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Dear Friend and Gardener

Life Among the Weeds

Mystery weed from my garden

Mystery weed from my garden

What is a weed?

A friend recently gave me a branchy stem of a plant with fine alternate leaves she has growing all over her garden. She asked if I could identify it. She didn’t know if it was a “real plant” or a weed that she should be pulling out. Off hand I couldn’t identify it and turned to my Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and Di Tomasso and still could not definitely identify it, but I thought it might possibly be an aster. Later when I was watering my hellstrip filled with daylilies, astilbes, yarrow and more, I noticed a plant sticking its head up through a clump of coneflowers – and it looked just like the slightly wilted plant my friend had given me!

When I went up to the Benson Place in Heath to pick up my order of blueberries I was admiring a bed of large plants, few of which I recognized. Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, current owners of the Benson Place, explained that the bed was designed as a pollinator bed. They identified the enormous elecampane with its shaggy golden flowers all a-buzz with bees, the anise hyssop and the tall blue vervain. And there in the middle of a clump of flowers was the plant I had been trying to identify. This plant was everywhere!

I  asked what it was. Meredith and Andrew looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s just a weed.”  I had made no progress in my researches.

Another very tall mystery plant - a weed?

Another very tall mystery plant – a weed?

I have  another mystery plant, which I am sure is a weed, but not exactly sure which weed. Next to our front porch, in the shade, we have been watching a single plant with large deeply cut leaves growing taller and taller. We thought the foliage looked thistle-like but there are no prickers and so far no familiar blossom. In fact, now that it is eight or nine feet tall what appears to be a flower head is kind of droopy and is not yet blooming.

On our ride to the Benson Place we drove on a dirt road edged with all manner of  – dare I say it – weeds. And among them were plants similar to my front porch weed, although not quite as tall.

My son says his lawn is full of weeds i.e. violets. Our lawn in Heath was full of weeds i.e. dandelions. Lots of weeds i.e. wildflowers like chicory grow along the roadsides. I like violets and dandelions and chicory. Why would anyone consider them a weed?

The definition of a weed is very difficult. My comprehensive book, titled Weeds of  the Northeast, gives excellent descriptions and photos of hundreds of weeds in their different growth stages including the seed stage. Violets, dandelions and chicory are all included. So are creeping thyme, wild strawberries and the low growing English daisy. What makes all these plants weeds?

They are all rampant growers and spreaders, but others seem to be called weeds because they are growing where the gardeners and farmers don’t want them to grow.  Sometimes you find out a plant that you chose and planted is a weed. While I was leafing through my weed book I noticed the pages devoted to field horsetail, Equisetum arvense. I like the horsetails with their leafless green bottle-brushy stems that I saw growing by the roadsides in Heath. They are also called scouring-rush, foxtail rush, horsepipes, and pine grass.

Equisetum hyemale

Equisetum hyemale

When I drive to Colrain to visit friends I usually take the Colrain road, a winding road through the woods, and I noticed large stands of the larger Equisetum hyemale growing in the damp shade. I have always admired this plant because it is unusual, about 18 inches tall, leafless, with bamboo-like nodes along the evergreen stem. One day I stopped and pulled up a few of these stems which spread by creeping rhizomes. I planted them in a wet shady spot in my garden and most of them took root and seem to be doing well.

According to Weeds of the Northeast equisetums are resistant to herbicides used by farmers. According to the MissouriBotanical Garden, which has an excellent website that often helps me identify plants and understand their requirements, Equisetum hyemale is an aggressively spreading plant that is difficult to eradicate because the rhizomes spread wide and deep.

I then remembered my recent trip to Minneapolis and environ with 60 garden bloggers. Our final garden tour was across the border into Wisconsin and the amazing gardens and sculptures of Woutrina DeRaad. For 25 years Trina has been creating an amazing wild garden filled not only with wonderful plants, but with her concrete and mosaic sculptures. One sculpture was of a long couch with a built in plant container she had filled with equisetum five years earlier. I admired it, but when Trina asked if anyone in our group knew about equisetum, one of the men shook his head and said it was probably already sending roots deep into the soil and she’d never get rid of it. It was hard to see how that could happen since it was in a concrete container, but clearly he considered it a danger. And Trina seemed to be taking him seriously, and starting to consider what she could use to replace the equisetum.

When I came home it did not take me long to dig up my equisetum  which had already sent out one rhizome. I do not believe it was sending rhizome out deeply.

It has been said that if you can name a thing, you will have power over it. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help give me power over the two mystery plants in my garden. In the meantime I will just have to wait and see if their flowers can give me another hint.

Between the Rows   August 13, 2016

I want to thank everyone who responded to my query with the answers. That tall weed is wild lettuce Lactuca biennis, first identified by Liz Pichette, but followed by several other knowledgeable plant people. Thank you all!

Benefits of Blueberries

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place

Blueberries offer many benefits to the gardeners who want to grow more of their own food. When I lived in Heath I had access to the low-bush blueberry farms that operate there, but highbush blueberries were among the first shrubs I planted. I do not prefer one over the other, except that the highbush blueberries are larger and easier to pick. Nowadays lowbush blueberries to plant are much more available than they once were. We are also fortunate that we live near Nourse Farms which sells a variety of highbush blueberries from Patriot and Reka which begin bearing early in the season to Jersey and Nelson which are late season bearers. You can have fresh blueberries from your garden over a long season, into September. Having two or more varieties will also give you the cross pollination that is needed for good fruiting.

