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Perennials and Annuals Make the Cutting Garden


Peonies have long stems and have a variety of colors and forms, perfect for a cutting garden

The rains started last August. The rains continued during our long cold spring. The effect on my garden was that a number of plants drowned including my beautiful double weeping cherry. The view from my kitchen window was now bleak and empty.

To remedy the situation now and for the future we first needed to raise our already raised planting beds. Spring rains kept us from beginning this project.  To raise the height of the beds we needed more soil and our beloved Martin’s Compost Farm could not supply that soil because the rains put a stop to their operations.

Finally, Martin’s Farm was able to deliver four more yards of compo-soil and we moved load after load to the two planting beds. Once again we had barren beds. What to do?

We began by planting a water-tolerant quince bush surrounded by water tolerant sedums, yarrow and silvery Artemisia in the most northerly bed. The water tolerant Aesclepius tuberosa, the ornamental native orange flowered milkweed, and cardinal flowers were thriving. Even so, we did add more soil to the area around these plants.

I took a different approach with the second bed, which is right in front of my kitchen windows. We hadn’t decided on a planting scheme and decided that for this year we would plant annuals on this small area while we devised a plan. In went seedlings and starts of cosmos, snapdragons, zinnias, marigolds, and two clumps of dianthus. Needless to say it doesn’t look like much right now.

Annual cosmos

Annual cosmos comes in a variety of colors. Long stems, lacy foliage

Then, one day I looked at the second bed, about eleven by eight feet, with its little flowers and thought I might turn it into a permanent cutting garden bed. The flowers in a cutting garden are chosen because they easily make pretty bouquets. Snapdragons, cosmos, and zinnias are certainly good bouquet flowers. It would be lovely to be able to share my garden by giving friends and family an occasional bouquet.

A cutting garden can make use of perennials, annuals and even herbs in a bouquet. Most gardens have perennials suitable for a bouquet. The question is will there be enough for bouquets and the flower garden. A big question.

The summer perennials that come to my mind are peonies, yarrow, phlox, helenium, gaillardia, dahlias, asters, and black eyed susans who each have their own blooming season. There are also perennials like Lady’s mantle that has gray-green ruffled leaves that make a pretty collar around a bouquet.

I think many of us are familiar with the practice of judiciously cutting back perennials early in the season to create more lush blooms later in the summer. When you prune those perennials cut them carefully and remove most leaves.

Annuals with long stems are best for many bouquets. I am always careful to choose long legged zinnias. To keep annuals blooming through the season I’ve been told that blooming annuals should be cut back once, or even twice a week. This practice will keep new flowers coming.

This regular cutting of flowers to use in bouquets means learning where to make the cut. When you are beginning to harvest annual flowers, the first cut should be made above three or four side shoots. This will generate more strong flowering shoots which will be cut back in their own time. Be careful to cut back stems that are growing towards the center of the plant to keep stems from being overcrowded.

red zinnias

Red zinnias – and annual with long stems. Vibrant color

There are many annuals that can be started by seeds, or seedlings bought at the garden center. Just a few of the annuals for a cutting garden include gomphrena,  phlox, love-lies-bleeding, Mexican sunflower, china asters, nigella, the red flanders poppy, China asters, Shasta daisies and other ‘daisy’ flowers like osteospurmums.

Herbs like rosemary, dill, sage and oregano can also have a place in a bouquet.  Herbs provide pleasant scents and attractive foliage.

Yarrow or achillea

Yarrow – a strong, long stemmed achillea

I’m known for running out to pick a few flowers to stick in a vase and calling it a day. This kind of bouquet will be pretty for a day or two. However, making a bouquet that will last for a few days takes some preparation.

The best time for cutting flowers is early in the morning or in early evening when the flower stems will be full of water.  Use a very clean pail or container with clean lukewarm water. Use a sharp snips or garden clippers to cut flower stems at about the same length so they will not crush each other in the pail.

If a plant has floppy stems I have heard that some gardeners roll the stems in newspaper to hold them erect.  Don’t crowd the flowers in your bucket.  Maybe you’ll need two buckets if you are making a large bouquet.  Also think about whether it is necessary to have a separate container for each flower you are gathering.

The bucket of flowers should be left in a cool place for at least three hours, or overnight.

I have never been very successful using floral foam, but many people swear by the help foam provides. Others like to use a bit of balled up chicken wire to hold the flowers in place.

My cutting garden has not been carefully thought out this year, but it has given me food for thought for next year.

Between the Rows  July 13, 2019

Cocktail Hour in the Garden with a Neighbor and Barbecue

Pat and Henry

My husband Henry and me, toasting our neighbor Wendy and her lush garden.

Gardening in the summer can be hot and dirty. But a reprieve is the reward. It’s time to put away our tools and wash up. It’s time for a tranquil cocktail hour in the garden. Time to sit with a spouse, and time to sit with a friend in the midst of your garden beauty. The ideal place for the cocktail hour is in the shade with birds chirping, and floral fragrances carried by the breeze.

When I was browsing my bookshelves the other day I noticed that I had three books that inspired me to think more about the delights of a cocktail hour.

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

C.L. Fornari

Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

The first book, C.L. Fornari’s book The Cocktail Hour Garden covers just about every aspect of making that hour delicious. She suggests ways of creating evening landscapes for relaxation and entertaining. She describes the way the late afternoon sun provides backlighting through her foliage. That same sun can throw artistic shadows of well placed perennials.

