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A Wild and Savage Hue: Senior Symposia with Michael Hoberman

 Landscapes of Exile and Belonging in American Literature

February 3 — 2:00–3:00pm


Instructor/Presenter: Michael Hoberman

When William Bradford, the first governor of Plimouth Plantation, described the Pilgrims’ first glimpse of Cape Cod, the new landscapes that emphasized the bewilderment they felt at its “wild and savage hue.” Nearly three hundred years later, another Massachusetts writer, W.E.B. DuBois, spoke of  the landscapes and speaking of having “been born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills.” Arguably, both men considered the North American landscape to be their home, and also a place where they were constrained.  Michael Hoberman will explore the fraught theme of place in American literature, from the colonial period to the present day.

Michael Hoberman is professor of American literature at Fitchburg State University. He is a graduate of Reed College, received his Ph.D. from UMass Amherst, and has published several books and scholarly articles on New England history and Jewish-American culture.  His latest book is A Hundred Acres of America: The Geography of Jewish-American Literary History (Rutgers University Press, 2018).

This workshop will be delivered via Zoom. You will only get the Zoom invite if you are registered.

Bulbs and Blooms in the Brilliant Sun – Spring Seems On Its Way

Tiny yellow crocuses in full bud and ready to bloom

Crocuses are the earliest plants to  bloom in my garden. Several clumps of crocuses bloom under our Lilac Tree, where passers-by can enjoy the spring sight. On this day when the sun is shining  so brilliantly, I can almost feel the bulbs waking up underground.

Crocuses are sturdy and don’t mind the snow.

This photo was taken March 25, 2020. There were other crocuses scattered around this bit  of grass under the Lilac Tree. The Lilac Tree cannot be confused with the lilac bushes that are so familiar. Our Lilac Tree is a Syringa, but it is about 30 feet tall and in June it produces amazingly fragrant white flowers.

Scillas are sky blue.

Sky blue scillas are delicate, but make quite a splash when they bloom in large areas. Photo taken in April 15, 2020.

Grape hyacinths are also blooming near the scillas

Grape hyacinths are an amazing flower. After they bloom the foliage will die away. Then, in the fall after you have nearly forgotten where they live, the foliage will come up, in a thicker clump and remain green until the spring when the blossoms will return. This is a bulb you will be able to share with friends.

These small daffodils bloom very early in the back garden

The fringey daffs are a very  old variety that came from my old Heath garden where  they were growing before we bought the house. The daffodils with  the recurved petals MAY be February Gold. I have to check my lists.

Daffodils in mid-May in front of the house

I’ve planted a variety of daffodils in the front garden, next to the sidewalk, sharing space with the low growing evergreens. They have  increased over time  and look better over year.

Last year I planted a lot! of daffodil bulbs to make a beautiful blooming river in from of the roses we planted last year.    But look what is happening now!

It’s snowing! The brilliant sun left and gave us a quiet snowfall

The Witch Hazel Surprises Before Winter Ends

My neighbor’s witch hazel in early March

During snowy January winters (and it is snowing as I write) I start to get itchy, longing to see flowers the garden. That is impossible of course, but what I can do is think about I can plant that will bloom very early in the spring.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a shrub that blooms when there is no other flower in sight. It immediately comes to mind because a neighbor has a witch hazel growing and blooming in front of her house in February and into March. I only have another month to wait before I can see those sunny yellow blooms and feel that winter is well on its way out.

I love the twirly blossoms of the witch hazel

There are different witch hazels. Hamamelis virginiana is a native and begins to bloom in November. This is the only one that blooms in the fall.

The majority of vernal (Ozark), Chinese and Japanese witch hazels typically flower sometime from January into March. All witch hazel shrubs produce similar flowers with twirly, little petals. There are also intermedia witch hazels that result from crosses between the Japanese and Chinese species.Th

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ with its colorful orange/red petals is considered one of the best cultivars blooming in late fall. “Diane’ is another cultivar with beautiful autumnal color. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ has pale twirly blossoms. Many of these shrubs do not grow taller than twelve feet. The spread can vary.

Witch hazel ‘Jelena’

When locating a site for a witch hazel it is vital to find a sunny spot. It will not thrive in the shade.

Witch hazels also have a reputation as divining or dowsing rods. Even in these modern days well diggers will use a witch hazel limb to walk over a possible space where they might find water. I have a friend who has shown me her skill as a dowser many times. In fact I have  to tell you that she is able to dowse with a needle and a map, as well as with a dowsing rod. Truly!

I am not the only one who appreciates witch hazel. Nature writer Edwin Way Teale once described it as a “botanical individualist.” I also learned that Robert Frost gave witch hazel a mention in his poem “Reluctance.”

