiful selection of poinsettias, including ‘Carousel Dark Red,’ ‘Red Glitter,’ ‘Marble,’ and ‘Viking Cinnamon,’ along with traditional pink, red and white plants. These easy-to-care-for plants do well with a good amount of light and an average amount of water.

Care Tip:  Don’t let your plant sit in water, as that can cause it to begin to rot. If you are given a poinsettia wrapped in foil, be sure to take it out of the foil so the water can escape.

poinsettia red glitter

A red poinsettia with speckles of white, the ‘Red Glitter,’ will add a splash of color to your interior all winter long.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm is located at 1633 Washington Lane in Abington Township, Pa. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  For more information call 215.887.5900 or click here. PHS members always save 10% on plants. Become a member on site and save on your purchases.

Save the Date: Meadowbrook Farm Holiday Open House, Saturday, December 6, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Enjoy festive holiday fun for the whole family at PHS Meadowbrook Farm, including free s’mores,  tours of the estate home decorated for the holiday, and a free craft activity for the kids.











Exceptional Plants Named PHS Gold Medal Winners

Acer japonicum Aconitifolium Wave Hill 5-6-12_LS (2)

Fernleaf Full Moon Maple is a dwarf tree with delicate, fern-like foliage. The leaves turn brilliant crimson red in the fall.

By Marion McParland

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal Plant Award program honors little-known and underused plants of exceptional merit. Awards have been given to 138 plants since this program began in 1979.

This year’s winners include two trees, one shrub, and five perennials:

Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (Fernleaf Full Moon Maple) grows 8 to 10 feet tall. One of the best small trees for a garden accent, this tree can also be planted in groups as part of a low-growing shrub border or screen.  This tree is easily grown in average, well-drained soils and is relatively disease free.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis Pendula 10-14-14_LS (1)

Weeping Alaska cedar grows 20 to 35 feet tall. Widely spaced branches feature blue-green needles.

Xanthocyparis (syn. Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ (Weeping Alaska cedar) is an evergreen that grows 20 to 35 feet tall. This long-lived weeping conifer is native to the Northwestern United States and Canada, but makes a great addition to gardens along the East Coast. This conifer thrives in regions with high humidity and rainfall.

Mahonia japonica (Leatherleaf mahonia) grows to be a medium-sized shrub with glossy, pinnately compound leaves similar to holly. This evergreen grows 5 to 7 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide. It is great for woodland gardens, shrub borders, or as a privacy hedge. It is best to plant this shrub in areas protected from strong winds and to plant more than one shrub in an area for great berry production.

Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ (Major Wheeler Trumpet Honeysuckle)
dazzles with its lush foliage and coral-red flowers from late spring through the entire summer. The flowers attract a variety of wildlife, including hummingbirds and butterflies. This extremely disease-resistant vine stays green even during drought conditions. This vine is  deer resistant and will climb 8 to 15 feet.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (Variegated Solomon’s Seal) is a shade-loving perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall and slowly spreads through an area via underground rhizomes.  In late spring, small bell-shaped flowers with a lily-like fragrance emerge on the underside of the stem. In the fall, flowers give way to black berries and leaves turn a dazzling bright yellow. Solomon’s Seal does best in cool climates.

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (Dark-leaved Bugbane) features dark, deeply lobed foliage that grows in large clumps each spring. Flowers are numerous and white. This plant is great for a shade garden or perennial border, and does best when planted in groups.

Rudbeckia maxima 7-9-14_LS (2)

The Great Coneflower is a show-stopper with its lush blue-green basal foliage, central brown cone and surrounding slightly arching yellow rays.

Rudbeckia maxima (Great Coneflower) is a show-stopper with its lush blue-green basal foliage. In spring, 5- to 7-foot-tall flower stalks emerge and reach skyward. Flower stalks are topped with a large, central brown cone surrounded by slightly arching yellow rays. Goldfinches and sparrows are some of the many small birds drawn to the Great Coneflower.

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ (Northwind Switchgrass) is an outstanding selection of the native switchgrass with 5- to 7-foot-tall, upright, olive-green foliage that stands out as a vertical accent in any garden. This native perennial is deer resistant, disease-free and tolerant of salty soils.

A complete list of Gold Medal winning plants can be found here. Photos of this year’s winners can be found here. Select Gold Medal plants can be purchased at PHS Meadowbrook Farm in Abington Township.

For additional information on Gold Medal plants, please feel free to contact PHS at 215.988.8800 or email goldmedal@pennhort.org


Lonicera sempervirens Major Wheeler 5-5-10_LS (1)

Major Wheeler Trumpet Honeysuckle dazzles with its coral-red flowers and lush foliage from late spring through the entire summer.


