Subscribe via Email

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

My Journey to the Sustainable Rose Garden

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose, bred at the Antique Rose Emporium

The only roses I remember as a child, was the prickery rose bush near my grandparent’s house in Vermont. It did not hold much interest for me except that I thought it might be a place visited by fairies. Occasionally I would leave a tiny gift, but I never did see any fairies. Even so, I did not lose my belief that there are magical creatures in the world.

When I was a young teenager in Connecticut I went to New York City to see matinees of Broadway plays. Sometimes I would splurge on a 50 cent gardenia corsage that vendors sold on street corners. I felt very grown up.

When I attended high school dances I would wear a corsage, but in those days of the 1950s corsages were usually carnations or orchids. At least at my high school.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger rose, a disease resistant Griffith Buck rose

Roses were not a part of my life until my husband Henry and I were preparing to leave New York City for life in Heath. At the time I was reading E.B. White, his life in New York and on his farm in Maine. By chance I bought the new Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S. White, White’s wife. The very first page was an image of the cover of Roses of Yesterday and Today. “Old-Fashioned, Rare, Unusual – Selected Modern Roses.” Then there was a poem, “I sing of spring, flower-crowned/ I sing the praises of the Rose/Friend, aid me in my song.”

I launched myself into the book, learning her views of roses, as well as all other plants, and imagined life on their farm. During our first spring in Heath I planted the Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose from Roses of Yesterday and Today. How could I resist a rose with a name like that? My life with roses began.

With very little prodding from new friends, I began to plant a Rose Walk, and soon planned Annual Rose Viewings at the end of June. I concentrated on choosing old  roses like Celestial (1759), Camaieux (1830), Ispahan (1832) and Fantin-Latour, a centifolia rose whose date of origin is unknown. Amazingly, the rose that got a lot of attention at our Annual Rose Viewing was Rosa glauca, an ancient rose with tiny pink flowers. It was formerly known as R. rubrifolia referring to the reddish foliage. These old roses were very strong, as well as beautiful.

Brother Cadfael rose

Brother Cadfael rose, a David Austin rose

I also learned about Dr. Griffith Buck of Iowa State University who began hybridizing hardy roses in the 1950s that were disease resistant and would not need fussing. I added Buck’s Applejack, Prairie Harvest, Folksinger and others.

Then in 2009 I visited the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden in the New York Botanical Garden. There I met the curator Peter Kukielski, self-taught rosarian, who was transforming it into one of the most environmentally-friendly gardens in the world.  He more than tripled the number of roses in this garden which seemed miraculous. I asked him how he did that. He looked at me with just the trace of an impish smile, leaned toward me and said very softly, “I planted them closer together.”

Lion's Fairy tale

Lion’s Fairy Tale rose, Kordes

He told me that Kordes was way ahead of time in breeding roses that did not need insecticides. Many of the new roses Kukielski planted were beautiful Kordes roses like pink Zaide and Lion’s FairyTale which is white with a ‘breath of apricot.’

A visit to daughter Kate in Texas took us to the Antique Rose Emporium where I bought their rose, Thomas Affleck. It is the hardiest, longest blooming, big beautiful rose I ever imagined. And, unlike Zaide, it is almost thornless.

Zaide, Kordes rose

Zaide, Kordes rose

A relatively new kind of rose is what is labeled ‘landscape rose.’ These are small, low growing roses that will bloom over a long period. Naturally, I had to have some of these. I have a small area in my garden that is just right for two bright landscape roses from different companies. Oso Easy created a really cheerful Paprika rose, and Drift has an array of shades including Coral, which lives cheerfully next to Paprika.

I just added five roses to the garden. There is Gruss an Aachen, believed to be the original rose that began the Floribunda class, the Buck roses Quietness and Carefree Beauty, the tall apricot of Lady of Shallot, and Brother Cadfael with a wonderful scent.

In Heath I had a long Rose Walk with many roses on both sides of the path. In my new garden I have just created a U-shaped Rose Walk, although one leg is a bit longer. To be on this walk is to be quite surrounded by roses. What a lovely image. I am so happy that I can see the roses from my dining room window.

I have not yet experienced that surround. Those five new roses are small, but they will be showing off a few of their blooms to keep me hopeful, waiting for next year. I am learning, finally, to be patient and I am concentrating of enjoying what I have this year.

