What’s Going on at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens This Fall?

Fall 2014 at CSGFall is a beautiful time of year in the CSG gardens, especially right now while the sugar maples are turning.

Blog followers who are also customers received an email in September letting them know that our nursery would not be selling plants this fall.  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens (“CSG”) has gotten so busy in the last five years that we have been unable to do anything besides sell plants.  By remaining closed this fall, we hoped to better prepare for spring, complete some much needed garden renovations, and make some capital improvements to our potting and shipping areas.  This post will show exactly what we have accomplished so far.

Nursery News:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.


Leaf mulch and pine needles CSGCSG uses a staggering amount of ground leaves to mulch the garden beds, and an equally large amount of pine needles to cover all of our paths.  The photo above shows our stock pile for spring once the beds have been mulched and the paths refreshed (so the actual amount required is a lot more).  The piles are about five feet high and wider than tall.  Our own massive deciduous trees provide the leaves, which we grind in the driveway with a lawnmower.  The pine needles are collected from the sides of local roads. 

We highly recommend mulching with ground leaves.  For step-by-step instructions with photos, click here.  If you don’t want to do it yourself, my son and his business Practiced Hands Gardening can supply the ground leaves and do the mulching for you.  Just email him at practicedhandsgardening@gmail.com.


CSG Terrace Renovation Fall 2014Extensive renovations have been completed to the terrace by our front door.  The grass was removed so that we no longer have to haul a lawnmower down the narrow stone steps.  We decided to try pine needles as a replacement.  They are free and easy to install and refresh plus I like the look with the newly installed stepping stone path.  Gravel might have been more suitable from a design standpoint, but the area floods occasionally so we decided to try pine needles first.  We also added more of many of the perennials that were working and eliminated some perennials that had self-sown to  overwhelm other plants.


CSG Rock Garden Renovation Fall 2014The back of the rock garden on the first terrace is also being renovated.  The area had filled in with vinca and self-sown garden phlox.  We are adding a lot more stones and hope to create a path through the middle for ease of viewing.


Transplant Magnolia sieboldii Fall 2014We have moved a lot of trees and shrubs like this double Magnolia sieboldii, one of my favorites, which was planted at the bottom of the garden where the drainage is poor.  Magnolias like to be well-drained so we moved it to a drier area up by the house.


Csg Bulbs Fall 2014Six hundred pots of perennials are planted in the fall for spring sales.  Here they are stacked next to our carport with an initial covering of ground leaves.  Eventually the cover will be six inches thick.  Some perennials do not do well in pots so we also plant a lot of stock in the ground in the fall.


CSG Snowdrop Propagation Fall 2014Snowdrops are propagated in the fall and planted in the ground for spring sales.


CSG Mini Hosta Propagation Fall 2014The photo above shows 21 crates containing 820 miniature hostas.  We usually only winter over  20 to 30 leftover mini hostas.  However, this year several of my wholesale hosta suppliers decided to close their businesses.  I purchased and divided extra plants in the spring of cultivars that I want to try to keep going myself only to find out in September that my main mini hosta supplier, with whom I had already placed my spring 2015 order, was going out of business.  We decided to take as much of our order as was left in stock and potted them up this fall.  At least for spring 2015, many of your favorites, including several of the mouse ears, will still be available.  Sadly, a lot of great minis like ‘Appletini’ and ‘Crumb Cake’ will no longer be available in the trade.


DSCN5354There is a lot more to do outside, but we are also hoping to make some significant capital improvements in the carriage house to make potting the plants we grow here and shipping snowdrops and mini hostas more comfortable and efficient.  Believe it or not we have spent weeks cleaning out this area in preparation for the renovations, but there is a lot more to do.


Fall 2014 at CSGMore of the trees that power the CSG gardens with their leaves.


Fall 2014 at CSG.

Fall 2014 at CSG.

Enjoy fall,


Nursery Happenings:   You can sign up to receive notifications of catalogues, sales, and events at the nursery by sending your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net. Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

29 Responses to “What’s Going on at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens This Fall?”

  1. You have been busy! Things are looking great and I’m particularly jealous of your potting and shipping area. My work area is filthy with dirt and plant bits scattered all over the floor. Needless to say I won’t be posting pictures anytime soon!

  2. nwphillygardner Says:

    So nice to get a behind-the-scenes insight into your operations, Carolyn. And maybe your well-read blog will help inspire a reader who’s also a propagator to add the “endangered” mini hostas to his/her plant list.

    • Eric, You make a good point. If someone wanted to get into the wholesale/tissue culture hosta business, now is the time with two major suppliers, Q&Z and Shady Oaks, out of business. There is really a demand for mini hosta starts because none of the remaining wholesalers like Walters have a very large selection. This is one of the very frustrating things about trying to supply unusual plants and why those plants don’t get sold—even when you find a supplier, they are often quirky and disappear after a while. It is easier for retail nurseries to order mainstream plants that are readily available than spend their time dealing with a multitude of quirky niche growers. Carolyn

  3. Thanks for the tour of what’s happening at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens! I wish I lived closer, because I would stop by. We use leaf mulch naturally. We don’t chop it up–we just let it blow into the perennial beds and rake some up and drag it to the woods. Some goes in the compost, too. But because Oak leaves take a while to decompose, I have to rake some of them off in the springtime. If we chopped them up, I wouldn’t have to do that. Happy Autumn, Carolyn!

