Coneflower with bee
“Chances are, you have never thought of your garden — indeed, of all of the space on your property — as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S.” Douglas Tallamy.
Most of us welcome birds and butterflies to our gardens, but don’t spend much time thinking about bugs, except for pesky mosquitoes and Japanese beetles. Yet, even bugs, and there are hundreds of species of bug in our local landscape, are essential to our local ecosystem.
When we lived on 60 acres in Heath I didn’t worry about having a healthy ecosystem. After all, we had those 60 acres that included wild fields and woodlands to feed the birds and butterflies. My intent in any planting was just to bring some of the best pollinator plants close to the house so that I could enjoy watching pollinators at work.
Our move to Greenfield meant we had an opportunity to create our own wildlife preserve on our small lot. We also had to consider how to handle a large wet area. I was thrilled with the idea of making a garden that would welcome and support the butterflies and bees – and the bugs. My husband was happy that this kind of garden eliminated most of the lawn.
The new lot was mostly grass, but this was not fine turf and I was happy to see the lawn was filled with clover and violets which provide lots of early pollen for bees. It was a happy day for me when I realized what some consider lawn weeds are really important nectar plants.
Some of the pollinator plants that I brought with me from Heath include: spring blooming foam flower and irises; summer blooming coneflower, Russian sage, bee balm and yarrow; and fall blooming asters.
Yarrow and coneflowers make my hellstrip a pollinators diner.
Then I turned once again to my favorite expert on sustaining wildlife, Douglas Tallamy, Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He is the author of the brilliant and inspiring book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. He also has a website, www.bringingnaturehome.net with lots of information and lists of plants that will help you bring nature to your home garden.
Everyone loves butterflies, but I never thought of them as pollinators. They are not like honeybees who have the equipment to pack pollen into ‘baskets’ on their knees, but even with their smooth and spindly butterfly legs they do pollinate plants. Butterflies will welcome nectar plants but they really count on host plants, those plants where they can lay their eggs, confident that the hatching caterpillars will be able to eat that plant.
Host plants for butterfly caterpillars can be quite specific. We all know that monarch butterfly caterpillars need milkweed. Other plants for other butterflies include spice bush or Lindera benzoin, clover, snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet fennel, parsley, dill, carrots, as well as sycamore, river birch, chokecherry, oak, poplar, locust and willow trees. Of course, there are many other host plants for the many species of butterfly.
In our new garden we planted river birch, chokecherry and spicebush as butterfly host plants. We also planted orange milkweed, Asclepius tuberosa, a smaller showier milkweed than the kind found in the wild. Since host plants are so specific for butterflies there is no way I can support many species, but I am doing what I can.
We are not purists, but we have concentrated on using native plants. Native plants and native bugs evolved at the same time over centuries. Native bugs know exactly the kind of greenery they need to thrive. And the native plants know they can spare some foliage to support the bugs without harming themselves. I do not get upset when I find insect damage on my viburnams. I know they can spare a few leaves.
That does not mean I don’t go around with my soapy water to collect and drown the Japanese beetles that are starting to appear. Japanese beetles are non-native bugs, but they seem to enjoy roses and raspberries and my yellow twig dogwood. Nature is not neat.
Strictly speaking, spiders are not bugs. But they eat bugs. I may not be very aware of their presence because many spiders are tiny, but big or small, all spiders are welcome in my garden.
We have planted the eye catching native buttonbush with its bottlebrush-type flowers, and summersweet, Clethra alnifolia, with its fragrant white panicles of summer bloom. Both welcome bees and butterflies to sip their nectar, and neither minds wet sites. With those large shrubs I achieve two goals.
We have planted other excellent perennial pollinator plants that like or tolerate wet sites. Sanguisorba canadensis, American burnet, has tall 4-5 foot flowering spikes of flowers beginning in midsummer, as does culver’s root or Veronicastrum virginicum. Possibly more common is Joe Pye Weed, with its pink-ish flower heads.
We have not completed our planting plan, but are well on our way to supporting butterflies, bees and other bugs. We are well on our way to creating a garden that is lovely and a joy. We are also learning many lessons along the way, another joy.
Between the Rows July 18, 2016
Green River Cemetery, Greenfield, MA
Memorial Day was created as a day to remember those who died in the service of our country, beginning right after our Civil War. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, a founder of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union army veterans, declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 by decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers. There is some thought that the day was chosen because so many flowers are in bloom around the country on that date.
Albert Karlson who worked at the Green River Cemetery beginning in 1959, had been superintendent for 15 years when he retired in 1993. He was one of a line of men who made sure there were flowers for graves of soldiers – and everyone else. He did this with the help of a crew and a large greenhouse, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide.
