Paeonia tenuifolia or the fernleaf peony is another herbaceous species with finely divided, fernlike foliage. It produces single or double dark red blooms in mid to late spring and requires full to partial sun. No staking is needed since it grows to only a foot tall. The fernleafs are able to survive for several generations and are known for their ability to adapt to new environments with minimal care. They are hardy from zones 3-6.

Palmiter’s also grows species peonies which are herbaceous and whose origins are true un-hybridized, wild peonies. Their elegant, simple flowers shimmer in soft shades of lavender and pink, but also include vibrant yellows and reds. They are becoming more and more scarce due to their native habitats being destroyed. Species peonies do not tolerate crowding from other plant roots or wet, soggy soil conditions. They prefer dappled sun at the edge of a woodland.

The tree peony or Paeonia suffruticosa, has woody stems that lose their leaves in the fall, but do not die back to the ground. They tend to bloom earlier and with larger flowers than the herbaceous peonies but are slower to increase in size. This notable deciduous shrub matures to about 4-5' in height and is drought tolerant once established. It produces striking blooms in late spring to early summer for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the weather. When the temperatures are cooler, the blossoms last longer. Tree peonies prefer 4-6 hours of sun or 6-8 hours of dappled sun in zones 4-7. P. suffruticosa ‘Hanakisoi’ was stunning with large, coral-pink blossoms that look like waterlilies floating above its green foliage. P. ‘Shimadaijin’ had huge 8” ruffled purple blossoms.

In recent years, the Chinese Rockii tree peony has been cultivated and developed in China. Also called the “Purple Speckle Peony” it is a large tree type that is drought-resistant and extremely hardy. It is the new star in the peony family with large blooms in rich colors and various shapes, strong flexible stems, and simple maintenance requirements.

And lastly, a recent introduction, the Itoh or Intersectional which are a cross between the herbaceous and tree peonies. These crosses have produced new, exciting colors while retaining the lovely leaf form of the tree peonies. Like the herbaceous forms, the intersectionals die to the ground in the winter. The plants are vigorous and healthy with a nice rounded bush form, generally shorter than most herbaceous varieties, thus no staking is necessary. Excellent hardiness of flower buds and consequent reliability of flowering in zones 4-7 is noteworthy. Paeonia x 'Kopper Kettle' has large, semi-double blossoms of copper-orange with a darker center and occasional yellow streaks. Its generous blooms dance above lush, toothed foliage. P. ‘Sequested Sunshine’ has large, bright canary-yellow blossoms with showy stamens that stand above the dark green, deeply dissected foliage.

The Palmiter’s have traveled to China on several occasions to study tree peonies, view species peonies in the wild and network with growers. The expertise they garnered through their studies has resulted in a comprehensive collection of peonies available for the perspicacious gardener.

Nestled in and around the State Line Railroad Depot built in the late 1800’s, Zantopia Herb Gardens in Mumford proved to be much more than just herbs. Since 2000, owner Drew Zantopp has been propagating and selling unique plants from this historic location. His passion for growing uncommon annuals and perennials is evident.

Thermopsis chinensis ‘Sunrise’ is a bushy, multibranched perennial with brilliant yellow blooms in May and June. Preferring full sun, the Chinese bush pea has a vertical growth habit reaching 30” tall and is hardy in zones 3-8. It is a long lived, low maintenance showstopper for borders and beds.

A delightful addition to any lightly shaded garden is Bletilla striata or the Chinese ground orchid. Although it is slow to spread, it is easy to grow and produces magenta orchid like flowers in late spring on 12” arching stems. Hardy in zones 5-9, its slender, pleated foliage should be protected from late spring frosts as it emerges.

For the front of the border or rock garden try Scutellaria alpina 'Arcobaleno' (Rainbow Scullcap) which displays cheerful shades of violet, pale blue, rose, yellow and white two-lipped blossoms from June to September. This 10-12” tuft-forming perennial prefers a sunny, gritty, well-drained soil in zones 4-10.

Drew grows many annuals including nasturtium, datura, talinum and huge pots of brugmansia. For the culinarian, stevia and Thai basil are just two of the fresh herbs mingling with tomato plants, hanging baskets of peppers and jars of local raw honey. Be sure to check out interesting landmarks in the Caledonia-Mumford community including the Iroquois Hotel and the New York Central Railroad Depot.