Like all of us she welcomes the birds and butterflies into her garden with feeding and watering places. She also suggests the kinds of flowers that can provide food for them and beauty for you at the same time. Fornari provides great information about the birds and the bees with generous lists and descriptions of appropriate plants like asters, coreopsis, liatris, joe pye weed and more.

She also reminds us that the sound of moving water is soothing and calming. It also attracts the birds. This is perfect music for the end of the day.

If your cocktail hour begins or extends into the night she touches on the white flowers like phlox David, white zinnias, and Star Cluster coreopsis that will add a soft glimmer.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The second book is by Amy Stewart who has written fascinating books about plants. These include Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Perhaps to provide a balance, she also wrote The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. There are recipes for fermented and distilled drinks from margaritas to Moscow Mule, to Blushing Mary.

There are recipes for syrups, infusions and garnishes from prickly pear syrup to limoncello. She even gives a template with suggestions on making up your own cocktails.

Stewart’s book is a delight because she is not just a knowledgeable bar tender. She also knows a lot about botany, the plants that are used in these libations. For example, her recipe for Royal Tannenbaum gets its name because of the pine liqueur that is added to London dry gin with a sprig of rosemary. Did you know there are eight distinct gins, or that there is a liqueur made from the arola stone pine resin? Nor did I.

Stewart is a great researcher.  She talks about many of the plants most commonly used in alcoholic drinks. In addition, she adds historical and medical notes. She includes fascinating bits of information about physicians and scientists who 400 years ago and more discovered and used birch sap in making medicines – and a good addition to ale.

After reading a few pages of The Drunken Botanist you’ll be able to regale your cocktail hour companions with intriguing stories from agave to wormwood.

Harvest by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Finally, the third inspiring book on my shelf  is Harvest: Unexpected projects using 47 extraordinary garden plants by Stefani Bittner and Althea Harampolis. The book, with its beautiful photographs, is arranged by season, spring, summer and fall.

I always have rhubarb in my garden. It has beautiful foliage, and I will need it for my rhubarb-strawberry pie filling. Bittner and Harampolis begin their book with a recipe for rhubarb quick pickles. The pickling liquid includes peppercorns, chilies and apple cider vinegar. It takes only 48 hours to pickle. The ladies suggest it as an addition to a cheese plate. You can also use a piece of rhubarb as a swizzle stick for your drink.

Some recipes use familiar ingredients like poppy seeds, feverfew, oregano, and lemon balm for eating and drinking. Others are for tinctures or other medicines. For instance yarrow flowers and leaves can be transformed, with the help of brandy, into a tincture to be taken by mouth, or on your skin. Tinctures are very strong so only a bit is used at a time.

I thought the recipe for pomegranate margarita would be a good suggestion for the cocktail hour. The pomegranate margarita is a beautiful pink drink that requires tequila and triple sec as well as pomegranate juice. Maybe even some pomegranate seeds.

Of course some of us may have a few aches at the end of a day in the garden. Bittner and Harampolis have the recipe for a colorful calendula infused essential oil for a massage, or for dry skin.

Last week my neighbor Wendy Sibbison invited my husband and me to join her for a cocktail, at the end of the day. She followed up with grilled chicken, homemade bread, and, as it happened, a delicious mango sorbet.  All I had to do was bring the salad. We sipped her special gin and tonic, ate everything on the table, and enjoyed the cooling breeze as we admired her climbing roses and clematis.

Are there garden cocktail hours on your schedule this summer?

Here I am among the delpniniums, peonies and lilies

Between the Rows    July 6, 2019

Desirable Groundcovers Mean Less Weeding

Green and gold groundcover

Green and gold groundcover

We all know that groundcovers cover the ground.  However,the problem is that there are good groundcovers and bad groundcovers. If you are like me you spend a bit of time cursing the weedy plants sneaking over our ground. I have two responses to the problem. Sometimes I weed casually, then put down paper or cardboard topped with bark mulch. Sometimes I cover the ground with good low growing plants that do a good job of holding weeds at bay.


Tiarella – Foam Flower

Actually, there are many blooming ground covers. I have long used foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) that spreads by runners. The flowers are airy racemes on wiry stems and will bloom for about six weeks in the spring.

Barren strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

In addition, I use barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) which is definitely not a strawberry plant. However its shiny dark green foliage is strawberry-like as are the little yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. I’m told they can be up to eight inches high, but the dense mats of foliage in my garden never get that tall. You can use this around walkways because it can tolerate light foot traffic.

Lady's mantle

Alchemilla mollis

However, all sorts of plants can be called ground covers. I use lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) around some of my roses. Lady’s mantle is a lusty low growing perennial with soft frilly light green leaves that can be six inches across. It can reach a height of about 12 inches with flower stalks holding chartreuse blossoms that last most of the summer. It spreads and grows thickly enough to keep out most weeds. And it is very pretty.

Tiarella, Waldsteinia and Alchemilla thrive in full sun or part shade and spread energetically in rich soil.

Primroses (Primulla) produce their pretty flowers in the spring, but their dense foliage does not allow weeds to take hold. Primroses prefer at least some shade, and a moist area. This means they are absolutely perfect for my wet garden.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) covers dry ground happily. It is very attractive in rock gardens. The silver-gray flowers on foot tall stems are thought to look like cat’s feet, but the velvety foliage is dense and flat. It is not only pretty, and good for dry sunny areas, it is poisonous to deer and rabbits. And they know it and avoid it.

