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Who are the Pollinators and Why Are Pollinators Important

Honeybees on coneflowers

Honey bees on coneflowers

Who are the pollinators and why are they important? We all know that many plants need to be pollinated to make seed, and the fruits and vegetables that protect the seeds inside. Pollen is the powdery stuff inside a flower blossom. Sometimes it is not very noticeable. On the other hand flowers like lilies and sunflowers are so laden with pollen that a bouquet of those flowers will shed golden pollen all over the table.

Pollen grains are produced by the male part of a flower, the stamen.  The pollen will either fall on the female parts, the stigma, on self pollinating plants like tomatoes and sunflowers, or it will be carried away to other plants. Pollen can be carried by the wind, or it can be carried by bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, wasps, and even small mammals.

Bees are particularly important pollinators. They are fascinating creatures. Here in Massachusetts we have over three hundred species of bee. They are vital to the pollination of nearly 50% of our agricultural crops. They need to be supported with more flowers that will feed them. Many are familiar: coneflowers, yarrow, coreopsis, asters, columbine, phlox, black eyed susans, and of course, bee balm. This is just to name a few.

Bumble bees are very easy to see because of their size. They often live in small groups near or in the ground. The queen comes out of winter hibernation and lays her eggs. Workers and drones soon hatch and the colony grows as they collect nectar and pollen to feed themselves. Late in the season the queen will start laying queen eggs as well as worker eggs. At the end of the season the old queen will die and the new queens will find their own hibernation spots to begin new colonies.

I have never been very good at identifying any of the other native bees who also take on the work of pollination. Many of them lead solitary lives – until they need to reproduce – and are very small. There are digger bees, sweat bees, mason bees, leaf cutter bees, carpenter bees and more.

Wasps like yellow jackets are not interested in pollen, but they do carry pollen from one plant to another as they sip the nectar that they are so fond of.  Though incidental, pollination by wasps is important to agricultural crops. Yellow jackets are aggressive and often mistaken for bees when they sting. They often live in the ground. I once stepped barefoot on a yellow jacket nest and got bad stings, but I did not blame the bees.

I have been a beekeeper and was rarely stung. I had to give up beekeeping when I developed an allergy to bee stings, but I have taken it upon myself to remind people that bees are not really interested in people. We offer them no pollen or nectar. The thing to remember is that bees cannot see slow movements. If a fearful person starts wildly waving and shooing away a bee, that person will attract the attention of the bee that will be frightened and angry. That bee is much more likely to sting.

Whenever I am talking to children about bees I always stress that if a honeybee is flying around they should remain calm and still. However, if they do get stung they need to know that it will not hurt very much UNLESS they try to pull out the stinger. It is the poison in the pouch that people pinch to pull out the stinger that will push the poison and the pain into wherever you have been stung. My lesson to the children and everyone is to scrape the stinger out of your skin with a stiff piece of cardboard, or credit card or something of the sort. Whatever you might have at hand. Other sites tell you to remove the stinger and quickly as possible. They do not tell you  to scrape it off. Never pull it out.

coneflower

Echinacea purpureum – coneflower with butterfly

Butterflies also pass pollen from one plant to another. Butterflies are so beautiful that many gardeners are planting butterfly gardens that will attract butterflies. Many of the flowers that attract bees also attract butterflies. However, butterflies are more particular about the nectar that they prefer, and they also need plants that will feed their larvae. Milkweed is the most familiar host plant for the easily identified Monarch butterfly, but other butterflies need other plants. I haven’t seen a beautiful spicebush swallowtail butterfly in my garden, but along with milkweed to attract Monarchs, I have planted the Lindera benzoin spicebush because it will feed that beautiful butterfly.

We have bats in our attic, but we are grateful that they will also offer pollinating services.

Pollinator populations have been declining, especially in urban areas. We town gardeners are already in action to attract and feed bees, butterflies, and even bats. My backyard garden is filled with pollinator plants in a relatively small area. That density of plants with desirable nectar and pollen is what will attract pollinators. Some of my neighbors also have desirable densities of nectar and pollen plants.

Two of the public gardens in town were designed to attract pollinators. There is the Energy Park right in the center of town, and the new flowery garden at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street.

As you think about choosing seeds for spring, think about flowers that will make your garden beautiful – and support pollinators.

Between the Rows  February 9, 2019

Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables by Catherine Reid

Landscapes of Green Gables

Landscapes of Green Gables by Catherine Reid

I did not read Anne of Green Gables until I saw the recent TV production. I knew nothing of the red haired girl with freckles who talked a mile a minute. I didn’t know about her trip from an awful asylum to “the Island, the bloomiest place. . . .I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?” The TV program turned out to be the teaser for me to the delights of being a friend of this imaginative girl who listened to the trees talking in their sleep, and set to naming the landscapes around her, the Lake of Shining Waters, the Birch Path, the Haunted Wood, and Lovers Lane.

