Elderberry bush by a Heath roadside
Elderberries and chokeberries are not as beautiful or familiar as spring’s strawberry, but these small dark berries that ripen in late summer pack a nutritional wallop. I’ve know the elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) since childhood, but the chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is fairly new to me.
Whether you call the elderberry a tree or a bush, it is having a very good year. I seem to see elderberry bushes everywhere I go. I can easily identify the bushes with large flat clusters of creamy flowers that can be as much as eight inches across as I drive along Route 2, or down the wooded roads of Heath. An elderberry that usually grew by the road at the bottom of our hill seemed to disappear but this year it has returned in full bloom.
When we first moved here in 1979 our 83 year old neighbor, Mabel Vreeland gave us a Heath welcome by sending up a bushel basket filled with carrots and parsnips from her own garden, and a bottle of elderberry juice made from the elder by the side of the road. It was definitely not elderberry wine! Mabel was tee total, and she drank this bitter juice for its nutritional and healing benefits. Elderberries are more nutritious than blueberries which are much touted these days for their health giving benefits. In fact, in addition to the nutritional benefit of the berry, every part of the elder bush was used for medicinal purposes in ancient times when our pharmacopeia was more dependent on plants.
I have never been particularly interested in making elderberry juice or wine. Elderberry jelly, made with a substantial addition of sugar, is of more interest to me. Mostly I have just been happy to know that the birds love elderberries, and probably appreciate the nutrition as much as we do.
Elder has a history of being useful in many ways when we used to concoct our own tinctures and remedies. Crushed leaves rubbed on our skin or hat was thought to repel flies, and an infusion of fresh leaves rubbed on skin was considered a mosquito repellent. With all the moles and voles I have had recently I am tempted to try making an infusion that I could pour down their holes to send them on their way.
Natural dyes for wool fleece and yarn are enjoying a new popularity. Elder bark and roots make a black dye, but the leaves combined with alum will make a green dye. Elderberries and alum will make a violet dye, while combining the berries with salt and alum will create a paler lavender shade. I suspect that it takes a real recipe to make beautiful dyes.
I went looking for local elderberry bushes last fall when I was making a ‘bee box’ that would attract native pollinators. I also used slim bamboo sticks from my daughter’s garden. Native bees will lay their brood in hollow stems, or in stems of plants like elderberry that have a soft pith that the bees can remove.
Harry Potter got his magic wand in a shop, as I recall, but anyone can make their own. Elder wood is the traditional wood for magic wands, and is known to grant wishes. As long as the wish is not a selfish wish.
I confess that I don’t make much practical, or magical, use of elder, but I like having it in the neighborhood because it is a native plant, has lovely flowers and feeds the birds.
Nature Hills Nursery and Raintree Nursery offer a selection of elderberries, Sambucus Canadensis, and Sambucus nigra which is used for more ornamental purposes. Both need another bush for cross pollination to bear fruit. They also sell aronia bushes.
Elderberries have been familiar to me for most of my life, but another new native berry, the aronia berry, sometimes called a chokeberry, is becoming popular for many of the same reasons. It is highly nutritious, and the Washington State University Extension explains that the current interest in aronia berries is because of the “very high levels of anthocyanins and flavonoids, five to ten times higher than cranberry juice, with beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants, polyphenols, minerals and vitamins.” However, like elderberries, it is also bitter and best used in jams or mixed with other fruit juices, or it can be made into wine. Europe is way ahead of the US in finding palatable ways to use aronia berries.
I want to stress that chokeberry is a totally different plant from chokecherry!
Aronias resemble elderberries in other ways as well. The hardy bushes grow up to eight feet tall, produce white blossoms in spring and attract birds to the berries in fall. They also make a good landscape plant because of the spring flowers and brilliant red autumn color. Neither bush has insect or disease problems making them low maintenance. Aronias can tolerate a damp site, and are suitable for rain gardens.
Are elderberries or chokeberries a possibility for your edible, ornamental or native garden?
