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Melting, Flooding and Maybe Spring

February 25, 2016

February 25, 2016

The melting season with its flooding  is upon us. A year ago, three months after we actually moved into our new house, the back yard looked like this after milder temperatures, snow melt and rain. We had known that the backyard had a big ‘wet spot’ but we didn’t expect this.

February 25, 2017

February 25, 2017

One year later and the flooding isn’t as bad. It is possible to see the progress made in the increasing size of the beds, and the creation of our Hugel at the rear of the lot that is a part of our flooding abatement/no-need-for- irrigation project.  The temperature  has been mild and was 60 degrees on the 25th so the snow that had piled up was decreasing rapidly, helped by a thunderstorm with heavy rain early in the morning.

View from the window on February 28, 2017

View from the window on February 28, 2017

Still more melting and on this last day of February when the temperature is again 60 degrees, it feels like spring. In these days of worry about global warning that seems a mixed blessing. On the other hand, this is New England where the weather is never dependable; winter may still give us a few bites.  And yet – there are tiny daylily shoots coming up in the hellstrip.

It’s the Berries – Blueberry and Raspberry

Blueberries in a bowl

Blueberries in a bowl

Time to think about berries. February is National Pie Month and I love fruit pies. Blueberry pie is a longtime favorite. The Benson Place in Heath was my source for low bush blueberries, but I grew a collection of high bush blueberries behind our house. Now in Greenfield I have planted four Nourse Farms high bush blueberries in a square that can be easily netted.

Highbush Blueberries

Blueberries are easy to grow and they are long lived. Our Heath high bush berries were still bearing generously after 35 years and demanded very little care.

Highbush blueberries

Highbush blueberries

High bush blueberries, which are the most usual blueberries for the home garden, have few requirements. They need sun, well drained acid soil, and most especially soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. New England is famous for having acid soil, but it is a good idea to have it tested. We can usually find Master Gardeners volunteering to run soil tests in the spring at Farmer’s Markets and other seasonal events. Or you can buy a soil testing kit that will give you a pH reading. If the pH is too high, over 6, you can dig in a measure of sulphur or fertilize with an acidic product like Holly-tone fertilizer.

The biggest problem with blueberries is the birds. I had not taken this into consideration when I first planted blueberries more than 35 years ago, but my four new blueberries are planted in a 10×10 foot grid, which will be a little tight as they grow, but it will be easy to build a simple frame and enclose the bushes with netting as the berries start to ripen. I also recommend giving the berry patch or row a woodchip mulch. I pruned out dead branches when necessary, but that is pretty much the extent of care needed.

Blueberries do best when they can cross pollinate, and there are enough cultivars that ripen at different tines giving you a longer season. Duke is an early season berry, as are Bluegold and Patriot, all ready for harvest mid-to late July. Chandler and Darrow can be harvested into mid- August and Elliot will be fruiting into September. Of course, harvest periods may vary with your site and the year’s weather.

Blueberries have the added advantages of having delicate little bell-shaped blossoms in the spring and vibrant color in the fall. No need for the illegal burning bush.

Raspberries

Raspberries

Raspberries

Raspberries are about as easy to grow as blueberries, but they require a higher pH, between 5.6 and 6.2. As with any planting, the soil should be improved with compost before planting. The recommendation is that raspberry rows should be spaced 8 feet apart, but I have to admit that I never gave myself that much room between the rows. Raspberries will ripen in July; each variety will have a harvest period of about three weeks so it is good to choose at least two varieties to give you a longer harvest.

Latham is a standard variety that has been around for a long time and is a good berry for eating fresh or made into jam. There are other new varieties like Encore, another red raspberry, as well as Royalty,  a purple variety, and Anne that produces pale yellow fruits with a good flavor. Royalty and Anne are ready for harvest late in the season.

Once they have fruited the raspberry canes should be cut back down to the ground. New shoots will come up in the spring. Eventually those increasing numbers of new shoots will wander into the paths and need to be cut down as well. When the rows simply become crowded or some canes look flimsy  they can be removed as well. I am only talking about regular summer bearing raspberries. I have never been organized enough to tackle the pruning schedule for everbearing berries which need to be pruned twice.

