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Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing

Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing

Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing is the perfect book to be browsing through on this frigid day. The temperature is only 20 degrees, but the sun is brilliant and the ground sparkles with frozen snow crystals. As I turn the pages of the sumptuously illustrated book, my own summer garden exists in my imagination as it never has before.  Debra’s 52 weeks of bouquets from local flowers from ‘garden, meadow and farm’ are full of surprises and inspiration for those of us who are fearful and reluctant flower arrangers.

Debra always put herself in that class of fearful and reluctant flower arrangers, but the work she did visiting flower farms and farmers for her previous book, The 50 Mile Bouquet written  with photographer David Perry, gave her arranging lessons by osmosis and more confidence in her own skills.  Each two page spread in  the  book includes a photo and description of a seasonal arrangement with a list of ‘ingredients’ like 5 stems of heuchera foliage, 7 stems of Sweet William and 5 stems of mock orange and a 6 inch tall vase with a 7″x3″ opening. There is also always a tip of one sort or another. The Eco-technique note for this handsome arrangement is to arrange the foliage in the vase first to supply the support for the flowers. I never realized that florist’s foam contains formaldehyde which makes it undesirable. I’ll never use it again! No great loss because I never managed it very well, anyway.

Other tips have to do with the latest thinking about preparing and managing cut flowers and shrub branches for the most long lasting life in the vase. Other tips have to do with design like having complimentary colors in the arrangement and with the container. Debra has her 52 arrangements in some beautiful vases and other containers.

Going through the lists of flowers and foliage that go with each arrangement I have come up  with some surprises, and made some additions to my wish list for new plants this spring.  Curly willow! Grape vines. Sedums. Plants with graceful seed heads like northern sea oats and millet. Clusters of cherry tomatoes. Fruiting crabapple branches in fall, not only in spring bloom. Evergreen branches with pine cones.

There seems no end to Prinzing’s creativity as she looks at flowers and creates arrangements with brilliant  spring and summer colors,  the rich colors of fall, and the elegant colors of winter. Of  course, my winter bouquets would never look like her Seattle bouquets, but they inspire nonetheless. My similar white arrangement of pussy willows, Dusty Miller and artemesias, might simply come at a different time of year.

Slow Flowers is an encouraging book. I felt as enpowered after spending my afternoon within  its pages as I did after my session with Gloria Pacosa who gave me a lesson is flower arranging at her studio.

Slow Flowers autumnal arrangement

I would hardly have to add anything to my garden to make an arrangement similar to this. I already have scented geranium foliage, boltonia, and artemesias, I’d just have to add the celosia cristata (crested cockscomb) and apricot cactus zinnias. Debra points out that the different types of  green foliage “are woven together as a textured and verdant tapestry.”

Slow Flowers spring arrangment

I can’t wait to make an arrangement like this. I’ve got everything I need: daffodils, ferns and pussy willows.


Christmas Trees Thirty Times Over

Fruit ornaments on Christmas tree

Christmas trees were the hit of the Christmas party held by the Greenfield Garden Club.  We have the best meetings and parties! Our hostess has dozens (I lost track) of themed Christmas trees as well as the big gorgeous fabulously ornamented tree in the living room. I cannot show them all here.

Teddy bear Christmas tree

Christmas shoe tree

A shoe tree!

A quilting Christmas Tree

Our hostess is a mistress of every type of needlework including quilting.

Feather Christmas tree

Admittedly a faux feather tree, but a style all its own.

Christmas bird tree

When I saw a version of this tree many years ago, I was inspired to create my own bird garland.

My bird garland

This garland tops our 8 foot window wall.

View from the bedroom 12-17-13

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! It’s almost Christmas.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

We Have a Winner! And a Continuing Sale

Seeing Flowers from Timber Press

Betsy Johnson is our winner! Practically a neighbor over there in Williamstown.  Timber Press will send Seeing Flowers directly after I have her address, and I’ll be sending her The Roses at the End of the Road.

Everyone can order their own copy of The Roses at the End of the Road, or a copy to give as a gift to anyone who loves  roses or tales of life in the country by emailing me at or clicking here so you can order through Pay Pal. The December sale price is $12 wtih free shipping. All I will need is a check and an address. The book is also available as a Kindle edition.

Best wishes to all in this holiday season. Happy reading and happy gardening.

