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Dear Friend and Gardener

Bee Fest Awards Excellent Pollinator Gardens

Bee Spaces plaque

Bee Spaces plaque

The world needs more pollinator gardens. The Bee Fest organized by the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Bee Keepers Association last week included talks by bee experts Lynn-Adler  and Susannah Lerman, researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Kim Flottum the editor of Bee Culture Magazine. All gave us information about problems facing pollinators and how we can help.

Susannah Lerman told us about her research which showed that mowing a non-herbicide/pesticide and un-fertilized lawn every two weeks generated 64 varieties of pollinator plants (that some would have called weeds) and 111 pollinators including honeybees and many native bees. Her research was unanimously acclaimed by all those who have lawns to mow!

Most of us have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder which causes a whole hive to die, but the cause has been unclear. Lynn Adler has been doing research on the bee’s digestive gut. It turns out that bees have some skill in diagnosing some of their ailments and know how to medicate themselves.

She knew that many plants have been used medicinally over the centuries. She thought that those biological compounds, called secondary metabolites, might be an important medicine for bees. Her research showed that sunflower pollen and sunflower honey can both help bees suffering from Nosema ceranae, a pathogen that can kill bees in little more than a week. It has been suggested that this pathogen has been responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder that mysteriously kills whole bee hives. Where bumblebees and honey bees have access to sunflowers they tend to be much healthier.

Honeybees have an advantage over bumblebees in fighting this disease. Honeybees live in community. Their hive can live through many generations of bees. They store a good stock of honey and pollen to keep everyone fed and well. Adler said honeybees are able to diagnose disease and seem to keep a pharmacy so whenever there is illness they have the wherewithal to treat it.

Bumblebees do not overwinter together. After mating in the fall the queen bumblebee bee eats as much as she can to build up fat that will carry her through her winter hibernation in the ground. When spring arrives she leaves her home every day to feed on nectar and gather strength. At first she does everything alone, gathering nectar and pollen, laying eggs and raising the first brood. After that she will have the support of those first bees while she devotes herself to egg laying.



I never considered sunflowers great pollinator plants. I usually think of the great Mammoth sunflowers making seeds for snacks, but a browse though any catalog will list any number of sunflowers. They have different sizes and different colors – and some of them do not make pollen. Hybridizers have created sunflowers that do not make pollen which looks messy when it falls on a tablecloth. If you want to plant sunflowers for bees be sure to buy pollen bearing varieties.

Kim Flottum spoke about the loss of pollinator habitat which has been decreasing over the years. He told us ways that habitat can be increased. One idea taking hold in the Midwest cornfields is planting a border of pollinator plants all around cornfields. Corn does not need pollinators, but if there are pollinator plant borders, bees will come and the ecosystems will be healthier.

He also reported that two million bee hives are needed to pollinate almond orchards in California but there is nothing else for the bees to eat. Almond farmers have learned the benefit of planting pollinator plants in and around their orchards. The trees are pollinated better when the bees have additional food sources.

The National Wildlife Federation created the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge to add plants that will support the decimated populations of Monarch butterflies. They plant milkweeds in public parks, civic gathering place and along the highways.

Flottum talked about how easy it is to plant pollinator plants along the highways, which then would not need to be mowed. A town could save money while being more beautiful, and a supporter of birds and bees.

Flottum left us with a few words “Plant a flower, feed a bee. Make the world a better place.”

Deval Patrick, our former governor, then told a few stories about his own beekeeping practice, but he was there to help honor those who are already feeding the bees and making the world a better place. The Franklin County Beekeeper’s Association instituted the Bee Spaces Award this year, to be given to excellent pollinator gardens.

The first Annual Bee Spaces awards were presented to ErvingElementary School for its pollinator garden, Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls and the University of Massachusetts for its two pollinator gardens.

Deval Patrick presenting  and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award

Deval Patrick presenting and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award for the Bridge of Flowers

If you have a garden supportive of pollinators, or want to add pollinator plants to your garden, you might win one of next year’s Bee Spaces awards. There are many books available at the library with lists of good pollinator plants including 100 Plants to Feed the Bees published by the Xerces Society, or you can go online to many sites including the New England Wildflower Society, newenglandwild.org. You can start collecting photos so you can apply to be a winner next spring. More information will be available soon.

