Homegrown Herb Garden
Herbs. Some people like herb gardens because they are so practical, others like the romance of herbs. All new herb gardeners will find that they are about the easiest gardens to tend. Herbs are not fussy plants.
Lisa Baker Morgan and Ann McCormick belong to the practical school. Their book Homegrown Herb Garden: A Guide to Growing and Culinary Uses (Quarry Books $24.99) gives information about growing 15 flavorful herbs, and then delicious recipes using each of the 15.
These 15 herbs range from the familiar basil and Italian parsley to the more exotic bay laurel and lemongrass. They include fashionable herbs like cilantro and chervil which were never in any cookbook I owned in1960.
Morgan and McCormick give basic growing information for all herbs which is basically a site in the sun, and soil with good drainage. Herbs will not need much in the way of fertilizer if you give them ordinarily fertile garden soil, but you will need to fertilize herbs planted in containers. You will also need to give potted plants sufficient water.
Growing culinary herbs is only half the job. Once you have these plants producing prolifically you will need to know how to harvest and preserve them. We are all familiar with jars of dried herbs in the store, or bunches tied prettily with ribbon hanging from the rafters in a colonial home. But how do you know which of the many varieties to grow, when to harvest, how best to dry, how best to store. The Homegrown Herb Garden has all the answers which vary with each herb.
Drying herbs is one way method of preservation. Freezing is another. Morgan and McCormick suggest one way of freezing basil or cilantro or other herbs that you plan to use in a sauce or soup is to puree the fresh leaves with a bit of water and then put the puree in ice cube trays and freeze. You can then put these frozen herb cubes in plastic freezer bags and pull out one or two when you need them.
I have my own method for preserving parsley which is often called for in soup or sauce recipes. I grow a lot of Italian, flat leaf, parsley. It makes a nice border for the herb garden in front of my house and saves me a lot of money when I consider how many $1.99 bunches of parsley I would buy over the season. With the arrival of September I start to harvest bunches of parsley and remove the heavier stems, then I lay a good amount on a piece of waxed paper and roll it up like a cigarette. I will put three or four parsley rolls in a freezer bag and freeze them When a recipe calls for parsley I just cut off as much of a parsley roll as needed.
A look at the recipes included will make this valuable as a cookbook as well. Kabocha and Coconut Soup with Thai basil, and Venetian Seafood en Papillote with garlic, shallots, basil, chives, bay leaves and dill sound particularly yummy.
Herb Lovers Spa Book
In The Herb Lover’s Spa Book: Create a Luxury Spa Experience at Home With Fragrant Herbs from Your Garden Sue Goetz comes at herbs from a different direction. She takes 19 common herbs from Aloe vera to witch hazel and with the help of beeswax, alcohol, salt and vinegar turns their sap, foliage, and flowers into facial steam, bathing potions, herbal teas, herbal scrubs, healing ointments and more. What do you need? Invigoration? Soothing? Healing? Your herb garden can provide all of these.
Goetz begins with the design of your garden which will very well include more than herbs. How do you want to arrange plants and spaces to give you a retreat where you can refresh yourself? We gardeners know that our time in the garden is about more than the plants. There is sun and shade, fragrance, birdsong, and maybe the sound of trickling water.
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as mints, are not only culinary herbs (and a popular song) they are also the basis, singly and in combination, for tub teas, foot scrubs, aftershave, and other spa potions.
For Goetz the rose is an herb and it certainly is used in many lotions and balms. The rose water that is used in some recipes is not difficult to make. Count on me to make my own this summer. My rugosa roses are fragrant and perfect for this project.
I’ve sometimes looked longingly in stores at clear spray bottles with fancy labels for water to spray on linens when you iron them. To me they speak of an organized life with old fashioned amenities. I have never bought them of course, but with Goetz’s help I realized I can make these myself very easily. Sometimes I am amazed that I don’t instantly see the obvious.
I have had an herb garden for many years. I always laugh when I see photos of neat geometric herb gardens that look nothing like mine. My herbs have been more rowdy than neat and I love them for their energy and their willingness to be undemanding while giving me savor in my kitchen, fresh fragrance in my linen closet, and lots and lots of pollinators in the garden.
If you are a new gardener an herb garden will satisfy you with the success the common herbs will give you, and if you are an experienced gardener Goetz, Morgan and McCormick will show how to grow more exotics like lemongrass and new delicious and soothing ways to use them.
My herb garden in front of the house
Between the Rows March 21, 2015
Peter Kukielski, author of Roses Without Chemicals
Peter Kukielski knows how to grow roses without chemicals and I have learned a little about disease resistant roses over the past 30 years. One thing I love about our Annual Rose Viewing is the chance to tell visitors that you do not need an arsenal of chemicals to grow healthy, beautiful roses. I did not always know this. My rose education began when we moved to Heath in 1979. In my admiration for Katherine White, wife of the brilliant writer E.B. White, and her book Onward and Upward in the Garden, I determined that I too would grow romantic old-fashioned roses in my country garden from the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery in California.
The very first rose I planted was Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, sometimes called Cuisse de Nymph, La Seduisante or Maiden’s Blush. This is an old alba rose, a fragrant blush pink rose with slightly blue green foliage and much hardier than you might expect from her name. I came to think that Passionate Nymphs must have a lot of stamina.
The Passionate Nymph is nearly buried right now, but I think she likes the snow and prefers to be blanketed and thus protected from the terrible frigid temperatures of February.
