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Dear Friend and Gardener

Chrysanthemums and Beyond

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum at 2009 Kiku exhibit at New York Botanical Garden

Chrysanthemums are an iconic autumn flower. You can see potted mums for sale everywhere including the supermarkets where ranks of mums in shades of lemon, tangerine and plum cluster around the entrances. A friend reminded me of a quote from Maggie Smith  in the 1969 movie, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I never saw. A student had given Miss Brodie a bouquet(?) of chrysanthemums and her response was, “Chrysanthemums. Such a serviceable flower.”

Miss Brodie did not seem impressed, but at the very least chrysanthemums are indeed serviceable, providing bright welcomes on porches, cheering at football games with their giant blossoms on coats, a golden or ruby glow in candlelight in dinner table bouquets.

Dahlias

Dahlias in perennial ageratum tangle

In 1972 Miss Smith starred in Travels With My Aunt in which she played another character who had strong opinions about flowers. While strolling in the garden of her dahlia loving nephew, Henry, she sniffed and with disdainful look said, “Dahlias are so vulgar.”

Happily by 2011 Miss Smith’s characters may not have been any less waspish, but she seemed at least to have gentler feelings about bright flowers when she starred in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie that glowed with the warm light of marigolds. I don’t recall that she made any comments about the marigolds at all.

All three of these plants, chrysanthemums, dahlias and deep golden marigolds can bring color and drama to the autumnal garden. While potted mums are on sale everywhere at this time of the year, there are many chrysanthemum flower forms that bring special interest to the garden in addition to their colors. There are neat little pom poms, others with each floret (petal) ending in a spoon, or tubular florets called quills or incurved blossoms that will remind you of a Japanese brocade. There are 14 unusual varieties which will probably have to turn to online nurseries such as King’s Mums, or Garden Harvest Supply to see what unusual perennial varieties are available.

It is too late to order any of these fancy mums now, but you can get an idea of what they look like at the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show that includes the stunning chrysanthemum cascades and will run from November 5-20.

Recently I have been writing about Eric Greene’s dahlias which are so hardy and glamorous. Many of his dahlias originally came from Swan Island Dahlias. Like mums, dahlias can be organized by size with the largest measuring more than 10 inches or more, down to less than 4 inches across. They are also organized by type from collarette which is usually a single form, to waterlily form to petite pom-poms.

Dahlias can add rich and fiery blooms to the autumnal garden, but they have tender personalities as well. Those are the colors I always end up planting even though I am an admirer of scarlets and royal purples in the catalogs.

Marigolds

Marigolds

Recently I attended the stupa dedication at Lilian Jackman’s Wilder Hill Gardens. There I admired her tall, large flowered golden marigolds reminiscent of the marigolds The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Marigolds will bloom into the fall and will also have a place in the autumnal garden. Marigolds are so easy to grow that they are a perfect flower for a child to grow. How happy and proud children are when their tiny seed grows into something so big and golden.

There is no problem in finding marigold seed from American Meadow, Park’s or Burpee Seeds.

Zinnias are another tough annual that will bloom long into the fall in golden shades like the marigold, or in a riot of hot or pastel shades. They also come in a range of flower forms from a neat single to shaggy cactus-flowers and dahlia-type flowers. I have made a promise to myself to always have zinnias in my garden.

All of these, mums, dahlias, marigolds and zinnias, are brilliant in the garden and make great cut flowers as well.

Without thinking too much about it I seem to have a number of asters in my new garden. I brought two clumps of the bright pink Alma Potschke with me from Heath as well as the low growing Wood’s Blue, which is a strong grower and makes a good ground cover even when it is not in bloom.

I added a white aster which has fine white flowers and was a bit disappointing. I also planted two pots of a purple aster which are just coming into bloom.

And then there is the much watched weed in my hell strip. For most of the summer I dubiously watched it grow. I wasn’t sure enough it was a weed and so did not rip it out. My procrastination has paid off because it is now producing very sweet small purple flowers, making more of a show that my new white aster. All the asters attract lots of pollinators.

