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Dear Friend and Gardener

Tree Peonies on the Bridge of Flowers

Kamata Nishiki tree peony

Kamata Nishiki tree peony

It is tree peony season on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. There are a number of tree peonies, but not all of them have retained their names. No matter. They are all still stunning. We have been promised a few days of hot weather. I hope the tree peonies don’t mind too much.

Shimanishiki tree peony

Shimanishiki tree peony

This tree peony took a beating in the rain – and now here we are fearing the hot sun.

 

tree peony

Nameless tree peony

Of course other flowers and blooming trees are blooming on the Bridge, but the Tree Peonies are particularly ephemeral and I wait for them every year.

Tovah Martin and Terrariums

Tovah Martin

Tovah Martin photo by Kindra Clineff

Tovah Martin, gardener and author, has devoted a good part of her life to houseplants. Most of us have a limited view of what houseplants we might put on our windowsills, but when she found herself working at the wonderful Logee’s Greenhouse in Connecticut she fell in love with the hundreds of houseplant varieties put into her care.

Over the years Martin has written books like Well-Clad Windowsills: Houseplants for Four Exposures, The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home; The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow; and The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature. Her knowledge about the needs and benefits of various houseplants, as well as their beauty, sometimes sculptural and sometimes romantic, is encyclopedic, and her prose is a delight touched with humor.

As a part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Greenfield Garden Club, the Club is bringing the notable and charming Tovah Martin to Greenfield on Sunday afternoon, June 5 to give a lecture on terrariums, followed by a book signing, and then a terrarium making workshop. This event will be held at the gracious Brandt House on Highland Avenue.

Martin looks at terrariums as a practical way to have a whimsical or calming snippet of nature at hand, no matter what kind of houseplant space you might have. When I spoke to Martin I asked when she became an expert on terrariums. “I’ve made terrariums my whole adult life. Actually even before that. And now I give workshops for every age group from Brownie troops to senior citizens,” she said.

Terrariums are always a popular type of garden from the charming berry bowls filled with a bit of American teaberry with its shiny petite foliage and red berries, to fish tanks turned into a woodland scene. “Terrariums are the smallest landscape you’ll ever have to design,” Martin said. Participants in her workshop should bring their own container but other terrarium materials will be provided. “Almost any glass can be used for a terrarium,” she said. She added that she has a pretty good eye and is frugal so she is a regular at Goodwill stores. No glass container is too humble, large wide mouth mason jars work just as well.

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin

“Everyone should have nature by their side and terrariums make it easier. Terrariums are self watering, they almost grow on auto-pilot. Terrarium plants get the humidity they need, especially in the winter when our houses are so dry from the heating systems,” she said.

In her workshop she will demonstrate, and guide participants in the making of a terrarium that includes soil and plants, using surprising tools and giving useful tips. She will cover the basics of construction, and care from every angle including watering and light sources. Terrariums should not be placed in the sun, which is one reason they are such a good solution for the house that does not have much in the way of sunny windows, or possibly an office with limited light.

Beyond the closed terrarium that I am familiar with Martin points out that a terrarium is also an ideal environment for handling cuttings and making new plants, or for starting seeds. She said not all terrariums need to be closed and that even an open terrarium environment can help conserve moisture and will keep a plant happy with less work.

Extra pleasures on June 5: Michael Nix will be providing music, Kestrel of Northampton will be selling terrarium plants and supplies, and the World Eye will be selling books. Tickets are available at World Eye Books or can be ordered by calling Jean Wall at 773-9069. The cost of the lecture is $25 and $50 for the lecture and the workshop. Garden Club members get a discount of $20 and $40. For more information log on to the Greenfield Garden Club’s website http://www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org/special-events.html

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It is Plant Sale Season. Today the Bridge of Flowers is having their annual plant sale that will include shrubs, annuals and perennials; many are divisions of plants on the Bridge. There will be a great variety from asters to peonies to violets. Master Gardeners will be on hand to do soil testing. The sale will be held on the TrinityChurch’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in ShelburneFalls from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. All profits benefit the Bridge.

Next Saturday, May 21 is the Garden Club of Amherst’s plant sale under the tent on the Common next to the Farmer’s Market from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Profits benefit conservation efforts and a scholarship fund.

On Saturday, May 28 The Greenfield Garden Club will hold its annual Extravagaza on the lawn of St James Episcopal Church on Federal Street from 9 am to 2 pm. In addition to plants donated by club members there will be a tag/book sale, a bake sale and face painting for the kids. Rain or shine. Profits benefit the grant program for area schools.

