Fine Gardeners Blog

The Right Expertise and Flowers for Container Gardening for Gorgeous Seasonal Containers

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Newton, Needham, MAContainer gardening services need to bring aesthetics and knowledge together to create lovely container gardens.

Container gardens are a vital part of home aesthetics and are a valuable addition to patios, decks, and entryways. A custom container garden adds sophistication and allure to your home.

Fine Gardeners offers exterior container garden design. We blend various fall plants and gorgeous containers that reflect your taste for the perfect container garden for your home and lifestyle.

Container garden plantings bring life to your home. They can and should express your style and create an inviting atmosphere. And, container gardens can fit into whatever space you have available, giving the perfect splash of texture and contrast to your entryway, deck, patio or indoor living space. They can bring a burst of color to a boring or flat space.

We choose plants and containers after an analysis of your environment, seasonal sun-exposure, surrounding architecture, landscape, and personal style.

A beautiful container garden starts with experience and knowledge for a perfect arrangement of movement and color. For more information on seasonal container gardens, contact Paul Marini at Fine Gardeners.

Cutting Back Perennials At The End Of The Season

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Tuesday, October 31, 2017

To Cut Back Or Not Cut Back? That Is The Question.

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Newton, Needham, MAMost of the perennials in the garden are past their prime and it’s time to make the big decision. So when is the best time to cut back perennials at the end of the season? It depends!

Several things need to be taken into consideration.

Perennials to leave standing:

Most importantly, don’t cut back evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials or it may lead to their demise. Evergreen plants need to retain their leaves in order to survive the winter. Remember this simple phrase: If it’s green, let it be; If it’s brown, maybe you should cut it down. I say maybe, because there are many reasons not to cut them down. Examples of some common evergreen and semi-evergreen perennials: Heuchera (Coral Bells), Geranium (Cranesbill), Lavendula (Lavender), Stachys (Lambs Ear), Dianthus (Pinks)

Many perennials provide winter interest, especially during a snowy winter. Tall ornamental grasses provide drama in the winter landscape with their tall plumes as well as movement with the slightest breeze. Perennials with persistent seed pods and seed heads can also remain for winter interest. Examples: Miscanthus (Maiden Grass), Calamagrostis (Feather Reed Grass), Baptisia, Echinacea (Purple Cone Flower), Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed-Susan), Sedum. Perennials that are marginally hardy, such as Agastache (Anise Hyssop) and Chrysanthemum (Garden Mums) will have a better chance of surviving the winter if left standing.

Perennials that provide food for birds:

Many birds utilize the seed heads of dried perennials during the winter. Also, birds often find protection in plant stubs, ground covers and leaf litter. Beneficial insects may hide in or near native plants for the winter in pupae stage, as caterpillars or eggs. Plants provide shelter from predators such as birds or spiders. Leaf litter also provides shelter for insects which is another good reason to keep some leaf litter in the garden all winter. Don’t be too tidy with the fall cleanup in your perennial beds.

Perennials To Cut Back:

Some perennials don’t contribute much to winter interest nor do they provide food for wildlife. These perennials can look a bit unsightly so why not cut them back when it is time. Plants that are prone to disease and insect pest problems should be cut to the ground to reduce the chance of infection the following season. Monarda (Bee Balm) and Tall Phlox are perfect examples of perennials that are prone to disease and pest problems. The leaves of Hosta can often harbor the eggs from slugs, so it’s best to cut them back when they turn yellow and remove them from the garden to prevent them from hatching in the garden next year. We cut back any plants with browning or blackened foliage and bare stalks that don’t add anything visually to the winter garden. Examples: Paeonia (Peonies), Hemerocallis (Daylillies), Brunnera, Veronica (Speedwell)

Some perennials will generate new basal foliage from the crown of the plant so do not disturb this new growth when cutting back the dead stalks. Examples: Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy), Echinops (Globe Thistle), Centaurea (Bachelor Buttons)

Procedure for cutting plants back:

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to cut plants back. Timing varies from year to year depending on temperature fluctuations. This Fall has been very mild and we still haven’t had a killing frost so it’s too soon to cut things back in my opinion. If the plants are completely brown, black or disease ridden, then by all means, cut them back. In general, wait until we have had several hard frosts which will cause the plants to go dormant. If they haven’t gone dormant yet then they are still storing energy to the root system for next year.