Chinese Witch Hazel in the Lyman Plant House at Smith College, February 26

The Lyman Plant House at Smith College has a who array of wonderful plants including a Bulb Show in the spring, and a Chrysanthemum Show in the fall.

The Garden View from the Window in Winter

The Lawn – before the Garden was born  2015

Every house deserves a spot where the residents can sit by a window that will give them a beautiful garden view in every season. Do I live in a house that provides me with a window and comfortable chair where I can admire my garden through the seasons?

No.  In fact there are only two windows that give a good garden view.

When we moved into our house five years ago, the first thing I required was a new kitchen. There were a variety of problems, but perhaps the worst was the lack of a window that would give a view of  the garden. Now in my new kitchen I chop vegetables, stir the soup, roll out dough, and make breakfast pancakes and everything else in front of a double set of windows that looks out on the garden.

I spend a lot of time standing in front of those windows. I admire the big yellow twig dogwood which attracts the birds. When we added a bird bath there were even more birds taking turns in the bath – occasionally getting very excited over whose turn was next. A lot goes on in our garden. Squirrels!

The book corner in the office

There is also a window in my so-called office. During these pandemic days the ‘office’ is even more disorganized than usual with too many books that I can no longer donate to book sales. I even have visiting books for my First Grade friends who I read to on most Friday mornings.  Chaos!

When we bought the house I thought of how wonderful to have this little room for book shelves, and a cozy chair by the window. It would be a sweet retreat. Even when the pandemic  is no longer with us, I know there will never be a cozy chair by that window.

What that window  does do, is allow me to keep a photographic record of the creation of the garden. (See Below)

Tell me. Do you have a cozy chair by the window where you can admire your garden? I’d love to hear about it.

The Garden is showing its curves in 2016 There are logs in the back for part of the Hugel

Another year and the garden is more lush.  2017 and you can see those curves, my strolling garden.

In 2020 the garden is so lush you can hardly see the stroll paths.

The view from the kitchen window is just as lovely. Hope you enjoyed the brief tour.

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – A Failure in January- a Cold Month

View from the office

I don’t expect much Bloom Day color in January when I take a photo from the window, but this time my plans were a total failure.

Hydrangea and Roses

You an see the dried hydrangea blossoms in back  of the roses which have amazingly kept a lot of dried foliage, but this does not count and blooms. Obviously, you’ll say. You don’t expect blossoms in the snow!

Grape Hyacinths

Last fall I started pulling these green strands up, thinking they were weeds. Not so. Grape hyacinths bloom and disappear in the spring – only to send up foliage shoot late in the summer. And they spread all over! But certainly no blooms.

Rosemary and Amaryllis bulbs

The rosemary is doing fine on  our southern enclosed porch but the amaryllis bulbs are a bust and I do not know why. They grew in a garden bed last summer, then I cut back the foliage and brought them in, potted them up and put them in a rarely used closet. I thought this was the correct process so  that when I brought them out and put them on a windowsill in the fall they would be sending out shoots and then glamorous flowers. Didn’t happen. The bulbs seem healthy, very firm, but no action.


I have never grown a begonia and you can see I have a lot to learn. This grew nicely and I did repot it once, but I think my problem is not studying up on proper pruning.  I even have Tovah Martin’s book, The Indestructible Houseplant which does have begonia information. I’ll have to read it more closely.

My Asparagus fern

My asparagus fern does not bloom, but it grows happily in the one plant-available south window.

Walking Iris

Now this walking iris was given to me by a good friend in the spring – after it had bloomed. She said that the iris blossom  would grow from a stem that was inside these graceful leaves. I planted the clump she gave me and it grew energetically. When it was time to lift it and pot it up so that it would bloom in the early spring the clump had increased substantially. Three  pots!  Sometimes I think I can see is the beginning of a stem in the center of some of the leaves, but nothing too definite. But surely this is promising. Will I have a bloom on February Bloom Day? Will there be a hint of a bloom? Wish me luck.

Beverly Duncan and Her Books – And Her Plants

Beverly Duncan in her studio with books and paints

“Ever since I officially retired from Mohawk Regional High School, I’ve just exploded with new ideas,” Beverly Duncan said as she gave me a tour of her studio in Ashfield. One wall was covered with framed botanical paintings that she had done in the past. Other paintings-in-progress were pinned to a bulletin board; other smaller paintings of flower blossoms were pinned to a different bulletin board. Surrounded by these works, finished and unfinished, she told me about recent events, and unfinished plans.

