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Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – January 15, 2018

Rain Flood Ice

Rain Flood Ice

Bloom Day is here, but there are no blooms outdoors.



But for the first time in a couple of years I have blooms in January.  The amaryllis that is opening was an early Christmas present and it grew rapidly. The amaryllis with  buds about to open spent the summer out in my garden and is giving me great gratification Two other amaryllis bulbs that spent the summer in the ground are coming along – slowly. I have hopes.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day.

My Winter Garden in Color

Red winterberries and osier dogwood

Red winterberries, osier dogwood and arborvitae in my winter garden

My frigid winter garden is peaceful, blanketed with snow. Mysterious tracks speak of the creatures that wander across the landscape, leaving hints of their dancing in the bright moonlight, or shifting shadows of the breezy day. Tiny birds frolic near the Norway spruce, and seem to be feasting on the spruce seeds left for them on the snow.

My town winter garden is small, and very different from the fields of Heath, where the snow danced with the wind, jiving its way down the hill and into the woods of Heath.  However, no matter whether you have an urban plot or country fields, the winter garden needs no hand or back to tend it during the colder and colder days of the new year.

What the winter garden does need is thought in spring, summer and fall about which plants can add interest during the cold and snowy months. That interest can be created in numerous ways. Color comes to my mind first because it immediately makes itself felt. Because I wanted color in my winter garden as I chose shrubs for my low maintenance and wet garden I first chose dogwood shrubs. I bought the aptly named red twig dogwood with its bare crimson branches that stand out elegantly against the snow.

More and more people have become familiar with red twig dogwoods, Cornus alba, with cultivar names like “Prairie Fire”, and “Midnight Sun” as well as others with varying sizes and shades of red.

Cornus sanguinea cultivars like “Arctic Fire” are smaller than the C. alba. Not all of the Sanguinea family are solely red. “Midnight Fire” is quite golden turning red at the tips.

Cornus sericea is the family of osier dogwood shrubs. I have one that lacks a cultivar name, but it has both red and yellow-green branches. I have always called my third cornus a yellow twig. I believe it to be “Flaviramea”. When the sun is shining on it I find it even more stunning than the red twig . It is also extremely tolerant of my wet soil. The lower branches that touch the ground easily sucker, and I could have babies to share.

Gold winterberries

Gold winterberries

Berries are another way of adding color to the winter garden. Again, because my garden is wet I chose swamp loving winterberries.  One is the necessary male, two produce red berries, and one has surprising golden berries.

The former owners of my house planted two beautiful English hollies. One, the female, is quite large and filled with scarlet berries, while the other, the male, is somewhat smaller, and bears no berries. If I had neighbors that wanted to have a berried holly, they might not even need the male. Pollinators can easily travel around a whole neighborhood.

English holly

English Holly

A berried tree I have come to admire in Greenfield is the hawthorn that produces lots of red berries. The berries certainly provide winter interest, and feed the birds.

In addition to berries some trees have the advantage of unusual bark. I have planted two river birches which have a peeling sort of bark with cinnamon tones. This is a tree that loves the wet, and the bark is just as beautiful as that of the white birch.

River birch bark

River birch bark

When I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum’s wooded Monk’s Garden I was fascinated by the paperbark maple, Acer grisem, which has bark in shades of brown and reddish brown that peels away to reveal the new cinnamon-y bark.

A friend gave me a beautiful book for Christmas, The Winter Garden: Reinventing the Season by Cedric Pollett (Francis Lincoln publisher) that shows the drama of these plants in the garden, especially when planted in masses, which is to say in groups of two or three.

Pollet took beautiful photographs of many winter gardens, most of which are planted on a scale larger than many of us will enjoy. These are English winter gardens where the weather is much milder than ours in New England. Even though we share many plants the blooming period might be different because of that milder weather.

One of the especially helpful aspects of the book is the section given over to photographs, descriptions, and needs of many dramatic winter garden plants. One of the  trees that captured my attention was the maple Acer conspicuum.  It certainly would be conspicuous in a garden because during the spring and summer the bark is a shade of orange, turns pink in the fall, and scarlet in mid-winter. However, Pollet says it is hardy to -11 degrees, and right now that is feeling a little iffy in this year’s glacial winter.