There is no need for netting. Apparently birds are not particularly interested in raspberries.

I have not talked at all about black raspberries which propagate by sending out long wicked spiny canes that root when they touch the ground. Obviously, with attention and some work they can be managed, but I was quickly overwhelmed by my black raspberries in Heath. The flexible thorny canes had a life of their own and grew exuberantly. I found it hard to prune and manage them; even getting rid of the prunings was a chore.

For all that I never even got much of a harvest. When I called the good people at Nourse Farm as to what might be causing the shrivelling of my berries before they finished ripening, they though the problem might be insufficient watering. In Heath our water came from a well and I did not have sufficient for watering more than I did. I mention all this because I do not want anyone to think that black raspberries require the same care as red and golden raspberries. The first clue to their difference is that Latham and the other raspberries I’ve mentioned should be spaced 18 inches apart, but black raspberries need to be spaced 3 feet apart.

There are many other berries that can thrive in a backyard garden, but blackberries, strawberries, pineberries which are actually a white strawberry that tastes a little like a pineapple, lingonberries, and currants will have to wait for another day.

Between the Rows   February 18, 207

Value of the Garden Tour

Japanese

A version of the Japanese tsukabai

The coming of spring has me looking at garden tour inspirations from the past. I love this shady Japanese scene in a garden in 2014.

Water bowl

Water bowl

This water bowl in another garden shows that even a small garden with less piping and infrastructure can have  this Japanese feature with it shade loving ferns and other plants. I have always felt the serenity of green Japanese gardens which are designed for looking at, and quiet meditation.

Dry stream bed

Dry stream bed

A garden tour in 2016 took me to Minneapolis where I saw this dry stream. I keep trying to figure out how I can use  this idea to provide more drainage in my very wet garden.

Stone and water

Stone and water

I can tell you I have many photos of water in gardens. This was one of my favorites in Minneapolis. I  don’t think I will get anything like  this in my garden.

Lilies in Minneapolis

Lilies in Minneapolis

As much as I love the serenity of  Japanese garden elements, I also love big lush plantings of flowers.

Vera's Steps in Minneapolis

Vera’s steps in Minneapolis

A garden tour can give inspiration for public spaces. This stairway is just a small part of a steep incline leading from a parking lot down to a busy road. A wasteland was turned into a beautiful public park. We need more green public spaces for our  souls, and for the benefit of the environment.

Mysterious curving path

Mysterious curving path

I have gotten lots of inspiration from Greenfield Garden Club tours. This garden tour gave me one of my favorite gardens. It is a lot similar to mine, but it has curving paths that don’t let you see what comes next.

Gazebo

Gazebo

And yet, this fully planted garden has a little gazebo for visiting.

Pergola for picknicing

Pergola for picnicing

And a pergola for shady picnics. As I design and plant my garden, this is a garden I look to for inspiration.

All You Need is Love – Valentine

 

Kiss me over  the garden gate

Kiss me over the garden gate  –  courtesy Annie’s Annuals

The Beatles sang out “all you need is love, love, love”, an ancient philosophy not created by the Beatles, and it can play out in our gardens. As Valentine’s Day draws close the song is playing over and over in my head, combined with visions of Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, otherwise known as Polygonum orientale.

Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate is a fast growing five or six foot tall annual, loaded with graceful pendant pink flowers. This is a bushy sort of plant that I can easily imagine twining around a picturesque garden gate where a shy lady and a bold lover might share a kiss. This plant is not hardy, but it self seeds and will come back year after year. It would do equally well against a fence.

