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Dear Friend and Gardener

Bee Fest Awards Excellent Pollinator Gardens

Bee Spaces plaque

Bee Spaces plaque

The world needs more pollinator gardens. The Bee Fest organized by the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Bee Keepers Association last week included talks by bee experts Lynn-Adler  and Susannah Lerman, researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Kim Flottum the editor of Bee Culture Magazine. All gave us information about problems facing pollinators and how we can help.

Susannah Lerman told us about her research which showed that mowing a non-herbicide/pesticide and un-fertilized lawn every two weeks generated 64 varieties of pollinator plants (that some would have called weeds) and 111 pollinators including honeybees and many native bees. Her research was unanimously acclaimed by all those who have lawns to mow!

Most of us have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder which causes a whole hive to die, but the cause has been unclear. Lynn Adler has been doing research on the bee’s digestive gut. It turns out that bees have some skill in diagnosing some of their ailments and know how to medicate themselves.

She knew that many plants have been used medicinally over the centuries. She thought that those biological compounds, called secondary metabolites, might be an important medicine for bees. Her research showed that sunflower pollen and sunflower honey can both help bees suffering from Nosema ceranae, a pathogen that can kill bees in little more than a week. It has been suggested that this pathogen has been responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder that mysteriously kills whole bee hives. Where bumblebees and honey bees have access to sunflowers they tend to be much healthier.

Honeybees have an advantage over bumblebees in fighting this disease. Honeybees live in community. Their hive can live through many generations of bees. They store a good stock of honey and pollen to keep everyone fed and well. Adler said honeybees are able to diagnose disease and seem to keep a pharmacy so whenever there is illness they have the wherewithal to treat it.

Bumblebees do not overwinter together. After mating in the fall the queen bumblebee bee eats as much as she can to build up fat that will carry her through her winter hibernation in the ground. When spring arrives she leaves her home every day to feed on nectar and gather strength. At first she does everything alone, gathering nectar and pollen, laying eggs and raising the first brood. After that she will have the support of those first bees while she devotes herself to egg laying.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

I never considered sunflowers great pollinator plants. I usually think of the great Mammoth sunflowers making seeds for snacks, but a browse though any catalog will list any number of sunflowers. They have different sizes and different colors – and some of them do not make pollen. Hybridizers have created sunflowers that do not make pollen which looks messy when it falls on a tablecloth. If you want to plant sunflowers for bees be sure to buy pollen bearing varieties.

Kim Flottum spoke about the loss of pollinator habitat which has been decreasing over the years. He told us ways that habitat can be increased. One idea taking hold in the Midwest cornfields is planting a border of pollinator plants all around cornfields. Corn does not need pollinators, but if there are pollinator plant borders, bees will come and the ecosystems will be healthier.

He also reported that two million bee hives are needed to pollinate almond orchards in California but there is nothing else for the bees to eat. Almond farmers have learned the benefit of planting pollinator plants in and around their orchards. The trees are pollinated better when the bees have additional food sources.

The National Wildlife Federation created the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge to add plants that will support the decimated populations of Monarch butterflies. They plant milkweeds in public parks, civic gathering place and along the highways.

Flottum talked about how easy it is to plant pollinator plants along the highways, which then would not need to be mowed. A town could save money while being more beautiful, and a supporter of birds and bees.

Flottum left us with a few words “Plant a flower, feed a bee. Make the world a better place.”

Deval Patrick, our former governor, then told a few stories about his own beekeeping practice, but he was there to help honor those who are already feeding the bees and making the world a better place. The Franklin County Beekeeper’s Association instituted the Bee Spaces Award this year, to be given to excellent pollinator gardens.

The first Annual Bee Spaces awards were presented to ErvingElementary School for its pollinator garden, Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls and the University of Massachusetts for its two pollinator gardens.

Deval Patrick presenting  and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award

Deval Patrick presenting and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award for the Bridge of Flowers

If you have a garden supportive of pollinators, or want to add pollinator plants to your garden, you might win one of next year’s Bee Spaces awards. There are many books available at the library with lists of good pollinator plants including 100 Plants to Feed the Bees published by the Xerces Society, or you can go online to many sites including the New England Wildflower Society, newenglandwild.org. You can start collecting photos so you can apply to be a winner next spring. More information will be available soon.

Between the Rows   June 10, 2017

Northampton Garden Tour – June 10, 2017

rhododendrons

Rhododendrons and azaleas provide bloom in this spring garden

It is Garden Tour season! So many gardens to see, to enjoy and to learn from. It could be said that every garden is designed around the flaws – I mean challenges – of the site. E. Bruce Brooks and his wife Taeko stood with me in front of his Northampton house and garden and we looked up at the tall brick building. “Our design aims to minimize the too tall house that sits on a too small lot,” Bruce said. “One purpose of our garden is to provide height to match the house, and also an integrated design to make it look more at home. The swirl of the alternating beds of myrtle and grass is meant to direct the eye away from the house, and lure it in another direction.”

Those curves include a handsomely paved path that leads first to the front door but also swoops to the side of the house where the most used door is located.

A "concealed terrace"

A “concealed terrace”

It has been noted by others that there is a calligraphic sweep to the design, a nod to the work of these two classical Chinese scholars.