Epimediums (sometimes called bishop’s hat) are wonderful groundcovers. They have green and reddish foliage on wiry stems and reach a height of eight to twelve inches. The appeal is their dense growth and the miniature flowers that come in an array of colors and forms in the spring. They welcome sun and shade and prefer a moist site with rich soil. Given good soil they will spread nicely. They should be cut back in the fall.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful epimedium nursery in Phillipston, Massachusetts with hundreds of beautiful varieties.

Chrysogonum virginianum, much better known as green-and-gold, is new to me. The name is self descriptive. There are low green leaves with golden flowers in the spring. They prefer some shade and moisture. Not a problem in Greenfield these last months. I became acquainted with this lovely little plant when it was included in the meadow garden plantings at the John Zon Community Center. It is beautiful right now.

I never thought of Coral bells (Heucheras) as ground covers because of their height. The foliage is often about 10” high, but the flower stalks can be two feet high. Each clump will gain in width, but they do not spread by runners. Groupings of several plants do serve well as ground covers.

Violets are always found in lists of ground covers. Many call them weeds, but there certainly are areas in many gardens where it is easy to give up the fight and let the violets have their way. With strict limits, of course. Violets grow densely and keep out other weeds. In addition violets are the only food to nourish frittilary butterfly larvae.

The list of blooming ground covers is long and includes familiar lamb’s ears, ajuga, , mazus, creeping baby’s breath, hostas, fringed bleeding heart, wintergreen and partridgeberry.

Fringed bleeding heart

Fringed bleeding heart – Dicentra eximia

Obviously, groundcovers come in many forms including shrubs and vines which I will not touch on today. However, I’d like to mention the family of sedums, or stonecrops. I have some edging areas where I have grown sedums. Unfortunately, I have lost their names, if I ever knew them

Many of us are familiar with low growing hen-and-chicks and the taller, more substantial Autumn Joy that blooms in the fall. Those are common sedums but there are countless unique sedums available in nurseries.  Of course, we often have neighbors who are willing to share their ever increasing  sedums. Or we can  buy them at plant sales.

In my own garden I have several sedum varieties, including two low creeping sedums.

Sedum spurium

Sedum spurium

Sedum reflexum has bright golden needle-like leaves that outshines any other sedum in its brilliance. It grows vigorously and the color is an eye-stopper.

Sedum spurium is comprised of creeping succulent florets. My nameless variety is green with a touch of red, but the Dragon’s Blood variety turns rich shades of red in the summer and is popular because of its dramatic presence.

Do you curse the weeds? You might want to add some groundcovers to your plantings.

Between the Rows  June 29, 2019round

A Rose is a Rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose blooms into October

Gertrude Stein said “A Rose is a rose is a rose,” suggesting that “it is what it is”, in modern parlance. However, there is evidence that the rose existed 32 million years ago. Clearly it has changed over those millions of years, first by Mother Nature, and later by explorers, horticulturists and gardeners who found new roses and the magic of hybridizing.

My own view of the rose has changed radically over the years. Early on I had very little experience with roses that were usually upright bushes that the owners were always pruning, and fussing with pesticides. I had no interest in fussing over an uptight bush with poisons in my hand.

When we were preparing to leave New York City for Heath in 1979 I read Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S. White, the wife of E.B. White, one of my favorite authors. Katherine was a great gardener and a wonderful writer as well. Onward and Upward begins with a chapter about the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery, as well as other garden catalogs.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger, a disease resistant rose by Griffith Buck

I immediately sent for my own Roses of Yesterday and Today catalog. Thus began my fantasies of a rose garden on my Heath hill. I wanted these antique roses for their beauty and romance, but they are also practical because they are hardy and resistant to disease. I had no desire to have demanding roses – or any other flower for that matter.

The first rose I planted was Cuisse de Nymph, translated as Nymph’s Thigh, later expanded to Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, although some gardeners were too modest and called her Maiden’s Blush. The Passionate Nymph survived 35 years by our front door, right under the roof where she suffered icy winters with icicles falling on her. I gave her a very fond farewell when we left for Greenfield.

Zaide - Kordes rose

Zaide – a Kordes Rose, disease resistant, long blooming

The Rose Walk began with roses like Rosa glauca, a truly ancient rose with reddish foliage and very small single pink flowers. Even though I eventually had many glamorous roses, most visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing were particularly struck by this tall and unusual rose.

From the Roses of Yesterday and Today I ordered roses that existed before 1799 including the candy striped Camaieux, Belle de Crecy which can take on a mauve tone,  pink Celsiana, and the tall indestructible pink Ispahan.

Later I planted more modern, but still old roses including some that came from China like Madame Isaac Perriere, a bourbon rose that did not bloom quite as extravagantly in Heath as it might have in a gentler climate. It is the China roses that gave hybridists longer blooming roses.

Roses are always being created by hybridization, to bend to fashion, but also to create hardiness. Griffith Buck, who became a professor at Iowa Sate University after WWII, created a family of hardy roses that were also disease resistant. Several of these roses are sold under the heading Earth Kind. One of my favorite Buck roses is Applejack. It bloomed and welcomed us all at the head of our driveway.

Lion's Fairy Tale - Kordes rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale – a Kordes rose

At least 30 years ago Germany forbid the use of poisons in the rose garden. Kordes began to hybridize disease resistant roses like the lush and creamy Polar Express, and pale apricot Lion’s Fairy Tale, which are thriving in my Greenfield garden.

Fashion continues to change what we want in a rose. Nowadays garden nurseries carry hardy Knockout shrub roses in many shades, as well as the new ‘landscape’ roses. These low growing roses have a long bloom season. Sometimes they are called groundcover roses, which gives a clearer idea of the intent of the hybridizer.