Karlson grew up working on family farms. As he grew older he also worked in his father’s market which sold the produce and poultry that was raised on the farm. Eventually he enrolled in the two year program at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture studying floriculture. In the summer between those two years he worked for a florist. His interest in growing flowers showed itself early.
However, after graduation he went to work for the Park and Shop supermarket. It was not until he met and married Virginia in Greenfield that the opportunity to return to flowers arrived. His wife was working for the tax collector and heard that the Green River Cemetery was looking for staff. He got a job there in 1959.
When I visited with Karlson he told me that the cemetery greenhouse was busy all year long. “We grew about 3000 geraniums, mostly red, and thousands of other bedding plants: coleus, ageratum, marigolds, begonias, all kinds of flowers including herbs, and trailing plants for containers at some of the graves,” he said.
“When those spring plants were cleared out of the greenhouse we started chrysanthemum cuttings that would be in bloom in the fall. They were used in the cemetery for bouquets, but we also sold them to some of the area florists.”
Karlson went on to say that they also planted flowers on the 150 or so graves that were listed for Perpetual Care. People would include a bequest in their wills, providing money to the cemetery to be used for planted flowers on their graves every year. He explained that over the decades that tradition has died out. They used the interest, but eventually even the principal was gone. When I visited the cemetery I could see that certain monuments were stamped on the back “Perpetual Care.”
Green River Cemetery Chapel
I thought maybe there was no work to do in the winter, but Karlson explained that the road to the Chapel had to be kept clear of snow. Not only was it used for services, a mausoleum had been built below where caskets could be kept during the winter until the ground thawed out and graves could be dug. The mausoleum is no longer used because now there is heavy equipment that can dig graves in every season.
Karlson also said there was plenty of paperwork. Careful records of the deeds to each plot and burials had to be kept.
When I visited the Green River Cemetery I looked for the site of the greenhouse which would have been behind the caretaker’s house, a building that is now used as offices for the Northeast Region and North Quabbin Child Advocacy Group. Karlson explained that the greenhouse was probably built at the turn of the 20th century and though it was maintained by painting and repairing the glass, the years had taken their toll. One winter, only a few years before he retired, there was a terrific blizzard with heavy snow and winds. The greenhouse collapsed and it was too expensive to rebuild. Nothing is left of the greenhouse. Nowadays, plants for the cemetery are purchased. It is Snow and Sons who mow the lawns and keep the grounds looking as neat and beautiful as was intended when it was opened in 1851.
Green River Cemetery is one of the early “rural’ cemeteries to be founded. The founders were inspired by the beautiful MountAuburnCemetery created in 1831 which was designed to offer consolation to the bereaved, but its park-like plantings recreated a pastoral beauty that was also intended to provide meditative space for others who might come to stroll under the majestic trees, and among shrubberies and flowers.
Jeff Hampton, current President of the Green RiverCemetery, told me that the couple of weeks before and after Memorial Day are the busiest days for the cemetery. Families bring bouquets blooming with memory, with love and gratitude to those who went before.
Albert Karlson is one of a long line of men who served the dead and the living with the flowers they grew and planted.
Those of us who might visit the cemetery to mourn or to meditate will receive solace, or inspiration and encouragement as we see time and lives spread out before us. Some monuments have been worn to near illegibility but there is the imposing monument for Governor William Barrett Washburn, and the graceful marble sculpture created by Daniel Chester French for the Russell family.
Green River Cemetery monument by Daniel Chester French
I do not have family or friends lying in the Green River Cemetery, but as I strolled beneath the trees among the graves I sensed the entwining lives of the community, affections shared and the silence of those memories.
Between the Rows May 28, 2016
Nameless tree peony
This year there were a lot of peonies, including a woodland peony, for sale at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale. This is a testament to the health of the peonies on the Bridge and in our gardens. They thrive and eventually have to be divided.
In the olden days, peonies were cut back and divided in the fall then replanted into a sleepy autumn garden. Nurseries sold peony roots in the fall and gardeners spent the winter dreaming of those shoots poking up early in the spring.
Nowadays no one hesitates to divide peonies in the spring, and nurseries sell potted well budded peonies. Instead of dreaming of spring shoots, gardeners can plant their new peonies and wait a very short time for the bloom period to begin.
I can understand the desire to have two peony planting seasons. They are beautiful and glamorous, coming in a variety of colors including white, pink, red, and some less common shades of coral and yellow. In Heath I had a very unusual peony called Green Lotus that had raggedy white petals tinged with green around a golden center. It did not bloom for very long each season, but I just loved its unusual color and form.