Blueberry pickers at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Blueberry Pickers at Benson Place

Blueberry requirements

Blueberries are native to North America and so are very hardy. They thrive during the cold of New England winters. They need a lot of sun, and cannot tolerate standing water in the spring. Well drained soil with plenty of organic material is ideal. At the same time, they need adequate water during the growing season.

Here in New England we don’t usually have to worry about having acid soil, although we might have to work a little to get the soil to a 4.5 to 5.5 pH level. A soil test will give you the pH and indicate how you can go about improving it for the blueberries. Fortunately, you can find fertilizers for acid loving plants like Espoma Holly Tone, or other fertilizers designed for rhododendrons or azaleas, at your garden center, or even soil acidifiers. Fertilizing should be done in the spring, and a 2- 4 inch bark mulch is a good idea. Besides conserving moisture, mulch will keep adding organic matter to the soil over time.

Once blueberry bushes are planted they are very easy to maintain. They suffer very little from pests or diseases. They will not need pruning for several years. For myself the only pruning I ever did was removing broken or dead branches in the spring. However, there is a benefit to keeping the interior of the bush more open. Easier picking if nothing else.

Once you are regularly harvesting your berries, your biggest problem will be the birds. I wish I had considered this when I planted my Heath blueberries in a long hedge. It was very difficult to manage a long netting arrangement to protect the berries.  My four Greenfield blueberry bushes are planted in a square that will ultimately be netted in a block that is 10 by 10 feet square.

High Bush Blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

High bush blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

Benefits of blueberries

There are many benefits for the gardener and the consumer of blueberries. A benefit for the gardener is that, unlike raspberries that need to be picked every day, blueberries will hang on the bush for several days until you can pick them. This means you can harvest a couple of times a week instead of making time every day.

And of course, I have already mentioned how little work it takes to maintain the bushes.

I have not mentioned their beauty, the tiny bell shaped blossoms in the spring and the beautiful red color in the fall. Blueberry bushes are a good alternative to the invasive euonymous, the burning bush.

For the consumer, the eater of blueberries, the first benefit is the berry’s deliciousness. Then there are the many ways it can be prepared, pies, muffins, salads, on your cereal or ice cream, or out of your hand.

Not only is there all that delciousness, there is the fact that blueberries are very good for you. Blueberries are ranked as having one the highest capacities of antioxidants among all fruits and vegetables. Antioxidents battle the free radicals that can attack healthy cells in the body. Cell damage contributes to cancer, heart disease, and decline in the immune system.

Anthrocyanins, the color pigments of red, purple and blue, are powerful antioxidents. They have been connected to lower risks of some cancers, urinary tract health, memory function and age related diseases. Needless to say, other fruits like strawberries and raspberries also contain anthrocyanins, but blueberries are richer.

To get the real health benefit of blueberries it would be necessary to eat about two cups of fresh berries a day, but I feel healthier with every cup of berries I enjoy. Fortunately, fresh blueberries can be bagged up and popped into the freezer very easily and will lose little of their nutritional value. Blueberry crisp gives me a taste of summer all winter long.

Even without growing your own it is easy to find fresh blueberries in our area. Farm stands will be selling them as will farms like the Benson Place in Heath. You can also pick your own low bush berries at the Benson Place, or high bush at Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway.

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Farm

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Gardens

When I was picking berries at Wilder Hill Gardens, I also got to admire the flower arrangements that owner Lilian Jackman was creating for her daughter’s wedding. Every single arrangement included a bit of blueberry foliage and fruit. The blueberries were a particular request of the bride and groom. For myself, I consider those blueberries a wish for years of a sweet, healthy and fruitful life together.

Between the Rows   August 6, 2016

Shade in the Garden

Shade. Green shade. With the recent 90 degree days I have been thinking that every garden has to have shade. I thought I had a very shady garden, but my husband and I did a shade study. We took photos of the back garden every couple of hours to see how shade moved across the space. It turns out that most of the garden gets six to seven hours of sun which counts as the full sun required by most vegetables and many flowers.

River birch

On a cloudy day you can’t tell where the shadow of the River Birch falls

Trees Make Shade

Now I am thinking about ways to add more shade to the central portion of our garden. We have already planted one multi-stemmed river birch, and a weeping cherry. Before the summer is over we will plant another fairly large (at least six foot) river birch. We think another small tree would be desirable, but can’t quite make up our minds which one. Should it be a redbud, with its purple/pink flowers in the spring? Should it be a dwarf crabapple with its spring blossoms and fruit for the birds? One advantage of a dwarf crabapple is that its size can be easily controlled by pruning. Maybe we should plant a pagoda dogwood which has distinctive tiered and layered branches and foliage.

Then there is the decision where to place the tree. We know the river birch will be towards the south side of the garden. Where would another tree go? Perhaps the better question is where do we want the shade to go? To be decided.

Yellow twig dogwood

Yellow twig dogwood in a center bed

Shrubs Make Shade

We have already planted several shrubs including red twig and yellow twig dogwoods which will reach six to nine feet tall. They will also throw shade.

Clethra alnifolia, also called sweet pepperbush or summersweet because of its fragrant upright flower panicles, will easily be six feet tall, again throwing shade. Highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum, is not a cranberry but the red berries that appear in the fall will attract some birds. It will grow to between eight to 15 feet and can be controlled by pruning. Aronia, chokeberry, can be classed as a small tree or a large shrub. Ours has really settled in and will increasingly throw more shade. As you can see, there are different ways to create shade in the garden.