    • Beth, I only grind up the leaves that I am going to use on what I consider the more formal areas very close to the house. The rest of beds are not cleaned out and, if they need more mulch, we add whole leaves. My whole woodland filled with delicate wildflowers is covered with huge London plane trees. Their leaves are much bigger and take longer to break down than oak leaves. I used to clean them out in the fall thinking that the plants would not get through the mat. However, I no longer do this, and the plants have no problem emerging. Carolyn

  4. Dear Carolyn,
    I have been working with your son, Alex, and he is such a gift to real plant lovers who still need to get a lawn mowed and shrubs trimmed. You certainly raised him right! I would love to work on propagating hostas, but am not about to embark on a new business. If someone you know wants some help, feel free to give them my info. Rachel

    • Rachel, What a lovely comment and music to a mother’s ears! As you know, Alex is a available (and knowledgeable) to do anything garden: installation, hardscape, pruning, mulching, maintenance, etc. If anyone wants to start the hosta business, I will let them know that a helper is available. Carolyn

  5. That’s great that you can have a season to do all those things that need doing. I loved the step by step instructions for the grinding of the leaves. I have been trying to convince my husband to stop blowing them into the woods so I can do this (he is in love with the leaf blower – too much). I think I finally have convinced him to at least blow them into a spot on the lawn for me to turn it into mulch!

    • Indie, I hope to convert the world away from hardwood mulch and over to ground leaves. Keep in mind that you can also mulch up to 18″ of leaves into the lawn to improve it just leaving them in place and running them over with you mower. Carolyn

  6. Hello Carolyn,
    A fascinating insightful post. It’s always worth stepping back and reassessing, and I’m sure the year out (not off!!) from the nursery selling will pay dividends. But I’m wondering about all those Hosta nurseries stopping? Is there a demographic issue with young gardeners coming along, or aging nursery owners, I wonder? Coincidentally we’ve opted not to open our garden to the public next year, to allow us time to replan/replant – its just too demanding with folk turning up at 10 minutes notice.
    Finally I’m still benefitting from your chopped leaf tip all those years ago. It heats the greenhouse brilliantly through my insulated compost heap all winter, but just as importantly, the compost that results is fantastic for mulcing and growing tomatoes in. Have you heard of Alan Chadwick and his biodynamic intensive system for vegetable growing? I only just discovered him and was intrigued to see that a major component of his seed sowing ‘flats’ was a layer of oak leaf mould.
    Leaves are just a brilliant garden resource, so thanks again for reminding everyone about them,
    Best wishes from a soggy Wales – the constant wet is the only problem right now with collecting all the leaves up!

    • Hi Julian, I am not taking a year off, but just the three weeks to a month that I am normally open in the fall. I always close during the summer because it is too hot to garden, and during early winter. I will reopen on site on March 15, 2015, and start selling snowdrops and other winter interest plants at the beginning of January 2015 as always. Hostas are still the biggest selling perennials in the US, in fact, they get more popular at my nursery every year. Specialty nurseries are quirky and, when the owner with the passion that got a niche nursery started, retires or gets tired, it is unusual that there is anyone to continue. No one would do it for the money—I hate to think of what my hourly wage is—but only for the love of the work. Glad that I am spreading my ground leaf “gospel” overseas to Wales. It is discouraging that here in the mid-Atlantic US where we have one of the biggest concentration of large deciduous trees anywhere, this tremendous resource is normally left by the side of the road for removal. Not only does it deplete the soil on the property, but the environment is further degraded when the leaves are transported away and processed. Carolyn

  7. Wow! What a lot of work… I must stop moaning about my end-of-season chores. But your garden will look wonderful in spring, Carolyn. We’ll try to visit again in 2015 to admire your renovations. P. x

  8. debsgarden Says:

    I love fall! I recently read about grinding leaves inside a large trash can using a string trimmer. we haven’t tried this yet, but we plan to, using a large extra recycle bin that we have. It would be nice to have them already set to be carried to various parts of the garden.

  9. Thanks for showing us how a garden centre works. Your post got me thinking of my garden shed and how it can certainly use a tidy up! Managed to protect some small trees from potential rabbit damage this weekend; if we have another winter like last year I’d lose too many plants to the bunnies. All the best to you Carolyn

  10. annestokeshochberg Says:

    HI! I am wondering whether you can use any plant pots. A lot have been collecting (from plants I’ve bought here and there over the years), and I’m really never going to use them. I have a vague memory of you saying you could use them – is that so? Any particular sizes? I have a range, probably from 5-10 in each of various sizes and configurations. I could bring them over if you can use them. If not I’ll see if I can recycle them.

    Thanks! Anne Hochberg

    • Anne, I can use any size square nursery pot and round pots in sizes 100 or 200. The number is on the bottom and if it is not there then I can’t use it. Sorry to be so picky, but I end up with a lot of trash/recycling from people dropping off pots I don’t use. Thanks for checking first. Carolyn

  11. Too bad about the mini suppliers. Did you check in our area? I know of a few.

  12. It seems you definitely needed some time to do all this work. I love the leaf mulch and all those plants you pot and plant. Wow! And it is sad that many of the mini hostas won’t be available.

  13. It’s great to see the changes you are making to your garden.

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