Like Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, Anne was a character who loved the natural world, who found her joy and solace in the fields, the flowers and woodlands, the winds and the beaming sun. Anne is a character who has been loved by children, and inevitably adults, ever since it was published in 1908. Maud Montgomery, as she preferred to be called, was encouraged to write several more Anne books like Anne of Avonlea and Anne’s House of Dreams about her marriage and life as a wife. But it is her later books, including Emily of the New Moon, that she thought were her best works.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables: The Enchanting Island that Inspired L. M. Montgomery by Catherine Reid (Timber Press $24.95) is a beautiful introduction to Anne, the life of L.M. Montgomery and the landscapes of Prince Edward Island, PEI. It is liberally sprinkled with quotations from her books and from her journals. The pages are also filled with beautiful photographs of the beflowered and forested areas of Prince Edward Island, and the waters that surrounded the island.

The book is divided into seven sections beginning with an Introduction to L.M. Montgomery’s life and Anne’s. The Kindred Orphans section compares the similarities and differences between Montgomery who had many relatives and Anne who had none. Though their circumstances were different, they suffered, and rejoiced in similar ways.

The Loveliest Spot on Earth is about Prince Edward Island then and now; Emerald Screens takes us on a visit to Maud’s and Anne’s favorite gardens on PEI; and A World with Octobers is a beautiful description of all the seasons on the Island. These sections are especially useful to someone who is planning to visit PEI, but they will gladden and delight all those who love Anne.

Something More Poetical: the Scope of Two Imaginations and That Great and Solemn Wood: A Writer’s Life will carry today’s reader into Anne and Montgomery’s hopes and trials. Early on Montgomery knew she wanted to be a writer. She even published a poem, On Cape LeForce, in a PEI newspaper when she was only 16. It is wonderful to discover the many other books she wrote. She also kept journals that looked very much like scrapbooks, with her own thoughts written down along with pictures cut from magazines and other writings. These are now preserved in different museums, including the Green Gables Heritage Place where Montgomery spent so much of her childhood.

Montgomery, like Anne, found solace in the beauties of the natural world. Solace was needed. No one’s life is without difficulties. We hear about Anne’s brief sorrows, and in the last pages we learn about Montgomery’s sorrows and trials. Her husband suffered from a mental illness, and her scoundrel of a publisher cheated her on her royalties. There were several exhausting law suits against him; there were also disappointments in her adult son, Chester. She died in her sleep in 1942. Anne continues to live on for readers young and old.

I did not know before this post was published in the Greenfield Recorder, but now I know that author Catherine Reid is a Greenfield native.  So many talented and skilled people in this part of the world. We are all lucky!

Cluck

Cluck: A book of happiness for chicken lovers

Cluck: A book of happiness for chicken lovers is edited by Freya Haanen. ( Exisle Publishing  $19.99 US) This is a cheerful book with bright photos of chickens living their chicken lives, in their dust baths, with nests of eggs, crowing in the dawn, visiting with the rabbits and much more. The photos are on the left hand page, with a proverb on the opposite page. I thought several of the proverbs were quite apropos of our political world right now.

Think of these.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I dream of a better tomorrow, where chickens can cross the road and not be questioned about their motives.

One of the Nigerian proverbs in the book states “A bird does not change its feathers because the weather is bad.” I particularly like this as we look to our legislators to keep our government on an even keel.

And in this land of #Metoo there is Margaret Thatcher’s proverb: The cocks may crow but it’s the hen that lays the egg”  I have used these words in the past but never knew I was quoting Prime Minister Thatcher.

Cluck is a cheerful and thoughtful gift book for anyone with chickens, or longing for chickens. There are other books of happiness for dog and horse lovers, Woof and Spirit with equally appropriate quotations in various flavors of philosophy and light-heartedness. ###

Between the Rows   February 2, 2019

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Daffodils at the supermarket

These forced bulbs were at the supermarket

There are three ways to achieve flowering plants in your house during the winter.

First, you can think ahead and order bulbs for forcing. Paperwhites are the old standby, but you can force other daffodils, and there are many cultivars to provide you with a variety of form and color. In the early fall you will find a host of different daffodil bulbs at your local garden center or you can go online. By the same token you can easily find snowdrops, lilies of the valley, scillas also known as squills, and grape hyacinths more properly known as muscari. These can all be planted in the garden, or you can save some for forcing.

You will need a container with holes for drainage, and that will give you room for about three or four inches of potting soil. Forced bulbs are usually not used for planting in the garden after blooming, so they can be placed closely together. Water the planted bulbs lightly and put them in a cool, dark space for about two weeks. Then move the pot into a warmer, sunny location.

There is another easy way to force paperwhites. In the dim past I forced paperwhites in water. Paperwhites do not need planting soil. I had a square vase about eight inches tall. As directed, I put in three inches or so of white gravel, placed three or four paperwhite bulbs on the gravel, and then sprinkled in a few extra pebbles. I added just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Since the vase was clear glass I could keep that water level to prevent the bulbs from rotting. The bulbs sent out roots and shoots and then blooms, all nicely supported by the walls of the vase. You can see why it was important to have a clear glass vase. The vase also helped support the stalks so they wouldn’t flop over.

I did not think ahead  this year because I have three Christmas cactus and four amaryllis. I thought they would give me plenty of holiday bloom.

However, things did not go as imagined. Only one of my three Christmas cactuses bloomed.