Between the Rows July 19, 2014
I learned a new way of doubling my garlic harvest this year. On July 12 I cut off all the garlic scapes (I got all but two as I later learned) brought them into the house and cut them into small pieces which I then put on a cookie sheet and put that in the freezer for about an hour. Don’t leave them in much longer because they are very fragrant! Then I slid the separately frozen cut scapes into a freezer bag. And back into the freezer. When garlic is called for in a recipe I can just use two or three or four scape pieces instead of garlic cloves.
I should have harvested the scapes when they were younger and more tender, but I don’t think it will make too much difference. I have already used and few and they do add that certain je ne sais quois to my spaghetti sauce.
Garlic Harvest 2014
This morning I dug up my 35 hard neck garlic bulbs. My garlic harvest is looking pretty good and I am looking forward to entering them in the Heath Fair next month. Garlic is a wonderful crop. So easy. You begin with good seed garlic which you can get from a friend as I did, or go to a garlic farm like Filaree where you will be amazed at how many kinds of garlic there are to sample and enjoy. You can also go to the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange which is about all things garlic, including seed garlic – but so much more!
I plant my garlic in good rich soil in mid to late October. I put on a layer of hay or straw mulch and forget about them. In the spring garlic foliage will rise above the mulch and there is nothing to do until you see the twirly scapes appear. To make sure the bulbs as big as they can be, remove the scapes. Then let the bulbs continue to grow until the foliage begins to yellow in mid-July in our area. Then dig the garlic carefully, shake off the soil, then wash the garlic bulbs with a hose. Cut off the stalks and set them out to dry and cure. When dry cut off the roots. Do not take off all the protective skins. Of course you can use them any time after harvest. I have learned everything I know about garlic from Heath’s Garlic King, Rol Hesselbart, who I interviewed here. He gives the best instruction and advice!
Two garlic bulbs – why is there a difference?
Somehow I missed removing the scapes from two of the plants. See the difference? All the plants energy went into the bulb in the plant on the Left, but some energy went into the scape on the Right, making the useful bulb smaller.
Once you have had a successful garlic harvest you can save a few of your very best garlic bulbs to use as seed. That is what I have done and now when I see garlic in the store it seems very puny. But I rarely have to worry about that any more. If you are a cook you can save some money by growing your own. All my garlic grew in a double 8 foot row. Not much space at all.
So, Dear Friends and Gardeners, have you ever grown garlic? How did you fare?
Dahlias and Phlox on the Bridge of Flowers
The Bridge of Flowers is a miracle of bloom right now. High summer. The dahlias are just beginning to join the phlox, daylilies, cimicifuga, crocosmia and all manner of daisies. But there is another way to enjoy the Bridge of Flowers.
Art Walk directions
Follow the Shoes for the monthly Art Walk in Shelburne Falls. The various artisans and galleries like Molly Cantor Pottery and the Salmon Falls Artisans Gallery were displaying the talents and skills of many of our area artists. As a member of the Bridge of Flowers Committee I was especially interested in the exhibit at The Art Garden.
Amy Love’s Quilted Bridge of Flowers
One of the beautiful renditions of the Bridge of Flowers was this whimsical quilt square.
Maureen Moore’s Rosies
Maureen Moore, artist, writer, and BOF committee member was inspired by the roses on the Bridge to paint this rose view. The exhibit will continue at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls for the next month. Stop by. And visit the Bridge, too. Don’t forget to sign the guest book.
Molly Cantor flip flops
The Art Walk will next be held on September 13, but the galleries are open even when there is no Art Walk. Be sure and visit. And don’t forget – The Bridge of Flowers is open all day, every day until October 30. No fee. But you can always leave a donation.
Waterlily Pond and Bog Garden
Garden tour season continues! The MaryLyonChurch garden tour is scheduled for Saturday, July 19 from 10 am to 4 pm and includes seven gardens in Buckland and two gardens in West Hawley.
