Growing Healthy Houseplants
Some of us may have gotten gift houseplants during the holidays. If we are not experienced indoor gardeners this can cause some anxiety. “Now what do I do?” the recipient may wonder when the gift givers have left the premises. I personally think it is perfectly acceptable to treat any gift plant as a living bouquet, which will last longer than cut flowers, but still a bouquet that will have a limited life span.
At the same time, I know that a little information can help keep a gift houseplant alive for many months, and possibly years. Just as in the outdoor garden, if you want an indoor garden you must choose the right plant for the right place. Does your plant need sun, or does it require a northern light? Does it need frequent waterings?
Storey Publishing has put together a series of useful little books called Storey Basics. Ellen Zachos is the author of Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely and Control Pests ($8.95) which has exactly the basic information needed to provide proper care to a gift plant, or the plant you give yourself. Beverly Duncan, of Ashfield has provided the black and white drawings throughout the book.
Growing Healthy Houseplants is organized to give you basic information about lighting, watering, potting soils and fertilizing in general and then goes on to talk about maintaining plants which includes a section on making more plants and managing pests.
The final section talks about ways to display houseplants, and provides specific information about an array of flowering and foliage plants from ferns and begonias to ficus trees and mistletoe cactus. Orchids, too.
The days are growing longer and brighter. If you didn’t get a gift plant, enjoy a minor splurge and choose one for yourself. Flowers are cheerful, and foliage plants are an optimistic addition to a room in winter. This book will set you on the road to months and years of pleasure. A plant or two (given appropriate light) will add a note of vibrant life and welcome to any room.
Whether you have houseplants or not, most of us gardeners are starting to leaf through the catalogs that arrived even before Christmas. What new directions will our garden take this year?
Guan Yin Mian tree peony
I love to shop for perennials locally, but local garden centers are necessarily limited in their choices. They can only carry so many varieties of rhododendron or iris or rose. I recommend a look at mostly local specialty nurseries like the ones I’ve listed below – in alphabetical order by plant.
Silver Garden Daylilies (www.silvergardendaylilies.com) run by Richard Willard has over 400 daylilies now located on Pickett Avenue in Greenfield. It is often possible to choose your daylilies while they are in bloom so you can get exactly the colors you want.
Noted plant hunter Darrell Probst has been finding rare epimediums in China for many years. This beautiful shade loving ground cover with delicate flowers is also known by the name fairy wings. The nursery, Garden Visions Epimediums (www.epimediums.com) in Templeton sells other shade loving perennials like iris cristata. It is open to the public only on select weekends in May.
Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain is operated by Deborah Wheeler and her son Andrew Wheeler. Their specialty is Japanese iris which bloom in July. They usually have open digging days that are announced. When I bought my white Japanese iris from Andrew he said it didn’t need to be planted where it was wet, but it should be planted where it could be watered regularly. Good advice.
Joe Pye Weed’s Garden (http://www.jpwflowers.com) in Carlisle specializes in Siberian irises, but also grows versicolor, crested and species irises as well as primroses. There is an online catalog with photos, or you can request a print catalog for $2, refundable with your order.
Nasami Farm (www.newenglandwild.org) in Whately is the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society which has its main office and the famed Garden in the Woods in Framingham. Nasami sells an array of native plants, perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees on weekends in the spring and fall. With all the interest in the importance of supporting our local food web, more and more people are making a special effort to make sure at least some of their plantings are natives.
Not quite so local is Fox Hill Lilac (www.lilacs.com/) in Brunswick, Maine, but it offers scores of lilac varieties and the catalog gives information about fragrance as well as color and size. I cannot imagine my own garden without a lilac or two.
A luxurious plant in the garden is the tree peony. Unlike the familiar herbaceous peonies, these have a shrubby structure that does not die down in the fall. Although the large blossoms look fragile, the plant is very hardy and blooms earlier than herbaceous varieties. Klehm’s Song Sparrow nursery (www.songsparrow.com) offers a large variety of tree and herbaceous peonies.
A very large collection of rhododendrons can be found at WhitneyGardens nursery in Washington state (www.whitneygardens.com). They also offer azaleas, mountain laurels and other plants. PJM rhodies are very pretty and very hardy, but there are so many other varieties and colors, it is a shame to limit yourself.
Whatever new plants you add to your garden this year, take the time to find something that might be a little unusual – and yet no more difficult to care for. ###
Between the Rows January 10, 2015
Gifts for the Gardener begin at the garden center
I have never thought it very hard to find gifts for the gardener. After all, what does a gift say? I love you? I understand you? I want you to enjoy your days? I want your dreams to come true? I share your passion and I know just what you need?
No matter what your message there are garden centers and other kinds of shops that have just the gifts to convey these messages to the gardener in your life. I made the rounds of some of these stores and this is what I found. The Shelburne Farm and Garden Center has colorful Dramm long armed five liter watering cans ($30), and equally colorful one gallon Gardman watering cans ($18). A rolling Saucer Caddy ($40) holds more appeal for me as I get older. My potted plants get bigger every year and moving them a bigger chore. These gifts say ‘Lets have some fun in the garden, but let’s not strain ourselves. I want you in one piece at the end of a gardening day.”