None of last year’s four forced amaryllis were blooming as Christmas drew near. The amaryllis gave me a great show last year and I decided to try and get them to bloom again. When the season moved on to spring warmth I cut back the foliage and planted them in the garden, with the top of the bulb showing, just as I plant them in their pots. I harvested them from the backyard garden in September, cut off the foliage and let them rest in the dark. Then in mid-November I planted them in pots, just as they looked when I received them last year. Now one amaryllis has sent out four large leaves, but there is no sign of a plant stalk. One has sent out two smaller leaves. One has just started sending out a single leaf shoot. However the fourth bulb is sending up a vigorous flower bud and two young leaves are emerging from the bulb! All have gotten the same treatment, same planting soil, the same careful watering, and the same climate outdoors and in. You just never know for sure how plants will react.

The amaryllis are now on a table in my so-called office where they get southern and western sun. I am still watering them lightly. It looks like I will get at least one flower stalk and I will be very pleased and grateful.

Since the holiday and pre-spring flowery color I hoped for did not appear I punted. The second way to get color at this time of the year is to go to the Farmer’s Coop to buy some bulbs and make another try.

At the Coop I bought three sprouting paperwhite daffodil bulbs. I used potting soil and crowded the bulbs in a pretty bowl with drainage holes. They are now sitting in front of a window in the guest room where they will get bright light and some sun.

I also bought a bag of sunny yellow crocus bulbs. They were also sending out shoots. I planted these in a fairly shallow pot with more room for all 14 bulbs. With all those little shoots the plants look raring to go, so I am not following any of the usual instructions about cooling the bulbs and keeping them in the dark for a few weeks. We’ll just wait and see if these new bulbs are happy to be in a nutritious planting medium, with gentle waterings and bright light.

I have never been an expert houseplant gardener. This is at least partly because somehow the houses I have lived in have never provided me with appropriate spaces for potted flowers. Even, so I like having a few green potted plants in front of a window or two, and add color when I can.

The third way to get color immediately is to buy a pot of flowers in bloom.

Whether we are successful with a bulb forcing project or not, we can always add blooms to the winter months by stopping by Sigda Florists  for flowers, potted or bouquet, or even run to the supermarket for potted flowers that will bring you color and beauty. The winter outdoors has a more limited palette, but cheerful color can be yours indoors.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2019

Learning My Latin and Having a Ball – in the Garden

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon –  with the Latin name Hibiscus syriacus. It is very different from the romantic Rosa This shrub lives on the Bridge of Flowers

Who needs Latin in this modern, high-tech age? Gardeners do!

They need to know Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriaca is not a rose which is named Rosa.  Rose of Sharon could be a hibiscus. Which rose do you want? Of course, if you want a hibiscus, the Rose of Sharon is a great perennial choice.

Knowing your Latin will help you get the rose you want and not a Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis or a rock rose, Cistus ladanifer.

Latin names of a plant can tell us a lot about that plant. Bouncing Bet is a cute name, thought to refer to a laundry woman. Depending on where you live it might be called soapwort, soap weed, or wild sweet William. Its proper Latin botanical name is Saponaria. If you know a little Latin you will know that there is something soapy about this plant, and that it can be used as soap. Add the species name to get Saponaria officianalias and the medicinal use of this plant is confirmed. Cleanliness is important to good health!

It was the Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus in the 18th century who created the binomial system of describing and categorizing plants, animals and minerals. It is this system that is used today around the world. Latin was the language used by scholars in those days and it remains the standard of accurately naming plants today.

Aquilegea canadensis columbine

Aquilegea canadensis – or the native columbine

Latin words can tell us where plants originated, and the type of climate that will suit them. Think of Aquilegia canadensis. This native columbine from Canada now grows in northeastern United States, and other similar climates. Baptisia australis, false indigo, originated in Australia, but it is now a loved perennial in many parts of the US. Astilbe japonica originated in Japan. And so it goes with canariensis, africanus, hispanicus, orientalis, sinensis, and other such Latin words.

Latin will also describe the shape and habit. Scandens will mean this plant is a climber, repens and procumbens mean a creeping plant. Divaricata means spreading. Phlox divericata is a familiar ground cover. Tomentosa describes wooly with curly matted hairs. The word mollis describes a plant with soft hairy parts, such as Alchemilla mollis which has soft hairy flower stems. All these descriptions make me want to take a closer look at each part of the plants in my garden.

I often find it difficult to describe flower sizes and shapes but here is a list Latin terms. Some terms like maxima are easy. Polyanthus means many flowers, and grandiflorus has large flowers. Foetida means bad smelling while graveolens means heavily and sweetly scented.

Some descriptions of plant shapes are fairly easy to understand because of the Latin root words which are commonly used. Leaves might be cordate or heart-shaped, serrate or toothed, and lunate means shaped like a crescent moon.

coneflower

Echinacea purpureum – coneflower

We all have favorite colors. Sometimes it is important to know how we are going arrange the plants in our garden and we want to know the color before we buy. Some Latin words for color like alba, and brunnus are easy to understand. White and brown. Others need a little explanation. Lutea and flavum are clear yellow but flavens, flaveola and flavida just mean yellowish. Viridiflora means with green flowers. Glauca means gray or bluish-green, and purpureum means purple.