Succulents for the Season

euphorbia obesa

The Euphorbia obesa from South Africa grows as a thornless globe.

By Marion McParland

‘Tis the season to turn your attention to indoor gardening! As the temperatures drop outdoors, a succulent garden in a sunny window will enjoy the bright rays, warm temperature and dry conditions your home offers. In fact, these warriors of neglect thrive on little water and don’t ask for much else.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm has some very rare and unusual succulents, as well as some great choices for beginners. A few favorites of Meadowbrook staff include:

Aloe ‘Donnie’ – This great little hybrid aloe has a dark green succulent foliage with white spots and a pink picotee edge. This is an easy-growing aloe that really likes to dry out between waterings and enjoys bright light.


Aloe ‘Donnie’ is a low-maintenance succulent.

Gasteria batesiana – Commonly called ox-tongue, this plant is seed grown, so each one is a little different. Gasteria are closely related to aloes and haworthia. These plants can handle a bit more shade than other succulents and cacti, and are perfect for a place that doesn’t get as much sun.

Mammillaria – This is one of the largest and most colorful genus of cactus. A selection of different species, including Mammillaria carmenae var. rubriflora and mammillaria hahniana, are both available at Meadowbrook. Collecting a variety of Mammillaria species together creates a bright and beautiful splash of color in your home. Many of them are mounding cacti and only a couple have sharp thorns.

Euphorbia obesa – The fascinating Euphorbia from South Africa grows as a thornless globe. This plant is long-lived, but if you want to start collecting seeds you will need to purchase a couple since the species needs to cross pollinate. Plants are actually dioecious – only having male or female flowers — so you need to have both genders.

All of these plants like to be in well-draining soil and can tolerate dry conditions. The experts at Meadowbrook have been lovingly growing a variety of interesting cacti and succulents this year — and now they are ready to go home with you.

Remember, PHS members always save 10% on plants. Become a member on site and save on your purchases.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm is located at 1633 Washington Lane in Abington Township, Pennsylvania. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  For more information call 215.887.5900 or click here.

gasteria batesiana

Ox-tongue thrives in less sunlight than some of the other cacti and succulents.


Family Fun on The Farm


By: Jamie McFadden

Start a new fall tradition: pumpkin launching at Meadowbrook Farm. As ominous as it may sound, using a giant slingshot to catapult the orange orbs through the air and into the pond below is great fun that only requires a good aim and a bit of luck. This year’s Fall Open House at Meadowbrook Farm, Saturday, October 11, 10am – 5pm will offer a cornucopia of ways to enjoy the season.

Scavenger hunts and hayrides throughout the surrounding woods are just a couple of the fun activities at the Open House.  Kids can also enjoy pumpkin painting, face painting, an obstacle course, and a tree climbing experience.

unedited (76)

The salesyard will be bursting with festive fall color. Topping the list of fall must-haves is the 2014 Hot List show-stopper Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame,’ in full bloom now. Plus check out a large selection of violas, pansies, cool-weather veggies, ornamental kale, specialty pumpkins, gooseneck gourds, and mini pumpkins. Fall is for planting, and Meadowbrook has a variety of fantastic perennials that are perfect for planting right now.

PHS Members always save 10% on plant purchases, and for one day only will save 20% on plant purchases at the Fall Open House. Anyone can benefit from these savings by joining or renewing as a PHS member on site that day and as a bonus, they will receive a $10 coupon (valid toward their purchase that day).

At 11 am, PHS will “flip the switch” on the new solar panels donated by Green Mountain Energy Sun Club. Solar now helps power Meadowbrook Farm greenhouses with renewable energy to help grow beautiful plants and flowers for the Farm and your garden.mb21

Make it a day and stay for lunch. Grab a bite from the food tent and dine in the estate courtyard, enjoy a craft beer and let the kids dance their lunch off with the live entertainment! Here is a list of activities.

Come experience the pure grandeur of PHS Meadowbrook Farm and stay for the Fall FUN!

Colorful Fall!

By:Jamie McFadden

Turn over a new leaf this season. Mums tend to be the hallmark of the fall garden. So, if you’re a fan of mums, test out the Sheffield Pink Chrysanthemum which has a pale-pink complexion that packs a hardy punch. If you’d like to add something that leans a little more to the unusual, try incorporating Kirengeshoma Palmata into your fall lineup.  This not so ordinary fall blooming shrub has waxy looking bell-shaped yellow flowers, that promises to be a show-stopper. The varying hues of the Aster family will add that not-so-subtle pop of color to your garden, so try experimenting with the Aster Wood’s Purple, Aster October Skies, and Aster Kickin’ Pink Chiffon. Really, the sky is the limit when planting your fall garden, so don’t limit yourself!