Peonies do come in many types and forms. Most of us are familiar with herbaceous peonies, peonies that need to be cut back to the ground in the fall. Herbaceous peonies can be single, semi-double like Coral Charm, or double like Kansas. The fully double peony with hundreds of ruffly petals hiding all signs of stamens is probably what most of us think of when we hear the word peony. A kind of double double is the bomb form which has the double grouping of petals in the center set on a ring of guard petals.
There is also the Japanese or Imperial form which has a few petals surrounding a large central cluster of stamens that have been transformed into stamenoids looking like a dense center fringe, usually gold. Gold Standard is an example. The anemone form is very similar and is sometimes considered a variety of Japanese peony only with petaloids of the same color instead of staminoids in the center. Show Girl is a striking example.
Woodland peonies are a subset of the general herbaceous class. Woodland peonies are shorter and have finer foliage, blooming early in the season. They have a simple form, but they provide an extra wonder in the fall when the seed pod bursts open to reveal cobalt blue and scarlet seeds.
P. Japonica seed pod
Each peony will bloom for a couple of weeks, but there are early, mid- and late season varieties so you can enjoy peonies for six weeks. Many of them have notable fragrance.
I also grew two tree peonies. Guan Yin Mian was a lush shade of pink and she was named for the Goddess of Compassion. The other, also pink, lost its name in my record books, never to be revealed again. Tree peonies do not grow into tall trees, but into large sturdy shrubs. They do not get cut back in the fall. The woody infrastructure of a mature plant can hold dozens of large blossoms. These fragile looking peonies are actually extremely hardy and bloom before the herbaceous peonies.
Guan Yin Mian tree peony
There are cities in China where tree peonies were born that celebrate peony season with festivities. Closer to home is the CricketHillGarden in Thomaston, Connecticut which has its own Peony Festival from May 12 through June 21. The gardens are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm. No admission is charged. You can go simply to admire the range of peony beauty, but I cannot imagine anyone resisting a purchase. Peonies, fruit trees and berry bushes will be on sale.
The newest variety of peonies are the Itoh peonies, also called intersectionals. Toichi Itoh, a Japanese nurseryman, was the first to cross the tree peony with the herbaceous peony. Now there are American hybrids which hold their blossoms high without supports. Although the stems are strong they do get cut down in the fall, returning bigger and more floriferous the following spring. Bartzella, a yummy yellow, was an early variety and became very popular, but there are others in shades of lavender, pink, coral and red.
Itoh peonies are mid-season to late bloomers. Like all peonies the foliage stays green and healthy all summer.
Peonies are one of the longest lived and most carefree plants in the perennial garden. They all need full sun, and good, well draining soil with a pH of 6.5 or 7. If you buy peony roots in the fall the herbaceous and Itoh peonies should be planted two inches deep. A deeper planting will not harm the plant, but it will not make blooms. If you have a non-blooming peony, dig it up and give it a shallower planting hole. That should take care of the problem.
Tree peonies do need to be planted more deeply. About five inches of soil should cover the root. Also, if you are planting tree peonies think carefully about the site. They need sun but also need to be protected from strong winds.
Peonies should be watered and mulched the first year, but that is all the special care they will need. After that, you and your children can enjoy them for decades.
Potted peonies can be found in local nurseries now, or you can wait and buy peony roots in the fall from mail order nurseries. Cricket Hill Gardens; Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery; and Peony’s Envy.
Between the Rows May 21, 2016
Tovah Martin photo by Kindra Clineff
Tovah Martin, gardener and author, has devoted a good part of her life to houseplants. Most of us have a limited view of what houseplants we might put on our windowsills, but when she found herself working at the wonderful Logee’s Greenhouse in Connecticut she fell in love with the hundreds of houseplant varieties put into her care.
Over the years Martin has written books like Well-Clad Windowsills: Houseplants for Four Exposures, The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home; The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow; and The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature. Her knowledge about the needs and benefits of various houseplants, as well as their beauty, sometimes sculptural and sometimes romantic, is encyclopedic, and her prose is a delight touched with humor.
As a part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Greenfield Garden Club, the Club is bringing the notable and charming Tovah Martin to Greenfield on Sunday afternoon, June 5 to give a lecture on terrariums, followed by a book signing, and then a terrarium making workshop. This event will be held at the gracious Brandt House on Highland Avenue.