Between the Rows   June 10, 2017

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – June 15, 2017

OSO Easy Paprika rose

OSO Easy Paprika rose

On this June Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day the rose have burst into bloom. It has been a cold and wet spring, but  our last couple of days have been in the 90s. The weather gods show just how unpredictable they can be. For me, this spring is is the first really floriferous June we have had.  All the roses but one are new plants and they are really showing off.

Drift rose - Peach

Drift Rose – Peach

This peach Drift rose blooms right next to Paprika. Both of them are low growing landscape roses and require very little care.

Purple Rain - Kordes rose

Purple Rain – a Kordes rose

Kordes started hybridizing disease resistant roses over 30 years ago. No herbicides needed. This is another low growing rose.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger – Griffith Buck rose

I had a Folksinger rose up in  Heath, but it never looked this good.

Polar Express rose

Polar Express – another Kordes rose

This is an elegant icy  white rose. I love all the Kordes roses.

Knockout Red

Knockout Red rose

Knockout Red supplies  the red red rose, that’s newly sprung in June.

Alchemyst rose

Alchemyst Rose

By the time you are looking at all these roses I am sure that Fantin-Latour,and  Lion’s Fairy Tale will also be in full bloom.  I think I have to wait a little longer for The Fairy and Purington Pink to bloom. But of course, there are other bloomers in June.

Alchemyst  rose

Alchemyst rose

I’m adding this closeup because the rose is so lovely – and just now in full bloom.

White delphinium

White delphinium

This delphinium has already lost one blooming stem in a storm, but it looked very pretty on our dinner table.

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses

It is amazing that the Japanese primroses are still showing bloom – but it has been very wet.

Siberian white iris

Siberian white iris

I have three lovely clumps of white Siberians. And friends waiting for a piece of this dependable beauty.

Blue siberian iris

Blue Siberian iris

I have three big clumps of blue Siberians, but these are coming up in a clump of weeds in the North Border. They will  not give up. Of course, this is another very wet spot.

Thank you Carol for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Visit May Dreams Gardens and see what else is blooming over our great land.

Northampton Garden Tour – June 10, 2017


Rhododendrons and azaleas provide bloom in this spring garden

It is Garden Tour season! So many gardens to see, to enjoy and to learn from. It could be said that every garden is designed around the flaws – I mean challenges – of the site. E. Bruce Brooks and his wife Taeko stood with me in front of his Northampton house and garden and we looked up at the tall brick building. “Our design aims to minimize the too tall house that sits on a too small lot,” Bruce said. “One purpose of our garden is to provide height to match the house, and also an integrated design to make it look more at home. The swirl of the alternating beds of myrtle and grass is meant to direct the eye away from the house, and lure it in another direction.”

Those curves include a handsomely paved path that leads first to the front door but also swoops to the side of the house where the most used door is located.

A "concealed terrace"

A “concealed terrace”

It has been noted by others that there is a calligraphic sweep to the design, a nod to the work of these two classical Chinese scholars.

Another challenge of the site is that it is on a hill. The land is an uninterrupted slope from the sidewalk to the boundary of an evergreen hedge. Bruce has created a series of ‘concealed terraces’ to diminish the rapid flow of rainwater down the slope. A shrub and flower bed parallel to the sidewalk looks like a raised bed but it is actually a sunken bed in the front and a raised bed on the opposite side. This bed neatly contains ajuga, three gas plants, Dictamus albus, and a Sky Pencil Japanese holly, one of several in the garden, pulling the eye upward. I had never seen a gas plant although I had heard that the flowers or seeds emitted a flammable oil that could be ignited by a match when the summer air was very still. I asked if he had ever experimented with such fire, but he shook his head and said he had never been that adventurous.

This garden has undergone substantial changes over the decades they have lived there. A yew hedge outgrew itself, and heavy machinery was called in to remove it. That heavy machinery pretty much did away with what garden was there and they began anew. In addition to that change, surrounding trees have made the site shadier and shadier. Taeko reminisced, “We tried to grow herbs for a while, including lavender and Biblical plants like hyssop, but the increasing shade got the better of them. We used to grow what we like; now we try to like what will grow.” One fairly sunny bed now includes Andromeda, white azalea and a ground cover of intermixed black mondo grass, dwarf iris, and sweet woodruff planted around another tall Sky Pencil.

