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Bridge of Flowers Annual Plant Sale

'Goldheart' bleeding heart

Dicentra Bleeding Heart “Goldheart’

While on my recent weekend of touring amazing gardens in Texas, I found that three of my fellow tourists, from New York and Rhode Island, had visited the Bridge of Flowers. Not only did my new friends appreciate the beauty of the Bridge in joyous bloom, they admired the way the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club, and their Bridge of Flowers subcommittee, have cared for the Bridge, and enlisted the support of  a wide community to create a beautiful space that has brought visitors  from around the world. I remember one day I was on the Bridge and to my amusement and delight I don’t think I heard one word of English! The Bridge is famous!

Carol Delorenzo and Danny New

Carol Delorenzo and Danny New on the Bridge for TV interview this spring

Last June Carol Delorenzo, the Head Gardener, on behalf of the Bridge, received the Bee Spaces award, created by the Franklin County Beekeepers and the Second Congregational Church. Former governor Deval Patrick presented the beautiful plaque made by Molly Cantor, which now lives on the fence by the Garden House.

It was Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who served as minister of the Second Congregational Church in the 1840s, who was the man who ‘discovered’ bee space. We now often refer to the moveable frame wooden hives used by beekeepers as Langstroth hives. The secret Langstroth discovered was that bees can work in a space between 3/8 inch and 1/4 inch which is 5/16 of an inch. If there is more space than this between frames the bees will create extra comb that will make storing and using honey and pollen difficult. If there is less space the bees will fill it up with propolis.

Propolis is sometimes called bee glue. It is used to seal up drafty cracks in the hive, and even to enclose dead mice that have crept into the hive. The bees act to protect the hive from pathogens. For this reason it is sometimes called bee penicillin.

Bee balm and bee

Bee Balm and bee

Bees gather tree resins from sap and leaf buds. Back in the hive these resins are mixed with wax, honey, and enzymes from the bees’ stomachs creating an important anti-bacterial substance that can keep the bees safe and healthy.

A beehive is a busy place. Worker bees are busy gathering nectar and pollen, storing honey and pollen, feeding the brood, and themselves, and making royal jelly. Royal jelly is the single food of the queen bee and she needs to be royally fed as she lays approximately 1500 eggs a day and keeps the hive strong.

The Bridge of Flowers has its own optimal spaces to consider as do bees and beekeepers. Carol Delorenzo, our Head Gardener, tends to the health of the garden which means removing perennials that have frozen over the winter or lost their vigor. Sometimes she removes plants because newer varieties have caught her attention. She also chooses all the annuals that are so vital to keeping the Bridge in bloom all season. We gardeners know that there are always new, bright annuals to try out. Delorenzo has an eye and she always knows how to use all the new plants that go in every year. No gardener wants her garden to look exactly the same every year.

Some perennials have to be removed because they have increased and can no longer fit in their allotted space. Local gardeners usually have plants to divide and thin out, and are happy to give them to a new home, and in this case, happy that they help support the Bridge of Flowers. This will add up to over 1000 plants.

The Blossom Brigade is a hardy group of volunteers who meet twice a week all season long to keep the Bridge looking its best. Deadheading! But at this time of the year most of their energy is spent potting up plant divisions for the plant sale. This year they have been helped by a group of students from the Academy of Charlemont as part of their community service.

The Plant Sale will also include annuals from LaSalle Florist and Greenhouses, woodland plants from Hillside Nursery in Shelburne, special native plants from Polly French, and special perennials from Baystate Perennials. There will be coffee and treats to help customers keep up their strength while shopping.

Once again there will be an array of vendors offering books, glass flowers and bees, as well as bird baths and bee baths. I can’t wait to see the bee baths.

The Bridge Plant Sale is the single fund raising event of the year. Proceeds support the necessary buying of plants, the yards of compost and mulch, and less lovely necessities like repairs to the lights, and the irrigation system. Compost and mulch are vital to health of this organic garden, and every year there seems to be the need for some repair.

On Monday, May 14 the Bridge will be featured on Channel 22 around noon. We are not sure of the exact time.

Bridge of Flowers Plant Saale

2017 Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale – will be damper this year

But the big event for the week is the Plant Sale held on the Baptist Lot across from the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center on Saturday, May 19. The sale begins at 9 a.m. and ends at noon. RAIN OR SHINE! Gardeners often start assessing the plants ahead of time, deciding which they most desire.  It is all very well to make these assessments, but picking up a plant and holding it until the starting bell is rung is forbidden.

See you at the plant sale. Don’t be late.