            Kirengeshoma Palmata

Sheffield Pink Chrysanthemum

Sheffield Pink Chrysanthemum

All of these blooming beauties and more are for sale at PHS Meadowbrook Farm. Conveniently located just north of Philadelphia in Abington Township, PHS Meadowbrook Farm features an excellent retail nursery of quality plants and charming gift shop.

Star Stature

asterwoodspurple last

Aster ‘Wood’s Purple’ is a deer-resistant beauty that will add color to your garden or walkway border.

By Marion McParland

Late summer is the perfect time to punch up your garden with the fresh colors of asters. Commonly confused with the daisy for their appearance, the aster bloom is actually several flowers which form a beautiful structure. The shape of the flower inspired the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus to name the plant “aster,” from astron, the ancient Greek word meaning star.

october skies aster

Aster ‘October Skies’ dazzles with its sky blue blossom and orange center.

Asters are the workhorse of perennials. The varieties sold at PHS Meadowbrook Farm begin blooming in August and will continue to bloom nearly nonstop into fall if you pluck off the spent flowers. Colorful asters add beautiful contrast to an otherwise drab, end-of-summer landscape. Trick of the Trade: To keep your asters looking great, as the plant starts to leaf out next spring, pinch back the stems. Or, cut back the plant halfway early next summer. Either of these techniques will encourage the plant to bush out rather than grow tall and leggy. The result will be a nicely mounded plant with many more flowers. Asters will also provide one of the last feeding options for butterflies, bees and other pollinators and are typically a deer-resistant plant.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm has a variety of asters to choose from, including ‘Wood’s Purple, a rich purple flower with yellow centers; ‘October Skies,’ sky blue flowers with a burnt orange center; and ‘KICKIN® Pink Chiffon,’ a new hybrid cultivar with true pink flowers and a golden center.

Visit Meadowbrook Farm this month for an end-of-summer splash of color. Remember, PHS members always save 10% on plants. Become a member on site and save on your purchases.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm is located at 1633 Washington Lane in Abington Township, Pennsylvania. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Meadowbrook Farm will be closed on Monday, September 1. For more information call 215.887.5900 or click here.

kickin pink chiffon

Aster ‘KICKIN Pink Chiffon’ is a new hybrid cultivar with true pink flowers and a golden center.





Plant a Party

Before and After

Before and After

By: Jamie McFadden

It’s an accepted fact that flowery planters and window boxes add instant curb appeal to your home or outdoor space. So then, what stops us from creating our own little bit of paradise right now?  Lack of time, funds, or skill?  Well, I have figured out how to build some beauty without breaking the bank, killing the plants, or getting my degree in horticulture. Throw a “Plant It Party.”

I did this and here’s how.  I created an invite list of my favorite pals. Interesting note:  none of my green thumb experienced friends were available, hmmm…   Then, I gathered materials for the big event. I went to PHS Meadowbrook Farm, my go-to place for cool plants and great advice on soil, container size and plant care. Plus, I get a discount with my PHS membership and, I scored an additional 30% off during the plant sale!  For the window boxes, I measured the location they were to be hung and placed an order on Amazon, which helped keep the cost down. My total cost for plants, soil and containers – just under $83.00, an affordable $20.75 per window box.

On Party day, I laid out the supplies: plants, window boxes, bags of soil, pizza, libations and put on some nice tunes (plants grow better with music, right?). I forgot to get a trowel but found some red solo cups which worked perfectly to scoop up Organic Mechanic’s Potting Soil. My friends arrived and decided to get creative by designating a distinct theme for each container: edible, jungle, classic, and beach dune.

Window box contains: Red Pepper plant, Golden Sage, Rosemary, Licorice Basil, Silver Edged Thyme,  Merlot Coleus and Cabrillo

The Edible Window box contains: Red Pepper plant, Golden Sage, Rosemary, Licorice Basil, Silver Edged Thyme, Merlot Coleus and Cabrillo

Tip: Fill container about 2/3 with soil to give yourself some room to maneuver plants before you finish. Place tall plants first and fill in surrounding areas with lower growing ones and trailing vines. Assess your work and don’t be afraid to move the plants if you want a different arrangement.  There’s no wrong way as long as it looks good to you. Fill in with remaining soil to just under the top of the container and give everything a good watering.

Window Box contains: Trailing Coleus, Merlot Coleus, Staghorn Fern

The Jungle Window Box contains: Trailing Coleus, Merlot Coleus, Staghorn Fern

In the past, I would have approached a gardening project like it was a trip to the dentist. No more. The Party was a lot of fun and we all left feeling confident enough to start planning our next green project.