Before I close I must confess to a lack of organization and record-keeping. The mystery groundcover that I mentioned last week revealed its name once planted where it was no longer crowed and got more sun. A small blossom surprised me. It is an osteospurmum which I planted in the spring, inspired by the hardiness and dramatic beauty of the osteospurmums on the Bridge of Flowers.  Obviously osteospurmums are another annual that will bloom into the fall.

Between the Rows   September 17, 2016

Consider the Trees – and Groundcovers

Cornus "Kousa"

Cornus “Kousa”

I was talking to a young woman and her two very young daughters, 6 and 9, about the new house they were preparing to move into. This house is set on a nearly two acre lot. She said the developer was responsible for putting in some minimal landscaping around the front of the house, but she would have the fun of choosing everything else.

She and her girls were looking forward to the trees they might plant. She likes flowering trees, the 6 year old wanted a weeping willow so she could hide under it, and the 9 year old was still thinking. I was happy that she was thinking about trees, trees that would make a statement as her garden took form, and trees that would grow up with her daughters. I’m not sure what plans the papa might have. Our conversation ended, but I got to thinking about all the opportunities people face when they move into a house on a nearly naked lot.

This house is located at the end of a long driveway. I immediately imagined a line of Kousa dogwood trees running the length of that drive. Kousa dogwoods are covered with large (three to five inches) white four-petaled flowers in late spring, May into June. In the fall the foliage turns a deep red or scarlet, and it produces tiny fruits that birds enjoy. They are hardy and happy in full sun with no serious pest or disease problems, about as trouble free a plant as you can find.

At a possible mature height of 30 feet Kousas are still considered small trees. Anyone planting in a line needs to consider the spread of the tree at maturity; one of the hardest tasks any gardener faces is allowing for future growth. Kousas should be planted about 30 feet apart in full sun. Massing plants, trees or flowers have a powerful effect. Even while they are young and small, the number of trees will give a real presence.

A number of years ago an acquaintance asked me for a suggestion for his driveway. In that case I suggested crabapples which bloom in shades of pink to almost purple. Whether or not you are interested in making crabapple jelly, the spring pollinators and autumn birds will thank you for planting crabapples.

Robinson is a fast growing crab with deep pink flowers that mature to white; the tiny fruits are a dark red. It will reach a height and spread of about 20 feet. It also has excellent disease resistance.

Prairiefire will be about 20 tall and wide at maturity. It has reddish foliage and bright pink flowers. The tree has very good disease resistance and the fruits are deep red. All crabapples prefer full sun.

Redbud  Cercis canadensis

Redbud Cercis canadensis

Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is more common in our area than it was even ten years ago. The bright pink/lavender flowers that bloom before it leafs out are eye catching and just lovely. Redbuds will mature at about 20-30 feet tall with an equal spread. Most of the redbuds I have seen are closer to 20 feet. They will thrive in full sun or part shade. They need moist, moderately fertile soil that is well drained, but it is a carefree tree.

All the trees I have mentioned tolerate acid soil, which is what most of us have, but it is good to have your soil tested to see just how acid it is and whether or not liming it might be a good idea. Do not assume.

If you are going to plant a line of trees, I think planting them in a bed that can be underplanted with a groundcovers should be considered. Trees should be planted so that the debilitating mulch volcano is forbidden.  Groundcovers will keep lawnmowers and trimmers away from the tree eliminating bark damage.

One groundcover that has been overused is pachysandra. This is understandable because it is attractive and a good spreader. However, the pachysandra I usually see is Japanese pachysandra and can be invasive. There is a native Allegheny pachysandra whose foliage is not as shiny or evergreen but it is attractive and produces white flowers in the fall. It prefers some shade.

I have used several ground covers in my garden over the years. Lady’s mantle with its round ruffled foliage is a good spreader and noted for its lacy green flowers and the way it collects raindrops.

