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Perennials Proliferate in Three Year Old Garden

yellow twig dogwood and other proliferating perennials

Proliferating perennials here include yellow twig dogwood, aronia, culvers root and bee balm

You never expect your perennials to proliferate when you are a young gardener You carefully plant your first perennial bee balm or Siberian iris or coral bells.  You set out your plants neatly and sigh with accomplishment and pleasure expecting that these perennials will look just as they do that day forever.

After caring for flower gardens for the past 40 years you would think I had outgrown this daydream. But, alas, as I evaluate my Greenfield garden, I realize unchecked proliferation has occurred and I have to deal with it. I should remember the old saying. The first year newly planted plants sleep. The second year they creep. The third year they leap! And the gardener might weep. (I added that last part myself.)

Since I intended that my new Greenfield garden should be a low maintenance garden it includes many shrubs. My definition of perennials is a plant that comes back next year and is bigger. I have many shrubs, and many perennial flowers intended to fill the spaces between the shrubs. All of these plants were chosen because I find them beautiful, but also because they are tolerant of wet soil. In addition to having heavy clay soil, a river runs beneath my garden. I have learned that there are many streams hiding under Greenfield streets and neighborhoods, seemingly filled in, but rivers and streams have their own energy and they do not completely disappear.

It is not too hard to find beautiful water-loving shrubs. I have planted three dogwood shrubs: red twig, yellow twig, and osier. They are all thriving, but the yellow twig is the most vexatious. It does not grow much more than six feet tall, but it grows out in every direction. I have been pruning it to shorten many of its branches, especially those near the ground where I have planted perennial flowers. Even so, right now the branches are tangling with six foot tall culver’s root, a native perennial that produces spikes of white flowers, as well as a six foot chokeberry that then leans into very tall bee balm. All these plants are thriving in this wet site.

I have decided that the chokeberry, which is barely visible at this point, will be removed entirely. Maybe I can donate it to the Energy Park garden. The culver’s root and bee balm will need to be dug up and reduced in size, probably in half. After visiting some wonderful gardens on the Hawley Tour yesterday I realized that another aspect of my problem is the similarity of foliage color and size. I need to consider how to have more variety in groupings. You can see that in late September I’ll be busy.

Happily, I have a Rhus aromatica, a wonderful low sumac which makes a great spready ground cover in front of the culver’s root and bee balm. On either side of the sumac I’ll have to consider perennials that might provide more color.

Japanese anemone, Calycanthus and rudbeckia

Proliferating perennials including Japanese anemone, Calycanthus and rudbeckia, daylilies in front border

Another overcrowded site includes three pink Japanese anemones which bloom long and joyfully in late summer into the fall, a young calycanthus shrub that produces amazing deep wine red blossoms in spring, and a border of rudbeckia given to me by a friend last year. All three are in the leaping stage.

What I know so far, is that the Calycanthus, also known as Carolina allspice or sweetshrub is a native plant, tolerant of clay soils will remain in  this spot. Now that it has bloomed, I am told it is a good time to prune to keep it a manageable size. It can grow to eight or nine feet with an equal spread. I am counting on its willingness to be controlled.

The Japanese anemones are favorites of mine and I find a big clump really beautiful, but they will have to be moved. But where? Hmmmmm.

The rudbeckias will mostly disappear. Last year they made a nice border and didn’t grow more than maybe 15 inches high. This year the border has doubled in width and height. I look at this arrangement from my kitchen window dozens of times a day. It irritates me to see such a crowded clump of plants. Again, foliage color and texture are similar. A problem all by itself.

I wish I could tell you that these are the only two areas that need redoing because of overcrowding, but there are others. Blue and white Siberian rises increase altogether too fast. They are beautiful and early bloomers, but two clumps kept under control may be my limit. Bee balms and Joe Pye weeds also need to be reduced. These are important plants for pollinators, but they need to be kept under control.

One section of the garden looks handsome as it has increased in a very wet spot. The golden leafed buttonbush now kisses the dark green foliage of the winterberry with its autumnal golden berries, and it snuggles up against the airy foliage of the dappled willow. All three are amenable to pruning.

Buttonbush, winterberry and dappled willow

Buttonbush, winterberry and dappled willow

Summer is generally not considered a time to work on garden planning, but it is in summer that many of the problems of our plant arrangements reveal themselves with painful clarity. ###

Between the Rows   July 7, 2018

Life is a Fiesta with Lucinda Hutson in Austin, Texas

Lucinda Hutson's door

Lucinda Hutson’s front door

The garden bloggers Austin Garden Tour took us to a variety of gardens but when you pull up to a purple and pink house, you know you have come to a remarkable and outrageous garden. Lucinda Hutson named her house La Casita Moradita, or the little purple house, and it is filled with many references to lands south of the border.

The Casita sits on a small urban lot that is probably a little smaller than my own lot in Greenfield. It is not only filled with herbs, roses, marigolds, ferns, passion vines, jasmine, a tiny greenhouse, and more, it is stuffed with mermaids, seashells, angels, images of the Madonna and other saints. Walls and furnishings are brilliant sunflower gold and vibrant blue.

