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The Bridge of Flowers is Open!

Iris cristata

Iris cristata on the Bridge of Flowers

Spring has come early, and so has the opening of the Bridge of Flowers. Tiny iris cristata and crocuses are blooming – with more blossoms to come very soon.

Garden House on the Bridge of Flowers

Garden House on the Bridge of Flowers

There was great excitement at our beautiful new Garden House yesterday when Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz installed the beautiful stained glass window they designed and created. It is not terribly visible during the day from outside, but in the evenings it will be illuminated from inside.

Stained glass window on the Bridge of Flowers

Stained glass window on the Bridge of Flowers

The Garden House designed by Kim Erslev was completed last year, and the stained glass window doubles the artistic merit of the building which has the humble function of holding tools and equipment used by Head Gardener Carol Delorenzo and  the Blossom Brigade.

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Seed starting supplies

Seed starting supplies

It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.

The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.

I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.

One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.

However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.

To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers.  I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.

For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.

If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.

You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.

Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.

You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.

Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.

You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.

Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.

You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.

If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.

Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.

Happy planting.

Between the Rows   March 19, 2016




I Went Shopping for Spice Bush for the Swallowtail Butterfly


Spice Bush, Lindera Benzoin

It’s spring and I went shopping  for Spice Bush. Yesterday, at the Hadley Garden Center I found a Spice Bush with bursting green buds. This Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin, is hardy, takes shade, and gets big, up to 12 feet tall and just as wide.  I will plant it next to the fence which a relatively dry spot, but spice bush can also tolerates some wet. One special reason for planting spice bush is that it attracts Spice Bush Swallowtail butterflies. Spice Bush Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on  host plants like the Spice Bush. This is so when the eggs hatch and the caterpillars are born their meals are waiting for them.  Any butterfly garden must include host plants that will feed the particular caterpillar as well as nectar plants.

A little botanical history. Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) honored Johan Linder (1676-1724) by naming the Lindera genus in his honor. As you might imagine the genus Thunbergia which includes Thunbergia alata, the  black eyed susan vine. is name for CP Thunberg

The First Day of Spring

Pansies from Andrews Greenhouse

Pansies from Andrews Greenhouse at the Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

I felt we were ready for the first day of spring when I saw all the pansies from Andrews Greenhouse at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium on Saturday. Lots of vendors selling books and tools and plants! And best of all presenters teaching us all the things we wanted and needed to know about gardening.

Karen Bussoloni

Karen Bussolini, Keynote Speaker

Keynote speaker Karen Bussolini explained why native plants are so necessary to attracting bugs, and pollinators and birds to our gardens. It all has to do with the way plants and bugs, pollinators and birds evolved together. Karen mentioned that we all might want to read Douglas Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, for more information about this, delightfully written. I have written about this book here.

Artemesia lactiflora

Artemesia lactiflora

But the first day of spring dawn sunny and cool. Tempertures remained in the 30s all day, but a walk around the garden showed that last year’s plantings seem to have come through the winter. Artemesia lactiflora, as well as daffodils, irises,and daylilies are sending up shoots.

Beauty of Moscow lilac buds

Beauty of Moscow lilac buds

My walk showed that many shrubs have put out buds. Can leaves and blooms be far behind?

Hugelkulture begins

Hugelkulture begins

Son Chris was visiting for the weekend. He and my husband went out to cut the logs donated by a neighbor into ‘biscuits’ which will lay on the wet ground at the back of the yard/garden and soak up the wet. More logs coming. Ultimately the wood will be covered by soil and ready for planting. The goal is to make drier planting beds. Keep watching.

View from the window March 21, 2016

View from the window March 21, 2016

What comes after the first day of spring? Another bite of winter. It can’t last though.

Mount Holyoke Spring Flower Show

Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show

Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show

During the Mt Holyoke College Spring Flower Show the entryway to the Talcott Greenhouse is filled with the fresh and delicate fragrance from the plant room to the left. Before you even glimpse the oxalis and daffodils that embody the Emerald Isle theme you feel the arrival of spring in that heady fragrance.

Gail Fuller

Gail Fuller

Gail Fuller is the captain of the Spring Flower Show. Her ship set sail last summer. It is Fuller who chose the Emerald Isle theme. She said there is often reference to a country like the Primavera exhibit in 2013 when the emphasis was on Italy. Last year the theme was Hawaii where the flora was more exotic.

Fuller and I walked past the trickling spring set in a green lawn edged with oxalis standing in for lucky four-leaf clovers. Pink glory of the snow (chionodoxa) and petite tulips only six inches tall made a garden any leprechaun would be happy to play in. On both walls of the green house are the ranks of daffodils, hyacinths crocus, anemones, scillas and muscari. Other plants like the canary broom and camellias from the regular collection take their place as supporting players.

