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Elsa Bakalar, Gardener and Friend

Elsa at her 91st birthday with Marie

Last October I joined with friends, and family including Jake and Susan Bakalar, Elsa’s nephew and his wife, and ‘honorary daughter’ Marie Hershkowitz who had been a student of Elsa’s, to celebrate Elsa’s 91st birthday. It was a jolly affair with a buffet brought by Jake and Susan, cards, stories,  and tributes. And laughter. And champagne.

Two weeks ago my husband and I visited Elsa at the nursing home and again had a jolly time. The menu was more limited, but one of the two other guests who had shown up had brought chocolate cake.  More laughter. Who needs champagne?

For the past two days I have been conferring with Susan and Marie, and that other important ‘honorary daughter, Nicole Gordon, to prepare an obituary, because Elsa was failing. This morning I got the call I had been expecting, but dreading.  It was time to to send out the obituary.

Elsa  (Holtom) Bakalar,  of Ashfield and Heath, passed away peacefully at the age of 91 at Overlook Northampton in Leeds, Massachustts on  January 29, 2010.

Elsa was born in London in 1918 to Ernest Alfred Holtom and Rosalie Gilder Holtom. She attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls and Bishop Otter College, now part of the University of Chichester.

After graduation she began her teaching career at a school that was bombed, killing many students, while Elsa was out of the building.  She was lucky! She went on to teach at Penshurst Village School, often teaching 65 young children in a class. She married a German refugee artist, Erwin Wending.  After the war she came to the United States, working for British Information Services (BIS) in New York City lecturing and writing pamphlets, and several articles that appeared in Gourmet Magazine, introducing Americans to English traditions and recipes. There she and Wending divorced.  It was in New York that she met Michael Bakalar; it was love at first sight and they married in 1954.

After leaving BIS in the 1950’s, she worked for many years as a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture and Fieldston schools, now known as the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, first as a grade school teacher at Midtown (in Manhattan), then at the high school in Riverdale. As a much-loved teacher, she is remembered by her students for a demanding but highly engaging and inspiring teaching style and for her annual uniquely dramatic reading of the whole of  Dickens’ Great Expectations to her 6th grade class.

In 1958 she and Mike bought a small house in Heath where Elsa began making the garden that she would write and lecture about for many years. For several years she also ran a summer camp for girls, most of whom were her students at Ethical Culture and Fieldston.

In 1978 Elsa and Mike moved to West County full time. Mike founded the Shelburne Falls and West County News, and Elsa became Director of Community Services at Greenfield Community College. While there she instituted a series of Study and Travel Courses, leading groups through England and its great gardens. She also taught garden workshops in Heath and became well-known for her garden talks to local groups, encouraging new gardeners, and expanding the horizons of experienced gardeners. She was as well known for her charm, wit and turn of phrase as for her gardening expertise

When she retired from GCC she began a career of lecturing to garden groups all across the  United States and offered workshops under the auspices of Harvard University’s Arnold  Arboretum, the New England Wildflower Society, the New York Botanical Garden and many  professional organizations. In 1994 she published her book, A Garden of One’s Own: Making  and Keeping Your Flower Garden, made a garden video, and was interviewed on national TV.  In every endeavor her husband Mike was at her side, a perennial support: photographer,  mover of stones in the garden and slide projector operator on the lecture road until his death in 2000.

She is survived by her  cousin, with whom she was raised as a sister, Peter Kerry and his wife Iris of Almeria, Spain; stepson G. Michael Bakalar  and his wife Erika of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, granddaughters Dawn Byrd,  Amanda Eiras, Leigh Anne Jennings; and four great grandchildren as well as nephews, nieces, cousins and her beloved “honorary daughters” Marie Hershkowitz of Northampton and Nicole Gordon of New York City.

Interment is private. A memorial gathering is being planned for the spring. Memorial gifts can be sent to the Friends of the Heath Library, c/o Jane Deleeuw, Long Hill Rd, Heath, MA 01346, or the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 900 Washington Ave, Wellesley, MA 02482.

My Award

Kreativ Blogger Award2

I’ve never gotten an award before so I was delighted to wake up to this award bestowed by Tinky of Our Grandmother’s Kitchens. Thank you Tinky! She did say there were seven things the award givers want to know about me, before I pass the award along to seven other favorite bloggers.