There was no grass in front this house, only the stone Salad Bar filled with – salad makings –  and pots of brilliant yellow daisies, purple Amistad (friendship) salvia, and vivid coral geraniums as well as benches where guests can catch their breath and enjoy this front garden in the shade of a kumquat tree.

Lucinda Hutson's Mermaid garden

Lucinda Hutson’s Mermaid garden

Like many houses on small lots, this one is set to the side so that a generous garden space is left on the other. The first garden here is sheltered by a stone privacy wall and the entry brings you to the Mermaid’s Lounge. Mermaids are everywhere. Mermaid figures sit beneath an airy pergola of seashells, and painted on a large plaque at the edge of a fountain and pond where another mermaid can splash with the (toy) fish. Mermaid images are everywhere. It can become a game to discover them all. Terra cotta fish also swim along at the edges of this enclosed space.

Lucinda Hutson's Mermaid grotto

Lucinda Hutson’s mermaid grotto

Further along the path of stone and ceramic tiles decorated with morning glories and other flowers is a bright and sunny area filled with pots of flowers like big brilliant gold marigolds, and more edibles. This garden contains the entrance to the greenhouse while the protectoress of the garden, Our Lady of La Tina, sparkles in her bathtub shrine. Hutson is having a little fun here. “Tina” is the Spanish word for bathtub. Neighborhood children come and visit here as are there are plenty of small brightly painted chairs to accommodate them.

Lucinda Hutson's patio

Lucinda Hutson’s patio

By now we were at the back of the house with a patio deck, more brilliant colors, and a table and chairs for visiting and eating. This is El Jardin Encantador which kind of means charming, welcome, glad to meet you here. I should tell you that Lucinda Hutson is not only an amazing gardener, she is a public speaker and a cookbook author with a particular interest and knowledge of tequila.  ¡Viva Tequila! Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures, is the title of her latest book, but it includes food recipes as well. She has wrote the Herb Garden Cookbook.  Either way, her motto is Life is a Fiesta! Her house and garden certainly are set up for fiesta living.

Lucinda Hutson

Tequila Bottle Trees in Lucinda’s shady garden

The final very shady garden is La Lucinda Cantina, a social space that features bottle trees planted in a cork mulch. But these bottle trees are not created with familiar blue bottles. Hutson is a tequila expert. Here all the bottles are various  tequila bottles complete with labels. Metal mariachi sculptures with their musical instruments provide a lively ambiance for those who want to sing and imbibe.  In case the imbibing gets too wild there is a small outdoor shower if cooling down is needed. Or, of course, if anyone prefers outdoor showers.

On your way out of the garden you might notice that there is a tiny secret garden behind the greenhouse . Another mermaid lives there and you can leave your wishes with her before you leave this whimsy and reenter a less colorful world. I wondered what my sister garden bloggers wished for as they left that secret garden. Did they wish for more visitors to their blogs, for summer nights that regularly deposited the perfect amount of rain, for a plague that eliminated all Japanese beetles, for an extra hour in the day to finish weeding? We gardeners have found joy in our gardens, but we still have so many wishes. What do you wish for your garden?

I think La Casita Moradata was the most extravagant and wild garden on our tour, but every garden has its own theme or style. Life can be a fiesta in many moods.

B. Jane is a garden designer and her urban garden is a welcoming but quiet oasis complete with swimming pool. This is a serene garden. There are no trees to provide shade but two dining areas are arranged with shade provided by an umbrella, or a portico roof. A generous hospitality is signaled by the grill set in its own nook.

B. Jane's nook

B. Jane’s bamboo conversation nook

Though there are no trees, one long wall of this enclosed garden features a ribbon of tall bamboo that throws ample shade, and a cool area for conversation. Overlooking the swimming pool is a platform with three lounge chairs set against a cut stone backdrop.

The simplicity of this garden is its charm. It is a garden that welcomes friends, and play, as well as soothing the brain and spirit after a day out in the world.

B. Jane’s poolside lounging area

What is the mood of your garden?

Between the Rows  June 30, 2018

Hawley Garden Tour Takes you East and West.

Kim Fitzroy’s garden features hostas and trees

It’s June and I am looking forward to the Hawley Garden Tour on June 30. Kim Fitzroy will host just one of the gardens on this special tour. She set her garden at the base of a sunny hill but she created “her own bit of heaven” in the shade.

Kim Fitzroy

Fitzroy began planting her garden about 15 years ago. Except for two old birches there were no trees, but now a thornless honey locust, four sumacs, a magnolia, and two Japanese maples preside over several graceful curving beds. “It took two years and I had achieved my vision,” she said. This does not mean she has finished planting!

She pointed out the differences in the foliage of the trees. “I’m all about texture, she said. I then realized that she made use of the different textures not only in the trees, but in the low junipers, the perennial flowers and hostas. “I love hostas and I have about a hundred.” Her hosta collection does present a wide range of color and form.

I admired the unique rotted log container planted with a hosta. She showed me the small dry stream bed and gardens that made use of rocks from the Chickley River. She shook her head and told me she regretted filling in the old stone cellar hole that was there when she bought the house 35 years ago. “It would have made a really good feature,” she said with a sigh.