Shirley Scott and Joe Giard
I had the good fortune to visit Shirley Scott and Joe Giard’s garden ahead of time. This has one of the most challenging sites I have ever seen for a garden. The main challenge of her site has been the very steep slope to the left of the house. This grassy slope with its interruptions of ledge has become the SlopeGarden with a series of beds of strong growing plants like daylilies, tall New England asters and miscanthus grasses. Stairs have been cut into the hill, but visitors will probably prefer to begin by strolling through the gardens on the shady side of the house.
Scott says the garden has fulfilled her childhood dream of having waterlilies, and her vision of a garden filled with wildlife.
That wildlife needed a very close look when she was giving me a tour of the Welcoming Bed at the entry to the property. This bed is filled with chrysanthemums, tiger lilies, foxglove, yellow loosestrife (not the invasive purple variety) iris, black eyed susans, peonies and sedums. There is also milkweed, blooming at this time of the year and providing nectar for many butterflies that were dancing through the garden.
At one point we stopped because we saw some filmy fibers on one of the tall sedum plants. A very close look showed that this film enclosed hundreds of very tiny baby spiders. A closer look showed us that a large spider was on a nearby leaf. Could it have been the mama? We’ll never know, but it was a very exciting moment when we could watch a certain kind of wild life being lived in the garden.
Of course, Scott explained they have larger wild life enjoying the garden, all manner of birds, bears, bobcats, coyotes and turtles.
If you walk first through the shade gardens you’ll come to the newest of Scott’s three water gardens, a kind of shallow stepped fountain on a gentle slope. This area is where Scott places her bird feeders. The large trees provide shelter for the birds, and the sound of water attracts them. She explained the water feature is still being refined, and she reminded me that the garden is all a work in progress. This is a concept that she does not need to explain to any experienced gardener.
In back of the house and outbuildings is Giard’s fenced vegetable garden where he has made unique use of a TV antenna and automobile tires. It always pays to look around the house and garage before you go out and buy new garden equipment.
Waterlily pond closeup
The water gardens are one of the most inspiring aspects of this garden, each one different. Soon you come to the first one she designed and made by herself. This small pool is surrounded by stones that can accommodate a small metal table and chairs. Here she can enjoy the sound of the water, and a view of her waterlilies. “When it was first installed I sat there and thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she said.
It is also from this spot at the bottom of the SlopeGarden that you can look into the faces of all those blooming sun lovers.
The second water garden is much larger and more ambitious with beautiful stone work. Giard brought all the Goshen stone down the slope to a sunny flat site. ChapleyGardens in Deerfield installed this garden with a recirculation pump and filtration system. In addition to the musical waterfall, and more waterlilies, there is an adjoining bog garden, and a collection of daylilies which will be in full bloom at the time of the tour.
This large garden is artfully arranged so that different views can be admired from various vantage points. Perhaps the most delightful view is from the small shaded gazebo at the top of the slope which gives a panoramic view of the Welcoming Garden, the Slope Garden beds and the large Water Garden.
I love visiting other gardens because I love seeing the ways a gardener’s dreams take form. Scott is an “Ashfield girl” and she has brought favorite plants from her mother, grandmother and friends into the garden where her childhood dream of a waterlily pond has become a reality. This is a garden of memory and dreams.
Scott’s garden is just one of the beautiful gardens on the tour which include a secret garden, a labyrinth, a farm, and gardens around historic buildings in Buckland. A farm, and a multi-faceted array of perennial gardens are located in West Hawley. The tour begins at 10 am and ends at 4 pm. Tickets are available by calling Cyndie Stetson at 339-4231 or Lisa Turner at 339-4319. Tickets will also be on sale at the MaryLyonChurch on the morning of July 19. Tickets are $10 and there will be a luncheon served at the MaryLyonChurch for an additional $10. Reservations should be made ahead of time for the lunch. All profits benefit the Church.
Between the Rows July 12, 2014
New bean rows
Dear Friend and Gardener: Where do I begin? With these new bean rows that I put in early this morning? Contender bush beans that promise to be ready for harvest in 50 days, on August 31? We’ll see. But, they should be bearing well before frost. The rest of this bed separated by a pile of mulch, and two hills of Lakota squash which are coming along very slowly. We have had fairly good rainfall, but we have not yet had many hot days.