SF&G also has a nice array of gloves. I used to pride myself on not using gloves, but after years of dirty nails and dry calluses I decided gloves are a Good Thing. Of course, gloves like Cool MUD gloves ($10) with water repellent nitrile have gotten lighter, more comfortable and breathable. One style of Women’s Work gloves is flowery and has nice long gauntlets ($20). When I got to the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative on High Street I found they had a whole aisle of gloves. And a lot more besides. Gloves are a consumable; they wear out and need to be replaced from time. A gift of gloves says “Don’t worry. Dig in. There is always another pair. Better the gloves get ugly than your lovely hands.”
There are fewer flowers in the winter, but SF&G has bags and bags of bird seed and a whole array of bird feeders. Attract the birds and you will be able to enjoy these flowers of the air. I met a neighbor there and she expressed her pleasure at finding that birds love safflower seeds, but squirrels don’t. Good information.
Blue Pots at the Greenfield Farmers Coop
Greenfield Farmer’s Coop has a fabulous array of Burley Clay pots in sizes from about one cup ($7) to large handsome pots that can hold a striking flower arrangement that is a work of art or even a small tree ($60) These pots come in lovely blue, and subtle shades of green or brown. They also have an array of black metal trellises, perfect for supporting ornamental vines in the garden. Prices range from $25-$40. They say “Isn’t it fun to have plants grow up and add a new dimension to the garden?”
Grow Bags are another way to have fun and continue the vegetable garden indoors during the winter. The Farmers Coop has several Grow Bags ($7-$15) that include coconut coir instead of potting soil, but you will need your own seeds (any left from the summer?), a liquid fertilizer and good light. I think these are great for growing herbs and greens like lettuces. You know your beloved just can’t stop wanting really local food.
Christmas platter at Stillwater Porcelain
On the other hand, sometimes you want to stop thinking about tools and chores. Sometimes you just want to surround yourself with the images of flowers and nature while carrying on in your non-gardening life. I stopped in at Stillwater Porcelain in ShelburneFalls where Pat Pyott has a unique way of creating ornamental tiles, with realistic images of Queen Anne’s Lace, autumn leaves, herbs, an evergreen branch. There are functional pieces like a variety of plates to tiles that surround a mirror. Prices range from $15 for lovely tree ornaments to $218 for a platter that will hold the roasted holiday beast. “I know you want to be surrounded by nature in every room,” these gifts say.
J.H. Sherburne embroidered cases
Just a little further down State Street is J.H. Sherburne’s shop. Jo-Anne has garden ornaments, and lovely botanical jewelry. I could not resist the gold and silver bulb complete with leaf shoots and roots that provided a space for a sprig of leaf or flower. I am not really a jewelry person, but I found this absolutely irresistible. She also has a collection of brightly embroidered Guatemalan cases, from luggage ($187) to a change purse ($7). I don’t have a cellphone (no service in Heath) but if I did I would love a flowered cellphone case ($14). I like the juxtaposition of technology and a flower garden.
Portrait by J.H. Sherburne
Jo-Anne is also a fine artist and just think what a gift a portrait of the beloved would be, set among the colors of the garden. Full information about how that process works is on her website.
Gift certificates carry all sorts of messages. They can say, “I know you, and I love you and your garden, and while I have no idea what you want or need, I want you to have it.” This message is often sent to experienced gardeners who can be very particular and opinionated about tools or plants. A gift certificate is a gift of anticipation, of time for thought and the delight in picking out just the item you have been longing for. There are times when a gift certificate is the perfect gift. What about a gift certificate to OESCO where fine tools are found in Ashfield? The Greenfield Farmers Coop, the Shelburne Farm and GardenCenter, JH Sherburne and Stillwater Porcelain also have perfect gift certificates.
Between the Rows December 13, 2014
Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer
It’s a truism that every garden is different. Gardeners don’t begin by asking “how can I make my garden unique” they begin by looking for ways to bring their passions and preferences into the garden. This search will include choosing plants and planning pathways, but it will also include finding chairs and a table for conviviality, a birdbath for attracting the birds, possibly even a protecting summerhouse. In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality ($35. Timber Press), Rochelle Greayer provides inspiring ideas and information about different garden designs and accessories.
Nearly encyclopedic this is not a book that requires beginning at page one and marching on to page 304. The bright illustrations inspired me to browse through the book first, trying to find myself within a category or two. Is my garden Cottage Au Courant with its controlled chaos? Possibly. But what about Sacred Meadow? I am surrounded by meadows. Definitely not Wabi Sabi Industrial, but still, I do long to be able to recycle odd and rusty junk into useful and beautiful garden details.
Greayer herself does not worry about purity of style. Though she lives in eastern Massachusetts now, she was born in Colorado, and describes her garden as “Handsome Prairie, with healthy dashes of Sacred Meadow, ForestTemple, and Homegrown Rock’n’Roll thrown in.” Clearly unique gardens are not created by locking yourself into a theme, even if it is your own.
Cultivating Garden Style – Wabi Sabi Industrial
The various themes are beautifully photographed and provide that initial inspiration, but the sections on Learning, Doing, Growing give you practical information about how to achieve the garden in your mind. These sections cross over the various themes. You will need advice about deck essentials, buying plants, choosing a tree, understanding and using microclimates, making paths, or creating visual illusions no matter what kind of garden you are creating. She also provides directions for a number of DIY projects like making planter sconces, oilcloth placemats, a fountain, and lighting fixtures.