Martin looks at terrariums as a practical way to have a whimsical or calming snippet of nature at hand, no matter what kind of houseplant space you might have. When I spoke to Martin I asked when she became an expert on terrariums. “I’ve made terrariums my whole adult life. Actually even before that. And now I give workshops for every age group from Brownie troops to senior citizens,” she said.
Terrariums are always a popular type of garden from the charming berry bowls filled with a bit of American teaberry with its shiny petite foliage and red berries, to fish tanks turned into a woodland scene. “Terrariums are the smallest landscape you’ll ever have to design,” Martin said. Participants in her workshop should bring their own container but other terrarium materials will be provided. “Almost any glass can be used for a terrarium,” she said. She added that she has a pretty good eye and is frugal so she is a regular at Goodwill stores. No glass container is too humble, large wide mouth mason jars work just as well.
The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin
“Everyone should have nature by their side and terrariums make it easier. Terrariums are self watering, they almost grow on auto-pilot. Terrarium plants get the humidity they need, especially in the winter when our houses are so dry from the heating systems,” she said.
In her workshop she will demonstrate, and guide participants in the making of a terrarium that includes soil and plants, using surprising tools and giving useful tips. She will cover the basics of construction, and care from every angle including watering and light sources. Terrariums should not be placed in the sun, which is one reason they are such a good solution for the house that does not have much in the way of sunny windows, or possibly an office with limited light.
Beyond the closed terrarium that I am familiar with Martin points out that a terrarium is also an ideal environment for handling cuttings and making new plants, or for starting seeds. She said not all terrariums need to be closed and that even an open terrarium environment can help conserve moisture and will keep a plant happy with less work.
Extra pleasures on June 5: Michael Nix will be providing music, Kestrel of Northampton will be selling terrarium plants and supplies, and the World Eye will be selling books. Tickets are available at World Eye Books or can be ordered by calling Jean Wall at 773-9069. The cost of the lecture is $25 and $50 for the lecture and the workshop. Garden Club members get a discount of $20 and $40. For more information log on to the Greenfield Garden Club’s website http://www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org/special-events.html
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It is Plant Sale Season. Today the Bridge of Flowers is having their annual plant sale that will include shrubs, annuals and perennials; many are divisions of plants on the Bridge. There will be a great variety from asters to peonies to violets. Master Gardeners will be on hand to do soil testing. The sale will be held on the TrinityChurch’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in ShelburneFalls from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. All profits benefit the Bridge.
Next Saturday, May 21 is the Garden Club of Amherst’s plant sale under the tent on the Common next to the Farmer’s Market from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Profits benefit conservation efforts and a scholarship fund.
On Saturday, May 28 The Greenfield Garden Club will hold its annual Extravagaza on the lawn of St James Episcopal Church on Federal Street from 9 am to 2 pm. In addition to plants donated by club members there will be a tag/book sale, a bake sale and face painting for the kids. Rain or shine. Profits benefit the grant program for area schools.
Between the Rows May 14, 2016
Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
May 6th was American Public Gardens Day, but the American Public Gardens Association (AGPA) says official festivities continue right through Mother’s Day. The Bridge of Flowers, possibly our most notable local public garden, will not have any special festivities, but the community enjoys the festive and floriferous atmosphere every day from April 1 to October 30.
The APGA defines a public garden as one “that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning. It must be open to the public and the garden’s resources and accommodations must be made to all visitors.” This basic definition provides a physical description but does not begin to describe what the Bridge of Flowersmeans to our community.
The Bridge of Flowers has a long history beginning in 1929 when the trolley service between Colrain and ShelburneFalls was discontinued. It was the proliferation of that new locomotion, cars and trucks, that caused the demise of the trolley. If the bridge’s important function of moving freight, mail and residents from town to town was its only function, it might have remained the weedy eyesore it quickly became, or even been torn down. However, the bridge also carried a vital water main from Shelburne to Buckland. The bridge could not be demolished.
It was Antoinette Burnham who mused that a bridge that could grow all those weeds could also grow flowers. With the help of her husband who typed up a letter to the Greenfield Recorder, community support soon began to build.
Crocosmia, phlox and daylilies
The Shelburne Falls Fire District bought the bridge for $1,250; they are the owners of the bridge structure to this day. In the spring of 1929 eighty loads of loam were brought to the bridge along with several loads of fertilizer. I suspect the fertilizer was manure from local farmers, but that is my own thought. All this work was done by volunteers while the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club and others in the community raised $1000. I also suspect that the first plantings included divisions of perennials from local gardens and perhaps a few packets of seed.
Ever since its creation as The Bridge of Flowers the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club (now the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club) has assumed responsibility for the care and management of the Bridge. The Bridge of Flowers committee is a subcommittee of the Women’s Club, reporting to it and receiving support from the Club.