Tiarella or foamflower is rhizomatous and crawls along the ground but in the spring it sends up foamy racemes of flowers in white or pink, no more than 10 inches high. If you like tiarella but wish it were a bit more substantial you can try heucherella, a hybrid of tiarella and heuchera. The plant and the flowers will be larger and there will be a much larger choice of colors in both the foliage and the flowers. Tiarella and heucherella like some shade, but I have had good luck in full sun as well, if there is sufficient moisture or watering.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium sulphureum

I love epimediums which are a solution to dry shade, but they have done well in my Heath garden with lots of sun and a moist soil. Here in Greenfield my epimediums get more shade, but dryer soil – especially this year.

No matter how trees are arranged in your garden, surrounding them with appropriate groundcovers is a beautiful way of protecting the tree trunks and adding texture and flowers.

Between the Rows    September 3, 2016

Eric Greene and his Dahlias

dahlias

The Greene’s dahlia windowsill arrangement

Eric Greene grows fabulous dahlias, among other wonderful plants, but says he is “the laziest gardener in the world” but he really means he is an efficient gardener. He doesn’t want to work any harder than necessary.

His lazy techniques result in an amazingly large garden that shares his in-town property with a swimming pool enclosed on two sides by shrubs, enormous vegetable and flower gardens, a gigantic compost pile and a small front lawn.

When I first visited the Greene garden during the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour I was amazed by the long dahlia allee, and the dahlias weren’t even in bloom yet. I quickly made a date with Eric Greene and his wife Jeanne to find out how the ‘world’s laziest gardener’ handled all those dahlias which grow from tender tubers that need to be dug after the bloom season and stored until the spring.

Dahlia

Dahlia

His long history and love affair with dahlias began when he was given a white dahlia decades ago. That dahlia taught him about exponential growth. When he dug it up in the fall that one dahlia had produced five new tubers. When he planted those tubers the following spring he harvested 25 tubers in the fall. You can see where this story is going. Those white dahlias were planted and replanted and bloomed all around the swimming pool he had at the time. At this point he has 100 varieties of dahlia, and only keeps two tubers of each one in the fall. “I always have plenty of dahlia tubers to give away to friends,” he said.

Amazingly he loved the white dahlias so much that it was many years before he considered color. Nowadays he has a rainbow of dahlias from pale to brilliant colors. Many are bought from Swan Island Dahlias in Oregon.

Greene happily explained the dahlia routines he has followed since moving to his current house 14 years ago. He begins by ordering a load of compost from Martin’s Compost Farm every year. His soil is heavy clay which is not hospitable to dahlias.

On the first weekend in May he digs all the planting holes on both sides of the walkway, removing the soil and placing it where he needs more soil. Then he fills each hole to within three inches of the top with compost, and puts an extra pile of compost off to one side. When all the holes are dug and prepared he begins planting his tubers. The eyes of the dahlia tuber must face up. If there are long tender white roots, put out during winter storage, he removes them. Any green shoots growing from the eyes of the tuber have to be planted so they are fully underground and protected from a frost.

According to his own records his frost free period usually is from May 1 to October 15.

After the tuber is planted he puts a tomato cage around it, and pounds a wooden stake outside the cage. He ties the cage to the stake as extra support because his tall healthy dahlias are heavy and need that strong support. He waters the dahlias after planting, and then as needed. “Dahlias are thirsty,” he said. “I try to make sure everything in the garden gets an inch of water every week.”

In September, when he knows the bloom season will soon be ending he takes his woodsman’s tape and identifies each plant by type, size and color. The names are not as important to him as knowing what they look like.

Frost will kill the dahlias in the fall. He leaves them in the ground for a couple of days and cuts off all the foliage, leaving about two inches of stems. Then he digs them up and lets them sit in the sun all day. He shakes off the loose soil but never washes them.

The identifying tape follows each clump into a grain bag. The woven plastic grain bags do breathe and protect the tubers. All the grain bags then go onto wood pallets in his basement where temperatures stay in the low forties or less. It is essential to keep the tubers cool all winter.

