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Dear Friend and Gardener

Weeds in My Garden

  1. Pennsylvania smartweed

    One of my weeds – Pennsylvania smartweed

    What is a weed? How do I get rid of weeds? These are two of the questions gardeners agonize over.

I own a wonderful book, Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and DiTomasso, that offers a page of extensive information of about 160 weeds, and a facing page of photographs showing those weeds in their various stages of development and flower form from baby seedling to seed at the end of the season. I use this book to identify my weeds and I have a substantial collection. I keep hoping that naming my weeds will give me power over them.

Some weeds like nettles, lambs quarters, hairy galinsoga with its tiny white flowers and bedstraw were common problems in my Heath garden but have not appeared in Greenfield. I cannot tell you why.

The most prolific weed in my garden is probably the common violet which fills the south border and fights to enter the other beds as well. However, I have also identified broadleaf plaintain, dock, ground ivy, mullein, Pennyslvania smartweed which is quite a pretty plant, prostrate spurge, Virginia creeper, bindweed, moneywort, purslane, woodsorrel, white clover, vetch, garlic mustard, and mugwort. These are not the only weeds in my garden, but I cannot identify any others.

Garlic mustard is the most dangerous weed in my garden. I have no idea where it came from. I saw it for the first time in my garden last year and I did not recognize the leaves. They were nice leaves, and I have been known to forget what I planted where so I let it grow. Fortunately for me when I asked a visiting friend if she recognized the plant she gasped and ordered me to pull it up immediately. I have never seen it bloom in my garden, but I have found those leaves coming up here and there. I continue pulling them up.

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is an aggressive invasive plant that originated in Eurasia. It was originally imported as a garden herb and salad green. Now it can take over woodlands where beautiful spring blooms like trilliums, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches and others bloom. They outcompete these spring beauties taking up light, moisture and space. Deer can eat plants around the garlic mustard, giving it more space to spread. Other creatures who depend on spring natives for their food, foliage or nectar and such, are then out of luck. I continue to pull up this weed, and wonder where it came from and how it comes up here and there in the garden.

Some of my weeds do not trouble me too much. I am loosing the battle with violets, and console myself with the thought that their pretty flowers feed the pollinators in season, and cover the ground – so  that other more noxious weeds cannot get a foot hold. As for white clover, I do not even consider it a weed. It is an important plant in my lawn and is also a pollinator plant. My husband likes it so much he has used it where we are replanting sections of lawn.

That brings up the question – what is a weed – really? The best description is simply a plant that is growing where we do not want it. We want the clover.

Once we identify what we consider a weed we need to find a way to get rid of it. We can always pull up our weeds and put them on the compost pile, but we should not put plants gone to seed in the compost, because the heat in most compost bins is not hot enough to kill the seeds. We should always try to get rid of our weeds before they set seed.

A new suggestion is to cut down the foliage of a weed. If this is done two or three times the roots will have been starved of nutrition and die.

Wendy and her mini-dragon

Wendy and her mini-dragon

My neighbor bought a flame thrower and has been using it to eradicate the weeds in her gravel driveway. The weeds bothered her sufficiently that she was considering paving the driveway, which would not only have been an expense, it would have been an impermeable surface and would not keep our rains on site instead of sending it into the storm drains.

She gave us a demonstration showing that the flame thrower does not need to burn the weed to ash. The flame is so hot that it will not only burn the foliage, it will also kill the roots. The small propane tank holds about two hours of flame, but a larger canister can be hooked up to the torch.

Horticultural vinegar is not an herbicide but just a few drops on the center of a weed will kill it the same way a chemical herbicide kills a plant.

Weeds will always be with us. We can mulch, but seeds are always in the air and will find a place to root.  However, we can control them and we can do it without  using poisons.