Color and texture are important elements

Color and texture are important elements

Brooks refers to the garden as Taeko’s garden, but it is clear that it is very much a shared project. Brooks is the design man, and Taeko, a second generation Hawaiian, she happily informed me, is the gardener on the ground. There is a shrub size Japanese red maple next to the stairs going into the back garden. Brooks raised it from seed, but Taeko said it was getting too big. Brooks disagreed and Taeko took to pruning it every spring to keep it a proper size. Brooks shook his head. “We are always arguing,” he said. Taeko laughed and said, ”Oh, yes, we are always arguing.”

 ryongi temple

Ryoanji Temple memory – nearly done

The narrow rear garden is very shady. Once again myrtle is massed along a narrow bed on one side of a wide gravel path, with massed painted fern against the house on the other side. In the middle of this pebble garden, a reminder of the famous gardens in the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, is an austere arrangement of stone and two shrubs. They spent two years of their early life together in Kyoto, and carried some of those stones home with them when they left, a tender souvenir of those years together.

The serenity of this garden created by the massing of myrtle, painted ferns and blu e fescue ornamental grass is a lesson to us all about the power of massing.

Taeko and E.  Bruce Brooks

Taeko and E. Bruce Brooks

Bruce and Taeko have shared their professional lives as well as their garden planning. Their department, The Warring States Project of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts is a research center for classical China, and recently also for Early Christianity and the Hebrew Bible. The Project itself has branches: offsite laboratories in the Midwest and in Canada where stylistic analysis of ancient texts in four languages is carried out by teams of computer specialists.

Their home offices allow them to see each other while they slave over Chinese texts and computers, but they said they never confer while they are working. They meet only when they are finished with a section or topic. They do not always agree (always arguing again) but were very clear that their work proceeds because they have absolute trust in each other’s thinking and work. They have written several books together, including The Original Analects and The Emergence of China. New books will be arriving soon.

I have just given a taste of the peaceful Brooks garden which is one of the six gardens on the 24th annual Northampton Garden Tour, providing visitors with the differing styles and approaches to making a beautiful and unique garden. The tour is scheduled for Saturday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. rain or shine. Proceeds from this tour go to the Friends of the Forbes Library to buy books, materials and programs at the Library. Tickets are $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, and State Street Fruit Store. On June 10th, the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and available only at the library. There will also be a raffle.

Between the Rows   June 3, 2017


Worlds of Rhododendrons

Janet Blair rhodie

Janet Blair rhododendron

Our hugel was built to help us manage water, but also to provide a stage for rhododendrons. This past weekend my friendly rhododendron specialists took me shopping at the Windy Hill Nursery in Great Barrington. We bought three cultivars: Janet Blair a beautiful pale pink  with a golden flare in the center, Wojnar’s Purple and Francesca, a red.

Wojner's Purple rhododendron

Wojner’s Purple rhododendron

The photos of Janet Blair and Wojner’s purple were taken in Jerry Sternstein’s rhododendron woodland which includes nearly 400 other rhodies. These shrubs will mature at about 12-15 feet tall and equally wide.

Rhododendron Francesca

Francesca rhododendron

Francesca is a real red rhodie and this photo was taken in John Valigorski’s garden. My garden will never hold hundreds of rhodies, and I am already feeling a little rhodie jealousy. Here are more rhodie photos.

A section of John Valigorsky's rhodies

A section of John Valigorsky’s rhodies

John Valigorsky’s rhodies edge his front yard, and then travel through the back yard, at one point creating a rhododendron woodland.

Scintillation  rhododendron

Scintillation – a popular pink rhodie

Gigi rhododendron

Gigi – a Dexter hybrid

Calsap rhodie

Calsap – once of the hardiest rhodies


A section of Jerry Sternstein's rhodie hill

A section of Jerry Sternstein’s rhodie hill

Jerry and John have very different sites. Jerry’s garden blooms in full sun,  enjoying the naturally acidic soil. John’s garden enjoys some shade but blooms in defiance of the alkaline soil. There are fertilizers like Holly-Tone that help acidify soil. Both men say the important thing in planting a rhododendron is to remember the motto “Keep it simple, just a dimple.”  No $5 holes for these rhodies. All they need is a slight depression in the soil, with soil then being brought up around but not touching the trunk.

For wonderful information about rhodies, including the best performers in your region check out the American Rhododendron Society’s website.

Dogwoods – Trees and Shrubs

Kousa dogwood

Kousa dogwood

With its long lasting flowers the dogwood is one of the iconic trees of early spring. On my street there are two beautiful dogwoods, Cornus florida, a native species. We are fortunate to have these trees because in the past this species has battled anthracnose, the most deadly fungus that can attack dogwoods.