Love Lies Bleeding

Love lies bleeding  in my cousin’s garden

Of course, if kisses at the garden gate turn sour, there is always Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus. I first saw this annual in bloom at the Wave Hill Gardens in Riverdale, New York. It was stunning, if not shocking, with its long pendant wine red blossoms drooping and puddling on the ground. When I found the plant label I was distressed to find that I was looking at a visceral symbol of love gone bad. Having gotten over the shock, I now appreciate the drama of amaranth in the garden. Last year I admired the new amaranth that was planted at the EnergyPark in shades of gold as well as red.  Both Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, and Love-lies-bleeding are substantial plants, tall and wide; both need full sun.

Bleeding heart

Bleeding heart

Coming on Love-lies-bleeding as an adult was an unexpected shock, but somehow my young self found bleeding hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, delicate and charming. Maybe in my younger years I could not imagine anything more tragic than a poet’s sigh when his beloved sent him away. Dicentra is a modest plant, usually less than two feet tall, with attractive foliage. It will increase in spread over the years. An annual helping of compost is always a good idea. The name bleeding heart is clearly descriptive of the little pink heart shaped blossoms with their tiny white droplets of blood arranged on arching stems. They bloom in spring in damp part shade, not shouting of a broken heart, just a whisper.

Roses have their own language of love and friendship. It all depends on the color. Of course, we all know that the red rose shouts out I love you passionately. The white rose has been known as the wedding rose, and white promises more than passion; it speaks of true love, reverence and charm. Certainly in a marriage we hope that by definition true love does not age, nor does the reverence and care each will take of the other, and that they will never cease to charm each other.

Roses, like the other flowers under discussion, do not bloom in New England winters. Valentine bouquets must come from somewhere else. I found statistics that estimated 110 million roses get sent on Valentine’s Day in the United States. Not even California can supply all those roses. Over the course of a year many of our roses come from Columbia, South America.

Lion's Fairy Tale rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale rose by Kordes in October 2016

I am devoted to growing at least a few roses in my garden. In Heath I wanted old fashioned antique roses even though they usually bloomed for only a short season because they were naturally hardy and disease resistant. Now I am looking for disease resistant roses that will bloom for a long season. I have included the very small Pink Drift, and OSO Easy Paprika with its small bright sprays. I have also added white Polar Express and Lion’s Fairy Tale with its peach blush, both by Kordes, a company that has been breeding disease resistant roses for 30 years or more.

We will never be able to buy local roses during the winter, but there are more and more local flower farms like Wild Rose Farm in Florence, that grow annuals and perennials that they sell over a long season in mixed bouquets, or in arrangements for special occasions – like weddings! One advantage to local flowers is that they are much more likely to be grown organically which is a benefit to the birds and bugs of our local environment.

Sometimes flowers are grown as an addition to the main crops of a farm. We once took a family trip to a pick your own orchard with our daughters and their children. We got a wagon ride, petted the animals, picked apples and then chose our pumpkins, and a big bouquet of bright autumnal flowers, asters, brown-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, zinnias and big golden marigolds.

And that list of plants brings us to some of the results of all that love and romance – children. Flower names are growing in popularity for girls. There have always been girls named Rose, Violet, Lily and Rosemary, but flowers are claiming more girls. I have a friend whose daughter is named Hazel, back in favor, and my youngest cousin is named Zinnia. Newer names gaining popularity are Petal, and Iolanthe which besides being the name of the Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta is also the word for ‘violet flower’.

Boys are claiming the plant world, too. There is Fiorello or little flower, Jared, Hebrew for rose, and Florian.

This Valentine’s Day, whether we give a bouquet or a living plant – or box of chocolates – the recipient will know the gift is all about love, and that love is all we need.

Between the Rows  February 11, 2017

 

Earliest Blooming Spring Bulbs

Crocus on the Bridge of Flowers mid April

Crocus on the Bridge of Flowers mid April

As I write I don’t know what Punxatawny Phil saw or said the other day. If he saw his shadow we will have a long winter. If he did not see his shadow we will have an early spring. February 2 is half way between the Solstice, the first and shortest day of winter, and the Spring Equinox, first day of spring when night and day are equal in length.  So since we are halfway to spring it is pretty much a crapshoot.