Between the Rows    May 12, 2018

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – May 15, 2018


Primroses on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

The Texas sun seemed to be shining on these glowing golden primroses on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. The garden had hardly any blooms when we left for Texas on May  but our return on May 8 was astounding. I am going to  give a thorough pictorial record of our May 15 blooms.

creamy primroses

Creamy primroses

I’m behind on my spring clean up and weeding so you’ll likely see plenty of weeds. These primroses are increasing nicely. The tall Japanese primroses will be along soon.

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata

These are the first irises to bloom in the garden.

Dicentra bleeding heart

Dicentra, bleeding heart

This white bleeding heart  was recently given to me in full bloom. Fortunately it adjusted to its new site comfortably.

Grape hyacinths

Grape hyacinths

I don’t remember planting these grape hyacinths last fall. I’m glad  I waited for a while before pulling up the first shoots.



This geum is a wonderful plant. I love the color of the blooms and it is in bloom for a very long season. It also increases at a slow rate and occasionally sends a baby plant off to the side.

Fairy bells, Disporum flavens

Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens

These Fairy Bells throw out shoots at  the same time as Solomon’s Seal, followed by the yellow bells. The bells will last for a couple of weeks, and the foliage will look handsome all season. These are native  to Korea, but they like damp woodlands – which describes their position in the garden.

Wood poppy Stylophorum diphyllum

Wood poppy Stylophorum diphyllum

Also called Celandine poppy. It looks very like, only larger, a weed that grows next to my house. More research needed.

Zizia? Golden Alexanders?

These plants are growing riotously next to the wood poppies. I thought I was planting Golden Alexanders, but one knowledgeable friend said  this was not accurate.  Does anyone have any ideas?

Waldsteinia or barren strawberry

Waldsteinia or barren strawberry

I planted barren strawberry plants along the top of the stone wall, and in front of the rhododendrons. They have done just what I hope for – covering the ground with a dense mat that does a great job of keeping down the weeds. It will only bloom for a while and the very low foliage looks great all season.

Jacob's ladder

Jacob’s ladder


I just moved two clumps of Jacob’s ladder out from under the yellow twig dogwood which has achieved an amazing spread. They have adjusted nicely to their place in  the sun. Well, a little more sun  than they had.

Fringed bleeding heart

Fringed bleeding heart

Bleeding heart

Gold Heart Dicentra

Now I have three different Dicentras: white, fringed and Gold Heart. I love them all.

Summer snowflake

Leucojum aestivum or Summer snowflake

Hard to know why these are called Summer Snowflakes when then bloom so early in the spring – but they are later than the snowdrops.



The Fothergilla looks great – just like  the one on the Bridge of Flowers.

Korean Spice Bush

Korean Spice Bush, Viburnum carlesii

Korean Spice bush is famous for its fragrance.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Go on over and see what is in bloom over our great land.


Greenfield’s Energy Park – For the Community and the Environment

Energy Park

Energy Park in Greenfield is the venue for summer concerts and other events

Greenfield’s Energy Park is a gem in the center of town. Main Street is all bustle and work, but a short stroll down Miles Street takes you to the peaceful gardens and shade of a town park created in 1999.

Sandy Thomas was the director of the Northeast Sustainability Energy Association (NESEA) housed in the former railroad switch house building in the blighted area left by the demolition of the railroad station. In 1999 the town had a Master Plan that called for a public park. “Overseeing the creation of the park fell to me, but it took hundreds of people of make it a reality,” Thomas said.

Thomas was fortunate in learning that Kim Erslev who was finishing up her master’s degree in Landscape Design at the University of Massachusetts had laid out a plan for a park for her studies. “We took her plan which laid out the park with pedestrian walkways. A park review committee was led by Bill Gran, the town planner. We also turned to the wider community, including children, for their ideas about what they wanted in a park.”

Thomas remembered all the committees that worked so long and thoughtfully. “We formed lots of committees. It took us a year and a half to choose the trees for shade. The trees we planted were very small, but they have matured and now they give the cooling shade we imagined. The architect Bruce Coldham, provided an essential service and worked with the town on laying out wires and pipes.”

Native Single bloodroot

Native Single Bloodroot, sign made by Wisty Rorabacher

Many volunteers worked to actually build and plant the Energy Park including Nancy Hazard. Hazard continues to volunteer in the park and remembers those early days. “It seemed like an incredible opportunity and I was really excited. There were only some trees and shrubs planted when I joined. I didn’t know anything about gardening but I like to do things I don’t know anything about.”

