View from the Bedroom Window March 4, 2015
There are many shades of white in this world. Snow white is what I have been looking at for three frigid months now, but I dream of shades of white for spring and summer.
First come the snowdrops – as white as snow. A very welcome white.
Rhodendron ‘Boule de Neige’
Rhododendrons bloom towards the end of May, but ‘Boule de Neige’ (Snowball) has a memory of the white winter. Somehow this pristine white seems prettier than the snow.
Casa Blanca lilies
High summer and the lilies are blooming. Blanca, blanca, blanca. White, white, white.
Mme Plantier rose
But perhaps my favorite whites are rose whites – Madame Plantier, rosa semi-plena, and Mount Blanc,
For more (almost) wordlessness this Wednesday, click here.
View from the Bedroom Window February 5, 2015
The view from the bedroom window by February 5 showed that another 25 inches of snow had fallen since February 1. Cold and often windy with just below zero temperatures on a few nights.
View from the Bedroom Window February 10, 2015
Another 18 inches of snow on February 9, but sun on the 10th.
View from the Bedroom Window February 27, 2015
Occasional snow showers over the rest of February and continuing frigid temperatures. Minus 12 on February 16 at 7 am. Often windy with wind chill advisories common. You can see the heavy snow is beginning to slip off the Cottage Ornee. Fortunately, it slipped off the house roof by itself, while others were having to shovel their roofs. Glad to see February go.
There are peas that need to be shelled, peas that only need to be snapped, peas named snow, and sweet peas that can be smelled. There are pea plants that are small, and many that are tall. There is a pea for every taste, and every eye and nose. Peas are one of the first vegetables that can be planted in the spring. What more could one ask of a humble legume?
All peas prefer a fairly neutral soil with a pH of 6-7.5. If your soil is more acid give it a helping of lime or wood ash before planting. Peas love cold weather and once germinated can even survive a light kiss of frost. There is a tradition of planting peas on St. Patrick’s day, but in our region I think planting them a month later is more realistic. Still it is good to remember that peas like the cold and can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.
Most of the peas that end up on our dinner plate have to be shelled. Laxton’s Progress No 9, so named because of its (often) 9 peas in the pod, is an old variety with short, hardy and productive vines. Tall Telephone peas are another old variety, but these are tall, obviously, and have been popular ever since they were introduced in 1881. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specializes in tasty old varieties of peas – and every other kind of vegetable.
Strike is a new variety that can be harvested in only 49 days. The two foot vines can be grown with or without support. Maxigolt is another newer variety, with tall vines ready for harvest in 62 days. It is rated as having excellent flavor.
I like fresh shelling peas, but I love sugar snaps. I rarely get to cook these edible podded peas because I snack on them while I am working in the garden, or I can’t resist eating them on the walk from the garden to the house. If I am lucky I have a few to throw in the salad.
Even without the sugar in its name, the edible podded Snap Pea is sweet and has been called the most flavorful snap pea. The tall vines need a support and ripen in 62 days, bearing over a long period. It handles warm weather better than other peas. Sugar Daddy is a stringless open-pollinated sugar snap with 30 inch vines and good disease resistance. High Mowing Seeds up in Vermont offers these peas and others.
Snow peas, also called Chinese pea pods because they are so familiar in Chinese cooking, have flat pods with tiny peas inside. I have grown Oregon Giant snow peas, but this year I am intrigued by Golden Sweet snow peas. They need a trellis and produce yellow pea pods. I always like peas and beans that are not green. So much easier to see when picking. Snow peas can be eaten raw or cooked quickly in a stir fry.
I was fascinated by the sidebar box in Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog that promotes their new Petite Snap-Greens. These are best harvested at 6-8 inches for their early edible tendrils to be used as a garnish, but they can be grown to full maturity.
More than a garnish are peas like Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea which can be grown as a micro-green. The pea shoots can be harvested after only 10 days for your salad. Feisty is a type of shell pea that produces lots of tendrils and few leaves. The tendrils are used as garnishes.