The look of the plantings on the Bridge has changed over time. We gardeners know that the very nature of a garden is change. Over the years women like Gertrude Newell, Trudy Finck, Carolyn Wheeler and Carole Markle took over the direction of the garden, and different ideas about style have taken their turn. For the past 20 years Carole Delorenzo, with her great horticultural knowledge, has been Head Gardener. What never changed was the pleasure local residents enjoyed as they used the Bridge of Flowers, the prettiest way to get from one town to the other, as they went about their rounds.
The nation’s economy also changed over those decades. Our area which is an agricultural area, gained a reputation as a tourist area. The commonwealth now has a Department of Travel and Tourism which promotes the beauties, arts, excitements and adventures available throughout the state. The Bridge of Flowers figures in their promotions, as it does in the promotions of the Mohawk Trail Association.
The result is that over 36,000 visitors sign the Bridge of Flowers guest book every year. Of course, some of these people live locally, but there are visits from all over the US, and 90 foreign countries ranging from England to Japan and China.
When Antoinette Burnham first thought that a weedy bridge could become a community asset I doubt that she imagined anything more than a spot of beauty that would give pleasure. And yet, the Bridge has become an economic benefit to the town by attracting tourists who will stop for a meal, or an ice cream cone, or beautiful items from our galleries.
Columbines for the Plant Sale
The Bridge of Flowers committee is grateful for the way that town businesses have appreciated the Bridge and what it means by becoming Friends of the Bridge. Until 2008 the Committee depended on funds from the donation boxes, but that was beginning to be insufficient. It was out of the need for more financial help that the Friends of the Bridge was created. The generous response from a wide community has increased every year. It is gratifying to know how the Bridge is loved and appreciated.
The last few years have seen beautiful additions to the Bridge, from the sign-in kiosks, the Silent Spring fountain, and the River Bench created by Bob Compton, Paul Forth and John Sendelbach along with the generosity of W.R. Hillman & Sons and Goshen Stone. This year the Garden House was completed. The design was donated by architect Kim Erslev and the finishing touch was the donation of a stained glass window designed by Nancy Katz and created by her husband Mark Liebowitz.
In readiness for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale
Next Saturday, May 14, the Bridge of Flowers committee will hold their annual plant sale which supports the Bridge, and makes it possible to share some of the Bridge’s plants, and plants from local gardens, with area gardeners. The Plant Sale is held on the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in Shelburne Falls rain or shine. In addition to perennials there will be annuals, refreshments, vendors, and Master Gardeners who will do soil tests. Gardeners can come early and scope out the plants, but no touching until the bell rings at 9 am. Sale ends at noon.
Between the Rows May 7, 2016
Morning glories in Heath
Annual climbing vines add an important dimension to any garden. We have trees reaching for the sky and flowers and vegetables covering the ground. Climbing vines as simple as scarlet runner beans or morning glories and as elegant as clematis add something very special to our gardens.
I have a friend who made a small arbor for herself in the middle of her garden, where she put a chair to give herself someplace to rest between bouts of weeding. She planted scarlet runner beans all around it to provide shade and brilliant color. Scarlet runner beans need nothing more than sun and ordinary good garden soil. They can be planted indoors three weeks before the last frost, hardened off, and then set out in the garden when frost is no longer a threat. Although they make beautiful shade and attract bees, scarlet runner beans are also good to eat. Keep picking the beans and the flowers will keep blooming.
Trellis for scarlet runner beans
Sweet peas are another colorful and sometimes fragrant annual vine that, like other peas, welcomes the cool spring weather and soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Renee’s Garden seeds offer a large variety of sweet peas including varieties that are suitable for small containers or flower boxes. A trellis to hold these beauties up can be as simple as a wire fence or a handmade twig trellis, or a metal obelisk bought at the garden store.
Morning glories remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I loved the traditional Heavenly Blue, but I usually plant Grandpa Ott, a deep purple morning glory with a wine-red star. This usually reseeds, so although an annual, I rarely have to replant. My Heath Grandpa Ott grew up an arbor post and would bloom well into the fall. One tip for planting morning glories in the ground is to soak the seeds overnight. Make sure no more frost is expected.
The descriptively named cup and saucer vine, Cobea scandens, is a fast growing tropical vine and is an annual in our climate. It will grow up to 20 feet in one season. It must be planted after threats of frost when the soil is a bit warmer. Like morning glory seeds they can benefit from been soaked overnight before planting. The two inch cup-like flowers in blue or white prefer full sun and will bloom all summer.