Pith & Vigor garden newspaper
Greayer’s prose style is chatty and informative. She loves talking to gardeners, learning from them and teaching them. For years she has written a garden blog, www.studiogblog.com which is currently taking a new form but remains a pleasure to read. She is also the editor of a new quarterly garden newspaper, Pith&Vigor, of which I am a charter subscriber. The first issue includes an interview with Ken Marten and his directions for making an exquisite terrarium, how to make a mushroom garden, a bouquet gathered on the Massachusetts coast in mid-September, an autumnal container arrangement and an article on how to grow giant pumpkins – and compete! Lots more in this issue and to come. Subscribe for $32 a year, for a paper and online subscription by ordering at www.pithandvigor.com. A subscription to Pith&Vigor would make a great gift for gardeners on your list.
There are other subscriptions that will feed a gardener’s interests in more specific ways. Recently I was given a subscription to the quarterly Heirloom Gardener, published by Rare Seeds Publishing, an arm of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The lushly illustrated current issue contains articles about poisonous plants, indoor gardening with herbs and bulb forcing, crops and seeds of the Incas, and rare fruits. And more. $15 for one year (four issues). Call 417-924-8917 or order online at heirloomgardener.com.
For many years I have been a member of the American Horticultural Society. One of the perks of membership is the bi-monthly magazine The American Gardener with regular articles about plants from ornamentals to poison ivy. Did I know there was anything good to say about poison ivy? No. But it seems it seems that it has the “potential for use in a variety of commercial applications, including an environmentally smart replacement for the petrochemicals used to make paints and industrial coatings.” There are also interviews with fascinating gardeners, book reviews, news about AHS programs – and more. You can join online. The basic membership at $35 will get you The American Gardener, free or discounted entry into many gardens and arboreta and plant shows around the country as well as the member seed exchange.
I am also a member of the New England Wildflower Society where a year’s membership at the $55 level gives me free access to the famous Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and a discount at Nasami Farm in Whately where the NEWFS propagates many thousands of native plants. I am a regular shopper at Nasami Farm. There are many workshops available at a discount. Membership will also give you a subscription to their newly overhauled magazine, reciprocal admission to 270 public gardens, and borrowing privileges at their 4500 volume library. You can join online at www.newenglandwild.org You don’t even need to be a member of NEWFS to read their blog about native plants, or use their great Go Botany database to help you identify plants. All this is yours for free.
Gardeners are always learning; and a gift of books or memberships in a horticultural society are good ways to keep feeding their hunger for new information, and new pleasure. Happy shopping.
Between the Rows December 6, 2013
Timber Press and Rochelle Greayer are helping me celebrate 7 years of blogging here at the commonweeder.com. You still have another day to leave a comment here by midnight Saturday, December 13, and have a chance to win a copy of Cultivating Garden Style AND a copy of my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 14.
Rosemary in Bloom
Mary Gardens do not bloom in December, but since the liturgical season of Advent is a time of waiting for the momentous birth of the Christ Child I cannot help but think about what a confusing time it must have been for Mary.
All mothers waiting for the arrival of their first child often feel confused because emotions can range from frightened to joyous. What will the birth be like? What will the baby be like? What will the woman be like once she is a mother?
I think about Mary on that long donkey ride to Bethlehem. Mothers are weary and expectant during that last month of pregnancy as the baby comes closer and closer to being a reality. The very young Mary must still have been trying to get her mind around the memory of the angel who told her she would carry this special child, and the visit to her cousin Elizabeth which was more confirmation that this child was going to be very special.
In ancient times the pagan goddesses all had flowers associated with their personalities. For example, the rose and the lily are connected with Venus, denoting her love and her purity. Mary is a unique figure to all Christians; it is no surprise that over the centuries such a figure would have many stories grow up around her. In an age when most of the population was illiterate, symbols were important to storytelling. In Mary’s story various plants became symbols of her character and the events in her life. Some people have taken those symbols to create a Mary Garden where they might meditate on her life.
Most paintings of the Annunciation, show an angel appearing with a white lily to tell Mary that she would bear a son who would ‘be the greatest and shall be called the son of the Highest.” The lily, white for purity with a golden heart, is the first symbol of Mary and is considered essential to any Mary Garden. The second symbol, the iris, is more important because of its sword-like foliage than its flower. When Mary and Joseph presented the new baby in the templeSimeon said, “This child is destined to be a sign which men will reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart.” Confusion upon confusion – angels, shepherds, wise men and dire warnings, and she just a new mother with a baby.
Mary came to be called the Mystical Rose and so roses are also necessary in a Mary garden. Thornless roses symbolize Mary who herself was declared born without sin, and all the roses with thorns stand for the rest of humanity with all their faults and failings. Roses for Mary are either white for purity, or red for the passion.
Myth and legend grew up around Mary and many flowers were thought to refer to her domestic life. I can imagine women over the ages thinking of the ways they share Mary’s duties and chores. Mending is no longer a major chore, but Mary’s Candle is one name for the giant mullein (Verbascum), its tall yellow flower spike standing in for a candle that provided light for Mary while she mended the Christ Child’s clothing. Right by her side would have been her tools, Our Lady’s Thimble, otherwise known as the Bluebells of Scotland, and Our Lady’s Pincushion, the Scabiosa.
Many other flowers are connected with Mary from the common marigold which is Mary’s gold, only to be found in nature, the blue of forget-me-nots as clear as Mary’s eyes, and Our Lady’s Keys, the primrose. Some of these associations make more sense than others, but all are beautiful in a garden.