When cutting down a plant, leave about two inches above the soil to mark its location in the garden. This especially important for late-emerging plants such as Hibiscus, Asclepias (Butterfly Weed), and Platycodon (Balloon Flower). We use several tools for cutting back plants. Bypass pruners, gardening scissors and serrated garden knives are all good tools for this purpose. The thickness of the stems determines which tool to use. If you have large masses of one type of perennial, then power hedge trimmers or hand shears might be the best tool to use.

In closing, do whatever suits your gardening style. If your gardening style is ‘neat and tidy’, then you will probably prefer to cut all your plants back, except for the evergreens, in the fall. For many gardeners, leaving some of your select perennials will provide winter interest and be beneficial for wildlife.

For more information, contact Paul Marini at Fine Gardeners.

Great Plants for Fall Container Gardens

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Newton, Needham, MAMums and asters are all over the place in the fall and they are great plants. But there are lots of other contenders that can sail through the cold temps of fall, looking awesome. Many garden centers don't carry a lot of the plants that are mentioned for the fall. But...

Here are some favorites.

Heuchera aka Coral Bells

Coral bells, also known as heuchera, are an all-time favorite container plants. They come in a mind-blowing assortment of colors and leaf textures and they are a very good-humored plant – almost impossible to kill. Some heuchera are happy in full sun, shade, or anything in between. Most are hardy down to -25 °F and perennial in zones 4 to 9. They are mounding plants and look great on their own or paired with either contrasting plants or in shades of the same color.

Coral bells can look great with gourds, mums and ornamental grasses. Choose a dark, almost black leaf, like 'Dolce, Licorice' or choose the lighter, 'Dolce, Peach Melba' for a terrific fall plant that works well with many fall decorations.


Verbena is a prolific bloomer and will look good from spring well into fall. Many verbenas are hardy down to 15 °F and will continue flowering even after the first frost. They look great either on their own or filling in spaces and spilling over the edges of garden planters, window boxes or hanging baskets.

Colors range from brilliant reds to deep, dark blue to purples and pinks. They are drought tolerant and only need an average amount of water. They do need good drainage and, like most flowering annuals, verbenas need to be fed every couple of weeks. Though deadheading isn't necessary for most common varieties, your plant will look much better if you cut off the blooms after they fade. If your plant gets leggy, you will want to give it a serious haircut, pruning it way back, so it will fill out.

Oxalis or Shamrock

Oxalis is elegant and, at the same, time kind of cheerful. It is exceedingly easy to grow and likes partial shade to full shade. It is hardy to 15 °F and is an annual except in zones 8 to 10. Oxalis is a mounding plant and grows to be 12 to 18 inches high, making it a good plant to use in filling out a container. It comes in several colors including a really dark, almost black, ‘Charmed Velvet,’ and my favorite, a burgundy color called ‘Charmed Wine.” Another plus about oxalis is that you can bring it inside to overwinter.

Make sure you get Oxalis vulcanicola, which is not invasive.

Decorative Cabbage and Kale

Decorative cabbages are delightfully chubby and cheerful plants, while the kales are all spiky and radical looking. However, both of these plants will take you well into fall with style and beautiful sagey greens with pinks and purples. As a bonus, flowering cabbage and kales' colors only intensify as the weather gets colder, especially after a frost.

They also can bring some great color and texture to mixed container gardens. Kales can look great in funky shallow baskets, window boxes or modern metal planters with clean lines. These are really bold plants, so don’t be afraid to put them in unusual containers or combine them with unlikely plants.


Sedum, also known as stonecrop, is a classic fall plant for container gardens because that’s when it looks its best. Blooming in late summer to early fall, sedum is easy to grow in containers, preferring good drainage and full sun, though most will tolerate some shade. There are a vast array of sedums with different textures and flowers.