Other hardy alba roses line the Rose Walk, Celestial, Felicite Parmentier, Queen of Denmark, Madame Plantier, and Semi-plena, as well as damasks, rugosas, hardy Griffith Buck roses and nameless farm girl roses. Many of these are fragrant and all have healthy foliage without any help from me. Early hybridizers put fragrance and disease resistance high on their list of vital attributes. What those roses don’t have is a long bloom season. Thus the Annual Rose Viewing is scheduled for the last Sunday in June when, for a brief period, all the roses are in bloom.
Happily for rose lovers, and organic gardeners who never considered growing roses, dozens of new disease resistant roses have been hybridized that also have a long bloom period. It was Peter Kukielski, former Curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden, who first introduced me to the lush First Crush and Cinderella and other hybrids created by the German Kordes company. It was over 20 years ago that the German government outlawed the kinds of poisons that rose growers routinely used. This set the Kordes hybridizers to creating beautiful disease resistant roses with a long bloom season.
Now other hybridizers have hopped on the band wagon. I was a little dubious about roses groups with names like Oso Easy, but these are also roses bred with disease resistance. Drift roses are another family of small shrubby disease resistant rose in shades of peach, pink, coral and red.
Kukielski also introduced me to Earth Kind roses. Again I thought the name was a marketing gimmick, but no, these are old roses tested and classified by Texas A&M to be disease resistant. Red Knock Out, New Dawn and The Fairy are familiar roses that claim the Earth Kind label.
When I spoke to Kukielski recently I asked why the list of Earth Kind roses hadn’t grown any longer. He assured me I shouldn’t have to wait too much longer. In the meantime I can watch the rose trial gardens set up at NaugatuckValleyCommunity College in Connecticut, Cornell University, and at the Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine where Kukielski lives and is now leading the northeast rose trials as part of the Earth Kind Team. He is also Executive Director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (ARTS) which will soon have a website up and running. He has his own new website the millennial rose garden.
Roses Without Chemicals
Right now you can get Kukielski’s new book, Roses Without Chemicals: 150 Disease Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses (Timber Press $19.95)
Kukielski wants unhappy or potential rose gardeners to know that failure in the rose garden is not their fault, it is (often) the fault of the rose’s genes. However, he does say that there are things you are responsible for.
Roses need a good site that has at least six hours of sun a day.
Roses need a good soil, with a pH between 5.5-7, enriched with compost and a layer of mulch.
Roses need consistent water especially for the first year or two after planting. However the soil must drain well or the roots will rot.
Roses need annual helpings of compost and an organic fertilizer like Rose-Tone, as well as a renewed layer of mulch.
Gardeners are familiar with hybrid vegetable seeds with disease resistance. New varieties are always being developed to resist various rots, mildews, fusarium and blights. This makes success more sure for the vegetable gardener. Now rose lovers can look for roses with genetic disease resistance and a long bloom period. Red Knock Out Roses have gotten a lot of publicity but some of Kukielski’s favorites are Drift landscape roses in Pink, Peach and Coral, Oso Easy Cherry Pie, Julia Child yellow rose and three Kordes hybrids: KOSMOS (pale creamy peach), Cinderella (pink) and Brothers Grimm (orange). That is just the beginning. More easy care, disease resistant roses are on their way.
I will be giving a talk about the sustainable rose at the Western Mass Master Gardener Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 21 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. I will also be selling my book The Roses at the End of the Road. For full information about the Symposium go to www.wmmga.org. Hope to see you there.
The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose
Between the Rows March 14, 2015
Master Gardener garden plot
Creating Your Own Eden is the name of this year’s fact and delight loaded Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 21 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. I can imagine a garden Eden where all the trees welcome insects to take a modest banquet from their leaves, where birds eat some of those insects, where weeds and flowers grow to provide food for caterpillars, some of which also get eaten, and where butterflies tour different flowers to gorge on nectar. Eden is a beautiful and sustainable garden.
Some of us already are sensitive to the dangers of pesticides and herbicides in our garden. Some of us are trying to do away with our lawns in order to add plants that support the insects, birds and butterflies that add so much beauty to the Eden that we all try to make of our garden. And yet, it can be so confusing. There is so much information. How will we take in all that information so we can use it?
The annual Master Gardener Spring Symposium is the perfect place to get information and have questions answered.
Keynote speaker Kim Eierman is not only a Master Gardener herself, she is a Master Naturalist, and operates EcoBeneficial, her consulting firm that supports the use of native plants and the creation of sustainable landscapes. I will be prepared to take notes when she speaks about EcoBeneficial Gardening: Going Beyond Sustainability, but I have already looked at her website,EcoBeneficial and found information that is clear and specific. For example, most of us do not have a large plot of land so while it is good to know that native oaks support over 500 types of insects and birds, we may not have the space for an oak tree.
The next best tree is the black cherry, Prunus serotina, which offers nectar and pollen to native pollinators and honey bees. The small red or black fruits are a favorite food of more than 40 species of birds and many mammals. It also serves as a host plant for over 450 species of moths and butterflies.
Master Gardeners growing food for the hungry
In addition to Eierman’s Keynote speech, an array of workshops is being offered. Morning sessions range from how to sharpen tools, to native shrubs for the garden, how to make a rustic twig trellis and more. In the afternoon Eierman will speak again, this time about Replacing the GreenDesert; – Native Turf Alternatives. Other afternoon sessions include how to make nutrient dense soil, attract pollinators and make lacto-fermented vegetables.