Milkweed and peas
Or I could begin today’s story with this milkweed row – er – I mean sugar snap pea row – er – I don’t know what row. Here is the question. Do I give up the pea harvest in the hopes of welcoming hungry monarchs? We used to have clouds of monarchs in August feeding on a mint field. They do like mint a lot. But of course, they need the milk weed for their caterpillar babies. We rarely see monarchs any more, but there seem to be lots of other butterflies that like milkweed so it stays. I may get a few peas. What would you do?
This squash hill is doing better than Lakota. I can’t actually remember if this is the zucchini or crookneck yellow squash. The other hill is not doing well either. I really do think we need more heat. This squash is planted at the end of a bed of cippolini onions. They are doing fine.
Garlic and lettuce
The garlic has done well and should be ready for harvest soon. I did cut off all the scapes, cut them into tiny pieces, put them on a cookie sheet and froze them for an hour before putting them into freezer bags. I can use these in cooking in lieu of a chopped up garlic clove. Using the scapes this way doubles the garlic harvest. On the other side of the row is lettuce and self seeded cilantro. I pulled out the last of a patch of spinach this morning.
On May 20 I planted four substantial tomato plants that I bought at Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst. I think this one is Mortgage Lifter, an heirloom. All of them are looking good.
Grafted Jung tomato
This is a grafted tomato sent to me by Jung seeds. It looked nearly dead when it arrived. It has perked up substantially, but it doesn’t look very enthusiastic. It is growing in the same bed as two of the other tomatoes so there is no difference in the soil and the garden is in the sun from 10:30 am on.
Grafted pepper from Jung
Jung also sent a grafted pepper to test. It looks much happier than the tomato and they are growing side by side.
Of course, there is more to the edible garden than veggies. Red raspberries are just starting to ripen. I got these from Nourse Farms, an excellent local nursery.
The blueberries will be ready to start harvesting by the first of August. Blueberries and raspberries are the easiest and most delicious crops to grow.
We have been eating our own lettuce for the past month, and spinach, too. It turned out I really didn’t know how to handle rapini, so most of that early crop went into the compost bin. I do get to use our own fresh herbs – chives, sage, basil, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, tarragon, oregano and thyme, all of which can be harvested now and into the fall. If you are a cook, you really can save a lot of money by planting an herb garden for using fresh, or drying yourself. Many herbs are perennial, but even if you buy a six pack of basil you’ll have enough for the summer and to freeze for little more than the price of one bunch at the store. One gardener told me she chooses which crops to plant depending on how expensive it is to buy. Berries are expensive, so are bunches of herbs, or garlic. Something to keep in mind.
Except for the herbs and lettuce, I haven’t been harvesting much so far, but broccoli, cauliflower, pole beans and those squash plants are slowly coming along.
Do you think I allowed enough space between my Brussels sprouts? They are growing in a specially fertilized bed – lots of compost – after last year’s failure.
How is your vegetable garden coming?
I want to thank Dee Nash for hosting Dear Friend and Gardener, a wonderful virtual garden club where we can share our tips, triumphs, and those less than triumphant moments.
Daylilies on the Bank
On this July Garden Bloggers Bloom Day the Daylily Bank is just starting to come into bloom. By August my garden in the upper elevations of Western Massachusetts should be filled with gentle, but riotous color.
At the same time there is still enough rose bloom to be enjoyed from our dining table. The Buckland rose bush began a little late and so is quite floriferous now. The same is true of the Meideland red, and white, as well as Rachel, Celestial, Ispahan, Queen of Denmark on the Rose Walk. I had given up hopeof ever seeing Rosamunda, a striped rose, but she woke up too.
Passionate Nymph’s Thigh
The Passionate Nymph has been just amazing this year. She put out lots of strong new growth and is STILL blooming.
The vigorous Purington rambler also began to bloom a little later this year, like any number of flowers in my garden.
“Mothlight” is the oldest and largest of my hydrangeas, but the oakleaf, “Limelight” and “Pinky Winky” are producing some bloom – having survived deer, bitter cold, and the town plow.