Window Box Contains: Sweet Potato Vine, Red Salvia and Estrella Voodoo Star Verbena (red) and Lanai Royal Purple Verbena.

The Classic Window Box Contains: Sweet Potato Vine, Red Salvia and Estrella Voodoo Star Verbena (red) and Lanai Royal Purple Verbena.

Still feeling unsure of your planting? Learn everything you need to know about tropical container gardening at PHS’s upcoming workshop at Chanticleer on August 20, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Register here for this program.

Window Boxes contain: Gomphrena, Sedum Sunsparkler, Dazzleberry, Tricolor Variegated Save, Dusty Miller and Carex

The Beach Dune Window Boxes contain: Gomphrena, Sedum Sunsparkler, Dazzleberry, Tricolor Variegated Save, Dusty Miller and Carex

Whether you plan to host a Plant It Party of your own or have already brightened up your corner of the world with plants, PHS would love to see and celebrate your work. Post photos of you and your planters on PHS’s Facebook page@PHS_Gardening on Twitter, or @PhilaFlowerShow on Instagram. Happy gardening!

Busy Bees

germantown academy pollinator visit

Beekeeper of the future in training at PHS Meadowbrook Farm.

By Marion McParland

A group of students from Germantown Academy Day Camp stopped by PHS Meadowbrook Farm recently for a get-your-hands-dirty-day filled with beekeeping, planting and lots of learning.

Campers donned protective beekeeping veils and practiced using the smoker to  calm the bees by masking their alarm pheromone. Meadowbrook is currently home to between 60,000 and 100,000, very gentle, locally bred honeybees of Italian descent. They live happily in four hives on the property under Beekeeper Lou Naylor’s care.

The campers also toured the pollinator and vegetable gardens, where they planted flowers and learned about the environmental importance of pollinator gardens. The group toured the greenhouse, then planted sunflower and zinnia seeds in small pots to take home.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm is located at 1633 Washington Lane in Abington Township, Pennsylvania. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information call 215.887.5900 or click here.


2014-07-10 10.58.12

Campers plant in the gardens at PHS Meadowbrook Farm.




Rose Lovers Beware

rose-rosette virus

Rose Rosette Disease affects all roses. Bright burgundy leaves are one sign of the disease’s presence.

By Marion McParland

Are your rose bushes not looking up to par? Check them closely for signs of the Rose Rosette Disease (RRD).  PHS members and staff have reported a strong presence in south Philly and the waterfront. While certain areas of our region have been unaffected, other areas including Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College and Morris Arboretum have lost a significant amount of their collections. Most susceptible are the “Knock Out” rose, but all roses are at risk.

Have you noticed that the stems and leaves on your roses have a bunched, distorted appearance? Do you see more thorns, giving the appearance  of a bristle brush? New growth of bright burgundy leaves not turning green is also an indicator of the disease’s presence. Buds may look smaller or distorted and may fall off without blooming. Eventually it will become apparent that the plant is dying. The disease is sometimes called witches’ broom because of the way it causes new shoots to grow straight up and close together in broom-shaped clusters.

Sadly, there is no cure for Rose Rosette Disease. It is caused by a tiny mite called an eriophyid that feeds on roses, then travels on the wind to other roses, spreading the disease. This disease is systemic, making it impossible to treat once the rose is infected. Once diagnosed, the only solution is to remove your rose bush. Removal will slow down or stop the spread of the disease by making it harder for the mites to travel. Remember, when you remove a diseased plant, remove it completely, including the roots. The plant should be bagged and sealed before placing it by the curb for garbage pick-up.

While the “Knock Out” rose is disease resistant, no plant is disease proof. As with any garden or landscape, diversity is best. RRD affects all types of roses, not just the “Knock Out.” When you are ready to plant something new, follow a few recommendations. Do not plant a new “Knock Out” where one has been removed. Instead, plant a different type of plant in its place as the disease only affects roses.

PHS staff have stopped planting roses for now because of the virus. If you have your heart set on planting new rose bushes, make sure you plant them on six-foot centers. Roses should not touch. Planting roses too closely to one another creates a bridge for the disease-carrying mites to travel from plant to plant.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm currently has healthy rose hybrids for sale, but they are not resistant to the disease. Breeders in the United States and Germany are working on discovering RRD resistant/tolerant roses, but there have been no successful releases yet. In the meantime, it is important to keep your gardens disease free. Only buy clean nursery stock and remove any wild roses nearby. For more information, contact PHS Meadowbrook Farm at phs-info@pennhort.org or Ask PHS.            .