Between the Rows   May 14, 2016

 

Bridge of Flowers – Sale and Stroll

Bridge of Flowers set up for annuals

Bridge of Flowers set up for annuals

Yesterday the Bridge of Flowers held its annual Plant Sale and it was a great success! The sale included perennials from the Bridge itself as well as from area gardeners. Shrubs and trees as well: pussy willows, thornless raspberries, Japanese maples. Lots of special peonies! Japanese jack in the pulpits. Amazing. Hillside Nursery sent a few of its rare wildflowers down. In addition the master Gardeners were there to do soil tests, there were garden books from the Shelburne Booksellers, cards from the Friends of Robert Strong Woodward, and lots of cookies, muffins, cakes and coffee! To keep up our strength.

Checking over the plant choices

Checking over the plant choices

So many choices! Let’s look again. Let’s confer. It takes the whole family to make the final decisions about what to buy.

Bridge of Flowers  Plant Sale line

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale line

Once decisions are made it’s time to get in line.  There are always old friends, and maybe a new friend to talk to about plants and gardens and the weather – and everything.

Bridge of Flowers frolic

Bridge of Flowers frolic

Of course, some people would rather race and frolic than look at the plants.  There is no getting around the fact that the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale is an important social community event. Joy!

Pink dogwood

Pink dogwood

I was  almost ready for my nap after the Plant Sale site was cleaned up but I had to take a few minutes for a revitalizing stroll over the Bridge. The pink dogwood on the Shelburne entry is in full bloom.

Carolina silverbell

Carolina silverbell

The Carolina silverbell is one of my favorite blooming trees, just one of the many blooming trees and shrubs on the Bridge of Flowers.

Pearl Bush

Pearl Bush

The Pearl Bush  (Exochorda) is in full heavy bloom. An absolute glory.  Very satisfying to know  that the Plant Sale supports the purchase of all the gorgeous flowers, trees and shrubs on the Bridge of Flowers. Now – time for a nap.

Bridge of Flowers – a Public Garden, a Public Joy

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

May 6th was American Public Gardens Day, but the American Public Gardens Association (AGPA) says official festivities continue right through Mother’s Day. The Bridge of Flowers, possibly our most notable local public garden, will not have any special festivities, but the community enjoys the festive and floriferous atmosphere every day from April 1 to October 30.

The APGA defines a public garden as one “that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning. It must be open to the public and the garden’s resources and accommodations must be made to all visitors.” This basic definition provides a physical description but does not begin to describe what the Bridge of Flowersmeans to our community.

The Bridge of Flowers has a long history beginning in 1929 when the trolley service between Colrain and ShelburneFalls was discontinued. It was the proliferation of that new locomotion, cars and trucks, that caused the demise of the trolley. If the bridge’s important function of moving freight, mail and residents from town to town was its only function, it might have remained the weedy eyesore it quickly became, or even been torn down. However, the bridge also carried a vital water main from Shelburne to Buckland. The bridge could not be demolished.

It was Antoinette Burnham who mused that a bridge that could grow all those weeds could also grow flowers. With the help of her husband who typed up a letter to the Greenfield Recorder, community support soon began to build.

Crocosmia on the Bridge of Flowers

Crocosmia, phlox and daylilies

The Shelburne Falls Fire District bought the bridge for $1,250; they are the owners of the bridge structure to this day. In the spring of 1929 eighty loads of loam were brought to the bridge along with several loads of fertilizer. I suspect the fertilizer was manure from local farmers, but that is my own thought. All this work was done by volunteers while the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club and others in the community raised $1000. I also suspect that the first plantings included divisions of perennials from local gardens and perhaps a few packets of seed.

Ever since its creation as The Bridge of Flowers the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club (now the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club) has assumed responsibility for the care and management of the Bridge. The Bridge of Flowers committee is a subcommittee of the Women’s Club, reporting to it and receiving support from the Club.

The look of the plantings on the Bridge has changed over time. We gardeners know that the very nature of a garden is change. Over the years women like Gertrude Newell, Trudy Finck, Carolyn Wheeler and Carole Markle took over the direction of the garden, and different ideas about style have taken their turn. For the past 20 years Carole Delorenzo, with her great horticultural knowledge, has been Head Gardener. What never changed was the pleasure local residents enjoyed as they used the Bridge of Flowers, the prettiest way to get from one town to the other, as they went about their rounds.

The nation’s economy also changed over those decades. Our area which is an agricultural area, gained a reputation as a tourist area. The commonwealth now has a Department of Travel and Tourism which promotes the beauties, arts, excitements and adventures available throughout the state. The Bridge of Flowers figures in their promotions, as it does in the promotions of the Mohawk Trail Association.