I was able to give some of the pink astilbe to the Bridge of Flowers plant sale in May, but it is hardly missed. Another pink astilbe, “Bressingham Beauty” blooms in the South Lawn Bed. In general the year has been so cool that I still have many many pansy and johnny jump up volunteers in full bloom.
Achillea “Terra Cotta”
I just love the shades of Achillea “Terra Cotta.” I have given away several clumps of this strong grower.
This is supposed to be “Paprika” but I have my doubts. I ordered it after I saw a truly paprika orange achilea (yarrow) in a friend’s garden, and this has never matched that spicy hue. I think I will have to buy “Paprika” again and see if I have any better luck.
Yellow Loosesstrife is not an invasive plant, but it is persistent. This plant was growing here when we moved in in November 1979. Well, not actually during the winter, but in the spring of 1980, and very welcome were those sunny blooms.
Cosmos, snapdragon, echinacea purpurea
Of course I have dependable annuals to make sure there is always some bloom in the garden. Here are cosmos, white snapdragons, and Echinacea purpurea just coming into bloom.
I tried some new annuals to the standard pots of petunias, geraniums, and million bells. This is Cupea llavea or bat-faced cuphea. You have to use your imagination to see the bat face in the purple and with scarlet ears, but I love the intense color. This is described as a shrub so maybe by the end of the summer I’ll have a really substantial plant sharing pot space with this silvery foliage.
Love Lies Bleeding
I first saw Love Lies Bleeding at Wave Hill many years ago. Growing in the ground it was a large lush plant with lots of those drooping flowers. My reaction? What IS that?! It is not as eye stopping growing in a pot. I put two seedlings in the ground and they haven’t yet caught up. I am watching to see how they develop. Of course, I have not Wave Hill’s climate, and maybe not its soil either.
Torenia and daisies
I have a number of other annuals, daisy like,-like flowers in white, yellow and blue. These blue torenia are not spreading quite as I hoped but they are beautiful ground huggers. They are also labeled deer resistant and I have to say they are doing better that some of the other plants in the garden.
In spite of all the weather trials this yyear I am quite happy with all the bloom. I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day and giving all of us a chance to show off, and to admire gardens all across the country.
Japanese Iris unfurling
I bought this beautiful white Japanese iris from Andrew Wheeler at Iris Foxbrook Farm in Colrain . Japanese irises bloom in July, later than the Siberian irises. The flower is flatter, but comes in an array of beautiful colors. I always thought they needed a wet site, but Andrew said they just needed to be kept well watered, especially up until bloom time. That is why I planted this beauty Hakuroko-ten near the house – which makes it near the hose.
Japanese iris fully open
This spot is also near my tiny Early (vegetable) Garden so the soil is rich, with compost added every year. Japanese Iris are heavy feeders and enjoy rotted manure and compost. This location also makes it easy for me to admire frequently during its short bloom time. There are more buds, but this is my only Japanese iris.
Dioecious Plants: Dioecious species have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants.
Hardy Kiwi Vine
The Annual Rose Viewing was a success, but it was the hardy kiwi vine on our shed that also got a lot of attention.
Of course, it is the unusual green, white and pink foliage that makes the hardy kiwi so notable. I first saw this vine at the LakewoldGarden in Washington state many years ago. It was growing on a long trellis, so I did not realize how rampantly it could grow. I did not know the artful pruning it was receiving every summer – and winter.
Our hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) was planted on a trellis attached to our shed. I thought the colorful foliage would be very pretty when the roses in the Shed Bed were not in bloom. This has certainly worked very well. I have been happy that it has grown so vigorously and covers the better part of the shed wall. I have only done the most basic pruning, but this year I have come to realize that I need to take a firmer hand – and get out the ladder.
Since visitors to the garden are familiar with fuzzy kiwis that can be found on supermarket shelves they ask if my kiwi bears fruit. It does not, because kiwis are dioecious plants. This means that you must have a male and a female to get fruit. I was only interested in the unusual foliage so I was happy with one vine. I don’t know its sex.
