Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

View from the Window October 30, 2019

Colors remain

The view from the window is slightly skewed today so I (we) can see the full garden, fence to fence. The river birches have lost most of their leaves but neighboring oaks and maples, along with our chestnut tree have lots of leaves left to keep us raking.

The northern view of the garden

There is sufficient overlap you can even see the pails. It is so hard to be cleaning and storing equipment this time of the year. The golden shrub in the middle of the photo is Clethra alnifolia. Sometimes it is called summersweet for its flowers and fragrance. It is one of the many waterloving plants in the garden.

Zinnias and more

The zinnias are still giving us a lot  of bloom, but there are a few snapdragons and tiny marigolds  blooming as well. The ground cover is still a bright fresh green.The weather has been quite mild with only an occasional nippy day.  No frost. Today’s temperature was 60 degrees, and last night there was another shower. Makes raking a bit easier.

The view from the window is one way I keep a record of the weather and the length of bloom.


The weather has been so mild that everyday I go out and pick a few raspberries. On this day I collected half a pint. I will have to search my records to find out the name of this very long and late blooming berry.

Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Michael Van Valkenburgh

Designing a Garden by Michael Van Valkenburgh

In 2013 I attended the opening of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a sunny September day and Museum Director Anne Hawley and landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh were on hand to explain how the garden came to be.

It was certainly not the Monk’s Garden that I had seen a few years earlier. The day I saw that space I could not understand why it was called any kind of garden. I admit it was a gray day, late in the fall, but all I could see was an empty enclosed space with a lawn and a magnificent katsura tree. Not much of a garden. It seems that Isabella Stewart Gardner herself could never achieve a garden that pleased her in that space.

Happily in 2013 there was a grove of trees, underplantings, paths, and places to sit alone or with companions. The katsura and a saucer magnolia remained and were joined by many paperbark maples, gray birches, Japanese stewartia and Hetz Wintergreen arborvitae. The low growing underplanting featured ajuga, ferns, hellebores, hostas, periwinkle as well as the promised foliage of lilies, daylilies, and daffodils. There was a quiet magic in the grove that made up the Monk’s Garden.

Before they started construction Anne Hawley told Van Valkenburgh about the new addition and entryway to the Museum, and the view of the garden space from new social space in the building, as well as the galleries. The view of the garden came from many directions. She wanted visitors to experience the garden from inside the museum as well as strolling through the garden.

On opening day Van Valkenburgh spoke to the assembled press about his approach. He concluded by saying that that he always remembers the advice given him by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner. “Make as many gardens as you can.” After we strolled in the dappled shade of the garden we saw that he truly understood the intimacy and solitude that a small garden can provide.

Now Van Valkenburgh has written Designing a Garden (Monacelli Press $40.) with many stunning photographs describing how this garden was created. The photographs capture the woodland with its textured underplantings in every season.

Monk's Garden

Ariel View of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Garnder Museum

But to begin, Van Valkenburgh looked at the space, 52 feet wide and 150 feet long and thought how he would create a space where people could wander. “I had a hunch that the answer might be found in the shape of the paths. By signaling where to go, the notion of a path drives the experience of the garden.”

If you have a path you must have pavers. I found myself fascinated by all the decisions regarding the paths, and every other element. After I wandered through the garden, feeling almost solitary, and felt the rise and fall of the path I could see the difficulties of laying it out. When reading the book I remembered Van Valkenburgh’s answer to a man in the audience. “Well, there was a lot of build and design going on.” I realized that phrase meant not everything was organized at the beginning.

Path at Monk's Garden

Construction of path at Monk;’s Garden

The book describes the creation of the swirling design of the path. Decisions had to be made about materials, and the pattern. Schist and black manganese pavers were chosen reflecting the sun and shade created.

In his book Van Valkenburgh describes his thoughts about building the path and said, “My design process requires a kind of creative optimism – I have to believe that a solution is out there while realizing that the way to a final goal is open ended.”

Once the paths were laid down it was time for the plants. “The first time I stood in the emptiness of the Monk’s Garden site, with its imposing walls and the katsura tree spreading overhead, I imagined a thicket of small trees filling the space with movement and a sense of mystery,” he said. I certainly felt the mystery when I walked the garden.