The first garden known to be dedicated to Mary was created by the Irish St. Fiacre in the 7th century. The first record of a Mary Garden was a 15th century listing of plants for the St. Mary’s garden written by the sacristan at the Norwich Priory in England.
The flowers in a Mary Garden are an aid to meditation. Spring brings us columbine for Mary’s shoes, and alchemilla for lady’s mantle for her cloak. Pulmonaria, and other plants with white mottled foliage have been called milkwort or Mary’s milkdrops. You can see that many flowers for a Mary Garden are humble cottage or wildflowers, as unassuming at Mary herself.
A Mary Garden could also include a ground cover like vinca (Virgin flower), foxglove or Our Lady’s Glove, pansies or Our Lady’s Delight, or lilies of the valley for the tears she shed after the crucifixion.
It is thought that the first Mary Garden in the United States was planted at St. Joseph’s Church in Woods Hole on Cape Cod in 1932. Full information about this garden, and MaryGardens in general can be found at the University of Dayton in Ohio,http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/m_garden/marygardensmain.html.
Even if you don’t have an outdoor garden, you can have a Mary Garden. All it takes is an image of the Holy Mother, and potted plants like the prayer plant (Maranta leucoreura) whose foliage closes in the evening like praying hands, and rosemary. My own rosemary plant is producing tiny blue flowers right now, a reminder of the legend that on the flight to Egypt the Holy Family stopped so that Mary could wash the Christ Child’s clothes. She asked plants nearby if she could hang the wet clothes on them to dry but only the rosemary bush consented. To this day rosemary’s blue flowers are a reminder of Mary in her blue cloak.
When you need a respite from the happy holiday hullabaloo, take a few minutes to sit quietly with your plants, no matter which, and meditate on the joys of the season.
Don’t Forget: You can win a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s fabulous book Cultivating Garden Style, AND a copy of The Roses at the End of the Road by Yours Truly simply by leaving a comment here by midnight, December 13. I will randomly choose a winner of this Giveaway celebrating 7 years of blogging at commonweeder on Sunday, December 14. Thank you Timber Press.
Between the Rows November 30, 2014
Intervale Center Food Hub
My visit with my cousin, Travis Marcotte, at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont stunned me with the varied ways an organization could support farmers, the vitality of their conservation effort, the size of a marketing project like a food hub, and the excitement and involvement of a large community.
Last week I described two of the IntervaleCenter’s programs: the Farms Program which allows farmers to lease land and equipment at reasonable rates; and the Success in Farms program which brings expert advice to farmers all across Vermont. The interconnectedness of all things is clear in the goals that run through every Intervale project. Sustainable farms provide a living for farmers, protect land and the environment, and provide healthy local food for the population.
Interconnectedness is the theme of the online Food Hub. Most of us have become familiar with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms which allow consumers to buy a share of a farm’s produce at the beginning of the season and then get a weekly pickup all season long. Travis said “there are models of the Food Hub all over the country. At the Intervale consumers order online. “Our food hub consists of 45 farms and food producers who send us their order every week. Volunteers box orders up and deliver them to nearly 50 pickup locations in Burlington. The several colleges in Burlington, and private businesses get direct deliveries, but there are also a number of other delivery sites. The FletcherAllenHospital which participates in the Healthcare without Harm program gets food from the Food Hub for their hospital kitchen and for their employees.”
Travis pointed out that while everyone knows the physician’s Hippocratic oath says “First do no harm,” they don’t know that it also says “I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means.”
The Food Hub building, a renovated barn, includes a huge refrigerated room that holds all the produce and products like cheese, yogurt and meat that require refrigeration delivered by the 45 farm participants, and space for boxing the orders.
Beyond providing a stable market for the farmers, and deliveries of good food for the consumers, the Intervale website states that the Food Hub “provides ongoing technical assistance and support, enabling [farmers] to grow and process more food, diversify production, develop specialty products and push the limits of Vermont’s growing season.”
Intervale Center Conservation Nursery
The big greenhouse of the Conservation Nursery was empty but dozens of crates filled with hundreds of tree seedlings in growing tubes were ranked in the adjacent open area. I wondered where Intervale got all their plants. I quickly learned that this project begins with collecting seed, making cuttings and growing on about 30 varieties of native trees and shrubs. Thousands of plants go to landowners, farmers, and watershed organizations as well as municipal agencies.
Intervale also hires seasonal planting teams that work full time for six weeks in the spring and fall. These crews go all over Vermont usually planting varieties of willow and dogwood. These rugged native plants are fast growing, tolerate summer droughts, and winter cold. The focus is on riparian restoration, planting along riversides to make the banks stable and capable of capturing sediments and pollutants before they reach the water. Lake Champlain has a high level of pollution that is caused by runoff from the various rivers and waterways. After Irene Intervale gave away 15,000 trees to repair damage done by the storm.
Intervale Gleaning and Food Rescue. This program works to get fresh healthy food to income eligible families. Gleaning is the ancient practice of letting people go into the fields after harvest to take up that portion of the crop that was left. At Intervale volunteers work with local farms to rescue food that would be lost, and sign up Farmer’s Market vendors to donate produce leftover at the end of market day. The Community Farms offers free CSA shares to income eligible families and social service organizations. Several of the farms at Intervale, including the Community Farm, welcome gleaners weekly as the harvest proceeds.
The 350 acres of the IntervaleCenter include biking and hiking paths. Up to a thousand people come to enjoy the Summervale gatherings every Thursday in July and August, for free music, and great local food sold by a variety of vendors. This is community involvement at its most joyous.