Another challenge of the site is that it is on a hill. The land is an uninterrupted slope from the sidewalk to the boundary of an evergreen hedge. Bruce has created a series of ‘concealed terraces’ to diminish the rapid flow of rainwater down the slope. A shrub and flower bed parallel to the sidewalk looks like a raised bed but it is actually a sunken bed in the front and a raised bed on the opposite side. This bed neatly contains ajuga, three gas plants, Dictamus albus, and a Sky Pencil Japanese holly, one of several in the garden, pulling the eye upward. I had never seen a gas plant although I had heard that the flowers or seeds emitted a flammable oil that could be ignited by a match when the summer air was very still. I asked if he had ever experimented with such fire, but he shook his head and said he had never been that adventurous.

This garden has undergone substantial changes over the decades they have lived there. A yew hedge outgrew itself, and heavy machinery was called in to remove it. That heavy machinery pretty much did away with what garden was there and they began anew. In addition to that change, surrounding trees have made the site shadier and shadier. Taeko reminisced, “We tried to grow herbs for a while, including lavender and Biblical plants like hyssop, but the increasing shade got the better of them. We used to grow what we like; now we try to like what will grow.” One fairly sunny bed now includes Andromeda, white azalea and a ground cover of intermixed black mondo grass, dwarf iris, and sweet woodruff planted around another tall Sky Pencil.

Color and texture are important elements

Color and texture are important elements

Brooks refers to the garden as Taeko’s garden, but it is clear that it is very much a shared project. Brooks is the design man, and Taeko, a second generation Hawaiian, she happily informed me, is the gardener on the ground. There is a shrub size Japanese red maple next to the stairs going into the back garden. Brooks raised it from seed, but Taeko said it was getting too big. Brooks disagreed and Taeko took to pruning it every spring to keep it a proper size. Brooks shook his head. “We are always arguing,” he said. Taeko laughed and said, ”Oh, yes, we are always arguing.”

 ryongi temple

Ryoanji Temple memory – nearly done

The narrow rear garden is very shady. Once again myrtle is massed along a narrow bed on one side of a wide gravel path, with massed painted fern against the house on the other side. In the middle of this pebble garden, a reminder of the famous gardens in the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, is an austere arrangement of stone and two shrubs. They spent two years of their early life together in Kyoto, and carried some of those stones home with them when they left, a tender souvenir of those years together.

The serenity of this garden created by the massing of myrtle, painted ferns and blu e fescue ornamental grass is a lesson to us all about the power of massing.

Taeko and E.  Bruce Brooks

Taeko and E. Bruce Brooks

Bruce and Taeko have shared their professional lives as well as their garden planning. Their department, The Warring States Project of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts is a research center for classical China, and recently also for Early Christianity and the Hebrew Bible. The Project itself has branches: offsite laboratories in the Midwest and in Canada where stylistic analysis of ancient texts in four languages is carried out by teams of computer specialists.

Their home offices allow them to see each other while they slave over Chinese texts and computers, but they said they never confer while they are working. They meet only when they are finished with a section or topic. They do not always agree (always arguing again) but were very clear that their work proceeds because they have absolute trust in each other’s thinking and work. They have written several books together, including The Original Analects and The Emergence of China. New books will be arriving soon.

I have just given a taste of the peaceful Brooks garden which is one of the six gardens on the 24th annual Northampton Garden Tour, providing visitors with the differing styles and approaches to making a beautiful and unique garden. The tour is scheduled for Saturday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. rain or shine. Proceeds from this tour go to the Friends of the Forbes Library to buy books, materials and programs at the Library. Tickets are $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, and State Street Fruit Store. On June 10th, the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and available only at the library. There will also be a raffle.

Between the Rows   June 3, 2017

 

Exotic or Immigrant – Flowers from Afar

NOT an Ollalie daylily

NOT an Ollalie daylily – a flower from afar

I do promote the beauty and benefits that native flowers bring to our garden, but they would be less beautiful if they did not include the  flowers from afar that have come to be called ‘exotics.’ The Bridge of Flowers is one place you can see natives and exotics blooming harmoniously.

Dayliles first bloomed in Asia where they were used medicinally. Four hundred years ago they arrived in Europe and hybridizing began – and continues today. We are all familiar with the roadside daylily, Hemerocallis fulva, and many hybrids resemble them except that the range of color has exploded. Daylilies have also been hybridized to change petal shape and arrangement in ways that make the flower much more complicated.

I have a number of daylilies in my garden, but the first one I bought over 30 years ago came from Olallie Daylily Farm in South Newfane, Vermont. I had heard that the Farm had wonderful daylilies, but it was really hard to persuade the owner to actually sell them.

Christopher Darrow was the new young farmer, caring for, and presumably selling, daylilies that his grandfather, Dr. George Darrow, had hybrized in his retirement from the USDA. Christopher showed me around and when I finally decided on a daylily to buy he shook his head, “No, I can’t let you have that one.”

He repeated his sad no twice more until I finally said, “OK, what can I buy?” His choice and my purchase was a lovely yellow daylily – name lost, alas, except for the prefix Olallie. Since then I have added any number of daylilies to my garden.

Olallie Daylily Farm has grown and now sells over 2,500 daylily cultivars including those that Christopher himself has hybridized like the citrine hybrids that are six feet tall or more. If you visit the farm to choose your own from the field, you might also want to pick-your-own-blueberries before you leave. Grandfather George also kicked off the pick-your-own movement and has the Darrow blueberry to prove it.

Brunnera, a woodland plant, originated in Europe and Asia, but it is a current favorite in American gardens. In 2012 Brunnera “Jack Frost” was named the Perennial Plant of the year. It grows to about 12 inches tall with a spread of about two feet. It is the lacy white pattern on the green foliage resembling frost that inspired the name. Brunnera is sturdy and hardy, happy in the shade garden where its handsome foliage attracts attention. In the spring it blooms with clusters of small blue flowers that are reminiscent of forget-me-nots.