I will be giving an illustrated talk about sustainable roses in the afternoon. I have been growing pesticide and herbicide free roses on my Heath hill for over 30 years. When visitors come to the Annual Rose Viewing in June many of them ask how I grow roses with such clean foliage, and what they should do about the various problems their roses suffer. I am really no help at all in this area, because by chance, and sometimes by design, my roses don’t have disease problems. The fate of the sustainable rose is not in our hands, it is in the genes of the particular rose. I am happy to pass on the news that a new book, Roses Without Chemicals, by Peter Kukielski is now available. I met Kukielski when he was curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden, but he is now a part of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability. He is the king of sustainable roses.
A keynote speaker and workshops are not enough to prepare for spring. Vendors and book sellers will be on hand. My book, The Roses at the End of the Road, will be on sale for the event as well.
Registration forms are online and can be downloaded, then mailed in. The form lists all the workshop sessions so you can take your pick. The earlier you mail in your form, the better chance you have of getting your preferred programs. You can also order lunch if you wish. Questions? Email email@example.com and Lucy Alman will have the answers.
Between the Rows March 7, 2015
Bill Benner, veterinarian, birder, and butterfly gardener, is a man with many strings to his bow, but they all play tunes of the natural world and its fragility. He will be talking about the natural world, climate change and the impact it has on our own part of Massachusetts at GreenfieldCommunity College’s Senior Symposium on Tuesday, March 10 from 2-4 pm.
As a young man Benner attended CornellUniversity because of their ornithology lab. “I just wanted to study birds,” he said. As part of his research he was working with a captive flock of birds that required occasional help from a veterinarian. As he was drawing close to finishing his Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with the idea of going on to earn a PhD he realized that he was not looking forward to a purely academic career. His consulting veterinarian suggested that he could take his love of birds and turn it into a veterinary career.
And so he has become a vet with a practice in South Hadley, a practice that includes birds and other ‘exotics,’ like rabbits, snakes and rodents. However, his interest in the broader aspects of the natural world has not been diminished, but rather has grown. As well as meeting animals in his practice, he goes out into the local wildernesses. When he moved to our area in the mid-1990s he became interested in butterflies and served for a time as president of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club. He is the current editor of the journal Massachusetts Butterflies, and an active member of the Hampshire Bird Club.
Great Spangled Fritillary on black eyed susan
Benner was clearly the man to give me advice about making a butterfly garden. I have the same problem identifying butterflies as I do with identifying birds – my eyes are just not fast enough to discern detail of beak, or patterns on wings. However, I want butterflies in my garden so I am delighted to watch them visiting the herbs right in front of the house and think that I (probably) have some fritillaries or pearl crescents.
Benner explained that a butterfly garden needs more than nectar plants to attract butterflies. It is essential to supply host plants. Host plants are the plants where butterflies lay their eggs, and which will be eaten by the larvae, caterpillars, when they hatch. I have often sacrificed my dill plants in order to feed the caterpillars that will one day become black swallowtails. The much larger herb, fennel or sweet anise, will also attract swallowtails. The tiger swallowtail is partial to wild cherry, but lilacs, and ash and willow trees are also host plants.
Each kind of butterfly will require certain host plants, although there certainly is overlap. The same nectar plants will feed many more types of butterfly. Zinnias are an excellent nectar plant, but it is important to choose single or double varieties so the butterflies can see just where to land and dip in their proboscis or feeding tube.
Bill’s butterfly garden photo by Bill Benner
Other nectar plants that will feed a number of butterflies include lilacs, butterfly bush, milkweed, coneflowers, asters, Joe Pye Weed, phlox, goldenrod, and mint. In the days when huge clouds of monarchs used to visit us in late summer I didn’t know they were attracted by the huge stand of mint in our field. The mint, important nectar plant, is still there but the monarchs no longer come. The world has changed.
Like many others I have given up pulling out milkweed in my cultivated gardens, and help the seeds fly down into my field, hoping to supply hosts for the monarchs. Benner recommended I not do this anymore. He said the common milkweed is very invasive, and is not of great benefit. Instead he recommends butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberose, with its big orange flower heads, and swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnate with its lavender/purple flower heads. These are certainly additions to the garden, not weeds that we wish we didn’t have to ignore in order to support our local food web.
The Massachusetts Butterfly Club website has more information about gardening for butterflies including an article that Benner wrote for their newsletter. There he points out that there can be a danger in buying seedlings from the big box stores because they come from huge propagators who use systemic insecticides, neonicotinoids, that persist in the plant for weeks, or even the whole season. When the butterfly sips from these plants they will die. The big box store may never know about this and so can never guarantee that the plants are insecticide free.
And that brings us to the general advice not to use pesticides or herbicides in your garden if you want to attract wildlife. Let the edges go a little wild. Don’t mow the lawn too often. Violets are a host plant for fritillaries. It is hard to imagine that the small violets in my lawn could be hiding fritillary eggs or caterpillars.
Bill Benner will speak on Climate Change in our Own Backyards at the Greenfield Community College Downtown Campus on Tuesday, March 10 from 2-4 pm.