We wandered around the beds and Fitzroy reminisced about the people who have left their mark on the garden. She thought of the birches of her childhood, and her grandfather who loved them, of Dick Demaris who dragged a handsome stone from the river for her, of Marlin Newlan who rototilled the garden named after him, and others who presented her with old tools that have been transformed into garden art. They all tell the tale of her life in that spot.


Hostas in rotting log

We sat for a while in the shade of the trees and talked about the garden, about the annoyance of powdery mildew on the garden phlox, about plants that have not survived the winters, and plans for new plantings. She looked around and said, “Every day I am thankful for where I live.”

Hawley has an interesting geography in that the East and West do not meet each other. With that in mind the Sons and Daughters of Hawley have arranged the tour so that the five West Hawley gardens will be open from 10 am until noon on Saturday, June 30. A delicious but optional Lunch will be served for $12 in East Hawley at the Poudrier garden. The two East Hawley gardens will be open from 1:30 until 4 pm. Tickets for the Tour, East and West is $10. Please contact Melanie Poudrier at 339-5347, Rainey McCarthy at 339-4903 or Pamela Shrimpton at 339-4091 for tickets, maps and further information.

In addition to visiting the gardens there are two exhibits. Paintings of Hawley over the years will be on display at the West Hawley Church, while a quilt display will be held at the East Hawley church. Tinky Weisblat will be on hand in West Hawley to talk about rhubarb – and her new rhubarb cookbook.


Celandine poppy

Wood poppy

There is nothing like a garden tour, or garden visitors to make one reevaluate one’s own garden. I recently had a friend visit and he looked at my pretty yellow wood poppies as they were going to seed and he asked why on earth I had that plant in my garden. The fact that I like wood poppies did not hold much importance for him. “But they just spread everywhere,” he said.

And he was right. The original plant had increased in size, and this spring it sent out another clump to bloom. That seemed manageable, but when I looked a little more closely I could see that there were now hundreds of babies around both wood poppy clumps. I did a major weeding of babies, and took out at least half of the mature plants. This explosion of plants was not what I expected.

I went to the online native plant database provided by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for more info. Stylophorum diphyllum, wood poppy or celandine poppy is native to the US, but there is a European species that is more aggressive. Did I end up with the European species?

NOT Zizia aurea seeds

My visiting friend shook his head even more vigorously as he looked at the plants I had been calling golden alexanders, Zizia aurea. They are not Zizia. The leaves and flowers are not those of the golden alexanders. This clump of plants had grown and grown. What a great groundcover I thought. But it was not only spreading by roots, it was sending puffy seeds everywhere. Last week I pulled them out and stuffed them into garbage bags. I do not want these in my compost pile because it may not get hot enough to kill all those seeds.

We make mistakes in our gardens. Sometimes the mistake is not entirely our fault, as when plants we buy are mislabeled, or because generous friends don’t know how dangerous their passalongs are. When the truth is revealed we just have to concentrate on the possibility of planting something new that is safe and really beautiful. I think I will move my Japanese primroses to the hugel where we can admire them. Their flat foliage will make a good groundcover after bloom season has ended.

Between the Rows   June 23, 2018

Importance of Seed Savers Exchange- in Decorah, Iowa and Everywhere

Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah Iowa

Evaluation garden beds at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa

In 1975 Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy accepted seeds of her grandfather’s morning glory, appropriately named “Grandpa Ott’s” morning glory, and “German Pink” tomato seeds. Thus the Seed Savers Exchange was begun. It was Diane and Kent’s intention to form a network of gardeners who would take these seeds, and thousands of others, sharing them and keeping them growing. The Seed Savers Exchange began in Missouri, but the Heritage Farm and Orchard now exists on 890 acres in Decorah, Iowa. There they have room for acres of seed gardens heritage orchards, and a Visitors Center.

I remember those early days of the Seed Saver’s Exchange and the newsprint catalogs that went out annually, where gardeners could offer their heirloom seeds to other gardeners for a modest cost. The gardeners weren’t trying to make money. They just wanted to share the seeds their families had been growing for generations.

Lee Buttala

Lee Buttala, President of Seed Savers Exchange

It was at the Visitors Center with its arrays of heritage seeds, garden gifts, and ranks of seedling plants that I met with Lee Buttala, the current President and Executive Director. He greeted us and took my husband and me through the work of the Seed Saver’s Exchange.

“Back before the Whealey’s our farms were not very diverse here in the Midwest. The Whealeys really brought about a big change,” Buttala said. There were also changes in agricultural practice and farm size. “These heirloom plants connect us to our history. We gather the stories of our families and it is important to have and keep those stories.”

There are other reasons to keep these heritage crops growing. While some enjoy the hobby of saving and sharing seed the truth is that we need to maintain a strong biodiversity of seeds.  Over the past century we have lost 75 percent of the world’s edible plant varieties. It is important that we maintain a large pool of diverse seeds because our world is always changing. The changing climate affects which crops will grow where.

The concern is global. The USDA Agriculture Research department has a seed bank that collects food seeds from companies and countries around the world. The governments of the dry areas of Africa and Southeast Asia created the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) seed bank. The Norwegians built the Svalbard seed bank in 2008 that is used by countries around the world including the US. The Seed Savers Exchange has its own seed bank, but also has put seeds in the USDA seed bank and Svalbard. Seed saving is now recognized as a vital need.