Hostas are another shade loving plant that can be used as a featured plant or as a ground cover. It originated in Asia and can be traced back 800 years, but it was not until  the early 19th century that it came to Europe and attracted attention Nowadays it is hard to find any shade garden that does not include a hosta or two – unless the gardener has given up because the deer love it so much.

There are now hundreds of hosta species and thousands of cultivars. A browse through any hosta catalog will show hostas in a range of color from a brilliant yellow green to a blue green and in sizes from plants with large leaves and a spread of over 36 inches to tiny miniature hostas like Mouse Ears. I became aware of the great world of hostas when I visited Mike Shadrack’s gardens in Buffalo.

Miniature hosta

Miniature hosta collection

Hosta hybridizers always seem to be finding new looks for these plants.  Wiggles and Squiggles is a new cultivar this year with long slim foliage with wavy edges in a bright shade of yellow green. It is only about eight inches tall with 18 inch scapes and purple flowers, but will make a clump that is two feet wide.

Those hosta lovers who have trouble with the depredations of deer might find an answer in a collection of the miniatures. Some have foliage as small as three inches. Like their larger relatives they come in bright yellow green shades like Limey Lisa to the blue-gray Judy Blue Eyes with lavender flowers.

Needless to say the rose is one of my favorite immigrants. Roses originated in China over 5000 years ago. When we lived in Beijing I didn’t understand the translation “monthly rose.” It was not until later that I learned a better translation would be everblooming rose. Indeed it is the everblooming gene in this Chinese rose that has enabled a world of everblooming roses to be hybridized.

Ghislaine de Feligonde rose

Ghislaine de Feligonde, David Austin hybrid

My new garden does not have room for dozens of roses but I have discovered Knock Out roses and Kordes hybrids that will bloom over a long season and will be disease resistant. The Bridge of Flowers has many roses that bloom from June into the fall. People ask me to choose the best season of bloom, but it is impossible to name. It depends on your favorites flowers.

A visit to the Bridge of Flowers inspires many people, suggesting flowers they  would like to add to their own gardens. It is even possible to buy plants that bloom on the Bridge. Once again the Annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, May 13 from 9 a.m. to noon across from the Shelburne-BucklandCommunity Center on Main Street in ShelburneFalls. Plants come from the Bridge, and from local gardeners, with annuals from LaSalles in Whately. Rain or shine and come early.

Between the Rows   May 13, 2017

Tomorrow, May 20 native and exotic plants will be on sale at the Annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale in Shelburne Falls. Plants come from the Bridge, from area gardens and from local nurseries. The sale opens at 9 am and concludes at noon. Don’t be late.

 

Mysteries of May in the Garden

With the turning of the calendar page I am out in the garden investigating the mysteries of May. Young shoots are everywhere. Surely they have names. I stand looking at the swath of a bright green, crispy ribbed ground cover that has taken its assignment to cover the ground very seriously. I have no idea what it is called. I vaguely remember looking at it last fall as I removed autumn leaves and wondered if some of the these still green leaves were weeds. It was possibly a weed, but also possible that it was a really good groundcover.

Mystery groundcover, now producing tiny blue flowers

Mystery groundcover, now producing tiny blue flowers

You may wonder why I don’t have a plant list, writing about every new plant I buy. Well, I do. Sort of. I routinely start these lists and sometimes I try to back them up by sticking receipts for the new plants in an envelope. I even have labeled photos of many of my plants on my commonweeder.com blog which is sometimes helpful. Just today I was strolling through my blog posts looking for an image of the ground cover photo mentioned above. I didn’t find the groundcover’s name but I did find the name of another clump of green that I couldn’t identify. I was happy to solve that mystery and add the name tricyrtis or toad lily plants with all their purple polka dots on my incomplete list.

Tricyrtis

Tricyrtis or toad lily blooms in the fall. This photo was taken October 18 last year.

Tricyrtis is identifiable instantly – when it is in bloom. When it is just a clump of nice looking leaves it could be almost anything. And that is one of the problems. Many of us buy potted perennials at a nursery when the plants are more advanced than they will be the following May. We often don’t know what the first shoots of a flower look like.

I try to keep plant lists, but they inevitability remain incomplete however. I look through my lists and can find no likely name for the groundcover, and no name for three large patches of a low growing dark green sedum tinged with deep red along the tiny leaf edges. I think sedums are in a class of their own. Surely many people forget the names of their low-growing sedums. In fact, I think I bought that sedum several years ago at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale. Usually sedums at that sale are merely labeled Sedum with no further name.

Geum triflorum

Mystery plant now identified as Prairie Smoke – Geum triflorum

I wander through the garden and there is a plant I moved from the South Border to the Birch Bed. It is doing beautifully and has a couple of 8 inch flower stalks with small pink buds rising from the center of lush gray-green ferny leaves. I kept the label tucked into the soil next to the plant last year because I kept forgetting its name, but it must have gotten lost in the move last fall. Maybe I’ll see another plant just like it when I visit nurseries this spring. I might get an ID that way.

Two tiny clumps of green are planted next to the viburnam in  thewinterberry bed. One still has its general saxifrage label, but the other small plant is only marked with a metal stake. I seem to remember that when I planted it late last summer it was so small that I feared I would think it a weed in the spring and rip it out. The metal stake was protection and a reminder. But the reminder only went so far.

Across from those two bits of green was a good sized clump of a low green plant with scalloped leaves and very small bright flowers on dancing stems. I love the orange flowers with their nearly gold centers, and I was delighted with last year’s very long season of bloom, but no name clutters my memory.