Lush David Austin roses are understandably in favor. I enjoyed my years in Heath with the sturdy pink Mary Rose.

Coral Drift rose

Drift Coral rose, a low growing ‘landscape rose.’

In my new garden I have a tough red Knockout, and two low landscape roses, Oso Easy Paprika and a Peach Drift rose.

I only took one rose with me from Heath to Greenfield. This rose was a gift from the Purington family in Colrain. They had given me other roses from their old farm, but the rose I called Purington Pink was always sending out babies. It was easy to dig up and transplant some of those babies in Greenfield, and leave the mother bush to the new owners of our house. Purington Pink is a rose of friendship and could not be left behind.

I did not bring The Fairy with me to Greenfield, but I did buy and plant a new one. This pink polyantha is loaded with sprays of little frilly pink flowers, and she loves Greenfield.

I cannot grow many other roses now because roses do not like wet feet. Our yard is very wet, and floods in winter and spring. The roses I have are planted in the limited dry area.

Local nurseries understandably have a limited selection of roses. I have bought most of my roses from nurseries like Chamblee’s Rose Nursery, Antique Rose Emporium, and Roses of Yesterday and Today.

For those who are interested in roses and want to find hardy disease resistant varieties I want to recommend the book Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski. I met Kukielski a number of years ago when he was the curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. He knows about lush, gorgeous roses!

Between the Rows  June 22, 2019

Garden Conservancy and Open Days for Gardeners

Garden Conservancy Open Days in Petersham

“The mission of the Garden Conservancy is to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public.” That is the simple mission of the Garden Conservancy. In practice, it means providing financial support to protect selected American gardens chosen for their beauty and significance.

There are a number of these beautiful historic gardens not too far from us. Ashintully in Tyringham is the only one in Massachusetts. It is the creation of John McLennan, Jr., a classical musician and composer. He and his wife Katherine spent 30 years designing a garden that includes fountains and bridges, stone stairways, forests and flowers, places to admire panoramic views, and places to sit in the shade of great trees and enjoy the breeze. McLennan gave the Garden Conservancy a large part of the estate before his death in 1996. The gardens are open only Wednesday and Saturday 1-5 PM.

Since I spent part of my young life in Vermont I am very glad that the Garden Conservancy has chosen to support Justin Morrill’s garden in Stafford, Vermont. He served in Congress as a Representative and then as a Senator. He wrote the Morrill Land Grant Acts that were signed by Abraham Lincoln. These acts established federal funding for public colleges in every state. As a graduate of the University of Massachusetts I am very grateful for this gift. There are now 105 other institutions of every flavor including state universities and agricultural colleges.

Morrill (1810-1898) designed his own gardens with serpentine pathways, graceful flower beds and beautiful trees including an orchard.

The historic house is open for tours from May 25 through October 13, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Tours are conducted on the hour. Admission is $6.00. Self guided tours of the garden are free to everyone during open hours.

Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel Reserve – the Japanese Garden

One of the most beautiful landscape gardens I have ever visited, the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is supported by the Garden Conservancy. On 150 acres there are natural woodlands as well as beautifully pruned trees in the Japanese Gardens. Of course, there are also brilliant flower gardens, a quiet reflecting pool and green vistas.  My whole experience was of serenity, beauty, mist and rain.

Of course with a substantial list of beautiful gardens financially supported by the Garden Conservancy the question is how do they do it?


Garden Conservancy Open Days – Hellebores

The answer is finding skilled and congenial gardeners, asking them to open their gardens for one day. The Garden Conservancy website includes information about all of this year’s Open Days gardens organized by state and month. Usually several gardens in a single area will be listed together. You can enjoy a whole day of visiting a variety of unique gardens.

Rorer and Buell Gardens

Garden Conservancy

Buell Rock Garden and Greenhouse for succulents

Last weekend I visited two Open Days gardens in Petersham. I went to the Rorer and Buell Garden first. It has a welcoming garden in front of the house. Here are shades of green  hostas, primroses, epimediums, and even a climbing  hydrangea scrambling up a majestic tree.

Around the house were rock gardens, and stone troughs. The family makes good use of all our New England stone. In addition there were flower beds, lots of peonies, and vegetable beds. Blueberry bushes, too. No one at the Buell house is going to go hungry.

A wide path was mown across and around the meadow. The invitation is to a hill crowned with large stones and a tranquil view. There was a stone bench that allowed you to ponder the woodlands in one direction, or take in the serenity of the mown fields in the other direction.

When I strolled back to the house, I stopped to peek into the attached substantial low greenhouse. It was filled with all manner of succulents.

The Lockhart and O’Donnell Garden

Koi Pond

Koi Pond in the Lockhart Garden

The Bruce Lockhart and Helen O’Donnell garden is only about five minutes away. The approach is through the woods. I knew I had arrived when I saw the lush hedge of hobblebush viburnam at the edge of the road. These viburnams were the backdrop of the shady, graceful Woodland Walk . Here blooms columbine, hellebores, bloodroot, hostas, foam flowers and peonies.

In comparison, other flower beds were planted in geometric squares. One of those squares was a comfortable gazebo that looked over a koi pond. There are fields and woodlands beyond as  well as an orchard complete with bee hives.

We are always learning when we visit other gardens. The Lockhart garden tour included a Digging Deeper talk. Lockhart explained that after a new septic field was installed he was left with a little hill. His response was to plant that hill with all manner of pollinator plants and grasses to create a Meadow Garden with mown paths for strolling through it. Not everything on his planting list was in bloom. We saw camassia, alliums, and grasses. The goldenrod, liatris, perovskia, veronicas, salvias, and coneflowers will come into bloom later.