Buttala went on to explain that while there is the exsitu way of preserving seeds into vaults, “We want people to grow seeds and share them. We also want to see how seeds adapt to different environments to see how stable the genetics are. We are among the people around the world who are working for food/seed diversity.

“We do our work, collecting seed, preserving seed, sending seed out into the world, and protecting it in case of disaster.  Our focus is collecting and preserving open pollinated seed grown in the US and we are still taking new accessions. We want to make sure that seeds will be on hand if there is disaster.”

Before Buttala sent us out to meet with Steffan Mirsky he left me with a thought to ponder. “It is significant that we don’t know who owns these heirloom seeds. But in fact, seeds belong to no one – and they belong to everyone .  Seeds are unique, but replicable.” As I think about how many plant varieties are now patented, this seemed an important reminder about access to seeds.

Steffan Mirsky at Seed Savers Exchange

Steffan Mirsky at Seed Savers Exchange

Steffan Mirsky, the assistant curator, was finishing up his work for the day in the Evaluation Garden. He majored in cell and molecular biology at the University of Washington and spent the next two years as a WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Australia and New Zealand, working on 36 different farms. “That experience made me want to be working in agriculture. I love the work that I do here,” he said.

Mirsky was documenting his evaluation of celery. “There are about 15 categories that I look at beginning with color, which varieties are self blanching, leaf shape, stalk shape and more. This all gets entered in a data base. Other plants like beans have to have many more aspects evaluated because there are so many types of beans,” he said.

Mirsky is responsible for collection management.  He decides which varieties of the celery, or any other plant, to grow-out. He needs to eliminate varieties that are doubles, and identify those that are off-types.  The plants chosen for grow-out are checked the following year to make sure. “It is not about better or worse plants, it is about finding plants that are off type to keep the variety pure,” he said.

The gardening day was drawing to a close, but we left with seeds for the “German Pink” tomato, “Sensation” cosmos mixture, and “Sultan’s Green Crescent” pole beans which will be tested in my strawbale garden. I’ll keep you posted.

Beet evaluation test

Between the Rows  June 16, 2018

Tovah Martin and John Bagnasco on Garden Pleasures

The Garden in Every Sense and Season

The Garden in Every Sense and Season by Tovah Martin

When we returned from our trip to Texas we found that all of a sudden the garden had bloomed. The shy primroses were glowing, there were elegant white bloodroots, dainty yellow Fairy Bells, and sunny wood poppies lighting up the shade. The winter had been long and now the beginning of a season filled with blooms and fragrance had arrived.

In The Garden in Every Sense and Season by Tovah Martin sings about the perfumes in a spring flower garden, and the sensory joys that exist throughout the year. This book reminds us that we need to stop weeding and racing through long to-do lists and take the time to engage all our senses.

Martin begins her book with the spring season, which she admits is “a relay race, and we act like sprinters.” Springtime excites all our senses.” I can attest to excitement in our neighborhood as we marveled at the radiant gold of a mysterious shrub and finally identified it as witch hazel. Martin reminds us of all the very early spring bloomers that cheer us, with and without fragrance.

She takes us on a cruise through the seasons that inspire us to extend our plant choices, and our gardening year. I think my garden year begin with walks through the garden when I am searching for tiny shoots, and the thawing soil gives its own subtle fragrance. It does not end until only the winterberries red and gold provide color.

And so it goes through the seasons. The changes in the palette of the flower garden, the arrival and departure of birds and butterflies, the pungency of autumnal aromas, the brightness of the flavor of freshly picked vegetables – and the aches that we might face after an afternoon of planting bulbs.

Tovah Martin does not tell us about the work to do in the garden, or the plants that we must have. She walks us through her garden, as she would a visitor. While we might learn about new plants, and arrangements with vegetables along the way, her goal is to show us a way of being mindful in the garden and focus on the beauties and sensations that our gardens give us in every season.

Martin relates her visit to a Japanese garden where she first “saw how syncopation could alter the pursuit of happiness.” Syncopation is not a usual word to describe a garden walk but she goes on to say that she had been tearing through “when I noticed the raised stepping stones rather than one continuous paved progression. Had I been more keyed in, I would have sensed that the path was asking me to slow down.”

I enjoyed slowing to down to drink in her rich prose and her view of the garden. The Garden in Every Sense and Season ($24.95) by Tovah Martin has beautiful photographs by Kindra Clineff and is published Timber Press books.

Success with Succulents

Success with Succulents by John Bagnasco and Robert Reidmuller

I am not really a houseplant person, but almost all the houseplants I do have are succulents. Outside I have sedum groundcovers, but my view of succulents has been limited. John Bagnasco   and Bob Reidmuller have written Success with Succulents: Choosing, Growing and Caring for Cactuses and Other Succulents (Cool Springs Press $24.99) that opens up an extensive world of indoor and outdoor plants.

Bagnasco and Reidmuller begin by differentiating between succulents and cactuses. They say “All cactuses are succulents, but not all succulents are cactuses.” Cactuses have a special organ called an areole that allows for the creation of branches, flowers, fruits, spines, and even leaves, but areoles do not have the sap that flows throughout the cactus. Unlike the cactus, succulents might have spines, or thorns, but these are a part of the plant and do have juice or sap inside which you can see if you snip that thorn in half. And to make life even a little more complicated, for those who note that a rose thorn is not juicy, the proper name of a rose thorn is a ‘prickle.’ Having gotten all this straight in my mind, I feel quite erudite.