I am looking forward to sharing the Rose Walk, and the rest of the garden, at the Greenfield Garden Club’s Garden Tour on Saturday, July 11, 2020 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tickets are only $10 this year and will be available at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street. Your ticket is a map of the other eight gardens on the tour. I hope to see you on July 11.###

Between the Rows  June 13, 2020

Three Composting Techniques for Soil Improvement

Black compost bin

The familiar compost bins. If you look very carefully you might see the hole in the ground by the back bin – where a rat entered the bin

At our house we make use of three different composting techniques. We have two black bins for kitchen scraps and weeds, wire bins for leaves, and a compost pile for weeds and pruning trimmings. These three ways of making compost provide different ways of improving our soil.

Most of us are familiar with the black compost bins. I take a pot of vegetable scraps out every day. However it takes more than just those scraps and weeds. It is important to mix these, sometimes called ‘greens,’ with ‘browns’ which can be leaves, torn paper, coffee grounds and such. I even add a bit of soil once in while which aids the process. This mixture will provide the three essential elements of fertilizers, nitrogen, for leaf and stem development, phosphorus for roots and flowers, and fruit development, and potassium promotes healthy roots systems and helps the plants resist disease.

The mixtures in our bins also need to be aerated to help the composting process. I try to stir it up from time to time with a spade or heavy stick, but you can buy a metal aerator. The aerator plunges in and stirs up the mixings to get air. Aerating and mixing make the decomposition work more quickly.

There are a lot of scraps that go into the bin, and there are many things that should never go into the bin. Never throw in scraps of meat, dairy products, cat litter, doggie doings, or peelings of oranges and such. Don’t throw in diseased plants or strong perennial weeds like dandelions or thistle, or any plants with seed heads.

The thing that just amazes me about the compost that we harvest from the black bin is all the worms living in there. Our bin is a little mucky because I am not good at gauging how much moisture to provide, but the worms are really happy. I take batches of compost and worms and add them to my planting beds. That makes me and the worms very happy.

A final warning about the black bins. We have had rats visiting us this year. They dig under the bin, chewing through the heavy plastic. I assume they spit out the plastic, and then feast on the best of the scraps. Our solution is to put hardware cloth underneath the bin. We can do that now because we are just finishing all the compost. Our second bin will have to wait to be emptied and then get its hardware cloth barrier.

Leaf bin making leaf mold

One of two wire bins for leaves

In addition we have two homemade wire bins, about four feet by five feet. We fill these bins with leaves in the fall. Leaves start to break down somewhat right away which means we can keep adding leaves all season. We aerate the leaves by poking a stick into the leaves in various places on the sides.

These leaf bins make what the British call leaf mold. The value of leaf mold is that it will hold up to 500 percent of its own weight in water. This helps reduce evaporation, and can absorb rainwater and reduce runoff. Leaf mold also improves soil texture. I spread leaf mold on top of the soil sometimes, and sometimes I dig it in when I am adding plants, or loosing soil when doing heavy weeding. It is also useful for lightening the soil when you are planting in containers. I am not exacting or precise; I just do what I can with what I have and hope Mother Nature is kind.

My husband and my son will often mow over leaf piles in the fall, before throwing them in the bins. Some people also use an electric leaf shredder, but I always think they must take a lot of time to go through a big pile. It is an option, and will make the leaves decompose rapidly.

Our third technique is our compost pile. It requires a little more patience, but the result is wonderful.

When we bought our house in 2015 and started planting in the empty back yard we were always digging up weeds and sod, leaves that couldn’t fit in our bins, and finding sticks and branches that fell from the trees. We threw all this stuff in a back corner. It made quite a pile.

In the spring of 2018 we started mining the decomposed materials of this first pile. We had to pull the sticks and heavier branches off the top of the pile and threw them into the beginnings of Pile 2. We took the usable compost and spread it, and incorporated it into our soil.

Finished compost

Finished compost from Pile 2.

Now in 2020 we are mining Pile 2. I am slowly peeling off  the brush that covers  the top of  the pile and then I dig in  to the lovely compost. We are always adding new plants, and these new plants get a good helping of compost. Since we are mining Pile 2 we are also creating the beginnings of Pile 3.  I can tell you it is growing quickly.