Yesterday I bought a pot of Lobelia cardinalis which will send up a spike of bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I already had a L. cardinalis plant but I couldn’t remember where I moved it. Fortunately, I could compare and match the foliage. Thus I located the old lobelia and now I have a little clump of this striking plant. It is supposed to self seed if it is in a congenial climate and site. I have hopes.

There are many such May mysteries in my garden, but I can surprise myself by remembering, too. There was a single clump of foliage at the end of my herb bed where I had planted a few odds and ends from last year’s Bridge of Flowers plant sale. I cleaned out the annuals in the fall, but apparently left this plant to bloom again. And it did bloom. It looks like a yellow daisy. I looked at its sudden bloom and said to myself, doronicum! And then I asked myself where that certainty came from? Not trusting myself, I looked up doronicum and found a picture of a yellow daisy just like mine. The name given was Leopard’s bane and Doronicum. Sometimes remembering the name of a plant is the May mystery.

Doronicum or Leopard's band

Doronicum or Leopard’s bane

I  wonder how many May mysteries are in other gardens. I’d be interested to know if this is a problem for anyone else. You can send your comments to me at commonweeder@gmail.com.

Between the Rows  May 6, 2017

I identified Prairie Smoke when I was browsing through a new book Gardens of the High Line with hundreds of beautiful photographs by Rick Darke – and there was a photo of my plant with its name. Hooray. It is an interesting plant that will develop its ‘smoke’ in June. Photos will follow.

Shades of Green

Greenery on the Bridge of Flowers

Shades of Green on the Bridge of Flowers

Every garden, vegetable or ornamental, includes many shades of green, and yet so much of our attention is on color. We look for blooming trees and shrubs, we consider how to combine colors in the flower garden and we even welcome unusual colors in the vegetable garden – rainbow chard, purple carrots, nearly black cherry tomatoes. And yet green is the overarching color in our gardens and requires consideration in its own right.

Having said I will focus on low growing plants with green foliage today, it must be said that many of the plants I mention will also have flowers. However, flowers often appear for just a short period of the season.

In early spring the first plants to make themselves known are ground covers like lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, and foam flower, Tiarella cordifolia. Lady’s mantle is famous for the way it collects drops of rain water on its gray-green scalloped leaves. It is the fine hairs on the foliage that account for the velvety soft color, and the plants ability to turn drops of rain or dew into a jeweled adornment. It produces airy chartreuse blossoms on fine stems in late May or early June. It is a foot or so tall and each plant will spread to about two and a half feet. It is happy in sun or dappled shade especially if the soil is moist.

Tiarella cordifolia

Tiarella cordifolia

Tiarella cordifolia is a clumping plant just under a foot tall. It will send out runners and spreads beautifully. Its bright green leaves are also scalloped, but smaller than those of lady’s mantle. It blooms in May, sending up airy racemes of pink or white flowers that will rise a foot or more above the foliage. The blooms can be snipped off when they begin to die to keep the plant neat. Tiarella thrives in part or full shade and prefers moist soil.

Ginger

Ginger

Wild gingers also make excellent ground covers. There is Asarum canadensis which is a native ginger. The stemless dull green kidney shaped foliage will not grow more than a foot tall. It does produce a small brownish blossom but it is not notable or very noticeable. I have Asarum europaneum, which is not native, but whose leaves are shiny and leathery. It stays at a height of six inches and spreads slowly. Both asarums will grow in shade or part shade and prefer moist or even wet sites.

While I have been concentrating on plants that welcome moist locations I also have a spot for epimediums, sometimes called bishop’s hat, which thrives in dry shade. Garden Visions nursery in Templeton offers an amazing array of these sturdy little plants with airy blossoms that appear in the spring. I have E. rubrum with a reddish border on the green foliage and delicate pink flowers, as well as E. sulphureum which has yellow flowers. The heart shaped green leaves are handsome into the fall.

I do not grow hostas. In Heath hostas were a losing battle with the deer, but the truth is I do not like the blossoms and that kept hostas out of my garden. I know, I know. I could just cut off the blossom, stalks, and now that I am in town, maybe I will. The truth is there is a world of color, size and texture in the hosta world.

A few years ago I was on a garden tour in Buffalo and environs. We made a stop at renowned hosta expert Michael Shadrack’s fabulous garden with its enormous collection of hostas and daylilies. Hostas are not groundcovers, but they do cover a lot of ground at the edges of mixed beds or as an important statement of their own.

Hostas come in a full range of green from deep dark green, bright green, golden green, blue green, and many patterns of variegation. They also come in a full range of sizes. As I was going through my Shadrack Pocket Guide to Hostas I came upon a single large Liberty hosta which can grow to 40 inches wide with leaves “dark blue-green turning green, widely margined with golden yellow turning ivory-cream toward the mid-rib.”

Shadrack was very fond of miniature hostas, and I could join him in that affection. There are many tiny hostas like the six inch Mouse Ears with its blue-green round-ish foliage and Tears of Joy which is only four inches tall and with grassier brighter foliage.

Hakone grass

Hakone grass

Hakone grass, Hakonechola macra, is a bright green ornamental grass from Japan that has become more and more popular. This graceful grass grows to a foot tall or more and several varieties give a choice of shades of green and gold that will turn shades of pink or golden orange in the fall.

I have a bit of “Aureola” in my garden with slim variegated leaves in bright green striped with gold. “Naomi” is creamy gold and green in the summer but in the fall it turns a rich shade of purple-red. “Nicholas” is solid green in summer but cool autumn temperatures turn it stunning shades of red, orange and gold.