Between the Rows   August 5, 2017

Onions and Garlic for Savor


garlic ready for harvest

Garlic ready for harvest

Cooks can hardly start a dinner without peeling with an onion, or some garlic, or maybe a shallot. For all the common necessity of onions in the kitchen, or even the gourmet at the table, alliums are not difficult to grow.I have grown regular onions and garlic. Onions can be grown from seed. The onions I usually grow begin as a handful of sets, immature plants that you can buy at local garden stores in the spring, or order online from a farm like Dixondale Farms that specializes in organic onions, leeks, and shallots. This is one way you can find a wide variety of onion plants. In our region we can grow long day onions that need 14 or more hours of sun every day. The onion patch should have fertile, slightly acidic (pH 6-6.8), well drained soil and be sited where there is full sun. Onions are hardy plants and can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost. Here in Greenfield that could be as early as April 1.

Onion sets should be planted in a well prepared and fertilized bed, about 1-2 inches deep and watered well. Because they have such shallow roots, they should be watered regularly and kept well weeded.

Onions are ready for harvest when the tops bend over. You can always pull up a slightly immature onion before the tops flops, but don’t rush that bending of the tops. When the onion tops have fallen over, and the onion shoulders are in view, pull them up and leave them to dry in the garden for a few days. Bring them to a sheltered space if there is rain. After they are dry trim the top and the roots and store them in a cool place.

Although I always thought of onions as something to add savor to my cooking, they do have health benefits. Onions are a source of vitamin C, sulphuric compounds (the element that makes your eyes water)  flavonoids and phytochemicals. These phytochemicals have antimicrobial properties and can help lower blood pressure. They are high in  antioxidents which battle the free radicals in our blood that can cause disease.

Garlic harvest

Garlic Harvest

Garlic is another common member of the allium family, and like onions garlic has health giving phytochemicals and antioxidants.

It is not too late to get a garlic crop for 2018 in the ground. In fact, garlic is planted in the fall, towards the end of October. You want to plant at least four weeks before the ground freezes. You can plant the individual cloves from a supermarket garlic bulb, but it really is best to begin with good seed garlic from a place like Filaree Garlic Farm that sells 100 varieties of organic garlic. I guarantee this is a way to get a better crop from your own garden.

In late October prepare your garlic bed. Garlic also needs rich, well drained soil. Dig in well rotted compost before planting. I made three furrows about 6-8 inches apart. Push the cloves into the furrow, point up, and cover with soil so it is about 3 inches deep. Plant cloves about 4-6 inches apart. Water well and mulch with an eight inch layer of hay or straw. Tucked into rich soil the cloves will start to send out roots before the frost. There are many varieties and flavors of garlic. If you plant different varieties be sure to label your rows so you can later identify the varieties you like best.

Garlic starts to send up shoots through the mulch early in the spring. When the weather is really warm you can remove some of the mulch to let the soil warm up. Keep the garlic watered as you would any vegetable bed.

The large garlic had the scape removed and the small bulb kept its scape

The large garlic had the scape removed and the small bulb kept its scape

Curly scapes will appear in June. The scapes should be cut off because they steal energy needed by the forming bulb. I didn’t cut off the scapes of my first harvest and the bulbs were quite small. The scapes can be diced and used for flavor in any recipe calling for garlic.

In July the foliage will start to yellow. When half of the foliage is yellow, some time in July, it is time to dig up the new garlic bulbs. Do not pull them up. Be careful with your spade not to dig into the bulbs.

Let them dry in a shady spot for a couple of days being careful not to damage the papery skins. When dry cut off the stem, leaving only about an inch, and trim the roots. Store them in a cool place. They will be fully ripe in about 6 weeks, but of course you can use them as you need them.

Choose a different place for your garlic every year.

Alliums are an essential part of our pantries, and they are easy to have right at hand.

Between the Rows  July 30, 2017

Gardens of the High Line

Gardens of the High Line

Gardens of the High Line by Oudolf and Darke

Those involved with the creation of the High Line gardens in New York City were always aware of their predecessor, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls. Both gardens make use of disused railroad/trolley tracks to create a beautiful garden that will welcome strollers from the neighborhood and visitors from far away. But there is a difference between these two public gardens that goes beyond physical scale.

In Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke (Timber Press $40) the authors explain that the difference lies in their aesthetic and philosophy. The Bridge of Flowers was always intended to be a bright and colorful flower garden. The High Line gardens were inspired by the wildflowers that took over the space after the railroad was discontinued. A survey of the High Line before work began counted 161 plant species, with a pretty even split between indigenous and introduced varieties. The designers of the High Line focused, but not exclusively, on native plants, trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses and the way biological process change the scene over time.

High Line Garden

High Line planting leaving railroad tracks visible

I was fortunate enough to visit the High Line in 2010 with a friend when only the first section of the now 1.45 mile long park was completed. Strolling along through a small woodland of gray birches and alongside casual plantings of ferns, grasses and flowering spring bulbs that gave way to native flowers like Amsonia was magical – a walk through a wild garden but floating past the old brick buildings and newer towers of lower Manhattan while catching glints of sunlight on the Hudson River to the west.

The different perspective of the city was astounding. It seemed almost impossible to be walking in mid-air. Piet Oudolf, one of the great modern designers of our age, seemed to make a point of this disassociation between city and garden in the 10th Street Square area. Here the walkway swerves to the side to make way for amphitheater seating going down to large windows that gave a view of the traffic below, a visceral reminder of the fact that this garden was in a great bustling metropolis. Those down on the street can look up and see garden visitors. I see you and you see me!

High Line 10th Street Square

High Line 10th Street Square

I like the title of Gardens of the High Line with its subtitle Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes. The Elevating pun seems like a hint of the pleasures of this elevated site, elevating the spirit, and touching the reality of nature’s beauties.

The book begins with an introduction by Robert Hammond, one of the founders of the Friends of the High Line. He talks about this hybrid space, “It’s an art museum on an industrial structure. It’s a community space . . . . a botanical garden . . . it’s an immersion in the city, not an escape from it. . . . It’s always free. It is a living, changing space that anyone can experience.”

Every one of these four season gardens, from the entry into the Gansevoort Woodland, the Washington Grasslands, Chelsea Thicket, Meadow Walk and all the others, gets its own description with big, beautiful photos over the seasons and from different angles. Plants are named and the rationale behind designs are explained.

High Line Northern Spur

High Line Northern Spur

The High Line is a public garden but the book reveals it as a work of art, as is the book itself. Rick Darke’s photographs carry us along through the woodlands, meadows, grasslands, and even a lawn, a walk almost as good as one on your own two feet and feasting with your own two eyes. Darke’s photographs do not show the High Line as a perfect uninhabited garden; he include images of the social life created by the garden. If you have the chance I recommend that you make the High Line a part of your New York visit. If a physical visit is not in the cards, this stunning book is the next best thing.

For me the book is a reminder of my own visit, and a spur to making another trip to see the completed garden. I suspect many people will visit and walk the High Line with no greater purpose than enjoying nameless beauties they had never seen before, or certainly never in a public garden. A visiting gardener will have her eyes opened to new plants, and new ways of using unusual plants, as well as a new recognition of the richness of pollinator and bird life attracted to this garden.

As said before, the Bridge of Flowers is nothing like the High Line. However, right in Greenfield the Energy Park at the end of Miles Street has been based on the High Line principles before the High Line was imagined. Right now the Energy Park is in the process of a renovation, with new walkways and new pollinator friendly plantings. Replanting and editing is an ongoing process, just like on the High Line. I hope you will visit the Energy Park. It is not as far away as New York City

Backyard Berries for Delight


Raspberries beginning to ripen

If you have berries in your backyard you can have fresh blueberries on your cereal in the morning and raspberries on your shortcake or ice cream for your dinner dessert. As far as I am concerned these are the easiest backyard berries to plant and harvest, but I am considering adding thornless blackberries.

No matter what kind of berries you want, the first thing to do is choose your site and prepare your soil. All berries need at least 6 hours of full sun a day, and regular watering in well draining soil. Check your soil pH. Raspberries prefer soil 5.5 to 6.5 and blueberries need more acid soil, below 6.0.