I have not mentioned conifers because I do not have much experience with them. We did plant a couple of Green Emerald arborvitae next to the majestic Norway spruce at the back of our yard and they are doing quite well, in spite of the fact that the soil there is wetter than conifers appreciate. These are popular privacy or hedge evergreens, and that is their function in my garden.

Evergreens certainly make a statement in the winter garden, and they are not always green. In fact, conifers are so disparate in color, texture and form that they need a whole column of their own, but some other day.

For now I close, with wishes for happy gardens of every sort in 2018.

Between the Rows   January 6, 2018

New Cultivars and Old Favorites for the 2018 Garden

Super Hero Spry Marigold

Marigold “Super Hero Spry”

New cultivars and old favorites plants are a part of every garden. When I was a Girl Scout we sang a song with the line “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver but the other gold.”  As I look out at my garden and look at the dawning of a new year, I am thinking about the new things I may plant and use in the garden, but I know there are certain things that I will always keep.

This is the time of year when the catalogs can fill our mailboxes, or our emails, with colorful photos of new varieties of familiar plants. The All America Selections has chosen 12 special edible and ornamental plants to recommend for 2018. They chose Pak Choi Asian Delight, a beautiful Marigold Super Hero Spry and Canna South Pacific Orange which is a real stunner.

The All America Selections (AAS) program was created in 1932 to provide a testing service so that gardeners would know which new seeds were truly improved and would be successful over most of the country. The 2018 Canna South Pacific Orange can be grown from seed, attracts pollinators, is more vigorous and more uniform than other varieties with more basal branching. They are also smaller and suitable for containers.

"Asian Delight" Pak choi

Pak Choi “Asian Delight”

‘Asian Delight’ produces a beautiful mini 5-7 inch head with tender white ribs that has been rated vastly superior to other varieties because it does not bolt as fast as others which means it will have a longer harvest season.

I love marigolds and the ‘Super Hero Spry’ is a compact 10-12 inch French marigold with beautiful colors that needs no deadheading. Plants that are self cleaning, that need no deadheading, are one of the great gifts of hybridizers.

The Perennial Plant Association has named the ‘Millenium’ allium its Plant of 2018. It is a compact allium with rosy purple rounded clusters of blossoms. It blooms in late July and August. Alliums are easy care plants, increase nicely and attract pollinators, especially butterflies. Last year the PPA chose ‘Asclepius tuberosa’,  butterfly weed, as one of its winners because it is a butterfly magnet. Gardeners are becoming more aware of the importance of pollinators and their needs.

Because Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an employee owned company, does not use GMO seeds, and has dependable organic seeds it is one of my favorite seed companies. This year they announced that they are adding 150 new offerings, many of which are new varieties.

‘Valentine’ is a new bright red grape tomato, rich in the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Along with its rich flavor it has good resistance to early blight.

‘Fino’ is a new fennel with a larger, heavier bulb with good bolt tolerance. This is a good vegetable for succession planting because it can be planted in summer for fall harvest.

‘Carmine’ larkspur is a new variety of an old favorite with deep pink flower spikes between 9-12 inches long. It is useful in flower arranging, and attracts hummingbirds.  I have grown larkspur, but somehow never realized that all parts of this plant are poisonous. If you have young children or pets you need to be aware of this.

Of course, there are the new ‘olds,’ those heritage varieties that have their own new place in the sun. The Seed Savers Exchange has been around since 1975, with the goal of saving heirloom seeds, sharing those seeds with gardeners and working to preserve the biodiversity of our food crops. It is important to keep many types of a vegetable in production because we never know what blights or diseases may arise, or what genes will be needed to create a new hybrid.

Seed Savers Exchange does have a seed bank with 25,000 plant varieties, but it also grows seeds, and makes them available to gardeners to grow for their own use, and to save themselves. Nowadays you can sometimes finds Seed Savers seeds on sale in familiar packets at the nursery center, but you can also become a member of the Seed Savers. Membership grants you a 10% discount at their online store, subscription to the quarterly Heritage Farm Companion, free or reduced admission to gardens, and conservatories through the American Horticultural Society.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is relatively new on the scene but is an amazing company started by Jerre Gettler in 1998 when he was only 17. Now he owns Baker Creek Seeds in Missouri, Comstock Ferre and Company in Connecticut, and the Petaluma Seed Bank in California. He also instituted the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa California which is possibly the world’s largest annual heritage food event.