Swallowtail photo by Bill Benner
While Benner speaks about butterflies and summer days we can also visit the greenhouses at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College. It is time for their Spring Flower Shows both of which will be held from March 7-22 between 10am – 4 pm. Old Man Winter is keeping a firm grip on the landscape this year, but Lyman Plant House at Smith and Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke are calling his bluff.
Between the Rows
There are peas that need to be shelled, peas that only need to be snapped, peas named snow, and sweet peas that can be smelled. There are pea plants that are small, and many that are tall. There is a pea for every taste, and every eye and nose. Peas are one of the first vegetables that can be planted in the spring. What more could one ask of a humble legume?
All peas prefer a fairly neutral soil with a pH of 6-7.5. If your soil is more acid give it a helping of lime or wood ash before planting. Peas love cold weather and once germinated can even survive a light kiss of frost. There is a tradition of planting peas on St. Patrick’s day, but in our region I think planting them a month later is more realistic. Still it is good to remember that peas like the cold and can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.
Most of the peas that end up on our dinner plate have to be shelled. Laxton’s Progress No 9, so named because of its (often) 9 peas in the pod, is an old variety with short, hardy and productive vines. Tall Telephone peas are another old variety, but these are tall, obviously, and have been popular ever since they were introduced in 1881. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specializes in tasty old varieties of peas – and every other kind of vegetable.
Strike is a new variety that can be harvested in only 49 days. The two foot vines can be grown with or without support. Maxigolt is another newer variety, with tall vines ready for harvest in 62 days. It is rated as having excellent flavor.
I like fresh shelling peas, but I love sugar snaps. I rarely get to cook these edible podded peas because I snack on them while I am working in the garden, or I can’t resist eating them on the walk from the garden to the house. If I am lucky I have a few to throw in the salad.
Even without the sugar in its name, the edible podded Snap Pea is sweet and has been called the most flavorful snap pea. The tall vines need a support and ripen in 62 days, bearing over a long period. It handles warm weather better than other peas. Sugar Daddy is a stringless open-pollinated sugar snap with 30 inch vines and good disease resistance. High Mowing Seeds up in Vermont offers these peas and others.
Snow peas, also called Chinese pea pods because they are so familiar in Chinese cooking, have flat pods with tiny peas inside. I have grown Oregon Giant snow peas, but this year I am intrigued by Golden Sweet snow peas. They need a trellis and produce yellow pea pods. I always like peas and beans that are not green. So much easier to see when picking. Snow peas can be eaten raw or cooked quickly in a stir fry.
I was fascinated by the sidebar box in Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog that promotes their new Petite Snap-Greens. These are best harvested at 6-8 inches for their early edible tendrils to be used as a garnish, but they can be grown to full maturity.
More than a garnish are peas like Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea which can be grown as a micro-green. The pea shoots can be harvested after only 10 days for your salad. Feisty is a type of shell pea that produces lots of tendrils and few leaves. The tendrils are used as garnishes.
Shell, sugar and snow peas are all delicious, and flowering sweet peas are beautiful and fragrant. Renee’s Garden Seeds specializes in a large array of sweet peas, varying in depth of color, in intensity of fragrance and in bloom season.
Sweet peas have been hybridized for nearly two centuries, and in many cases some of the fragrance has been lost. Renee lists Original Cupani, with its deep maroon and lavender blossoms as one of the earliest and most fragrant varieties, as is Painted Lady in shades of red and pink. Jewels of Albion with blossoms in shades of blue and mauve and Queen of Night with flowers in a bouquet of shades of pink, blue and maroon are also particularly fragrant. Blue Celeste has large frilly blossoms of pastel blue and also has good fragrance.
Most sweet peas have tall vines and need a trellis for support, as well as rich well drained soil. Renee recommends nicking each seed with a nail clipper to make it easier for the seed to absorb water and begin to germinate. What peas will you be planting this spring?
Winter Farmer’s Market
Next Saturday, March 7 is the final Winter Farmer’s Market of the season. After that its spring. Kind of. And we’ll soon be shopping at the regular Farmer’s Market.
Between the Rows February 21, 2015
Casa Blanca lilies at Mike Collins and Tony Palumbo’s garden
Last week I talked about some of the white spring flowers, but a whole array of white flowers bloom well into the fall. I can only mention a few.
White Flowers for Summer
One of the more unusual white flowers that grows in my garden is Artemesia lactiflora. Most of us think of artemesias as having silvery foliage and insignificant flowers. My Artemesia lactiflora grows in a very upright clump with reddish-maroon stems and very dark toothed foliage. The tall flower stalks have open sprays of small white flowers. It’s very hardy, deer proof and a good spreader.
When I looked up online nurseries for Artemesia lactifllora I saw that all the descriptions said it grew from four to five feet tall. Not in my garden. Everyone agrees it is not a demanding plant, and some say drought tolerant. The Plant Delights catalog says given a damp spot it will be spectacular. My garden is well drained. Maybe that explains its meager three foot height. Or the problem may be that I do not have Artemesia lactiflora Guizhou a particular cultivar. I don’t remember where my plant came from.
Garden phlox is a gorgeous midsummer bloomer that comes in many colors. It seems to me that interest in tall garden phlox has declined recently, with a matching decline in cultivars. Often the only available white is David which gained its fame because of its mildew resistance. Powdery mildew does not damage phlox, or even migrate to another type of flower, but many people find it objectionable. Phlox has no other real problems. David starts blooming in August and lasts into September.