Volunteers have many ways of donating their labor. Hazard worked in the garden but she also wrote grants and can laugh when she says she was known for asking people for things. “And I get things,” she said. “Nasami farm was just starting up in Whately and they very generously donated plants. Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory also responded and gave us donations of plants, because it was our desire to welcome butterflies.”

Thomas said they operated with NESEA’s philosophy of using recycled materials. “We got a lot of old granite curbing that made the amphitheater seating for musical performances. Then we went to Ashfield Stone to make stone benches and found people who were willing to sponsor the benches. Arjen Vriends of Pioneer Gardens in Deerfield donated many plants. Hundreds of people gave their money, their energy, and their ideas. I wrote a lot of grants including infrastructure grants, and a Tree Trust Fund grant. Grants paid for the sculptures. The caboose came later. We opened the stairs down to Bank Row and decorated them with rainbow tiles.”

Construction moved apace but an essential element was missing – safety for children. “It was not a safe environment. There were no fences and you could walk right over to the train tracks on both sides.” Iron railings were built for safety and setting the park boundaries.”

I asked Thomas about The Station, which acts as a stage for Energy Park events. “It was built in 2003, the 250th anniversary of Greenfield’s founding. David Miller who played trumpet in the Greenfield Military Band that gave concerts there was an important part of that effort.”

Thomas gave me so many names of those who helped bring the Energy Park into being that it is impossible to list them all. She concluded by saying “The man I cannot leave out is Al Dray. I couldn’t have done it without Al. He kept things going and got the Kiwanis to help.”

The Energy Park, like any garden, is always changing. There are additions and subtractions. Volunteers are always changing as well. I am pleased to be a part of the current group of volunteers who are supported by The Greenfield Garden Club with funds for the park gardens. The town does not have the money for the plantings. Nowadays, our goal continues to be using native plants, but we have added the effort to support pollinators.

Nancy Hazard is still volunteering. Her love is the woodland. “I work a lot in the grove of River birches. It’s the wildness that I love, and the spring ephemerals,” she said.

Wisty Rorabacher and Judy Draper have been working on the big Welcome Garden, along with Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson who are members of the Garden Club.

Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson, Energy Park volunteers

Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson, Energy Park volunteers

Patteson was eloquent about what it means to be a volunteer in a project like the Energy Park. “As I quickly learned, gardening with people is very different than gardening alone. My way of doing things was not the only way! At the Energy Park I have had the good fortune to be mentored by amazing gardeners and I have learned so much. I have been embraced by a supportive environment and enriched by a wonderful sense of community. I continue to work at the Energy Park because of the friendships I have made with my fellow gardeners and because of the rewards of watching an urban garden space come to life under the watchful eyes of a handful of volunteers.

I credit Linda Smith with taking me under her wing, Nancy Hazard with being my role model for sustainable gardening, and Wisty Rorabacher and Judy Draper for sharing their love and appreciation of native plants.”

If you wish to donate to the plant fund you can make a donation to The Greenfield Garden Club, and please be sure to note that it is for The Energy Park.

And do visit the Park and enjoy its beauty and peace.

Between the Rows   May 5, 2018

Deep in the Heart of Texas Garden Tour


Echeverias were in almost all the gardens on our Austin garden tour

I am returned from Austin, Texas Garden Tour where we saw succulents small –



and LARGE. This agave was at the Nature’s Garden organic nursery. We didn’t even mind that it was still raining (pouring)  as we wandered among the gardens – and the plants for sale.

mother and child

Mother and child

We saw Art in the garden – LARGE


Froggies playing on the stone wall

and small.

I am just teasing now but  soon I’ll show you wonderful public gardens like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Zilker Botanical Garden, as well as private gardens, large and small. This garden tour will live in my memory for a long time.

New and Interesting Perennials This Spring

Allium Millenium

Allium ‘Millenium’ or ‘Milenium’ one of the truly dependable perennials

What new perennials will you plant in your garden this year? I don’t mean brand new on the market, but new to you. Last fall I planted more than 100 crocus bulbs: white, yellow and purple. These are not new varieties, but I have never planted crocus before. In my new garden I can’t plant many bulbs because the garden is wet and bulbs would rot. But the bit of lawn in front of the house allows a small number of crocus to make an spritely spring show.

Now I am thinking of what new perennials I will put in one of the main garden beds. The clumping Allium ‘Millenium’ is my choice. ‘Millenium; is the Perennial Plant of the Year, awarded because it is beautiful with its many rosy-purple globe flowers on 12-18 inch stems. It also has the virtue of being a low maintenance plant that is pest and disease resistant. It needs good soil and at least 6 hours of sun. It is available online and at garden centers. I recently learned that many NEW! Introductions are in so little supply that they are very hard to get in spite of all their publicity.

