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Gardening While Older – History of My Gardening Career

Applejack rose

I did not garden with roses until we moved to Heath in 1979. Applejack rose was one of the first

For the past 40 years I have gardened. Which is not to say that I was a skilled gardener. Even so, it was my excitement about my new garden on a hill in Heath that led me to the Greenfield Recorder. I did not present myself as an expert but Bob Dolan took me on.

Previous gardens were very small. My first garden as a young mother in my first house was a little bed of zinnias. There was a small narrow patio outside the kitchen door and a grassy bank that was the full extent of our house lot. That bank was my rock-garden-in-progress for the five years we lived there. The flowers came from neighbors, snow-in-summer, pink lamiums, coral bells and velvety lamb’s ears.

A move then took us to West Hartford and another house that had even less planting room. I mostly remember spending a lot of time ripping morning glory vines out of the shrubs around the house. Actually I was busy, now with five children, and a return to college.

Then there was a hard time that resulted in a divorce and a move to a big old house on Grinnell Street in Greenfield. I had a business that closed and finished my college degree. I met Henry, who was to become my husband.  In that house I subscribed to the Rodale Organic Farming magazine and planted a vegetable garden that was possibly 100 square feet.

College degree in hand, Henry, my children, the cat, and I moved to North Berwick in Maine. There my career as a sixth grade teacher began and ended. But I had a vegetable garden, pigs and chickens. I was learning about gardens, bit by bit, but our next move took us to New York City and Henry’s ancestral apartment building. There was a yard, but to call it a garden would have been a stretch.

Those were happy years in New York, and it gave the children, three of whom were in high school, a new view of the world which was a good thing. But I longed for a garden.

Home Sweet Home in 1980

We had made friends in Greenfield and they let us know about houses in Heath. We bought a run down house on 60 acres at the end of the road and moved with our three daughters on the day after Thanksgiving 1979.

Over the winter we made plans for pigs and chickens and made up a list of vegetable seeds for the spring. A Heath neighbor brought over his tractor and plow. We were in business! On about a quarter acre we were ready to plant potatoes, beans, squash, tomatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, every vegetable we could eat fresh or freeze. Would it surprise you to know that over the years that garden got smaller and smaller?

Potager in Heath

Post-hip replacement potager to control amount of garden labor

By the turn of the century I was having trouble with my back. The garden was going to have to change. Because I had to try and limit my gardening we tilled and planted a 12 x 12 foot veggie garden before I had my hip operation in 2003. I was going to have to limit (try to limit) my garden activities. After my successful hip replacement I added a red raspberry patch right next to the veggies. Then when there was so much excitement about lasagna gardening and sheet composting in those days I added another ten foot section of vegetables at the end of the raspberry patch. This gave me the room needed to maneuver because even after my hip replacement I was not as agile as I had been.

My hip replacement at age 63 put me in good shape, but even so, I was no longer 23 or even 53. My life was changing.

First garden plantings in July 2015

We hadn’t moved in to the Greenfield house, but planting began. The emphasis was on trees, river birch and weeping cherry, and shrubs, yellow twig dogwood, buttonbush, clethra and winterberries. Notice lasagna technique.

To manage those changes we moved to Greenfield five years ago with plans to embrace a smaller, less demanding garden. My strategy was big plants. A short list of shrubs that we chose includes yellow twig and red twig dogwoods, elderberries and winterberries, buttonbush ,Virginia sweetspire, paniculata hydrangeas and clethra because they support birds, pollinators and provide larval food for caterpillars.

August garden in 2020

Five years on from the 2015 photo of the garden. We can stroll through four paths, past many plants

I work fewer hours in the garden these days choosing early morning and afternoon shade.

I do a lot of my gardening standing up. These big shrubs need pruning, roses need deadheading. I also actually enjoy kneeling and weeding. I use a foam kneeler right on the ground and really like that stretch into the bed. I also use a garden kneeler that can be used right side up – or down. I can sit on it or kneel and use the frame to pull myself up.