I recently found an online nursery, Perennial Pleasures in East Hardwick, Vermont that specializes in phlox and sells over 90 phlox cultivars including Flame White, a very short white phlox, Flower Power which begins blooming in mid-July, Midsummer White which is very tall, mildew resistant, the earliest blooming of the phloxes and one of Perennial Pleasures favorites. There are other whites including the heirloom Miss Lingaard which is mildew resistant, and many other shades of pink, purple and blue.
Everyone loves daisies and Shasta daisies make it possible to have their cheerful blooms in the garden. Many Shasta daisies like Alaska grow to two feet or so and can get floppy, but that can be moderated by cutting them back in the spring. Tinkerbelle is a dwarf Shasta, only eight inches, and it is perfect for front of the border.
All Shasta daisies belong to the Chrysanthemum family, but are sometimes listed as Leucanthemum. Fluffy really looks more chrysanthemum-like with very double, shaggy flowers around a yellow center. Remember, all these summer bloomers like sun, good garden soil which should be enriched every year; they will tolerate some drought.
A wonderful vine is the pale moonflower vine. How lovely to have big white fragrant flowers that you can watch open as it gets dark. Moonflowers are like giant morning glories. Some people say they have trouble getting them to germinate, but soaking the seed for 24 hours can help with that. Once you have a thriving vine it may very well self-seed every year.
I grow white Henryi lilies near the house and they have been very happy at the end of my Herb Bed. I had the big glamorous white Casa Blanca lilies in the Lawn Beds, but deer always ate the swelling buds. If you don’t have deer Casa Blanca lilies are easy to grow and can tolerate some shade where they look especially beautiful. I haven’t had trouble with lily beetles, but that may be a blessing of the Heath climate.
Boltonia on Bridge of Flowers
White Flowers for Fall
Asters come into bloom in late summer and fall. Aster novi-belgii Bonningdale will reach a height of two feet or a little more and produce clusters of double white flowers around a yellow center. Asters should be treated like chrysanthemums by pinching them back until July 4 for stronger, bushier growth and more flowers. They should be deadheaded to prevent reseeding; Asters are tough long-lived plants that will make a substantial clump in two or three years when they can be divided. They are not fussy about soil.
Boltonia Snowbank, sometimes known as false aster or starwort, is a grand tall plant, up to five feet with starry daisy-like flowers. It can be pinched back in the spring or even be cut back for bushy growth in the fall. This is a vigorous plant that will need dividing every three years , but you can also dig up the new plantlets that spread out around the mother plant to give away. Because of its size and its exuberant bloom late into the fall this is a great addition to the perennial border. There is also a pink variety.
Before I started paying attention I thought of Japanese anemones as spring bloomers. However, it is Anemone sylvestris like Madonna that is the low growing anemone that blooms in the spring, in sun or shade and resistant to both deer and rabbits. Japanese anemone like the three foot tall Honorine Joubert blooms for a long season in late summer and well into the fall. Honorine Joubert has sprays of two inch flowers, white petals around a golden crown of stamens and a greenish center. Andrea Atkinson is similar except that it is shorter. Japanese anemones develop into generous clumps and they make quite a show in the fall. In spite of their delicate appearance they have strong wiry stems. I have enjoyed mass plantings at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in September
Between the Rows February 7, 2015
Growing Healthy Houseplants
Some of us may have gotten gift houseplants during the holidays. If we are not experienced indoor gardeners this can cause some anxiety. “Now what do I do?” the recipient may wonder when the gift givers have left the premises. I personally think it is perfectly acceptable to treat any gift plant as a living bouquet, which will last longer than cut flowers, but still a bouquet that will have a limited life span.
At the same time, I know that a little information can help keep a gift houseplant alive for many months, and possibly years. Just as in the outdoor garden, if you want an indoor garden you must choose the right plant for the right place. Does your plant need sun, or does it require a northern light? Does it need frequent waterings?
Storey Publishing has put together a series of useful little books called Storey Basics. Ellen Zachos is the author of Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely and Control Pests ($8.95) which has exactly the basic information needed to provide proper care to a gift plant, or the plant you give yourself. Beverly Duncan, of Ashfield has provided the black and white drawings throughout the book.
Growing Healthy Houseplants is organized to give you basic information about lighting, watering, potting soils and fertilizing in general and then goes on to talk about maintaining plants which includes a section on making more plants and managing pests.
The final section talks about ways to display houseplants, and provides specific information about an array of flowering and foliage plants from ferns and begonias to ficus trees and mistletoe cactus. Orchids, too.
The days are growing longer and brighter. If you didn’t get a gift plant, enjoy a minor splurge and choose one for yourself. Flowers are cheerful, and foliage plants are an optimistic addition to a room in winter. This book will set you on the road to months and years of pleasure. A plant or two (given appropriate light) will add a note of vibrant life and welcome to any room.
Whether you have houseplants or not, most of us gardeners are starting to leaf through the catalogs that arrived even before Christmas. What new directions will our garden take this year?
Guan Yin Mian tree peony
I love to shop for perennials locally, but local garden centers are necessarily limited in their choices. They can only carry so many varieties of rhododendron or iris or rose. I recommend a look at mostly local specialty nurseries like the ones I’ve listed below – in alphabetical order by plant.
Silver Garden Daylilies (www.silvergardendaylilies.com) run by Richard Willard has over 400 daylilies now located on Pickett Avenue in Greenfield. It is often possible to choose your daylilies while they are in bloom so you can get exactly the colors you want.