The Perennial Plant of the Year website lists all the plants chosen since the organization was formed in 1990. You will probably recognize many of the award winning plants in your own garden like last year’s Aesclepius tuberosa. My own garden includes the delicate pink Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Joubert,’ the rich blue Salvia ‘May Night,’ the Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ with it’s wine-red foliage, and Perovskia, also known as Russian sage, with its lavender flowers that vigorously attract honeybees.

Echinacea tenneesseensis

Echinacea tenneesseensis

There seem to be more echinaceas on the market every year. This family of dependable perennials shows off with more colors, more multicolors and more petaled with wild mop heads. One reason they have become so popular is because Echinacea, coneflower, is a wonderful pollinator plant attracting bees and butterflies. If your desire is to have a flower that is especially attractive the familiar pink variety, Echinacea purpurea, is an excellent choice. The petals act as a runway for the bee or butterfly to land on and get to the source of nectar and pollen. I found an unusual variety, Echinacea tennesseenis, with unique up-facing petals that give the flower a cup-like shape. I can’t wait to try this one. These are available at American Meadows.

Naturally I want to encourage people to plant roses, especially those who are still under the misconception that roses are really finicky and a lot of work. Many people who have tip-toed into the world of roses have discovered Knock Out roses. ‘Peachy’ Knock Out is a fairly new rose, but it has been in production long enough to have been tested in the several trial gardens of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.) organization. Gardeners may remember the All America Rose Trials which gave their approval – or not – to new roses as they came on the market, but they are no longer in existence. Now we have A.R.T.S. and they are devoted to letting us know which roses are not only beautiful, but are disease resistant and must thrive in many areas of our country.

‘Peachy’ blooms over a long season and is highly resistant to black spot, powdery mildew, downy mildew and rust. It has been trialed and received awards in four regions of our country and has been named an A.R.T.S Master Rose.

Knock Out 'Peachy' rose

Knock Out ‘Peachy’ rose

Two summers ago I was on a garden tour in Minneapolis and environs. We went to wonderful public and private gardens. We also went to a display garden with a variety of fairly new cultivars. One was the ‘Delft Lace’ Astilbe which has tall, airy blossoms in shades of pink with red stems, which I just loved. It was this plant that made me pay attention to astilbes which come in a surprising number of forms. There is‘Purple Candles’ with its ‘statuesque’ plumes in a rich shade of purple, and ‘Red Charm’ which is the reddist  astilbe  and is equally statuesque but has arching plumes that make it unusual.

Sometimes we find a plant that just speaks to us, even if we have to splurge to have it. I have never been a devotee of hostas, but, expensive as it is, I was enchanted by Hosta ‘Floramora’ ($50) a 2018 Plant Delights Nursery introduction this year. Plant Delights is a wonderful nursery in North Carolina with excellent and unusual plants.  ‘Floramora’ is a cross involving the Japanese Hosta longipes and the Chinese Hosta plantaginea. The result is a 30 inch wide clump of glossy foliage and 20 inch spikes of deliciously fragrant wide white flowers that will bloom in September.

Hosta ‘Floramora’

Like all good hostas, this is a hardy plant and enjoys some sun and some light shade. Before planting the soil should be well prepared by digging at least 12 inches or more, and improving the soil with a generous helping of compost and some slow acting fertilizer.  Hostas originated where there was a lot of rain, and they have large leaves that transpire more moisture than other perennials so they need regular watering.

We all have favorites to grow every year, and we have limited space, but it is always fun, to grow new perennials that will return spring after spring.


Between the Rows  April 28, 2018

Groundcovers – Base for the Layered Garden

tiarella or foam flower

Tiarella, or foam flowers, spring blooms, and groundcovers all season

The layered garden is created by arranging plants from the ground up beginning with groundcovers ranging from delicate tiarella, epimediums, and lamium to taller plants like ferns, and even low growing shrubs like cotoneaster and very spready junipers.

            The layers continue upwards with an herbaceous layer of perennials and annuals, followed by a shrub layer and ending with trees. Layers will  spread out across the garden space. For example, I have planted two river birches in one of my lawn beds. That long narrow bed does contain groundcovers like tiarella and bistort, perennials like daylilies, bee balm and Japanese anemone, and not very tall shrubs, a winterberry and a fothergilla. By mid-June most of the ground is covered and I can enjoy its beauty and know that it supports the birds and pollinators in our neighborhood  – and helping keep down  the weeds.