Sedum is a particularly good choice of plant for a fall container that you want to leave out all winter, because the dried flowers can look beautiful, especially covered with snow or frost. Sedum is hardy to a whopping -40°F and is a perennial in zones 3 to 9.

Some sedum can get pretty tall so it’s great to use in the center or back of a container.

Rudbeckia hirta.

Several great varieties such as Cherokee Sunset, Cherry Brandy, and Indian Summer are excellent, very showy additions to Fall planters. These sell out very quickly at garden centers, so shop early for them!

These plants will also survive the cold with style and class.

  • Wirevine
  • White Clover
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Sage
  • Lambs Ear's
  • Calibrachoa

Don't feel like creating your fall planter yourself? No problem, contact Paul at Fine Gardeners, we'll take care of it.

Raking Leaves or Leaf Blowers?

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Newton, Brookline, Needham, MAWow, if this isn't a hot topic! No matter where you live, or how much you like your neighbors, the minute a neighbor fires up a noisy leaf blower, you're at their mercy and have to deal with the loud noise and air pollution.

Still, leaf blowers are commonly seen as the simpler, faster option when it comes to gathering leaves.

But are they really more efficient than raking?...

Leaf Blowers Are Noisy

The high pitched whine from a leaf blower is known to be damaging to your ears. It's so loud that many choose to wear sound-deadening ear protection whenever they're operating a leaf blower.

The fact is leaf blowers are so noisy that ordinances have been passed in many cities and towns around Massachusetts limiting both the decibel rating and time of day that use of a leaf blower is allowed — frustrating many landscapers!

Some even go so far as to publish a list of allowable leaf blowers, mandating which brands and models can or cannot be used within city limits.

Beyond the noise pollution, you also need to consider the air pollution created when using a leaf blower.

In one year's time, that little leaf blower engine you hear buzzing up the street pumps out as much smog-forming pollution as 80 cars, each driven 12,500 miles.

Most leaf blowers are powered by a 2-cycle oil-burning gas motor. This type of motor is required to allow the high rpm which generates the high velocity air that blows the leaves away.

In addition to blowing leaves, there is a considerable amount of trash, dust, dirt and other allergens that are sent airborne as a result of using a leaf blower. This could greatly affect those susceptible to respiratory problems (such as asthma).

And don't forget the smoky exhaust. Leaf blowers do actually burn oil as it's mixed with the gas.

Leaf Blowers Alone Don't Get Rid Of Leaves

Blowing leaves and grass trimmings away from your property isn't necessarily taking care of the ultimate problem: disposing of all those leaves.

You see, you can use a leaf blower to gather all of the leaves into piles, making it easier for you to pick up and dispose of them. Or, you can use a leaf blower to simply blow leaves from your property to somewhere else. Many do the latter.

Unless you pick up (or rake up) the leaves after you've blown them into a pile, then you're simply redistributing the leaves, rather than eliminating them. Leaves that are randomly blown away also tend to find their way down the storm sewer — causing water backups, flooded basements, and all sorts of grief for the Public Works Dept.

The Best Thing About Leaf Blowers

Of course there are some good reasons to use a leaf blower. They are faster, easier, and require less effort than raking does in open areas.

Unfortunately, most leaf blowers are used improperly from the get-go.

Leaf blowers are great for blowing grass clippings off your sidewalks and driveway and back into your lawn. Sending freshly cut grass clippings back into your lawn is actually good for your lawn. The hand held rechargeable blowers work great for this task.

Is Leaf Blowing Faster Than Raking?

I don't know, you tell me...

Every situation is different. It makes sense to use a leaf blower in larger open areas where blower are their most efficient. In small areas where there is really no where to blow them into a pile because there are so many obstacles, it makes more sense to rake.

In one 3-phase test, comparing a well-muscled leaf blower to a diminutive grandmother with a rake, the rake and broom were as fast as the leaf blower.

For information on fall cleanups using hand-tools, contact Paul Marini at Fine Gardeners.