So grab a friend and experience the abundance of plant material as well as the rich history of the rural towns located just a short drive from Rochester. Just be sure to free up plenty of space in the trunk before embarking on this excursion.

Printed in the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal, March-April 2010

© 2017 Gardens By Colleen. All rights reserved.


Marlow’s Orchids

2272 Scottsville Road

Scottsville, New York 14546


Travel time: 48 minutes to #2


Country Corners Nursery, Inc.

6611 State Route 5 & 20

Bloomfield, New York 14469


Travel time: 31 minutes to #3


J.E. Miller Nurseries

5060 West Lake Road

Canandaigua, New York 14424


Travel time: 56 minutes to #4


Amanda’s Garden

8410 Harpers Ferry Road

Springwater, New York 14560


Travel time: 50 minutes to #5


Palmiter’s Garden Nursery

2675 Geneseo Road,  NY 39

Avon, New York 14414


Travel time: 16 minutes to #6


Zantopia Herb Gardens

1147 Main Street

Mumford, New York 14511


Along the road

to horticultural

hot spots

by Colleen O’Neill Nice

Traveling south of Rochester,

this year’s horticultural expedition

included nurseries in rural communities with

interesting historical foundations. I invited my savvy gardening friend Cathy along, so we could share ideas and experiences as we drove through the scenic countryside. She nurtures an exhilarating garden in Bennington, New York and is always eager for a little adventure.

Our first destination in Scottsville, was Marlow’s Orchids where Jim gave us a tour of his greenhouse, as well as his beautiful gardens. Growing orchids since 1974, Jim used his decades of experience to start his orchid business in 2003. He grows 300-400 different varieties from as far away as South America and estimates his inventory around 5000 to 6000 plants. His web site lists over twenty genus including Cymbidiums, Cypripedium, Dendrobiums, Phalaenopsis and Phragmipedilum. According to Jim, orchids provide long bloom times (up to 4 months), a diversity of flower forms and endless colors. The rich mahogany and cream colored flowers of Oncidium Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance' was blooming when we visited. Great for beginners, this easy-to-grow orchid has an intoxicating vanilla chocolate aroma. Jim also grows miniature orchids  in 2-3” pots that remain less than 6” tall, excluding inflorescence. These plants are perfect for anyone with limited growing space.

Jim displays at fifteen orchid shows a year traveling primarily on the east coast. Check his web site ( for the dates and times of the shows as well as his next open house in Scottsville. Visits to Marlow’s are by appointment only.

Interestingly, the Wehle Farm is located just across the road from Marlow’s. Its stables housed the famous Genesee Brewing Company’s 12 horse team. Avid sportsman, John L. Wehle, was the founder of the Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford. His sporting and wildlife paintings can be enjoyed at the museum.

Our next stop, Country Corners Nursery in Bloomfield, New York was a kaleidoscope of flowers and foliage which captured our attention. Purple-blue agapanthus danced around rose and lantana standards. Espaliered trees spread out on trellises amongst hydrangeas, bamboo and tree peonies.

Numerous varieties of heathy, large hibiscus clamored for attention. A sun-loving hardy perennial, hibiscus needs moist, well-drained soil to produce large flowers and lush foliage. It is always one of the last plants to emerge in the spring but its vigorous growth more than makes up for the late start. Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ displays burgundy-red foliage with orange-red undersides and pink flowers. Combine it with the ruffled, scarlet blooms of H. ‘Crimson Wonder’ or the deep red flowers of H. ‘Lord Baltimore’. Pink varieties include H. ‘Super Rose’ and H. ‘Clown’. For a lovely clear, white blossom try H. ‘Blue River II’. Reaching three to six feet tall, hibiscus bloom in late summer and should not be allowed to dry out. In spring, cut back any remaining stems before new growth appears and remember to deadhead to prolong the bloom period.

While in Bloomfield, take a walking tour of over 50 historic buildings. Print a map at The tour includes churches, homes, taverns, retail shops and a park.