The result is that over 36,000 visitors sign the Bridge of Flowers guest book every year. Of course, some of these people live locally, but there are visits from all over the US, and 90 foreign countries ranging from England to Japan and China.

When Antoinette Burnham first thought that a weedy bridge could become a community asset I doubt that she imagined anything more than a spot of beauty that would give pleasure. And yet, the Bridge has become an economic benefit to the town by attracting tourists who will stop for a meal, or an ice cream cone, or beautiful items from our galleries.

Columbines for the Plant Sale

Columbines for the Plant Sale

The Bridge of Flowers committee is grateful for the way that town businesses have appreciated the Bridge and what it means by becoming Friends of the Bridge. Until 2008 the Committee depended on funds from the donation boxes, but that was beginning to be insufficient. It was out of the need for more financial help that the Friends of the Bridge was created. The generous response from a wide community has increased every year. It is gratifying to know how the Bridge is loved and appreciated.

The last few years have seen beautiful additions to the Bridge, from the sign-in kiosks, the Silent Spring fountain, and the River Bench created by Bob Compton, Paul Forth and John Sendelbach along with the generosity of W.R. Hillman & Sons and Goshen Stone. This year the Garden House was completed. The design was donated by architect Kim Erslev and the finishing touch was the donation of a stained glass window designed by Nancy Katz and created by her husband Mark Liebowitz.

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

In readiness for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

Next Saturday, May 14, the Bridge of Flowers committee will hold their annual plant sale which supports the Bridge, and makes it possible to share some of the Bridge’s plants, and plants from local gardens, with area gardeners. The Plant Sale is held on the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in Shelburne Falls rain or shine. In addition to perennials there will be annuals, refreshments, vendors, and Master Gardeners who will do soil tests. Gardeners can come early and scope out the plants, but no touching until the bell rings at 9 am. Sale ends at noon.

Between the Rows   May 7, 2016

Children, Seeds and New Worlds Opening

 

Seeing Seeds by Llewellyn and Chace

Seeing Seeds by LLewellyn and Chace

It has been my privilege and joy to spend a few Thursday afternoons with Kate Bailey’s first grade at Four CornersSchool reading about, and learning about seeds. They were already quite learned. They not only knew that apples held a star in their centers, that fruit pits were seeds; they also knew that strawberry seeds were on the outside of the fruit, not inside. They are all so eager to share information about their own gardens and their favorite plants. They have a lot of favorite plants!

One afternoon I brought the squash seeds from my dinner the night before. Everyone got two or three seeds and Ms. Bailey lept up to get out the microscopes and magnifying glasses. It was just about the same moment that the children at one table and I cried out, “The seed has a shell, and the real seed is inside!”  I had nothing on those kids with their quick minds and clever fingers.

When we looked closely, very closely, at the true seed we could actually see the tiny shoot and the beginnings of a root in the seed. Ms. Bailey was even able to hook up a microscope to a projector to show the enlarged image on the white board so the whole class could look with wonder and excitement at the very beginnings of this plant’s life. Hooray for a school that brings this technology to the classroom!

I also brought Seeing Seeds: A Journey into the World of Seedheads, Pods, and Fruit written by Teri Dunn Chace with extraordinary macro photography by Robert Llewellyn. This beautiful book with its clear descriptions of seed science, and its brilliant photographs was not intended for first graders, but it is ideal for parent and child to peruse together.

In class we had discussed the different ways that seeds spread. The children knew about planting seeds from a packet but they also knew that dandelion seeds moved on the wind, and that some seeds were moved in the gut of animals who ate the plant. A few giggles there.  Seeing Seeds gave them a chance to see very close up the mechanisms that some seeds make use of, as well as the whole variety of seed cases, pods, husks and shells.

With the excitement over our own “experiment”, opening the seed case to see what we could see, the book took a back seat that afternoon. Even so, in quieter moments Seeing Seeds is the kind of book that can educate our eyes (adult and child) and help us to see details of the different types and forms of seeds. This book opens our eyes to the beauty and extravagance of Mother Nature who has found so many ways to help plants reproduce and proliferate.

Seeing Seeds (Timber Press $29.95) is one coffee table book that would get a lot of use because it is so beautiful and the text is clear, colorful and informative. It is not only the variety of mechanisms that a seed might use, but the reasons for those mechanisms that I found so fascinating. Chace writes about the way seeds, fruits, pods and nuts are  enhanced with structures such as hairs, hooks, tufts, feathers, spikes, spines, etc., all  meant to help the seeds. A spiky ball will protect them from being eaten by predators, and a layer of insulation stabilizes internal temperature and physically protects them. These are things we adults might never consider, but the protections would certainly be understood by children when they are pointed out. This is a book for the whole family.

Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell

Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell

Of course, having discussed seeds at some length, children will want to plant seeds. Indeed, the adults in the family may also be more than ready to prepare a garden and watch the magic of seeds and growth with their children. Gardening on A Shoestring: 100 Fun Upcycled Garden Projects by Alex Mitchell (Cool Springs Press$19.99) provides plenty of basic gardening advice about planning and planting a garden with the promised 100 inexpensive projects which include using tin cans, polystyrene and plastic throwaways for plant containers to making liquid fertilizers with plants, and setting up a worm farm to make rich compost.

I was particularly taken by the worm farm directions. When we made our worm farm a number of years ago, the small plastic bins that I could find were all clear, translucent. However worms don’t like the sunlight so I bought a very large plastic bin because it was the only opaque bin I could find. Mitchell suggests lining a clear plastic bin with cardboard. Why didn’t I think of that? I am on my way to having a new and smaller worm farm.

Children might be very interested in making a worm farm, but there are other projects suitable for the young set. Instead of buying plastic seedling trays you can make seedling pots out of newspaper, or toilet paper or paper towel rolls. This is a quick and useful project.

Mitchell also gives clear directions, aided by photographs, for multiplying the number of plants you already have by taking root cuttings, and layering. There is more to propagating plants than seeds.

Whether you are an adult or a child, you will find any number of inspiring projects that will feed the longing we all have to be creative, to have fun, to learn and to laugh and say – “Look what I made!”

Between the Rows   April 30, 2016

Water Loving Japanese Primroses

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses

These newly planted Japanese primroses are one of the reasons I am so excited this spring. A friend invited me to dig the primroses where they were invading her lawn. We did not make much of a dent in the patch that is thriving in front of her house and I am imagining that it will not be very long before they cover the ground in  this bed where it is very wet. Although you can barely tell from the photo the Japanese primroses are planted between the buttonbush and a golden berried winterberry whose tiny new buds are almost invisible.

As you can see we dug up the primroses before they had begun to think “Flowers!”  We got them in the ground less than two hours after digging them out of the ground and ever since the damp, rainy and cool weather has given them just what they need to settle in. Japanese primroses prefer partially shady sites and humusy damp soil.  I am dreaming that before too long they might look like this

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses

My friend sent me this photo so I would know what to expect. Beauty and Joy!

Pruning Flowering Shrubs

 

Basic tools for pruning

Basic tools for pruning at Greenfield Farmers Coop

Last weekend I attended an introductory pruning demonstration given by Lilian Jackman at WilderHillGardens arranged by the Greenfield Garden Club, of which I am a proud member. I am a bad pruner. I am much too timid, which I am sure is almost as bad as being a too bold pruner. When I face a shrub that has spent blossoms, or dead or broken branches I know what to do with my pruning shears. Take out the dead or damaged wood. Deadhead the spent flowers. When Lilian Jackman took club members on a tour of her gardens to demonstrate how to prune different plants with different pruning needs, or different needs of the gardener, we were all eyes and ears.

Jackman began by saying that good tools are essential to pruning well. She mentioned bypass Felco and Corona pruners, and stressed the need to keep our tools sharp. She herself begins every pruning session by sharpening her tools with a file, much as a butcher sharpens his knives before setting to work. I have Felco pruners and a Corona lopper for bigger jobs, and I bought a diamond file last year. I am just starting to learn to use that file. It is not difficult, it just takes practice. Like so much in life.

She also demonstrated her small folding pruning saw that will make quick work of branches that are too big for pruners or loppers. Tools and sharpening files can be bought at The Farmers Coop in Greenfield, and at OESCO in Ashfield.

There are different reasons for the necessity of pruning. Pruning is done for aesthetic purposes, to control size and shape. Pruning a fruit tree is done to keep it healthy and encourage fruit production. Pruning can encourage foliage or flower production on other plants. Pruning can also revitalize a neglected plant. later.In all cases it is necessary to know your plant, when it sets bud and where pruning cuts should be made.

Pieris japonica

Pieris japonica – in need of pruning

For example, our house came with a Pieris japonica. We missed the bloom season last year because we did not buy the house until very late May, after the Pieris had bloomed. I had no familiarity with this plant and did no pruning. This spring there was very little bloom, and branches were tipped fine spent stems from last year like little tassels. This year, I looked carefully at those spent stems  and cut them back to where I could see the new buds, already set. Pruning makes you really look at the details of your plants.