Tea Party in the Garden on Wordless Wednesday

Tea Party in the Garden

Behold this Tea Party in the Garden. My husband has been taking a drawing class at Greenfield Community College this semester, a gift to himself to celebrate his semi-retirement.  I have occasionally given him a hard time, but he holds no grudge and painted my fantasy of a Garden Tea Party. Not quite finished yet.

Camellia chinensis

Of course, before there is a tea party there must be tea, which begins  with the tea plant Camellia chinensis. Pastels, both. He’s been doing tea and tea cups every which way, some of which I never dreamed of. Great fun.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

And don’t forget – Tomorrow Wednesday, December 11 at midnight is the deadline to click here and leave a comment and win a copy of Seeing Flowers AND a copy of The Roses at the End of the Road.


Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell


Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life

Beatrix Potter is known to almost every parent, but not as well known as her most famous creation, Peter Rabbit. In Marta McDowell’s new book Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: the plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales (Timber Press $24.95) we meet Peter’s progenitor. In 1890, the 24 year old Beatrix bought Benjamin Bouncer at a pet shop and used him as the model for Peter for some paintings that she sold. That was the beginning of a career that she never imagined, and that her parents never wanted for her. This charming book, illustrated with historic photographs, Beatrix’s paintings, and photos of her world as they are now, lets us follow her from the enclosed gardens of London parks, to the holiday estates of her youth and finally to the farms where she spent the last 30 years of her life.

The simple, delicately illustrated stories that Potter wrote do not suggest to readers today that they were conceived by an independent woman who became a passionate naturalist, a successful business woman and a conservationist who left thousands of acres of land in the Lake District to the newly founded National Trust.

Beatrix Potter was the quintessential shy Victorian daughter whose life was ruled by her parents. She was educated at home and her social circle was limited to relatives and family friends. Still she enjoyed her life and the gardens of London the were near her home, and country visits to the Lake County and to Scotland. She loved plants and flowers; with her younger brother Bertram she often had a menagerie of animals going.

Her love of nature led her to a serious study of mycology – mushrooms. Her uncle, Sir Henry Roscoe who was knighted for his contributions to chemistry, took her to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to work, but although she was finally allowed to visit and study in the gardens, her insights and theories were ignored. She was a spinster, and an amateur. She could not possibly have anything to offer the scientific world. Her mycological and scientific work now resides at the Ambleside Museum in the Lake District. Her mentor, Charlie McIntosh, gave his collection of her work to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland. Her paintings and drawings are so accurate and well identified they are useful today to those studying fungi.

McDowell carries us along on brief tale of the events of her life, but her focus is on  descriptions of the landscapes and gardens that were a part of her early life, and her later life as a farmer. Part Two: The Year in Beatrix Potter’s Gardens takes us on a charming tour of the gardens she created at Hill Top Farm and Castle Cottage listing plants in their season, as well as garden schemes and designs. What makes this book especially enjoyable is the use of Beatrix’s own words, from her letters and other sources.

Part Three: Visiting Beatrix Potter’s Gardens is a guide book that will give tourists the information they need to visit the gardens and landscapes of Beatrix Potter’s youth, as well the gardens she made in her maturity with her husband William Heelis. Again, this section is illustrated with wonderful and useful contemporary photos, and Potter’s illustrations of those scenes as she captured them so long ago.

Primroses were often planted in Beatrix Potter’s gardens

This is a beautiful book that gives a strong sense of the strong and practical woman that Beatrix Potter was. Nearly every page has a photograph or delicate painting from one of her books.

Five years ago I read the excellent biography, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature written by Linda Lear (St. Martin’s Press. It was there I first learned about her scholarship, the difficulties of her life with her parents, and the tragedy of the death of her fiancé, Norman Warne. It gave me such a different view of the kind of woman who would have told those stories of mischievous animals, illustrated them with such charming paintings, and insisted on the small size of the books for small hands.

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is a visual feast  and McDowell skillfully takes us through her life, only lingering with detail in the garden and the way they were transformed in her books. It also led me to the Beatrix Potter Society in England. It turns out 2013 is the 100th Anniversary of The Tale of Pigling Bland, a tale of adventure and romance, as well as the 100th Anniversary of Potter’s marriage to William Heelis. The Society has turned this occasion into a special event and an exhibit that includes parallels between these two events. I am happy to think that her own life, like her little books, had 30 years of happily ever aftering with Mr. Heelis. ###

Between the Rows  November 30, 2013

Don’t forget you can win a copy of Seeing Trees and a copy of my book The Roses at the End of the Road by leaving a comment here by midnight, December 12.