Log on to for information about Open Days which continue into the fall.

Between the Rows   June 15, 2019

Woodslawn Farm and National Dairy Month

Woodslawn Farm cows in the meadow

Woodslawn Farm cows in the meadow

June is National Dairy Month. I could not think of a better person to celebrate it with than Bob Purington. Purington is the eighth child of the late Herb Purington and his wife Barbara. He is also a member of the seventh generation to tend the Woodslawn Farm, founded in 1784 in Colrain. This 385 acre landscape includes woodlots, fields for corn and hay, and pasturage for about 75 cows, each one with a name.  For over 200 years Purington’s family has provided milk for for the community – and beyond.

Woodslawn Farm contented cows

Woodslawn Farm contented cows in the free movement barn

I visited Purington in early May when the cows were not yet able to go out to pasture. He gave me a tour of the barns. I could see things had changed a lot since I helped feed my Vermont uncle’s cows back in 1950. First of all there is no barn for the milking cows. At least, not as I know barns which included four walls, windows and doors. Woodslawn Farm cows have a free-movement barn. They are not locked in stanchions during the day; they can walk around, snack on their feed, and take a nap on nice bedding. This open air barn is their home summer and winter. Their metabolism and heavy coat keeps them warm enough as long as they are protected from winter winds.

The old barn, the kind I was familiar with, still exists and shelters pregnant cows towards the end of their time, as well as the young calves. It also houses the 5000 bales of hay that will help get the cows through a long winter.

There are no heavy milking cans to lug around in this modern set up. Purington said his progressive father installed a new type of equipment in the 1960. He took me to the milk house which is a large separate room with several milking machines. Six stations make it possible to milk six cows at a time. The cows walk in and take their place at a station, wait patiently for the milking machines to be attached. The milk runs through hoses and is sent to the milk tank. Then the cow strolls off and other cows take her place. Needless to say the farmer is still very busy hooking and un-hooking the cow and making sure the milk is properly being pumped into the tank.

Cows are milked in early morning and early evening. It takes about two hours to feed and milk, and clean up each time. Cows now produce more milk than they did in 1950s due to genetic improvements as well as changes in their diet. We have all seen those large white bundles at the edge of hayfields. This is haylage, made of high moisture grass that is very nutritious, a part the cows diet in season.

I admired the pregnant cows, and the very young calves in the barn. Calving goes on all year long. All cows get the services of a person who performs artificial insemination.

Bob Purington and the free movement cow barn

Herb Purington had the help of seven sons and five daughters during his decades of farming, and of course, his wife. Bob Purington has five children, and of course, his wife Joyce at his side. One son lives on the west coast, but two sons and two daughters live nearby, with seven grandchildren. It is his son-in-law, George Gutierrez, married to his daughter Alison, who works everyday with Bob. However, everyone joins in when there is work to do. Farming requires more work than most of us consider when we are buying our gallons of milk.

The day we spoke Bob was busy checking and fixing the fences. The cows are allowed to leave the barn during the day as soon as the grass is tall enough. Purington has about a dozen different pastures for rotational grazing. This means moving the PVC plastic stakes and fencing around.  “Our fences along the road are made of wood because that looks nicer, Purington told me. I thought that was sweet gift to those who drove past.

The cows are now out in the fields. Purington said they are so happy to get out onto pasture. They romp and kick up their heels, so happy with fresh feed and more room to roam.

Feeding the cows requires many fields for hay and corn. There is 70 acres manured and given over to corn for silage because those fields are too wet for pasture.

“When we were kids we only got two hay cuttings. Now we get three cuttings and even four on some fields,” Purington said. “We usually plant corn before hay, planting around May 15. We’ve been using a no-till planter for about 15 years. It not only conserves CO2 it doesn’t dig up all the stones. A big improvement over using a moldboard plow. “The harvested corn will turn into silage.

“Once the corn is planted it is time for the first hay cutting which will be completed by July 4. This chopped hay will go into the silo. Then we start all over. The second and third cuttings will go in the square bales and put in the barn. Often there is a fourth growth and we put the cows out to pasture on that field. Cows can often be out on pasture into November,” Purington said.

When I asked Purington what his favorite job on the farm was he hesitated. Finally he said, “I enjoy the work of every season. I enjoy putting up the fences, and putting the cows out in the spring. What is important is keeping this a farm, and keeping the land open.

When I think about the family energy and work input on a farm I think a single celebratory month a year is a modest thank you. I am glad to be reminded of how much we owe our farmers.  After all, no farmers, no farm, no future.  Thank you, Bob!

Between the Rows   June 8, 2019

Friends of the Forbes Library Garden Tour – June 8, 2019

flamingos marching

Flamingos marching and wandering

The Friends of the Forbes Library Garden Tour ushers in the garden tour season in our part of the world. The seven gardens on this year’s tour (I’m counting four neighboring community garden plots as one garden) offer many different styles and features that make each garden unique.

I cannot say that I was surprised by the number of gardens that are filled with plants that will support our pollinators, from the bees and bats to butterflies and birds. We are all learning that we are in need of protecting and supporting those creatures which have been declining in numbers. Also, I am just now beginning to understand the many ways that plants are pollinated and the interrelatedness of plants and creatures.