The Baker Creek catalog is over 300 pages with hundreds of seed varieties from around the world. This year some of the ‘new’ seeds are Big Horse Spotted corn from Lima, Peru, the Achievment Runner Bean from Britain, and Aonaga Jibai cucumber from Japan.

Of course, there will always be NEW plants, and we will want to try some of them. We gardeners are great scholars and we are always ready to learn. But we also treasure our own old favorites. And that is a good thing.

I wish you all a beautiful, productive and delicious 2018 in your garden,

Between the Rows   December 30, 2017

Resources:;;;  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;

December Celebrations for All

Our Christmas tree 2017

Our Christmas Tree 2017

December celebrations for all. Today is December 23. The Hanukkah celebration has concluded, Christmas is two days away, and Kwanzaa is three days away. December is a month of celebrations with traditions that lead us through the days. As I prepared for our own family Christmas I suddenly realized that the celebration of each of these holidays involves plants, plants which are essential in one way or another.

Hanukkah is a moveable feast because, like Christian Easter, it depends on the sun to set the celebratory date. This year the eight days of Hanukkah began on December 12. I celebrated a day early when I read a story about Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, to first graders at Four Corners School. The dreidel played a part in the story – and the children taught me how to play dreidel.

The dreidel is a four sided top with four Hebrew symbols for the words nun, shin, gimmel, and hey. A common gelt in this game is chocolate coins and every one starts out with an equal number with a pot of gelt in the center. The player who spins the dreidel and get nun, doesn’t get or lose any gelt; when the shin symbol comes up the player gets  two gelt; gimmel and the player gets all the gelt in the center; and hey makes the player put two gelt in the pot. As he started to play with me, one very serious boy, explained that this is not a game about winning. And I could happily accept the idea that it is about sharing the chocolate gelt.

Playing dreidel was a rousing way to conclude my reading session, but the book made clear that the celebration was a commemoration of the victory of the Maccabees over a greater Greek army in 165 BC. The Holy Temple had been greatly damaged, but when the temple was purified and ready for rededication there was only enough holy oil to keep the seven branched menorah burning for one day. The miracle was that this bit of oil kept the menorah burning for eight days, when more holy oil was ready. The oil was olive oil, and olive trees were an important part of agriculture and cuisine in Israel.

The solemn lighting of menorahs, and the joy of frying up and eating delicious latkes could not happen without olive oil

Christmas has many plant symbols, but the most common might be the Christmas tree. As early as the 12th century Paradise Plays were performed in Germany in December on what some considered the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Set in the Garden of Eden, where fir trees were arranged and ornamented with fruits, the play told of their sin and banishment, but it ended with the promise of a Savior.

There is another story, not proven, that Martin Luther was walking home through the forest on Christmas night. He was struck by the beauty of the evergreens, with their boughs touched with snow, and the brilliant stars above. When he arrived home he put up a little fir tree and decorated it with candles for his children to celebrate the Christ Child’s birth.

However it began the German Christmas tree custom was carried to England when Prince Albert married Queen Victoria – and thence to other parts of the world including the United States where there is a substantial business in growing Christmas trees..

Kwanzaa is a new December celebration created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Kareng, a professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Originally, Dr. Kareng thought to replace Christmas for the black community and bring them together in their own special celebration, but the meaning shifted over time. Now it is a holiday that the black community can celebrate in ways referring to their own original culture without denying their religious beliefs. The celebration focuses on family, community and their culture, which includes the Swahili language, a lingua franca language used in many parts of Africa allowing the different areas to communicate with each other.

Like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is a week long celebration beginning on December 26 and ending January 1. A kinara, candle holder, on the holiday table with seven candles reflects the Seven Principles including unity, self-determination, cooperation and creativity.

The Kwanzaa celebratory table is set with the colors of black, red and green, the colors signifying the people, the struggle and the future. Corn, Muhindi, is placed on the table, a symbol of the children and the future. Kwanzaa is such a new holiday that the menu is not as specific as that for Christmas and Hanukkah but it might include chicken, hoppin’ john made with black eyed peas, rice and some ham, or sweet potatoes in any form. These are foods that anyone who enjoys Southern soul food would welcome at a Kwanzaa feast.