Pat and her kneeler

Me and my kneeler

The tools I use most often are a trowel, a sturdy pruner, a small snips, a weeding sickle, and a cultivator. Of course, I also have rakes and a spade.  These are all of a size and weight that I can handle. My loving husband is always at hand for heavy work. Other gardeners should remember there are gardeners who  can be hired and help.

I have the benefit of a small backyard. Gardeners who have graduated from yards like mine can still garden in pots, or beds raised to a height that do not require bending. You may have seen beds like this at the John Zon Community Center or at the Just Roots Community Garden.

There are always adjustments that need to be made in our gardens. So keep your hats, your kneeler and hand tools in working order and continue gardening. Gardening is  good for your health, and your spirits.

Between the Rows August 22, 2020

Mushrooms Growing With My Begonia

Mushrooms in my begonia pot

Mushrooms discovered in my begonia pot

It has been so hot and dry in these past weeks that I have been particularly devoted to watering the begonia on my porch. I have been worried that the pot is now too big for the pot and thought at least I could keep it well watered.  It has thrived on the porch where it get a little sun, mostly enjoys the shade.

Mushroom closeup

Mushroom closeup

I was quite amazed yesterday when I was watering the begonia to see beautiful yellow mushrooms joining the plant. What was I to make of this? Were the mushrooms a sign of trouble? The plant looks fine.

I read that fungi in healthy soil are a help to plants out in the wild. Can I believe that the organisms in my pot are taking care of my begonia? Or am I just overwatering?

mushrooms collapsing

The mushrooms are starting to collapse

This morning I went out to check the begonia and the mushrooms. The mushrooms seem to be starting to collapse. Should I be taking some kind of action? Or should I let it continue and see what happens?

This is an interesting experiment. I will watch it, its process, and the results. More later.

Mushrooms continue to collapse

On August 26 the mushrooms are collapsing further

mushrooms

August 27 and the mushrooms have almost completely dried up

Inspired by these mushrooms I looked through my archive and found another couple of posts about mycelium, starting with my grandson’s surprises.  https://www.commonweeder.com/what-do-you-know-about-mushrooms/

Ten years ago I wrote about mycotecture, myceleium, turned into bricks for building. There are many wonders in this world.

https://www.commonweeder.com/?s=mycotecture

David Sund, Designer and Gardener Gives a Lesson

David Sund on his patio

David Sund’s elegant and productive garden was on the Greenfield Garden Club’s Tour earlier this summer. On the tour map he described his garden as having undergone changes and updating over recent years. Last weekend we visited and talked about the lives of gardens.

When he was just a lad in 1973, Sund’s father took the family to Tennessee to live, but it did not take long to find out Tennessee was not the place for them. Instead they moved to Greenfield where grandparents and other family members lived.

Sund still lives in the family house which was a wreck when they moved. “The four layers of wallpaper was all that held the walls together,” he said. And so began years of rebuilding, and renewing.

There was also work to do outside. In those days there were a number of glass houses that ran across several backyards including  theirs. In the spring plants were replanted in outdoor beds and put up for sale. There was a history of gardens and plants on Vernon Street. Sund said his grandmothers had wonderful flower gardens and his father was one of the first taking to organic gardening.

“I grew up gardening,” Sund said. “My father used composting to improve the soil and leaves were used as mulch. Once work on the house was completed, I wanted to do more than raise vegetables. I made two rectangular beds for other plants in the back yard.” His interest in design and the many types of plants for a garden began at an early age.

As we talked Sund said that his current garden is all about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This holds true for the plants that have come into his garden from friends who had multiplying and divided plants, for patio furniture that needed a new home and other treasures. David also regularly shares his plants, but, alas, not this pandemic year.

Before he was a professional gardener he worked at a small local private school as both headmaster and kindergarten teacher. Of course he had a garden to care for as well. He said his day began with work at school, then work in his garden followed by supper, and finishing the day’s school homework. But he was always helping others in their gardens when he could. In 2003 his sabbatical from the school led him to a full time professional life as garden designer as well as gardener.