In addition to being a brilliant designer, knowledgeable about materials and effects, Van Valkenburgh is a brilliant writer, painting pictures of the garden, and hinting at the responses to this captivating space.

My friend Peter Beck was a student at Cornell University at the same time as Van Valkenburgh. They became friends because Peter was taking design classes that were not officially available to Van Valkenburgh. Peter said design was not much thought of in those days. It was all about materials, and plant names, not how to use either. “Michael bemoaned the lack of design history and theory in his program,” Peter said. “However simply by thinking about design and engaging (with architecture students) in long, late night discussions about design theory and history, Michael was clearly providing his own education while at Cornell.”

Peter’s words made clear to me that from the beginning Van Valkenburgh’s thoughts were always about the responses to the gardens and park spaces he would design.

Van Valkenburgh was successful in creating a garden that delights everyone  who enters. He also left us with thoughts about what we might consider in our own gardens. ###

Between the Rows   October 19, 2019

John Barry and His Own Arboretum

John Barry's path to his arboretum

John Barry left this avenue of conifers when his Christmas Tree farm ended

John Barry grew up in Boston, met and married his wife Pat in Boston, and worked in Boston, but he says he never saw foliage until he was 30 years old. It was not until he and Pat took a vacation in Gill that his love affair with trees began.

After the two of them came to Gill on vacation and found it to be beautiful and quiet, they bought and built on five acres of clear land in 1973. Then the came the day when the city seemed too noisy and dirty, and they moved to Gill full time.

The Christmas Tree Farm Came First

Barry worked in insurance but for 20 years he also had a Christmas tree farm. Remnants of those Christmas trees still stand.  Then the Barry children grew up, went to college and moved away. “I sold the last of the Christmas trees at a church sale.  I loved growing and shearing the Christmas trees, but I hated cutting them down,” he said.

He had enjoyed the visitors who came to cut down their own trees, like the man who arrived with four sled dogs, and a sled, to experience the way they did things in the old days.

With new room on his acreage Barry began planting many other kinds of trees, creating his own arboretum, his own museum of trees. He took me on a tour beginning with the Seven Son Flower. One of these grows on the Bridge of Flowers, but I never seemed to be on the Bridge when it was blooming.  That is understandable when Barry explained that this tree blooms after Labor Day, “no matter when Labor day falls.” he said. “The blossoms are white and the Monarch butterflies love them. Then the white petals fall off and the calyx turns crimson. Many people then think that the tree blooms twice.”

We walked past a large Norway spruce, and a concolor fir. Concolor means two colors, a name that suits this fir because it is not true green and seems to have a white dusting. “It grows very slowly,” Barry said.

Chestnut Trees

Chestnuts on back-bred tree

These chestnuts grow on a back-bred tree, which should be immune from blight

Then we arrived at three chestnut trees that were not affected by the blight that has decimated American chestnut trees. Barry explained that until about 1900 eastern United States had billions of beautiful chestnut trees. It was the predominant tree of our forests. The nuts fed wildlife and farm animals during the winter. The beautiful wood was used for everything from fence posts to fine furniture. It was an essential tree.

Then Chinese chestnut trees were imported. Chinese trees carried the blight Cryphonectria parasitica but were immune. Ultimately  almost all American chestnut trees died.

Nowadays chestnut trees are being back-bred to create trees that are immune. Many people are working on this problem. The hope is to get the trees to be 98 percent American and only 2 percent Chinese. Barry’s trees are looking healthy and he has hopes that they will stay that way.


Metaseqoia was discovered growing in China in 1941

The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia, was thought to be extinct

We continued walking and came to a Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. This tree was thought to be extinct until it was discovered growing in a spot in the Szechwan province of China in 1941 by a Chinese forester. Seeds made their way to the United States in 1947 after the war. This tree is not known to grow naturally in any other place but now it grows in arboreteums and personal gardens in zones 4-8 in slightly acid soil. It also likes wet sites.