Do not think that I have given a full description of IntervaleCenter here. It has a large and far reaching scope. Yet, when I think about what we have in our own area I can count a growing number of small farms; CSA farms; Just Roots Community Farm, lively farmers markets; food pantries that work with farmers, gardeners and the farmers markets; CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) that provides support and training for farmers; food producers like Sidehill Yogurt, South River Miso and Warm Colors Apiary, and many more!
Vermont is a rural state, but Burlington is a metropolis. My cousin Travis likes to look a models. He knows different areas will need different models. He has access to a population of 200,000, and we have a fraction of that. Still, we all benefit from knowing about and understanding the workings of many models.
Between the Rows November 8, 2014
Discovery School Garden
When I arrived last Thursday afternoon the scene at the school gardens of the Discovery School at Four Corners were enjoying controlled chaos. Several teachers were staying after school to divide and pot up perennials from the butterfly garden.
“Is this Echinacea or a rudbeckia?” one teacher asked and her spade bit into the center of the clump.
“Don’t pot the dill! It an annual,” another shouted.
“Are you sure these are all bee balm?” another asked looking at a huge clump of wilted and frost-blackened stems.
All of the newly potted plants, as well as kale and potatoes from the garden, were to be sold at the Harvest Sampler the following day. Funds raised would go to the school gardens.
I have visited many school gardens, but never have I visited a school where the garden was a driving force in the curriculum. The DiscoverySchool at Four Corners (K-3) was one of the first Innovation Schools created by a program instituted by Governor Deval Patrick in 2010. Innovation schools have a theme; the teachers and parents who came together to design this new program chose gardening, with a broad environmental focus.
Kathy LaBreck, one of the teachers who was a moving force in getting the Innovation designation said that the nine acre site of the school was a big inspiration. “We thought the kids would be very interested in plants and that would be a great benefit. We see the children are so proud of their very concrete achievements, and their pride is a validation of the program.”
On the day I visited several of the raised garden beds were nearly finished and ready for the final harvest. Others already showed a sturdy growth of winter rye, a cover crop that will be tilled under in the spring to fertilize the soil and add organic matter.
My neighbor, and teacher at Four Corners, Kate Bailey told me the kids love the gardens, and the harvest. She has her own reasons for loving the gardens. “It is very easy to integrate the gardens, and cooking the produce, into the curriculum. When we planted the rye we talked about grains. When we cook, and we’ve made a lot of muffins with our harvest, we need many skills. To cook you need to read, follow directions, and of course handle lots of fractions,” she said.
For the Harvest Sampler Bailey said each grade made dishes with their own vegetable. She had to explain that the kindergarteners had been studying apples in particular so they made apple recipes. The school also has a dehydrator and making dried apple rings has been very popular
The first graders have been studying tomatoes. Lots of salsa has been made.
The second graders have been studying carrots which leads to carrot salads, muffins and cakes.
The third graders have been studying potatoes. Potato chips!
Bailey explained that volunteers from Just Roots, the GreenfieldCommunityGarden who helped set up the garden in the beginning, have been coming in every week to talk about Healthy Snacks.
In fact the desire to teach children the importance of a healthy diet was one of LaBreck’s goals. “Children who work in the garden, and grow their own vegetables are more willing to try new foods,” she said.
Teacher Anne Naughton stopped potting up plants long enough to tell me how excited she is about working with children in the garden. “The kids love the gardens, and they love the butterflies, and all the insects. They are so curious and interested. Their curiosity leads us into our lessons. We follow life cycles of plants and insects, and seasonal cycles. The first scientific skill is careful observation,” she said.
Suzanne Sullivan, the school principal, said the whole nine acres are used for instruction. The vegetable beds are producing, as is the strawberry bed, apple and pear trees have been planted, and pollinator plants help provide the insects needed for study. There is even a nature trail created by an Eagle Scout Patrick Crowningshield in 2011. “The goal is to foster an environmental awareness in the children, even beyond the gardens, she said
“The teachers have been very collaborative,” Sullivan said. “The students have been responsive and are so engaged. We do focus on very hands-on learning.”
At Friday night’s Harvest Sampler, held in the school yard near the gardens, it was clear that there is great support for the program. A huge turnout of parents arrived bearing their own contributions to the Sampler, more apple, tomato, carrot, and potato dishes. Who imagined learning could be so delicious?
The Massachusetts School Report Card shows students the DiscoverySchool at Four Corners have high levels of proficiency or better English Language Arts and Mathematics. It’s clear the teachers at the DiscoverySchool at Four Corners all get high marls themselves.
The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar is now available. This excellent, and beautiful, calendar contains excellent information about plants and garden chores throughout the year. To order send $12 payable to UMass, to Garden Calendar, c/o Five Maples, 78 River Road South, Putney, VT 05346. Add $3.50 for the first calendar and $2.00 for each additional calendar. Think of all the gardeners in your life you could make happy.
UMass Extension Garden Calendar 2015
Beetween the Rows October 25, 2014
Lawn Bed – put to bed
The weather has been kind to those of us who procrastinate and go about fall clean up in the garden with a little less energy than we once had. Right now I am buckling down and in the midst of working through my to-do list.
I got an early start in the vegetable garden in late September. I pulled out finished squash and bean plants and put all that biomass in the compost bin. All the empty beds in the Potager and the Early Garden right in front of the house were weeded, and I dug in finished, or nearly finished, compost. I am in the process of refreshing my paths with cardboard and wood chips.