The response to the dying off of many native dogwoods is the rise of Kousa dogwood, a Japanese species. The flower is very similar but the tree blooms a bit later in the spring. Both native and Kousa dogwoods are categorized as small trees, which means they will attain a height between 15 and 30 feet with an equal spread. Thirty feet does not seem very small to me.

These two dogwood species produce similar long blooming flowers, but the ‘flowers’ are actually white or pinkish bracts surrounding the very tiny true flowers in the center. There is an old legend that says Satan tried to climb over the wall that surrounded Eden to knock the flowers off Adam’s favorite tree, the dogwood. However, he fell and since the blossoms were in the shape of a cross, all he managed to do was take a tiny bite out of the petals. That bite is recognizable today.

Both species also have good fall color with shades of pink and red, and they produce berries that attract the birds.

Kousa dogwood flowers

Kousa dogwood flowers – closeup

I considered planting a native or Kousa dogwood in my new garden, but gave up the idea because I decided that it is too wet for dogwoods to thrive. These trees do enjoy some shade, and moist but well drained soil, but I feared that our floods would be fatal.

Although the dogwood trees don’t like water, dogwood shrubs don’t seem to mind at all. One of the first large shrubs I planted in the garden in the summer of 2015 was the yellow twig dogwood. This multi-stemmed shrub will reach a height and width of five or six feet and has grown energetically for us. I wanted this shrub because the yellow stems attract a lot of attention in the winter and spring. It’s a true glory when the sun is shining on it. I planted Cornus sericea  Flaviramea  right where I can see it from my kitchen window.

Yellow twig dogwoods are so water tolerant that they can be used as part of a rain garden planting which means they can stand periodic flooding and full time dampness.

I was so happy with the yellow twig that last year I bought two more dogwood shrubs. Many people are familiar with the red twig dogwood, Cornus sanguinea. It will attain the size and stature of the yellow twig but the stems are a very definite red. I saw a house with a red twig dogwood hedge once during the winter. It was nicely pruned and quite elegant.

The second new dogwood shrub is an osier Cornus sericea. The word osier threw me. It brought to mind certain willows with very flexible stems that could be cut while young to make baskets and furniture. I wondered whether the osier cornus could be used the same way. I have not yet made that determination

I was also confused because this was a C. sericea like the Flaviramea, but it was not a stunning yellow, nor was it red, but rather a mixture. The horticultural world is not always easy to understand. However this species is also extremely water tolerant and it has become the tallest and most upright of my dogwood shrubs. It must like its wet spot, next to a planting of primroses that are also happy in the wet. These three shrubs benefit from cutting back some of the stems every two or three years to keep the color vivid.

All three of these dogwoods have similar flowers. They lack the showy bracts of the trees. They have small flat-topped clusters of tiny true flowers that are not showy at all. However, in the fall small drupes replace the flowers. Drupes is a new word for me. – easily defined. Drupes are a stone fruit, with a fleshy outer part surrounding the pit. Peaches, plums cherries and other stone fruits are drupes.

Pagoda dogwood blossoms

Pagoda dogwood blossoms

The final cornus in my planting is a pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia. This is another small dogwood tree, but it has flowers and drupes just like the shrubs. No show off bracts.  The alternifolia in its name refers to the leaves which appear alternately on the stems instead of opposite each other on other cornus species.

My desire for this tree is because of the fairly horizontal arrangement of its branches much like the levels in a pagoda. I love the sculptural arrangement, but I know it will take some regular pruning to urge it on to its best form. I am not a great pruner but I am ready to accept the challenge.

I want to make a final small mention of the low growing Cornus canadensis otherwise known as bunchberry, bearberry or any one of several names including plain dwarf dogwood. It is easily recognizable as a dogwood by its foliage and the white bracts surrounding its true flowers. The only difference is its petite size. It creeps along the ground, only eight inches high and spreading two or three feet. Birds eat the red berries in the fall and spread the seeds elsewhere.

The interesting thing about bunchberry is the force with which its flower buds bend back and the anthers spring forward in less than a millisecond and throw the pollen into the air and surrounding garden at more than two thousand times the force of gravity. I don’t know how anyone ever saw or measured this phenomenon but you can find videos on YouTube.###

Between the Rows   May 27, 2017


Progression of Spring

Progression of Spring - April Fool snow

Progression of Spring – April Fool snow

The progression of spring is one of magisterial slowness. The April Fool snow did have the advantage of showing us where we could expect the spring flood to appear.