Barry planted his tree about 15 years and it has grown rapidly. Like the larch tree, the Dawn Redwood’s needles turn yellow in the autumn and then fall off.

Nearby is a young gingko tree. This tree is also native to China and grows in zones 4-9 here. The gingko is interesting for its fan shaped leaves that turn gold in the fall. And then one night, when it has been cold, all the leaves will drop at once. We had gingko trees in Heath. We enjoyed waking up one morning to see our ginkgos in the center of a golden circles

Barry and I continued our walk, past large hydrangeas and a beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. Beautyberry has small pink/purple flowers in the spring and very unusual, and beautiful violet berries in the fall.

Shrubs have a place in Barry’s arboretum. He is also a man who likes to experiment. He took me to two rows of small hydrangeas which he said are becoming very popular. They are more suitable for small gardens and urban neighborhoods.

He has planted eight small paniculata hydrangeas including the Diamond Rouge which will grow to 4-5 feet tall. The flowers will begin in shades of white, but become pink and finally a rosy red. Paniculata hydrangeas bloom on new wood and can be pruned in winter or early spring.

There is always work to do in the arboreteum but he does sometimes sit out among the trees, resting and enjoying them. He told me that one day he was sitting down “when just six or eight feet from me a bobcat popped out. He moved right beside me, and then left. Another time a bobcat walked only four feet away. He didn’t see me at first, but then he did the Michael Jackson moonwalk, and walked away. I did notice that there was no sign of chipmunks or squirrels in that area.”

John and Pat Barry in t heir arboretum

John and Pat Barry in their arboretum

As we finished our walk I could not help thinking of  the British gardener and landscape architect, Russell Page. In his memoir, Education of a Gardener, he said, “To plant trees is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.”  I think he is right and I thank John Barry for his arboretum.

Between the Rows  October 12, 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – October 15, 2019

Boltonia and Zinnias

Boltonia and zinnias with hidden snapdragons, marigolds and cosmos on Bloom Day

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day on this beautiful autumnal day if full of flowers, but night time temperatures, 45 degrees at 6 am, remind us that autumn can be a very short season. The flower bed above was created after all the perennials, and my beautiful weeping cherry drowned in the rains and garden flooding last fall, and  in the spring. These annuals were just a stopgap while I rethought the space, but I have loved looking at all these colorful flowers from my kitchen window, above the counter where I spend a fair amount of time. I may very well recreate it next year.


Asters – here and there. Don’t ask me what kind, Not much more than 12 inches tall.

Alma Potchke aster

Alma Potchke. a tall brilliant aster for cheer and a long season


Sheffies or Sheffield Daisies just Starting to Bloom.  Talk about late season bloomers.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Roses are scattered here and there including the Drift roses, The Fairy and others, but I will only show my favorites. I am always surprised at the number of roses still blooming on Bloom Day.

Kordes Polar Express rose

Kordes Polar Express survived after a transplanting adventure

Folksinger rose

Buck Folksinger rose, very hardy, beautiful shades of white/pink/peach. Very mysterious.

There are a few other bloomers, a wine red yarrow, coreopsis,  a deep blue Centaurea montana and a surprising creamy white foxglove.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens who created Bloom Day so we can all see what is blooming over our great land.

Late Season Flowers – Color and Butterflies in My Garden

Boltonia and Zinnias

Late Season Flowers  –  Boltonia and zinnias – view from my window

How many late season flowers are there? We gardeners are always happy in the spring when our first snowdrops or daffodils open their blossoms. The year of bloom has begun! Many of us wonder how long we can keep the garden blooming through September and October. I have found there are many possibilities.

Zinnias are an amazing annual blooming through  the fall season. They come in many forms from singles, with just one row of petals, then semi-double with two rows of petals with a visible center. I think the beautiful Profusion zinnias fall into that class. These zinnias give bees a good landing space as they fly in to collect pollen and honey. There is also the double flowered zinnia where the center is not visible, and the cactus variety with petals that curl toward the underside.

Butterflies and bees love all zinnias. Zinnias will bloom until hard frost, providing pollen and honey for bees and other insects as well as butterflies for a long period. They also provide a long season of bouquets for the gardener.