The term green foliage does not tell you very much, but shades of green with a variety of textures can make a brilliant arrangement in your garden I find the mostly green array of plants at the Shelburne entrance of the Bridge of Flowers perfectly beautiful. I always stop to admire the serene arrangements before I go on to the amazing color and form on the Bridge itself. Serenity is as important to me in my garden as is joyous color. I have room for every mood.###

Between the Rows   April 29, 2-17

 

Conversation of Trees

Norway spruce

Norway spruce

Recently at the Greenfield Library I saw a small book on the best seller shelf, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World. It looked like a quiet book with its creamy cover and drawing of three trees, with roots gently touching. The idea that plants can hear and talk is not new. I know of experiments with classroom or greenhouse plants, providing classical or rock music, talking to the plants encouragingly, or insulting them, all to see if these different approaches affect the plants differently.

Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and the author of the book, cared for his forests in the standard way in the1980s, but he never felt happy about the kind of thinning he had to do, or the pesticides he had to use. He also believed the science that already existed about the communality of trees.

What makes that communality and communication possible is the web of fungi which grows into and around tree roots, increasing the ability of the tree to gather nutrients and water, and to share those resources with other nearby trees that may be weaker or suffering. The fungi also send chemical and electrical signals. Dr. Suzanne Simard in Nature magazine coined the term Wood Wide Web.

One example of the experiments that were done showed that beeches share resources. In a grove of beeches, even though certain areas had different qualities of soil, it was found that the rate of photosynthesis in all the trees was the same. The trees were not dependent on the sunlight or nutrients gathered individually. The trees were sharing so that every leaf of every tree got the same amount of sugar. Wohlleben worked with oak and beech forests. It doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to think that trees in close proximity could communicate and help each other. Of course there is more to the book than that, and I recommend it.

By the time we left our 60 acres in Heath about half the acreage was mixed woodland, mostly white pine and some hardwoods. We had loggers come in twice during our 35 years there to harvest the white pine and some hardwood for firewood. It was fairly young woodland, and it increased over time. A field west of the house was adjacent to a stand of white pines to its west. The wind blew pine seeds into the field creating a substantial new stand of white pine.

The forester told us that the new stand of pines was very healthy with no white pine weevil in evidence. I had been keen to show myself a responsible forest owner and talked to our forester about thinning. The trees were young enough that I could go out with our Christmas tree saw. He strongly discouraged me. He said it was too hard to know which trees to take out, which were weaker. So no work of that sort was done.

I thought maybe the forester shared my motto that procrastination is the gardener’s friend, but I never imagined that he might be considering the benefits that the trees in our pine grove offered each other.

Our Greenfield property has two trees that made it very appealing. We first saw the house in wintery March, but the tall Norway spruce in the northwestern corner was dignified and stately.

Then while we were going through the buying process the horsechestnut tree came into beautiful bloom. The view from the kitchen window is pure delight. Next to the horsechestnut are two slim hemlocks. I can’t help wondering if these trees communicate with each other even if they are not the same species.

Lilac tree and sycamore

Syringa, lilac tree, and sycamore in mid-May

My husband was more taken by the very tall sycamore or buttonball tree that grows in front of the house on the street side of the sidewalk. It is very impressive. On the opposite side of the sidewalk is a lilac tree. It is a true syringa and produces airy white blossoms, not really like lilac flowers, but breathing out a delicious fragrance that catches everyone’s attention as they walk by. Two very different trees. Could the tall and imposing sycamore have anything to say to the smaller, flowery lilac tree? Those sycamore roots travel far. We have hit them when planting perennials some distance away. Those roots could easily embrace and whisper to the lilac so close by.

We have planted new trees in the backyard, part of my low maintenance garden plan. Two river birch trees don’t mind flood season in the garden. The weeping cherry is planted nearer to the house which is less apt to be flooded. These three trees are doing nicely.

Last year I planted a small pagoda dogwood, chosen for the sculptural arrangement of its branches. It too is near the house but it’s too early to see how it has come through the winter.

Surely the birches will bond, but will they have any interest in the cherry or dogwood? I think the birches are gentlemanly and I will be watching to see if they show any care for the pretty ladies, or if they will leave them to their sighs and fans, like ladies in cocktail party corners, longing for someone to come and make conversation?

When you look out your windows what trees do you see? Do you think they are paying any attention to each other? It is hard to tell but maybe it is possible, even if they come from different branches of the tree family. I hope so.

Between the Rows   April 1, 2017

Underutilized Trees and Shrubs

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey gave a useful workshop on Underutilized Trees and Shrubs at the WMMGA Spring Garden Symposium last weekend. I attended because I may not be quite finished choosing shrubs for our new Greenfield garden and I was looking for more suggestions. Small trees and shrubs are the elements I am counting on to make this a sustainable, low maintenance garden.

Vinskey’s list included trees like paperbark maple, tupelo, ironwood, redbud, stewartia, and pagoda dogwood. His shrub list included beautyberry, Carolina allspice, fringe tree, witch hazel, and redvein enkianthus. Vinskey chose these because of their fine attributes of bark, blossom and autumn color or winter interest. Happily for me I had already planted some of his suggestions.

It is important to know that Vinskey chose plants that were hardy in our region. The USDA lists Greenfield as zone 5b which means plants will survive winter temperatures as low as -15 to -10.  Nowadays I have to wonder whether we might actually be in zone 6a which is -10 to -5 and I would be willing to take a gamble on a slightly more tender plant like stewartia.