Last year Phil predicted an early spring, but according to my records it got very cold after February 2, with below zero temperatures. Still there was no more snow, only rain until we had a light snow on the first day of spring. In all fairness, it had all melted by the end of the day. Does that count as an early spring? I think it probably does. Our backyard garden was clear of snow on Groundhog Day, but on February 25 it was flooded because of the rains, and because the heavy clay soil was frozen. Yet on March 20, the first day of spring, buds were swelling on the shrubs in the South Border and I went shopping  for more shrubs.

There were no flowers in my garden in the early spring of 2016, and once again last fall I missed the chance to buy the little bulbs that would give me the earliest spring blooms this year. However, I know I can soon put in my order for fall delivery, and not miss out again. By the first of April when the Bridge of Flowers opens, crocuses are the first blossoms dotting the beds. I want crocuses and more.

The crocus is often what first comes to mind when people think of the earliest spring blooming bulbs. There are two types of crocus. Species crocus are smaller, and bloom earlier than the showier large crocus, but all are deer and rodent resistant, and all will increase and colonize.

Species crocus come in all the familiar shades of white, gold, lavender, and violet. The tommasinianus, tommies, crocus have small blossoms, but the squirrels will not dig them up, and they will increase energetically.

The large crocus have the same color palette but they also have richer purple shades and the very showy large Yellow Mammoth. Crocuses can be planted through the fall, and into November.

Scillas on the Bridge of Flowers

Scillas on the Bridge of Flowers

I grew Glory of the Snow, scillas and grape hyacinths in Heath. The joy of these little bulbs is that they will spread, sometimes in inexplicable ways. Starry flowered Chionodoxa, comes in shades blue, pink and white and is only 5 or 6 inches tall.

Scillas or Siberian squills have delicate blue blossoms. People often plant them in the lawn where they bloom early in April and look like a piece of the sky has fallen on the grass. The foliage dies and disappears by the time the lawn has to be mowed. Remember with any bulb that the  foliage must be given time to drink lots of sun so the bulbs can renew themselves and produce even more flowers the next year.

I especially loved the grape hyacinths because they produced a larger, more vibrant blossom that made a bigger show. I grew the deep blue variety, but a look through any catalog will show you that they come in paler blue shades, in pale pink, white and even yellow. Some have two shades like Mount Hood which is deep blue with a white topknot.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

I wanted to grow snowdrops just because of the name and then I loved the way they survived early spring snow falls.  After growing them in the lawn for a while I moved some of them “in the green” which is to say when they are beginning to bloom, to a spot in front of the house in front of a low stone wall which created a bit of a heat sink. They bloomed even earlier and where I could enjoy them more fully.

I don’t believe I have ever seen a garden with anemone blanda, three to six inch daisy-like plants, but I think they would make a beautiful spring groundcover. They come in shades of blue, pink and white. These can be counted on to be blooming in mid May.

Any of the little bulbs, the ones that bloom earliest in spring need to be planted in masses to make any kind of show, and  often come in bags of 25, 50 or 100 at modest cost. The easiest way to plant them is to dig up your chosen patch of soil, loosen and remove some of the soil and put it aside to be enriched with some compost. After they have been scattered so they are a few inches apart most of these bulbs will need to be covered with about four inches of soil.

Most of these early bulbs make a good underplanting for flowers that will come later. By the time your other perennials are putting out flowers the foliage of the little bulbs will have dried up and disappeared.

Smith College Spring Bulb Show

Smith College Spring Bulb Show

If you don’t have the patience to wait for your own bulbs, or your neighbor’s, to bloom remember the spring flower shows at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College will begin just a month from today on March 4 and run until March 19. Walking through the fragrant aisles of these carefully forced  hyacinths,  tulips and daffodils is just the reminder we need to remember that the first day of spring will arrive the day after the shows close.  Mark your calendars!

Between the Rows     February 4, 2017

 

Flowers – A Secret Language of Love

Roses always speak of love, I think.