I grew different varieties of red raspberries in Heath, and I have two rows of red raspberries and one row of golden raspberries in Greenfield. I think these are easy to grow and handle, and I confess that the older I get the easier I want my gardening tasks to be.

Preparing the soil means digging out all the weeds and testing the soil. Then you can incorporate compost and a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Those numbers refer to the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, the three major nutrients needed for good plant growth, in the fertilizer. All this should be done at least a week or two before planting.

I chose bare root Prelude raspberries which are supposed to begin bearing at the end of June, and Nova which begins fruiting a bit later and bears into early August. My neighbor gave me five gold raspberry roots which will bear even later. These berries do not have large roots, and should be planted only deeply enough to cover the root, and spaced at least 18 inches apart. They should be watered in thoroughly after planting and watered well, an inch a week over the first season.

My three rows of five raspberry plants each are arranged with a bit more than two feet between the rows which are mulched to keep down the weeds. Those rows will fill out with extra canes over time. Next year I plan to install T-trellises that will define and hold in the three rows, making harvesting easier. Canes should be cut out after bearing at the end of the season.

raspberry trellis

Raspberry trellis of a different sort to keep cane contained and controlled

Earlier this week I visited a friend’s garden, and took came away with a box of ripe red raspberries. Already a few berries have formed on my new bushes , but I do not expect any real harvest until next year. Fifteen bushes is not a lot of berries, and I don’t see myself boiling up jars of jam, but there will be enough berries to eat fresh, and enough to freeze for future treats.


Blueberries under netting

The blueberries we planted in Heath over 35 years ago are still bearing generously. I assumed the soil there was sufficiently acid and so it proved. The one mistake we made was not to consider how to protect the berries from the birds. Amazingly  birds are not very interested in raspberries. We did ultimately put up a kind of netted tunnel arrangement, but it was after years of makesift netting schemes. Here in Greenfield we have arranged four bushes in a square with a planned net tent to cover them.

In 2015 we planted our potted blueberry bushes, even easier than planting bare root plants, at the end of the South Border which we hoped was sufficiently dry. We were wrong. This year we moved the four bushes which seemed healthy but had not gained much growth. We put them into the North Border which is a higher raised bed. They have gained in growth, but still no berries. I am going to spread a little Espoma Holly-tone (4-3-1) fertilizer in that bed. Earlier I spread some around my new acid-loving rhododendrons because it includes a measure of sulfur which will lower the pH of my soil. It will do the same for the blueberries. We will think positively about blueberries in 2018.

Our new town garden only has room for two edible berries, but I want to add that we planted two elderberry bushes which delight the bees when they are in bloom, and the birds when they bear their berries in late summer. That is all we require of them. However, the small berries these easy care shrubs produce can be eaten by humans as well especially if you are interested in making elderberry syrup to stave off winter colds and the flu, or elderberry jam, or elderberry wine.

My neighbor's thornless blackberries

My neighbor’s thornless blackberries

When we were in Heath, the house came with a wickedly thorny blackberry patch, but a Greenfield neighbor has thornless blackberries supported by her back fence. They are delicious out of hand, but can be turned into wonderful jam or jelly. Nourse Farms offers five varieties that will bear fruit at the end of July and into September. These berries need a lot more room than other bramble fruits. They should be planted three to four feet apart, with three yards between the rows. They would benefit by being given the support of a larger T-trellis than is needed for regular raspberries. Or you can provide stabilizing wires to hold them against a sturdy fence as my neighbor has done. They need soil with a pH of 6.5-6.8.

We are fortunate to live where we have access to a wonderful berry farm like Nourse Farms in Whately where we can get a large selection of berry plants and a large selection of cultivars with good advice about planting and harvesting.

Between the Rows   July 15, 2017

Tranquility in the Shade

The Cathedral Walk

Cathedral Walk at Mt. Cuba Center

The Master Gardeners organized a wonderful garden tour to Philadelphia and environs.  Both Chanticleer and the Mt.CubaCenter gave us the shade of a woodland and I am so glad both were included.