Since her arrival in western Massachusetts many years ago, she has focused on drawing plants. First intrigued by wild edibles, she enlarged her focus drawing and painting the local flora and fauna around her. She hardly had to go beyond her own gardens and the nearby woodlands. The attention she pays to what is sprouting, blooming, ripening, and going into dormancy, as well as the insects that arrive over the seasons, is transformed into delicate paintings. “As I observe, sketch and paint, I am always learning more about the interconnectedness of the natural world,” she said.

Her love of flowers and greenery are put to a different use during the summers. For some years she has worked with Gloria Pacosa, a dear friend and neighbor, who operates Gloriosa & Co, an event venue. Pacosa has large gardens to supply the flowers and plants for the weddings, bat and bar mitzvahs and all the other celebratory events that mark our lives. That means working in the gardens and gathering an abundance of flowers and greens to make unique bouquets for each occasion. She has the pleasure of adding to the joy of the celebratory occasions of our lives.

Early last spring Duncan and Pacosa decided to treat themselves to a trip to Belgium. They attended a workshop run by a commune-owned chateau, Fleuropean. “Every day for a week we made bouquets with flowers that showed off the new trends in design, and in flower color, which were in the dark range. Some of arrangements were very stylized, not looking like bridal bouquets or lush arrangements at all. We also got to work with silk ribbons that were dyed, and sometimes shredded. Everything was photographed at the end of the day.

“We also had time to travel around and explore, including a wonderful walk through a forest among the bluebells. It was inspiring. Luxurious learning.”

Refreshed and inspired Duncan returned home to continue her projects with new energy.

“I love working in small places,” Duncan told me. She brought out two tiny boxes of her paint-a-flower-every-day project. Each box was filled with 2×2 inch flower or foliage paintings, labeled on the reverse side.  Another box held tiny accordion books, each devoted to a single flower.

Then Duncan showed me the SEEDS project. These 5×5 inch books are each devoted to a single tree or shrub. She created a standard progression of the development of a plant and seed on the vertical pages. “I tell the story of my relationship with the tree. Then I paint the details of the tree from early spring budding. Everything is dated so the time of the progression is clear. Another page will show the summer leaf. That is the way most of us identify a tree, by its leaf. On other pages I show the fruit development, and change in color of the leaf. The winter painting shows identifying characteristics of the branch and bud.”


We looked through the SEEDS book about Staghorn Sumac. Duncan paints the parts of the plant in clear detail. She also identifies the parts of the sumac. I might call the slightly fuzzy red things on the end of an autumnal sumac branch a ‘flower,’ Duncan properly says these are the mature seeds, or fruits, of the sumac, which are called “bobs.”  She goes further to explain that ‘bobs’ are actually clusters of drupes. Then she explains, with another little image on the page, that a drupe is a closed fruit with exocarp and mesocarp and endocarp layers that enclose the ovary.

I had a little trouble understanding the anatomy of a sumac drupe. However, her drawing made me look up some additional information. I learned that apricots, cherries, and other stone fruits are drupes because they have a fleshy covering around the pit that can be opened to reveal the actual seed. Some nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are drupes, while other nuts like acorns and chestnuts are in the family of ‘true’ nuts.


The goal is to reproduce these books, and have boxed sets holding five or six little books that can be sold. I am looking forward to that day.

The SEEDS project is very different from her earlier works, in the size of the paintings. These little books also allow her to express her reactions and feelings about plants. Her intent is very different from her approach to larger botanical works like the New England Winter Branches paintings which won an award 2014 Royal Horticultural Exhibit in London, or the Impressions of Woody Plants Exhibit at the Arnold Arboretum last summer.

Duncan has an agent in New York City who sells her paintings there, but she does occasionally hold Open Studio Days when her paintings are available for public view and sale. She also teaches botanical painting as the Hill Institute in Florence, Massachusetts.

This post first appeared a couple of years ago, but I  have had requests to show it again.


While Taking a Walk on Allen Street We Admire Rhododendrons

Rhododendron in full bud in the neighborhood

On these pandemic days we have been trying to take walks around the neighborhood and have noticed a lot of rhododendrons in front gardens. I also have a small rhododendron in from of my house, a part of the low growing conifers that make up the grass-less front yard. We also have two rhodies growing on the Hugel in the back yard. They are not doing well because the hugel, which is made of piles of logs as  well as soil, does not give them sufficient nurture. We are rethinking their location.

It is magical to walk past rhododendrons, large or small, and see the fat buds that will open in mid to late May. We have a Hawley friend, Jerry Sternstein, who has more than 400 rhododendrons on a sunny slope. He often has an Open Garden event on Memorial Day and it is quite an event!

‘Scintillation’ is one of the most popular and dependable rhododendrons

‘Scintillation’, a lovely pink rhodie is also very dependable. When I exclaim my admiration of his rhododendrons, Jerry sighs and says, “Ah, but they are nothing to Valigorsky’s rhodies.  Needless to say Jerry soon took me to John Valigorsky’s garden.

