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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Fall Clean Up in the Garden

 

Lawn Bed -  put to bed

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

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.

10-20 Sheffies

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

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 berries

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.

Cotoneaster berries

Cotoneaster

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.

Blue Princess Holly berries

BluePrincess Holly

Between the Rows  October 4, 2014

Flowers of Autumn – Beyond the Potted Mum

Japanese anemones

Japanese anemones

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 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.

Ratibida

Ratibida

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

Windowsill Art and Gardens in Detail – Book Reviews

Windowsill Art

Windowsill Art

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

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

Spring Blooming Bulbs – Familiar and Unusual

 

Narcissus poeticus

Narcissus poeticus – Pheasant eye daffodil

These chilly days and cool nights have got me thinking about spring. Or more specifically the need to plant spring blooming bulbs this fall. There is something about gardening that makes us gardeners keep one eye a season or two ahead, even as we work with the challenges and pleasures of the present.

Catalogs for spring bloomers have already arrived. The Old House Gardens catalog is a favorite because I love thinking of the long history of the bulbs they offer. For example the Cloth of Gold crocus was being grown as early as 1587, and was commonly offered in catalogs during the 1800s because it was so popular. Cloth of Gold is a very early bloomer and the bees love it. That would be reason enough to grow it. We have to take care of our pollinators especially in those difficult early and late seasons.

I grow a number of small bulbs, grape hyacinths and scillas, but a favorite is the snowdrop. I have the Elwes snowdrop growing in grass and at the edge of the herb bed. I am planning to plant the Gravetye Giant Snowflake which is actually a Leucojum, not a Galanthus. The graceful, nodding bell-like blossoms with their green tips are very similar to snowdrops, but they are held on tall 18 inch stems and bloom a little later. Both snow drops and the snowflake are deer and rodent resistant.

Because they are deer and rodent resistant most of the bulbs I plant are daffodils. Often from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs great collection. Daffodils are a favorite of mine because they are so varied from tiny bi-color Jack Snipe and pale Toto to the large cool Ice Follies and big Precocious with its white perianth and deep salmon-pink cup.

Tulips on the Bridge of Flowers

Tulips on the Bridge of Flowers

I don’t grow many tulips because critters do like the planted bulbs, and because they are not as long lived as daffodils. Still, ephemeral beauty is not to be avoided just because it does not last over the years. I have planted viridian tulips like Spring Green with its ivory blossom feathered with green, and the flamboyant fringed Apricot Parrot tulip.

There are so many cultivars of these common bulbs, crocus, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, scilla, tulip and fragrant hyacinth that I still get a shock when I open the bulb catalogs to find a whole array of other fall planted spring blooming bulbs.

Alliums are flowering onions. Even non-gardeners identify and admire the large alliums like Purple Sensation and Ambassador with their large spheres of flowerets.  There are also cultivars with white spheres like the creamy Ivory Queen and icy Mount Everest.

Less familiar are alliums with looser and more unusual blossoms.  Allium bulgarium has a chandelier-like arrangement of tiny white, green and pink bell shaped flowers. Allium carnatum ssp pulchellum looks like a rosy fireworks display and A. flavum is a golden explosion with blue-green foliage. The John Scheepers catalog describes A. Hair as “a bit like an alien life form . . . with tentacle-like flowers.” This last would definitely be a traffic stopper during a garden tour.

Alliums are deer and rodent resistant. I have to say the fine stems and foliage of the drumstick alliums I have planted have been nibbled to nubs by deer long before they bloom. The other cultivars are bigger, sturdier, and smellier even when young and therefore more repellent.

Frittilaria imperialis Crown Imperial is another deer and rodent resistant show stopper. It is 36 inches tall, topped with an umbrella cluster of several pendant blossoms. Lutea Maxima is tall with a sunny yellow flower cluster and rubra maxima has a striking red-orange flower cluster.

Frittilaria meleagris, sometimes called the Checkered Lily has small, low maroon and white flowers. There is a white cultivar as well.

And of course, there are lilies. Not deer resistant, alas, but so beautiful. There are Asiatic lilies, species lilies, Chinese trumpet lilies, Orienpet lilies and Oriental lilies. All easily recognizable as Lilies, but differing somewhat in flower form, size and fragrance. Orienpets are a hybrid making use of the best aspects of the Chinese trumpet lily and the fragrance of the Oriental lily.