Noted plant hunter Darrell Probst has been finding rare epimediums in China for many years. This beautiful shade loving ground cover with delicate flowers is also known by the name fairy wings. The nursery, Garden Visions Epimediums (www.epimediums.com) in Templeton sells other shade loving perennials like iris cristata. It is open to the public only on select weekends in May.
Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain is operated by Deborah Wheeler and her son Andrew Wheeler. Their specialty is Japanese iris which bloom in July. They usually have open digging days that are announced. When I bought my white Japanese iris from Andrew he said it didn’t need to be planted where it was wet, but it should be planted where it could be watered regularly. Good advice.
Joe Pye Weed’s Garden (http://www.jpwflowers.com) in Carlisle specializes in Siberian irises, but also grows versicolor, crested and species irises as well as primroses. There is an online catalog with photos, or you can request a print catalog for $2, refundable with your order.
Nasami Farm (www.newenglandwild.org) in Whately is the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society which has its main office and the famed Garden in the Woods in Framingham. Nasami sells an array of native plants, perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees on weekends in the spring and fall. With all the interest in the importance of supporting our local food web, more and more people are making a special effort to make sure at least some of their plantings are natives.
Not quite so local is Fox Hill Lilac (www.lilacs.com/) in Brunswick, Maine, but it offers scores of lilac varieties and the catalog gives information about fragrance as well as color and size. I cannot imagine my own garden without a lilac or two.
A luxurious plant in the garden is the tree peony. Unlike the familiar herbaceous peonies, these have a shrubby structure that does not die down in the fall. Although the large blossoms look fragile, the plant is very hardy and blooms earlier than herbaceous varieties. Klehm’s Song Sparrow nursery (www.songsparrow.com) offers a large variety of tree and herbaceous peonies.
A very large collection of rhododendrons can be found at WhitneyGardens nursery in Washington state (www.whitneygardens.com). They also offer azaleas, mountain laurels and other plants. PJM rhodies are very pretty and very hardy, but there are so many other varieties and colors, it is a shame to limit yourself.
Whatever new plants you add to your garden this year, take the time to find something that might be a little unusual – and yet no more difficult to care for. ###
Between the Rows January 10, 2015
Gifts for the Gardener begin at the garden center
I have never thought it very hard to find gifts for the gardener. After all, what does a gift say? I love you? I understand you? I want you to enjoy your days? I want your dreams to come true? I share your passion and I know just what you need?
No matter what your message there are garden centers and other kinds of shops that have just the gifts to convey these messages to the gardener in your life. I made the rounds of some of these stores and this is what I found. The Shelburne Farm and Garden Center has colorful Dramm long armed five liter watering cans ($30), and equally colorful one gallon Gardman watering cans ($18). A rolling Saucer Caddy ($40) holds more appeal for me as I get older. My potted plants get bigger every year and moving them a bigger chore. These gifts say ‘Lets have some fun in the garden, but let’s not strain ourselves. I want you in one piece at the end of a gardening day.”
SF&G also has a nice array of gloves. I used to pride myself on not using gloves, but after years of dirty nails and dry calluses I decided gloves are a Good Thing. Of course, gloves like Cool MUD gloves ($10) with water repellent nitrile have gotten lighter, more comfortable and breathable. One style of Women’s Work gloves is flowery and has nice long gauntlets ($20). When I got to the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative on High Street I found they had a whole aisle of gloves. And a lot more besides. Gloves are a consumable; they wear out and need to be replaced from time. A gift of gloves says “Don’t worry. Dig in. There is always another pair. Better the gloves get ugly than your lovely hands.”
There are fewer flowers in the winter, but SF&G has bags and bags of bird seed and a whole array of bird feeders. Attract the birds and you will be able to enjoy these flowers of the air. I met a neighbor there and she expressed her pleasure at finding that birds love safflower seeds, but squirrels don’t. Good information.
Blue Pots at the Greenfield Farmers Coop
Greenfield Farmer’s Coop has a fabulous array of Burley Clay pots in sizes from about one cup ($7) to large handsome pots that can hold a striking flower arrangement that is a work of art or even a small tree ($60) These pots come in lovely blue, and subtle shades of green or brown. They also have an array of black metal trellises, perfect for supporting ornamental vines in the garden. Prices range from $25-$40. They say “Isn’t it fun to have plants grow up and add a new dimension to the garden?”
Grow Bags are another way to have fun and continue the vegetable garden indoors during the winter. The Farmers Coop has several Grow Bags ($7-$15) that include coconut coir instead of potting soil, but you will need your own seeds (any left from the summer?), a liquid fertilizer and good light. I think these are great for growing herbs and greens like lettuces. You know your beloved just can’t stop wanting really local food.
Christmas platter at Stillwater Porcelain
On the other hand, sometimes you want to stop thinking about tools and chores. Sometimes you just want to surround yourself with the images of flowers and nature while carrying on in your non-gardening life. I stopped in at Stillwater Porcelain in ShelburneFalls where Pat Pyott has a unique way of creating ornamental tiles, with realistic images of Queen Anne’s Lace, autumn leaves, herbs, an evergreen branch. There are functional pieces like a variety of plates to tiles that surround a mirror. Prices range from $15 for lovely tree ornaments to $218 for a platter that will hold the roasted holiday beast. “I know you want to be surrounded by nature in every room,” these gifts say.