The Victorians had a secret language of love – flowers. I don’t know who decided that the peach blossom said, “I am your captive” or who then decided sending back a bunch of daisies meant, “I share your sentiments.” I do know that a century ago Kate Greenaway compiled and illustrated a volume called The Language of Flowers that listed hundreds of plants and flowers and translated their messages.

If a gentleman wished to compliment a lady, he could send a white camellia and testify to her “perfected loveliness” while a white hyacinth whispered of “unobtrusive loveliness.”

The Bridge of Flowers is all about love – for the community

A bouquet of red tulips would be a “declaration of love,” but we all know that the course of true love never runs smooth. Flowers don’t tell only of virtue, devotion or constancy. A modern lover might be surprised to have the florist deliver an armful of thornapple, but would surely suspect that a negative statement was being made. Greenaway’s hidden message is “deceitful charms”.

Inspired by Kate I’ve come up with my own possibilities for sweet whispered messages.

Cut flowers are wonderful, of course, but a living plant speaks even more eloquently of a green and growing affection that will not wither. Think of a pot of forced white tulips glowing in the candlelight saying, “You light up my life.”

Sunny roses for sunny loving days

Parma violets are one of the most romantic flowers. Fragrant nosegays of them litter the pages of sentimental novels and are presented to divas by ardent admirers. But if I set out a potted Prince of Wales, one of those faithful blue violets, my beloved should understand I consider him my own noble prince.

If my sweetie is even more than a prince, more than an ace, I would present him with a rex begonia, noted for its large handsome leaves in deep royal hues, which declare, “My King!”

Or, in a gentler mood I would set out a delicate angel wing begonia with pale pendant blooms blushing in the candlelight, “My guardian, my angel!” (You will notice that in the throes of a romantic message, there is no such thing as too much soppiness.)

Love has inspired countless volumes of poetry, and romantic rhymes have been uttered behind the palms at a ball and over the French fries at McDonald’s. I wish I were capable of poetry, or at least of reading a roundel or sonnet to my beloved. Surely my spouse would immediately understand that when I set out a bonsai landscape, an artistically windswept miniature tree on a mossy bank, that I am referring to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

“Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,

A flask of wine, a book of verse – and thou

Beside me singing in the wilderness.”

I will supply the wine, bake the bread, and even roast the beast for my love to consume and enjoy.

Juniper bonsai

If I come home with a blooming passionflower, its twining, clinging tendrils and passionately purple flowers would leave little to the imagination about the sweet nothings I’d like to be whispering.

More subtle would be a pot of oxalis, often sold as lucky four-leaf clovers, but the leaf segments are somewhat heart-shaped and in my book their message is, “You are my good fortune.”

We women know that there is no better place for a heart-to-heart than over a lovingly prepared meal. I could set out a centerpiece of potted herbs. In a look back I could take a leaf out of Kate Greenaway’s book and choose peppermint for warmth of feeling, and sage for domestic virtue. Or, thinking of the song, “You’re the cream in my coffee. . .” my modern message might be, “You are the flavor and savor in my life.”

Love, like many plants, is tolerant of occasional forgetful carelessness, but routine observation and thoughtful tenderness will make it flourish like a green bay tree.

A rambler rose, but true love rambles no more.

Art in the Garden

Stone garden plaque

Stone plaque in the garden

Art in the garden. Art has had a place in the garden for centuries. Archeologists found pools, fountains and statuary in the ancient gardens of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Nowadays it would be hard to find any public garden or park that does not include art.

We home gardeners have also found that we desire art in our gardens. Water is considered by many to be the most basic artistic element. By definition the Chinese garden includes water and stone. This is true of the Japanese garden as well. Centuries old grand gardens in England, France and Italy have elaborate fountains.

I was happy to know that a handsome birdbath could be considered an artful source of water, and I was thrilled when I received the gift of a solar birdbath fountain. How fortunate we are that the entrance to every garden center is graced with bubbling fountains that only need access to an electrical outlet to keep flowing and recycling their water. In addition, there are more and more fountains that are powered by the sun

simple urn fountain recycles water

Urn fountain recycles water

.On my travels I have seen many simple fountains from millstones that burble at ground level, silently slip over the sides of urns, cascade from level to level, or splash over the tiers of the fountain. All are easily available at garden centers and online.