A statement that really confused me when I was beginning to put shrubs in my gardens was the difference between old wood, and new wood. Plants like pieris that bloom on old wood should be pruned right after their bloom season. Growth will continue, but the following spring that growth will be old wood and there will be good bloom. Forsythia also blooms on old wood.

Plants that bloom on new wood can be pruned in the early spring. The spring growth that follows is the new wood and the bloom will follow.

Many of the most popular hydrangeas right now are the hardy paniculata hydrangeas like Limelight, Pinky Winky and Quickfire. They bloom on new wood and can be cut back in the early spring, before leaf buds open to give new strong growth and bloom. Jackman uses hydrangea blossoms in the flower arrangements she creates for weddings and other events. In the spring she cuts the paniculata hydrangeas back about one third, finding a node and cutting just above it. Don’t cut between branches which will leave an ugly stub. She makes sure the center doesn’t get too overcrowded, and also prunes out any branches that are crawling across the ground.

Mothlight hydrangea

Mothlight hydrangea – not well pruned

I confess I was a bit nervous when she started cutting back those hydrangeas, taking them from five or six feet down to three feet. She assured us that they would send up another three feet of new growth and exuberant bloom.

She also showed us the remnants of a macrophylla hydrangea, a bigleaf mophead type. This is the kind of hydrangea that came with our new house. There were shrubs in front of our house but the northern corner was bare. I thought something had to be planted there but couldn’t imagine what. It wasn’t until the end of May that I could see the beginnings of new growth. Once it begins to grow in the spring this type of hydrangea grows rapidly producing a lot of bloom.

Certain shrubs like lilacs, viburnams and dogwood should have old stems removed periodically because they thrive with this kind of renewal. In fact, red and yellow twig dogwoods need this kind of pruning because the color is more prominent on young growth.

I can see that pruning need not cause angst. I have a garden full of new shrubs; I plan to be brave and to start a pruning regime while the plants are young. However, I can watch them grow for two or three years learning their habits before I have to take up my pruners and set to any serious work.

Between the Rows    April 23, 2016

Y is for Yes! and Z is for Zinnia

A is  for Yes! at Nasami Farm.  Yes, is what I wanted to say to almost every plant set out at the  special opening of Nasami  Farm yesterday.

Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm

I am not the only one saying yes as members of the New England Wildflower Society got a special invitation to tour the Nasami Greenhouses and get a headstart on our shopping.

Nasami Farm

Shoppers at Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from now until October. There is a wonderful selection of native perennials, ferns, shrubs and trees. I bought another elderberry, as well as a white aster, liatris, monarda fistulosa, and troillus laxa which doesn’t mind heavy wet soil.

Troillius laxa

Troillius laxus

And, although I have not really completed the A to Z Challenge properly I will end with Z is for Zinnia.

Zinnias

Zinnias

What is  there to say about Zinnias. Colorful, cheerful, welcoming to pollinators.  I even have a beautiful cousin (twice removed?) who will celebrate her first  birthday in July – a month for Zinnias.

X is for Xerces Society on the A to Z Challenge

Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society

Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society

 X is for the Xerces Society.  

“The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.”

What are invertebrates? All creatures without a backbone which includes, bees, butterflies and other creatures you might find in the garden like worms. It is the mission of the Xerces Society to teach us all how to support pollinators in our gardens. We can do this  by planting plants that will provide them with shelter, nectar and pollen. We can avoid using pesticides!  We can join entomologist  Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , in espousing the idea that we don’t need fewer bugs in  our garden, we need more.

Their new book Gardening for Butterflies published by Timber Press will teach you how you can support butterflies and other pollinators.

W is for Waldsteinia on the A to Z Challenge

 

Waldsteinia fragarioides

Waldsteinia fragarioides or barren strawberry

W is for Waldsteinia fragarioides, otherwise known as barren strawberry. Indeed, the leaves resemble strawberry leaves and there is some similarity of the small golden spring blossoms to strawberry blossoms, but this is a native groundcover and produces no edible fruits.

In Heath I had Waldsteinia fragarioides growing in the shade where it ultimately covered a sizeable swath of soil. It is obviously hardy (it thrives in Heath) and the deer pass it by. It is a trouble free plant and I’d chose it over pachysandra any day!

W is also for Waiting. It is the gardener’s lot to always be waiting: waiting for the sun to shine; waiting for  the rain to fall; waiting for the shrubs and trees to leaf out; waiting for it to  be warm so we can be plant; waiting  for the harvest; waiting for the season to end so we can rest.

We’re in the final stretch (but I did miss R) so click here to see who else is participating in the A to Z Challenge this April.