This year’s Forbes Library Garden Tour will feature gardens with wonderful and unusual trees, collections of sculptures, secret paths, vegetable gardens, and delicious places to sit and share a meal. Styles range from English cottage gardens to woodland gardens. There is inspiration for everyone.

I was delighted to visit Steve and Harriet Rogers’ garden and had to laugh as I drove up and saw the pink flamingos marching around the house and garden. One flamingo even managed to get herself ensconced in the peach tree. She wasn’t alone. Other unexpected creatures managed to find a tree hugging spot as well.


Just how did this flamingo fly into the peach tree?

I walked to the back of the garden towards \ a beautiful sun sculpture created by Al Davies on the garage wall, sharing space with a large and lush rhododendron. Fortunately that rhodie did not suffer any of the winter kill that damaged so many.

Sun sculpture by Al Davies

Sun sculpture by Al Davies, fabulous rhodie, and whimsical settee

Harriet invited me to sit with her in a whimsical metal settee in the shade of a silver birch. This is the Sun Garden on a rectangular plot between the Rogers’ house and their neighbors’ driveway. We had a good view of most the garden with its edibles and fancies.  I was immediately taken by the fruit trees, two apples and a peach tree. They were artfully pruned and I thought very sculptural. Harriet said the trees are very productive and they use most of the fruit themselves. She has a system for slicing apples and drying them overnight. She also uses a juicer to make cider.

As we sat looking at the trees, the planting beds and the planting containers I soon became able to pick out the sculptures of suns, birds, a dog and other less definable constructions. Steve is a metalsmith. His work, along with other artists including Tom Torrens, Pat Simon, Bob Woo, and many others working in a variety of media, is on display in this amazing garden. Steve will have more work on display the day of the Tour, including his paintings.

Harriet told me there wasn’t a lot of planning involved in their garden. There are strawberries and blueberries. The raspberries share space with the peas. Broccoli and peppers grow in containers. I was fascinated by the arrangement of a container set on top of another shiny (and slippery) container. “This arrangement is very important. The skunks and other creatures can’t climb up the slippery container to get inside the planted container,” Harriet said. In another area were radishes, bush beans, tomatoes, squash, and an arugula that seeds itself every year.

I was enchanted by the Tea Garden, filled with flowers. Now daffodils and tulips are in season, but it was the addition of tea pots and tea cups, sometimes on view and sometimes tucked away among the flowers, that gave it a special charm.

Tea pot in a tea garden. What did you expect?

The narrow garden on the other side of the house is the Shade Garden. Harriet’s mother passed away recently and Harriet brought many of her mother’s plants to the Shade Garden. Here in the quiet and cool, she pointed out lilies of the valley, columbine, trillium, and hellebores. This garden holds memories as well as the delights of the spring garden.

The value and joy of the garden tours that will be held over the summer, in many communities, is the pleasure of talking to creative and knowledgeable gardeners who happily share their creativity and knowledge. It is all very well to read and learn from beautifully illustrated garden books, but there is nothing like seeing unusual plants, new- to-you arrangements, and picking up tips like putting a plant container on top of another slippery container. I would never have thought of that by myself.

Steve and harriet

Steve and Harriet at the end of a gardening day

The 26th Forbes Library Garden Tour is scheduled for Saturday, June 8, 2019 from 10 am – 3 pm. Rain or Shine! Tickets are available in advance: $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscapes & Garden Center and State Street Fruit Store.
Day of the tour: $20 at Forbes Library only.

Raffle display and tickets for sale at Forbes Library until June 8 and on the day of the tour, at one of the gardens. Raffle items include compost, gift certificates, landscape consultation & gardening supplies. Raffle: 2 tickets/$5, 5 tickets/$10, or 12 ticket/$20.  All proceeds fund books, equipment, and programs for Forbes Library

Book Reviews – “Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal”

“Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal,” said John Muir known as the father of national parks. The three books I’ve written about this week surely prove the truth of his words.Three book reviews follow.

Attracting Birds, Butterflies and other Backyard Wildlife

Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife

Every day, in the newspaper or on the evening TV news, there seems to be a story about the continuing extinction of one million creatures and plants. The United Nations just released a report about nature’s dangerous decline and the unprecedented species extinction rates that are accelerating. It is hard to comprehend what this means to us. It’s hard to worry so much. After all, didn’t The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe begin with “Don’t Panic.”

And yet. And yet the Guide talks about the ‘interconnectedness of all things.’ There is proof that our declining biodiversity is dangerous for all of us humans. Is there anything we can do in our small part of the world? My own answer has to be yes.  And the National Wildlife Federation’s new book, Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and other Backyard Wildlife by David Mizejewski (24.99) tells us some of the things we can do to protect our environment.

Here in Greenfield we have been talking a lot about supporting pollinators which includes many species from bees, butterflies, many other insects like hoverflies, and wasps, as well as birds and bats. Mazejewski’s book provides us with information to support all the creatures in our area. He can teach us how to “act locally” as we “think globally.”

Mizjewski begins by telling us how to begin, and goes on to explain the food web, the importance of water in the garden for creatures, how to provide cover for creatures so they can hide from predators, and providing places for birds to raise their young. The importance of using native plants is stressed.

There is a great list of nectar plants for pollinators (which will also provide pollen) including butterflies. I appreciated the information about bird feed which includes grapefruit and orange slices that can hang on trees.

           Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds

Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds

As a former librarian I love and recognize the necessity for libraries, including little free libraries. My Texas grandson’s Eagle Scout project was designing and overseeing the building of a little free library several years ago. He was at the forefront of starting this delightful and generous way of sharing books while creating a charming landscape element. Little Free Libraries and Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build by Philip Schmidt and the Little Free Library (Cool Springs Press $24.99) will give you instructions on making your own Little Free Library.