In mid to late April Greene goes through the clumps separating and cutting off the tubers that have at least one eye, and attaching an identifying tape to each separated tuber. The identified tubers then go into boxes, separate boxes for each variety. That way he can easily share particular dahlias with friends. Many tubers are also donated at plant sales.

Jeanne and Eric Greene

Jeanne and Eric Greene

The dahlia walk is just a part of the gardens on the western side of the house. Tall sunflowers, majestic red cannas, airy cleome, small calla lilies and zinnias. The garden is a veritable bouquet. Jeanne keeps the house filled with bouquets, artful arrangements of a floral mix, or single dahlias in separate vases but lined up together on a windowsill.

Greene is a man with many strings to his bow. While he had his first garden as a 10 year old trying to grow corn next to the driveway, he also fell in love with crystals and minerals. After enjoying careers as a sculptor, an art teacher, and manager of companies that mined Herkimer diamonds, he and Jeanne now own and operate Treasure Mountain Mining, an online company selling crystals from all over the world. I have to think there might be some connection between the brilliant beauty and variety of the dahlias in his garden, and the sparkling beauty and variety of the minerals and crystals he sells online.

Between the Rows    August 27, 2016

Life Among the Weeds

Mystery weed from my garden

Mystery weed from my garden

What is a weed?

A friend recently gave me a branchy stem of a plant with fine alternate leaves she has growing all over her garden. She asked if I could identify it. She didn’t know if it was a “real plant” or a weed that she should be pulling out. Off hand I couldn’t identify it and turned to my Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and Di Tomasso and still could not definitely identify it, but I thought it might possibly be an aster. Later when I was watering my hellstrip filled with daylilies, astilbes, yarrow and more, I noticed a plant sticking its head up through a clump of coneflowers – and it looked just like the slightly wilted plant my friend had given me!

When I went up to the Benson Place in Heath to pick up my order of blueberries I was admiring a bed of large plants, few of which I recognized. Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, current owners of the Benson Place, explained that the bed was designed as a pollinator bed. They identified the enormous elecampane with its shaggy golden flowers all a-buzz with bees, the anise hyssop and the tall blue vervain. And there in the middle of a clump of flowers was the plant I had been trying to identify. This plant was everywhere!

I  asked what it was. Meredith and Andrew looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s just a weed.”  I had made no progress in my researches.

Another very tall mystery plant - a weed?

Another very tall mystery plant – a weed?

I have  another mystery plant, which I am sure is a weed, but not exactly sure which weed. Next to our front porch, in the shade, we have been watching a single plant with large deeply cut leaves growing taller and taller. We thought the foliage looked thistle-like but there are no prickers and so far no familiar blossom. In fact, now that it is eight or nine feet tall what appears to be a flower head is kind of droopy and is not yet blooming.

On our ride to the Benson Place we drove on a dirt road edged with all manner of  – dare I say it – weeds. And among them were plants similar to my front porch weed, although not quite as tall.

My son says his lawn is full of weeds i.e. violets. Our lawn in Heath was full of weeds i.e. dandelions. Lots of weeds i.e. wildflowers like chicory grow along the roadsides. I like violets and dandelions and chicory. Why would anyone consider them a weed?

The definition of a weed is very difficult. My comprehensive book, titled Weeds of  the Northeast, gives excellent descriptions and photos of hundreds of weeds in their different growth stages including the seed stage. Violets, dandelions and chicory are all included. So are creeping thyme, wild strawberries and the low growing English daisy. What makes all these plants weeds?

They are all rampant growers and spreaders, but others seem to be called weeds because they are growing where the gardeners and farmers don’t want them to grow.  Sometimes you find out a plant that you chose and planted is a weed. While I was leafing through my weed book I noticed the pages devoted to field horsetail, Equisetum arvense. I like the horsetails with their leafless green bottle-brushy stems that I saw growing by the roadsides in Heath. They are also called scouring-rush, foxtail rush, horsepipes, and pine grass.