Lilium white henryii

Lilium white henryii

The challenge for those passionate about lilies is the arrival of the lily beetle. However the University of Maine has done research that shows Asiatic lilies may be the most susceptible to the lily beetle while some Oriental lilies are more resistant. The most resistant  cultivars they have identified were Lilium henryi ’Madame Butterfly’, Lilium speciosum ’Uchida’, and Lilium ’Black Beauty.’

The lily beetle is more active early in the season when the adult beetles that have overwintered in the soil emerge and almost immediately begin laying eggs. Neem oil and spinosad are organic controls that have been useful. Even so, if you have lily beetles close observation very early in the season and control, including removal by hand of the egg clusters and larvae, can save your lilies.

All bulbs need to be planted in well drained soil. Bulbs need phosphorus to bloom well which means that when planting bulbs the soil beneath should be amended with bonemeal or rock phosphate. To maintain the necessary nutrients the bulb planting should be given a fall helping of bone meal, two cups for a 10 foot square area. Repeat that feeding in the spring, when the shoots are starting to appear. A 10-10-10 fertilizer could also be spread. Whatever fertilizer I use, I try to spread it when rain is expected.

Sources: Your local garden center: www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com; www.oldhousegardens.com; www.johnscheepers.com   ###

Between the Rows  September 13, 2014

Pondering Pickles and Other Preservation Techniques

 

Canning Display at Franklin County Fair

Canning Display at Franklin County Fair

Harvest season is upon us. This is the reward of summer-long labors. I’ve been talking to neighbors who are canning dilly beans and corn, making peach jam and drying herbs. One neighbor is seeing what she can rescue from the late blight that is hitting many tomato patches in the area. Harvest time can be hectic when so much produce is coming in at the same time.

I don’t do much canning any more. I depend more on the freezer, and a cold closet where I store winter squash. However, this week I tried out a new recipe for a turnip and beet pickle from my Ottolenghi Jerusalem cookbook. Delicious, and I don’t think I will have any trouble finishing the jar within the month – as recommended.

I always admire the canning display at the Heath Fair and the even bigger display at the Franklin County Fair. Those sparkling jars of beets, tomatoes and corn, of relishes and jams glowing with color and flavor are so inspiring. I am reminded of all the canning my Aunt Ruth did back in the 40s and 50s, turning the basement into Ali Baba’s cave. I also remember hot summer days and making sure I stayed out of the steaming kitchen with its bowls of produce and boiling kettles.

Preparing for the Fair and reading about the root cellar workshop that was held at the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield last weekend (unfortunately I was not able to attend) I got to thinking about the many ways food has been preserved over the ages. It is all very well to invent agriculture, but even that will only take you so far. Winter comes and the fields are covered with snow. How did the ancients preserve food?

One of the oldest methods of preserving food was drying. Dried grains have been found in ancient Egyptian and Chinese tombs. Most of us don’t dry grains anymore, but it is easy to dry beans and store them for the winter. I know people who air dry apple rings, and others who now use dehydrators. The skill of drying food has come a long way since 3500 B.C. when all you had was the sun and breeze, to the 21st century when you can have a little electric dehydrator on your kitchen counter.

Once fire was invented drying meat and fish took on the extra dash of smoking, adding an interesting flavor to the drying process.

Fermenting was also an early food preservation technique that resulted in the happy invention of beer and wine, but also the fermented milk drinks of Asia. We must also remember that when Johnny Appleseed was making his rounds his apple trees were intended to make cider. Hard cider. Fermented apple juice. Cider could be much more reliable than water for safe drinking in those days.

It is interesting to think how the ancients learned the rules of fermentation, and how to control the process for ever better flavor. In fact for every development in food preservation there must have been careful observation, and perhaps deliberate experimentation to make these techniques work dependably. They may not have come up with any ideas about the microbial action that caused spoiling, but they could observe that certain actions kept food edible for a longer period of time, as well as adding new flavors.

Pickling was also invented and used in ancient times. The first pickles were a product of fermenting. Real Pickles in our own neighborhood uses the ancient techniques of fermentation to make their array of pickles. I also have friends who make their own sauerkraut, another fermented food.

Most of us these days use vinegar to make our dilly beans or bread and butter pickles, or chow chow relish. When was vinegar invented? First you needed wine, but the discovery that spoiled wine could be useful was not far behind. Legend has it that 5000 years ago the Sumerians used vinegar as a cleaning agent as well as food preservative and condiment. Caesar’s armies drank vinegar and hot and thirsty 17th century colonists drank switchel, water, vinegar and a sweetener like honey, or maple syrup.