I couldn’t help wondering how this magic happens. Nothing is blooming outdoors. What does it take to bring thousands of plants into bloom at the same time when the gray days of winter are still hanging on?

Fuller explained that after the theme is chosen the work begins by ordering spring blooming bulbs that will be planted in pots in the fall. In October Mt Holyoke work-study students help with the potting. They are then placed in a dark cooler and checked weekly for water and temperature. In mid-January the potted bulbs are allowed light and continue to be checked weekly for water and temperature. Temperature must be controlled throughout the process so that all these different bulbs will set buds at the same time. Careful watering throughout the winter is also key.

The Flower Show room is kept very cool when the show is being set up and will remain cool to keep the profusion of happy bloom looking fresh until March 20, the last day of the show.

Of course, visitors to the Talcott Greenhouse will be able to tour the cactus room, the orchid room and the large tropical Conservatory. One of the benefits of visiting a conservatory like the Talcott Greenhouse is the opportunity to enjoy to the immense variety that Mother Nature has created for us. Her exuberant excess would make Oscar Wilde, who said “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess,” very happy. I wandered through the cactus room where there were many varieties of any single plant that I recognized.

Cactus opuntia, the eastern Prickly Pear, which amazed me when I first saw it growing outdoors in the ground on the Smith College Campus, had several cousins visiting together indoors at Mt Holyoke. And that was only one plant!

Once a single plant has opened your eyes and mind to the variety of that single species you are suddenly capable of recognizing, and happy to recognize your own ignorance. That recognition then makes you hungry for more knowledge and more beauties.  The Spring Flower Show is a joy, but there is joy to be found in the other rooms as well.

Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show 2016

Mt. Holyoke Spring Flower Show 2016

The Mt Holyoke College Spring Flower Show will run through Sunday, March 20. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Show is free, but donations are always welcome. Talcott Greenhouse, which has been operating for over a century, was renovated in the 1990s and it is now universally accessible.

SmithCollege is also holding its annual Spring Bulb Show. This year their theme is the Evil Garden of Edward Gorey, a bow to the late Edward Gorey who lived in Massachusetts and is famous for his darkly humorous drawings. This show will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but will be open until 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  A donation of $5 is suggested.

Between the Rows March 12, 2016

Spring is Crocus Season



These crocus were just beginning to bloom when my husband and I were visiting our across-the-street neighbors. This is our neighbors first spring in the house and the patch of crocus was a lovely spring surprise.

crocus tommasinianus

Crocus tommasinianus

I think these crocus are tommasinianus, fondly known as ‘tommies.’ They are known for spreading generously because they propagate by seed and offset.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

These purple crocus are growing in  the garden of my down-the-street neighbor. She has quite a stand. Both neighborns have inspired me.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

Next fall you will find me planting crocus under the Japanese lilac tree next to the sidewalk.  These spring bulbs are so cheering, even on a day  when the skies are gray. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is just one nursery that offers crocus in shades of white, gold,  and purple.

Mt Holyoke Flower Show Correction

Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show

The cheering Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show continues. The Talcott Greenhouse is open every day from 10 am to 4 pm. This is a correction from my Between the Rows column in The Recorder. The show is a delight. Be sure to  visit before 4 pm on Sunday, March 20.  Remember open hours are 10 am – 4 pm.

Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium – Lilian Jackman

Lilian Jackman

Lilian Jackman

Lilian Jackman is one of the presenters at this year’s Western Mass Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium,

When Lilian Jackman was 22 she worked in the gardens of three elderly Vermont women. They each had their own way of gardening in their old age. One woman was very angry because she wanted the garden to stay exactly the same – and of course she was not successful. Gardens never stay the same. This made her critical, and unhappy. The garden was no longer a source of joy.

The second woman had run a nursery and landscaping business. She knew a lot about plants, but she hired casual workers to help in the garden. No one of them knew very much and the garden went gracefully to seed.

The third woman was Japanese. “She was incredibly precise and cared nothing for my advice or opinions,” Jackman said. She grew flowers and vegetables. As her energies diminished she let her perennials do as they would, but kept the edges neat. She bartered for some help with those plantings. Then she herself concentrated on growing the Asian vegetables and herbs she loved, in a smaller patch and was happy.

“Those three women taught me a lot. I was an apprentice and they were my mentors.” Now 57 she said even at that young age, she suddenly realized that one day she would not be able to care for and maintain a garden she created in her youth.

Jackman can now mentor those of us who are coming to that time in our gardening careers when we realize that we cannot go on as we were. She will give a presentation, Gardening Well Into Your Future at the Western Massachussets Master Gardeners Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 19 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield.