Barren Strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

Perennials for shade

Shade trees, and shrubs that create shade also create a need for low growing plants that enjoy shade. Deciduous trees and shrubs like the ones I have, or am thinking about, allow the sun to penetrate to the ground in the spring, and allow spring blooming bulbs from the small crocuses and daffodils to bloom. Some slightly more unusual bulbs include snowflakes (Leucojum) which look very much like a large snowdrop, and bloom after the snow drops have gone by. Iris reticulatas are small irises, often no more than six inches tall.

In addition, there are other low growing spring bloomers that welcome the dappled sunlight. Tiarella, or foam flower, not only produces foamy pink or white racemes of blossoms in the spring, the low-growing heart shaped leaves spread rapidly covering the ground. A related, more lush plant is the heucherella, a heuchera (coral bells) and tiarella hybrid. The foliage is similar but the blossoms are more substantial.

One of my favorite spring blooming groundcovers is barren strawberry or Waldsteinia. Its name refers to the strawberry like foliage, and habit of sending out runners. It also has brilliant yellow flowers that look like cousins to white strawberry blossoms.

A groundcover that I appreciated first for it delicate heart shaped foliage is the epimedium. I think that is because I never saw the early spring bloom. Epimediums, sometimes called fairy hats, are a large family and the dainty flowers on firm slender stems come in a whole range of colors. We have a famous epimedium nursery right here in Massachusetts, Garden Vision Epimediums in Templeton. The flowers range from pale whites, yellows, and pinks to plumy and deep purples. There is also a range of foliage color and form. I have several epimediums and realize now that I have to move them into the back garden where I can see them better and enjoy them more. One special benefit of epimediums is that they will thrive even in dry shade.

There are many shades of green in the shady garden, but a patch of light can be a stunning accent. I recently bought a Goldheart columbine with its brilliant foliage for what will be a shady bed.

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Hostas come in various shades of green from the blue-green Wishing Well hosta to the creamy white of Dancing Queen. Both of these produce tall flower stalks, but for me, the tall blooms are unimportant. Another family of familiar plants are the lowgrowing lamiums like White Nancy which produce insignificant blooms, and a variety of foliage variegations. Always dependable and very pretty.

Of course, not every plant in a garden needs to bloom. The golden Hakonechloa aurea Aureola, Hakone grass, will supply that bit of sun in a shady spot. I also have a small patch of shiny green European ginger. Both prove that flowers are not a necessity in a garden. Patches of green give the eye time to rest before moving to a more colorful vignette.

What patches of green do your eyes rest on as you survey your garden?

Between the Rows  July 30, 2016

Minneapolis – Water Features Great and Small

Ordway Japanese Garden

Ordway Japanese Garden – Serenity in a Public Garden

My first reaction to Beverley Nichols, British gardener, author and wit, when he declared that water was an essential element of any garden was “Ridiculous!” I had seen photos of those British gardens with their rocks and rills, their reflecting pools, their gushing statuary in the topiary garden, none of which had I ever seen in real life. Of course, that showed my ignorance of British gardens, and my foolish reaction to a new idea. I should have reacted with, “Hmmmm. What a good idea. Water in the garden. . . ..”

It took a long time for me to get used to the idea of water in the garden and to realize that there is a great continuum of what it means to have water in the garden. Last week I joined 60 other garden bloggers in Minneapolis to visit 22 gardens, private, public, and university gardens. And I can state there was water in every single one.

We can all have water in our gardens. Many gardeners arranged to have water because they wanted to attract birds. A bird bath can be pretty, but the water evaporates so quickly. I have been told by bird lovers that a fountain is more desirable because the sound of water is what really attracts birds.

Here is my tour of some of the Minneapolis garden water features, some small, and one larger than most of us will ever have.

Dan and Dianne's small fountain

Dan and Dianne’s small fountain and birdbath

Dianne and Dan’s Garden.

Dianne and Dan’s garden had all manner of delights from a small cutting garden, a variety of perennials, and beautiful trees. In one shady border that included a collection of conifers there was a small fountain to attract the birds. It was set so that the birds would have a place to shelter if they were startled.

Dianne and Dan also had a white gazebo nestled in a mixed bed of heritabe tomatoes, perennials, and a beautiful collection of lilies which are Dianne’s specialty and five espaliered apple trees that are Dan’s project. That area also included a water lily and lotus pond, providing a serene view for all who visit.

Ruth's splashing fountain

Ruth’s splashing fountain

Ruth’s Garden

Ruth is a member of the Wild Ones organization whose goal is to educate and advocate for the necessity of native plants in home gardens. In that spirit Ruth had lots of labels on her mass native plantings to attract pollinators. Her small stone lined pool with its spouting shower fountain made a delightful cooling sound. Ruth said it was important to her to have a fountain that she could listen to. A pool like this is now within the reach of almost anyone because of the magic of electrical recirculating pumps.

Squire House Gardens fountain

Squire House Gardens fountain

Squire House Gardens

The owner of the Squire House is a garden designer. His garden is divided into several rooms which include different types of fountains. There were several bird bath types of fountain and a small rectangular pool set in a stone patio with a showering spout fountain. The fountain I liked best of all was a rough dark stone pillar with a burbling flow of water that fell into a small basin surrounded by flagstones. The fountain was set on a raised level at one end of a slightly sunken formal vegetable garden. Though the garden was formal, the ferns growing between the field stones in the rough wall and along the shallow stairs gave this fountain a woodland feel.