April 18, 2017

April 18, 2017

The snow didn’t last too long and it didn’t even look that wet anymore in mid-April. The slow progression of spring.

May 14, 2017 - Flood

May 14, 2017 – Flood

There were considerable rains  which started things greening up, but also brought the flood. This shows the progression of spring took a leap, but then stepped back for a rest.

May 30, 2017

May 30, 2017

In spite of the rains which leave the area around the shed underwater, it looks like spring is firmly ensconced throughout most of the garden. The primroses have loved the rain and welcomed new plants from the Bridge of Flowers and Greenfield Garden Club plant sales.  The lilacs have gone by but the roses are budding up nicely. It looks like OSO Easy Paprika will be the  first to bloom

OSO Easy Paprika

OSO Easy Paprika

Now, if the progression of spring would just take us into the sunshine. I am expecting a BOOM! of blossom.

Cutting Back and Glorious Shade

Cutting Back

Cutting Back by

Cutting Back, and Glorious Shade are two new books that held a particular appeal to me. For me Japanese gardens and shade gardens share an atmosphere of serenity and calm. There is no rushing, no ecstatic clamor at the brilliance of blossoms; there is a quiet peacefulness when you are strolling through a wild woodland garden or an artful Japanese garden. Both types of garden use design to emulate the beauty of nature in different ways.

In Cutting Back: My apprenticeship in the gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck (Timber Press $24.95) Buck gives us a memoir of the six months she spent in Japan working six days a week in every weather with expert gardeners.

Once we are in our mid-30s, most of us cannot imagine turning back to the beginning by presenting ourselves as a novice welcoming criticism and instruction. And yet, this is what Buck did. As a garden designer in the San FranciscoBay area she loved Japanese gardens and worked in them, but wanted to learn from the masters in Japan. She left her work and friends and without arranging a job in Japan she left California. She was amazingly fortunate because she did land a job with an elite Japanese landscaping company.

When you go to a foreign country to take a job the experience is as much about adjusting to a different culture as it is to learning or refining skills. As a woman Buck was an unlikely member of an all male crew, taking her place in the lowest rank. She is the first woman to train in Japan with this company. The Japanese aesthetic is to create a landscape that looks completely natural, but this requires gardeners with an artistic eye, fine pruning skills and patience to attend to every detail of a garden down to cleaning pebble paths. Buck, with her minimal fluency in Japanese, found all this challenging, exhausting and sometimes disheartening, but she was also inspired by the gardeners in her crew and appreciative of their teachings.

Cutting Back describes the work and skills of a Japanese crew, but it is not a how-to book in any sense except possibly the joy ultimately found when you cast aside your fears and move on to fulfill a dream.

Leslie Buck had a dream, but she already had an aesthetic education. She has a degree from the University of California, Berkeley and attended the Bordeaux School of Fine Arts in France. She has taken to heart the Japanese worker’s creed that to become a master you must continually practice and you must teach. She has worked, taught and volunteered in hundreds of private landscapes and many public gardens including the PortlandJapaneseGarden and the gardens at TassajaraZenCenter.

Glorious Shade: Dazzling Plants, Design Ideas and Proven Techniques for Your Shade Garden by Jenny Rose Carey (Timber Press $24.95) will give you new ways to look at shade in your garden. I certainly have moved from thinking of shade as some static thing that has only a single quality to appreciating the many facets and changeability of shade.

Glorious Shade by Carey

Glorious Shade by Jenny Rose Carey

Glorious Shade begins with chapters on the Shades of Shade and Gardener’s Calendar, reminding us that shade is not static but varying over the seasons, even over the course of a day, and that green foliage is not a single shade either. The book is heavily illustrated with beautiful and instructional photographs.

The third chapter Down and Dirty focuses on the intertwined, underground world of soil and roots, a world that is getting more and more attention. Nowadays we are fortunate to be learning more  about soil and roots, and worlds of life that we never knew about before. We all become better gardeners when we pay attention to the most basic part of our gardens – the soil.

Planting for Success gives us those techniques and schedules for maintaining a garden over time.

Designing in the Shadows gives us many bright ideas for gardening in the shade with ideas on how the many types of shade can be used to create the areas of calm and peace that I welcome.