While surveying Sund’s garden many of us tour gardeners were particularly attracted to the hardscaping and brick edgings on his beds. They were beautiful and neat, with no encroaching weeds. This was amazing to all of us. Fortunately, Sund is happy to share this technique with all of us. It takes very few tools and materials

  1. Drive stakes to string a taut line along the ground, or lay out curved lines with a garden hose.
  2. Using a half moon edger, cut an edge along the line or hose.

    With a flat bladed shovel, scoop out a trench the thickness of a brick on it’s side.

  3. If cutting and lifting turf, use a spading fork to lift the sod, shaking out the soil into a wheelbarrow (to be added to raised beds. Add the remaining mat of grasses to the compost pile.
  4. With a flat bladed shovel, careful not to disturb the lower soil, scoop out a shallow trench to the depth of the width of a brick.

    Slide a brick across the bottom the trench, smoothing the bottom, and check for depth.

  5. Using a brick, sliding/scraping it along the base of the trench, smooth its base making sure that the brick isn’t lower than the base of the turf, or standing too proud of the soil level (or your mower blade will resent your efforts).
  6. Cut a 20 inch strip off of the roll of plastic. It’s folded before it’s rolled onto a tube. Now unfold the cut section which yields a long strip. Fold that strip in half, length-wise, creasing it as you fold, between your finger nails.
  7. Place the double thickness of plastic in the trench, with the fold against the top of the cut edge of the trench, keeping the fold just below the top of edge. It won’t be visible after the bricks are placed, and will serve as a weed barrier, keeping the grass from migrating into the cracks between the bricks.

    The folded edge of the plastic in the trench.

  8. Place the brick firmly against the plastic lined, front edge of the trench, and tightly together. If you are using recycled or reclaimed brick, they may be different in length and/or width. Adjustments can be made with a small trowel (adding or removing a bit of soil, preferably under the plastic).
  9. Using a heavy hammer and scrape of 3×3 lumber, you can tamp down the brick, for a smooth top, along which you can run the wheels of your mower. Don’t try using the hammer directly on the bricks, or they will break.
  10. Backfill the bed side of the edging with some of the garden soil.

    Bricks before filling, soon to add sand to lock them in place.

  11. Sweep play sand into the cracks between the bricks, helping to lock them into place and ward off weed growth.

To keep the edge looking crisp and clean, after mowing David uses a string trimmer with the trimmer head perpendicular to the brick edge.

The finished edge!

Edging planting beds with bricks certainly makes for an elegant and finished look. Thank you David Sund!

Between the Rows  August 15, 2020

Shrubs and Hedges and Spirit of Place Book Reviews

Shrubs and Hedges book

Shrubs and Hedges by Eva Monheim

The days have been hot and muggy. It’s time to stay inside after 10 a.m. and turn to new books. It’s time to think about what fall chores will need to be done.

The first book is useful to me now that our shrubs have matured. When we designed our Greenfield garden we wanted to make it easy to care for.We knew that meant choosing easy care plants – like shrubs. A trio of hydrangeas promising generous size was our first purchase.

Shrubs change over time and I am still learning about working with my shrubs. In her new book, Shrubs & Hedges: Discover, Grow and Care for the World’s Most Popular Plants, (Cool Springs Press $30.) Eva Monheim has provided a lot of practical information. The truth about shrubs, as with all plants, is that they do not reach a perfect beautiful form and then never change.

The book includes a short history of shrubs and their benefits, then moves on to how shrubs are named. We are talking taxonomy here – and it is valuable information even though I confess I am endlessly looking up the information more than once before I am confident.

Chapter 4 provides Profiles of Dependable Classics and Rising Stars. Classics include roses, slender deutzia, and the large family of hydrangeas. Chapter 5 is about Designing with Shrubs, with suggestions for arranging different shrubs together.