Linda's 100 foot stream

Linda’s 100 foot stream

Linda’s Garden

Linda has a particular interest in conifers, but this varied garden includes ferns, hostas, and colorful annuals, but the real showstopper is the 100 foot long stream that sings its way down the slope, framed by low evergreens, golden creeping jenny and ferns on either side. This man-made stream depends on a concrete base that is hidden by the artful arrangement of stones. Like Dianne with her lotus pond, Linda had a lot of advice about the necessity for good concrete work.

Nancy's lakeside garden

Nancy’s lakeside garden

Nancy’s Garden

I’ve described various kinds of water features that are just what Beverely Nichols ordered, but he would never be able to top Nancy’s water feature – a lake. I had never connected Minnesota with Land O Lakes butter. We were invited to have our lunch in her lakeside garden, a delicious (literally) respite. Our tour was enjoying comfortable summer temperatures, but after walking through five sunny gardens that morning we were all ready to collapse in the shade, enjoy our box lunches, and relax with a view of the tranquil lake.

After we had eaten and been revived by the lake breezes we wandered around the garden with its array of fairy gardens sometimes inspired by, and sometimes created by children. We also admired the mass plantings in front of the house. It seems that Minnesota gardeners are passionate about supporting their pollinators.

My Garden

So far my garden has an old birdbath surrounded by tall scarlet bee balm, a fat summersweet, and a weeping cherry that provide some protection. But there is no music, no splashing plashing water. However, as we arranged for the kitchen renovation, we made sure the electrician included an outdoor outlet on the west wall of the house. There is already a spigot and with an electrical outlet I’ll have almost everything I need for my own water feature. The stones and the pump will come.

Between the Rows   July 23, 2016

Bugs and Butterflies in My Garden

Coneflower

Coneflower with bee

“Chances are, you have never thought of your garden — indeed, of all of the space on your property — as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S.” Douglas Tallamy.

Most of us welcome birds and butterflies to our gardens, but don’t spend much time thinking about bugs, except for pesky mosquitoes and Japanese beetles. Yet, even bugs, and there are hundreds of species of bug in our local landscape, are essential to our local ecosystem.

When we lived on 60 acres in Heath I didn’t worry about having a healthy ecosystem. After all, we had those 60 acres that included wild fields and woodlands to feed the birds and butterflies. My intent in any planting was just to bring some of the best pollinator plants close to the house so that I could enjoy watching pollinators at work.

Our move to Greenfield meant we had an opportunity to create our own wildlife preserve on our small lot. We also had to consider how to handle a large wet area. I was thrilled with the idea of making a garden that would welcome and support the butterflies and bees – and the bugs. My husband was happy that this kind of garden eliminated most of the lawn.

The new lot was mostly grass, but this was not fine turf and I was happy to see the lawn was filled with clover and violets which provide lots of early pollen for bees. It was a happy day for me when I realized what some consider lawn weeds are really important nectar plants.

Some of the pollinator plants that I brought with me from Heath include: spring blooming foam flower and irises; summer blooming coneflower, Russian sage, bee balm and yarrow; and fall blooming asters.

Yarrow and coneflowers make my hellstrip a pollinators diner.

Yarrow and coneflowers make my hellstrip a pollinators diner.

Then I turned once again to my favorite expert on sustaining wildlife, Douglas Tallamy, Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He is the author of the brilliant and inspiring book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. He also has a website, www.bringingnaturehome.net with lots of information and lists of plants that will help you bring nature to your home garden.

Everyone loves butterflies, but I never thought of them as pollinators. They are not like honeybees who have the equipment to pack pollen into ‘baskets’ on their knees, but even with their smooth and spindly butterfly legs they do pollinate plants. Butterflies will welcome nectar plants but they really count on host plants, those plants where they can lay their eggs, confident that the hatching caterpillars will be able to eat that plant.

Host plants for butterfly caterpillars can be quite specific. We all know that monarch butterfly caterpillars need milkweed. Other plants for other butterflies include spice bush or Lindera benzoin, clover, snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet fennel, parsley, dill, carrots, as well as sycamore, river birch, chokecherry, oak, poplar, locust and willow trees. Of course, there are many other host plants for the many species of butterfly.

In our new garden we planted river birch, chokecherry and spicebush as butterfly host plants. We also planted orange milkweed, Asclepius tuberosa, a smaller showier milkweed than the kind found in the wild. Since host plants are so specific for butterflies there is no way I can support many species, but I am doing what I can.

We are not purists, but we have concentrated on using native plants. Native plants and native bugs evolved at the same time over centuries. Native bugs know exactly the kind of greenery they need to thrive. And the native plants know they can spare some foliage to support the bugs without harming themselves. I do not get upset when I find insect damage on my viburnams. I know they can spare a few leaves.

That does not mean I don’t go around with my soapy water to collect and drown the Japanese beetles that are starting to appear. Japanese beetles are non-native bugs, but they seem to enjoy roses and raspberries and my yellow twig dogwood.  Nature is not neat.

Strictly speaking, spiders are not bugs. But they eat bugs. I may not be very aware of their presence because many spiders are tiny, but big or small, all spiders are welcome in my garden.

We have planted the eye catching native buttonbush with its bottlebrush-type flowers, and summersweet, Clethra alnifolia, with its fragrant white panicles of  summer bloom. Both welcome bees and butterflies to sip their nectar, and neither minds wet sites. With those large shrubs I achieve two goals.