Needless to say I have only touched on the Latin words that are helpful to a gardener who is trying to find the plant she has in mind. I went to the Bluestone Perennial online catalog to check the differences between the many varieties of the popular campanula, also known as bellflower. I found that Campanula garganica “Dickson’s Gold” is four inches tall and makes a matlike ground cover. Garganica tells us that this plant grew at Mt. Gargano in southern Italy.

Campanula "Joan Elliot"

Campanula  glomerata “Joan Elliott” – one of the bellflowers

Campanula glomerata “Joan Elliot” has deep blue flower clusters on 18 inch stems and begins blooming in early spring. Glomerata is the word that indicates clusters.

Campanula “Purple Sensation” is 14-16 inches tall with three inch pendant purple blossoms. The stunning buds are nearly black. The growth habit is compact and slightly bushy. They bloom from early through late summer.

Campanula trachelium “Bernice” is a tall 24 inch bellflower with a flower inside a flower that will bloom from early to late summer. Trach is Latin for neck, suggesting flower stuck into the neck of another .

Campanula poscharskyana “Blue Waterfall” is an 8-10 inch Serbian variety described as having a cascading habit blooming into late summer.

This is not a complete list of Bluestones’s campanula offerings. I just wanted to begin to show the varieties available of the familiar bellflower and why it is necessary to know the proper name when your gardening friend begs to know the name so she can have one too.

Now you know why I quote Gorden Jenkins –  “I have been learnin’ my Latin, And having a ball!”

Between the Rows  January 19, 2019

A Sacred Trio – The Oak, Ash and Thorn

Oak trees

Oak trees at Greenfield Community College

Trees have been growing on our planet for about 390 years, in what is called the Middle-Late Devonian period. Those trees did not look much like the trees in our woods today, but they did meet a definition that paleontologists use describing a tree as a plant with a single stem that can attain larger heights because they have specialized cells. Trees were small back then.

Nowadays we know how big the family of trees has become, and how big the trees have become. As recently as 2006 a coast redwood, Sequoia sempervierens, was discovered growing in Redwood National Park in California by two naturalists, Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor. That newly discovered tree was measured at 379.7 feet. It was forest ecologist Steve Sillett who climbed to the top of the tree and dropped a tape to the ground. A very long tape measure. To prove it we can all go to the National Geographic website or You Tube and search for Steve Sillett Redwoods and see the film.

In ancient times, when people depended on agriculture and the forests for sustenance and shelter, they knew the names of the different trees. They created relationships between trees. The Celts considered that the oak, ash and thorn made up a sacred trio with powers to heal.

The oak is a magnificent large tree that the ancients held in high regard.  Myths consider the oak as the most worthy tree. They associated the oak with the most powerful sacred gods like Zeus and Jupiter. Thor, a Norse god, was related to lightning storms, strength and the oak. Thor even gave our modern world the name of a weekday – Thursday.

People in those days believed in the oak’s magic powers which could bring them good luck, financial success and fertility. They certainly appreciated the practical ways that the oak could be used, for construction, and firewood. The acorns could be used to feed pigs. Different groups used oak bark medicinally to treat colds, coughs, fever, arthritis and for improving digestion. They also used oak to make compresses or add oak bark to water to soothe pain. Today there are 58 species of oaks native to North America.

The ash tree is the second in the sacred trio. In Norse mythology the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, which held the nine elements of the cosmos, is referred to as an ash. This tree supports all creatures and represents the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth, the forces that make up life’s journey.

The ancients used ash leaves to make a tea as a diuretic and as a laxative, as well as infusions to treat gout, jaundice and other ailments.

I also read that unicorns were fond of ash trees. I found instructions on how to catch sight of a unicorn. Just carrying ash wood or leaves might do the trick, or you might lie in a bed of ash leaves and cover yourself and wait for the unicorn. It’s clear to me that these instructions would require great patience.

Massachusetts has its share of ash trees. We had a row of ash trees on the road to our house in Heath. We saw lightning scars on their bark, proving their power to attract lightning. As a practical note, both ash and thorn, make good, hot, burning firewood.

Hawthorn tree

Hawthorn at Energy Park in Greenfield

Finally, the third of the sacred circle, the thorn. We use the full name, hawthorn. This tree, Crategeus, is known for its large sharp thorns. However, C. viridis, Green Hawthorn, has few thorns. You can see these thornless trees locally at the Energy Park. The Greeks and Romans associated the hawthorn with weddings and babies. Brides and their attendants carried hawthorn blossoms.  These trees were often planted by holy and healing wells in England. Homeopaths consider the hawthorn a powerful medicine and use it for heart tonics.

There are many ancient stories about the trees that are familiar to us, like the oak, ash and thorn. However, when we talk about trees today, we talk about their beauty and value to the environment. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. In forests tree roots help rains seep into the ground where they are taken up into the tree and then release that filtered water as vapor and oxygen. Trees also cool our neighborhoods and cities because of the shade they throw and because their transpiration of water also cools the air. We can treasure parks with large trees and leafy canopies that shade us and cool us during the summer.

We can also plan our gardens so that trees will throw their cooling shade on the house, necessitating less air conditioning.

During our first winter in Heath the heavy snows blew and fell on our road, sometimes making it impassible, even for the town plows. During our first spring we began to plant our windbreak. We planted several varieties of conifers in three staggered rows alongside the road to catch the snow. This kept our road from being a giant snowbank. The town crew appreciated it.