There is a brief chapter about the four Cactaceae families, and the uses of certain cactus. For example, “The stems of Stenocereus gummosus, were crushed and thrown in lakes and ponds by natives. Substances in the cactus would paralyze the fish and once they floated to the top, they would be gathered up by the locals.” Wow!

The list and descriptions of non-cactus succulents is much longer and includes the more familiar agave, aloe, crassula, dracaena, echeveria, sedum and yucca.

Part 2 is devoted to the ways and climates that cactuses and succulents can be used outdoors. Attention is paid to the ways to caring for these plants in colder climates. Directions are given for watering (perhaps the trickiest issue) light, temperature, fertilizer pest problems and propagation techniques.

Part 3 takes us to the world of indoor cactus and succulents which also need light, special potting soil, proper watering and a proper container that will allow for good drainage.

The final section is a useful catalog of 100 top choices of succulents and cactus, their needs and care. Readers will be tempted  and inspired to enjoy more of these plants indoors and out.

Between the Rows  June 1, 2018

Compost Tour at the Academy of Early Learning

Compost Tour at the Academy of Early Learning

Compost Tour at the Academy of Early Learning

Recently Amy Donovan, Program Director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District (FCSWMD), invited me to a Compost Tour at the Academy of Early Learning where three, four and five year old children begin their academic studies. The Compost Tour began with Donovan’s power point presentation about recycling. I was impressed by the children’s attentive engagement.

The children were familiar with the idea of recycling. They were already using the recycling system Donovan had set up in the school cafeteria. Instead of just tossing any lunch remains into a garbage can to be hauled away to the dump, these young children learned to throw non-compostable items in a trash bin, compostables like lunch remnants and the paper napkins and trays that held their lunch went into another bin, while a large bucket and colander arrangement allowed children to get rid of any leftover milk or soup. A small red bin was on each lunch table ready to accept non-compostable plastic forks and spoons. All the cafeteria recycling will be towed off to Martin’s Compost Farm at the end of every week.

There are recycling refinements that were explained in the power point presentation. The children were all eager to show that they knew the difference between items that could go into a compost bin, and those that could not. They were also beginning to learn that worms could make compost, too. There are two classroom worm bins that rotate between classrooms for periods of time. Worms turn some of the classroom snacks and paper napkins into worm castings and compost. The children can marvel at the mystery of paper napkins turning into ‘dirt.’

After the presentation Donovan took the children outside to see the new garden compost bin. No food scraps go into this, mostly just leaves and grass clippings. This circular bin is quite a bit larger than the bins we have in our backyards. There is no lid to screw on. Instead there is a large black lid that strongly resembles an upside down funnel. This fits inside the bin itself. Donovan explained this is another way of making compost. At the end of this school year, each Greenfield Public School will have an on-site garden compost bin, for composting the school’s garden and yard waste, and the occasional snack waste.

The final leg of the tour took us behind the school, outside the cafeteria where we peeked into the big dumpster where cafeteria recycling bags are dumped. Every month Tripple T Trucking brings five tons of composting food and paper waste from the six Greenfield schools to Martin’s Farm.

These activities were started by Amy Donovan of the FCSWMD as part of the 3 year, $30,000 Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) “School Recycling Assistance grant. The grant funded the programs, and the equipment and signage to make the programs successful. The grant ends on June 30, but Donovan said these composting activities will continue.

Compost collecting

Compost collecting in the school cafeteria

The $30,000 grant made it possible to give all 6 Greenfield schools a successful cafeteria and kitchen compost program, and each of these schools also has at least one active classroom worm compost bin. Over the past 18 years fourteen other schools in the county have been installing cafeteria composting programs and classroom vermicomposting programs. Over the three years of the grant cafeteria and kitchen waste has been reduced by 75 – 80% in each school.

“We have reached a major milestone,” she said. “The vast majority of public schools in Franklin County, 25 of them, now compost food and paper waste from cafeterias and kitchens! There are also 8 schools that separate food waste for pig or chicken farmers. “Massachusetts leads the nation in efforts to protect our climate and reduce emissions, and Franklin County leads the state in school, transfer station, and business composting!” Donovan said.

As I learned about the composting program, I also learned about the way The Green Team, an environmental club, also sponsored by the MassDEP provides resources like posters, lesson plans, and activities for teachers to use to teach waste reduction, recycling, composting as well as other environmental issues in the classroom. The children and classes can even win prizes for their projects.

I think it is exciting that these environmental projects give children a chance to learn about math and science and writing.  There are so many things to count, natural processes to explore, and to write about. Meeting the Curriculum Guidelines does not have to be limited to textbook lessons. They will discover the need for these skills when they have real world problems to solve.

It was wonderful to see that the pre-schoolers at the Early Learning Academy are not only learning to use their manners, to take turns, and be considerate with their classmates, but to be attentive, to look and observe, and to think about the world around them.