I hoped to describe a Muslim December celebration but when I spoke to Liza Lozovaya, the Muslim Chaplin at Mt. Holyoke College she explained “there are no Muslim holidays celebrated in December . . . In Islam we follow the lunar calendar so there are no fixed dates for any holiday. Ramadan and both Eids will be celebrated in December with the movement of the dates – but not at this point.”

And so, today as I prepare for my Christmas family celebration, I wish joy to all in their celebrations, in December and every month of the New Year.

Between the Rows  December 23, 2017

Since my column ran in the Greenfield Recorder on December 23, I got a nice note from Diane Kurinsky. She corrected and added to my description of the dreidel game, and really explained what the game was about. As the little boy told me, it is not about winning.  I did want to let you know that your explanation of what a dreidel is is slightly incorrect.  The four sides of the dreidel have the four Hebrew letters :  nun, gimmel, hay and shin.  These letters stand for the Hebrew sentence:  ness gadol haya sham which means, a great miracle happened there.  It is meant to remind us of the miracle of the lights.  It is said that in ancient times when studying the Torah was forbidden by the Greeks, the dreidel was used to disguise Torah study by allowing players to make it look like they were playing a game instead of discussing scripture.  I am always happy for corrections and additions so I look forward to more of these comments from all my readers.  Happy New Year!

New Books on Wellness, in the Garden and Kitchen

The Wellness Garden

The Wellness Garden by Shawna Coronado

December is a season for new Books, great for gift giving. Shawna Coronado has shared her gardening expertise in many ways on TV, on lecture tours and in her books like Grow a Garden Wall: Create Vertical Gardens with a Purpose, but in her new book The Wellness Garden she shares her own history with painful osteoarthritis and how she learned to change her lifestyle for better health.

The Wellness Garden: Grow, Eat and Walk Your Way to Better Health includes information about foods you can grow in your garden that will affect the way your body functions. There are lists of foods that most commonly cause allergies including milk, eggs, wheat and shellfish, as well as information about anti-inflammatory foods and low glycemic foods.

There are three main sections beginning with Growing the Wellness Diet and Lifestyle. Here are ideas about organic gardening, using techniques like raised beds to accommodate back problems, and choosing crops for their special nutritional values.  Then it is on to incorporating exercise in the garden. Strolling and walking through other gardens, through the woods, or simply around your own neighborhoods on a regular basis are beneficial. It is also important to take advantage of ergonomic tools to make your chores easier. You might need to find ways to sit or bend that are right for you. I know this from my own experience. I find it less stressful to do a lot of my own gardening on my knees. This means my body is bent in a kind of backward Z shape and for me this puts very little strain on my back. We all have to try out options to find what is best for us individually.

The sections called Therapeutic Gardening and Therapeutic Garden Designs sounded a little cold and corrective to me. In fact these therapies are really about reminding us of the healing benefits of fresh air and sun, and being mindful, noticing and welcoming the atmosphere around us – in nature and, I think, in the people around us. As for garden design there are environmental tips and suggestions of how to achieve your own goals, prioritizing the activities and elements that are important to you.

I was happy that a chapter had been given over to the fragrance garden, because of my own love of fragrant roses. Out in the open air I love the strong scents of lavender, peonies, lilies and lilacs, but we will all have our favorites.

We do not have to give up gardening as we age or develop physical problems but we might need to make changes. Heeding the advice and experience of people like Shawna Coronado is helpful.

The Herbalist's Garden

The Herbalist’s Kitchen by Brittany Wood Nickerson

Coronado talks about especially healthful foods to grow in our gardens and Brittany Wood Nickerson gives us the information and recipes to make delicious and healthful meals. Recipes from The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Delicious, Nourishing Food for Lifelong Health and Well-Being is a wonderful cookbook and more.

While herbs cannot cure us the way an anti-biotic pill can Nickerson says herbs “almost always help you better heal yourself.” She notes that “a spoonful of sage honey boosts the immune system . . . hot peppermint tea encourages the body to sweat and helps break a fever. . .  a dollop of herb pesto alongside a heavy meal, and you can help the body digest fats and ease indigestion.”

While herbs used as seasoning will have some medicinal effect, a ‘medicinal dose” will be needed to specifically act on your system. This comes with the warning that if you are using substantial amounts of an herb you need to know how it will interact with any medications you might be taking.