Helenium autumnale

Helenium autumnale, also known as sneezeweed, is a perennial and late season flower. I have a clump of sunny yellow helenium which should bloom well into October. There are many varieties like bright yellow Mariachi, red and yellow Mardi Gras, and deep red Salsa. Helenium likes full sun, and happily for me it also likes rich damp soils. I can provide good compost, and our garden site is definitely classed as damp.

Sheffield daisies are members of the chrysanthemum family. They have pink petals around a golden center. They bloom until hard frost. Sheffies are about 18-24 inches high, but they are languid and tend to sprawl. They are vigorous, need full sun, tolerate drought, and bring absolute delight. I love my sheffies. And so do the butterflies. These are the latest bloomers in my garden.

Alma Potchke

Alma Potchke aster – knocked over a bit in the rain

Boltonia is the opposite of the languid sheffies. Boltonia, also known as false aster, has small daisy-like white petals around a yellow center. One of its great advantages is that this five foot plant is very sturdy and does not blow over easily. It needs full sun. If its location is too shady or the soil is too rich and damp, it will get a little floppy.

Asters will bloom well into October. Tall lavender aster Frikartii and rosy Alma Potchke are two familiar asters that will grow about three feet tall. Stokes aster Peachie’s Pick has a blossom like a large blue cornflower on shorter strong stems.  It likes sun, but not damp or dense soil.

If you have a good sunny spot physostogia, otherwise known as obedient plant, will continue blooming well into October. Obedient plant has spikes of flowers in pink or white that can reach two feet tall.

All of these perennials (and others) benefit from being pinched back in early June.  Pinching off a main stem early in t he season will encourage the plant to make new stems. Plants will have a fuller shape and more flowers.

Very different kinds of late bloomer are the sedums. Autumn Joy with its ever-darkening red velvet flower heads started the trend some years ago. Autumn Joy is just under two feet tall, with nearly as wide a spread. Nowadays there are many more varieties including the 18 inch purple-pink Neon, 12 inch pink Crystal Pink, and tall 30 inch Thunderhead with deep rose red flowers and dark foliage.

There are other ways of putting color in the autumnal garden. I have a red winterberry and a golden winterberry that are just brilliant under the sunny skies of autumn. They don’t need full sun, but these swamp plants do like a damp or wet spot.

In the sunniest parts of my garden I still have coreopsis, turtlehead, black eyed susans, and a deep red yarrow still blooming. I treasure every one.

Monarch and zinnia

Monarch butterfly on Zinnia. One of many Monarchs on many zinnias

We cheer our spring crocus blossoms, but some of us cheer on our autumn crocuses. American Meadows and Brent and Becky Bulbs are two companies that sell  autumn blooming crocus and colchicum. These have to be planted in the summer. There have been many autumns when I suddenly look at my fall garden and realize that once again I gave it no thought in the summer. No mid-summer thought, no autumn crocus. Again. However, I did finally plant several autumn crocus bulbs in my Heath garden.

Once you have planted autumn crocus bulbs in early August, you will never have to give them another thought. The autumn crocus produces foliage during the summer, and then disappears. I was always shocked when I walked out to the border next to my house in Heath and saw large crocuses thrusting their heads through my poorly weeded garden. I had forgotten all about them. Year after year.

I have put a marker on my new 2020 calendar from the Umass Extension Service. This beautiful and helpful calendar gives daily gardening tips and leaves room for my own notes like “Order autumn crocus bulbs on July 15.” The cost of the calendar is $14 and there is free shipping if you order before November 1. Log on to and give yourself an early Christmas present.###


Seed Library at Greenfield Community College – Seeds and Garden Book

Tony Reiber and Hope Schneider

Tony Reiber and Hope Schneider

What is a Seed Library? We all know what a library is. A place where we can find and take away non-fiction books about the world, fiction books about worlds we imagine and picture books to delight our eyes. But I never heard of a seed library and could not imagine where one would find such a thing.