Between the Rows   June 2, 2018

Farmers Coop Plant Nursery Ruled by the Queen of Cram

Deanne Andrews and Jeff Budine

Deanne Andrews , Queen of Cram, and Jeff Budine at the Greenfield Farmers Coop plant nursery

Jeff Budine, Manager of the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange, now
celebrating its Centennial Anniversary, told me that the plant nursery with its current
offerings of everything from trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs
began about 50 years ago in the open space where the warehouse now stands. In those
days there were fewer nursery plants, and they were all sold out by Memorial Day, he

Nowadays, the plant nursery is a big operation and includes a greenhouse. Budine
took me outside to the arrays of flowers and brilliant hanging baskets to introduce me to
Deanne Andrews who has managed the nursery for the last 14 years. Andrews graduated from UMass Stockbridge in 2001 where she majored in commercial floriculture and fruit and vegetable crop production. She left the area, but after a sojourn in Virginia, she moved back to Greenfield, her home town, and began a career with plants, but with a different slant. “Retail is very different from farming. On a farm you always have a second chance to try a project that didn’t work as hoped. Here in retail you have one shot to make a sale. “It has definitely been a learning experience. Until you actually do something hands on you don’t have a clue about what to do, or how to do it,” she said.

She explained that there are many facets to her job from ordering, organizing and
caring for all these plants as well as helping customers and giving them advice. “I can
give advice but I don’t know everything – I am always learning.”


Delphiniums, soon to bloom in the garden

Andrews recognizes that every year there are new trends and new plant
introductions. “This year Tabletop strawberries seem to be in favor. The idea is you place
a potted strawberry plant that is bearing on your table so you can snack on the
strawberries.” I examined the sizeable pot containing a blooming and fruiting strawberry
plant, and thought it wouldn’t take me long to finish off that helping, but it certainly was

She said there seemed to be a new petunia every year, a new color or variety, but
she couldn’t illustrate her point because every petunia had been sold. She assured me that
more petunias would be arriving.

“New plants are coming in all the time. There are replacements, and the
perennials change as the season progresses. People can request certain plants and I do try
to get what they want,” she said.

“The challenge is keeping the plants looking fresh. We have very limited space.
Jeff calls me the Queen of Cram. There are days when there are a lot of people in here,
moving plants around as they make their choices. Busy days cause disarray but it is very
gratifying to be able to re-establish order for the next onslaught.”

Andrews orders all the plants and is happy that she can get most of them locally,
from Harvest Farm, Mill River Farm, Five Acre Farm, Kelley Farm and Shoestring Farm.
Some plants come from the Prides Corner nursery in Connecticut. The trees and shrubs
come from the Monrovia nursery in Connecticut which has a similar climate to ours.

While the flower, tree and shrub displays are very eye-catching, Andrews explained that more and more people are planting vegetables. There seem to be trends in vegetables as well. Last year she said ground cherry, okra and tomatillos were all the rage. “Once people try something new, they want to try out other new things. It’s satisfying to grow some of your own food. I love the herbs myself,” she said. “I don’t actually use all of them in cooking, but I like having them in my garden.
“I think this is the best job in town. I have my own little oasis, although it does get
pretty hot out here on the paving during the summer. The staff here is basically a family.
It is a wonderful place to work,” Andrews said, as she then excused herself to go and help
a customer.

Fortunately, the Greenfield Farmers Coop also sells just about everything else that
a gardener might need: tools, organic fertilizers, hose holders, decorative pots, seeds and
seed starting supplies, and everything else.
The Forbes Library Northampton Garden Tour will take place onSaturday June 9
from 10 AM to 3 PM. It is a self-guided tour; people can purchase a ticket in advance for$15.00 prior to the day of the tour at State St. Fruit in Northampton, Baystate Perennials
in Whately, Hadley Garden Center in Hadley and Cooper’s Corner in Florence, and, of
course, Forbes Library.

This celebratory 25 th Anniversary tour includes gardens large and small. Four of the
outstanding gardens from past tours are included, and three additional gardens, all
unique, with waterfalls and ponds, statuary, collections of wonderful trees and shrubs and
more. One garden is terraced into seven different but cohesive levels; a singular vision
sets the garden apart. The grand scale of this garden is seldom seen in New England gardens.

A Texas Garden with Rooms, Blooms – and Art

Stocker's Entry garden in Austin

Entry to this Texas Garden at the Stocker residence in Austin

A Texas garden may be different from New England gardens, but gardeners all share the desire to create beautiful spaces. I spent a week in Texas visiting my daughter and her family, and joining ninety-two other garden bloggers touring gardens in the Austin area. We visited big public gardens like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the Zilker Botanical Garden.  We also visited unique private gardens.

The garden created by David and Jenny Stocker appeared to be a regular Texas garden as we left our bus. The walkway approach to the house with its smooth pale walls is very Texan. The landscaping consists of gravel, rough stone walls, and a dry creek bed with smooth river stones. Agaves of different sizes are spread across the landscape along with other succulents. This work was designed by Sitio Design, but David and Jenny designed and did almost all the stone work themselves at this approach and throughout all the gardens. They built the dry creek, the dry stone walls, retaining walls and rock gardens. Jenny was as at the house site almost every day during construction to save out ledge stones that would be useful, and David searched out interesting stone to add to the mix.