You may recognize our next destination, Miller Nurseries, from their mail order catalogs. Specializing in fruit trees, this family business has been around since 1936. Both the online ( and print catalogs also list fig and nut trees, berries, grapes, vegetables and an assortment of flower bulbs and perennials. All the items in their catalog are available on-site during shipping season while supplies last.

When visiting Miller’s, the calla lilies were in full bloom in a wide array of colors. The golden calla lily, Zantedeschia elliottiana, had sunny yellow upright trumpets dancing above white freckled foliage. An outstanding example of the advances hybridizers have made in regards to color is Z. 'Regal'. This new variety has rich, velvety purple blooms with a prominent dark eye.  Z. albomaculata exhibits five inch long white spathes with a purplish base. Its broad green leaves are dotted white. For the hand painted look of porcelain, enjoy the breathtaking Z. rehmannii 'Superba'. It combines shades of soft pink with rich rosey-pink feathering at the edges.

Callas are tropical plants grown from rhizomes and hardy in zones 8-12. They can be grown indoors as houseplants or grown outdoors in beds or pots. In the fall the rhizomes must be lifted and stored for the winter. Give this perennial a sunny location with moist soil and it will bloom in spring and summer reaching a height of 12 to 18”.

Miller Nurseries overlooks Canandaigua Lake, the most western of the Finger Lakes. It is the legendary birthplace of the Seneca Indians or “People of the Hills”.  Enjoy the countryside by taking a walk or bike ride on the developing 23 mile trail, Ontario Pathways.

In Springwater, we visited the woodland wonderland of Amanda’s Garden, a native perennial nursery specializing in wildflowers. We were welcomed by Ellen Folts, passionate propagator and promoter of native plants, who has over 27 years of horticultural experience.

As we were touring the woodlands, Ellen pointed out several interesting natives. The woodland asters (Aster divaricatus) are a late summer bloomer with delicate white or blue rays and a central yellow disc. Serrated, heart-shaped foliage is striking when the flowers are not in bloom. It grows in dry to moist well drained soil and prefers part to full shade.

If you could have only one native plant in your garden, try Actaea rubra or baneberry. Its arching stems hold vivid green compound leaves very similar to astilbe. In May, creamy flower clusters appear on stalks curving above the foliage. The stalks then turn crimson as the berries mature to red. Amongst the greens of the woodland, the rich red berries really standout. Baneberry is often referred to as Doll’s Eyes because of the tiny black spots at the tip of each berry. But wait, check out the white baneberry, Actaea pachypoda, whose berries really do look like china doll eyes. Baneberry reaches a height of three feet in moist, well drained, rich soil in partly sunny conditions.

Bloodroot is a great foliage plant for the shady garden. Sanguinaria canadensis gets its common name from the blood red juice which can be extracted from its reddish-orange root (actually a rhizome). It has white flowers in the spring and deeply scalloped, gray-green leaves. As the plant matures, the leaves continue growing to about nine inches across. The plant is stemless, reaching 8-10 inches tall and makes an interesting ground cover.

Check Ellen’s website at for directions, a list of available plants and events planned for 2010. When visiting, call ahead.

Next, we visited Palmiter’s Garden in Avon, where an awe-inspiring composition of  plants danced under the late afternoon sky. This 40 year old family business is run by Marla Palmiter and her parents, Merle and Shelia. As we toured the extensive plantings in their gardens, we found a treasure trove of interesting plant combinations as well as healthy, mature specimens. This well tended garden is a showcase for plants and how they should be grown. It also embodies the love this family has for horticulture.

Next, we perused the nursery and were pleasantly surprised by the large selection of peonies including herbaceous, species, tree and interspecific. According to Merle, Palmiter’s is the largest peony grower in the country. Now most gardeners grow  herbaceous peony which die back to the ground in the winter, then reappear in spring. The most common herbaceous peonies are the lactiflora’s which are native to China. They grow to about 3 feet tall in full sun and well-drained rich, organic soil. In the fall, a top dressing of compost or well-rotted manure is recommended. Hardy from zones 3-6, these peonies love the cold and appreciate their winter dormancy period. The distinct flower of Paeonia lactiflora ‘Doreen’ was captivating with magenta-rose outer petals set off by a massive center of golden petioles. It is lightly fragrant and blooms in midseason.