Sometimes we have to evaluate the plants in our gardens. There are many reasons for deciding to remove a plant. Perhaps it didn’t do well because conditions were not quite right. Perhaps it didn’t live up to the fantasy one had when choosing it. Perhaps one simply doesn’t like it anymore. I got rid of the bright pink Alma Potchke aster last year. It has a funny name and is very pretty, but she just no longer appealed. I think the pink turtlehead (Chelone) is doomed this year. The deer like it too much and I’d rather have flashier flowers.
The plants that have to leave my garden will go to the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale in May. I am digging them up and keeping them in a vegetable bed in the Potager.
Other plants that will end up in a vegetable bed for the winter are those that need dividing. This year I am dividing three different astilbes, a white, a pink and a graceful pink ostrich astilbe, as well as Mardi Gras helenium, Echinacea and Japanese anemone. One division will stay in the garden and the other divisions will go into the Plant Sale, or to a friend.
Perennials need to be divided periodically to keep the garden in scale, and sometimes for their own health. Those divisions also allow us to be generous and that is a very good feeling.
It is time to cut back those perennials that have finished blooming. This will make things neater and easier on the gardener in the spring when there is so much to do. Of course, if you have plants with interesting seed heads that will attract the birds that spend the winter you will want to leave them.
Last year I did not cut back the daylilies in the fall, but I will not repeat that mistake. Cutting back plants reveals weeds that are hiding beneath the foliage. Hidden weeds, and weeds that are all too obvious should be pulled out. Fall weeding seems easier to me than spring weeding. The weeds don’t seem to have as good a hold on the earth in the fall as they do in the spring.
Honey Badger Garden Gloves
I was given a new glove to try out. The Honey Badger garden glove has three hard plastic claws on the fingers of one hand. As long as the soil is not packed hard, these claws have proved very efficient at helping me get underneath the roots of weeds when I am cleaning out the flower beds. Somehow I seem to work best in the garden on my knees, and directly with my hands whenever possible.
I am not done with weeding and dividing, but the peonies have all been cut back and weeded. I have one Lawn Bed section that has been cut back, weeded, and divided. I topped the soil off with some old cleanings from the henhouse (no more hens) and then sprinkled some old wood chips on top of that. The bed isn’t terribly photogenic but to my eyes it looks neater and ready for a floriferous spring.
Since I have been using my finished compost I have room in the bins to make new compost. I can use the foliage of cut back plants and frosted vegetables, but I am cautious about the weeds I include. No galinsoga or weeds with roots that I think will love spending the winter in delicious compost.
Leaves blow right off our hill but I did help a neighbor bag up some leaves and took them for my compost pile. Leaves are a valuable resource and I take all I can use.
My spade and garden forks are still in daily use, as are my hand tools including the pruners. Soon it will be time to clean them carefully. Actually, it is good to clean tools, especially clippers and pruners, after every use, and I try very hard to make this a routine. I keep a rag near my tool trug as a reminder.
Finally, you might make some notes. I try to do this all season long, partly because I am apt to be forgetful about plant names. I keep a little garden journal, with weather notes for (almost) every day, and notes about what I have done that day. Notes about activities help remind me of the general progress of the season. When I buy, or otherwise acquire, new plants I put in as much of the proper name as I can. This makes it easier to recommend them, or avoid them in future.
How far have you gotten with your fall clean up? According to my Farmer’s Almanac the rest of October will be mild. We can procrastinate a little more, but not too much.
Not everything is cut back. It is nice to have a few blooms! I think the flowers above are Sheffield Daisies. Maybe.
Between the Rows October 18, 2014
Berries for the Birds – High Bush cranberries
Many of us plant berry bushes, but do you specifically plant berries for the birds? Feeding the birds is a enjoyable activity, but because I have always had cats I have planted high bush cranberries, holly, and cotoneaster instead of putting up bird feeders. However, my first reason for planting these shrubs that produce autumnal berries is because they are beautiful. In addition to the plants I have deliberately put in my landscape I am lucky to have elderberries and grapes already in place.
In the fall many birds are migrating. When we had Stu Watson from the Audubon Society visit our woods and fields to help us make them more bird friendly, he told us that 70 to 90 bird species breed and nest in our area. Many other bird species pass through in the spring and in the fall. Audubon wants to keep common birds common, and providing, food, shelter and water will help do that. I realized there was a very good reason to plant berries for the birds.
I like thinking that our land provides safe and supportive space for birds, even if their needs were not uppermost in my mind when I did my first plantings.
One of the first ornamental shrubs I planted was the highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum. I was not thinking of the pretty berries it produces in particular, but only of the flat lacey spring flowers made up of fertile and sterile flowerets. That shrub has now reached a height of about 12 feet or more, and a pretty considerable spread. Right now it is laden with clusters of beautiful red berries. They are not cranberries at all, but they are edible though my husband might ask me if they are palatable. We don’t actually have any interest in eating them ourselves. They are very sour, but the birds like them especially in the spring when protein rich tree pollen is available as a side dish to help metabolize the berries.
My highbush cranberry also supports a wild Concord grapevine. This vine was here when we bought our house and we hack it back when we have time, but we will never conquer it. Still, these grapes are another source of food. People who are growing grapes for their own consumption have to find ways to protect them from the birds.