She also said if I was too shy I didn’t have to tell all – but I can certainly think of seven things to share. Some may have been self-evident to readers of my blog.

You all must know that I love roses and have a collection of over 60 roses. These are not fussy hybrid teas, but hardy roses that can take our Heathan winters and winds. Many are fragrant as well as beautiful. And the last Sunday in June we always have our version of Garden Open Today at The Annual Rose Viewing.  Lemonade and Cookies.

I’m a reader. I like many kinds of books, mysteries, novels, poetry, ‘lit-ra-chuh’, cookbooks and, of course, garden books. When I was a librarian I loved being a ‘reader’s advisor’ helping my patrons find a book to delight and inform. So I will pass on a couple of suggestions. I love the Mary Russell mystery novels by Laurie R. King beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and Penelope Lively whose latest is Family Album. I’ve also just finished Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith. A national park in 1898, botany, a feminist, a raven and much much more. I highly recommed it.

I’m a cook, and I love baking. I baked this apple tart for a ‘meeting’ of the Heath Gourmet Club. We have been meeting and eating once a month since September 1981. That’s 28 years of serving ourselves. I’m famous for choosing France as a theme, but we’ve had picnics, winter brunches, English tea parties, Russian Easters, Indian curries, and dim sum. Our President’s Meal is coming up in February. I haven’t chosen my dish yet.

I’m a Granny and we love having grandchildren visit. They pick berries in the raspberry patch, in the blueberry fields across town, feed the worms, catch newts in the Frog Pond, hike in the woods, play cards in the Cottage Ornee, visit Mass MoCA to see weird and wonderful art exhibits, and Read Aloud. I’m a great granny, now too. Isabella and Lola live in Florida. We are looking forward to Lola’s first visit.

I have a lot of trouble controlling paper. I might need that article, that scribbled note, that address on a napkin.  I’m not a collector, except books and plants, but paper is something else. However, this year, we are Reviewing and Renewing. there is a chance I will at least cut down in a radical way.

That’s five things about me.  I can also tell you I love Netflix. We live 25 miles from the nearest movie theater, and its the ride home that is always the killer. I’d rather watch on our new digital TV. We watch all kinds of movies, but we love old classic comedies. And musicals. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly! Last night we downloaded Greenfingers. Prisons plus gardens equal redemption!

Tinky mentioned her crushes. Have I ever had a crush on a movie star? I suppose so, but so long ago. Still, there is Tommy Tune. So tall. A drawl. And those dancing feet. Sigh!

Now I’d like to pass along this award to 7 other of my favorite bloggers:

Sue at A Corner Garden

Rose at Prairie Rose’s Garden

Rose at Ramble on Rose

Dr. Mom at Back Quarter Acre

Daphne at Daphne’s Dandelions

JP at Artful Greens

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm

Sam at Red Worms – a fairly new blog

Sue is excited about her kitchen these days, and Nan is always excited about books, and Sam has a new blog about vermiculture which I am very excited about, but everyone else is busy thinking about their gardens while they wait for spring. It comes earlier to some than others. I hope you’ll stop by and visit and meet some interesting people with interesting projects and thoughts.

January Thaw

Words are not necessary on Wordless Wednesday. In fact you can now be wordless every day. Check and see.

Baptisia – Plant of the Year

Baptisia australis

The Perennial Plant Association has named the beautiful blue Baptisia australis as its Plant of the Year. I am very familiar with this plant, although I have never grown it.

Friends have this hardy and adaptable perennial (zones 3-9) in their gardens, and I have admired it on the famous Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. It is commonly known as false indigo, a reference to the lovely color of the lupine-like races of blossom. An important blue dye was derived from the West Indian plant Indigofera, but it was expensive; early settlers often made do with false indigo.

Baptisia is a perennial, but it grows to a shrubby size, three to four feet tall with as wide a spread. The most important thing to know about Baptisia to grow it successfully is that it has a deep taproot and does not like being moved or transplanted. Therefore, it behooves a gardener to be careful about siting it.

It likes sun, but can tolerate some shade although it may need staking in the shade. It is slow to get established, but within three years you will have a plant the size of a small shrub. It blooms in the spring for three or four weeks, but even after bloom season it is an interesting plant because the seed pods eventually turn black and are useful in dried arrangements. Those seed pods also account for another common name, rattleweed.