Now we are in town and have borrowed shade from the majestic oak, maple and sycamore that grow on our neighbors’ property. We even benefit from the fallen autumn leaves. Mulch! Compost! Trees give us many benefits.

Between the Rows   January 12, 2019

How to Create Winter Interest in the Garden

Red winterberries

Red native winterberries, Ilex verticillata, are the colorful stars in my winter garden

If we do not think winter gardens are very interesting, we need to change our view. We can choose trees and shrubs that will create winter interest. We can add color and texture and create an engaging view from our window.

When we planned our new Greenfield garden, I was thinking about low maintenance, plants for pollinators, and tolerance for spring floods. It was by pure luck that I now see some of those plants double their appeal by providing winter interest through color and texture. To begin, I have three dogwood shrub cultivars. These shrubs are very tolerant of the cold and of periods of flooding. They are sometimes suggested for rain gardens.

I think my osier dogwood may be Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ because it matches a catalog description. It is quite tall, about 8 feet, with twigs in surprising shades of orange, yellow and red. I also have the more familiar red twig dogwood. a deep wine red, but I have lost the name of this particular cultivar. Other cultivars like Arctic Fire and Siberica are brighter, clearer reds. I do know that my yellow twig dogwood is named Flaviramea and sings out its bright color in the winter sun.

Flaviramea has particularly pleased me, sited as it is in the middle of the garden where I can see it from my kitchen windows. The golden green glow in the sun is cheering. I do have to prune it to keep low branches from rooting in the soil and sending out new plants. In my wet garden this is a vigorous and happy plant. All the dogwoods have small flowers in the spring and white berries in late summer.

Equally happy in my wet garden are the winterberries. The winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a native holly. I have two red winterberry shrubs, and one with golden berries. These are not only bright and pretty, birds like the berries. It is important to remember that winterberries are dioecious. This means the male and female flowers are on separate plants. To get berries I need to have female and male plants. The male plant is virile, pollinating up to ten nearby female plants, but it is smaller and less showy.

English holly

A female English holly, Ilex aquifolium, thrives in front of our house

I also have two healthy English hollies, Ilex aquifolium, in front of the house, a male and a larger female loaded with berries. They came with the house so I don’t know their cultivar names, but some of these English holly hybrids come with names like Blue Princess and Blue Prince. I enjoy pruning the berry laden branches for Christmas decorations in the house.

Hawthorn Berries

“Berry” loaded hawthorn brance on one of the six hawthorns in the Energy Park

If I had room I would love to have a hawthorn tree, Crateagus, which will grow to about 25 to 35 feet with an equal spread.  Crateagus viridis is a native hawthorn with showy white flowers in the spring and red fruits called pomes in the fall and winter. Unlike many other hawthorns, C. viridis Winter King does not have large sharp spines, making them easier to prune and care for. This tree will attract butterflies in the spring and summer, and birds in the fall and winter. I think birds are an important element of winter interest. You can see six berried hawthorns at the Energy Park.

Flowering crabapples are a delightful sight in the spring and there are dozens of cultivars. Sugar Tyme is a good size for a small garden, reaching a height of about 18 feet with a 15 foot spread. It is highly disease resistant and has pale pink buds that open to white flowers. Its benefit to the winter garden is that it holds its little red crabapples well through the winter. Other small crabapples include Donald Wyman and Callaway which both have white spring blossoms. Adams has double pink blossoms. All have been praised for their hardiness and disease resistance, by horticulturists like Michael Dirr. They  are decorative, and provide food for wintering birds. I must point out that crabapples are not as amenable to flooding as the winterberries and river birches.

Tree bark, as well as berries can provide winter interest. We have planted two clumps of river birch, Betula nigra, which will grow to about 40 feet tall. They are known to thrive in wet, heavy clay soils, and don’t mind flooding which makes them perfect rain garden plants. There are flowers and catkins in the spring, but we planted them because of their beautiful exfoliating bark.  It is the texture and pale color of the bark that appeals to me.

Another tree noted for its exfoliating bark is the paperbark maple, Acer griseum. The foliage gives good red fall color in the northeast but it is the color and shagginess of its reddish-brown exfoliating bark that is stunning in the snowy landscape. The bark ranges in color from a rich coppery shade to darker cinnamon that peels away in large curls that remain on the tree. I saw a number of these trees planted in the beautiful Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Museum in Boston. They are small upright trees that will reach a height of 20 to 30 feet.

The sun is shining today, and the air is mild but snow will come and I will find loveliness in my garden.

Between the Rows  January 5, 2019

New Year’s Celebrations Around the World

Half moon

Phases of the moon marked the beginning of the New Year in ancient times in different parts of the world

New Year’s celebrations have been with us for a very long time. The ancients have been paying attention to the movement of the sun, moon and stars for at least four thousand years. They were aware of the equinoxes when the length of day and night were equal. The Babylonians celebrated the beginning of the year with a great religious festival in late March, on the day of the vernal equinox. Not all countries or regions of the world marked the beginning of the year at the same time. Egyptians celebrated when Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, became visible. This was also the time for the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to flood and begin the agricultural year.