The mountain ash, Sorbus americana is native to the United States and is a popular landscape tree. It can reach a height of 30 feet. It produces white flowers in the spring and bears brilliant red-orange berries in the fall. It also has good fall color with foliage turning shades of gold, orange, and even a dark red/maroon. The berries attract thrushes and waxwings.
Another tree that is said to attract cardinals, finches, robins, blue jays, and waxwings in particular is the mulberry. Mulberries are also edible and many people eat them out of hand or make jam. The birds just gobble them up. The one downside to mulberries is that the juice can really stain, which means that they should not be planted near walkways or anywhere people might congregate. No tea parties under the mulberry.
Mulberries have also been called ‘protector trees’ because birds like the berries so much that they gorge themselves on the mulberries and leave cherries and other crops alone. The native red mulberries, Morus rubra, are hardier than the black variety.
Callicarpa dichotomy or Beautyberry
One of the most showstopping shrubs is Callicarpa dichotoma, or beautyberry. This is a small shrub that will grow between two and four feet with about an equal spread. There are small pink flowers in the summer, but in the fall it produces clusters of berries in the most amazing shade of purple. When I first saw this shrub growing on the Bridge of Flowers I thought they must be artificial. The birds have no such thoughts and find them delicious.
Beautyberry is deciduous and hardy to zone 5. It likes full sun but can tolerate part shade. I cannot grow this in Heath, and I think even if I lived in Greenfield I might find a fairly sheltered spot for it. It is a carefree plant with no serious diseases.
I don’t know if I was the last person to know how to pronounce cotoneaster (co-toe-knee-aster NOT cotton-easter) but even before I could pronounce it I knew it was a good groundcover. While I was learning how to pronounce it I also learned that I had one variety (name lost) that produced coral-red flowers in the spring looking very much like ornamental quince flowers. I also learned that birds love the red berries that appear in the fall.
I planted two different cotoneasters too near each other. That is what happens when you are too eager to cover ground. They now grow into each other which fortunately is not unattractive. One hugs the ground and one is a bit more mounding. Both have tiny lustrous dark green leaves. They are undemanding, but in my garden they did take a couple of years to really start spreading. I may be showing my impatience again.
Cotoneasters can grow in full sun or part shade. It is important that the soil be well drained. Established plants can tolerate drought. Happily for me, neither deer nor rabbits show any interest, allowing the birds to make full use of the little red autumn berries.
I also planted Blue Prince and Blue Princess holly bushes. Hollies need male and female plants to fruit. It is not yet Christmas but my Blue Princess is having a productive year. Lots of beautiful berries. The birds like them, but they will leave some for my holiday decorations.
Between the Rows October 4, 2014
What do you think of when you think of the flowers of autumn? Chrysanthemums immediately to mind, if only because in September every supermarket dresses itself with ranks of potted mums. These mums are colorful, although a bit straitlaced in their pots, and may blind us to the many other flowers of autumn. However, there are many other fall bloomers.
One of my favorite autumn bloomers is the Japanese anemone. I have a large clump of the old pink variety Robusstisma. It begins blooming in late summer and continues till a hard frost. Like Robustissima, the standard white Honorine Joubert has a classic cup shape with a golden center. It is 36 inches tall and new flowers keep appearing over a long season. Both are hardy to zone 4, but there are newer cultivars.
Bluestone Perennials and WaysideGardens offer newer varieties as well as these old favorites. Max Vogel is a more ruffled pink with a brilliant gold center. Margarette is a deeper pink double variety that is only 24 inches tall. Whirlwind is a tall white double with petals that do look ruffled by the breezes. These newer varieties are listed as hardy to zone 5.
Japanese anemones are listed as rabbit and deer resistant, but I have to report with some chagrin that the deer have munched on my Robustissima, both before and after blooming.
Boltonia closeup in September
Boltonia is another fall bloomer that isn’t mentioned very often, but this hardy plant, sometimes called a false aster, will bloom for a month. At four feet or more and covered with snowy white flowers just one plant puts out a tremendous show until after hard frost. Snowbank is the white variety, but there is also Boltonia Pink which is slightly shorter with pink petals around the golden center. Both are hardy to zone 4 and both tolerate a wet site.
Rudbeckia Goldsturm is a classic black eyed susan. This flower is hardy to zone 3, and not susceptible to any disease. It is also quite drought tolerant. It will bloom from July until well into September.
At four feet tall with unusual narrow rolled petals Rudbeckia subtomentosa Henry Eilers is a striking cultivar that will certainly attract attention.
Black eyed susans are such popular flowers and such late bloomers that it is no surprise that the hybridizers have glammed her up. Rudbeckia hirta Cappucino is 18 inches tall and the large double blossoms are in shades of golden red. Rudbeckia hirta Cherry Brandy will not bloom quite as late in the fall, but the deep red-maroon color is a whole new vision of the black eyed susan. All the rudbeckias make good cut flowers, as do the Japanese anemones and boltonia.
Good front of the border plants are garlic chives and salvias. I have various kinds of chives, and had forgotten that I had planted a new garlic chive clump in the North Lawn Bed. Garlic chives bloom in late summer and through the fall. The blossoms are white, not the purple of the familiar spring blooming chives. The purpose of my new clump was ornamental, a touch of white against a dark fountain juniper, but they can be snipped all season long for use in the kitchen. The flavor is more garlicky than oniony, and more gentle that garlic cloves.
There are so many salvias, and all so beautiful and useful. Culinary sage is a salvia and while it doesn’t have flowers at this season, the gray-green foliage is a very handsome element in any garden.