The next 150 pages begin with information about layering the garden, trees, shrubs, perennials, and then provides one of the best plant lists I have ever seen. From trees and shrubs: Aesculus parviflora (buckeye) and Aesculus pavia to Viburnam tinus; vines from Aristolochia marophylla (Dutchman’s pipe) to Passiflora caerulea; ferns from Adiantum, (maidenhair fern) to Polystichum setiferum; and Perennials from Aconitum carmichaelii to Viola labradorica, our common American violet. There is also a short list for tropicals and annuals.

These lists are comprehensive including information about the different cultivars of a single species, including growing zone, depth of shade, need for water, and height and spread of plant. There is also more specific information about each species or cultivar than is usually given in more general plant lists. This gives the gardener a fuller understanding of a plant’s requirements.

Carey is the director of the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University which includes shade gardens as does her own Northview garden shown in her blog.. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Pennsylvania Gardener and other publications.

Between the Rows  May 20, 2017

Exotic or Immigrant – Flowers from Afar

NOT an Ollalie daylily

NOT an Ollalie daylily – a flower from afar

I do promote the beauty and benefits that native flowers bring to our garden, but they would be less beautiful if they did not include the  flowers from afar that have come to be called ‘exotics.’ The Bridge of Flowers is one place you can see natives and exotics blooming harmoniously.

Dayliles first bloomed in Asia where they were used medicinally. Four hundred years ago they arrived in Europe and hybridizing began – and continues today. We are all familiar with the roadside daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, and many hybrids resemble them except that the range of color has exploded. Daylilies have also been hybridized to change petal shape and arrangement in ways that make the flower much more complicated.

I have a number of daylilies in my garden, but the first one I bought over 30 years ago came from Olallie Daylily Farm in South Newfane, Vermont. I had heard that the Farm had wonderful daylilies, but it was really hard to persuade the owner to actually sell them.

Christopher Darrow was the new young farmer, caring for, and presumably selling, daylilies that his grandfather, Dr. George Darrow, had hybrized in his retirement from the USDA. Christopher showed me around and when I finally decided on a daylily to buy he shook his head, “No, I can’t let you have that one.”

He repeated his sad no twice more until I finally said, “OK, what can I buy?” His choice and my purchase was a lovely yellow daylily – name lost, alas, except for the prefix Olallie. Since then I have added any number of daylilies to my garden.

Olallie Daylily Farm has grown and now sells over 2,500 daylily cultivars including those that Christopher himself has hybridized like the citrine hybrids that are six feet tall or more. If you visit the farm to choose your own from the field, you might also want to pick-your-own-blueberries before you leave. Grandfather George also kicked off the pick-your-own movement and has the Darrow blueberry to prove it.

Brunnera, a woodland plant, originated in Europe and Asia, but it is a current favorite in American gardens. In 2012 Brunnera “Jack Frost” was named the Perennial Plant of the year. It grows to about 12 inches tall with a spread of about two feet. It is the lacy white pattern on the green foliage resembling frost that inspired the name. Brunnera is sturdy and hardy, happy in the shade garden where its handsome foliage attracts attention. In the spring it blooms with clusters of small blue flowers that are reminiscent of forget-me-nots.

Hostas are another shade loving plant that can be used as a featured plant or as a ground cover. It originated in Asia and can be traced back 800 years, but it was not until  the early 19th century that it came to Europe and attracted attention Nowadays it is hard to find any shade garden that does not include a hosta or two – unless the gardener has given up because the deer love it so much.

There are now hundreds of hosta species and thousands of cultivars. A browse through any hosta catalog will show hostas in a range of color from a brilliant yellow green to a blue green and in sizes from plants with large leaves and a spread of over 36 inches to tiny miniature hostas like Mouse Ears. I became aware of the great world of hostas when I visited Mike Shadrack’s gardens in Buffalo.

Miniature hosta

Miniature hosta collection

Hosta hybridizers always seem to be finding new looks for these plants.  Wiggles and Squiggles is a new cultivar this year with long slim foliage with wavy edges in a bright shade of yellow green. It is only about eight inches tall with 18 inch scapes and purple flowers, but will make a clump that is two feet wide.

Those hosta lovers who have trouble with the depredations of deer might find an answer in a collection of the miniatures. Some have foliage as small as three inches. Like their larger relatives they come in bright yellow green shades like Limey Lisa to the blue-gray Judy Blue Eyes with lavender flowers.