Shell, sugar and snow peas are all delicious, and flowering sweet peas are beautiful and fragrant. Renee’s Garden Seeds specializes in a large array of sweet peas, varying in depth of color, in intensity of fragrance and in bloom season.
Sweet peas have been hybridized for nearly two centuries, and in many cases some of the fragrance has been lost. Renee lists Original Cupani, with its deep maroon and lavender blossoms as one of the earliest and most fragrant varieties, as is Painted Lady in shades of red and pink. Jewels of Albion with blossoms in shades of blue and mauve and Queen of Night with flowers in a bouquet of shades of pink, blue and maroon are also particularly fragrant. Blue Celeste has large frilly blossoms of pastel blue and also has good fragrance.
Most sweet peas have tall vines and need a trellis for support, as well as rich well drained soil. Renee recommends nicking each seed with a nail clipper to make it easier for the seed to absorb water and begin to germinate. What peas will you be planting this spring?
Winter Farmer’s Market
Next Saturday, March 7 is the final Winter Farmer’s Market of the season. After that its spring. Kind of. And we’ll soon be shopping at the regular Farmer’s Market.
Between the Rows February 21, 2015
Dendrobium sanderae ‘Tunxis Road’ orchid
On Sunday I drove down to Northampton and the annual Orchid Show put on by the Amherst Orchid Society. I do not grow orchids because I always think they require a greenhouse. However, anyone who has ever received a phaleanopsis orchid as a gift knows that it will live happily on a bright, but not sunny, windowsill. I walked through the orchid show with Bill Benner, a member of the Amherst Orchid Society, who has about 100 orchid plants on his windowsills.
I did not get the name of this orchid but it won Best in Show of the small orchids.
A shower of old on these snowy frigid days w as a great joy.
Cymbidium King Arthur ‘Green Giant’
I was particularly taken with this large, about 2 feet tall, cymbidium. Bill said this could be grown on a windowsill, but it is so large that not many people grow them at home. I could see him thinking he could fit three or four smaller orchids in the same space.
I took away the little pamphlet put together by the Amherst Orchid Society which said: “Orchid plant range in size from creeping plants no larger than a patch of moss to 30-foot giants with a 6 foot flower spike. . . . There are approximately 20,000 species of orchids in the world. It is the largest family of flowering plants. . . . There are around one dozen species of orchids native to Western MA. Some of them are very rare and others are fairly common.”
Bill told me that some orchids need sun but others require light, but no sun. Most prefer temperatures of 70 degrees or more during the day but cymbidiums are hardier and need cooler temperatures to initiate flower spikes. An essential concern is to never overwater. While there are terrestial orchids, most orchids do not grow in soil. Orchid planting medium is a bark mix that drains quickly.
The Amherst Garden Society is a member of the American Orchid Society. The AOS website has a lot of information for orchid growers, and would-be orchid growers including Culture Sheets for the many types of orchid.
Phalaenopsis ing. ‘Pink Butterfly’
Dues for the Amherst Orchid Society are $20 annually and should be sent to Marion Jackman, PO Box 92, Leicester, MA 01524. Among the benefits is a monthly newsletter.
Garden-pedia by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini
With all the bad weather I’ve been happy to sit by the woodstove and read two new books from St. Lynn’s Press. Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini ($16.95 paperback) is an excellent book for the novice gardener. There are so many terms that arise even in catalogs and other places that can confuse and confound. Writers and speakers may be trying to write or speak plainly, but sometimes assume prior knowledge. I should ask experienced gardeners how they felt the first time they ran into high tunnel, or nativar, or panicle.
In fact, I was very happy to go through Garden-pedia and see clearer ways of explaining or describing these particular three terms. I had never heard of high tunnels a decade or so ago until I was talking to a farmer who told me he had put his whole raspberry operation under high tunnels. Nowadays high tunnels, “a crop growing system that is structured somewhat between a greenhouse and row covers,” are more common. There are always new terms to describe new practices and it can take a while to catch up.