One section of the book lists a dozen common herbs from basil to thyme with the particular ways they can heal. Then comes a section on the various ways that healing herbs can be used in tea, tinctures, vinegars, butters, infused oils, infused honey, pestos, salts and herbal syrups.

Then come the recipes with listed health benefits. I thought this cookbook might have recipes that were too odd or daunting, but au contraire. I found poached peaches with tarragon, braised chicken  with shallots and figs, garlic stuffed roast pork, spanakopita with fresh herbs and wild greens, hazelnut cornmeal cake with rosemary honey and Nickerson’s take on an Argentinean condiment chimichurri. Hers was made with red grapes, dill and oregano and it looks fabulous.

Not everyone will love every recipe or technique. There are recipes with lavender and roses. I really cannot tolerate these strong fragrances in my food. Nickerson reminds us from time to time that we must listen to our own bodies, paying attention to the way our digestive and other body systems react to certain foods.

There are recipes for every season, with the reminder that the health effects of sharing our meals with others is also beneficial. I know that having meals with my husband is more pleasant than eating alone, and cooking and eating with the greater family or friends is a real joy.

December is a month of celebrations, of meals and social activities. It is also a month of gift giving and both The Wellness Garden and The Herbalist’s Kitchen make great gifts going into the new year when many of us may be thinking of the ways we can feel and be healthier.

PS – I made the braised chicken with shallots and figs and it was wonderful!

Between the Rows   December 16, 2017

Trees – For Beauty and Benefit

Trees in Central Park NYC

Trees in Central Park – an urban forest

Here in New England we can take trees for granted. Trees line our streets, our roads, and our highways. We do not have to work hard to find a woodland that invites us to stroll and enjoy a period of cool tranquility. The Japanese even have a word, Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing,’ for the practice of taking a walk in the woods for the health benefits it brings.

And yet, many of us are not familiar with the names of many trees, or the particular benefits any of them might give. When I lived in Heath I was surrounded by trees, but beyond being able to identify a maple, oak or beech tree, I was at a loss. Now that I live in town, and am thinking about what trees could be added to my street I have been paying attention to the specific forms of tree and leaf, and the benefits and needs of any particular tree species.

Central Park Trees and Lake

Central Park Woodland at edge of the Lake

Over the Thanksgiving holiday my husband and I visited friends in New York City. That Sunday in NY was sunny and breezy and the crowds that we joined in Olmstead’s Central Park were taking full advantage. People were strolling through this veritable forest and I am sure we were all gaining health benefits as we took pictures, took rides in horse drawn or bicycle cabs, or queued up for a rowboat to paddle around the tranquil lake. We did pay attention to the trees along the paths, many of which were helpfully labeled. I took particular note of an ancient beech tree with unique leaves.

There are other parks throughout the New York boroughs and it seems the essential element of any park is always a grove of trees. We can see that ourselves in the small Energy Park right in the center of town or the larger woodland of Highland Park.

On Monday, my brother and his wife took us for a tour of Princeton University where Beatrix Farrand created the landscaping plan beginning in 1912 and did not leave the job to others until 1934. It was a park-like aspect that she wanted to create because she said, “We all know that education is by no means a mere matter of books, and the aesthetic environment contributes as much to growth as facts assembled from a printed page.”

Trees at Princeton U.

Trees at Princeton University, a park-like effect

Farrand may have had a special soft spot for Princeton because it was there in January of 1913 that she met her husband, the distinguished visiting professor of history Max Farrand. I heard no stories of any romances she might have had until she met Farrand, but when Max’s sister-in-law heard rumors of a romance she took herself to the campus and watched the ‘bush woman’ directing her workers. Having made her observations she declared that “If that woman really wants Max, she’ll get him!” Readers, she married him before December was done.

Farrand was devoted to landscape gardening beginning in 1872 when she was only 20. She did study under the tutelage of Charles Sprague Sargent, founder of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, and was the sole female among the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects formed in 1899.

She might not have called herself a feminist, but when she was interviewed by a reporter from the New York Daily Tribune in 1900, her response to what must have been an obnoxious question about her work rates was “I have put myself through the same training and I look for the same rewards.”  We women are still fighting that particular battle, but Farrand was there before us.