I call our garden a strolling garden. There are grass paths, winding around shrubs, trees and perennials, but there is no lawn. Weeds, prunings and leaves from all those plantings go into what we call the compost pile. I need never fear running out of compost.

I am glad to claim these three techniques because our garden space in not only wet, it is very dense and clay-like. A neighbor told me that our street is on the edge of the historic Pray Brickworks. I am doing my best to change that clay.###

Between the Rows  June 13, 2020

My Roses on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – June 15, 2020

Bloom Day

On Bloom Day I applaud my Sage plant. You can see Zaide and Knock Out red roses in the background

On this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, most of my bloomers are roses, but this sage plant is right outside the back door and I love it! I’ll never use that much sage, but it is beautiful.

Zaide, Kordes

Zaide, a Kordes rose

Zaide is one of my favorite roses. I appreciate that it was more than 30 years ago that the German Kordes hybridizers were making sturdy disease resistant roses that  would not need insecticides. They were way ahead of the US in creating plants that did not harm our environment.

Lion's Fairy Tale

Lion’s Fairy Tale, a Kordes floribunda

Lion’s Fairy Tale is just about to bloom. I moved this rose last spring to make room for a redbud. Then this winter and early spring the spot I chose  turned out to be wetter than I expected. We all know roses do not like to have wet feet. It did not look promising in March, but now I have great hopes  for a continuing life in this spot. I am looking forward to fragrance and big blooms.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger, a Buck rose

Dr. Griffith Buck, at Iowa University, was ahead of  his time in the 50’s hybridizing strong disease-resistant roses. Many of his roses are labelled Earth Kind. I had many of Buck’s roses when we lived in Heath. My space is very limited in Greenfield.

Knock Out red rose

Knock Out red rose

I think Knock Out red roses look better from a distance, I like this photo.  Knock Out roses also claim disease resistance.

Brother Cadfael rose

Brother Cadfael is a David Austin Rose

David Austin has many beautiful roses in many lush colors. I could not resist Brother Cadfael  late last summer. He is beginning to bloom, just in time for Bloom Day.

Coral Drift rose

Coral Drift rose

When we were just starting our new Greenfield garden I had a small space, and while wandering through a plant nursery I saw two cheerful ‘landscape roses.’  Drift is one company with roses in many shades.

Paprika rose

Paprika rose from Oso Easy

Paprika and Coral live prettily and happily in my small space, perfect for landscape roses.

I thank Carol of May Dreams Gardens who created Garden Bloggers Bloom Day so we could all share and admire each other’s gardens.

Flowers in Every Season for Pollinators and Happy Gardener

Grape hyacinths

The grape hyacinths were the big surprise this year. Riotous they were.

It is not difficult to find flowers for every season.  Many spring flowers have decided it is time to take a nap until next April. If it weren’t for the fact that summer bloomers were beginning to show their colors I’d be very depressed. Like many of us my spring garden began with bulb flowers like scillas, crocuses, daffodils and tulips of every sort. In my May garden fringed bleeding hearts and a goldheart bleeding heart showed their colors. I had epimediums, hellebores, bistort, troillus, Jacob’s ladder, fothergilla, quince, geum, primroses, fairy bells, forget-me-nots, tiarella, snow drops and summer snowflakes. There is more! Centaurea montana was blooming along with solomon’s seal, primulas, wood poppies, barren strawberry, and creeping phlox. Viburnams are blooming along with lilacs and red and yellow twig dogwoods. Most of these are native plants which I chose because I want to benefit local birds, bees and butterflies.

Strolling through the garden is a delight in the spring. Now that it is June my roses are just beginning to blossom. Roses used to have a short blooming season, but nowadays hybridizers are giving us roses with a longer season, or a second flush.


Huskers Red

Husker’s Red penstemon

Some people actually have no interest in roses, but there is no shortage of a variety of summer bloomers. June is a great month for irises which are available in different sizes, forms, and colors. Beautiful shrubs like mountain laurel, rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom. Honeysuckle, astilbe, columbine, coreopsis, campanula, agastache, and Husker’s Red penstemon will also bloom.