I knew about cultivars, a particular cultivated variety of a plant like Heuchera ‘Fireworks’ but what was a nativar? A nativar is a cultivar or hybrid created from a native plant. For example, Ilex verticillata, winterberry, is native to the American northeast, but when you go to the nursery to buy one you will find ‘Red Sprite,’ ‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Apollo.’ These are nativars. I was interested that Bennett and Zampini do explain that there is some debate about whether nativars give all the benefits of a plain native. We will each have to make our own decision about how purist we will be in growing the natives that will support our local food web. Where I live now, in the midst of fields and woods full of natives, I don’t worry about including nativars, or even exotics, plants that came from elsewhere to my garden. But that may change.
Bennett and Zampini clearly explain 300 gardening and horticultural terms from Abiotic to Zone but they say they are happy to hear of other terms that are not included for the next edition of the book. Do you think the term ‘food web’ needs an explanation?
Bennett took many of the clear photographs that are really all you need when trying to understand leaf patterns or the structure of a panicle. There is an excellent index and a list of resources: books, websites, plant organizations and societies, and databases. Of course, as a New Englander I wish they could have included the New England Wildflower Society with its Go Botany website which can help all of us explore, identify and learn about our native plants.
Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler
Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques by Lisa Mason Siegler ($17.95 hardcover) is another small book with a lot of information!
Lisa Ziegler is a flower farmer, growing and selling cut flowers to florists and at farmers markets. She lives in Virginia on her husband’s old family farm, a farm now devoted to colorful flowers. Her book gives careful instruction on sowing seeds directly outdoors in fall, as well as in spring. Most of us will find seed starting indoors in the spring the most likely to work for us.
After a brief discussion of when to plant seeds indoors and out, Ziegler gives specific instructions for planting seeds of 30 particular hardy annuals from the familiar bachelor’s buttons and sweet peas to the less familiar False Queen Anne’s Lace.
Many hardy annuals can be started indoors six to eight weeks before you could put them outdoors. In my garden that means I could start seeds indoors in mid-March. I remember Elsa Bakalar starting snapdragon seeds at the very end of February. She had a homemade arrangement of shelves with low hanging grow-lights that enabled her to keep the seedlings growing sturdily for ten weeks.
Elsa did not use heat pads underneath her planting trays, but that is a technique we have available to us. Heat mats helps seeds germinate more quickly and dependably, but once the seeds have sent up shoots the heat mat should be removed. The seedlings now need good light for 16 hours a day. It is the long day under the lights that will give you strong transplants. I’m sure most of us have had experience with long leggy seedlings reaching for the sun.
Ziegler gives full instructions from seeding plants indoors, fertilizing, and hardening off the young transplants to prepare them for going into the ground. Once planted outdoors, she mulches, and then covers them with a floating row cover to protect them from the wind and any surprises in the winter weather. She finishes with advice for maintaining the garden all season long.
I was inspired by Ziegler’s plan for a 3×10 foot cutting bed for five flowers that would provide more bouquets over a long season than you ever imagined possible. Think of how all your neighbors would love you bouquets. The magic of a cutting garden is that the more you harvest the more flowers will come into bloom.
Garden-pedia and Cool Flowers will appeal to two different audiences; one of them might be just right for you.
Between the Rows February 14, 2015
Winter Farmers Market
Greenfield’s Winter Fare is more than a Farmer’s Market. Last month I attended the first Winter Farmers Market of the year, held at the Greenfield Middle School. I came home with two heavy bags full of apples, winter squash, watermelon radish, golden beets, bread and frozen ground lamb. And wonderful bread from El Jardin bakery. Walking into that space was like walking into Ali Baba’s cave full of jewels. A little brighter, but with so much wealth spread out before us – and all local. Greenfield’s Winter Fare is more.
On Saturday, February 21 I will be at the 8th Annual Greenfield Winter Fare which started the whole Winter Farmers Market project rolling. Now Winter Fare is more than the Market, although the vendors will be there in force with vegetables, meat, fruit, honey, cheese and bread, etcetera. There will be the Soup Cafe which opens at 11 am and workshops – and visiting because everyone will be there. At 1 pm there will be a Barter Fair led by the Valley Food Swap, swapping home-grown or home-made food.