Equisetum hyemale

Equisetum hyemale

When I drive to Colrain to visit friends I usually take the Colrain road, a winding road through the woods, and I noticed large stands of the larger Equisetum hyemale growing in the damp shade. I have always admired this plant because it is unusual, about 18 inches tall, leafless, with bamboo-like nodes along the evergreen stem. One day I stopped and pulled up a few of these stems which spread by creeping rhizomes. I planted them in a wet shady spot in my garden and most of them took root and seem to be doing well.

According to Weeds of the Northeast equisetums are resistant to herbicides used by farmers. According to the MissouriBotanical Garden, which has an excellent website that often helps me identify plants and understand their requirements, Equisetum hyemale is an aggressively spreading plant that is difficult to eradicate because the rhizomes spread wide and deep.

I then remembered my recent trip to Minneapolis and environ with 60 garden bloggers. Our final garden tour was across the border into Wisconsin and the amazing gardens and sculptures of Woutrina DeRaad. For 25 years Trina has been creating an amazing wild garden filled not only with wonderful plants, but with her concrete and mosaic sculptures. One sculpture was of a long couch with a built in plant container she had filled with equisetum five years earlier. I admired it, but when Trina asked if anyone in our group knew about equisetum, one of the men shook his head and said it was probably already sending roots deep into the soil and she’d never get rid of it. It was hard to see how that could happen since it was in a concrete container, but clearly he considered it a danger. And Trina seemed to be taking him seriously, and starting to consider what she could use to replace the equisetum.

When I came home it did not take me long to dig up my equisetum  which had already sent out one rhizome. I do not believe it was sending rhizome out deeply.

It has been said that if you can name a thing, you will have power over it. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help give me power over the two mystery plants in my garden. In the meantime I will just have to wait and see if their flowers can give me another hint.

Between the Rows   August 13, 2016

I want to thank everyone who responded to my query with the answers. That tall weed is wild lettuce Lactuca biennis, first identified by Liz Pichette, but followed by several other knowledgeable plant people. Thank you all!

Benefits of Blueberries

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place

Blueberries offer many benefits to the gardeners who want to grow more of their own food. When I lived in Heath I had access to the low-bush blueberry farms that operate there, but highbush blueberries were among the first shrubs I planted. I do not prefer one over the other, except that the highbush blueberries are larger and easier to pick. Nowadays lowbush blueberries to plant are much more available than they once were. We are also fortunate that we live near Nourse Farms which sells a variety of highbush blueberries from Patriot and Reka which begin bearing early in the season to Jersey and Nelson which are late season bearers. You can have fresh blueberries from your garden over a long season, into September. Having two or more varieties will also give you the cross pollination that is needed for good fruiting.

Blueberry pickers at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Blueberry Pickers at Benson Place

Blueberry requirements

Blueberries are native to North America and so are very hardy. They thrive during the cold of New England winters. They need a lot of sun, and cannot tolerate standing water in the spring. Well drained soil with plenty of organic material is ideal. At the same time, they need adequate water during the growing season.

Here in New England we don’t usually have to worry about having acid soil, although we might have to work a little to get the soil to a 4.5 to 5.5 pH level. A soil test will give you the pH and indicate how you can go about improving it for the blueberries. Fortunately, you can find fertilizers for acid loving plants like Espoma Holly Tone, or other fertilizers designed for rhododendrons or azaleas, at your garden center, or even soil acidifiers. Fertilizing should be done in the spring, and a 2- 4 inch bark mulch is a good idea. Besides conserving moisture, mulch will keep adding organic matter to the soil over time.

Once blueberry bushes are planted they are very easy to maintain. They suffer very little from pests or diseases. They will not need pruning for several years. For myself the only pruning I ever did was removing broken or dead branches in the spring. However, there is a benefit to keeping the interior of the bush more open. Easier picking if nothing else.