Of course there are many other colors of annual salvias like Lighthouse Purple, white and blue Sea Breeze and Red Hot Mama. Seduced by the peachy flowers in June I planted a perennial salvia listed as Autumn Sage Heatwave Glow. It still has a few flowers thought it is badly crowded by a trumpet vine, parsley and some enormous horseradish leaves. I don’t know whether it will survive the winter (hardy to zone 6, minus 10 degrees) but this year’s flowers were worth it.
Of course there are other fall bloomers including a world of chrysanthemums, asters and dahlias and other annuals. Just take a walk over the Bridge of Flowers and see how many plants are blooming this late in the season.
A final note. Many people are not familiar with Ratibida columnifera Red Midget, otherwise called Red Mexican Hat. I only became aware of this native prairie plant recently, about the same time I learned about the ‘bat faced’ cuphea which I have enjoyed so much this summer. Ratibida is hardy to zone 3. It is only about 15 inches tall and its small blossoms are comprised of reflexed red petals around a prominent cone. This seed cone will be very attractive to birds after the petals have fallen in the fall. Ratibida will not bloom as late into the fall as the other plants I have mentioned but they are so interesting and unusual I wanted to mention them. There is also Ratibida Yellow. Look for them in my garden next year. ###
Between the Rows September 20, 2014
Many of us are very reluctant to put together a flower arrangement. We see photos of complicated bouquets accompanied by complicated descriptions of color and texture and know we could never aspire to making such a thing. In her book Windowsill Art: Creating one-of-a-kind natural arrangements to celebrate the seasons (St. Lynn’s Press $18.95) Nancy Ross Hugo, shows us a way to make arrangements that are beautiful in their simplicity.
I am a person who is known for looking at the big picture. For me the delight of Windowsill Art is the way it encourages me to look at the details, of a flower or twig or leaf.
Hugo knows about plants, big and small. She is the education manager for the LewisGinterBotanical Garden in Virginia and has written four other books including the magnificent Seeing Trees with photographer Robert Llewellyn. In Windowsill Art she explains that she has great fun making windowsill arrangements because there is no anxiety. She also considers making these regular arrangements a kind of spiritual practice that prompts her to notice the changes that every day brings to the natural world.
This little book with its glowing photographs is divided into four sections beginning with Getting Started that will push aside all worries about finding plants or containers or even windowsills. In the next section she goes on to Explore the Process, and then on to Experimenting with Styles and Technique. The final section is a photographic record of windowsill arrangements through the seasons of the year.
Sometimes an arrangement goes solo, a single vase filled with the plants of the season. Sometimes she shows the power of massing when she puts an assortment of related flowers in un-matched containers.
Throughout all this it is clear that there is no plant or part of a plant that Hugo does not find stunning. Vegetables, herbs, weeds, and shrubs find their way into her arrangements in addition to familiar flowers. She even finds drama in the arching branch of dead leaves.
I think this is the value of all her teaching. She knows how to entice us into new ways of looking at the common things around us. And if we learn to see the elegance of a cabbage leaf while we wash dishes, it will not take long before we see the beauty of many other everyday details.
Hugo says, “ . . . although I had been meaning to create something ‘pretty’ every day, it is seldom the beauty or design success of an arrangement that moves me . . . it’s the way they capture the seasons.”
This beautiful little book is the kind of book that would even please a non-gardener. Any walk outside might result in a bit of grass or leaf or flower, all you need to make Art.
Gardens in Detail
Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs by Emma Reuss (Monacelli Press $45.) is also about details, but it is the big details of landscape design: repetition, pattern, geometry, symmetry and proportion. Those are big details and Reuss takes us to 100 contemporary gardens around the world to show how they can play out to very different effect.
My garden is not contemporary in the sense that a landscape designer would use that term, and yet any successful elements I have achieved can also be credited to repetition – of my gingko trees in the Lawn Beds – and rhythm – of the curving Rose Walk.
Water features abound in this book. Many years ago I was reading one of Beverley Nichols charming books about his garden where he insisted that ornamental water was essential in any garden. Since I could not imagine how I could get water into my garden I dismissed his dictate. However, more and more gardeners have found ways to put water in their gardens, reflecting pools, fountains, and ponds. Water in the garden is not a contemporary idea
This is the point I want to make. Although you might think that this book would be of limited use on our suburban plots, there is something to learn and adapt from almost every detail described in this book. For example, many kinds of path grace these gardens. In one formal garden the path is closely clipped and edged grass; one path through a meadow is a boardwalk; one is cement pavers arranged in an idiosyncratic pattern; a brick path ends and segues into ‘ sympathetically colored gravel of the dining area.’
One of the techniques I liked, in opposition to severely clipped hedges, is the ‘staggered hedge’ which is made up of several different shrubs. This is a softer, and less work intensive, way to create a boundary. The shrubs would be different depending on your climate.
For each garden the defining details are listed, photographed and an explanation is given for how it works within the design of the whole garden. The instruction is brief but dense as elements reappear throughout the book in a number of different ways. Five hundred photographs make the principles very clear.
Reuss is British, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and lives in London, but the ideas in this book range from the formal to the more ecologically concerned, as well as from the Arizona desert to Tokyo, Japan.
Reuss stresses that the “key to successful garden design is to be true to the character of both the site and the house – the genius loci . . . and environmental conditions.” That is where we all must start.
Between the Rows September 27, 2014