We have planted other excellent perennial pollinator plants that like or tolerate wet sites. Sanguisorba canadensis, American burnet, has tall 4-5 foot flowering spikes of flowers beginning in midsummer, as does culver’s root or Veronicastrum virginicum. Possibly more common is Joe Pye Weed, with its pink-ish flower heads.

We have not completed our planting plan, but are well on our way to supporting butterflies, bees and other bugs. We are well on our way to creating a garden that is lovely and a joy. We are also learning many lessons along the way, another joy.

Between the Rows   July 18, 2016

Memorial Day – Green River Cemetery

 

Green River Cemetery

Green River Cemetery, Greenfield, MA

Memorial Day was created as a day to remember those who died in the service of our country, beginning right after our Civil War. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, a founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union army veterans, declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 by decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers. There is some thought that the day was chosen because so many flowers are in bloom around the country on that date.

Albert Karlson who worked at the Green River Cemetery beginning in 1959, had been superintendent for 15 years when he retired in 1993. He was one of a line of men who made sure there were flowers for graves of soldiers – and everyone else. He did this with the help of a crew and a large greenhouse, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide.

Albert Karlson

Albert Karlson

Karlson grew up working on family farms. As he grew older he also worked in his father’s market which sold the produce and poultry that was raised on the farm. Eventually he enrolled in the two year program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture studying floriculture. In the summer between those two years he worked for a florist. His interest in growing flowers showed itself early.

However, after graduation he went to work for the Park and Shop supermarket. It was not until he met and married Virginia in Greenfield that the opportunity to return to flowers arrived. His wife was working for the tax collector and heard that the Green River Cemetery was looking for staff. He got a job there in 1959.

When I visited with Karlson he told me that the cemetery greenhouse was busy all year long. “We grew about 3000 geraniums, mostly red, and thousands of other bedding plants: coleus, ageratum, marigolds,  begonias, all kinds of flowers including herbs, and trailing plants for containers at some of the graves,” he said.

“When those spring plants were cleared out of the greenhouse we started chrysanthemum cuttings that would be in bloom in the fall. They were used in the cemetery for bouquets, but we also sold them to some of the area florists.”

Karlson went on to say that they also planted flowers on the 150 or so graves that were listed for Perpetual  Care. People would include a bequest in their wills, providing money to the cemetery to be used for planted flowers on their graves every year. He explained that over the decades that tradition has died out. They used the interest, but eventually even the principal was gone. When I visited the cemetery I could see that certain monuments were stamped on the back “Perpetual Care.”

Green River Cemetery Chapel

Green River Cemetery Chapel

I thought maybe there was no work to do in the winter, but Karlson explained that the road to the Chapel had to be kept clear of snow. Not only was it used for services, a mausoleum had been built below where caskets could be kept during the winter until the ground thawed out and graves could be dug. The mausoleum is no longer used because now there is heavy equipment that can dig graves in every season.

Karlson also said there was plenty of paperwork. Careful records of the deeds to each plot and burials had to be kept.

When I visited the Green River Cemetery I looked for the site of the greenhouse which would have been behind the caretaker’s house, a building that is now used as offices for the Northeast Region and North Quabbin Child Advocacy Group. Karlson explained that the greenhouse was probably built at the turn of the 20th century and though it was maintained by painting and repairing the glass, the years had taken their toll. One winter, only a few years before he retired, there was a terrific blizzard with heavy snow and winds. The greenhouse collapsed and it was too expensive to rebuild. Nothing is left of the greenhouse. Nowadays, plants for the cemetery are purchased. It is Snow and Sons who mow the lawns and keep the grounds looking as neat and beautiful as was intended when it was opened in 1851.

Green River Cemetery is one of the early “rural’ cemeteries to be founded. The founders were inspired by the beautiful MountAuburnCemetery created in 1831 which was designed to offer consolation to the bereaved, but its park-like plantings recreated a pastoral beauty that was also intended to provide meditative space for others who might come to stroll under the majestic trees, and among shrubberies and flowers.

Jeff Hampton, current President of the Green RiverCemetery, told me that the couple of weeks before and after Memorial Day are the busiest days for the cemetery. Families bring bouquets blooming with memory, with love and gratitude to those who went before.

Albert Karlson is one of a long line of men who served the dead and the living with the flowers they grew and planted.

Those of us who might visit the cemetery to mourn or to meditate will receive solace, or inspiration and encouragement as we see time and lives spread out before us. Some monuments have been worn to near illegibility but there is the imposing monument for Governor William Barrett Washburn, and the graceful marble sculpture created by Daniel Chester French for the Russell family.

Green RiverCemetery Monument by Daniel Chester French

Green River Cemetery monument by Daniel Chester French

I do not have family or friends lying in the Green River Cemetery, but as I strolled beneath the trees among the graves I sensed the entwining lives of the community, affections shared and the silence of those memories.

Between the Rows   May 28, 2016

Peonies – Beauty without Fussing

 

Nameless tree peony

Nameless tree peony

This year there were a lot of peonies, including a woodland peony, for sale at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale.  This is a testament to the health of the peonies on the Bridge and in our gardens. They thrive and eventually have to be divided.

In the olden days, peonies were cut back and divided in the fall then replanted into a sleepy autumn garden. Nurseries sold peony roots in the fall and gardeners spent the winter dreaming of those shoots poking up early in the spring.

Nowadays no one hesitates to divide peonies in the spring, and nurseries sell potted well budded peonies. Instead of dreaming of spring shoots, gardeners can plant their new peonies and wait a very short time for the bloom period to begin.