When the sun got out of sync with the calendar Julius Caesar, ruler of the great Roman Empire, added 90 days to the calendar in 46 B.C., and called it the Julian calendar. It was used throughout the Empire. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII made a slight correction which gives us leap year, and it is the calendar that is used by most of the world. He also established January 1 as the beginning of the year. Christians had already decreed that December 25 was the birthday of Christ.

Nowadays,  we can watch New Year’s celebrations around the world. Through the magic of TV we can watch many New Year’s celebrations as our world spins and travels through the sky. Fireworks in Australia! Silence and sleepy, icy in Iceland. Both caught on TV.

We are all familiar with some of the elements of modern New Year’s celebrations. There are parties, and drinking champagne or other libations, dancing, and singing Auld Lang Syne. Again, through the magic of TV many of us Americans can watch the brilliant Times Square ball fall 141 feet. The thousands who fill Times Square will count down those last seconds that will leave us in a brand new year full of expected and unexpected events.

New Year’s Resolutions and Ecclesiastes

Many of us enter the new year with a list of resolutions. I don’t make resolutions any more, but it recently came to me that a wise place to turn for good advice in the garden would be Ecclesiastes. Some say this book of the Bible was written by King Solomon in his old age, but others name a Teacher as the author, one who never names himself,

Chapter three begins. “To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” It does not take us gardeners too many years to learn that there is a time to plant and the time will come when it is time to harvest. There is no point to rushing out on the first glorious day that makes us think spring has finally arrived. If we want a good harvest, we must be aware of the season. We must be patient and we must attend to the needs of the plants until they are ready for the moment of ripeness.

“A time to be born, and a time to die.” It is the plants I am talking about here. Seeds and seedlings planted at the proper time will send out baby shoots full of promise. That promise fulfilled, they will die, but they will leave seeds, or more roots and tubers. A new generation of plants will rise.

“A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted.” Here the Teacher reminds us again, that we need to get busy at the proper moment in the spring, and that we had better be ready at harvest time, or it will all have been for naught.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” This year I have wept over the floods in my garden, but there came so many floods that I could only laugh at the relentless rains. When faced with storm after storm I began to turn the flood into a humorous story. ‘Did I tell you about the year I grew toads?’ I did mourn the plants that drowned, but acknowledged that there was time to dance over to the garden shop and try again.

Stones were gathered in this Seattle garden

Stones were gathered in this Seattle garden

“A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” When we are digging and preparing the soil for planting here in New England, we will have stones to cast away from the planting beds. But we can later gather those stones to make a path, or a dry stream, or a sculpture. I don’t know how those stacked stone structures survive, but obviously some people do. I think New Englanders often find creative ways of using castoffs of one kind or another.

“A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” It is not hard to joyfully embrace sunlight, flowering plants all abuzz with pollinators, delicious vegetables, and the colorful blue jays, cardinals and goldfinches flitting through the trees and shrubs. Neither is it hard to sit in silence and feel the peace of the garden.

The final verse of Chapter 3 begins “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works.” I wish all men and women seasons of rejoicing in your garden this year.

Between the Rows   December 29, 2018

December Holiday Celebrations – Lights, Feasts and Memory

Poinsettias

Poinsettias named for Joel Robert Poinsett, botanist and ambassador to Mexico

Our December holiday celebrations originated far away from North America. The days grow shorter, the nights  are long and dark. Understandably the great religions celebrate with lights.

Hanukkah

Two of these holiday celebrations are days-long commemorations of ancient events. The Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days. The Talmud tells the story of Judah Maccabee and other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a consecrated supply. This wondrous event inspired an annual eight-day festival.

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a movable celebration, depending on the lunar cycle, so sometimes it falls early in December, and sometimes it coincides with Christmas.

Christmas

Christians of every sect and flavor celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. For four Sundays before December 25 the Advent candles are lit. Advent is a time of waiting that is marked by the lighting of four candles, symbols of faith, hope, joy and peace. With the birth of the Christ Child on December 25, the twelve days of Christmas begin, and end on January 6, the feast of Epiphany, when tradition says the three wise men arrived to honor the Baby.

Kwanzaa

Much more recently there is Kwanzaa, a celebration of seven principles that was created 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture, begins on December 26 and ends on January 1. This African American and Pan African celebration includes the lighting of seven candles marking each of the seven principles beginning with Unity, Self Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. Each principle had its own candle lit in a given order.

All of these celebrations have lights to brighten the growing December dark, but they also celebrate with wonderful meals. The Jews have latkes and the Kwanzaa celebration includes foods from Africa but also foods from the south such as yams, squash and corn. I don’t know that Christmas has any special foods, although I’m sure each family has its own feasting traditions.

Feasting

My grandparents were Swedish and Italian. I can tell you there were lots of sweets from each side of the family that included chocolate, almonds, apples, and pomegranates. My Italian father loved telling stories of the Greek gods and goddesses. He told how Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of grain and fertility of the earth, was abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld. She refused to eat while in that dark place. Demeter searched for her child and was struck with a powerful grief that caused all plants to begin to die. Zeus finally sent word to Hades that he had to send Persephone home, and he acquiesced, if she had eaten nothing. However Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds, which meant she would have to return to Hades for a time every year. That is how we got winter my father said. A sad story, but the reason we add the jewel-like pomegranate seeds to our family Christmas feast.