The first garden we went to was Chanticleer. Once the Rosengarten estate, it opened as a public garden in 1993. I had expected lush, but neat beds of exotic flowers, but what I found at Chanticleer was a peaceful garden with large potted plants in the terraces around the house, a vegetable garden that donated its produce to the local food bank, and sunny “wildflower” hills with paths that led down to shady woodlands,. That shade was especially welcome on what was the hottest day of our tour.

Drinking fountain

Artistic drinking fountain

One of the design and functional elements in the garden that provided sustainability for visitors was the presence of drinking fountains! It has been a long time since I have seen drinking fountains in public spaces and to find drinking water on a blistering hot day was a blessing.

In addition we found beautiful handmade bridge railings and benches for moments to rest and enjoy the tranquility of the shade. Every sense was engaged, the whisper of the breezes in the trees, the play of light and shadow over the green plantings, and the quieting of busy thoughts.

Though the woodlands provided green shade there was color like the Indian pinks which were actually red with a touch of yellow, and buttery yellow corydalis.

On our second day we traveled to the Mt.Cuba Center where our group spent most of our time in a shady woodland. When the Copeland family bought this land it was always their intent “to be a place where people will learn to appreciate our native plants and to see how these plants can enrich their lives so that they, in turn, will become conservators of our natural habitats.” It was just a joy to wander through the woodland filled with rhododendrons beneath tall tulip poplars that had been limbed up so high that the effect was of strolling past pillars and down a cathedral aisle.

One of the trees had been trimmed with a “coronet cut” which means that instead of just slicing off the top of a damaged tree, the cut imitated the irregular way a tree might have been naturally damaged and broken. That natural cut causes a faster rotting process that attracts birds and insects, a kind of conservation that goes beyond just caring for plants on the ground.

As we walked along the light and shade would alter and shift providing enough sunlight to allow plants to thrive and bloom.

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

There were many native oakleaf hydrangeas in the woodland. Our guide pointed out that the ray flowers, what we think of as real flowers, are only intended to attract insects to the tiny ‘true’ flowers which is where the nectar and pollen are located. I am going to examine the hydrangeas I planted to see if these hybrids provide the same temptations to pollinators. I had wanted to buy at least one oakleaf hydrangea for our South Border, but I could not find one locally in 2015 – and I was too impatient to wait another season to plant.

Pondside primroses and ferns

Pondside primroses and ferns

One path led to a series of ponds that reflected the dappled sunlight and the surrounding trees. I was fascinated and inspired to see primroses, irises and ferns living on the banks of the ponds, as well as other unidentified water-loving plants. I began to think this was the answer to our question of how to handle the edges of the “dry stream bed” we are creating as part of our flood management plan.

Pitcher plants

Pitcher Plants

One pond included a boggy section that was planted with pitcher plants. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that lure insects that drown in its fluids. The insects decay  and the enzymes produced by the plant allow the plant to absorb all the nutrients. These are fascinating plants and always exciting to young children who visit the garden.

I was paying particular attention to low growing plants because our low maintenance garden strategy is to have large shrubs, low ground covers and a few flowering perennials and annuals to provide color. We saw large areas of pachysandra procumbens, a native plant also known as Allegheny spurge. It looks a lot like the pachysandra we see in so many gardens, and it produces small fragrant blossoms in the spring, but the leaves are not as shiny.

Green and gold, Chrysogonum virginiana, is only six inches tall but the small yellow flowers bloom in spring and fall. It likes moist shade, and is hardy in Greenfield. I have not seen this used locally, but I will be on the watch, and will be checking the offerings at Nasami Farm, the native plant nursery in Whately.

There was so much to see at these two gardens that included sunny and formal areas as well as the woodlands, but it was thought-provoking to consider that these two families were thinking of the importance of native plants and conservation, long before popular garden books, magazines, and even botanical gardens stressed the importance of these issues. Visiting these gardens give us examples of beauty that can inspire us as we consider changes in our own gardens. And there are always changes in our gardens.

Between the Rows   July 8, 2017

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.



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 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 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.



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