10 am - Secrets of Winter Garden by Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm
11 am - Seven Class Culinary Herbs: Harvest, Cultivation and Medicinal Use with Jade Alicandro Mace of Milk & Honey Herbs
Noon – Simple Dairy Ferments, with Aaron Falbel, fermentation enthusiast
For other events during the week click here.
It seems to me that the success of Greenfield’s Winter Fare and the Farmer’s Markets is one measure of our community’s interest in good food, and the health of our environment. In the last few years the number of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms and other small farms has grown as has the number of farmstands and farmers markets. The Community Development Corp has a busy food processing kitchen available to entrepreneurs to make their products. CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is helping farmers with business training and marketing; and Greenfield Community College has instituted a course in Farm and Food Systems. That is a rich bouquet of services to farmers, and those who enjoy good, healthy food.
Will you be shopping at this year’s Winter Fare? I will.
Winter Fare 2013
Casa Blanca lilies at Mike Collins and Tony Palumbo’s garden
Last week I talked about some of the white spring flowers, but a whole array of white flowers bloom well into the fall. I can only mention a few.
White Flowers for Summer
One of the more unusual white flowers that grows in my garden is Artemesia lactiflora. Most of us think of artemesias as having silvery foliage and insignificant flowers. My Artemesia lactiflora grows in a very upright clump with reddish-maroon stems and very dark toothed foliage. The tall flower stalks have open sprays of small white flowers. It’s very hardy, deer proof and a good spreader.
When I looked up online nurseries for Artemesia lactifllora I saw that all the descriptions said it grew from four to five feet tall. Not in my garden. Everyone agrees it is not a demanding plant, and some say drought tolerant. The Plant Delights catalog says given a damp spot it will be spectacular. My garden is well drained. Maybe that explains its meager three foot height. Or the problem may be that I do not have Artemesia lactiflora Guizhou a particular cultivar. I don’t remember where my plant came from.
Garden phlox is a gorgeous midsummer bloomer that comes in many colors. It seems to me that interest in tall garden phlox has declined recently, with a matching decline in cultivars. Often the only available white is David which gained its fame because of its mildew resistance. Powdery mildew does not damage phlox, or even migrate to another type of flower, but many people find it objectionable. Phlox has no other real problems. David starts blooming in August and lasts into September.
I recently found an online nursery, Perennial Pleasures in East Hardwick, Vermont that specializes in phlox and sells over 90 phlox cultivars including Flame White, a very short white phlox, Flower Power which begins blooming in mid-July, Midsummer White which is very tall, mildew resistant, the earliest blooming of the phloxes and one of Perennial Pleasures favorites. There are other whites including the heirloom Miss Lingaard which is mildew resistant, and many other shades of pink, purple and blue.
Everyone loves daisies and Shasta daisies make it possible to have their cheerful blooms in the garden. Many Shasta daisies like Alaska grow to two feet or so and can get floppy, but that can be moderated by cutting them back in the spring. Tinkerbelle is a dwarf Shasta, only eight inches, and it is perfect for front of the border.
All Shasta daisies belong to the Chrysanthemum family, but are sometimes listed as Leucanthemum. Fluffy really looks more chrysanthemum-like with very double, shaggy flowers around a yellow center. Remember, all these summer bloomers like sun, good garden soil which should be enriched every year; they will tolerate some drought.
A wonderful vine is the pale moonflower vine. How lovely to have big white fragrant flowers that you can watch open as it gets dark. Moonflowers are like giant morning glories. Some people say they have trouble getting them to germinate, but soaking the seed for 24 hours can help with that. Once you have a thriving vine it may very well self-seed every year.
I grow white Henryi lilies near the house and they have been very happy at the end of my Herb Bed. I had the big glamorous white Casa Blanca lilies in the Lawn Beds, but deer always ate the swelling buds. If you don’t have deer Casa Blanca lilies are easy to grow and can tolerate some shade where they look especially beautiful. I haven’t had trouble with lily beetles, but that may be a blessing of the Heath climate.