As I was thinking of the many vegetables that would be served at a Christmas dinner I thought of some of those Kwanzaan items like sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and squash that show up on my table, but I might add guacamole made with avocados and tomatoes. Apple pie is always a staple.

We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful vegetables and fruits in our supermarkets in these modern days, but the Pilgrims had a much more modest feast at the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, apples, pears, oranges, almonds, ginger and many others were not native to Europe or to New England. Of course this is only a small list of foods that were not native to our country. Many originated in South America and even the apple originated in Central Asia.

At this time of the year you can also find colorful poinsettias in many shades almost every time you go into the supermarket. They make great festive gifts. Poinsettias originated in Mexico and were given the name poinsettia in honor of Joel Robert Poinsett who the 1800s was a botanist and the first ambassador to Mexico. Of course, these brilliant plants are substantial shrubs in Mexico.

English holly

English holly in full winter berries

Even the holly wreaths and swags are made of English holly, beautiful with its red berries.

I am amazed when I think of the fruits, vegetables and flowers from every corner of the globe to feed us every day – and on our great December celebrations. I think of the candle lights that bring us hope in the dark days of winter. I think of the stories that accompany the religious traditions that have arrived in our country. None of these things were here before 1492. But over the centuries amazing gifts of faith, of abundance, and beauty have immigrated to our country. Immigrants from around the world continue to arrive in the U.S. and we should treasure and celebrate each one for the hope, passion, skills and energy they bring to our county.

Between the Rows   December 22, 2018

More Christmas Books for the Gardener


Ground Rules by Kate Frey

Ground Rules by Kate Frey photo courtesy of Timber Press

More Christmas books. There is no end of books to delight and inform the gardener. Kate Frey’s new book, Ground Rules: 100 Easy Lessons for Growing a More Glorious Garden (Timber Press $19.95) has a sweet cover with painted flowers and birds. It would be easy to dismiss this book as something only of interest for the new gardener. However, it does not take a long browse through each bright page to realize that there is always something to learn – or to remember.

Frey is a consultant, educator designer, and freelance writer specializing in sustainable gardens and small farms that encourage biodiversity. She is a gardener whose experience has taught her how to break down all the aspects of gardening from thinking and planning through to your own Garden of Earthly Delights.

The first necessity is thinking about what you need in a garden and dreaming about what you love and would like to create. There are many questions to ask yourself. If you want vegetables where will you place it? What do you want to see out your window? I can tell you that when we moved to a small house in town we had to renovate the kitchen. A result of that new and much more efficient kitchen is a double window looking out into the garden. That view is the best view of the garden and I get to enjoy it every time I make toast, toss a salad, cut out cookies, or plate up our dinner. It gives me more pleasure every day observing the daily and seasonal changes. Thinking about what you will see from your window is an important aspect of planning your garden.

Each page with its informative text and bright photos is a delight. Frey takes us through the many aspects of creating a garden. The second chapter is about the Joy of Plants which provides great information about choosing the right plants and the right space that will pleasure in every season, including annuals, perennials, vines and bulbs. The Real Dirt is full of information about creating healthy soil. I think we are all more aware of how important the quality of our soil is to the success of our plantings, but are not sure of how to improve and maintain good soil. Especially if we are determined to cut down on, or eliminate herbicides and pesticides.

Frey’s chapters move on  through Be Wise With Water, How to Be a Good Garden Parent about the care of plants, Birds, Bees and Butterflies and their importance, and finally the Garden of Earthly Delights. Frey gives us an abundance of knowledge and pleasure in this little book.

The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Your Small Garden

The less is more garden

The Less is More Garden by Susan Morrison
cover image courtesy of Timber Press

The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard (Timber Press $29.95) understandably hits on many of the same issues as Common Rules. The difference is that Susan Morrison provides many examples of ways to organize a small garden for your individual preferences and needs. Morrison is not only a landscape designer, she is an authority on small-space garden design. She is a good teacher and has shared her strategies on the PBS series Growing a Greener World and in publications such as Fine Gardening.

More and more of us are living in more urban areas, or who in our later years, need and want smaller gardens. Morrison reminds us right at the start that a small space can result in less effort, less maintenance and therefore more enjoyment, beauty and relaxation. She begins by stating that designing a new garden demands a consideration of how and when you will use that space. Do you grill and have frequent meals outside? Do you sit in the garden in the middle of the day, or in the cooler hours? Will your pets enjoy the garden?

I found The Less is More Garden to be wonderfully inspiring. She provides design templates to give the novice someplace to start and provides information about plants for different situations. She knows how to create illusions of space, and the value of focal points. She stresses the importance of water in the garden even if it is only a bird bath. As a person who is timid about choosing colors, I appreciated the different ways she suggested for thinking about color.

What makes a house a home? It takes more than four walls and a roof. It takes time living in the house, making it comfortable for everyone in the family and creating memories. It takes time to make a garden. Over time the garden can take form based on the pleasures everyone finds in the garden, and building memories of a place that is loved.

The many excellent photographs and Morrison’s lists of particular kinds of plants make this book useful and practical as well as inspirational.