The lablab bean, sometimes called a hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus, another tropical fast growing vine, will also grow to 20 feet or more. Even the leaves have a slightly purple cast while the flowers are a rosy purple and the bean pods are an interesting shade of purple. The pods are actually edible, but because they contain high levels of cyanogenic glucosides they must be boiled twice before preparing for a meal. Or you can just enjoy the lush growth and flowers. This is a substantial vine and should be given an equally substantial support to hold it at maturity.
A familiar sight on Greenfield porches is the black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia grandiflora. I have seen it used in hanging baskets where the vine goes down rather than up, but whether it is planted in a hanging basket or given a trellis in full sun, this is a bright floriferous vine that will bloom all summer long.
Strictly speaking the mandevilla vine is a Brazilian perennial vine, and some people do try to winter it over in the house. My own feeling about many tropical plants like amaryllis, poinsettias and such is that they can be a lot of work to carry over to a new season and I consider them annuals. I do not make any attempt to keep them through the winter. However, if you buy a potted mandevilla at a garden center and decide to try and carry it over the winter the easiest suggestion from the New YorkBotanical Garden is to cut it back hard, to about 12 inches, and put it in your 50 degree basement for the winter. Occasionally give it water. When spring sends out promises that it is coming, bring it out into the sun, water and fertilize it and see if it will start growing and come back for another season.
If you are looking for a really exotic vine for a season you might try the black coral pea, Kennedia nigricans. This exotic is native to Australia, but the mailorder nursery Annies Annuals and Perennials sells potted plants including the dramatic black coral pea. This has handsome green foliage and a true black flower, described as wasp-like, with a bit of gold or ivory at its base. It is not a tall vine, only about three feet and about that wide, but it is suitable for growing in a large pot and a real conversation starter. It does not need especially good soil and requires little watering. This is not a plant for a wet garden.
Vines have many uses in the garden: to make a tall focal point, to make big use of a small area, to provide a privacy screen or to hide some less than lovely area of the garden. Annual vines that grow quickly and lushly can come to the rescue with very little work or financial outlay.
Between the Rows April 16, 2016
Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes
It doesn’t seem so very long ago that no one gave a thought to pollinators. People were afraid of bees and stings, but they never thought about the hundreds of bee species that kept vegetable and fruit farms producing. Perhaps that was because so much of our food came from far off places like California where we were never aware of what farms, farmers and crops needed.
Nowadays, with people we are more sensible of the benefits of local farms and local food. We realize that at least 30% of the world’s food crops need to be pollinated. Happily there are many more bees and insects that do this important job than we ever imagined. Unhappily human civilization continues to encroach on the habitat that pollinators need. Developments of all sorts, housing, business and even agriculture are taking land that was wild, land that provided the plants and living spaces that bees and other pollinators need to thrive.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and other Pollinators by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyageur Press $21.99) notes that our awareness of the needs of pollinators has been raised. Hayes has set about showing us how we homeowners can take responsibility for improving pollinator habitat right in our own backyards.
Hayes interviews pollinator experts to talk about the value of native plants versus ‘nativars,’ native plants that have been hybridized; the problems created by GMOs; the need for shelter for pollinators; and the necessity of many other beneficial insects.
She provides plant lists to help us include useful plants for pollinators, plants that bloom throughout the season providing nectar, and food for caterpillars. Once I realized how important dill and parsley were to the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, I never again bemoaned loosing my crop to those caterpillars.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening includes occasional Fun Facts, as well. Did you know that the bees in White House kitchen garden produce enough honey to give as gifts at state dinners and to visiting diplomats? That a single little mason bee does as much pollinating as 100 honeybees? That milkweed seed capsules were collected during WWII so that the fluffy seed material could be used to fill servicemen’s lifejackets?
Hayes, a Master Gardener, has gardened, photographed, and written in various locations and in Minneapolis for the last few years.
Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman
Ted Elliman and the New England Wild Flower Society have put together a comprehensive new wildflower guide that has images and information of over 1000 native plants. This book not only has beautiful and helpful images, the introductory section is a veritable course in botany that will help you to identify the plants you find on your nature walks. Since 90% of the wild plants around the world need pollination I can’t help thinking how wildflowers would suffer without pollinators.
Wildflowers of New England (Timber Press $27.95) is very easy to use because it provides a clear road to identitification. You begin with color, but within the color sections plants are organized by petal design and number. For example red Kalmia angustifolia with 5 radial petals is listed after dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which has 4 radial petals.