I can understand the desire to have two peony planting seasons.  They are beautiful and glamorous, coming in a variety of colors including white, pink, red, and some less common shades of coral and yellow. In Heath I had a very unusual peony called Green Lotus that had raggedy white petals tinged with green around a golden center. It did not bloom for very long each season, but I just loved its unusual color and form.

Peonies do come in many types and forms. Most of us are familiar with herbaceous peonies, peonies that need to be cut back to the ground in the fall. Herbaceous peonies can be single, semi-double like Coral Charm, or double like Kansas. The fully double peony with hundreds of ruffly petals hiding all signs of stamens is probably what most of us think of when we hear the word peony. A kind of double double is the bomb form which has the double grouping of petals in the center set on a ring of guard petals.

There is also the Japanese or Imperial form which has a few petals surrounding a large central cluster of stamens that have been transformed into stamenoids looking like a dense center fringe, usually gold. Gold Standard is an example. The anemone form is very similar and is sometimes considered a variety of Japanese peony only with petaloids of the same color instead of staminoids in  the center. Show Girl is a striking example.

Woodland peonies are a subset of the general herbaceous class. Woodland peonies are shorter and have finer foliage, blooming early in the season. They have a simple form, but they provide an extra wonder in the fall when the seed pod bursts open to reveal cobalt blue and scarlet seeds.

Woodland peony seed pod

P. Japonica seed pod

Each peony will bloom for a couple of weeks, but there are early, mid- and late season varieties so you  can enjoy peonies for six weeks. Many of them have notable fragrance.

I also grew two tree peonies. Guan Yin Mian was a lush shade of pink and she was named for the Goddess of Compassion. The other, also pink, lost its name in my record books, never to be revealed again. Tree peonies do not grow into tall trees, but into large sturdy shrubs. They do not get cut back in the fall. The woody infrastructure of a mature plant can hold dozens of large blossoms. These fragile looking peonies are actually extremely hardy and bloom before the herbaceous peonies.

Guan Yin Mian tree peony

Guan Yin Mian tree peony

There are cities in China where tree peonies were born that celebrate peony season with festivities. Closer to home is the CricketHillGarden in Thomaston, Connecticut which has its own Peony Festival from May 12 through June 21. The gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm. No admission is charged. You can go simply to admire the range of peony beauty, but I cannot imagine anyone resisting a purchase. Peonies, fruit trees and berry bushes will be on sale.

The newest variety of peonies are the Itoh peonies, also called intersectionals. Toichi Itoh, a Japanese nurseryman, was the first to cross the tree peony with the herbaceous peony. Now there are American hybrids which hold their blossoms high without supports. Although the stems are strong they do get cut down in the fall, returning bigger and more floriferous the following spring. Bartzella,  a yummy yellow, was an early variety and became very popular, but there are others in shades of lavender, pink, coral and red.

Itoh peonies are mid-season to late bloomers. Like all peonies the foliage stays green and healthy all summer.

Peonies are one of the longest lived and most carefree plants in the perennial garden. They all need full sun, and good, well draining soil with a pH of 6.5 or 7. If you buy peony roots in the fall the herbaceous and Itoh peonies should be planted two inches deep. A deeper planting will not harm the plant, but it will not make blooms. If you have a non-blooming peony, dig it up and give it a shallower planting hole. That should take care of the problem.

Tree peonies do need to be planted more deeply. About five inches of soil should cover the root. Also, if you are planting tree peonies think carefully about the site. They need sun but also need to be protected from strong winds.

Peonies should be watered and mulched the first year, but that is all the special care they will need. After that, you and your children can enjoy them for decades.

Potted peonies can be found in local nurseries now, or you can wait and buy peony roots in the fall from mail order nurseries. Cricket Hill Gardens Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery;  and Peony’s Envy.

Between the Rows   May 21, 2016

Tovah Martin and Terrariums

Tovah Martin

Tovah Martin photo by Kindra Clineff

Tovah Martin, gardener and author, has devoted a good part of her life to houseplants. Most of us have a limited view of what houseplants we might put on our windowsills, but when she found herself working at the wonderful Logee’s Greenhouse in Connecticut she fell in love with the hundreds of houseplant varieties put into her care.

Over the years Martin has written books like Well-Clad Windowsills: Houseplants for Four Exposures, The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home; The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow; and The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature. Her knowledge about the needs and benefits of various houseplants, as well as their beauty, sometimes sculptural and sometimes romantic, is encyclopedic, and her prose is a delight touched with humor.

As a part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Greenfield Garden Club, the Club is bringing the notable and charming Tovah Martin to Greenfield on Sunday afternoon, June 5 to give a lecture on terrariums, followed by a book signing, and then a terrarium making workshop. This event will be held at the gracious Brandt House on Highland Avenue.

Martin looks at terrariums as a practical way to have a whimsical or calming snippet of nature at hand, no matter what kind of houseplant space you might have. When I spoke to Martin I asked when she became an expert on terrariums. “I’ve made terrariums my whole adult life. Actually even before that. And now I give workshops for every age group from Brownie troops to senior citizens,” she said.

Terrariums are always a popular type of garden from the charming berry bowls filled with a bit of American teaberry with its shiny petite foliage and red berries, to fish tanks turned into a woodland scene. “Terrariums are the smallest landscape you’ll ever have to design,” Martin said. Participants in her workshop should bring their own container but other terrarium materials will be provided. “Almost any glass can be used for a terrarium,” she said. She added that she has a pretty good eye and is frugal so she is a regular at Goodwill stores. No glass container is too humble, large wide mouth mason jars work just as well.