Once you are regularly harvesting your berries, your biggest problem will be the birds. I wish I had considered this when I planted my Heath blueberries in a long hedge. It was very difficult to manage a long netting arrangement to protect the berries.  My four Greenfield blueberry bushes are planted in a square that will ultimately be netted in a block that is 10 by 10 feet square.

High Bush Blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

High bush blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

Benefits of blueberries

There are many benefits for the gardener and the consumer of blueberries. A benefit for the gardener is that, unlike raspberries that need to be picked every day, blueberries will hang on the bush for several days until you can pick them. This means you can harvest a couple of times a week instead of making time every day.

And of course, I have already mentioned how little work it takes to maintain the bushes.

I have not mentioned their beauty, the tiny bell shaped blossoms in the spring and the beautiful red color in the fall. Blueberry bushes are a good alternative to the invasive euonymous, the burning bush.

For the consumer, the eater of blueberries, the first benefit is the berry’s deliciousness. Then there are the many ways it can be prepared, pies, muffins, salads, on your cereal or ice cream, or out of your hand.

Not only is there all that delciousness, there is the fact that blueberries are very good for you. Blueberries are ranked as having one the highest capacities of antioxidants among all fruits and vegetables. Antioxidents battle the free radicals that can attack healthy cells in the body. Cell damage contributes to cancer, heart disease, and decline in the immune system.

Anthrocyanins, the color pigments of red, purple and blue, are powerful antioxidents. They have been connected to lower risks of some cancers, urinary tract health, memory function and age related diseases. Needless to say, other fruits like strawberries and raspberries also contain anthrocyanins, but blueberries are richer.

To get the real health benefit of blueberries it would be necessary to eat about two cups of fresh berries a day, but I feel healthier with every cup of berries I enjoy. Fortunately, fresh blueberries can be bagged up and popped into the freezer very easily and will lose little of their nutritional value. Blueberry crisp gives me a taste of summer all winter long.

Even without growing your own it is easy to find fresh blueberries in our area. Farm stands will be selling them as will farms like the Benson Place in Heath. You can also pick your own low bush berries at the Benson Place, or high bush at Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway.

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Farm

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Gardens

When I was picking berries at Wilder Hill Gardens, I also got to admire the flower arrangements that owner Lilian Jackman was creating for her daughter’s wedding. Every single arrangement included a bit of blueberry foliage and fruit. The blueberries were a particular request of the bride and groom. For myself, I consider those blueberries a wish for years of a sweet, healthy and fruitful life together.

Between the Rows   August 6, 2016

Shade in the Garden

Shade. Green shade. With the recent 90 degree days I have been thinking that every garden has to have shade. I thought I had a very shady garden, but my husband and I did a shade study. We took photos of the back garden every couple of hours to see how shade moved across the space. It turns out that most of the garden gets six to seven hours of sun which counts as the full sun required by most vegetables and many flowers.

River birch

On a cloudy day you can’t tell where the shadow of the River Birch falls

Trees Make Shade

Now I am thinking about ways to add more shade to the central portion of our garden. We have already planted one multi-stemmed river birch, and a weeping cherry. Before the summer is over we will plant another fairly large (at least six foot) river birch. We think another small tree would be desirable, but can’t quite make up our minds which one. Should it be a redbud, with its purple/pink flowers in the spring? Should it be a dwarf crabapple with its spring blossoms and fruit for the birds? One advantage of a dwarf crabapple is that its size can be easily controlled by pruning. Maybe we should plant a pagoda dogwood which has distinctive tiered and layered branches and foliage.

Then there is the decision where to place the tree. We know the river birch will be towards the south side of the garden. Where would another tree go? Perhaps the better question is where do we want the shade to go? To be decided.

Yellow twig dogwood

Yellow twig dogwood in a center bed

Shrubs Make Shade

We have already planted several shrubs including red twig and yellow twig dogwoods which will reach six to nine feet tall. They will also throw shade.