Chapter 6 gave me Pruning for Structure, Shape, Form and Profit. It is especially valuable to confused and nervous pruners like me, and to all gardeners. I have been timid about pruning, but Monheim has given me confidence to selectively thin my shrubs, to cut out terminal branches in order to encourage side branching, and to cut back older branches on shrubs for rejuvenation. None of my shrubs are older than five years, but this year I have needed to practice all of these methods. I appreciate the drawings and photographs that give me the confidence to cut – and things are looking more attractive. I also appreciated the section on when to prune, fall, winter or spring.

Chapter 8 explains the difference between hedges and hedgerows, giving a fascinating explanation about the history of the differences.

I was happy that Chapter 9, Attracting Pollinators and Other Desirable Wildlife provided information about the interconnectivity of all things. These creatures are vital to giving us a healthy environment.

Shrubs&Hedges is a practical and useful book with information about the plants, and clear directions about working with your shrubs and hedges. The photographs clearly show plants and their structures. Photos of important tools and how they should be used are also included.

Eva Monheim is currently teaching at Longwood Gardens for the Professional Horticulture Program, and is a faculty member at the Barnes Arboretum of St. Joseph’s University. Her website is evamonheim.com.

Spirit of Place: Making of a New England Garden by Bill Noble

Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden by Bill Noble

The second book allows for dreaming. In his book, Spirit of Place: The making of a New England garden, (Timber Press $35.) Bill Noble describes looking for a new home and finding an “early Greek Revival cape set close to the road” in Norwich, Vermont. This property had been a farm ever since 1767, but by the 1950s it was no longer being farmed. Noble found the property in 1991.

As he started cleaning the collapsed barns Noble began uncovering the history of the farm. That was the beginning of restoring plantings, and designing new gardens.

He describes his various gardens, each one named, with details and plant names. There is the flower garden, the front border, the barn garden, the rock garden, the long border, and the fruit and vegetable garden. I was glad to see his interest in wildlife, providing shelter and food for birds in all seasons, and all other creatures that wander in the fields and forests of farmland.

On his property and over the years, Noble has created many gardens on the property. He began slowly, but made an amazing list of his guiding principles when he began. He says they changed over the years but I found the principles thought- provoking and useful to all of us. What are the goals of any garden? Consider the views. The garden should be maintained according to ecological principles. Vegetable gardens should be organic. Garden management should be manageable. Native plants should be considered and used. Noble also wanted his garden to have an emotional impact.

I think we all look for many of these ideas and plants in our gardens even though we might never put them in words. It is helpful that Noble can be so clear about what he wants. Many of his plans clarify our own plans.

Spirit of Place is a beautiful book. The many excellent photos almost bring us right into his gardens.

Noble’s stunning home gardens are included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Gardens. He is also the former director of preservation for the Garden Conservancy. He has worked with individual garden owners as well as public and private organizations. His beautiful website is billnoblegardens.com.

An apology. Last week I mis-identified the brilliant array of flowers on Annette Kilminster’s deck. Annette was the colorful arranger of flowers and I thank her again for inviting me to visit.###

Between the Rows  August 8, 2020

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – August 15, 2020

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and Thomas Affleck

It is Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and although it has been a very hot and dry summer Thomas Affleck is never bothered very much. He is into his second bloom season and doing very well. Some roses are sending out a few blossoms, but they  dry up rapidly.

Coral Drift rose

The Coral Drift  rose is making a midsummer comeback but Paprika is not.

Hydrangeas and more

Fire Light is one of my  three  hydrangeas which include Lime Light and Angel Blush. Fire Light and Lime Light do not  get their  colors until late in  the season, but they are beautiful and pollinator attracting as  soon as they bloom. You can also see that a red Knock Out and  (if you look really hard) a fading  Zaide rose, and a blooming honeysuckle vine in this spot.

Black Eyed Susans

It has not been a good year for the daylilies but the black-eyed Susans have not minded the head. Neither have the pink anemones, ‘Robutissima’ which have just started to bloom on the left.

Native Joe Pye weed and bee

This Joe Pye weed grows on one side of my garden. On  the other side of the garden is a Joe Pye weed with variegated foliage. Both of them attract bees and other insects.