It is also important to know how much shade or sun a plant needs to thrive. However, I also have to take into account that my garden is very wet at least during late winter and early spring, even when we are having a drought. While listening to Vinskey I was happy that I had already planted pagoda dogwood and Carolina allspice in my garden. The pagoda dogwood is a small tree with a very horizontal arrangement of branches. The flowers are small and not particularly notable, but the sculptural shape of the tree is the delight. I saw a beautiful specimen in Minneapolis last summer; the tree’s gardener told me it did require some regular pruning to keep that clean shape at its best.

Calycanthus or Carolina allspice is a shrub that can take a fair amount of shade and produces dramatic dark red blossoms from May into July. And, of course, there is the sweet fragrance.

Elderberry bush

Elderberry bush

In addition I’ve planted buttonbush, elderberry, spicebush and winterberry shrubs, which I personally think of as underutilized. Perhaps some gardeners would consider them too wild for a cultivated garden.

My perennial list includes joe pye weed, boneset, culver’s root, Echinacea, American burnet, turtlehead, bee balm, Siberian irises Japanese primroses, and bog rosemary which is a water tolerant ground cover. You can see that in a sense I have been cultivating a wetland garden. These plants don’t need to be in wet ground all the time, but they thrive when the soil is moist, or water is puddling around their feet. Some are familiar to flower gardeners, but others are more unusual although those who love native flowers may find them familiar.

Monarda or bee balm

Monarda or bee balm with bee

The fact that I have so many native plants in my garden is because I wanted plants attractive to bees and other pollinators including butterflies. Having a pollinator garden is one of my goals. Because honeybees and other pollinators are under so much attack by the use, and often overuse, of herbicides and pesticides I want to play my part in supporting these vital creatures. Without pollinators many of our vegetables and fruits would no longer exist.

Bee Spaces Pollinator Garden Award

This year there will be a special opportunity and event at the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3. The Second Congregational Church, which this year is celebrating its 200th anniversary, has cooperated with the Franklin County Beekeepers Association for several years creating a bee festival that will entertain and educate children, and all the rest of us too, about honey bees and the 300 odd other native bees that work hard to make sure we have good vegetables and fruits to eat.

Greenfield has a very special connection to honeybees because the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth served as the Second Congregational Church’s minister from 1840-1848. He is one of the people who recognized ‘bee space’, the specific distance that honeybees leave between their honeycombs so that they could fill, or empty them. He also invented the modern wooden beehive that allows for ‘bee space’ between the removable frames.

This year, in honor of the church’s anniversary, special celebratory events are scheduled for the Bee Festival. Kim Flottam, editor in chief of Bee Culture Magazine and author of several books on beekeeping, will be the main speaker.

For those who do not keep bees, but welcome bees to their gardens the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Beekeeping Association will present awards to home gardens, farms, public or community gardens or businesses that provide some space for bees. Former Governor Deval Patrick will be on hand to present the awards. The award itself is a beautiful pottery plaque designed and made by the well known potter Molly Cantor. It is designed to be placed on a house or business, “designating you as a pollinator friendly garden of distinction.”

Rudbeckia is another good bee plant

Rudbeckia, black eyed susans are another good bee plant

Those who are interested in this award should fill out an application. Requirements are that the garden be in Franklin County, and that no pesticides or herbicides can be used anywhere on the property. For more information check out the Bee Spaces pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

This is the kick off of the award, so if you think your garden might need a little updating to be eligible remember that there is always next year, and the Second Annual Bee Spaces Award.

Between the Rows   March 25, 2017

Toxics Action Conference in Boston – Water and More

Kandi Mossett

Kandi Mossett

Water is life! That is the cry that was repeated when Kandi Mossett finished her keynote address at the Local Environmental Action Conference last Sunday. Mossett, of Mandan, Hidsata and Arikara tribal heritage, is a leading voice in the fight to the impacts that environmental injustice are having on indigenous communities across our country.

We all know about the stand taken at Standing Rock in North Dakota to keep an oil pipeline from crossing sacred lands and under the lake that supplies water to the tribe, threatening the safety of that water supply. The protest has gotten a lot of press over the past months, but Mossett filled us in on the terrifying context and damage done to land and water over past years.

Oil wells and fracking have been going on for years. One result is that contaminated fracking water has been trucked to manmade ponds that are not reliable and have leaks. These spills kill plants and soil. One farmer’s whole field was destroyed. The river where people fished turned blue, signifying a deoxygenating algae bloom that killed the fish. Mossett showed us a photo of 18 inch ‘frack sox’ filter. These are radioactive and not disposed of properly, and sometimes are picked up by children. Babies are affected by the hydrogen sulphide poisonous gas.

The idea that the Standing Rock protest is just about the building of a pipeline does not begin to tell the story of lands taken, soil and water already contaminated, and health consequences of fracking. Mossett herself is a cancer survivor.

As we all know, the protest has not prevented the pipeline. Mossett tell all who have ever fought for justice, “You’re not guaranteed change when you make your voice heard against injustice; but you are guaranteed to fail if you choose to remain silent.”

Mossett continues to fight for justice for indigenous people and you can find more information at the Indigenous Environmental Network http://indigenousrising.org/KandiMossett.

In the afternoon Lois Gibbs was the keynote speaker. In 1978 she founded the Love Canal Homeowners Associate. Happily, more than half of the audience understood instantly what that meant.

When Gibbs, who had a toddler son, noticed that many children in the neighborhood were becoming ill, she investigated and found that the school and the neighborhood were built on a toxic landfill. She and other parents attended town committee meetings and asked them to do something, confident that this information would move them to action. But nothing happened she said. No action was taken.