            To my mind it is the groundcovers, covering the soil, that knit the rest of the plantings into a pleasing whole. The first groundcovers I used were foam flower, barren strawberry, and lamium.  ‘White Nancy’ Lamium maculatum,is less than a foot tall with variegated white leaves edged with dark green. It is a vigorous grower, but it can be kept under control. It can tolerate dry soil and full shade.


Waldsteinia, or barren strawberry is a very mat-like groundcover

            Barren strawberry, Waldsteinia, is a very low growing, dense mat of foliage that is similar to that of strawberries, and the yellow flowers resemble strawberry blossoms, but there are no fruits. It likes full sun but tolerates part shade. I have always grown it successfully where it got a fair amount of shade. Each plant will spread about two feet, and the rhizomes can be separated in the spring to propagate new plants.

            Foam flower or Tiarella cordifolia lives up to its name. It creeps along the ground and in the spring sends up foamy white spires of blossom that will not reach more than 12 inches. There is also a pale pink variety. It likes some shade, but tolerates a lot of sun. In the spring it will send out stolons with plantlets which can be cut off and propagated.

            Bistort, Persicaria, bistorta, is said to grow to two feet, but in my garden it has never grown that tall, even with the tall spikes of pinky bootlebrush type flowers. The foliage is quite large and it spreads by rhizomes. It likes sun and shade. I have it growing and spreading underneath a river birch that I limbed up early this spring, so the bistort will get a little more sun, I think.


Epimedium sulphureum

            I first admired epimediums for their foliage. I would occasionally see these beautiful heart shaped leaves in other gardens, but could never remember what they were called. And then I finally saw the plants in bloom and could never forget the name epimediums after that.  Sometimes they are called barrenwort or charmingly, bishop’s hat. They grow well in shade, but I have grown them in full sun without any difficulty.

            Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ is a particularly sturdy cultivar that spreads easily. The delicate looking yellow blossoms are hardy to Zone 4 and are attractive all season, even after the blossoms wither. They are usually no more than a foot tall and need little care beyond cutting back last season’s foliage – which I should be doing right now.

            The world of epimediums is comprised of many flower forms and colors from pale to deep and rich. We are fortunate Garden Visions, a nursery that specializes in epimediums is located in Phillipston, not very far away. The Garden Visions nursery has a limited number Open Garden Days: April 27 and 29; May 4 through 13; and May 18 through 20.  Hours are 10 am – 4 pm rain or shine. Their catalog is online at, or you can download a printed order form or order a printed catalog by emailing

            Cotoneaster (pronounced co-tone-ee-aster) is fairly slow growing. I planted one and it came along  so slowly that I planted another one nearby to get that ground covering effect, and got quite a tangle but handsome anyway.  I first planted C. adpressus which only grows to less than 10 inches. Then, foolishly I planted C. apiculatus (I think) that grows to four to six food spread. I was happily shocked when it produced wonderful red flowers in early summer. I was only expecting red berries in the fall. I ought to read labels more carefully.

            There are a number of creeping junipers, J. horizontalis, that spread nicely and can give you a range of color. Blue-green ‘Bar Harbor’will not be more than a foot tall and will spread more than 5-10 feet. ‘Icee Blue’ is a silvery shade, less than a foot tall with a spread of 6-8 feet. Both like sun, but will tolerate some shade.

            An unusual low conifer is Picea Procumbens ‘Blue Spruce.’ It can reach a height of 2 feet and spreads slowly to cover 10 feet. Think of Blue Spruce foliage spreading along the ground. Much different from the finer foliage of the junipers. Very hardy.

           The world of groundcovers is very large. This is only a sampling of easily available plants that require very little care.

           Between The Rows   April 21, 2018

April National Poetry Month – The Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers poems

Bridge of Flowers poems by Carol Purington

April is National Poetry Month and Carol Purington, Colrain’s noted haiku poet has donated a matted set of poems describing the Bridge of Flowers through its seasons. It is available by writing to

Carol has written several books  of haiku describing life on a family farm, the essence of the seasons, the love of family, joy and  sorrow. Carol, and her friend Susan Todd also put together an anthology of poems, Morning Song: Poems for New Parents.

The matted sheet is $15 including postage, and the plain cream heavy paper sheet is $10 including postage. All sales go to benefit the Bridge of Flowers. This is a lovely souvenir of a visit to the Bridge, or gift to someone who loves the Bridge.

Bridge of Flowers

the Indian-old river
bridge of blossoms

From  the concrete
of a decades-dead trolley way
fragrance of violets

Azure above
the flowers above
the river-reflected bridge

Arc of geese</em
under frosted flowers
the river runs south

Star-still flakes
fall from the flower-less bridge
to the ice-still river

Double lane of daffodils
crossing  the flower way
into spring

floats out from under the arches
flower-bridge blooms

I am adding information about Carol written by Susan Todd, co-editor of Morning Song.