J.H. Sherburne embroidered cases
Just a little further down State Street is J.H. Sherburne’s shop. Jo-Anne has garden ornaments, and lovely botanical jewelry. I could not resist the gold and silver bulb complete with leaf shoots and roots that provided a space for a sprig of leaf or flower. I am not really a jewelry person, but I found this absolutely irresistible. She also has a collection of brightly embroidered Guatemalan cases, from luggage ($187) to a change purse ($7). I don’t have a cellphone (no service in Heath) but if I did I would love a flowered cellphone case ($14). I like the juxtaposition of technology and a flower garden.
Portrait by J.H. Sherburne
Jo-Anne is also a fine artist and just think what a gift a portrait of the beloved would be, set among the colors of the garden. Full information about how that process works is on her website.
Gift certificates carry all sorts of messages. They can say, “I know you, and I love you and your garden, and while I have no idea what you want or need, I want you to have it.” This message is often sent to experienced gardeners who can be very particular and opinionated about tools or plants. A gift certificate is a gift of anticipation, of time for thought and the delight in picking out just the item you have been longing for. There are times when a gift certificate is the perfect gift. What about a gift certificate to OESCO where fine tools are found in Ashfield? The Greenfield Farmers Coop, the Shelburne Farm and GardenCenter, JH Sherburne and Stillwater Porcelain also have perfect gift certificates.
Between the Rows December 13, 2014
Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer
It’s a truism that every garden is different. Gardeners don’t begin by asking “how can I make my garden unique” they begin by looking for ways to bring their passions and preferences into the garden. This search will include choosing plants and planning pathways, but it will also include finding chairs and a table for conviviality, a birdbath for attracting the birds, possibly even a protecting summerhouse. In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality ($35. Timber Press), Rochelle Greayer provides inspiring ideas and information about different garden designs and accessories.
Nearly encyclopedic this is not a book that requires beginning at page one and marching on to page 304. The bright illustrations inspired me to browse through the book first, trying to find myself within a category or two. Is my garden Cottage Au Courant with its controlled chaos? Possibly. But what about Sacred Meadow? I am surrounded by meadows. Definitely not Wabi Sabi Industrial, but still, I do long to be able to recycle odd and rusty junk into useful and beautiful garden details.
Greayer herself does not worry about purity of style. Though she lives in eastern Massachusetts now, she was born in Colorado, and describes her garden as “Handsome Prairie, with healthy dashes of Sacred Meadow, ForestTemple, and Homegrown Rock’n’Roll thrown in.” Clearly unique gardens are not created by locking yourself into a theme, even if it is your own.
Cultivating Garden Style – Wabi Sabi Industrial
The various themes are beautifully photographed and provide that initial inspiration, but the sections on Learning, Doing, Growing give you practical information about how to achieve the garden in your mind. These sections cross over the various themes. You will need advice about deck essentials, buying plants, choosing a tree, understanding and using microclimates, making paths, or creating visual illusions no matter what kind of garden you are creating. She also provides directions for a number of DIY projects like making planter sconces, oilcloth placemats, a fountain, and lighting fixtures.
Pith & Vigor garden newspaper
Greayer’s prose style is chatty and informative. She loves talking to gardeners, learning from them and teaching them. For years she has written a garden blog, www.studiogblog.com which is currently taking a new form but remains a pleasure to read. She is also the editor of a new quarterly garden newspaper, Pith&Vigor, of which I am a charter subscriber. The first issue includes an interview with Ken Marten and his directions for making an exquisite terrarium, how to make a mushroom garden, a bouquet gathered on the Massachusetts coast in mid-September, an autumnal container arrangement and an article on how to grow giant pumpkins – and compete! Lots more in this issue and to come. Subscribe for $32 a year, for a paper and online subscription by ordering at www.pithandvigor.com. A subscription to Pith&Vigor would make a great gift for gardeners on your list.
There are other subscriptions that will feed a gardener’s interests in more specific ways. Recently I was given a subscription to the quarterly Heirloom Gardener, published by Rare Seeds Publishing, an arm of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The lushly illustrated current issue contains articles about poisonous plants, indoor gardening with herbs and bulb forcing, crops and seeds of the Incas, and rare fruits. And more. $15 for one year (four issues). Call 417-924-8917 or order online at heirloomgardener.com.
For many years I have been a member of the American Horticultural Society. One of the perks of membership is the bi-monthly magazine The American Gardener with regular articles about plants from ornamentals to poison ivy. Did I know there was anything good to say about poison ivy? No. But it seems it seems that it has the “potential for use in a variety of commercial applications, including an environmentally smart replacement for the petrochemicals used to make paints and industrial coatings.” There are also interviews with fascinating gardeners, book reviews, news about AHS programs – and more. You can join online. The basic membership at $35 will get you The American Gardener, free or discounted entry into many gardens and arboreta and plant shows around the country as well as the member seed exchange.
I am also a member of the New England Wildflower Society where a year’s membership at the $55 level gives me free access to the famous Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and a discount at Nasami Farm in Whately where the NEWFS propagates many thousands of native plants. I am a regular shopper at Nasami Farm. There are many workshops available at a discount. Membership will also give you a subscription to their newly overhauled magazine, reciprocal admission to 270 public gardens, and borrowing privileges at their 4500 volume library. You can join online at www.newenglandwild.org You don’t even need to be a member of NEWFS to read their blog about native plants, or use their great Go Botany database to help you identify plants. All this is yours for free.