Heath root cellar - end of season

Heath root cellar – end of season

Another of the simplest ancient ways of preserving food is cooling, as Emmet Van Driesche explained at the Bullitt Reservation. Here in Heath we had a Cellars and Cave Tour this past spring, organized by the Heath Agricultural Society. We got to see how several of our Heath neighbors set up root cellars in their basements without the work and expense of digging a root cellar. The trick is to maintain temperatures above freezing and below 40 degrees.

My Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth had a big root cellar on their Vermont farm. When we bought a house in Maine there was a root cellar set up in the basement, equipped with rat traps. In confusion and dismay I asked Uncle Wally what I should do? “Set the traps,” he growled. We never used the traps or the root cellar because we moved to New York before the harvest was in.

Nowadays my own food preservation activities are limited. We hardly heat our upstairs (I require a cold bedroom for sleeping) and the guest room closet works well for storing cured butternut winter squash. There is the freezer for green beans and berries. Obviously I am lucky that I am not dependent on my own labors for fruit, vegetables and condiments to feed me during the cold season of winter.

Are you putting by any of your harvest?

Between the Rows    September 6, 2014

You Could Be a Master Gardener

Master Gardener Judy Gatland

Master Gardener Judy Gatland photo Jessica Schultz/Hitchcock Center

Over 200 Master Gardeners are volunteering their knowledge and energy up and down the PioneerValley. You might have called upon them to test your soil at local Farmer’s Markets, or found them answering questions at the Big E in Springfield and the Little E in Greenfield, or working at Wisteriahurst in Holyoke, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls, or various community gardens as well as at other locations. I am personally grateful for the three Spring Symposia they arrange every year that bring inspiring speakers, and knowledgeable workshop leaders to get us all ready for the growing season.

Where do these Master Gardeners come from? Have they studied for years at educational institutions? Or have they learned everything they know in their own little garden? Neither! Some may have taken biology or horticulture classes somewhere along the line, and have some experience in their own gardens, but it takes 60 hours of classes on every subject from soils, composting, annuals and perennials, lawns, pruning shrubs and trees, pesticides, native plants and other topics between January and April. These classes are taught by faculty from the University of Massachusetts and Mt.Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and other local experts like Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables.

Ron Kujawski who retired from the UMass Extension Service will be on hand with information about diagnosing plant problems and pruning. For those of us who can’t attend Master Gardener training he has also written an excellent book, Week by Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, with his daughter Jennifer. I am so appreciative of this book which is useful to new and experienced gardeners.

Judy Gatland of Sunderland had always been interested in gardening and cared for perennial beds around her house, but with family and work as a computer systems analyst she didn’t have the time to devote herself to a large garden. Then came that happy moment when she retired. Gatland wanted to learn more about gardening, and she wanted to share her new knowledge.

“I had a couple of friends who were Master Gardeners, so I vaguely knew about the program, but it was when I saw a notice in the newspaper that I decided to sign up. It was the idea of educating other gardeners that really appealed to me, she said. “I found they don’t need people with a lot of horticultural information. They want people who are willing to learn and willing to share – to go out and talk to people at Farmer’s Markets and places like that.”

One of the places Gatland has found to share information is the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. “I love being on the Bridge; it is so beautiful. And I really enjoy talking to the visitors on the Bridge. They come from all over the country – and all over the world. Most of their questions are pretty basic and it feels good to be able to answer them.”

She also works in the Butterfly Garden at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst. This garden which supplies nectar for the butterflies, and the Caterpillar Garden which supplies food for caterpillars have been tended by the Master Gardeners, and others, for nearly 20 years.

Gatland explained that after the 60 hours of training and instruction, interns are paired with an experienced Master Gardener for the 60 hours of required volunteering. New Master Gardeners aren’t sent out alone. “I felt so inadequate when I began my volunteering, but it is OK to say I don’t know. There is also a telephone hotline and now that so many people have smart phones it’s easy to call back with an answer pretty quickly.”

The Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts will have a booth at the Franklin County Fair. This is a place for questions. You can ask them questions, but they might have some fun questions for you too.

Would you like to be the one answering garden questions? Applications to the program are due by October 1. You still have some time to get ready for new friends and rewarding work.
Tuition for the course is $300 and by completing the training in one growing season, a candidate qualifies for a rebate of $75 on the course. For more information about the course and class experience and to download the application materials, visit the website http://www.wmmga.org/class-of-2015. For further inquiries or to receive an application by mail, please call Laura at 413-743-7976 or email laura.dumouchel@gmail.com. Applications are due by October 1, 2014. 