Carol Purington and Susan Todd

Carol Purington and Susan Todd

Before taking her 6th grade students to visit Carol for some Christmas Carol sing  “I told my students Carol’s story, trying for simplicity and clarity. She contracted polio when she was six years old, as she was starting first grade. The illness began at school with a severe headache and high fever. Within days she was left needing help to breathe, and paralyzed except for limited movement in her left arm and hand. She spent a couple of years in Boston area hospitals where her most memorable accomplishment was learning to read. Eventually she moved back to the big farmhouse where she had been born, the third of eleven children. She lives there still, surrounded by a large and caring family.

When I asked Carol how I should relate her disability for this account, she said I should think about how I had prepared my students for our visit. And this exchange is perhaps the perfect window into the mind and influence of this woman – her ability to soar beyond limitations with wisdom and perspective. When I have taken older visitors to meet her, I also add that her body is small, but you will quickly get used to that. And what you’ll really notice is how sophisticated and brilliant and scholarly and witty she is.

That day in January, coming into Carol’s room from the storm outside, I had such a sense of peace. This front parlor, with views looking to the hills and garden and an oversized bird feeder up against the window, has been her world for over fifty years. A mirror which can be tilted to different angles lets Carol see the changing landscape and the family in the next room. Standing in the room’s center was a massive iron lung (now replaced with a smaller fiberglass lung), for sleeping at night, with “J. H. Emerson “printed on the side. “H. Emerson!” I said when I first saw it. “I knew him.” My best friend from childhood moved to Andover, Massachusetts in 1953 so her father could work with Haven Emerson on the distribution of iron lungs. We all had a crush on Haven Emerson Jr. I told Carol the story and she said, “All these years I have wondered what the H. stands for. Now I know.”

Niki Jabour’s Veggie Garden Remix

Niki Jabour's Veggie Garden Remix

Niki Jabour’s Veggie Garden Remix

Every spring we gardeners stand in the sun as we breathe deep and fill our minds with plans for new projects, using new techniques and planting new plants.

This year my new project is a small straw bale bed for vegetables. However, I have been reading Niki Jabbour’s new book Veggie Garden Remix: 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor and Fun (Storey $19.95) and my ideas about what to plant are shifting. The new plants she talks about are not just new varieties of standard plants many of us usually grow. She is talking about increasing the biodiversity of our gardens with vegetables from around the world.

We talk about using native plants in our ornamental gardens, but in our vegetable gardens we usually don’t know which vegetables are native to North America. I know a few of the vegetables in our garden are native to South America including tomatoes, avocados, cashews, potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash.  How many more edible plants that were not native to North America are now common at our supermarkets? I suspect quite a few. Other new plants are appearing all the time as our world gets smaller and smaller, as people leave one continent to live on another and bring their taste for familiar foods with them.

Jabbour’s book opens with a story about a gourd she planted and planned to use as a Halloween decoration. When her Lebanese mother-in-law, Noha, saw it her eyes lit up. She recognized the funny looking gourd as cucuzza, a squash tasting much like summer squash. Eating that cucuzza the whole family realized there were many vegetables from around the world that could be grown in their garden and give their meals a bit of a remix.

Like snap beans she asks? Jabbour then offers up a number of less familiar edible beans like hyacinth beans, edamame, chick peas and yard long beans with full cultural information for growing. She also throws in what her family calls daylily beans, the closed buds of the daylily which can be simply fried or dipped in batter for a tempura “bean.”

She uses that process as she opens our eyes to celtuce, a non-heading lettuce that produces tender leaves in the spring and a crunchy stem in late summer. Jabbour offers a whole array of greens to spinach lovers. She begins with the fast growing and pretty magenta spreen, and goes on to peppers, sweet potato leaves, tatsoi from China and more.

Beauty Heart Radish AKA Watermelon Radish

Beauty Heart Radish AKA Watermelon Radish

There are bigger families of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips and radishes than you ever imagined. I first saw and ate Beauty Heart, a beautiful winter radish with a green exterior, then a white layer and a broad pink layer, in China. I kept insisting my translators were mistranslating when they called it a radish. I thought the fist sized radish must be a turnip. I was wrong. When I got back to the U.S. I started seeing this radish at farmer’s markets, where it was called watermelon radish. The Chinese usually pickle it and it is delicious. It only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to complete the pickling process, and is almost immediately ready to eat.

