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Naturalizing with Daffodils

As part of our monthly free speaker series several club members took a field trip on Earth Day to the home of Bruce Robinson in Jamestown New York. Bruce is a Forester, and his invitation to tour his gardens promised “a great opportunity to see how he gets the fullest enjoyment from vegetation. Almost every tree has a story, flowers bloom from March to October, and wildlife thrive without destroying everything.”

Bruce’s love of gardening was inspired by his mother, who despite limited funds and a busy life raising a family, found time to garden and see the beauty in nature. Bruce’s advice is to see the beauty of flowers despite any weeds and chaos in a naturalized garden – don’t feel things have to be perfect.

Did you know that most daffodils bloom for about two weeks, but by planting a mix of varieties, you can have blooms for as long as 2 months? Bruce explained that many varieties look the same but have different blooming times, so you can extend your enjoyment of daffodil blooms by planting early, mid, and late blooming varieties. He recommends looking for bloom time details when ordering bulbs and getting a mix of very early and very late bloomers. You can also delay bloom time by applying heavy mulch (grass and leaves are Bruce’s favorites) to some bulbs in the fall so they take longer to sprout in the spring.

We saw thousands of daffodils in bloom. So many different colors and shapes! There were many striking double blooms, with complex structures in the petals and trumpet. These kinds tend to bloom later in the season. To help us identify the flowers, Bruce provided us a listing of common varieties based on their physical characteristics.

Bruce has naturalized his daffodils by splitting clumps and relocating them as the plants get bigger. He usually splits clumps 2 to 5 years after initial planting. He encouraged us to cut some flowers to take with us, as that helps the plant. When the flowers are cut, it stops the plant from putting energy into producing seed pods, so that energy is put back into the plant to help it grow in the future. This is also why you should not cut back the leaves of plants that grow from bulbs until they turn yellow and die off. Leaving the green leaves to continue to gather energy from the sun helps the plant store nutrients in the bulb for next season.

He also plants native wildflowers among the daffodils. While these were not blooming yet, summer will reveal a mix of lilacs, peonies, anemone, sessile trillium, teasel,

boneset, delphinium, rudbeckia, joe pye weed, globe flower, bull thistle, purple spike vervain, and more.

Bruce has a great approach to gardening and helping wildlife. He has an “agreement” with the local deer that they can eat anything during the winter, but have to leave things alone once spring arrives. He fosters this agreement by using a product called Plot Saver. It’s a deer repellant that he applies to certain plants early in the spring as he is weeding and waking up the garden beds. He says it really works. He also uses nature itself to discourage animal damage. In one location he has a lilac bush next to another perennial that dies off in the winter. Some gardeners might be tempted to cut that dormant plant back in the fall. But by leaving it in place (leaning over the lilac a bit) he protects the lilac buds from the deer, since they are repelled by the prickly branches of the dormant plant next to it.

Another piece of advice he shared is that it is often easier to remove weeds if you let them grow a little. The bigger they are, the easier they are to remove. Just be sure to get them out before they go to seed. Bruce really emphasized that gardening should be a positive exercise, not a chore. We need to stop trying to make everything perfect, removing every weed, and stressing over what everything looks like – it is all natural and beautiful!

Bruce has also planted many specimen trees on his property. Each one has a story and a memory for him, often of the person he acquired the tree from. Bruce plants trees to attract and help the wildlife in the area. He has Ohio Buckeye (Baltimore Orioles love this one), Black Gum (has blazing red fall foliage), Japanese Katsura (with bright orange leaves even now), Ludwig Spaeth Lilac, Dawn Redwood, and others.

We finished up our tour with lunch with Bruce and his wife JoAnn. They were gracious hosts, and we enjoyed our time at their lovely home.

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