Wave Petunias

Because our garden was on a Garden Tour this summer I bought a couple of trays of  white Wave petunias in the spring. I planted most of them in 6 pots, and put three petunia pots at each end of the hugel wall. Then  I had two little petunia plants left over and stuck them on the bank of the hugel. The potted petunias did really well. I watered them daily and occasionally gave them a liquid fertilizer. The other petunias grew slowly in the soil. But about a week ago the potted petunias really started to fail, while the petunias in the hugel bed are doing great. Does that show the value of good soil? Or does it mean I didn’t take good enough  care of my potted plants? Sigh.

Lobelia

Lobelia or Cardinal Flower

I love lobelia. I never grew lobelia before we moved to Greenfield. Now it is one of my favorite flowers. It does spread and I will have two or three to  give away  this fall. Needless to say, this is another pollinator plant.

Zinnias!

Here are some of the Zinnias in my so-called Cutting Bed. There are some Cosmos as well. My garden is really buzzing at this time of the year.

Swamp Hibiscus

We added this Swamp Hibiscus moscheutos this spring. Even though it has been dryer than usual, it has thrived in a barely damp spot and produced several blossoms. It sits next to a tall elderberry bush – and will grow quite tall itself. Needless to say, it attracts pollinators, too.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for creating Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  All of us garden bloggers have been able to share our garden  across our great land, but in foreign countries as well.

Alphabet for Pollinators – H is for Hellebore

Hellebores

Hellebores in mid-April on the Bridge of Flowers

H is for Hellebores. This spring  the time came for me to add hellebores to my garden. I had  the perfect new space – a new wooden fence  that made  two new planting beds. One side provided  sunny space for new roses, and a shady side for epimediums and hellebores.

A friend’s hellebore on April 10,2020

A friend invited me to see her hellebores, of which this is  one. It is inspiring to think about adding hellebores to the new planting bed.

A friend’s Hellebores still blooming on June 2,  2020

Hellebores welcome the shade and are still blooming in June,

My new hellebores on June 2, 2020

Here  is my new shade garden bed with (L-R) epimediums, astilbe, my new hellebore, another astilbe, and a hint of another non-blooming hellebore. There are two more hellebores to the left. Of course, you will also be noticing lots of violets by the fence  too. This bed still needs lots of organizing, but it will look very fine next spring. I think.

Hellebores are not fussy. They do like soil that is enriched with organic compost, The soil should be neutral; it does not like acidity. Water when there is a dry spell.

I am pay attention to advice about pruning from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hellebore/pruning-hellebore-plants.htm  “The best time for pruning a hellebore plant is late winter or early spring, just as soon as the new growth begins to appear. This new growth should come straight up out of the ground as little stalks. These stalks should still be surrounded by a ring of last year’s big leaves. The old leaves may very well be damaged from the winter’s cold and looking a little rough around the edges. As soon as the new growth appears, these old leaves can be cut away, slicing them right at the base. If your old foliage is undamaged and still looks good, it’s not necessary to prune them right away, but once the new grow starts to leaf out, you’ll want to make way for them by removing the old growth. If you leave the old growth for too long, it’ll become entangled with the new growth and much harder to trim away.”

Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour Continues

This Madonna was waiting for Amy and David Moscaritolo when they moved into this property 6 years ago.

Amy Moscaritolo

Amy Moscaritolo

Amy Moscaritolo

It impossible to show you all the garden tour gardens at once, so we continue today with three very different gardens.

My husband and I visited Amy and David Moscaritolo’s garden after the official tour day. We turned off the road and onto an iron bridge to cross over a small river that used to be used for ice production.

Amy greeted us and we chatted in the shade admiring the graceful expanse of lawn with a giant chestnut tree in the center providing blissful shade. The tree was surrounded by a bed of hostas and other plants.  Amy is a lover of hostas!

Amy and David moved into this house six years ago. The house already had good bones, Amy said. Previous owners had provided the great chestnut trees, the ginkgos, and plantings around a Madonna which had been left by a previous owner.