Clethra alnifolia, also called sweet pepperbush or summersweet because of its fragrant upright flower panicles, will easily be six feet tall, again throwing shade. Highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum, is not a cranberry but the red berries that appear in the fall will attract some birds. It will grow to between eight to 15 feet and can be controlled by pruning. Aronia, chokeberry, can be classed as a small tree or a large shrub. Ours has really settled in and will increasingly throw more shade. As you can see, there are different ways to create shade in the garden.

Barren Strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

Perennials for shade

Shade trees, and shrubs that create shade also create a need for low growing plants that enjoy shade. Deciduous trees and shrubs like the ones I have, or am thinking about, allow the sun to penetrate to the ground in the spring, and allow spring blooming bulbs from the small crocuses and daffodils to bloom. Some slightly more unusual bulbs include snowflakes (Leucojum) which look very much like a large snowdrop, and bloom after the snow drops have gone by. Iris reticulatas are small irises, often no more than six inches tall.

In addition, there are other low growing spring bloomers that welcome the dappled sunlight. Tiarella, or foam flower, not only produces foamy pink or white racemes of blossoms in the spring, the low-growing heart shaped leaves spread rapidly covering the ground. A related, more lush plant is the heucherella, a heuchera (coral bells) and tiarella hybrid. The foliage is similar but the blossoms are more substantial.

One of my favorite spring blooming groundcovers is barren strawberry or Waldsteinia. Its name refers to the strawberry like foliage, and habit of sending out runners. It also has brilliant yellow flowers that look like cousins to white strawberry blossoms.

A groundcover that I appreciated first for it delicate heart shaped foliage is the epimedium. I think that is because I never saw the early spring bloom. Epimediums, sometimes called fairy hats, are a large family and the dainty flowers on firm slender stems come in a whole range of colors. We have a famous epimedium nursery right here in Massachusetts, Garden Vision Epimediums in Templeton. The flowers range from pale whites, yellows, and pinks to plumy and deep purples. There is also a range of foliage color and form. I have several epimediums and realize now that I have to move them into the back garden where I can see them better and enjoy them more. One special benefit of epimediums is that they will thrive even in dry shade.

There are many shades of green in the shady garden, but a patch of light can be a stunning accent. I recently bought a Goldheart columbine with its brilliant foliage for what will be a shady bed.

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Hostas come in various shades of green from the blue-green Wishing Well hosta to the creamy white of Dancing Queen. Both of these produce tall flower stalks, but for me, the tall blooms are unimportant. Another family of familiar plants are the lowgrowing lamiums like White Nancy which produce insignificant blooms, and a variety of foliage variegations. Always dependable and very pretty.

Of course, not every plant in a garden needs to bloom. The golden Hakonechloa aurea Aureola, Hakone grass, will supply that bit of sun in a shady spot. I also have a small patch of shiny green European ginger. Both prove that flowers are not a necessity in a garden. Patches of green give the eye time to rest before moving to a more colorful vignette.

What patches of green do your eyes rest on as you survey your garden?

Between the Rows  July 30, 2016

Minneapolis – Water Features Great and Small

Ordway Japanese Garden

Ordway Japanese Garden – Serenity in a Public Garden

My first reaction to Beverley Nichols, British gardener, author and wit, when he declared that water was an essential element of any garden was “Ridiculous!” I had seen photos of those British gardens with their rocks and rills, their reflecting pools, their gushing statuary in the topiary garden, none of which had I ever seen in real life. Of course, that showed my ignorance of British gardens, and my foolish reaction to a new idea. I should have reacted with, “Hmmmm. What a good idea. Water in the garden. . . ..”

It took a long time for me to get used to the idea of water in the garden and to realize that there is a great continuum of what it means to have water in the garden. Last week I joined 60 other garden bloggers in Minneapolis to visit 22 gardens, private, public, and university gardens. And I can state there was water in every single one.

We can all have water in our gardens. Many gardeners arranged to have water because they wanted to attract birds. A bird bath can be pretty, but the water evaporates so quickly. I have been told by bird lovers that a fountain is more desirable because the sound of water is what really attracts birds.