Between the Rows   August 30, 2014

Weeds in My Garden

 

nettles and jewelweed

Nettles and Jewelweed

Weeds. The weeds are thriving in my garden. In the middle of August when we are getting ready for the Heath Fair there is no longer even a pretense that I am keeping up with the weeds. This week I am resolved to begin a major weeding.

One friend I met at the Fair said she had given up weeding for the season and would worry about it next spring. I understand the feeling, but there is a benefit to weeding in late summer and fall. As I walk around the garden I can see the weeds setting seed. If I can pull those weeds now before the seeds disperse I can reduce the number of  weeds sprouting in the spring.

I made a little catalog of the weeds in my garden this fall. To begin with, in the corner of the Potager, behind my two compost piles are giant nettles and jewelweed. These are two of the most easily identified weeds. People learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick, after only one or two run-ins.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) spread by rhizomes and by seeds. A double threat invasive weed. It is growing beyond its typical 6 foot height by the compost piles because nettles need good soil. Fortunately, they also make good compost fodder. They are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and nitrogen. Cut up the tall stalk and put them in your compost pile. Or you can make a fertilizer tea by chopping up the stalk and putting them in a pail, weighting them down and filling the pail with water. Put them aside for two or three weeks then use dilutions of this tea as fertilizer in the garden.

You can also make a tea for yourself from a couple of nettle leaves. Don’t let it steep too long or it will be bitter. I haven’t ever eaten nettles, but they are edible and can be used much as spinach is. I’m saving that experiment for another day.

Jewelweed

Jewelweed

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is often found growing near nettles, is recognizable because of its spotted golden orange flowers and the milky juice from its tender stems. Jewelweed got its common name from the way that water beads up on its leaves, not because the flowers look so jewel-like (to me) in the sun. It thrives in sun or shade, and spreads by seed. Some people grow it on purpose! It is very pretty.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to jewelweed. Children, parents and hikers like jewelweed because the juicy sap relieves the itch of nettles, insect bites and poison ivy. Native Americans had all kinds of medicinal uses for jewelweed.

Jewelweed is easy to pull up, and it can go onto the compost pile, although it will not add quite the nutritious wallop as nettles.

Milkweed has been getting lots of attention recently because it is an important food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch population has been under siege for a number of years because of the loss of its tropical habitats. We used to have great clouds of Monarchs visit the end of the road where we had large stands of mint in the field. Mint is a nectar source for the butterflies. When hoping to attract butterflies we have to remember that we need to provide foliage for caterpillar food and nectar plants for the butterflies themselves.

I did see some butterflies on the milkweed blossoms this year, but only a lone Monarch or two anywhere in the garden or field.

I sacrificed my sugar snap pea bed to milkweed this year. We do not have a lot of milkweed in our fields so I thought I would let these milkweeds grow and then I would take the ripe seed pods out of the garden and release the seed in the fields. Next year I want to eat sugar snaps.

The pale green milkweed seed pods are fat and pretty, as is the silky floss that carries the seeds on the wind. That floss has been used to stuff pillows and mattresses. When we lived in New York City I did some research on herbs at the big New York Library on Fifth Avenue. It was there I found a book that said during World War II there was a shortage of material to stuff life jackets for sailors. The government turned to people in the country to collect milkweed floss as a substitute. It seems that milkweed floss is six times as buoyant as cork!

Galinsoga

Galinsoga

Hairy galinsoga is another rapacious weed in my garden. This is an annual weed that spreads by seed, and can actually seed several generations in one growing season. My excellent book, Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso, says “it is one of the most difficult to control weeds of vegetable crops. . . . usually found on fertile soils.”  Well, I’m glad it’s presence in my garden indicates that I have fertile soil, but I have it growing in the vegetable garden, and most especially in the herb and flower beds.  Galinsoga is erect with branching stems, ovate, toothed leaves and tiny five rayed petals around a yellow disk. A single plant “can produce up to 7500 seeds.”

Galinsoga is listed on the online Invasive Plant Atlas so I throw the galinsoga into the compost pile and so far I haven’t found anyone with anything good to say about this weed.

I have lots of other weeds in my garden, lady’s bedstraw, pigweed, burdock, wild mustard, and more, but I prefer not to think of them today.