Tod H. Boll, the founder of the Little Free Library Foundation, built the first little free library in memory of his mother, a lifelong reader and educator. He built that first little free library and was amazed at the way his neighbors who stopped to look at the books enjoyed conversations with their neighbors in ways they had not before. That was the beginning of his idea, an idea that became a plan to inspire literacy and community.  After he gave away 30 little free libraries in 2010 the idea began to grow. There are now more than 75,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. Some of them are in Greenfield!

Some owners of the little free libraries used them for books, sometimes concentrating on children’s books so to encourage children to read. Some added seed packets to share, or non-perishable food for those who might be in need. Owners have found many ways to build and decorate these little structures.

The book gives detailed lists of equipment and materials needed, and clear construction information. Each one is unique. Some simple and elegant, some brilliant and colorful. Needless to say my attention was captured by the Flower Box. The idea of blooming flowers above a collection of books that might encourage the blooming of ideas of the readers was very appealing. My only quibble is that the actual flower box element was not deep enough, but it is easily altered to give plant roots more room.

The Gardener Says


The Gardener Says

 The Gardener Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom ($15.95) compiled and edited by Nina Pick makes it clear that working in the garden is not simply labor. It is a place to find happiness. At least that is what John Muir, the father of national parks must have been thinking when he said “Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal.”

The poet Walt Whitman was a very down to earth poet. He spoke with exuberance. “Behold this compost! Behold it well!” That is certainly what I do when I get another load of compost for my Greenfield garden. Karel Capek, Hungarian author, gardener and humorist is of a similar mind. He said “If a gardener were to go to the garden of Eden he would sniff intoxicatedly and say, ‘There’s humus here, by God!’”

We don’t always know where we are going or what we are doing in the garden. Mirabel Osler , English author and garden designer said, “It is no doubt that gardening sparks off harebrained ideas.”  Ask my husband. He’ll concur. Canadian author Margaret Atwood simply said, “Gardening is not a rational activity.”

The Gardener Says is a gift that will amuse and delight anyone on your list. You’ll enjoy it too.###

How Seeds of Solidarity Began and Three Forms of No-Till Farming

Seeds of Solidarity Farm

One of the Garlic Fields at Seeds of Solidarity Farm

In 1996 Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib got the biggest Christmas present they might ever receive. On December 28 they officially became the owners of a piece of rocky land in Orange. They were about to plant their own farm.

I first met Baruch and Habib in early May of 2009 when I visited Seeds of Solidarity farm. Even though they had been farming for 13 years the land still looked rough and rocky. However, they had built six greenhouses for a variety of greens that they sold, planted a field of garlic, and built a house. It was the field of garlic that especially amazed me. Garlic shoots were coming up through rotting cardboard and hay mulch.

Baruch and Habib have always been concerned about the environment and determined to live as lightly on the land as possible. Farming with cardboard is their answer. They do not plow or use other machinery to prepare the poor soil on their land. They get lots of large pieces of cardboard from a local furniture store, then cover the cardboard with six inches of rich compost from Diemand Farm. Garlic cloves are planted and covered with mulch hay in October.  Spring brings the beginnings of healthy growth.

Greenhouses use cardboard too

Greenhouses make early greens possible for sale

Cardboard was the beginning of their no-till farming. I had understood no-till farming to mean leaving the crop residues on a harvested field over the winter. In the spring that field would not be plowed. Seeds would be planted right in the soil covered with decaying plants. On my recent visit to Seeds of Solidarity Farm I stopped to admire sprouting garlic in the mulched field. But there were also field sections of what seemed to be a cover crop, another section was covered with a huge tarpaulin, and still another section was covered with mulch hay. I did not understand what I was looking at. I was about to get a lesson in no-till farming.

“There are three techniques for no-till gardening. There is the cardboard technique, the tarps technique, and the cover crop technique. They all build organic matter, promote beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi, reduce weeds, and conserve water and labor,” Baruch said. He went on to explain that one way he handled his cover crop was to ‘crimp’ the plants with a rake. This means he will kill the plants at the root. The plants just lie down and then he plants through the cover crop into the soil using a dibble, a little wooden tool for garlic seed planting.

Ricky Baruch

Ricky Baruch showing off the rich soil beneath hay mulch

He also explained that the large tarp covering a part of the field is a ‘silage tarp’ the name for a really heavy duty tarp that covers the cover crop or weeds. The tarp creates a warm moist environment that kills weeds in three or four weeks giving the farmer a clean planting bed. This technique is also called occultation because it makes use of the dark environment. While the tarp is killing weeds, the warmth it creates is making it possible for worms and other organisms to break down that organic matter.

Baruch explained that these no-till techniques cut down on cultivating chores. “This way we are working with nature, not fighting it. We have to think about what we are doing, and why we are doing it. This way we have a closer relationship with the earth, and that is what I want.”

Habib pointed out that what they want to do is make good food available to everyone whether they have land or containers. “The only tools Ricky has could pretty much fit in a five gallon bucket. Plus his wheelbarrow and shovel, of course,”

Seeds of Solidarity signs

Inspiring signs are everywhere

As the three of us walked down the hill to the greenhouses filled with salad greens we passed different shrines. These have been built by the Seeds of Leadership (SOL) program for teens, or interns, or others. Many colorfully painted signs quote great people of the past. The intention is always to teach and inspire,” Habib said.