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin

“Everyone should have nature by their side and terrariums make it easier. Terrariums are self watering, they almost grow on auto-pilot. Terrarium plants get the humidity they need, especially in the winter when our houses are so dry from the heating systems,” she said.

In her workshop she will demonstrate, and guide participants in the making of a terrarium that includes soil and plants, using surprising tools and giving useful tips. She will cover the basics of construction, and care from every angle including watering and light sources. Terrariums should not be placed in the sun, which is one reason they are such a good solution for the house that does not have much in the way of sunny windows, or possibly an office with limited light.

Beyond the closed terrarium that I am familiar with Martin points out that a terrarium is also an ideal environment for handling cuttings and making new plants, or for starting seeds. She said not all terrariums need to be closed and that even an open terrarium environment can help conserve moisture and will keep a plant happy with less work.

Extra pleasures on June 5: Michael Nix will be providing music, Kestrel of Northampton will be selling terrarium plants and supplies, and the World Eye will be selling books. Tickets are available at World Eye Books or can be ordered by calling Jean Wall at 773-9069. The cost of the lecture is $25 and $50 for the lecture and the workshop. Garden Club members get a discount of $20 and $40. For more information log on to the Greenfield Garden Club’s website http://www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org/special-events.html

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It is Plant Sale Season. Today the Bridge of Flowers is having their annual plant sale that will include shrubs, annuals and perennials; many are divisions of plants on the Bridge. There will be a great variety from asters to peonies to violets. Master Gardeners will be on hand to do soil testing. The sale will be held on the TrinityChurch’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in ShelburneFalls from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. All profits benefit the Bridge.

Next Saturday, May 21 is the Garden Club of Amherst’s plant sale under the tent on the Common next to the Farmer’s Market from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Profits benefit conservation efforts and a scholarship fund.

On Saturday, May 28 The Greenfield Garden Club will hold its annual Extravagaza on the lawn of St James Episcopal Church on Federal Street from 9 am to 2 pm. In addition to plants donated by club members there will be a tag/book sale, a bake sale and face painting for the kids. Rain or shine. Profits benefit the grant program for area schools.

Between the Rows   May 14, 2016

 

Bridge of Flowers – a Public Garden, a Public Joy

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

May 6th was American Public Gardens Day, but the American Public Gardens Association (AGPA) says official festivities continue right through Mother’s Day. The Bridge of Flowers, possibly our most notable local public garden, will not have any special festivities, but the community enjoys the festive and floriferous atmosphere every day from April 1 to October 30.

The APGA defines a public garden as one “that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning. It must be open to the public and the garden’s resources and accommodations must be made to all visitors.” This basic definition provides a physical description but does not begin to describe what the Bridge of Flowersmeans to our community.

The Bridge of Flowers has a long history beginning in 1929 when the trolley service between Colrain and ShelburneFalls was discontinued. It was the proliferation of that new locomotion, cars and trucks, that caused the demise of the trolley. If the bridge’s important function of moving freight, mail and residents from town to town was its only function, it might have remained the weedy eyesore it quickly became, or even been torn down. However, the bridge also carried a vital water main from Shelburne to Buckland. The bridge could not be demolished.

It was Antoinette Burnham who mused that a bridge that could grow all those weeds could also grow flowers. With the help of her husband who typed up a letter to the Greenfield Recorder, community support soon began to build.

Crocosmia on the Bridge of Flowers

Crocosmia, phlox and daylilies

The Shelburne Falls Fire District bought the bridge for $1,250; they are the owners of the bridge structure to this day. In the spring of 1929 eighty loads of loam were brought to the bridge along with several loads of fertilizer. I suspect the fertilizer was manure from local farmers, but that is my own thought. All this work was done by volunteers while the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club and others in the community raised $1000. I also suspect that the first plantings included divisions of perennials from local gardens and perhaps a few packets of seed.

Ever since its creation as The Bridge of Flowers the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club (now the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club) has assumed responsibility for the care and management of the Bridge. The Bridge of Flowers committee is a subcommittee of the Women’s Club, reporting to it and receiving support from the Club.

The look of the plantings on the Bridge has changed over time. We gardeners know that the very nature of a garden is change. Over the years women like Gertrude Newell, Trudy Finck, Carolyn Wheeler and Carole Markle took over the direction of the garden, and different ideas about style have taken their turn. For the past 20 years Carole Delorenzo, with her great horticultural knowledge, has been Head Gardener. What never changed was the pleasure local residents enjoyed as they used the Bridge of Flowers, the prettiest way to get from one town to the other, as they went about their rounds.

The nation’s economy also changed over those decades. Our area which is an agricultural area, gained a reputation as a tourist area. The commonwealth now has a Department of Travel and Tourism which promotes the beauties, arts, excitements and adventures available throughout the state. The Bridge of Flowers figures in their promotions, as it does in the promotions of the Mohawk Trail Association.

The result is that over 36,000 visitors sign the Bridge of Flowers guest book every year. Of course, some of these people live locally, but there are visits from all over the US, and 90 foreign countries ranging from England to Japan and China.

When Antoinette Burnham first thought that a weedy bridge could become a community asset I doubt that she imagined anything more than a spot of beauty that would give pleasure. And yet, the Bridge has become an economic benefit to the town by attracting tourists who will stop for a meal, or an ice cream cone, or beautiful items from our galleries.