Household Tips Guide

Fall Garden Tips

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Monday, August 28, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Needham, Newton, Brookline, MAAssess Your Garden

A flower garden can tell you a lot at the end of the growing season. You'll want to assess the results of all your spring and summer work, and prepare the garden for next spring. First, take a walk around your garden and look at how all the plants did over the summer. Track successes and failures of individual plants. Identify which plants have outgrown their space and need to be divided.

Add Mulch

Determine which bare areas could use soil amendment and new plants. Add mulch where necessary.

Check for Diseases

Check the overall health of plants — look for diseases and damage.

Replace Old with New

Replace summer annuals in window boxes and garden beds with cool-weather flowers. Dig up any bulb plants that aren't hardy in your zone.


You'll want to weed, deadhead faded blooms, divide overgrown plants, dig up non-hardy bulbs for winter storage, remove spent annuals, amend soil and add needed mulch. Replace ties with jute twine. Natural fibers make the best ties because they're more flexible. They'll break down over time, but at that point, it will be time to retie the plants anyway. Amend soil where there are bare spots or where you've removed annuals. Add compost and to replace nutrients lost during summer growth and to better prepare the soils for spring planting. Turn the amendments into the soil with a garden fork to distribute it evenly. Brush off any mulch that's sitting on branches of shrubs because it can cause leaves and needles to yellow.

Rose Care

Fall isn't the ideal time to prune roses. Pruning stimulates new growth that may not be able to survive the winter, especially in colder zones. Don't even cut off any dead wood.

Phlox Care

Cut faded blossoms. If powdery mildew is present, remove most of the stem that has the worst of the problem. Discard any affected debris — do not compost.

Gladiolus Care

It's important to get these out of the ground before the first killing frost; it doesn't harm the plants to do this while their foliage is still green. Dig out the bulbs and gently shake excess dirt from their roots. Cut off the stalks. Allow bulbs to "cure" (dry) for a couple of days. Shake any remaining soil from bulbs. Put bulbs in a cardboard box with some peat moss and store in a cool, dry place for the winter.

Siberian Iris

To divide, dig out the entire clump and then cut it into sections. Replace one section into the original hole and save the remaining sections for other bare areas in the garden.

Remove All Annuals from the Garden

Remove all annuals from the garden. You can save seeds from most annuals and plant them next year. Zinnias are an easy plant to collect seeds from and to grow from seed. For window boxes, simply remove summer annuals, add more potting mix and plant cool-weather bloomers like ornamental kale and pansies.

Ready Your Container Gardens

Believe it or not, the most overlooked group of plants this time of year is fall flower for container gardens, and there are plenty of things to consider with respect to their care.

For more information or for help with you fall gardening or fall container gardens, contact Paul at Fine Gardeners.

Choose Your Landscape Mulch Wisely

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Monday, July 31, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Needham, Newton, MAThere are many types of garden mulch to choose from, but some are better than others. Here is a list of commonly used mulches: Pine bark, hemlock, color-enhanced wood mulch, leaf mulch, peat moss, buckwheat hulls, fresh wood chips, compost.

Mulch should serve four main purposes:

  1. It should suppress weeds.
  2. Help retain moisture to the soil.
  3. It should be aesthetically pleasing.
  4. Very importantly, it should improve the soil by adding organic matter as it decomposes.

If the mulch you use does not meet these criteria, then we suggest you try something different. In our opinion, leaf mulch, also called leaf mold, is the best material to use for all of the above reasons. Not only does it meet these criteria, but it holds its color indefinitely, the texture is very fine, and it decomposes into compost within one or two seasons. Leaf mulch is an organic mulch and is also the most sustainable of all the choices. Aged pine bark or hemlock mulch is the second best.

Some people like fresh wood chips, but they are not a good choice for some gardening purposes. It will help suppress weeds and retain moisture, but it is not as aesthetically pleasing as it's light in color, very coarse, and as it decomposes, it ties up nitrogen at the surface of the soil. Most plants will not be affected by this phenomenon, but if you are planting vegetables or annuals then it will likely affect their productivity. On the other hand, wood chips can often be obtained for free, and if you are mulching a large area comprising mainly of trees and shrubs, then it could be an appropriate choice.