Many annuals that attract the birds and the bees bloom all summer and into the fall including zinnias, marigolds, calendula, cosmos, nasturtiums, and cleome (spider flower).

Many of these plants show themselves in many colors. To attract pollinators we should think about the way bees see. The colors most appealing to bees are white, yellow and blue – in their various shades. I will think of that as I choose from the colors of  my zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, and nasturtiums.

The plants in an herb garden, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, borage and mint bloom in blue, attract bees and keep cooks happy.


Sheffield daisy

Sheffies – Sheffield daisy

Summer is a longer garden season than spring. Plants that bloom in the fall may begin their term in August, and keep us happy until frost. Chrysanthemums might head the list. Football games and mums on lapels. Not this year, of course. No games. Even so, other types of mums can delight. There are spoon and quill mums that have unusual petals, little button mums, and cushion mums which are the mounding mums that appear at supermarket doors in the fall.

My favorite chrysanthemum is the so called Sheffield daisy. The daisy-like petals are a lovely pink with a yellow center. They are a little sprawly and low, but they start their glorious bloom in September and continue until a hard frost. I love this plant which blooms when almost everything else is giving up. It is a good spreader and I usually have divisions to give away.

Boltonia is an amazing plant, growing tall and stately. It brings a profusion of small white daisy blossoms on sturdy four to five foot stems well through October.

Culver’s root is even taller than boltonia. It is at least five feet tall with candelabra-like spikes of white flowers.

Of course there are asters that also bloom through the fall. There are tall asters like the white wood aster with tiny white daisy-like blossoms, the three foot brilliant pink Alma Potchke, and Wood’s Blue which is only a foot tall, but can carpet an area, or be kept in check. There are many asters to take us through the fall.

Douglas W. Tallamy

There was no garden when we moved to Greenfield five years ago. But I had read and was inspired by Bringing Nature Home written by Douglas W. Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware. He has been teaching for years how insects interact with plants and how those interactions affect the world around us. He has given us statistics about the losses of insects, birds and what it means for us.

Right now I have been reading that if 70 percent of our garden plants, from trees to annuals, were native plants our birds, bees and butterflies would be supported. We would get to understand the interconnectedness of all creatures.

Tallamy has written two other fascinating books: The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Landscape with Rick Darke, and his new book Nature’s Best Hope: a New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. I want beautiful flowers in my garden, and I also want to be a conservationist.

Tallamy has a website, with information about the native plants that are suitable to our part of the world.###

Between the Rows   June 6, 2020

Alphabet for Pollinators – E is for Echinacea

Echinacea or coneflower

Echinacea with butterfly sipping nectar and gathering pollen

Echinacea otherwise known as coneflower is a wonderful perennial. It is a sturdy plant. Echinacea purpurea is ideal for bees because they see those landing strips (petals) and right on to the nectar and pollen. There are many many new Echinacea varieties, but if you want to attract and feed the bees, simpler flowers are more beneficial.

Behind the Echinacea in the photo above you can see a blossom of the Eryngium, sea holly, which looks spiky but it too is a pollinator magnet. It attracts butterflies and bumblebees. Eryngium blooms for more than a month and is a great cut flower.



Epimediums are one of my favorite plants. It is tough and hardy, blooming in early spring. It is no more than a foot high. The sprays of tiny flowers, also called bishop’s hat or fairy wings, look delicate but they are very tough. There are variations in foliage and blossom forms, but I have found all of mine to be very hardy and thriving in the shade for a good part of the day. I am always torn between cutting them back in the spring, or leaving them alone. I think it depends on my mood as much as anything, but it doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other. I don’t think there are many pollinators around when this is in bloom so early in the season, but it is still one of my favorite native plants.

Joe Pye Weed

Eupatorium or Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is a great late  summer-autumn plant. Most of us rarely refer to it as Eupatorium – could be Eupatorium maculatum, E. fistulosum (tall ) or E. purpureum(sweet). I am not sure what mine is. It is very tall and very unusual  in that it has variegated foliage. I bought it at a roadside nursery and it was the only Joe Pye Weed there, and I had to have a Joe Pye Weed that very day. It is a beautiful plants and attracts many pollinators.

Do you have any E plants in your pollinator garden?

Forty Years in the Garden – Chapter 3 – Book and Blogs

Flowery Seattle in 2011 was my second Garden Bloggers Fling. I felt like one of the gang.