Sycamore in front of my house

Over the course of her career Farrand designed more than 100 gardens including estate gardens like Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, which I visited earlier this year, as well as the White House, Yale University and many estate gardens in Maine. More locally, she designed the tree lined approach to The Mount which was built by her aunt, the novelist Edith Wharton, in 1901.

I will never plan a landscape or planting of trees on such a large scale, but on our urban plot of land I have new appreciation of the shade of a giant sycamore that was probably planted when the house was built around 1925. Later someone planted the deliciously fragrant Japanese lilac tree and I have the borrowed shade from my neighbor’s maple and oak trees. I have added two clumps of river birch and a small weeping cherry tree, and an assortment of native shrubs like viburnams because they please my eye, but I have been particularly mindful of their benefits to the insects and birds that come to my garden.

Now when I think about what beneficial trees could be added to our street I think about redbuds that bloom so beautifully in the spring, or a stately red maple, or maybe a hawthorn with its bright red berries in the fall.

When I drive by the beautiful new John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street I wonder what trees will be planted there. Right now the Center grounds look austere. Like any building it needs trees and other plants to create a welcoming and comfortable presence. Will there be an oak that will support 500 species of insects and birds and provide shady grandeur? Will there be majestic tulip poplars? Will there be red maples?

Until spring I’ll be dreaming of the new kinds of trees that may come into my neighborhood and the pleasure they will bring

Between the Rows   December 9, 2017

Merry Christmas and a Year of Happy Days

Our Christmas Tree 2015

We officially moved into our Greenfield house on October 24, 2015, just in time to stock up on bags of candy for the 100+ children – mostly very young children – who showed up in princess and ninja attire on Halloween. The celebrations had begun.

No longer could we go out into the field to cut  our own tree, but we were happy to shop at the open air market on Main Street and buy a beauty. This tree would take its place in our family history and be the first 21st century Greenfield tree. The ornaments were already filled with memories.

We send our best wishes for a happy holiday season to all – no matter when you are.

Houseplants in Print and in Pots

House Plants

Houseplants – The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants

Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Cool Springs Press $30) has a cool green and white cover, but the first time I happened to open it I was presented with a double spread of colorful house plants with the encouraging label Easy-to-Grow. As we enter the holiday season, a season of color and sparkle, colorful plants make a beautiful gift, but that beauty can be ephemeral if we don’t have some information about plant care.

Steinkopf has been giving that information for many years and in many forums from, Michigan Gardener Magazine, Real Simple Magazine and on her own blog She lives with her own collection of 1000 houseplants and knows whereof she speaks.

I don’t have a lot of houseplants. My excuse is too few windows, but full disclosure means I have to confess to a lack of attention. Steinkopf attends to both of these problems which are not uncommon. She provides new information about lighting for plants. LED lights are a boon to light loving plants and more effective that the fluorescent lights that have been the standard. As for paying attention she suggests keeping a magnifying glass at hand and explains how to look for problems. As my eyes age this is a good idea on many fronts, but this past year I missed the mealy bugs on a small palm and the borers on my squash plant. A magnifying glass is on my wish list this holiday season.

Houseplants is a comprehensive book about every aspect of plant care from potting, and re-potting, watering and fertilizing, lighting, grooming and propagation (you’ll have plants to give away as gifts) and a problem solving chapter which will advise on how to look closely at your plants. There is also a section on those special kinds of indoor gardens like terrariums and dish gardens.

Some holiday gift plants are not really intended to be blooming a year from now. Poinsettias are certainly a case in point, as are paper white narcissus and other bulbs that will spend all their energy in that holiday flush. I have finally learned how to make my amaryllis bloom again, but many people do not and that is fine. Of course Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus can grow and bloom for generations!


Poinsettias everywhere

We Greenfielders are familiar with the great array of plants available at the Farmer’s Coop on High Street. At this time of the year the poinsettia in all its many colors and patterns may be queen, but the Farmers Coop offers many other lovely flowering gifts. One of my favorites is cyclamen, but there are those holiday cactuses and fine mosses that some close to taking me to a quiet woodland. You will also find other gifts for the gardener including colorful ceramic pots, gloves and trowels and all the other tools that are needed outdoors. I was also taken with the bee houses that make it easy for all those native bees that most of us cannot identify or name.

Right across the street from the Farmer’s Coop is Sigda’s Florist which will have their collection of familiar holiday plants as well as dish gardens that will be especially interesting in their variety.