Boltonia on Bridge of Flowers
White Flowers for Fall
Asters come into bloom in late summer and fall. Aster novi-belgii Bonningdale will reach a height of two feet or a little more and produce clusters of double white flowers around a yellow center. Asters should be treated like chrysanthemums by pinching them back until July 4 for stronger, bushier growth and more flowers. They should be deadheaded to prevent reseeding; Asters are tough long-lived plants that will make a substantial clump in two or three years when they can be divided. They are not fussy about soil.
Boltonia Snowbank, sometimes known as false aster or starwort, is a grand tall plant, up to five feet with starry daisy-like flowers. It can be pinched back in the spring or even be cut back for bushy growth in the fall. This is a vigorous plant that will need dividing every three years , but you can also dig up the new plantlets that spread out around the mother plant to give away. Because of its size and its exuberant bloom late into the fall this is a great addition to the perennial border. There is also a pink variety.
Before I started paying attention I thought of Japanese anemones as spring bloomers. However, it is Anemone sylvestris like Madonna that is the low growing anemone that blooms in the spring, in sun or shade and resistant to both deer and rabbits. Japanese anemone like the three foot tall Honorine Joubert blooms for a long season in late summer and well into the fall. Honorine Joubert has sprays of two inch flowers, white petals around a golden crown of stamens and a greenish center. Andrea Atkinson is similar except that it is shorter. Japanese anemones develop into generous clumps and they make quite a show in the fall. In spite of their delicate appearance they have strong wiry stems. I have enjoyed mass plantings at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in September
Between the Rows February 7, 2015
On this Valentine’s Day I’d like to share the story of daughter bonnie Kate’s wedding, a chapter from my book The Roses at the End of the Road.
Illustration by Henry Leuchtman
Bonnie Kate’s Wedding
Our daughter Kate was never much interested in the garden, but when I planted the first roses in 1981 and laid out the plan for the Rose Walk, she did express a romantic desire to be married amid the roses. On a June Sunday in 1994 it came to pass.
Like Adam and Eve who began their life in a garden, Kate and her beloved Greg stood with family and friends behind them, with roses and broccoli in front of them, and promised to be loving and faithful, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health and in joy and in sorrow.
The minister, who is a friend and neighbor, asked the assembled guests if we would do what was necessary to support this new marriage.
Certainly many people had already done what they could to make the wedding beautiful. Neighbors had mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, brought barbecue grills and flowers and salmon mousse. Kate’s siblings had built flower boxes, laid the stone terrace, trimmed and weeded and bought new clothes. So many people had promised aid and comfort – and they all delivered. No one forgot or failed. It was a miracle of love and generosity.
So having put hearts and hands to work for the wedding, we willingly pledged to support the marriage.
At least a few of the guests were experienced gardeners as well as experienced husbands and wives, and I expect they were already thinking of the supports that might be needed. Certainly newlyweds, like new gardeners, need encouragement along with a calming hand on the shoulder as the mysteries of growth unfold.
Gardens don’t always turn out as expected. There are inexplicable failures. Seeds don’t germinate, blight attacks the tomatoes, and delphiniums wither and die when you absolutely know you fertilized and staked just the way the book said.
Fortunately there are also those unexpected joys and bonuses. Cauliflower succeeds even though you heard it was really hard to grow, or an interesting sedum comes in on the root of the bee balm. Who knew it was there? Who knew such a pretty thing existed? Who knew it would love your soil?
Of course, each failure, each success, each surprise means the garden changes. Gardeners change. We lose interest in the cabbages, and develop a passion for squash.
We love fancy jam and decide to grow fancy berries. We decide dahlias are vulgar and devote ourselves to dwarf conifers.
Perhaps most amazing of all, we realize that there is always something new to marvel at and enjoy. Suddenly we see that the garden is not only color and fragrance, we become aware of the garden sounds: the wind rattling the bamboo, the deep thrum of the August cicada. It may have been there all the time, but we never noticed, or gave thanks.