Baptisia has so many benefits – a long bloom season, hardiness, interesting seeds, drought tolerance, deer resistant – that you might ask why I have never grown this plant which I do admire and enjoy?  It is the problem of where to put it and not decide to move it the following year. This is the same reason I have never managed to plant an asparagus bed. I have a bad habit of moving everything. Except for the roses. I’m going to have to work on that.

Grow Something New

Dreaming of this year's delivery

We are only halfway through January so I think we are still in new resolution season.  Now that I am a garden blogger, as well as a garden columnist, I read other garden blogs. One of my favorite bloggers, Carol at  May Dreams Gardens in Indiana has challenged gardeners to grow something new this year. Actually, Carol challenges us all to grow something new every year.

It is fun to try something new, even if we never plant it again. I planted stevia in the herb garden a couple of years ago. Stevia has amazingly sweet leaves, 30 times as sweet as sugar. At the same time it does not raise blood sugar levels and has almost no calories. You can buy stevia powder or liquid and use it as a sweetener, or a medicinal mouthwash to retard plaque, but I never figured out how to use my stevia leaves in any practical way. I never grew it again, even though I did have a lot of fun getting people to chew a leaf and being really surprised.

I’m not sure whether Carol means I should grow something I have never grown, or something I haven’t grown for a long time, or at least not last year. Gardeners let some plants fall by the wayside for a host of reasons, sometimes because not enough people in the family like a particular vegetable that was tried, sometimes because it took up too much room for too little payoff in a small garden, sometimes because that plant has failed more than once before. I know some people don’t give up on a plant until they have killed it three times as a general principal. If I fail three times, I am not ever likely to give it another try.

I’ve decided I can choose a plant I have grown in the past, but not last year.  For instance, last year I didn’t plant cucumbers. I like cucumbers so I don’t know why I don’t plant them more often. They are perfect as a new choice, especially since another resolution I have made is to grow UP. Daniel Botkin at Laughing Dog Farm has inspired me with all the trellises in his garden.

Having chosen cucumbers the question is which one. Renee’s Garden offers some relatively familiar varieties like Endeavor pickling cucumbers. Renee also has another small cuke, a baby Persian variety named Green Fingers, as well a small bush cucumber named Bush Slicer that has regular cukes six to eight inches long.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds has Diamant cukes that can be used for slicing or pickling, the standard Marketmore, Tasty Jade  a burpless long Japanese cuke that likes to be trellised and Striped Armenian cukes.  Armenian cukes seem to be one of the fashionable cukes these days. Johnny’s has 22 cucumber varieties.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds offer 34 varieties of old cucumber varieties, many from other countries. Beit Alpha is a small burpless variety from the Mediterranean, De Bourbonne, a tiny pickling cuke, is from France, Telegraph Improved is an English heirloom that produces 18 inch long fruits, and Uzbekski from Uzbekistan has fat fruits that are good keepers. Who could have imagined a cucumber being billed as a good keeper?  I guess I still have time to choose my cucumber.

Castor bean

When I was wandering the aisles of the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative on High Street before Christmas, I admired the Botanical Interests seed display. The packages are so pretty, and there was a packet of castor bean seeds, Ricinus communis.  I had never seen castor bean plants before last year and I found them stunning.  Lilian Jackman of Wilder Hill had a couple of imposing plants that took my breath away.

During a garden tour I also saw a handsome pot filled with a castor bean plant, hung about with signs saying, “Poison. Do Not Touch.” The poisonous beans are definitely not for eating, but the “do not touch” part of the sign had to do with the owners not wanting the plant to be damaged. Castor beans are not poisonous to the touch. This amazing plant grows to a majestic size in one season. The large palmate leaves are dark green with a reddish tinge; the fuzzy bean pods are red. This needs to be started indoors to get its full growth.

Knockout double red on 10-1-09

Of course, I grow  roses, and add a couple every year. This year I learned about the EarthKind designation for roses. This is not a new variety name, but a stamp of hardiness by Texas A&M University. They have been testing roses for a number of years to find those that thrive without resorting to chemical fertilizers, and poison sprays to handle insects and disease.

The Fairy on 11-2-09

Although I did not know it, I already have EarthKind roses: The Fairy, Knockout, Carefree Beauty and New Dawn. They are carefree!  This year I will add Belinda’s Dream, which I first saw in Texas and which my daughter says loves her garden near Houston. However, Belinda’s Dream is hardy in Zone 5, which is to say it will tolerate temperatures of minus 20 degrees. This is less iffy on my Heath hill than it used to be.