Hardy Kiwi foliage
I do have a friend who wanted the fruit which is different from the supermarket variety. Hardy kiwis are as big as a large grape and have a smooth skin that can be eaten. He bought a male and a female vine from a nursery. One of the vines died over the winter, but he couldn’t remember which was which, so he planted another male and female. Again, one vine died, and his list and map were lost, so again he was not sure which vine had survived. I don’t actually know whether he finally got a male and female, and a fruit crop, but this is a problem with other dioecious plants as well.
I should add a caveat. Without pruning the hardy kiwi can reach a height of 40 feet, and if unattended or abandoned can overwhelm other plants and areas.
Perhaps the most commonly known dioecious shrubs are the hollies, the Ilex family. This includes the kinds of evergreen hollies with the beautiful red berries that are such a part of our Christmas traditions. I have a single ‘Blue Prince’ and a ‘Blue Princess’ holly, Ilex x meserveae. The male produces the pollen that is needed to fertilize the female’s flowers and so create the beautiful red berries. It only takes one male to fertilize nine females. You do not need to have as many males as females.
These hollies produce tiny white flowers in April and May. They are easy to miss, but not the red berries. My ‘Blue Prince’ took a beating this past winter, and the ‘Blue Princess’ also showed winter damage, but both are recovering nicely. There were lots of flowers, and even though the ‘Blue Prince’ is much smaller, I am expecting a good showing of berries later this season.
There is also the native deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata, which is more commonly called the winterberry. It also needs male and female plants in order to produce the orange-red berries that appear in the fall and persist through the winter. They tolerate wet soils which makes them an attractive shrub to plant in damp spots in the garden.
In addition to the hardy kiwi vine and the evergreen hollies, I have four ginkgo trees in my garden. We planted these about 16 years ago when our grandsons were hardly more than toddlers. We planted them partly as a memorial to our two years in Beijing. I was afraid they might be slightly too tender, but they are thriving and are even big enough now to throw welcome shade on hot summer afternoons.
Ginkgo biloba trees are used in cities because they are hardy, but the fruit of the female is said to be unpleasantly smelly. I cannot attest to this from my own experience because during our New York city years, and our Beijing years, I never came across ginkgo fruit. It takes at least 30 years for the tree to mature and produce fruit, which means that when my trees drop their fruit smelling of rotten eggs or vomit, I will not be around to suffer.
However, it seems to me that 30 years or more of a beautiful, hardy, disease resistant tree is better than those years without the tree even if it ultimately has got be cut down. Or at least the females have to be cut down.
The ginkgo is an ancient tree, sometimes called a living fossil, and is known for its unusual fan shaped leaves. They turn a beautiful gold in the fall which tend to fall all at once. We have often gone to bed on an October night, and awakened to find every golden leaf on the ground.
These are the three types of dioecious plants in my garden, but I recently checked a long list of dioecious plants online and found that the stinging nettles among my weeds, Urtica diocia, and the hop vine, Humulus, that is growing in a tangle of grapes and multiflora roses, are also dioecious plants, but they are subjects for another time.
Between the Rows July 5, 2014
This flower showed up mysteriously in my garden. A Facebook appeal has identified it as Korean Bellflower, Campanula takesimana. The warning is that it is invasive, but I have found it for sale from several nurseries on line. Only one Canadian company noted that it was a strong grower and needed to be kept in bounds. I also checked Google images so I think I have a good ID, even though there is not total agreement about how invasive it might be. However, I am playing it safe. I dug it all up. The roots had spread into other plants and I did have to sacrifice a ‘Blue Paradise’ phlox and part of this lady’s mantle when removing it. I kept in mind that it is best to clean out past the margins to make sure all the roots are gone.
I will probably plant an annual in the fairly large bare spot that is left. I don’t want to put any other perennials in peril. With just an annual there I’ll be able to keep close watch for more shoots of the Korean bellflower.
Has anyone else ever had this kind of problem? Finding an invasive plant mysteriously appear in the garden.?