Chrysanthemums – Plain and Fancy

My plain hardy chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums are an iconic autumn flower. Pots of blooming mums are sold at every garden center, supermarket, and roadside stand by the end of August. Their rich colors of garnet, purple, bronze and brilliant yellow or pale cream have tempted me many times. I buy them, but am mildly disappointed that even after I put them in the ground they maintain a strict military stance, never softening into a graceful slouch. Neither have I been able to overwinter them with much success. Maybe because the roots of these potted blooms don’t have sufficient time to gain strength before winter closes in.

I finally decided to buy my hardy garden chrysanthemums in the spring from a nursery. This opened up a whole world of chrysanthemum forms beyond the small familiar flowers in supermarket pots. The National Chrysanthemum Society lists 13 types of chrysanthemum blossom, from those with petals that curve up, or curve down, those with a pom pom form, those with spoon petals, or quilled petals, or graceful spider petals, or those that are so exotic that don’t fit easily into any classification.

Some chrysanthemums are too tender for zone 5, but there are many that are perfectly happy here if they are given a well drained soil with organic matter and lots of sun. They need to be kept watered all season; the amount of watering will increase as the plant becomes bigger, and then blooms.

To make them grow bushier and more floriferous, pinching them back, or tipping them, should be done when the plants are about six inches tall. Pinch or cut them back one or two inches, to a pair of leaves. Don’t cut them in the middle of the stem. Repeat this pinching back once or twice before July 1.

For the past couple of years I have grown ‘Starlet’, a golden-bronze spoon mum. The petals are like little tubes that open at the end in a ‘spoon’ shape. I also have a mum that looks like a pinky lavender daisy with a sunny gold center that I think is named ‘Daisy Lavender.’ Both of these came from Bluestone Perennials and have done very well. ‘Daisy Lavender’ didn’t begin to bloom until the beginning of October, but ‘Starlet’ began in early September and both are still blooming even after a couple of frosts.

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ or Sheffies

My third mum, bought at Wilder Hill Gardens in 2011 was identified only as a pink daisy. I later found out it is Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’, more familiarly called a Sheffie, or Sheffield daisy. It is a strong grower and its spikier pink petals have a salmon tint. I love having these exuberant blooms this late in the season. They also make good cut flowers for bouquets.

The potted mums for sale in the fall don’t seem very romantic, but the history of the chrysanthemum is filled with romance. The Chinese were growing chrysanthemums by 1500 B.C. They did not look like football mums or the exotic spider mums, but more like a daisy. Still they were popular flowers.

They reached Japan, via Korea, by 500 C.E. By that time they were looking more dramatic and by 800 C.E. a single 16 petalled chrysanthemum blossom became the imperial crest. The ninth day of the ninth Lunar month is still a holiday set aside to celebrate the chrysanthemum.

The Japanese word for chrysanthemum is Kiku, and I was lucky enough to visit the New York Botanical Garden in 2009 just in time to see the stunning KIKU exhibit that featured many of the ways that the Japanese grew chrysanthemums for display.

When we lived in China I noticed the Chinese don’t use the variety of flowers in their gardens as Americans and the English. Instead, they create different forms of a single variety, and assign metaphorical meanings. Considered one of the Four Gentlemen (the plum blossom for winter, the orchid for spring, bamboo for summer) the chrysanthemum is a symbol of autumn as well as long life and wisdom. There are many old tales of bureaucrats who give up life at court to retire to their mountain hermitages to care for their chrysanthemums and find peace.

The 17th century botanist Linnaeus gave the chrysanthemum its name, combining two Greek  words for gold and flower. However, it did not gain much popularity in England until Victorian times when the Royal Horticultural Society sent the famous plant hunter Robert Fortune to China to bring back new varieties.

Kiku exhibit – mum cascades

Today, November 2, the Annual Chrysanthemum Show at Smith College Lyman Plant House opens and will run until Sunday, November 17. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. every day. This stunning show features many brilliant chrysanthemums as specimens and as spectacular cascades which take months of painstaking work to create.