What new plant will you grow?

Between the Rows   January 16, 2010

Fish and Flowers

Barton Cove Ice Fishing

The sky was blue and the ice was thick. I did not see any fish being harvested, but the fisher folk looked pretty happy and relaxed.  I peeked at them on my way to the Greenfield Garden Club Annual Meeting, this year at the French King Restaurant.

There was a good crowd. The room buzzed with the happy chatter of frustrated gardeners. The food was good and the conversation even better. The Greenfield Garden Club is a terrific organization of gardeners who put their enthusiasm for plants at the service of the community. Their fundraising events like the Plant Sale Extravaganza in May and the Garden Tour in July fund grants for area schools including a pizza garden at Frontier Regional, school gardens at Holy Trinity, Whately,  Greenfield Center School, and Erving Elementary, and a mushroom garden at Buckland Shelburne Elementary. That’s just for starters. The sponsor the Barrel Contest to encourage the beautification of the town, maintain the Trap Plain garden at the corner of Silver and Federal Streets, and prepare a beautiful exhibit for the Franklin County Fair.

Marie Stella of Kirin Farm Enterprises

Marie Stella, a landscape historian and designer, was our featured speaker. Her topic was Responsible Gardening for the 21st Century: The Sustainable Landscape. It was clear to me that as much as I already do along these lines, there is always room for improvement. It is easy to manage one’s one property responsibly, but it takes a little extra gumption to tell a nursery that if he doesn’t stop selling burning bush, or any other invasive plant you see on his plant list, you will not shop there – and you’ll tell all your friends not to shop there either. Still, it is something we can and should do. Businesses are more likely to respond to economic incentives than altruism.

For more information about the Greenfield Garden Club click here. You could have fun like this too. And maybe you’d win a flower arrangement like this at the next Annual Meeting.  That John LaSalle!  He is a Master of Flowers – and he supports the Garden Club – and other plant loving organizations.

Beautiful – but . . .

The skies are brilliant and the snow is pristine.

Krishna surveys the snow-filled Sunken Garden at dawn and wonders why there are no cows,  or milkmaids to thrill with his pipes.

But my thoughts have gone beyond snow, to sweet soil and seeds. I could not resist the display of Botanical Interest Seeds at the Farmer’s Coop in Greenfield yesterday. I will have my Castor Bean plant this year! And many colors of  morning glories and bush beans in the new vegetable patch I am planning. The mung beans will be sprouted before the next Winterfare farmer’s market in Greenfield on Feb. 6. The days are growing longer.

Rose Season Begins


Applejack was one of the first roses we planted at the End of the Road. It is the first rose to greet people as they come up to the Annual Rose Viewing, and the last to leave its image in their rear view mirrors.

Applejack is one of Griffith Bucks hybrids. Buck attended Iowa State University after serving in WWII and went on to teach there, and hybridize roses that were hardy and disease resistant. Last summer I added another Buck rose.

Carefree Beauty

Carefree Beauty produced huge blooms, even though the plant stayed quite small. I can’t wait to see what it will do this year. Carefree Beauty is also an EarthKind rose which means it has been tested to be hardy and disease resistant, the kind of rose that does not need fussing, spraying or dusting with poison.

This morning I ordered two more Buck roses from Chamblee Rose Nursery.

Hawkeye Belle is a lovely pale pink that will become a fairly large shrub with large blooms. It is a repeat bloomer.  It is hardy in Zone 4 and is described as being fragrant. One of its parents is the Queen Elizabeth rose which makes me very happy. I love Queen Elizabeth, but she never lasts very long on my hill. Too tender.

Quietness is said to be extremely fragrant, is a repeat bloomer, and about the same size as Hawkeye Belle. It is hardy to Zone 5.

I have other rose nurseries listed in the links column. I will buy a couple of other roses, but so far I haven’t decided which.  They will have to be hardy and disease resistant, that much I know.  The rose season has begun.

Wonderful Winterfares

Northampton Winterfare

In the February/March issue of Organic Gardening magazine, Gordon Hayward who gardens in Vermont, talks about our ‘food shed.’ I know about watersheds, that protect the quality of our water, and was amused when I heard people talk about their ‘view sheds’ the landscape view they enjoyed from their house, but I had never heard the term ‘food shed.”