Good books, informational and beautiful, make great gifts, but there is another way of giving information and beauty. You could give the gift of membership in the American Horticultural Society. Membership includes a subscription to the American Gardener with six issues of information each year with great photos. Log onto  www.ahsgardening.org. to learn about the benefits of a $35 membership which includes special admission privileges and discounts at 320 public gardens throughout the U.S., an invitation to participate in our seed program, and access to members only online gardening resources, and you enjoy knowing you are supporting the AHS and gardening is the USA.

Between the Rows  December 15, 2018

Christmas Gifts for the Gardener

Christmas cyclamen at Greenfield Farmers Coop

Christmas gifts for  the gardener range over such a large world of possibilities. Even though we’ve shopped at Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, we may not have finished our holiday shopping. Fortunately there are many places where we can buy everything a gardener, novice or expert, might need in our own neighborhood.

Infiniflo hose and versatile sprinkler

Infiniflo hose and versatile sprinkler

I began shopping at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative on High Street. I didn’t even have to go inside to see wonderful greenery waiting to be hung on welcoming doors. Swags and wreaths made of a variety of greens with berries and ribbons range in price from $7 on up. Inside the building are tools, gloves, boots and fertilizers. I looked at hoses and saw there seems to be revolutionary new hose designs. The soaker hoses are made of sturdier materials than the ones I used years ago, hoses that deteriorated in a year or two. A couple of years ago I saw that Dramm made sprinklers that could be set up to cover a half circle, or a long rectangle or about any other configuration your garden might need. Now other companies like Infiniflo are also making these versatile hose/sprinklers. Costs range from about $20 to $60.

The Coop is a veritable emporium of everything a gardener might need from brightly colored little ceramic vases on a single base that allows for an impromptu bouquet, elegant white pots for houseplants, or, if you wish, brilliantly colored pots in shades of orange, green, and blue. Pots range in price from $7 to $20. And of course, there is a full range of houseplants that make wonderful holiday gifts as well as amaryllis sets for $10. And there is more to see.

The Outlet on Chapman Street for Garden Togs

I made a stop at The Outlet, a men’s shop on Chapman Street. Skip White welcomed me but reminded me it wasn’t gardening season. Even so, he showed me pale beige Carhart pants that some gardeners, as well as others, have been buying because it is easier to find ticks on the pale fabric. He also showed me classic blue chambray shirts, to save you from sunburn when you are in the garden all day as well as Dri-release T-shirts that provide the wicking that many of us welcome. White even showed me a few hats he brought up from the basement ranging from a big classic straw hat, to a hat with a flap to protect necks from sunburn, and a light weight floppy hat that would be comfortable and protective.  All these items range in price from $20-$40. And there is more to see.

Hilltown Growers Supply – Hydroponics and more

Dutch Bucket System - Hydroponic

Dutch Bucket System – Hydroponic

Then I started up Route 2 and stopped at the Hilltown Growers Supply at the top of Greenfield Mountain. In the spring I met Wilder Sparks when I bought a new plant light set up so I could start lots of zinnias. Wilder has equipment and supplies including fertilizers that go well beyond the necessaries for growing cannabis. On this trip I was amazed by the Dutch Bucket System he had set up. This is a hydroponic system that Wilder is experimenting with and his chosen crop is peppers. And there is more to see.

The Shelburne Farm and Garden Shop

The Shelburne Farm and Garden shop also has lots of wreaths and swags, plain and fancy with different greens and berries. They also had practical plant stands of different heights including a stand with arms for four small plants. Prices range from $25-$60. Most of the lightweight garden gloves were put away but the pale MUD suede gauntlets ($29) would be a wonderful gift for the gardener who has prickery plants like roses! The Shelburne Farm and Garden is famous for its love of birds, and its supply of bird seed, and some unusual bird feeders. Nicole Crossman showed me some plexiglass bird feeders with suction cups that allow you to attach the feeder to your window so that you can get a close-up view of the birds, making it very easy to identify them. And there is more to see.

Christmas wreath at Shelburne Farm and Garden

OESCO for Garden Tools, and Books

Then I was off to OESCO in Conway. They have just about every garden tool you will ever have to use. I’ve always found it difficult to buy garden tools as a gift for a friend because I never know for sure what they already own. I was talking to Jemma Vanderheld and asked if there was there was any tool that people had to replace often.  She thought long and hard. She said “A lot of people have to replace their pruners because they lose them.” That statement hit home and I have a pruner with ragged grips after it spent the winter in the grass and then got chopped by the lawn mower in the spring.

Tool Sharpeners at OESCO

Tool sharpeners at OESCO

Then I asked if there was any tool that people tended not to buy even though it was useful. She didn’t hesitate this time. “Sharpeners.  People bring their tools for sharpening to us because they think they are not capable of sharpening. But all our sharpeners list a website where you can get a sharpening lesson. And they can watch it as many times as they want.” The sharpeners with different sizes and grits range in price from $8 to $50.

Vanderheld also mentioned that gardeners can have the springs and ‘bumpers’ on pruners replaced.

OESCO now carries a large range of garden books, for children and on special topics like vineyards, mushrooms, hops – and cookbooks.

Surely you don’t believe I came home empty handed from my explorations. I bought a beautiful cast iron apple corer/peeler. I am happy.

Between the Rows December 8,