ALERT and CORRECTION 

My column in The Recorder last week got many responses, from people who couldn’t believe I let my nettles get so out of control (they have since been pulled out) and others who just wanted to commiserate and talk about their own weeds. I also got a warning Saturday morning from my good neighbor Rol Hesselbart, known locally as the Garlic King. He said no one should ever put galinsoga on their compost pile. Galinsoga seeds are so vital that they will not be killed by the composting process because most compost does not get hot enough. Then wherever you use the compost it will carry all those still vital galinsoga seeds. I have taken his advice to heart, because he knows his weeds as well as he knows his garlic. I now have a Weed Pile near the Burn Pile. We must all pay attention. Do you think he is angling for the title of Weed King?

Between the Rows   August 23, 2014

Forbes Library Garden Tour June 14 in Northampton

Forbes Library Garden Tour

Forbes Library Garden Tour

Time for the Forbes Library Garden Tour June 14 10 am – 3 pm.

The time comes for many of us gardeners when we think we cannot carry on with our gardens, or houses, as they are. We are older, the children have gone, and we are not quite so energetic or willing to toil for hours in the summer sun over our weeds and slugs. The time comes to think about a smaller house and a smaller garden.

Something more than five years ago, Maureen McKenna had huge gardens in Leeds, children that needed to be chauffeured here and everywhere and a big house. She was getting weary. She and her husband sat down and realized they had to do something to make a change.

The change is the departure of older children, a smaller house, with a smaller garden on a much smaller lot in Northampton. It is one of the seven gardens on the tour to benefit the Forbes Library on Saturday, June 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Most of the gardens are small urban gardens so this is a perfect opportunity for those of us who are not in our first youth to experience the varied delights of a small garden. In addition there is one expansive garden in a country hideaway on this tour.

I asked Mckenna if it was hard to leave a house and garden where her children had grown up. Her response? “Not really.”

“The gardens in my old house had been left by the former owner and were huge,” she said. “I had to do a lot of hard work to make it my own – and even then . . ..” So, with only one child claiming a broken heart, they moved to where they could do more walking and less driving.

In her new smaller garden she has managed to have a little bit of everything, a sunny garden, a large shade garden, vegetables and berries.  It is all very pretty and very manageable. Her house divides the property from the street to the back property line and separates the sun and shade.

Shade Garden

Shade Garden

The front door is on the shady side. McKenna says guests never go to the front door even though she wishes they would. I think the shady woodland garden seems quietly formal so I can understand the appeal of the sunny backdoor for neighbors and casual company. She said they splurged on this garden. When they were arranging with the landscaper for compost and mulch, he said they could do a plan, as well. The plan involved giving some dimensionality to the long flat space by creating a gentle slope to the front section of the garden and curves in the back section.

The shade is created by an enormous maple tree, a smaller Japanese maple, and a large conifer in the back corner. Underplantings include tiarella and ajuga, both in flower in early spring, as well as iris cristata, sedums, a variety of hostas, large and small, and golden hakone grass. The pale leaves of a variegated five leaf aralia light up a dim corner near the rear wall.

Between the back door and the street is a raised sunny garden where a small tree is underplanted with astilbe, hellebores, iris, marguerite daisies, tiarella, bleeding heart, lady’s mantle, creeping phlox, a hydrangea and some sage and thyme. This is a garden that says welcome to all.

On the other side of the back door is a small sheltered patio between the wall of the house and the side wall of the garage which is softened by a narrow garden of roses and other perennials and a burbling fountain.

Forbes Library Garden Tour - Raised vegetable beds

Forbes Library Garden Tour – Raised vegetable beds

The other side of the driveway includes raised vegetable beds and gravel paths. “We had the soil tested at UMass and there was a measure of lead so we thought raised beds would be a wise decision.” The McKennas also have a community garden plot where they have grow more vegetables, and raspberry and blueberry bushes, but these raised beds allow them to pick a fresh salad, or strawberries or raspberries for breakfast. I was surprised to see some raspberry canes growing so happily in a large container.

Forbes Library Garden Tour - strawberry bed

Forbes Library Garden Tour – strawberry bed

A final shady section of the garden next to the garage is being redesigned and replanted to eliminate even this tiny bit of lawn.

In this one garden are many examples of the way a small space can be arranged to accommodate our desire for beauty and sociability as well as fresh veggies, fruit and less maintenance.

For me visiting other gardens gives me a chance to imagine myself in very different spaces. Garden tour season is beginning, giving all of us the chance to see new and interesting ways of using space, new techniques, new plants and the way passions and unique personalities are expressed in our gardens. I expect to get a lot of new ideas over the next month.