Over the years I occasionally thought about all the columns I had written since 1980. I enjoyed writing all those columns, but columns are so ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. A friend suggested I write a book. After all, I had all that material.

Roses at the End of the Road

Roses at the End of the Road by Pat Leuchtman, Illustrations by Henry Leuchtman

Writing a book is different from writing a column, but the idea appealed more every day. And one day I sat down and began to write.

Every week I’d hand in my column, and every week I added more to my book. Roses were my theme, but some chapters touched on characters like Elsa Bakalar and Charlotte Thwing. There were chapters about the lightning strike that burned down our barn, daughter Kate’s wedding in the garden and our experiences in Beijing during the Tianenmen Square ‘turmoil.’ All had provided material for my  columns.

My husband provided humorous drawings, and son Chris did all the technical work to prepare the book for printing. I thought The Roses at the End of the Road looked beautiful, and then set about selling it. Writing and selling are two different skills, but the book did go out into the world. How could I get publicity?

The Blog is Born

One day my publisher and good friend B.J. Roche, writer and journalist teacher at UMass, said the answer was a blog. In 2008 I had no idea what a blog was. B.J. introduced me to the blogging world and my husband was always available to provide necessary tech help.

My blog, now carries my column a week after it appears in the Recorder. The blog includes other posts about gardens and gardening too. Surprisingly the most important thing the blog did was give me more material. Blogs are written by bloggers and I was invited into the garden bloggers world.

Floriferous alley way in Buffalo where a whole neighborhood is devoted to their tiny gardens

In 2010 I went to my first Garden Bloggers Fling in Buffalo, New York. There I met bloggers from all over the country, from New York to California. They had expertise, energy and lots of laughter. Buffalo was preparing for their Annual Garden Walk event and I got to see what you can really do with a tiny city garden.

There have been 12 Flings from the DC area to Toronto and Portland. I attended four Flings, Buffalo, Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin. Those travels have been documented first in my columns and later in my commonweeder blog.

It is easy to maintain friendships with garden bloggers, because we can always log on and see what they are doing and what’s new in the garden world. Kathy Purdy at Cold Climate Gardening helped me understand how to work with a blog, and all the Ranters over at Garden Rant opened up whole new worlds of garden and environmental issues. Gail Eichelburger at Clay and Limestone taught me about the value of native plants; Carol Michel’s garden invites fairies; and Beth Stetenfeld at PlantPostings took me on a private tour of the Olbrich Botanic Gardens in Wisconsin when we visited there. I could go on and on about columns that included my garden travels.

The point is one thing always leads to another. Moving to a new state and a new little town led to a need for a new job. That job, a weekly garden column, led to actually learning more about plants and meeting fascinating people.

The ephemeral life of garden columns led to writing a garden book. The Roses at the End of the Road led to a need for publicity and so my blog was born.

My commonweeder blog is a way to preserve all my columns. At least all the columns since 2008. It is also a way to keep a record of my garden. I usually add more photos to those posts. The column provides information about other gardens, techniques, book reviews, new plants, garden design, and anything else that is suggested by friends.

Happily, garden bloggers have instituted ‘memes’ which are days where we can all share information about our gardens, or plants, once a week or month. There is Bloom Day, created at May Dreams Gardens, on the 15th of every month, when we can show what is blooming in our gardens. There is Wildflower Wednesday created by Clay and Limestone. And many more. I can join in the fun and learn a lot. My own post for any meme is one way I keep a record of goings on in my garden.

I also use my blog to keep track of weather in the garden, bloom seasons, problems, and names of plants. I frequently forget the names of plants, but I can always (well, often) turn to the commonweeder and refresh my memory.

I have enjoyed writing Between the Rows and I am grateful to my readers for being such good friends, and good teachers over all these years. Thank you!

As part of my 40th Anniversary Celebration the World Eye Bookshop is selling copies of The Roses at the End of the Road at the discounted rate of $10. All funds are donated to the World Eye as a thank you for all the wonderful books it sold me over 40 years.  You can call 413-772-2186 and make arrangements to get the book.

You can also email me at to ask about book copies which would be $10.00 plus $2 shipping.###

Between the Rows  May 30, 2020