One of the reasons for our move to a house on a small urban lot in Greenfield is because my Heath gardens were no longer fun. Caring for the garden was becoming a chore so I was eager to meet and talk to Jackman about her presentation.

She studied horticulture at the University of Connecticut, but has many strings to her bow, nursing, writing, lecturing, and making art. At the same time she has built a successful business, Wilder Hill Gardens ( in Conway. The business includes growing trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals for sale on the weekends, and landscaping at different levels from a single consultation to full design and installation as well as on-going maintenance. She can also be called for pruning services, and will teach the client at the same time. That is a service she offers that I will take advantage of. I am not a good pruner.

Her annual Mother’s Day weekend sale celebrates the beginning of the growing season, and an opportunity for us to see the gardens and the way she uses hardscaping. You will also see the two new stupas which will be dedicated on Labor Day.

Even the entrance to the PYO Blueberry field is beautifully planted

Even the entrance to the PYO Blueberry field is beautifully planted

When I visited Jackman I enjoyed a tour of the gardens and saw the changes since I last visited to buy plants a couple of years ago. The 100 bush pick-your-own blueberries stand looks neat and fruitful. That blueberry field is what she calls her pension plan, and she has added currants, gooseberries and Asian pears. She said that this fruit acre fulfills the permaculture principle that any planting should provide at least three benefits. In this instance she has food for herself, beauty, and a harvest for sale.

The riotous zinnia bed that I have admired in the past in now sandwiched between two new wide shrub borders. She commented that the different beds are beautiful, but they also hold the nursery stock that she can sell. What has always impressed me about Jackman’s gardens is how beautiful they all are even though they function to provide stock for sales or to harvest for wedding bouquets.

Her talk will include the need for sustainability, for the gardener as well as the design. Jackman will show how to think like a landscape designer, addressing obstacles, tools, hardscaping and other aspects of gardening. I was interested to see a proposal for using 30 to 50 percent woody plants, trees and shrubs. That is the direction I am heading in for our new Greenfield garden.

Karen Bussoloni, gardener, lecturer and photographer will give the keynote talk, Survival in the Darwinian Garden – Planting the Fittest, a look at how plants arrange themselves in nature and how we can use our knowledge of those arrangements to choose plants that will thrive in our own gardens.

Other talks and workshops include caring for hydrangeas, and grapes, as well as vertical gardening, seed saving, creating a healing garden, planting raised beds and containers, composting, and dealing with pests. For an extra fee you can even make a tabletop water garden or a log inoculated with mushroom spores to take home.

Vendors will also be on site selling local products. Books published by Timber Press and Storey Publishing will be on sale.

Preregistration is advised. This is a very popular event. Full information including a printable registration form is online at . Cost is $35 plus $8 for lunch.

A final note. Beginning April 15 through May 30 Jackman will have a selection of her lino-cut prints titled Los Trabajadoros de Grenada (Workers of Grenada) on display at McCuskers Market in ShelburneFalls.

Between the Rows   March 5, 2015

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

The theme of this year’s Smith College  Bulb Show is The Evil Garden of Edward Gorey. There is more black and white in this show than usual, but the tongue-in-cheek tableaux next to various Gorey drawings, a dark but humorous look  at the garden.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

The photo above is a reference to a Gorey drawing Great Uncle Franz being strangled by a snake.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

But I ask you – how evil could any garden be  with all that fragrant pink?  I’m sure the Gorey House is equally charming.

The exhibit is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm EXCEPT Friday, Saturday and Sunday when it is open until 8 pm. A donation of $5 is suggested.

While there don’t forget to look at the new Permanent Exhibit – Plant Life Through the Ages: A Mural of Plant Evolution painted by Richard Evans.

Rise of Land Flora

Panel 3 – Rise of Land Flora




Scent of Spring at Mt Holyoke College Flower Show

Mt Holyoke Flower Show

Mt Holyoke College Flower Show

The Mt Holyoke College Flower Show, with its theme The Emerald Isle includes the fragrant spring flowers that we can enjoy in our own New England spring. The fresh fragrance that meets you as you enter the Flower Show greenhouse is the perfume of spring.  I wonder why more of us, including me, don’t think how easy it would be to enjoy that scent in our own houses. A few pots of hyacinths, and may a couple of a particularly fragrant daffodils like Cheerfulness would do the trick!  Maybe next year?  Forcing a few bulbs takes very little money or effort.

The Mt Holyoke Flower Show at the Talcott Greenhouse will run until March 20 from  10 am to 4 pm daily. There is no charge, but donations are always welcome.