However, aware as I am of the 100 mile diet, I should have realized the term put me on familiar ground. Hayward quotes Cornell University’s definition of food shed as “a geographic area that supplies a population with food.”

With all the recent talk about national security, especially airport security, there is not so much talk about ‘food security.’ Fortunately, because of our food shed, we in this region are enjoying substantial food security; we could feed ourselves very well indeed, even if there were some catastrophic event that kept the refrigerator trucks from California making it all the way to western Massachusetts.

This blessing of this security was brought home to me last year when I attended the Second Annual Winterfare  Farmer’s Market at Greenfield High School. It is one thing to have a garden and even know that the farmstands are full of wonderful fresh produce in the summer and fall, but I was amazed at how much fresh produce is available locally during deep mid-winter. Granted, many of the farmers were selling frozen meat, potatoes, squash and all manner or root crops like beets and carrots which can be harvested in fall and stored properly for use during the winter, but some farmers had beautiful lettuces and other greens that are such a luxury during the winter.

I could hardly carry away my share of the bounty which included not only vegetables like tender greens from Red Fire Farm, but Clarkdale apples and cider, Hillman Farm cheese, El Jardin bread,  Warm Colors Apiary raspberry honey, and Real Pickles. Our food shed is varied and delicious.

Seeing so many people giving of their time and energy to put on this terrific event made me determined to do my share this year. Whether you attend the Northampton Winterfare today from 10 AM to 2 PM at Smith Vocational School or the Greenfield Winterfare on Saturday, February 6 at Greenfield High School I will be on hand to demonstrate the growing of sprouts.

Sprouts are the most local of food crops. Mine grow on the counter next to the kitchen sink.  To increase my experience with sprouting  I sprouted wheat for the first time. When I visited Cliff Hatch, and his daughter Sorrel, at Upinngil during the summer I bought a couple of bags of wheat berries. They have been waiting patiently for me to learn to make wheatberry salad, and this workshop prompted me to try sprouting them. I even bought  a hemp and flax Sproutbag at Green Fields Market to expand my horizons further.

The information sheet that came with the Sproutbag said that it was better than a Mason jar for sprouting wheat and other grains as well as beans. And here I thought I was just doing my best for the consumer economy.

I will bring my sprouted wheat bread to Winterfare, along with salad sprouts in Mason jars in two different stages for those who may not be familiar with the process and not realize how easy it is.

The magical thing about sprouts is that in the process of sprouting the nutritional value of the seed shoots up, increasing the amount and number of vitamins A, B complex, C and E. The amount of protein and fiber also increase. What is not mysterious is that none of this nutritional value is lost because it develops on the kitchen counter and is eaten in that same kitchen. There is no nutritional loss as when vegetables are shipped from far away, and of course, no gas or oil are used for transportation.

My presentation is only one of several presentations being offered today. There will be information about canning, how to store root and other crops for winter use, how to make your own nut milk and how to make cheese.

Those who have a surfeit of jam or any kind of good produce can bring them along to the barter session.

CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is a sponsor of Winterfare. Logon to their website, or  for full details. I hope to see you there – or in Greenfield.


I heard from Daniel Botkin after my article about Laughing Dog Farm last week. I said that his goat bedding and manure could be used fresh on the garden and didn’t need to be composted like my chicken manure. Goat manure is not hot like chicken manure but he wanted to make this clarification:: “The goat manure, although it is more readily usable for organic gardening (because 1.) it is pelletized 2) it is pre-mixed with hay and 3) it breaks down much faster than most, more dense, anaerobic “slop” manures), it is still not safe around ripening food crops and never goes near any edible or soon to be edible plant parts when fresh. I do apply it fresh around trees, shrubs and as sheet mulch on fallow, non-edible landscapes.”

Thank you, Daniel.

Between the Rows   January9, 2009

Foliage Follow-Up

Angel Wing Begonia

Pam Penick over at Digging has instituted Foliage Follow-up to Carol’s popular Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I don’t have many house plants, and I don’t have any that are unusual, but I do like the polka dotted foliage on my angel wing begonia. And its a good thing I like the foliage, because I have gotten very few blooms.  Who has advice for me?

Visit Pam and see who has interesting foliage, bark, etc. indoors and out.