Stone is essential to the Chinese and Japanese garden, but not always appreciated in American gardens, but I think that is changing. About 25 years ago a friend asked me what he could do with the outcropping of ledge that he felt spoiled his lawn. I suggested that he had a ready made rock garden and could turn to small spring bulbs, and low growing plants like a prostrate veronica, sea pinks, dianthus, purple blossomed aubretia, thyme and, of course, sedums. However, in that particular case, the lawn won out with the help of loads of loam.

Some of us can take advantage of stone that is on site, but others of us may import the stone. We have local quarries like Goshen Stone Quarry to cut stone for us. A newer friend arranged to have a very large boulder installed in her garden making quite a statement. We imported stone and stone masons to give us a low stone wall.

Stone turtle 'sculpture'

Stone turtle ‘sculpture’

There are other ways to use stone. I saw a stone turtle comprised of several differently sized stones that,T placed together, formed a little turtle sculpture on the edge of a small lily pond. One of my favorite ways of using small stones of slightly different shades is treating them as mosaic material. I have seen them used in small projects and large. In a garden magazine I saw a photo of a pebble mosaic that took the form of a large oriental carpet. On the other hand I saw a stone stairway with a mosaic landing, as well as a path made of plain circular mosaic stepping stones.

Pebble mosaic

Pebble mosaic

Statuary can be the easiest thing for any of us to add to our gardens. There are always charming gnomes to be had, arranged to peek through the fern foliage. I have enjoyed the appearance of St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners and cab drivers in many gardens, but  I think the Buddha may be creeping up in popularity.  St. Fiacre may stand, breathing deep, taking a moment to recover from his chores, but Buddha is always sitting in peaceful meditation. I have a friend whose Buddha sits at the edge of a quiet woodland, and if he should open his eyes they would rest on the view of a stony brook singing its way down the hillside.

Buddha on stone

Buddha on stone

Some people have the talent and skill to make their own statuary. Many gardeners are now taking classes to learn how to turn cement into garden ornaments and troughs.  However, there are artists who make their own statuary. This past summer I was on a garden tour in Minneapolis and environs. The final garden was Wouterina de Raad’s Sculpture Garden.

Wouteriana de Raad

Wouteriana de Raad and metal mesh base

De Raad is a Dutch artist who emigrated to the U.S. about 40 years ago. She bought her small property with a rickety farmhouse and no plumbing 10 years later. She set to work building herself a garden and a workshop where she now creates concrete mosaic sculptures. She has turned her wilderness into a sculpture garden that attracts visitors who come to view and enjoy, and students who want to learn her techniques.

Wouteriana de Raad

Wouteriana de Raad’s greeter

Her sculptures begin with wire mesh that is then covered with concrete and then the mosaic pieces. Her subjects include many creatures of the wild, jaguars that she remembers from her childhood in Indonesia, snakes, birds and fish. There is the jaunty man who greets visitors when they arrive, sprites who line the lush paths through the one and a half acre garden, mosaic chairs and gift boxes, and concrete couches for party gatherings around the fireside.

De Raad's self portrait as an American Citizen

Wouteriana de Raad’s self portrait of herself as an American citizen

De Raad’s garden is exotic, always luring the visitor around the next corner. If any of us wanted to make our own concrete sculpture we could attend one of her 2-3 day workshops at her studio. Her  website  will also answer questions about the process, and give you an idea of what to expect. And you could always make a try on your own.

concrete and mosaic bird by Wouteriana de Raad

Bird and bath by Wouteriana de Raad

What kind of art do you have, or desire in your garden?

Between the Rows   January 28, 2017

For those who would like to see more of Wouteriana De Raad’s sculpture, Pam Penick who writes the Digging Blog has written more fully, and taken better photographs here and here. Pam also wrote two excellent books: Lawn Gone and The Water Saving Garden