With this guide I have hopes of finally differentiating between 11 varieties of aster from 4 different genus: Doellingeria; Oligoneurn; and Symphyotrichum. Of course, the fleabanes (Erigeron) are similar (to my uneducated eye) but I think I stand a fighting chance of knowing one from the other because of the clear photographs and text.
Wildflowers of New England is a substantial little book, in many ways, but the heavy, shiny cover, complete with ruler marking, is tough enough to take on hikes for frequent, on- site referrals.
After all the joyous work of studying pollinators and wildflowers, you might be ready for The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press $19.95) who lives out on Cape Cod.
The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari
Fornari suggests we consider our domestic landscape as a party venue, beginning with a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and all kinds of family celebrations that might take place in the garden, to a companionable cocktail hour with a spouse or friends in the evening.
What plants should be included in this garden? Some plants can provide tactile experiences like the soft blades of Mexican feather grass or velvety silver lamb’s ears. Fragrance on the evening air can be supplied by perennials honeysuckle, lavender, oriental lilies. Don’t forget fragrant annuals like Virginia stocks or nicotiana.
Fornari also makes suggestions about lighting, water in many forms, and sound in the garden that can be enjoyed by the gardener, but she also writes about keeping butterflies and birds happy too.
Since this is a cocktail hour garden she is talking about, she also includes cocktail recipes, including non-alcoholic drinks, and the herbs and flowers that can dress up and spike those drinks. Her tone is conversational, a charming invitation to join her for a cocktail and conversation at the end of the day.
Between the Rows April 9, 2016
Seed starting supplies
It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.
The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.
I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.
One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.
However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.
To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers. I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.
For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.
If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.
You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.
Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.
You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.
Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.
Seedlings in front of a Heath window
Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.
You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.
Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.
You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.
If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.
Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.
Between the Rows March 19, 2016
Mt Holyoke Spring Flower Show
During the Mt Holyoke College Spring Flower Show the entryway to the Talcott Greenhouse is filled with the fresh and delicate fragrance from the plant room to the left. Before you even glimpse the oxalis and daffodils that embody the Emerald Isle theme you feel the arrival of spring in that heady fragrance.
Gail Fuller is the captain of the Spring Flower Show. Her ship set sail last summer. It is Fuller who chose the Emerald Isle theme. She said there is often reference to a country like the Primavera exhibit in 2013 when the emphasis was on Italy. Last year the theme was Hawaii where the flora was more exotic.
Fuller and I walked past the trickling spring set in a green lawn edged with oxalis standing in for lucky four-leaf clovers. Pink glory of the snow (chionodoxa) and petite tulips only six inches tall made a garden any leprechaun would be happy to play in. On both walls of the green house are the ranks of daffodils, hyacinths crocus, anemones, scillas and muscari. Other plants like the canary broom and camellias from the regular collection take their place as supporting players.
I couldn’t help wondering how this magic happens. Nothing is blooming outdoors. What does it take to bring thousands of plants into bloom at the same time when the gray days of winter are still hanging on?
Fuller explained that after the theme is chosen the work begins by ordering spring blooming bulbs that will be planted in pots in the fall. In October Mt Holyoke work-study students help with the potting. They are then placed in a dark cooler and checked weekly for water and temperature. In mid-January the potted bulbs are allowed light and continue to be checked weekly for water and temperature. Temperature must be controlled throughout the process so that all these different bulbs will set buds at the same time. Careful watering throughout the winter is also key.
The Flower Show room is kept very cool when the show is being set up and will remain cool to keep the profusion of happy bloom looking fresh until March 20, the last day of the show.
Of course, visitors to the Talcott Greenhouse will be able to tour the cactus room, the orchid room and the large tropical Conservatory. One of the benefits of visiting a conservatory like the Talcott Greenhouse is the opportunity to enjoy to the immense variety that Mother Nature has created for us. Her exuberant excess would make Oscar Wilde, who said “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess,” very happy. I wandered through the cactus room where there were many varieties of any single plant that I recognized.
Cactus opuntia, the eastern Prickly Pear, which amazed me when I first saw it growing outdoors in the ground on the Smith College Campus, had several cousins visiting together indoors at Mt Holyoke. And that was only one plant!
Once a single plant has opened your eyes and mind to the variety of that single species you are suddenly capable of recognizing, and happy to recognize your own ignorance. That recognition then makes you hungry for more knowledge and more beauties. The Spring Flower Show is a joy, but there is joy to be found in the other rooms as well.
Mt. Holyoke Spring Flower Show 2016
The Mt Holyoke College Spring Flower Show will run through Sunday, March 20. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Show is free, but donations are always welcome. Talcott Greenhouse, which has been operating for over a century, was renovated in the 1990s and it is now universally accessible.