A portion of Valigorsky’s rhododendron walk

It is possible that this section of Valigorsky’s rhododendron walk includes Calsap (white), and the red flower on the right is Gigi Dexter hybrid.

I lost the name of this pink rhodie

Both Jerry and John reeled off the names of their rhododendrons, in so many shades, but I got lost in  the list. This is one of my favorites that day that beautiful spring day.

There was some discussion about whether or not bees will die from rhododendron pollen or nectar. It is not likely, according to the reading I have done, but Grayanotoxin  neurotoxin found in the nectar of rhododendrons. Some people worry about honey made from rhododendron flowers, but this is not a great problem either. Valigorsky told me bees did not like rhododendron nectar. I have never seen many bees buzzing around rhodies.

A portion of Jerry Sternstein’s hill

Jerry and John are both devoted to their rhododendrons, but they have very different sites. Jerry’s garden happily blooms in full sun, enjoying the naturally acidic soil of Hawley. John’s garden in the Pittsfield area enjoys some shade but blooms in defiance of the alkaline soil. There are fertilizers like Holly-Tone that help acidify soil. Both men say the important thing in planting a rhododendron is to remember the motto “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” No $5 holes for these rhodies. All they need is a slight depression in the soil, with soil then being brought up around but not touching the trunk.

There are so many beautiful rhododendrons it is hard to make a choice. I am looking at the varieties of rhododendron while I think about adding one to a spot in front of our front porch. I love pieris Japonica which currently grows there but it is more scraggly every year. Time to replace it. With a rhodie.

Janet Blair Rhodie in Valigorsky’s Garden

For wonderful information about rhodies, including the best performers in your region check out the American Rhododendron Society’s website.

2021 – A New Year With New Opportunities and Favorite Seed Companies

The new year has begun with new opportunities, new hopes, new ideas, and new projects for our gardens.  The vegetable garden we planned during the pandemic is very tiny. Very very tiny. I planted beans, peas, lettuce, radishes, zucchini, beets and chard. Too many varieties. This was a mistake. I have to rethink the best way to get a usable harvest in a tiny garden.

The beans and the peas worked well, but I did learn that putting six lines on a bean teepee isn’t a good idea. Too much foliage made it hard to find the beans. Sugar snap peas grew up on a mesh fence and that worked well. Tomatoes grew in pots and I got all the tomatoes I needed. As for everything else I am in thinking mode. Wish me luck.

In the meantime I am looking at seed covers of some of my favorite farms.

Johnny’s Selected Seed Catalog

As you can see from Johnny’s Selected Seed Catalog  cover, they offer flowers! Vegetables! And they also offer herbs, tools, and supplies. Oh, how I loved their row covers. I also appreciate that they offer crop supports and kitchen supplies. I have a tender spot in my heart for Johnny’s. We moved to Maine in 1975 when Johnny’s Selected Seeds was a very  young company, founded in 1973. Of course we wanted to  support this new project and even after moving from Maine we like to buy seeds from Johnny’s. Johnny’s Selected Seeds  955 Benton Ave, Winslow, ME 04901.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

High Mowing Seeds is one of the few fully organic and Non-GMO Project Verified seed companies in the world. They provide the highest quality seed to growers and do so without the use of environmentally harmful synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  I love Vermont as much as I love Maine because I spent several years of my young life in Charlotte. Relatives still live on there, and I am looking forward to the postponed Family Reunion on Lake Champlain shores. I like to use High Mowing Organic Seeds  76 Quarry Rd, Wolcott, VT  05680 and they are very available here in town.

Burpee Seeds

Burpee Seeds have been around for a long time and are familiar and dependable. I really like this cover because those are my favorite cherry tomatoes. But there is also a full array of vegetables, flowers, herbs, berries, apples and other fruits.  Burpee Seeds and Plants  300 Park Ave, Warminster, PA 18974

Nourse Berry Farm

This is last year’s catalog, but that strawberry is gorgeous! We  turned to Nourse Berry Farm which now is maybe 15 minutes away from our town home. But when we moved to Heath 40 years ago, we went right to Nourse Farm for blueberries.  When we moved to town we bought more blueberries but they did not thrive in the wet garden. However, our elderberries and raspberries have no objections to wet plots. I can freeze the raspberries from my small plot, but the birds get all the elderberries. We have to support our animal life. Nourse Farms   41 River Rd, Whately, MA 01093

I hope you all are looking through the catalogs, from the mail, or by computer. Is is winter, but the days are getting longer, time to think about what to plant.