Jenny had had to adjust to the hot and dry Austin climate which is nothing like her native British climate, but she has found ways to include both garden styles. The garden is distinctive because of its ‘garden rooms.’  I don’t know that Vita Sackville-West invented garden rooms when she created them at her famous Sissinghurst garden, but certainly that phrase has become popular. However, Sackville-West’s rooms were mostly separated from each other by large, tall, dense hedges. The Stockers, for the most part, have used real walls.

The house was built in 2001 with surrounding walls so Jenny could garden in a deer-free space. Jenny thinks of it as an Arts and Crafts Texas style house with distinct rooms. Those rooms are used at different seasons and times of the day depending on whether they need sun or shade, or protection from the famous Texas wind.

One corner in one of the Stocker garden's

A corner of one of the Stocker’s gardens with a door from the house

Our New England houses don’t offer much in the way of small sheltered exterior spaces, but because of the many angles in the Stocker house there are corners that provide wonderful spaces for plants. One corner has two airy and spindly trees in it, one has a leafy tree casually lounging against the wall, one has a well pruned shrub growing up the wall and one corner presents a whole tableau with a graceful tree, a bird bath and feeder, river stones to catch rain from the drain pipe and a varied collection of green plants.

Garden with pavers and flowers

One garden has pavers and flowers cohabitating happily

Stone is certainly a strong theme in the Stocker gardens. There is the ledge stone that was dug up when the house was built providing the material for stone walls, but finished stone is used as well. A whole variety of plants and flowers thrive in the space between square pavers set in gravel. A sheltered round table and chairs sit on a circular arrangement of rough and finished stones, surrounded by low growing plants.

Each of the different rooms has a different appeal, but I loved the English garden set beside the pool. The effect is very meadow-like with native and other low water plants. Many of the plants were familiar to me from my own garden. I was surprised to see columbine, poppies, foxgloves, roses, rudbeckias, nigella and other Massachusetts favorites.

English garden in Austin, Texas

This is the wild English garden

Jenny noted that the climate and thin soil are definite challenges so these are not low maintenance gardens. She does use plants that can adjust to the climate and welcomes self seeding plants, as well as passalongs from friends.

Of course, gardeners do not live by flowers alone. One room includes potted citrus trees and raised beds for vegetables. You will never be bored, or hungry in this garden!

Every Texas garden needs a bit of artful whimsy.

I found the stroll through all the garden rooms a bit dizzying. Each space provided a different delight, pieces of art, handmade hyper-tufa troughs and bowls filled with a varied assortment of succulents. This house with its gardens, its shady patios, and its cooling pool welcomed us all with good will and generosity.  I was surprised when I turned a final corner and found myself back at the front entryway. I wanted to start over and spend all day there. I wanted to fly home instantly and make a sheltered but flowery space where I could have my morning coffee and newspaper, just like the Stockers. I wonder what my husband will say when I tell him how much I loved this garden and ask where he thinks our table for morning coffee could be placed.

The Stocker garden is just one of the 14 gardens I saw. You will be seeing more of the inspired arrangement of plants and social garden spaces over the next few months. If you would like to know more about the Stocker’s garden you can visit Jenny’s Rock Rose blog which I have found entertaining, charming and useful.

Model of the Stocker's Austin house

The cardboard model of the Stocker’s  house explains how they achieved all their garden rooms, many of the interior rooms having a door into a garden.

Between the Rows   May 19, 2018

Bridge of Flowers Annual Plant Sale

'Goldheart' bleeding heart

Dicentra Bleeding Heart “Goldheart’

While on my recent weekend of touring amazing gardens in Texas, I found that three of my fellow tourists, from New York and Rhode Island, had visited the Bridge of Flowers. Not only did my new friends appreciate the beauty of the Bridge in joyous bloom, they admired the way the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club, and their Bridge of Flowers subcommittee, have cared for the Bridge, and enlisted the support of  a wide community to create a beautiful space that has brought visitors  from around the world. I remember one day I was on the Bridge and to my amusement and delight I don’t think I heard one word of English! The Bridge is famous!

Carol Delorenzo and Danny New

Carol Delorenzo and Danny New on the Bridge for TV interview this spring

Last June Carol Delorenzo, the Head Gardener, on behalf of the Bridge, received the Bee Spaces award, created by the Franklin County Beekeepers and the Second Congregational Church. Former governor Deval Patrick presented the beautiful plaque made by Molly Cantor, which now lives on the fence by the Garden House.

It was Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who served as minister of the Second Congregational Church in the 1840s, who was the man who ‘discovered’ bee space. We now often refer to the moveable frame wooden hives used by beekeepers as Langstroth hives. The secret Langstroth discovered was that bees can work in a space between 3/8 inch and 1/4 inch which is 5/16 of an inch. If there is more space than this between frames the bees will create extra comb that will make storing and using honey and pollen difficult. If there is less space the bees will fill it up with propolis.

Propolis is sometimes called bee glue. It is used to seal up drafty cracks in the hive, and even to enclose dead mice that have crept into the hive. The bees act to protect the hive from pathogens. For this reason it is sometimes called bee penicillin.