She went to the town again, but their decision was based on a cost/benefit analysis of the neighborhood and the earnings of the 100 or so families living there. Earnings of men and their sons were calculated over the years, but women and daughters were not considered to have any earnings and were worth nothing. “Can you imagine? The women were worth nothing?” Gibbs said to her audience.

Gibbs’ group then turned to science and created a survey that showed that 56% of the children had birth defects, counted the number of illnesses and miscarriages. Their study was dismissed as ‘useless housewife data by people who have a vested interest.’ The town finally did their own study and got the same information but declared that this was simply a random cluster of genetically defective people.

Then Gibbs said they misbehaved. They got town officials to come to a meeting at her house for more discussion and served cookies and coffee. Then we told them they could not leave until they promised to do something to remove all the families and give them new homes. “We held them hostage.” The men made phone calls, one of which brought a sharp shooter to keep watch through the window. After 5 hours they said they would work something out. But Gibbs and her group told them they if they did not have a plan in place by Wednesday at noon, three days hence, they would be very sorry.

The media was told of the deadline and there was great tension, but exactly at noon on Wednesday it was agreed. By a month later many of the families had been evactuated and the rest followed soon after.

Gibbs’ toddler daughter who was conceived and born while they lived at LoveCanal had been extremely ill through all this, but she said her daughter and her son were fully recovered after two years living elsewhere. Her daughter has even given her three healthy grandchildren.

Gibbs’ advice was that people who want to bring about change need science and the law. She said to fight politically, never violently and always to stand together.

I did not to attend the workshop about Flint Water because we are fortunate in Greenfield to have good clean drinking water, and a town website with water and sewer divisions. Water testing results are posted there.

I did attend Dirty Water: Increasing Community Capacity in the Face of Drinking Water Contamination with Emerging Chemicals. The emerging chemicals we focused on were polyflourinated water contaminants like PFCs, PFAS, PFOA, etc. These are chemicals that can spread through the soil and get into water systems from factories. Testing is difficult and expensive, they cannot be boiled away from drinking water like bacteria, and they can be absorbed through your skin from upholstery or carpeting materials, and by bathing or taking a hot shower which will allow you to inhale the chemical. The workshop did not solve any problems, but pointed out the problems that need solving.

Water is Life! We must guard and protect our nation’s water supply. Toxic Actions and Massachusetts Climate Action Network hosted this excellent conference.

Between the Rows  March 11, 2017

Mount Holyoke College Flower Show

Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

The Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show is blooming and continues through Sunday, March 19. The Greenhouse is open from 10 am – 4 pm.

Winter had come back to give us a ferocious bite on the day I met Tom Clark, the new Director of the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden. We walked through the Talcott Greenhouse door into the fragrant woodland glade of this spring’s Flower Show. The title of the show, Spring Pools, refers to the three pools that lie beneath flowering trees (or at least their branches) surrounded by the little bulbs of early spring.

I am always fascinated by the work that goes into putting on an exhibit like this. Bulbs have to be ordered the summer before and then the imaginative greenhouse team chooses a theme and creates the design. After the bulbs are potted up in the fall the long schedule begins of bringing them into life and into a period of early bloom, but not too full bloom, begins. Once the shoots are up it takes careful monitoring of light and temperature in Talcott Greenhouse so that most of the bulbs will be at an early stage of bloom which will last for the two weeks of the Mount Holyoke College Flower Show.

Primroses at the Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

Primroses at the Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

At this point in the show the hyacinths were providing most of the fragrance, but many unusual varieties of small daffodils, glory of the snow, low-growing windflowers in white and blue, pansies, muscari, and tender primroses surrounded the placid pools while ranked plantings on the sides of the greenhouse included larger plants like the Vancouver Centennial geranium with its small red blossoms, and the fat spotted blossoms of calceolaria. Ends of the room were lavishly filled with camellias, blooming witch hazel, canary broom, freesias, orchids and annual schizianthus with its beautiful flowers in stunning and gentle colors.

The show was all ready for its opening on March 4 and Tom Clark had time to chat and show me around. Clark, a Hadley native, had worked for the MountHolyokeBotanic Garden for 12 years, developing and caring for various gardens across the campus as well as responsibilities in Talcott Greenhouse until 2006 when he left to become Curator of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thomas Clark, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden

Thomas Clark, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden

Last fall Clark returned to Mount Holyoke as Director of the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden, an area of three acres or so around the greenhouse. His return occurred at the time the Botanic Garden was leaving the purview of Facilities and Management and moving to the Academic side. “I thought this was a reaffirmation of the full value of the Botanic Garden,” Clark said.

Talcott Greenhouse and the Spring Flower Show are a small part of the purpose of the Botanic Garden. Clark explained that while the greenhouse staff does not teach horticulture classes the staff is a resource for students, mostly from biology and environmental studies. Some students may have their own research projects and there is room in the greenhouse for their use.

He explained that the gardens, indoors and out, are not just about providing pretty flowers and spoke passionately about the staff’s “obligation to preserve plants.”

As an example he told me about the Franklinia altamaha tree which is no longer to be found in the wild, only in cultivation. This tree was discovered along the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia by William Bartram in 1765. Bartram was the son of John Bartram, a self taught botanist who collected seeds and plants, propagating them in his Philadelphia nursery, creating the most varied collection of North American plants in existence at that time. Many of these plants and seeds were sold to estate owners in England.  William Bartram named the tree for Ben Franklin who was a good family friend. All the Franklinia trees that grow today come from Bartram’s collection of trees and seed.