Here is my tour of some of the Minneapolis garden water features, some small, and one larger than most of us will ever have.

Dan and Dianne's small fountain

Dan and Dianne’s small fountain and birdbath

Dianne and Dan’s Garden.

Dianne and Dan’s garden had all manner of delights from a small cutting garden, a variety of perennials, and beautiful trees. In one shady border that included a collection of conifers there was a small fountain to attract the birds. It was set so that the birds would have a place to shelter if they were startled.

Dianne and Dan also had a white gazebo nestled in a mixed bed of heritabe tomatoes, perennials, and a beautiful collection of lilies which are Dianne’s specialty and five espaliered apple trees that are Dan’s project. That area also included a water lily and lotus pond, providing a serene view for all who visit.

Ruth's splashing fountain

Ruth’s splashing fountain

Ruth’s Garden

Ruth is a member of the Wild Ones organization whose goal is to educate and advocate for the necessity of native plants in home gardens. In that spirit Ruth had lots of labels on her mass native plantings to attract pollinators. Her small stone lined pool with its spouting shower fountain made a delightful cooling sound. Ruth said it was important to her to have a fountain that she could listen to. A pool like this is now within the reach of almost anyone because of the magic of electrical recirculating pumps.

Squire House Gardens fountain

Squire House Gardens fountain

Squire House Gardens

The owner of the Squire House is a garden designer. His garden is divided into several rooms which include different types of fountains. There were several bird bath types of fountain and a small rectangular pool set in a stone patio with a showering spout fountain. The fountain I liked best of all was a rough dark stone pillar with a burbling flow of water that fell into a small basin surrounded by flagstones. The fountain was set on a raised level at one end of a slightly sunken formal vegetable garden. Though the garden was formal, the ferns growing between the field stones in the rough wall and along the shallow stairs gave this fountain a woodland feel.

Linda's 100 foot stream

Linda’s 100 foot stream

Linda’s Garden

Linda has a particular interest in conifers, but this varied garden includes ferns, hostas, and colorful annuals, but the real showstopper is the 100 foot long stream that sings its way down the slope, framed by low evergreens, golden creeping jenny and ferns on either side. This man-made stream depends on a concrete base that is hidden by the artful arrangement of stones. Like Dianne with her lotus pond, Linda had a lot of advice about the necessity for good concrete work.

Nancy's lakeside garden

Nancy’s lakeside garden

Nancy’s Garden

I’ve described various kinds of water features that are just what Beverely Nichols ordered, but he would never be able to top Nancy’s water feature – a lake. I had never connected Minnesota with Land O Lakes butter. We were invited to have our lunch in her lakeside garden, a delicious (literally) respite. Our tour was enjoying comfortable summer temperatures, but after walking through five sunny gardens that morning we were all ready to collapse in the shade, enjoy our box lunches, and relax with a view of the tranquil lake.

After we had eaten and been revived by the lake breezes we wandered around the garden with its array of fairy gardens sometimes inspired by, and sometimes created by children. We also admired the mass plantings in front of the house. It seems that Minnesota gardeners are passionate about supporting their pollinators.

My Garden

So far my garden has an old birdbath surrounded by tall scarlet bee balm, a fat summersweet, and a weeping cherry that provide some protection. But there is no music, no splashing plashing water. However, as we arranged for the kitchen renovation, we made sure the electrician included an outdoor outlet on the west wall of the house. There is already a spigot and with an electrical outlet I’ll have almost everything I need for my own water feature. The stones and the pump will come.

Between the Rows   July 23, 2016

Bugs and Butterflies in My Garden

Coneflower

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.

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

Memorial Day – Green River Cemetery

 

Green River Cemetery

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.

Albert Karlson

Albert Karlson

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

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 RiverCemetery Monument by Daniel Chester French

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

Peonies – Beauty without Fussing

 

Nameless tree peony

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.

Woodland peony seed pod

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

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