Columbines for the Plant Sale

Columbines for the Plant Sale

The Bridge of Flowers committee is grateful for the way that town businesses have appreciated the Bridge and what it means by becoming Friends of the Bridge. Until 2008 the Committee depended on funds from the donation boxes, but that was beginning to be insufficient. It was out of the need for more financial help that the Friends of the Bridge was created. The generous response from a wide community has increased every year. It is gratifying to know how the Bridge is loved and appreciated.

The last few years have seen beautiful additions to the Bridge, from the sign-in kiosks, the Silent Spring fountain, and the River Bench created by Bob Compton, Paul Forth and John Sendelbach along with the generosity of W.R. Hillman & Sons and Goshen Stone. This year the Garden House was completed. The design was donated by architect Kim Erslev and the finishing touch was the donation of a stained glass window designed by Nancy Katz and created by her husband Mark Liebowitz.

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

In readiness for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

Next Saturday, May 14, the Bridge of Flowers committee will hold their annual plant sale which supports the Bridge, and makes it possible to share some of the Bridge’s plants, and plants from local gardens, with area gardeners. The Plant Sale is held on the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in Shelburne Falls rain or shine. In addition to perennials there will be annuals, refreshments, vendors, and Master Gardeners who will do soil tests. Gardeners can come early and scope out the plants, but no touching until the bell rings at 9 am. Sale ends at noon.

Between the Rows   May 7, 2016

Annual Climbing Vines – Delight and Camouflage

 

Morning glories

Morning glories in Heath

Annual climbing vines add an important dimension to any garden. We have trees reaching for the sky and flowers and vegetables covering the ground. Climbing vines as simple as scarlet runner beans or morning glories and as elegant as clematis add something very special to our gardens.

I have a friend who made a small arbor for herself in the middle of her garden, where she put a chair to give herself someplace to rest between bouts of weeding. She planted scarlet runner beans all around it to provide shade and brilliant color. Scarlet runner beans need nothing more than sun and ordinary good garden soil. They can be planted indoors three weeks before the last frost, hardened off, and then set out in the garden when frost is no longer a threat. Although they make beautiful shade and attract bees, scarlet runner beans are also good to eat. Keep picking the beans and the flowers will keep blooming.

Trellis for scarlet runner beans

Trellis for scarlet runner beans

Sweet peas are another colorful and sometimes fragrant annual vine that, like other peas, welcomes the cool spring weather and soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Renee’s Garden seeds offer a large variety of sweet peas including varieties that are suitable for small containers or flower boxes. A trellis to hold these beauties up can be as simple as a wire fence or a handmade twig trellis, or a metal obelisk bought at the garden store.

Sweet Peas

Sweet peas

Morning glories remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I loved the traditional Heavenly Blue, but I usually plant Grandpa Ott, a deep purple morning glory with a wine-red star. This usually reseeds, so although an annual, I rarely have to replant. My Heath Grandpa Ott grew up an arbor post and would bloom well into the fall. One tip for planting morning glories in the ground is to soak the seeds overnight. Make sure no more frost is expected.

The descriptively named cup and saucer vine, Cobea scandens, is a fast growing tropical vine and is an annual in our climate. It will grow up to 20 feet in one season. It must be planted after threats of frost when the soil is a bit warmer. Like morning glory seeds they can benefit from been soaked overnight before planting. The two inch cup-like flowers in blue or white prefer full sun and will bloom all summer.

The lablab bean, sometimes called a hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus, another tropical fast growing vine, will also grow to 20 feet or more. Even the leaves have a slightly purple cast while the flowers are a rosy purple and the bean pods are an interesting shade of purple. The pods are actually edible, but because they contain high levels of cyanogenic glucosides they must be boiled twice before preparing for a meal. Or you can just enjoy the lush growth and flowers. This is a substantial vine and should be given an equally substantial support to hold it at maturity.

A familiar sight on Greenfield porches is the black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia grandiflora. I have seen it used in hanging baskets where the vine goes down rather than up, but whether it is planted in a hanging basket or given a trellis in full sun, this is a bright floriferous vine that will bloom all summer long.

Strictly speaking the mandevilla vine is a Brazilian perennial vine, and some people do try to winter it over in the house. My own feeling about many tropical plants like amaryllis, poinsettias and such is that they can be a lot of work to carry over to a new season and I consider them annuals. I do not make any attempt to keep them through the winter. However, if you buy a potted mandevilla at a garden center and decide to try and carry it over the winter the easiest suggestion from the New YorkBotanical Garden is to cut it back hard, to about 12 inches, and put it in your 50 degree basement for the winter. Occasionally give it water. When spring sends out promises that it is coming, bring it out into the sun, water and fertilize it and see if it will start growing and come back for another season.

If you are looking for a really exotic vine for a season you might try the black coral pea, Kennedia nigricans. This exotic is native to Australia, but the mailorder nursery Annies Annuals and Perennials sells potted plants including the dramatic black coral pea. This has handsome green foliage and a true black flower, described as wasp-like, with a bit of gold or ivory at its base. It is not a tall vine, only about three feet and about that wide, but it is suitable for growing in a large pot and a real conversation starter. It does not need especially good soil and requires little watering. This is not a plant for a wet garden.

Vines have many uses in the garden: to make a tall focal point, to make big use of a small area, to provide a privacy screen or to hide some less than lovely area of the garden. Annual vines that grow quickly and lushly can come to the rescue with very little work or financial outlay.

Between the Rows   April 16, 2016