Needless to say the rose is one of my favorite immigrants. Roses originated in China over 5000 years ago. When we lived in Beijing I didn’t understand the translation “monthly rose.” It was not until later that I learned a better translation would be everblooming rose. Indeed it is the everblooming gene in this Chinese rose that has enabled a world of everblooming roses to be hybridized.

Ghislaine de Feligonde rose

Ghislaine de Feligonde, David Austin hybrid

My new garden does not have room for dozens of roses but I have discovered Knock Out roses and Kordes hybrids that will bloom over a long season and will be disease resistant. The Bridge of Flowers has many roses that bloom from June into the fall. People ask me to choose the best season of bloom, but it is impossible to name. It depends on your favorites flowers.

A visit to the Bridge of Flowers inspires many people, suggesting flowers they  would like to add to their own gardens. It is even possible to buy plants that bloom on the Bridge. Once again the Annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, May 13 from 9 a.m. to noon across from the Shelburne-BucklandCommunity Center on Main Street in ShelburneFalls. Plants come from the Bridge, and from local gardeners, with annuals from LaSalles in Whately. Rain or shine and come early.

Between the Rows   May 13, 2017

Tomorrow, May 20 native and exotic plants will be on sale at the Annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale in Shelburne Falls. Plants come from the Bridge, from area gardens and from local nurseries. The sale opens at 9 am and concludes at noon. Don’t be late.


Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, May 15, 2017

Wood poppy

Wood poppy

This is my first Bloom Day post in quite a while. Here in my corner of western Massachusetts we are having quite a wet spring. Yesterday over 2 inches of rain fell, causing about the worst flooding in the backyard that we have had  so far. Even so, blooms are surviving.  The wood poppy is growing on our hugel so it is not flooded but has plenty of water to drink.

Barren strawberry

Barren strawberry or waldensteinia

There is quite a  golden look to the garden right now. Barren strawberry is a great ground cover and is making a great border at the edge of the hugel’s stone wall.

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa is a paler gold. I am wondering if I planted Trollius europeanus which is a taller, more golden globeflower. I used to have it in my old garden.


Doronicum or leopard’s bane

This is the single survivor of a little patch I planted last spring.  More gold.

golden alexanders

Golden alexandaers

Golden alexanders even have gold in their name. I planted two clumps last year and they are spreading nicely on the bank of  the hugel.



I am not sure which geum this is, but it bloomed all summer last year and well into the fall. What a plant!

Geum trifolium

Geum trifolium

Geum trifolium is also called Prairie Smoke. The little blossoms will soon be surrounded by delicate haze of smoke – somewhat like the cotina smokebush but on a more delicate and linear scale. Photos will follow in season.

Fringed bleeding hearts

Fringed bleeding hearts also called Dutchman’s Breeches

These were left by the previous owners of our house, but after cleaning out the bed they have thrived. I  found a small clump of white fringed bleeding hearts which I think came in on the root of a purchased dappled willow.



Columbine is beginning to bloom.


Tiarella or foam flower

The tiarella is enjoying a long slow season of bloom this cool wet spring.

black chokeberry

Aronia, black chokeberry

This aronia, black chokeberry, is coming along very slowly, but I wanted to include it because I am trying  to keep track of bloom times.

Japanese primrose

Japanese primrose

Bloom is just starting, but there is a good spread of  these beautiful flowers in  the wettest part of the garden. They were planted last year – gifts from friends – and are thriving. Thank heaven for friends with different plants in their garden.

little irises - nameless

little irises – nameless

These nameless little irises are doing fine, even in all the wet. You can see the flood just behind the irises and I can tell you that I sink into the lawn when I come near. Because our garden is so wet I have a number of clumps of Siberian and Japanese irises.

Spring flood tide

Spring flood tide

When you look at the photo of the little irises you can see water behind them, but this is a view of the major part of the garden. Our garden is very wet  for a variety of reasons. Yards on either side of ours are paved and at a slightly higher level which means some water drains into our garden. Our soil is heavy clay and drains very slowly. The garden beds are all slightly raised to provide better  soil as well as a lift from standing water. There is also an underground stream that flows the length of our street. The water can take several days to infiltrate. You can see why I have included so many water loving/tolerant plants.

Thank you Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for giving us Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and the ability to see what is blooming all over our great land.