Jabbour gives us the opportunity to try out vegetables from other lands. The Asparagus pea, a plant native to Africa, was a tintillating idea. However, she said she “is not a fan of eating Asparagus peas. “The four sided winged pods do have a hint of asparagus as well as its own sharp flavor,” but what Jabbour likes is their low sprawling habit which can cover about one to two feet of horizontal space, and the brick red flowers that bloom before the pods appear. She says they can grow in Zone 5, but it is a good idea to start the seeds indoors and wait until it is dependably warm to plant outside.

Amaranth is a plant I have admired as a flower, and knew it was edible, but I could never imagine quite how. First Jabbour describes the different species that she recommends for greens, using the foliage, as the edible element. They can be cooked like spinach. The foliage is often colorful; Thomas Jefferson brought home seeds of the tricolor amaranth from Paris for his garden.

Amaranth is also a protein rich grain plant. It needs at least 100 frost free days to produce usable seed. The amaranth many of us think of as love-lies-bleeding (A. caudatus) can be used for a seed harvest. Harvest time arrives after the first frost and Jabbour gives information about harvesting, threshing, winnowing and cooking.

The book concludes with information about Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata), which she describes as having a peppery-cilantro flavor, a good herb for the delicious Vietnamese noodle soup ‘Pho.’ It needs at least 6 hours of sun and prefers a moist soil. Clearly this is an herb I can grow successfully in my wet and damp garden. It is possible to order Vietnamese coriander plants from Richter’s Herbs. This is a great advantage if you like cilantro which goes to seed so quickly over the summer, Vietnamese coriander produces flavorful foliage all season.

There is a good index, and a list of seed companies that can give you entrée into a whole new world of vegetables.###

Between the Rows   April 14, 2018

Straw Bale Solutions and Red Lily Beetle Controls

Straw Bale Solutions

Straw Bale Solutions

The idea of using a straw bale as a planting medium attracted me a number of years ago.  I bought a two straw bales, gave them a good soaking, punched holes in the bales with my Japanese hori hori knife, put a cup or so of compost into the hole, and then put my tomato seedlings in the holes. I watered the bale and watched the tomatoes grow. They grew slowly, and produced a very few tomatoes.

I tried again, using hay bales instead of straw  bales, but was no more successful. Where was Joel Karsten when I needed him? Joel Karsten is the author of Straw Bale Solutions: Creative tips for growing vegetables in bales at home, in community gardens and around the world. Karsten begins with his own story of gardening with straw bales, and writing his first booklet simply titled Straw Bale Gardening: A complete guide to growing vegetables in bales without soil or weeds.

Now that I have read the book I see where I made my fatal mistake. I did not ‘condition’ my straw bales.

Karsten gives very specific directions with a schedule that begins soaking the straw to saturation on day 1 and sprinkling 3 cups of organic nitrogen on each bale. He explains that organic nitrogen can come in the form of organic blood meal. If you want to use non-organic nitrogen you can use ordinary lawn fertilizer (NPK 29-0-4) but be absolutely sure it does not contain pre-emergent weed killer or you are killing the whole system. When using lawn fertilizer, only a half cup per bale is needed. The Greenfield Farmers Coop sells straw bales from local farmers who use no herbicides.

I am not going to give you the whole schedule here but I can see that the key is providing just the right amount of water once the bale is truly saturated, and adding specific amounts of nutrients including phosphorous and potassium as well as the nitrogen. “High nitrogen fertilizer stimulates the bacteria and fungi that are latent in  the bales and causes them to accelerate the decomposition  process, magically transforming straw into compost in just a couple of weeks.”

You will not be planting in a straw bale, you will be planting in recently decomposed straw! Bales will last for two years.

Once the bales are fully saturated Karsten warns against overwatering which will wash away nutrients, and the use of cold water straight out of the hose which will chill  and kill the bacteria cooking away in the bale. It will take between two and three weeks to condition the bale. A compost thermometer is a good tool for checking the temperature inside the bale.

The rest of Straw Bale Solutions is given over to how straw bales make gardening and farming possible in difficult situations. Chapters include Conquering the Slopes of Switzerland, Flood Zone Gardens, Rocky Mountain and Rocky Soil, and Sandy Soil and Rampant Wildlife. I am counting on my straw bales to deter the bunnies in my neighborhood.


Those who read my column about lilies last week were quick to tell me that I left out a vital piece of information. I did not give any advice about the wicked scarlet lily beetle and possible ways to control it. It was easy for me to put such an unpleasant subject out of my mind. I was fortunate not to have lily beetles on my lilies in Heath. That may have been due to the colder climate, or to the fact that there were no other lilies anywhere nearby so that the beetle simply had not made its way to our area.