Color-enhanced mulches are gaining in popularity because they hold their color for a long time. My main complaints with these mulches are that they seem to compact and form a hard surface and they take a long time to decompose. I personally don't care for the color choices because they aren't very natural looking, but this is completely subjective. I also don't like the fact that when you are gardening on your knees, the color stains your clothes, skin and gloves and is difficult to wash out. There is also concern that color-enhanced mulch may be somewhat toxic, but this is controversial.

Peat moss is not used very often any more for good reason. It's very expensive, not sustainable and it seems to repel water once it dries out. It also moves around readily with wind and heavy rain.

Buckwheat hulls also blow around and get washed away easily. They can work well in very small gardens such as an herb garden or small annual or perennial bed where the grade is level.

Compost can also be used as a mulch, but if you have weed issues and a fair amount of bare areas that are exposed to sunlight, then you may have a serious weed problem by using compost.

There are many opinions and varying points of view on this subject, but these are simply my observations and experiences in dealing with many types of mulching materials through the years. Your experiences may be different.

For more information on mulching your gardens, contact Fine Gardeners.

Creating Curb Appeal in a Day

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Newton, Needham, MAA new season is here. We often change the décor inside our homes as the seasons change. Maybe it is time to change the outside of your home? Making your home welcoming and attractive can boost your mood and make it fun to come home.

If your home's curb appeal makes a great first impression, everyone -- including potential homebuyers -- will want to see what's inside. Here are some curb appeal improvements that you can do in a day, a week, or a month.

Create an instant garden

Container gardens add a welcoming feel and colorful curb appeal to any home exterior -- quickly and affordably. You can buy ready-made containers from garden centers or create your own with your favorite plants. For most landscapes, a staggered, asymmetrical arrangement works best to create a dynamic setting.

Garden for Curb Appeal

Use these five easy curb appeal ideas to take your landscape to the next level.

Install window boxes

Window boxes offer a fast, easy way to bring color and charm to your home's curb appeal. Choose boxes made from copper or iron for a traditional look, or painted wood for a cottage feel. Mix and match flowers and plants to suit your lighting conditions and color scheme.

Renew planter beds

Get garden beds into shape by pruning growth, pulling weeds, planting flowers, and adding new mulch to restore color that was taken away by sunlight and harsh weather. If stone or brick borders your bed, consider cleaning and resetting any pieces that are soiled or dislodged. If your border is old or tired-looking, try upgrading to stone or a decorative cast-concrete edging system for improved curb appeal.

Add arbors or fence panels

Arbors, garden gates, and short sections of decorative fence panels will enhance your garden and the value and curb appeal of your home. These amenities can be found in easy-to-build kits or prefab sections you simply connect together. For best results, paint or stain these items with colors already on your house.

Add outdoor art

Give your yard a little spunk and curb appeal by adding weather-resistant artwork. Choose pieces that complement your home's natural palette and exterior elements. Birdbaths, metal cutouts, sculptures, and wind chimes are good choices for outdoor art. Water sculptures not only function as yard art, but the burbling sounds soothe and make hot days feel cooler. Place fountains on level ground in optimum hearing and sight vantage points. Avoid spots in leaf-dropping range.

Create a new planting bed

Add contrast and color to your home exterior adding a new planting bed with beautiful garden design. Prime spots for curb appeal are at the front corners of the yard, along driveways or walkways, and immediately in front of the house. When creating a new bed, choose features that will frame your home rather than obscure it. Opt for stone or precast-concrete blocks to edge the bed. Include a mix of plant size, color, and texture for optimal results.

For more information on improving your home’s curb appeal with garden beds or container gardens, contact Fine Gardeners.

Home and Gardens

Should I Prune my Blue Hydrangeas Now?