Mount Holyoke has a Franklinia tree. Because it is only hardy to zone 5 and Massachusetts is at the edge of its range a protected spot will be chosen for planting.  Clark explained that by telling the stories behind plants visitors to the Botanic Garden will better understand their history and their importance.

Because of his dedication to the need for conservation and preservation of endangered plants Clark acquired young plants of two of the rarest plants in North America. The Florida yew (Taxus floridiana) only grows in a small area of Florida. The Florida Torreya, (Torreya taxifolia), is also a yew which has been attacked by a Florida fungus. Both are listed as endangered species. Clark will grow his small plants in the greenhouse for some years before thinking about a place for them in the garden. The goal is to see if they can be preserved outside their natural range.

Beyond the flower show there is a room featuring succulents of all sizes, and the conservatory filled with familiar orchids and begonias as well as many large and small tropical plants. This is a world of plants, a world of history, a world of stories and conservation. Flowers are pretty, but they are not the reason for the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden’s existence.

Calceolaria

Calceolaria or pocketbook plant – boun to cheer us

The Mount Holyoke Flower Show will continue through Sunday, March 19.  Talcott Greenhouse is open every day from 10 am – 4 pm. The show is free, but I am sure donations are always welcome.

The Bulb Show at Smith College also continues at the Lyman Plant House every day through March 19, from 10 am – 4 pm. Suggested donation is $5.

Between the Rows

It’s the Berries – Blueberry and Raspberry

Blueberries in a bowl

Blueberries in a bowl

Time to think about berries. February is National Pie Month and I love fruit pies. Blueberry pie is a longtime favorite. The Benson Place in Heath was my source for low bush blueberries, but I grew a collection of high bush blueberries behind our house. Now in Greenfield I have planted four Nourse Farms high bush blueberries in a square that can be easily netted.

Highbush Blueberries

Blueberries are easy to grow and they are long lived. Our Heath high bush berries were still bearing generously after 35 years and demanded very little care.

Highbush blueberries

Highbush blueberries

High bush blueberries, which are the most usual blueberries for the home garden, have few requirements. They need sun, well drained acid soil, and most especially soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. New England is famous for having acid soil, but it is a good idea to have it tested. We can usually find Master Gardeners volunteering to run soil tests in the spring at Farmer’s Markets and other seasonal events. Or you can buy a soil testing kit that will give you a pH reading. If the pH is too high, over 6, you can dig in a measure of sulphur or fertilize with an acidic product like Holly-tone fertilizer.

The biggest problem with blueberries is the birds. I had not taken this into consideration when I first planted blueberries more than 35 years ago, but my four new blueberries are planted in a 10×10 foot grid, which will be a little tight as they grow, but it will be easy to build a simple frame and enclose the bushes with netting as the berries start to ripen. I also recommend giving the berry patch or row a woodchip mulch. I pruned out dead branches when necessary, but that is pretty much the extent of care needed.

Blueberries do best when they can cross pollinate, and there are enough cultivars that ripen at different tines giving you a longer season. Duke is an early season berry, as are Bluegold and Patriot, all ready for harvest mid-to late July. Chandler and Darrow can be harvested into mid- August and Elliot will be fruiting into September. Of course, harvest periods may vary with your site and the year’s weather.

Blueberries have the added advantages of having delicate little bell-shaped blossoms in the spring and vibrant color in the fall. No need for the illegal burning bush.

Raspberries

Raspberries

Raspberries

Raspberries are about as easy to grow as blueberries, but they require a higher pH, between 5.6 and 6.2. As with any planting, the soil should be improved with compost before planting. The recommendation is that raspberry rows should be spaced 8 feet apart, but I have to admit that I never gave myself that much room between the rows. Raspberries will ripen in July; each variety will have a harvest period of about three weeks so it is good to choose at least two varieties to give you a longer harvest.

Latham is a standard variety that has been around for a long time and is a good berry for eating fresh or made into jam. There are other new varieties like Encore, another red raspberry, as well as Royalty,  a purple variety, and Anne that produces pale yellow fruits with a good flavor. Royalty and Anne are ready for harvest late in the season.

Once they have fruited the raspberry canes should be cut back down to the ground. New shoots will come up in the spring. Eventually those increasing numbers of new shoots will wander into the paths and need to be cut down as well. When the rows simply become crowded or some canes look flimsy  they can be removed as well. I am only talking about regular summer bearing raspberries. I have never been organized enough to tackle the pruning schedule for everbearing berries which need to be pruned twice.

There is no need for netting. Apparently birds are not particularly interested in raspberries.

I have not talked at all about black raspberries which propagate by sending out long wicked spiny canes that root when they touch the ground. Obviously, with attention and some work they can be managed, but I was quickly overwhelmed by my black raspberries in Heath. The flexible thorny canes had a life of their own and grew exuberantly. I found it hard to prune and manage them; even getting rid of the prunings was a chore.

For all that I never even got much of a harvest. When I called the good people at Nourse Farm as to what might be causing the shrivelling of my berries before they finished ripening, they though the problem might be insufficient watering. In Heath our water came from a well and I did not have sufficient for watering more than I did. I mention all this because I do not want anyone to think that black raspberries require the same care as red and golden raspberries. The first clue to their difference is that Latham and the other raspberries I’ve mentioned should be spaced 18 inches apart, but black raspberries need to be spaced 3 feet apart.

There are many other berries that can thrive in a backyard garden, but blackberries, strawberries, pineberries which are actually a white strawberry that tastes a little like a pineapple, lingonberries, and currants will have to wait for another day.

Between the Rows   February 18, 207