SmithCollege is also holding its annual Spring Bulb Show. This year their theme is the Evil Garden of Edward Gorey, a bow to the late Edward Gorey who lived in Massachusetts and is famous for his darkly humorous drawings. This show will be open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but will be open until 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A donation of $5 is suggested.
Between the Rows March 12, 2016
Lilian Jackman is one of the presenters at this year’s Western Mass Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium,
When Lilian Jackman was 22 she worked in the gardens of three elderly Vermont women. They each had their own way of gardening in their old age. One woman was very angry because she wanted the garden to stay exactly the same – and of course she was not successful. Gardens never stay the same. This made her critical, and unhappy. The garden was no longer a source of joy.
The second woman had run a nursery and landscaping business. She knew a lot about plants, but she hired casual workers to help in the garden. No one of them knew very much and the garden went gracefully to seed.
The third woman was Japanese. “She was incredibly precise and cared nothing for my advice or opinions,” Jackman said. She grew flowers and vegetables. As her energies diminished she let her perennials do as they would, but kept the edges neat. She bartered for some help with those plantings. Then she herself concentrated on growing the Asian vegetables and herbs she loved, in a smaller patch and was happy.
“Those three women taught me a lot. I was an apprentice and they were my mentors.” Now 57 she said even at that young age, she suddenly realized that one day she would not be able to care for and maintain a garden she created in her youth.
Jackman can now mentor those of us who are coming to that time in our gardening careers when we realize that we cannot go on as we were. She will give a presentation, Gardening Well Into Your Future at the Western Massachussets Master Gardeners Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 19 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield.
One of the reasons for our move to a house on a small urban lot in Greenfield is because my Heath gardens were no longer fun. Caring for the garden was becoming a chore so I was eager to meet and talk to Jackman about her presentation.
She studied horticulture at the University of Connecticut, but has many strings to her bow, nursing, writing, lecturing, and making art. At the same time she has built a successful business, Wilder Hill Gardens (www.wilderhillgardens.com) in Conway. The business includes growing trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals for sale on the weekends, and landscaping at different levels from a single consultation to full design and installation as well as on-going maintenance. She can also be called for pruning services, and will teach the client at the same time. That is a service she offers that I will take advantage of. I am not a good pruner.
Her annual Mother’s Day weekend sale celebrates the beginning of the growing season, and an opportunity for us to see the gardens and the way she uses hardscaping. You will also see the two new stupas which will be dedicated on Labor Day.
Even the entrance to the PYO Blueberry field is beautifully planted
When I visited Jackman I enjoyed a tour of the gardens and saw the changes since I last visited to buy plants a couple of years ago. The 100 bush pick-your-own blueberries stand looks neat and fruitful. That blueberry field is what she calls her pension plan, and she has added currants, gooseberries and Asian pears. She said that this fruit acre fulfills the permaculture principle that any planting should provide at least three benefits. In this instance she has food for herself, beauty, and a harvest for sale.
The riotous zinnia bed that I have admired in the past in now sandwiched between two new wide shrub borders. She commented that the different beds are beautiful, but they also hold the nursery stock that she can sell. What has always impressed me about Jackman’s gardens is how beautiful they all are even though they function to provide stock for sales or to harvest for wedding bouquets.
Her talk will include the need for sustainability, for the gardener as well as the design. Jackman will show how to think like a landscape designer, addressing obstacles, tools, hardscaping and other aspects of gardening. I was interested to see a proposal for using 30 to 50 percent woody plants, trees and shrubs. That is the direction I am heading in for our new Greenfield garden.
Karen Bussoloni, gardener, lecturer and photographer will give the keynote talk, Survival in the Darwinian Garden – Planting the Fittest, a look at how plants arrange themselves in nature and how we can use our knowledge of those arrangements to choose plants that will thrive in our own gardens.
Other talks and workshops include caring for hydrangeas, and grapes, as well as vertical gardening, seed saving, creating a healing garden, planting raised beds and containers, composting, and dealing with pests. For an extra fee you can even make a tabletop water garden or a log inoculated with mushroom spores to take home.
Vendors will also be on site selling local products. Books published by Timber Press and Storey Publishing will be on sale.
Preregistration is advised. This is a very popular event. Full information including a printable registration form is online at www.wmmga.com . Cost is $35 plus $8 for lunch.
A final note. Beginning April 15 through May 30 Jackman will have a selection of her lino-cut prints titled Los Trabajadoros de Grenada (Workers of Grenada) on display at McCuskers Market in ShelburneFalls.
Between the Rows March 5, 2015