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Friday, June 23, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Needham, Brookline, Newton, MAThis is a followup to our previous blog about hydrangeas. Every year I am asked this same question from clients or neighbors of clients; "Should I cut my hydrangeas back?" Many people are under the impression that blue Mophead Hydrangeas should never be pruned, even when there are no viable buds present. If the canes on your blue Hydrangeas have not leafed out by now, then they are dead and need to be pruned back to some sign of life. Sorry, they will not come back to life, unless you have a variety named 'Lazarus'!

Many of the canes can be pruned to the ground if there are no leaves on them, but if they have leaves, simply prune them back to the first set of healthy leaves. For clarification, we are speaking of hydrangea macrophylla commonly known as blue Mophead Hydrangea. This is where there is much confusion because there are several types of hydrangeas and they are pruned differently depending on whether they bloom on old growth or new growth. It is important to keep track of the types of hydrangeas you have in order to prune them properly. Our next blog on hydrangeas will address the different categories of hydrangeas and how to prune them.

For more information on pruning plants and trees or on garden design or maintenance, contact Fine Gardeners.

Blue Hydrangeas: Why Aren't They Blooming?

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Friday, June 02, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Newtonm, Needham, MAIt looks like we have a repeat scenario for blue hydrangeas this year.

Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly called Mophead Hydrangea, were very disappointing for gardeners in the Northeast last year. Expect the same situation this year. The reason the blue hydrangea won't bloom is due to the fluctuating temperatures this winter and early spring. In a typical year, hydrangea buds will begin to swell in late March and should leaf out all along the stems in May. February was very warm so the buds of hydrangeas started to swell very early and were subject to the cold temperature drops in early April. We saw temperatures drop to the teens at night in early April causing severe dieback to hydrangeas and some damage to roses as well.

Is there anything you can do to protect your hydrangeas from dieback? Not really. Experiments have been done by wrapping burlap filled with leaves around the shrubs with no real benefit. Other methods of protecting hydrangeas have also proven to be ineffective.

For reliable blooms on hydrangeas, Fine Gardeners suggest that you try the following species and cultivars:

Hydrangea paniculata - large, white flowers fade to antique pink, blooms on new wood, many varieties available such as 'Limelight', 'Pinky Winky', 'Bobo', etc.

Hydrangea arborescens - round white flowers, blooms on new wood, varieties such as 'Annabelle', 'Incrediball', 'White Dome' has white lacecap flowers

Hydrangea quercifolia commonly called Oakleaf Hydrangea - Loose white flowers fade to antique pink, leaves provide excellent fall color, varieties include 'Alice', 'Pee Wee'

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Twist-n-Shout' - Large, blue lacecap flowers, Reblooming on old and new wood

So many new varieties of these species are being introduced ever year that it's difficult to keep up with them all. Unfortunately, the only fairly reliable blue flowering variety is the lacecap variety 'Twist-n-Shout'.

For information on gardening and garden design, contact Fine Gardeners.

Over Mulching: Are You Guilty of It?

Paul Marini - Marini Fine Gardeners - Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fine Gardeners, Brookline, Needham, MAMany people are under the impression that lots of mulch is good for plants so they pile it up around their perennials, trees and shrubs year after year. After 5 years of adding 1 to 3 inches annually, you could have as mulch as 5 to 10 inches of mulch built up around the stems of your shrubs and trunks of your trees. This is actually detrimental to your plants and most commonly done by commercial landscape companies.

Have you ever noticed the mounds of mulch around the trees in parking lot plantings in many plazas and shopping malls? In our trade we call that 'volcano mulching'. Excessive mulch smothers the roots of plants and sheds water away from the roots. It will cause the decline of plants over time.

The optimum thickness of mulch should be maintained at about two inches. This is enough to suppress weeds and aid in retaining moisture for the plants. Fine Gardeners recommends adding only half an inch to one inch as needed to maintain a two inch thickness. Only use a dusting near the crowns of perennials, shrubs and tree trunks. Your plants will thank you if you follow these simple guidelines for garden maintenance and you'll save money by using less mulch.

For more information on garden design and maintenance, contact Fine Gardeners.

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