The Church Gallery is also featuring an exhibit of a very different type of plant, maize.  Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain is an exhibit will explore the science of this most significant crop and explain why it continues to surprise us today. Edward S. Buckler, Research Geneticist at the USDA, Adjunct Professor at Cornell and one of the exhibition’s developers will speak on Friday, November 15 at 7:30 pm. His talk will focus on various agricultural issues and how new technologies, information and resources can increase world wide food security. For more information go to the Smith College website


Giveaway – Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers

Seeing Flowers by Llewellyn and Chace

Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers with amazing photographs by Robert Llewellyn and charming essays by Teri Dunn Chace, is a beautiful companion to the stunning Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees  which also features Robert Llewellyn’s unique photographic process.  The book, and a gorgeous 16 x 24 gallery quality print to celebrate the release of this book by Timber Press is being given away to some flower lover.  All you have to do is click here and you may win a copy of the book with its 345 photographs, and the large print.

Seeing Flowers gives us a way to see the extraordinary details of ordinary flowers. While  the red poppy is a brilliant show stopper, I love the photographs of the pale Queen Anne’s Lace with the single, tiny red flower in its inflorescence that calls to pollinators flying by.  Even the closed up, ‘bird’s nest’ stage of Queen Anne’s Lace, indicating pollination has been completed,  is newly beautiful to my eyes. I never liked the ‘bird’s nests.’

The book is divided by flower families, from Amaryllis to Daisy to Viola. In addition to Chace’s essays many of the flowers have been given a poetic flourish from poets like Shakespeare who treasured all growing things.

“O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies/In herbs, plants, stone, and their true qualities;/For nought so vile that on the earth doth live/But to the earth some special good doth give.”  (From Romeo and Juliet.)

This specially good book could be yours with just a click and an email address. It would  also make a specially good gift for the gardener as we approach the happy gift-giving season.


Krishna Amid the Autumnal Sumac

Krisha amid the sumac

Krishna – a closer view

Krishna is the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. He is often shown with his flute with which he seduces milk maids, but my Krishna’s flute has been lost to the ages. He is no less seductive.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

All is revealed – Catalonia

Demonstration for Catalonian independence in Boston Public Garden

When I visited the Boston Public Garden on September 2, I ran into this demonstration right under the magnificent statue of George Washington.

George Washington in the Boston Public Garden

It made sense to hold a demonstration for independence under the statue of one of our own founders of an independent nation, promising liberty to all, but I couldn’t tell what the demonstration was all about.

Demonstrator for Independence in Catalonia

It was not until one woman held out this banner than I even knew the issue, but still I did not know for WHOM. Now all is revealed. Catalonia!

Today we saw a news story today about Catalonia’s national day, on September 11  illustrated with the red, yellow and blue flag, that I came to some understanding. Catalonia is an autonomous section of Spain that includes Barcelona, “In the Spanish Constitution of 1978 Catalonia, along with the Basque Country and Galicia, was defined as a “nationality“. The same constitution gave Catalonia the automatic right to autonomy, which resulted in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 1979.” (from Wikipedia)

I like having these little mysteries solved.

Boston Public Gardens


Boston State House

The Boston Public Gardens begin at the foot of the Boston State House. First is the Boston Common where cattle once grazed, then the Boston Public Garden, the oldest botanic garden in the nation, and finally the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Here are a few photos from my recent visit.

Boston Common Frog Pond

Frolicking tadpoles in the Boston Common Frog Pond watched over by parents and

Boston Common Frog Pond frogs

the frog statues!

Boston Public Garden sign

The Boston Public Garden, established in 1837 is the first botanic garden in our young nation.

Pink Mandevilla Boston Public Garden

White Mandevilla Boston Public Garden

Pagoda Tree in Boston Public Garden

Small Fountain Boston Public Garden

Medical memorial

Statue memorializing the first use of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital to deaden pain.

Rose in Boston Public Garden

Mass plantings of roses.

Parallel planting in Boston Public Garden

A matching planting is on the other side of the path.

Swan Boats in the Boston Public Garden


Commonwealth Avenue Mall

The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is a grand allée of shade trees forming the central axis of the Back Bay, connecting the Public Garden to the Back Bay Fens. Designed by Arthur Gilman, who was inspired by the new Parisian boulevards, the Mall was set out from 1858 to the 1870s. From its inception, the Mall has been a vital amenity for both residents and visitors. Winston Churchill praised it as “the grandest boulevard in North America.”

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton is just one of the statues on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.  These three public gardens include many statues and reliefs that celebrate the great men and moments of our history.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.