I trekked over to the Hadley Garden Center which has a large room filled with houseplants like Reiger begonias in sunny colors, large amaryllis bulbs just sending up fat shoots, orchids, ferns, lemon trees and Norfolk pines, just to name a few. Succulents come in many forms  and are a good gift for new gardeners. The HGC also has pots in all sizes and colors as well as garden ornaments.



Then it was on to Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst. There I got to meet owner Andy Cowles and his loyal assistant Carol Dwyer in the propagating greenhouse. They will also have ranks of familiar Christmas flowers, but I was lucky enough to see the plants that they propagated themselves. I got to meet the Mother Begonia that has seen countless of her snipped leaves turn into daughters, granddaughters, and who knows how many greats granddaughters.

Begonia propagation by leaf cuttings

Begonia propagation by leaf cuttings

They were so enthusiastic showing me the babies of succulents and explaining how I could handle the growth of these dependable plants. Pinch and prune is their motto – for just about every type of plant actually. Those are the magic words that keep a dish garden of succulents looking beautiful and healthy. I always looked at those finished gardens with annoyance thinking it was all very well, but those plants were going to grow and change and then what?  Pinch and prune.  It did seem doable. I’ll just have to be brave.

Andy Cowles at Andrews Greenhouse

Andy Cowles at Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst with mother begonia

I loved the ferns, especially the maidenhair ferns, and the asparagus fern took me back to my first houseplants on Grinnell Street in 1971 – when everyone seemed to have asparagus ferns in their windows. It was impressed upon me that the ferns and all these houseplants filter and clean the air.

Before I left Andrews Greenhouse I walked through the colorful holiday shop that was being arranged by designer Sara Bresson, a wonderland of ornaments. It will be hard to resist a new shiny bauble or two on your way out.

Between the Rows   December 2, 2017

Then and Now – I Celebrate My 10th Blogaversary

Feast of St. Nicholas snow in Heath many years ago

Today I celebrate another blogaversary. Ten years ago I inaugurated my commonweeder blog. As a reader and a gardener I enjoyed the little play on words as the commonWEEDER and opposed to Virginia Woolf’s CommonREADER books of essays. I had the most basic of ideas about what a blog was, but a good friend who knows more about such things said  I needed a blog. I acknowledged in my first post that I did not know what was to come. I did intend the blog as an invitation to join me in my garden, and other gardens that I visited.

Certainly December does not seem like the most auspicious time of year to start a garden blog, but I always say (when I have forgotten a birthday or anniversary) that I am not a slave to the calendar – in any sense.

And so I began, with the brief post below.  Already it suggests that there will be talk about books as well as about gardens.

Am I too old to Blog? We’ll find out, but in any event I thought that the Feast of Saint Nicholas would be the perfect day to inaugurate my blog. There isn’t anything going on in the garden outside so when the temperature is only 7 degrees above 0, as it was this morning, my only gardening desire is in books. I just picked up my old copy of Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi. I’ve seen mention of this wonderful book which wanders through her garden and the gardens of history and literature from A to Z in several blogs lately and was reminded of its delights.

The J listing was James vs Benson, and if Eleanor Perenyi is new to younger gardeners it is even more likely that they are unfamiliar with E.F. Benson and his books about Lucia and Mapp, and his humorous description of British country life in the 1920s through the eyes of two outrageous ladies. Lucia and Mapp are another whole story (5 volumes actually) and I wouldn’t mention them here except that Perenyi has found descriptions of the same garden by Henry James and E.F. Benson. Both men lived in the same house, Benson after James, had the same outdoor space and very different views. Gardening is all about indulging our different views, but Benson got so much more pleasure out of his.

In fact I enjoyed Eleanor Perenyi’s book so much that I engaged in my own A to Z projects, most recently in April of 2016 when A began with Achillea and ended with Z is for Zinnia.

As I celebrate this 10th Blogaversary we live in Greenfield, but instead of green fields surrounding the house we have a small urban garden devoted to water loving shrubs and many pollinator plants. There is no snow today!

The view from my so-called office on December 5, 2017

There are changes in the weather since 2007, changes in the gardens, and a change in me. I’m a GREAT-grandmother now.  There have been many things to celebrate and I look  forward to many years of new celebrations.