Happy the spouse who can watch with delight as new passions, new skills and talents emerge, even as some loved habits and thoughts fall away.
Kate and Greg and Reverend Comstock
It rained all week before the wedding. Saturday the skies were dark, but dry. At the appointed hour and preceded by her sisters, Kate entered the wedding tent. Just as her train cleared the tent the skies opened. Torrents fell and the assemblage laughed. When it was time for the bride and groom to take their vows the rain stopped – just as suddenly as it began. Greg and Kate stepped out into the dazzling sunlight promising to love and honor each other forever..
A few minutes later, while the photographer was busily snapping away, heavy mists blew across the hillside. The view disappeared. We couldn’t see across the pasture any more than we could see into the future. There was only romance and the scent of rain-splashed roses.
At such a moment it’s easy to imagine plenty and health and joy. After all who sets out the tomato plants without picturing the abundant harvest of red fruit that delights the eye, pleases the palate and satisfies the belly? But as Adam and Eve found in that first garden there can be trouble as well.
Gardeners spend a lot of time on their knees, in careful observation, in grubby and tedious weeding, in setting out slug traps, in admiration, in supplication, in gratitude. As a wife I’ve spent a few hours on my knees, weeping, praying, cursing – and giving thanks for my great good fortune.
In the garden there are beautiful roses, fragrant herbs, tender lettuces, nourishing beans – but lurking in the soil and air are slugs and bugs, beetles, wilt and blight. The garden is not carefree. And yet, the slimy slug is just as inevitable in the healthy garden as the singing bird. Sun and rain. Brilliant day and darkest night. All inevitable. All necessary.
And so as Henry and I watched our bonnie Kate and beloved Greg step into a new space to make a garden of their own, we tucked our prayerful wishes into their tool basket. Wishes for strength and patience and joy.
May your Valentine’s Day be filled with romance and joy – and maybe some patience.
PS – Copies of the whole book are available in local book stores, on Amazon and right here.
Cover of Aububon Newletter – The Audubon Mural Project in NYC
The February Audubon Newsletter features an amazing art project – painting portraits of all 314 climate threatened or endangered birds on the roll down security gates in the Hamilton Heights area of NYC, where coincidently, John James Audubon once lived. This is the brainstorm of gallery owner Avi Gitler, and artist Tom Sanford. Street art to spread the word about the plight of these birds. The New York Times thought this was a great idea too.
The Newsletter has other fascinating facts. Do you know why woodpeckers don’t get headaches? The big Pileated woodpecker “hammers its head into trees with a force of 15 mph – 20 times every second.” ”One millisecond before a strike at a tree, dense muscles in the neck contract and a compressible bone in the skull provides a cushion. . . . Also woodpeckers have very little cerebral spinal fluid in the brain, so the brain stay’s rigid and doesn’t slosh around”
Lots of other fascinating facts in the Newsletter and a plea to join your energies to saving the birds. And counting them, too. The Great Backyard Bird Count is scheduled for February 13-14. Organized by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the National Audubon Society this was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real time. Check out the Audubon website and find out about birding, who does it, and why. If you want to know how to understand birder-talk click here and find out what an SOB really is, as well as pelagic and pish.
February 10, 2015
It is bright and white and barely freezing. The snow has stopped. The plow arrived. One car got out.
The house at the End of the Road
Sargent crabtree in Sunken Garden February 10, 2015
The snow has fallen and drifted into the Sunken Garden, half burying the Sargent Crabtree. The western wall is over six feet high – also buried.
Cottage Ornee February 10, 2015
Plowed Snowbank February 10, 2015
If you look closely you’ll see a tiny branch at the right of this photo, hinting of the three hydrangeas now buried – and probably damaged. Sigh.
Plowed snowbank at the End of the Road
We are really really happy that our ‘driveway’ is town road, plowed and maintained by the town, but I do wonder how far my wood chip pile has been pushed into the field. Oh well, it will be waiting for me in the spring. Temperature reached 32 degrees today.
For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.