Gardeners are always learning; and a gift of books or memberships in a horticultural society are good ways to keep feeding their hunger for new information, and new pleasure. Happy shopping.
Between the Rows December 6, 2013
Timber Press and Rochelle Greayer are helping me celebrate 7 years of blogging here at the commonweeder.com. You still have another day to leave a comment here by midnight Saturday, December 13, and have a chance to win a copy of Cultivating Garden Style AND a copy of my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 14.
Rosemary in Bloom
Mary Gardens do not bloom in December, but since the liturgical season of Advent is a time of waiting for the momentous birth of the Christ Child I cannot help but think about what a confusing time it must have been for Mary.
All mothers waiting for the arrival of their first child often feel confused because emotions can range from frightened to joyous. What will the birth be like? What will the baby be like? What will the woman be like once she is a mother?
I think about Mary on that long donkey ride to Bethlehem. Mothers are weary and expectant during that last month of pregnancy as the baby comes closer and closer to being a reality. The very young Mary must still have been trying to get her mind around the memory of the angel who told her she would carry this special child, and the visit to her cousin Elizabeth which was more confirmation that this child was going to be very special.
In ancient times the pagan goddesses all had flowers associated with their personalities. For example, the rose and the lily are connected with Venus, denoting her love and her purity. Mary is a unique figure to all Christians; it is no surprise that over the centuries such a figure would have many stories grow up around her. In an age when most of the population was illiterate, symbols were important to storytelling. In Mary’s story various plants became symbols of her character and the events in her life. Some people have taken those symbols to create a Mary Garden where they might meditate on her life.
Most paintings of the Annunciation, show an angel appearing with a white lily to tell Mary that she would bear a son who would ‘be the greatest and shall be called the son of the Highest.” The lily, white for purity with a golden heart, is the first symbol of Mary and is considered essential to any Mary Garden. The second symbol, the iris, is more important because of its sword-like foliage than its flower. When Mary and Joseph presented the new baby in the templeSimeon said, “This child is destined to be a sign which men will reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart.” Confusion upon confusion – angels, shepherds, wise men and dire warnings, and she just a new mother with a baby.
Mary came to be called the Mystical Rose and so roses are also necessary in a Mary garden. Thornless roses symbolize Mary who herself was declared born without sin, and all the roses with thorns stand for the rest of humanity with all their faults and failings. Roses for Mary are either white for purity, or red for the passion.
Myth and legend grew up around Mary and many flowers were thought to refer to her domestic life. I can imagine women over the ages thinking of the ways they share Mary’s duties and chores. Mending is no longer a major chore, but Mary’s Candle is one name for the giant mullein (Verbascum), its tall yellow flower spike standing in for a candle that provided light for Mary while she mended the Christ Child’s clothing. Right by her side would have been her tools, Our Lady’s Thimble, otherwise known as the Bluebells of Scotland, and Our Lady’s Pincushion, the Scabiosa.
Many other flowers are connected with Mary from the common marigold which is Mary’s gold, only to be found in nature, the blue of forget-me-nots as clear as Mary’s eyes, and Our Lady’s Keys, the primrose. Some of these associations make more sense than others, but all are beautiful in a garden.
The first garden known to be dedicated to Mary was created by the Irish St. Fiacre in the 7th century. The first record of a Mary Garden was a 15th century listing of plants for the St. Mary’s garden written by the sacristan at the Norwich Priory in England.
The flowers in a Mary Garden are an aid to meditation. Spring brings us columbine for Mary’s shoes, and alchemilla for lady’s mantle for her cloak. Pulmonaria, and other plants with white mottled foliage have been called milkwort or Mary’s milkdrops. You can see that many flowers for a Mary Garden are humble cottage or wildflowers, as unassuming at Mary herself.
A Mary Garden could also include a ground cover like vinca (Virgin flower), foxglove or Our Lady’s Glove, pansies or Our Lady’s Delight, or lilies of the valley for the tears she shed after the crucifixion.
It is thought that the first Mary Garden in the United States was planted at St. Joseph’s Church in Woods Hole on Cape Cod in 1932. Full information about this garden, and MaryGardens in general can be found at the University of Dayton in Ohio,http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/m_garden/marygardensmain.html.
Even if you don’t have an outdoor garden, you can have a Mary Garden. All it takes is an image of the Holy Mother, and potted plants like the prayer plant (Maranta leucoreura) whose foliage closes in the evening like praying hands, and rosemary. My own rosemary plant is producing tiny blue flowers right now, a reminder of the legend that on the flight to Egypt the Holy Family stopped so that Mary could wash the Christ Child’s clothes. She asked plants nearby if she could hang the wet clothes on them to dry but only the rosemary bush consented. To this day rosemary’s blue flowers are a reminder of Mary in her blue cloak.
When you need a respite from the happy holiday hullabaloo, take a few minutes to sit quietly with your plants, no matter which, and meditate on the joys of the season.
Don’t Forget: You can win a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s fabulous book Cultivating Garden Style, AND a copy of The Roses at the End of the Road by Yours Truly simply by leaving a comment here by midnight, December 13. I will randomly choose a winner of this Giveaway celebrating 7 years of blogging at commonweeder on Sunday, December 14. Thank you Timber Press.
Between the Rows November 30, 2014