Crocosmia

Crocosmia known for its flaming flowers and welcoming pollinators

Garden beds of all kinds encircle the house. We walked towards the side of the house to see many pollinator plants that would make nectar for the bee hives higher on the hill. One of the stunning pollinator plants was the flaming red crocosmia which attracts hummingbirds and butterflies as well as bees.

the plant name was found

We walked around the front of the house with  flower beds holding such delicate plants as Houttuynia cordata, also known by pretty names like rainbow plant, and less lovely names as fish wort and fish leaf. Hard to imagine how such a delicate plant can have such unpleasant names. (I have since been told that this lovely flowers is aggressive and invasive.)

One of the shrubs Amy is most pleased with is the delicate blue lacecap hydrangeas, but I found it difficult to pick any single flower to be a favorite.

Lacecap hydrangea

Lacecap hydrangea

It was a joy to hear the stories about plants – gifts given and received from friends and relatives over the years. Though the garden is relatively new to the Moscaritolos, it already has a loving history.

Polly Hillman

Polly Hillman

Polly and Doug Hillman’s gardens begin when you get out of the car. The front of the house is embellished with brilliant potted flowers, a cheerful welcome. The Hillmans took us around the house to a bed surrounding their fenced swimming pool devoted to daylilies and pollinator plants. I was amazed by the lush white, and purple liatris plants. Mine are quite sad right now. Polly suggested that they need more sun than I was giving them.

Other brilliant pollinator plants including coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and phlox wound around the fence attracting butterflies and bees of every sort.

Beyond those gardens was a large bed filled with daylilies in every shade from tender pastel to rich brilliant shades of gold and red. These are Polly’s love. The daylilies were acquired here and there. Her neighbor had a 150 foot long bed of daylilies. She said when she walked by, she would deadhead the blossoms. Her neighbor then made sure some of his daylilies wandered into her gardens. Some came from nurseries like the Ollalie Daylily farm in Vermont.

These daylilies are just a hint of the daylily bed

Beautiful catalpa trees with more daylilies, phlox and hostas

Then we strolled to another large bed in the shade of majestic catalpa trees. We must never dismiss the value of trees in our gardens. There were more daylilies and phlox, as well as an array of hostas.

Annette Kilminster

Annette Kilminster in her shade garden

The last garden on the tour belonged to Annette Kilminster. The lofty old trees in her neighborhood were impressive. Some of those trees helped to make shade for Annette’s back garden, serene and quiet. Annette has also planted trees choosing  redbuds, a weeping willow and a crabapple. The garden itself is a graceful ribbon of perennials and shrubs around the perimeters. “There are no square corners,” she said.

Annette said her most essential perennials were the hostas. “The garden is too shady for colorful plants. Since I cannot paint with color, I have to paint with shades of green and gold. Light and dark.”

Annette’s garden shines in shades of green and gold in her shade

Beside the hostas she has planted an array of shade loving heucheras, coral bells. The foliage in these plants ranges in a variety of shades from almost black to red and rosy to brilliant lime.

Shrubs can also provide color. “I look for shrubs that are shades of yellow,” she said as we admired a lovely golden spirea.

Riotous color on the deck

While the garden relies on subtle shades of green and gold, Annette’s deck is in another class. Riotous color in pots.

Annette explained that the garden was years in the making. For 18 years she has been choosing cheerful shrubs and flowers for the front of her house and created serenity within the walls of her fence.

Annette has a delicious sense of humor – building this community around an oversize birdhouse built by her son.

I am happy to provide this tour for those who could not attend themselves. The Greenfield Garden Club was very happy to see such a good turnout. The Club’s purpose in holding its garden tours, and the Extravaganza plant sale in the spring, is to raise money for horticultural projects for local schools. In  the past the money raised has gone to pay for projects ranging from sheds, to tools for small hands and irrigation supplies.  We hope to see everyone at next year’s events, when we hope the world will be healthy again.###

Between the Rows  August 1, 2020