But recently I went to the Greenfield Community College Nahman-Watson Library, and there, right near an entry door, I saw shelves filled with garden books, a small cabinet and a sign that said SEED LIBRARY. I looked closely and saw that there were little labeled seed packets in each drawer of the cabinet. A sign said the seeds were free, but you had to check them out at the circulation desk.

Curioser and curioser!

Fortunately, not long after my first introduction to the Seed Library I met Hope Schneider, newly retired, after being a GCC librarian for many years. Schneider was happy to tell me about the birth of the GCC Seed Library.

In 2015, Library Director Deb Chown heard about this idea and thought it would be a great connection to the nearby Science department. Creating a seed library is not as easy as it sounds.

First you have to get a little money. Chown and Tony Reiber, who runs the greenhouse and is the Soil Instructor, wrote a grant for $500 to get some ‘seed’ money. Schneider did enjoy the little play on words. Money was needed to buy seed envelopes, the cabinet to hold them, write instruction sheets, and some publicity.

Chown worked with CWMars to add all the seeds to the system inventory. Since there is no way that those particular seeds can be returned CWMars automatically checks all seeds back in on October 1. All seed libraries hope that when the plants, flowers or vegetables, have gone to seed, the seed library members will harvest those new seeds, and return some to the seed library.

“The biggest problem is getting people to bring seeds back. “We’d also love to get heirloom seeds, seeds that came from someone in the family or have a story, and the seeds of native plants,” Schneider said.

I suspect the problem with having people return the seeds is because their crop failed and they don’t have seeds, or because they forgot, or because they are not confident they can prepare and store seeds properly.

People have been saving seeds and passing them on for centuries but seed stores did not exist. Not until the Watervliet, New York Shakers started to package seeds and sell them.

Map of the Outdoor Learning Lab

The map of the Outdoor Learning Lab

After admiring the shelves of garden and plant books, Schneider and I then met up with Tony Reiber. Over the past few years he has been working with students to plant an array of gardens. Planting and learning about plants and what they need is part of that project. Another aspect is that plantings have been designed to attract pollinators that are important part to our ecosystem.

We walked along the long wildflower garden which was planted in June of 2017. With help from students plugs of 21 varieties of wildflowers were planted. Many plugs were from Nasami Farm. I couldn’t identify all 21 varieties.

We were there to look at the seeds ripening on those plants. Some will find their way into the Seed Library Cabinet.

At this time of the year many plants are making seeds. Many of us, like me, don’t usually pay that much attention to seeds, and we are really missing something.

GCC Wildflower meadow

27 wildflower to serve pollinators

Some seeds are large. Think of sunflowers, flowering sweet peas, nasturtiums, zinnias and marigolds. Others are very tiny like cardinal flowers, and jewel weed. I have to tell you that Schneider and I were having a grand time pinching the jewel weed seed case making it pop open and shoot out the seed as the case curls up.

Whether the seeds are big or small, the important thing to know about saving seeds is knowing that they are non-GMO or hybrid seeds. Plants that have been genetically modified, or are created by crossing one variety with another. Seeds from those seeds will not come true the second year. A seed saver should save open pollinated seed. Any heirloom seed, one that has been grown for generations, will be an open pollinated seed.

It is now possible to start by buying open-pollinated seed all neatly packaged up and sold in many stores. More and more seed companies are specializing in open-pollinated varieties including Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Fedco Seeds. The Seed Savers Exchange grows seeds in Decorah, Iowa and sells them. They also have a a large catalog for members that include heirloom seeds from other members.

We can save many seeds from our own gardens, but they do need to be cared for to live through the winter and be viable in the spring. Reiber said there were some general things to remember. Some seeds need to be kept dry and cold, kept in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator. Other seeds need moisture and can be stored in a plastic bag with damp vermiculite.

A book like The Seed Garden: Art and Practice of Seed Saving published by the Seed Savers Exchange gives very specific directions.  You can check out the book at the GCC Seed Library. Anyone can get a GCC library card, and take out seeds and informational books.

GCC Geology Walk

One way to get up to the Learning Lab is to stroll up the Geology Walk

Between the Rows   September 29, 2019