Seeds of Solidarity Farm has become much more than a farm. They created the Seeds of Solidarity non-profit. Habib is the one who writes the grants to fund farm-to-school programs as well as other projects. The two of them work with Greenfield Community College and teach a one credit course in gardening at the Franklin County Jail several times a year. The amount of their community work is amazing. Happily they have just written an inspiring and delightful book, Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose which you can order on-line through Levellers Press( or you can buy a hard copy. Wonderful stories and photographs.

Making Love While Farming

Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose

On Saturday May 25 you can also visit Seeds for Solidarity Farm for a free tour from 10-11:30 am, and bring a lunch if you wish. In the afternoon there is a No-Till for Life Workshop. Ricky will teach regenerative, soil building techniques for low maintenance, highly productive gardens. “Treating the soil as sacred results in nourishing food, mitigates impacts of climate change, and inspires a deeper relationship with that which sustains life.” $35-$50 sliding scale fee. Please email to register.

A final note: Baruch and Habib are among the founders of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival which will be held on September 28 and 29 this year.

Between the Rows   May 18, 2019

MAY 25, 2019 is also the day of the Greenfield Garden Club Extravaganza Plant Sale at  the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street in Greenfield from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm. Plants Large and Small for every garden.

Greenfield Garden Club – Lots to Love and Work For

Greenfield Garden Club

Greenfield Garden Club reinvigorated and taking on new tasks

When asked what they loved about the Greenfield Garden Club, the gardeners who attended the Annual Meeting at the John Zon Community Center last month had a lot of answers. They called out that they loved meeting other gardeners, learning from other gardeners, sharing plants, socializing and going on trips together. Club members liked learning more about the environment and how our gardens benefit the environment. They also loved giving gardening grants to local schools, and making the community more beautiful. They loved the wreath making workshop in November and the December holiday party.

It was clear that there is a lot to love about the Greenfield Garden Club in this iteration. They did not want the club to disband. We thanked Phyllis Labanowski for helping us remember what we love about the garden club and what we want to keep.

At the meeting last month we acknowledged that it is impossible for a very few club members to handle and organize all the business of the club. At the Annual Meeting on March 17 we were ready to sign up and spread responsibilities. Although change cannot be brought about with one meeting, everyone acknowledges that it is important for members to share responsibilities, and ideas.

Last week Laura Schlaikjer and I met to talk about upcoming plans. Schlaikjer, past and newly re-elected president, said she vividly remembers the first annual meeting she attended because she won the table centerpiece. That was the first time she had received such a treat. Somehow that joy transformed her from a simple member to being the treasurer. Eventually, following in the footsteps of Margareta Athey, Jan McGuane (as she was then), Richard Willard, McGuane again, and Deb Brocklesby, Schlaikjer accepted the presidency.

At the Annual Meeting we once again chose Schlaikjer as president, but this year we are going to be more helpful. Our first big event, in our newly reinvigorated club is the Extravaganza which will be held on May 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. at the John Zon Community Center. This is always a great event that gives us all a chance to share plant divisions and make some money for the club.

Those who are not members of the club may not be aware that most of the money raised each year goes to fund the grants we give to schools for their school gardens. Members know the garden is a wonderful place to learn about science and beauty. We want to encourage children to learn how to observe the growth of plants, and the delicious flavors of fresh vegetables.

I have served on the grant committee and learned how carefully the members consider the educational and health benefits of the items that teachers request for their students and gardens. It is always an enjoyable meeting, held in Taylor’s Tavern with a nice dinner (we all pay for our own meal) and talk about gardens and plants – as well as deliberating over the grant requests.

It has always been a goal of the Greenfield Garden Club to do what it can to beautify the community. This year, once again, the Garden Club will plant several barrels with colorful plants to place on Main Street where store owners will take responsibility to care for them.airy

Greenfield Garden Club Fairy House Exhibit

Fairy House Display at the FC Fair – appealed to the judges and to the children

The Franklin County Fair has welcomed the exhibits the Garden Club creates at the back door of the Roundhouse. Recently, the Fairy Houses display won First Prize, Best in Show and the Cushman award. “We always have so much fun putting these exhibits together, and are always thinking of ways to interest children,” Schlaikjer said.

I think it is easy to see a thousand enjoyable ways to work with club members on a project without feeling overburdened.

Members and potential new members can turn to the Garden Club website to see dates of meetings and other upcoming events. On May 16, in lieu of a regular meeting, club members will visit the Bridge of Flowers and talk to Bridge volunteers about the flowers and how the Bridge is managed. In June club members will take a tour of Just Roots, its fields and community gardens. This non-profit organization, beginning its seventh year, is devoted to making healthy food available to all.

The July meeting will be a pot-luck dinner at the home of Marsha Stone and Norm Hirschfeld. Besides sharing good food and fun, the club will vote on our new by-laws. New members, and others interested in joining the Garden Club are welcome to come to a meeting and sign up. Check out the website.

We may also start talking about a 2020 garden tour. You do not have to be a member to have your garden included on the tour. I know I am already thinking about how I can perk up my garden this year and make it neater, as well as more colorful or more peaceful or more productive or more . . . I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I am hoping I might be chosen for the tour. The Club’s garden tours are always enjoyable, instructive, and encouraging. Wouldn’t you like to show your garden?

The reinvigorated Greenfield Garden Club is ready for the Extravaganza Plant sale May 25 at the John Zon Community Center at the corner of Pleasant and Davis Streets at 8:30 am – 12:30 pm. Hope to see you there.

Between the Rows    May 11, 2019