Tickets for the this tour are $15 in advance sold at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennials, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center and State Street Fruit Store.  And $20 on the day of the tour, sold only at Forbes Library and garden #1. There is also a raffle and a chance to win organic compost, gift certificates, garden supplies or a landscape consultation. Raffle tickets are 2/$5 or 5/$10 and are available at Forbes Library through the day before the tour as well as garden #2 the day of the tour. For more information contact Jody Rosenbloom at jody.kabloom@gmail.com or 413-586-0021.

Between the Rows   June 7, 2014

20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

20-30 Something Garden Guide

20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

When did you start gardening?

I was 25 and we had moved into our first house on Maple Street in Canton, Connecticut. It was a big old Victorian with a large front yard shaded by the maples that marched up and down both sides of the street. It had almost no backyard, just an 8 foot wide cement patio between the house and a steep weedy bank.

My first plantings were marigolds planted on either side of the back door. Bit by bit I turned the bank into what I called a rock garden. No real rock garden aficionado would have recognized it as such. The function of my rocks was to help hold the soil and some very common plants in place. The only plant I specifically remember was basket of gold, Aurenia saxatilis, (perhaps because it was the most successful) but I certainly knew nothing about Latin names or plant taxonomy at the time. I was lucky; basket of gold is perfectly suited for sites that bake in the sun and have well drained soil

Seven years later my first, very small, vegetable garden was between the side of my house on Grinnell Street and the driveway. Lettuce, peas and beans were my first crops. Thanks to the gift of a load of compost from a new friend, the garden did very well.

I mention my own experience because Dee Nash’s new book, the 20-30 Something Garden Guide (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95) takes me back to those blissful and excited days when I knew nothing, but plunged ahead anyway. Nash understands that a young adult’s first forays into gardening are often constrained by full time jobs and caring for young children. She successfully introduces novice gardeners into the basics of gardening with encouragement and some of the latest garden knowledge and techniques.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide is divided into three main sections that first take the gardener into a container garden, and all the basic information about potting soil, garden soil, fertilizers, watering, and bugs. Let it be known that Nash’s own garden is organic. In addition to providing herself with healthy food and beautiful flowers, she is determined to do her part in supporting the natural world with its pollinators and other bugs, good and bad.

She also takes the gardener into the second and third years of gardening, as knowledge and experience grow. Learning to be a gardener is no different from learning math – you learn to count, then add, then multiply. Knowledge and interest build on each other and pretty soon you are learning the difference between open pollinated plants or hybrids or GMOs. We may start out thinking utilitarian thoughts about fresh food, but soon, we are appreciating the beauty of our vegetable plants and thinking about making the vegetable garden prettier. With Nash as our guide our perspective of the values of the garden are always shifting and enlarging.

Of course, even when you are concentrating on vegetables, herbs, and those flowers that attract vital pollinators to your garden, it is inevitable that you will want to add ornamentals and look for ways to design a garden with paths, flowers, and a place to rest. “Here’s where we look at creative ways to enhance your garden so it becomes the place where everyone wants to spend time  . . . having fun with garden art . . . And we mustn’t forget about making places for just sitting and doing nothing at all.”

For those energetic moments she includes good instructions for DIY projects like building raised bed frames or laying a stone path. Her recipe for manure tea requires little energy, but if you have access to manure this is a great way to fertilize the garden.

Gardening in Heath as I do with no smartphone service I am amazed by a Nash tip. How many seeds or plants to buy? “With the help of Siri on my iphone, I keep notes throughout the garden season. This info syncs with my laptop and makes my job easier in January when I am tempted to order too much, too soon.” The young adults of today have so many new ways of keeping records and reminders and getting information!

On the other hand she encourages those without experience, land, or smartphones to start small and begin. I was pleased she devotes a chapter to the joys and benefits of a community gardening.

Nash is an engaging writer, with a conversational style. She is an excellent coach, like the one she urges every new gardener, of any age, to find in the first pages of her book. We all look for information and advice in different places. I began with a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine. It was my bible. Nash’s book will serve well as a bible for today’s new gardener. The book includes a good index, and list of online resources from seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, to plant and equipment suppliers and conservation organizations.

If you want more advice from Dee Nash you can visit her at her informative and inspiring blog www.reddirtramblings.com and http://20-30somethinggardenguide.com where you’ll also be able to link to the Dear Friend and Gardener virtual garden club where a whole variety of gardener/bloggers (including me) will be writing about their vegetable garden adventures this year.