First the good news. Certain lilies are less susceptible to the lily beetle. The University of Maine has named Lilium henryi ‘Madame Butterfly’, Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’, and Lilium ‘Black Beauty’ as the most resistant in their tests. It was just by chance that I did grow those lilies in Heath. Keep in mind that Asiatic lilies are MORE susceptible.

Scarlet lily beetles are a terrible scourge and will destroy our lilies. The lily leaf beetle dines on the foliage and lays its eggs underneath the leaf. It is possible to handpick the beetles and put them in a jar of soapy water. The difficulty is that the beetle can often sense movement and will respond by instantly letting go of the leaf, fall on the ground and lie on its back. It is very difficult to see on the ground.

You can also handpick the larvae which can be yellow, brown or orange, although you may not see much color because they hide themselves with excrement, a disgusting and slippery ‘fecal shield.’ It is best to wear nitrile glove s if you are going to squash them with your fingers. Make sure to keep using that jar of soapy water for squashed larvae. They are hard to kill. The larvae will feed for two to three weeks before going into the soil to pupate for two or three weeks when they will hatch and begin the process all over.

Beyond handpicking you can use neem oil every five days to kill the larvae. Spinosad is another pesticide that can work. Spinosad is sold as Monterey Garden Insect Spray, BULL’S-EYE™ and others. What is unavoidable is keeping after the beetles. The University of Massachusetts offers an excellent Lily Leaf Beetle Fact Sheet.

Addendum – It has been pointed out to me that Spinosad is deadly to honeybees. However, there is no point in spraying lily blossoms; the beetles are on  the lily stem and leaf undersides. Spinosad is effective (and it will not hurt bees after it has dried) so I think it is a good and safe pesticide. You will have to keep watching for lily beetles and keep treating the plant.  All pesticides should be used carefully

An addendum to this column as it appeared on April 7. 2018

Richard Wilbur – National Poetry Month

Morning Song: Poems edited by Susan Todd and Carol Purington

Morning Song: Poems for New Parents

Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) winner of Pulitzer Prizes for Things of This World (1956) and New and Collected Poems (1988),was named the second Poet Laureate of our country and won many awards and prizes. I knew Richard Wilbur had long lived in our corner of western Massachusetts, but I never expected to get a letter from him.  And for that I thank Carol Purington and Susan Todd who were longtime friends of his.

Carol and Susan were putting together Morning Song, an anthology of poems for new parents with section headings like Waiting, Newest Child, Green and Carefree, Lessons and more. Several of Wilbur’s poems were included in different sections. The poems chosen ranged from Sappho to contemporary poets like Wilbur. As I read the poems I can see the memories and hopes that we parents feel as we look in our children’s eyes as they grow.

One of Wilbur’s poems in Morning Song is The Writer.

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
from her shut door a commotion of typewriter keys
Like chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thoughts and its easy figure
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking.
And then she is at it again, with a bunched clamor
Of stokes, and again is silent.

——————-  and ends with

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

As the mother of three daughters (and two sons) I cannot think help thinking of the stronger wishes that arrive as they grow older. And older.

As for my letter from Wilbur, since I was now friends with his friends, I wrote and asked permission to use one poem that spoke of an experience we shared in my Commonweeder blog. He responded generously. You can read April 5, 1974 here.

Richard Wilbur is also known for his wit. I particularly enjoy the lyrics he wrote for Leonard Berstein’s operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s 1758 novella that satirized the philosophies of the day. As the story comes to a close Candide and his love Cunegonde imagine a happy married life. Oh, Happy We

CANDIDE  –  Soon, when we feel we can afford it
We’ll build a modest little farm
CUNEGONDE  –  We’ll buy a yacht and live aboard it
Rolling in luxury and stylish charm
CANDIDE – Cows and chickens
CUNEGONDE – Social whirls
CANDIDE – Peas and cabbage
CUNEGONDE – Ropes of pearls
CANDIDE – Soon there’ll be little ones beside us;
We’ll have a sweet Westphalian home
CUNEGONDE – Somehow we’ll grow as rich as Midas;
We’ll live in Paris when we’re not in Rome


CUNEGONDE – We’ll round the world enjoying high life
All bubbly pink champagne and gold
CANDIDE – We’ll lead a rustic and a shy life
Feeding the pigs and sweetly growing old

CUNEGONDE – Breast of peacock
CANDIDE – Apple pie
CUNEGONDE – I love marriage

Oh, happy pair!
Oh, happy we!
It’s very rare
How we agree

Married life and children. Wilbur expressed the challenges and blessings of all.