Secret Gardeners, Naturalists, and Wild Seeds

The Secret Gardeners

The Secret Gardeners by Victoria Summerley

The Secret Gardeners – Britain’s Creatives Reveal Their Private Sanctuaries by Victoria Summerley with photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas (Francis Lincoln $45) is a glamorous armchair tour of beautiful gardens created such creative people as Sir Richard Branson, Julian Fellowes, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rupert Everett, Sting and 20 other familiar and not so familiar British stars.

Most of us don’t think we are engaged in garden design when we go out to plant a perennial bed or plant a tree. We might be thinking of a garden we have admired, or of a green memory or a dreamed of desire that we want to bring to life. But all of that is what goes into a garden design. That is equally true for the gardeners in this remarkable book. Author Victoria Summerly explains, ‘All artists, whether they are writers, musicians, actors, painters or sculptors, use their experience of life as raw material for their work. The owners in this book have applied the same process to their gardens.”

            Since many of this books gardeners are performers of one kind of or another it is no surprise that in addition to lush flower beds, vine covered stone walls, streams and rills there will be some major projects and unusual accents. When Sir Richard Branson bought his property in Oxfordshire the first thing he did was to dig out a lake, complete with islands to welcome and support waterfowl.

Ozzy Osbourne’s garden includes an iconic red telephone booth and the model of a cow looking down on a great flower bed. I was particularly fascinated by Sting’s garden with a pollarded Lime Walk which is sculptural in winter and cooling in summer, as well as a grassy labyrinth. And of course Sting’s wife, Trudie, has a wonderful rose garden.            The Secret Gardeners is a book for dreaming, but we gardeners might easily find some element that would translate beautifully in our own garden, perhaps with a little scaling down.

The Naturalist's Notebook

The Naturalist’s Notebook by Wheelwright and Heinrich

The Naturalist’s Notebook for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwight and Bernd Heinrich (Storey Publishing $19.95) is a book with a very different goal – teaching us how to observe the natural world around us including its finest details, and keep a record of our observations in the Five Year Journal pages.

By nature I am not a detail person – at the same time I want to be attentive to the beauties and fluctuations of the natural world around me. As a gardener I do pay attention to the larger changes in my garden and I keep minimal weather records in a notebook along with names of plants planted – and sometimes I list when they die out. But I want to see more and I want to know more. I have launched myself into this book and the instructions it provides.

After introductory notes the first chapter is Being Attentive and then we embark into directions and suggestions about how to be observant and the tools we might need from quick drying pants, a magnifying glass, a camera, an insect net, and other small items like a pH meter and thermometer that will help measure the physical characteristics of ponds and streams. Wheelwright and Heinrich have given us practical instructions about outfitting ourselves as they teach us what to look for and the questions to ask ourselves as we make our observations.

We live where it is easy, even in the town of Greenfield to go on a nature walk and look at the identifying form of a tree from its canopy to the tiny details of its leaf buds. Reading this book reminded me of the square-foot field trip, a science exercise we teachers-to-be at Umass practiced, which made us aware of how much there was to see and learn in any square foot of lawn or wilderness.

Half of the Naturalist’s Notebook is given over to the 5 year Calendar-Journal. It is organized a week at a time over five years so that you can compare changes in weather and sightings of plants or wildlife at a glance. Wheelwright and Heinrich even give suggestions about writing with abbreviations and symbols. They also suggest that you might want to keep a larger journal with not only information about what is happening around you, but what you are thinking and feeling as you make your observations. This beautiful book is a Notebook, and a journal will allow for fuller descriptions, but it is a wonderful beginning.

Planting the Wild Garden

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith

If you have a budding young naturalist in your family I can recommend Kathryn  Galbraith’s book, Planting the Wild Garden with illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree $15.95) This beautiful book has won literary prizes and prizes for science and nature writing.

Many of us start our children’s gardening with a few seeds in a tiny part of our own gardens. However, many of the flowers and plants around us are planted by Mother Nature with help from the wind and rain, and animals who carry the seeds in their fur, or in their droppings. When I read this story to local first graders, they always giggle at the thought of seeds travelling in animal poop.

Books are high on my gift giving list. I know the gardeners on my list welcome a new instructive and entertaining book as much as I do.  Happy shopping.

Between the Rows  November 25, 2017