Mysteries of May in the Garden

With the turning of the calendar page I am out in the garden investigating the mysteries of May. Young shoots are everywhere. Surely they have names. I stand looking at the swath of a bright green, crispy ribbed ground cover that has taken its assignment to cover the ground very seriously. I have no idea what it is called. I vaguely remember looking at it last fall as I removed autumn leaves and wondered if some of the these still green leaves were weeds. It was possibly a weed, but also possible that it was a really good groundcover.

Mystery groundcover, now producing tiny blue flowers

Mystery groundcover, now producing tiny blue flowers

You may wonder why I don’t have a plant list, writing about every new plant I buy. Well, I do. Sort of. I routinely start these lists and sometimes I try to back them up by sticking receipts for the new plants in an envelope. I even have labeled photos of many of my plants on my commonweeder.com blog which is sometimes helpful. Just today I was strolling through my blog posts looking for an image of the ground cover photo mentioned above. I didn’t find the groundcover’s name but I did find the name of another clump of green that I couldn’t identify. I was happy to solve that mystery and add the name tricyrtis or toad lily plants with all their purple polka dots on my incomplete list.


Tricyrtis or toad lily blooms in the fall. This photo was taken October 18 last year.

Tricyrtis is identifiable instantly – when it is in bloom. When it is just a clump of nice looking leaves it could be almost anything. And that is one of the problems. Many of us buy potted perennials at a nursery when the plants are more advanced than they will be the following May. We often don’t know what the first shoots of a flower look like.

I try to keep plant lists, but they inevitability remain incomplete however. I look through my lists and can find no likely name for the groundcover, and no name for three large patches of a low growing dark green sedum tinged with deep red along the tiny leaf edges. I think sedums are in a class of their own. Surely many people forget the names of their low-growing sedums. In fact, I think I bought that sedum several years ago at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale. Usually sedums at that sale are merely labeled Sedum with no further name.

Geum triflorum

Mystery plant now identified as Prairie Smoke – Geum triflorum

I wander through the garden and there is a plant I moved from the South Border to the Birch Bed. It is doing beautifully and has a couple of 8 inch flower stalks with small pink buds rising from the center of lush gray-green ferny leaves. I kept the label tucked into the soil next to the plant last year because I kept forgetting its name, but it must have gotten lost in the move last fall. Maybe I’ll see another plant just like it when I visit nurseries this spring. I might get an ID that way.

Two tiny clumps of green are planted next to the viburnam in  thewinterberry bed. One still has its general saxifrage label, but the other small plant is only marked with a metal stake. I seem to remember that when I planted it late last summer it was so small that I feared I would think it a weed in the spring and rip it out. The metal stake was protection and a reminder. But the reminder only went so far.

Across from those two bits of green was a good sized clump of a low green plant with scalloped leaves and very small bright flowers on dancing stems. I love the orange flowers with their nearly gold centers, and I was delighted with last year’s very long season of bloom, but no name clutters my memory.

Yesterday I bought a pot of Lobelia cardinalis which will send up a spike of bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I already had a L. cardinalis plant but I couldn’t remember where I moved it. Fortunately, I could compare and match the foliage. Thus I located the old lobelia and now I have a little clump of this striking plant. It is supposed to self seed if it is in a congenial climate and site. I have hopes.

There are many such May mysteries in my garden, but I can surprise myself by remembering, too. There was a single clump of foliage at the end of my herb bed where I had planted a few odds and ends from last year’s Bridge of Flowers plant sale. I cleaned out the annuals in the fall, but apparently left this plant to bloom again. And it did bloom. It looks like a yellow daisy. I looked at its sudden bloom and said to myself, doronicum! And then I asked myself where that certainty came from? Not trusting myself, I looked up doronicum and found a picture of a yellow daisy just like mine. The name given was Leopard’s bane and Doronicum. Sometimes remembering the name of a plant is the May mystery.

Doronicum or Leopard's band

Doronicum or Leopard’s bane

I  wonder how many May mysteries are in other gardens. I’d be interested to know if this is a problem for anyone else. You can send your comments to me at commonweeder@gmail.com.

Between the Rows  May 6, 2017

I identified Prairie Smoke when I was browsing through a new book Gardens of the High Line with hundreds of beautiful photographs by Rick Darke – and there was a photo of my plant with its name. Hooray. It is an interesting plant that will develop its ‘smoke’ in June. Photos will follow.