Bee balm and bee

Bee Balm and bee

Bees gather tree resins from sap and leaf buds. Back in the hive these resins are mixed with wax, honey, and enzymes from the bees’ stomachs creating an important anti-bacterial substance that can keep the bees safe and healthy.

A beehive is a busy place. Worker bees are busy gathering nectar and pollen, storing honey and pollen, feeding the brood, and themselves, and making royal jelly. Royal jelly is the single food of the queen bee and she needs to be royally fed as she lays approximately 1500 eggs a day and keeps the hive strong.

The Bridge of Flowers has its own optimal spaces to consider as do bees and beekeepers. Carol Delorenzo, our Head Gardener, tends to the health of the garden which means removing perennials that have frozen over the winter or lost their vigor. Sometimes she removes plants because newer varieties have caught her attention. She also chooses all the annuals that are so vital to keeping the Bridge in bloom all season. We gardeners know that there are always new, bright annuals to try out. Delorenzo has an eye and she always knows how to use all the new plants that go in every year. No gardener wants her garden to look exactly the same every year.

Some perennials have to be removed because they have increased and can no longer fit in their allotted space. Local gardeners usually have plants to divide and thin out, and are happy to give them to a new home, and in this case, happy that they help support the Bridge of Flowers. This will add up to over 1000 plants.

The Blossom Brigade is a hardy group of volunteers who meet twice a week all season long to keep the Bridge looking its best. Deadheading! But at this time of the year most of their energy is spent potting up plant divisions for the plant sale. This year they have been helped by a group of students from the Academy of Charlemont as part of their community service.

The Plant Sale will also include annuals from LaSalle Florist and Greenhouses, woodland plants from Hillside Nursery in Shelburne, special native plants from Polly French, and special perennials from Baystate Perennials. There will be coffee and treats to help customers keep up their strength while shopping.

Once again there will be an array of vendors offering books, glass flowers and bees, as well as bird baths and bee baths. I can’t wait to see the bee baths.

The Bridge Plant Sale is the single fund raising event of the year. Proceeds support the necessary buying of plants, the yards of compost and mulch, and less lovely necessities like repairs to the lights, and the irrigation system. Compost and mulch are vital to health of this organic garden, and every year there seems to be the need for some repair.

On Monday, May 14 the Bridge will be featured on Channel 22 around noon. We are not sure of the exact time.

Bridge of Flowers Plant Saale

2017 Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale – will be damper this year

But the big event for the week is the Plant Sale held on the Baptist Lot across from the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center on Saturday, May 19. The sale begins at 9 a.m. and ends at noon. RAIN OR SHINE! Gardeners often start assessing the plants ahead of time, deciding which they most desire.  It is all very well to make these assessments, but picking up a plant and holding it until the starting bell is rung is forbidden.

See you at the plant sale. Don’t be late.

Between the Rows    May 12, 2018

Greenfield’s Energy Park – For the Community and the Environment

Energy Park

Energy Park in Greenfield is the venue for summer concerts and other events

Greenfield’s Energy Park is a gem in the center of town. Main Street is all bustle and work, but a short stroll down Miles Street takes you to the peaceful gardens and shade of a town park created in 1999.

Sandy Thomas was the director of the Northeast Sustainability Energy Association (NESEA) housed in the former railroad switch house building in the blighted area left by the demolition of the railroad station. In 1999 the town had a Master Plan that called for a public park. “Overseeing the creation of the park fell to me, but it took hundreds of people of make it a reality,” Thomas said.

Thomas was fortunate in learning that Kim Erslev who was finishing up her master’s degree in Landscape Design at the University of Massachusetts had laid out a plan for a park for her studies. “We took her plan which laid out the park with pedestrian walkways. A park review committee was led by Bill Gran, the town planner. We also turned to the wider community, including children, for their ideas about what they wanted in a park.”

Thomas remembered all the committees that worked so long and thoughtfully. “We formed lots of committees. It took us a year and a half to choose the trees for shade. The trees we planted were very small, but they have matured and now they give the cooling shade we imagined. The architect Bruce Coldham, provided an essential service and worked with the town on laying out wires and pipes.”

Native Single bloodroot

Native Single Bloodroot, sign made by Wisty Rorabacher

Many volunteers worked to actually build and plant the Energy Park including Nancy Hazard. Hazard continues to volunteer in the park and remembers those early days. “It seemed like an incredible opportunity and I was really excited. There were only some trees and shrubs planted when I joined. I didn’t know anything about gardening but I like to do things I don’t know anything about.”

Volunteers have many ways of donating their labor. Hazard worked in the garden but she also wrote grants and can laugh when she says she was known for asking people for things. “And I get things,” she said. “Nasami farm was just starting up in Whately and they very generously donated plants. Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory also responded and gave us donations of plants, because it was our desire to welcome butterflies.”

Thomas said they operated with NESEA’s philosophy of using recycled materials. “We got a lot of old granite curbing that made the amphitheater seating for musical performances. Then we went to Ashfield Stone to make stone benches and found people who were willing to sponsor the benches. Arjen Vriends of Pioneer Gardens in Deerfield donated many plants. Hundreds of people gave their money, their energy, and their ideas. I wrote a lot of grants including infrastructure grants, and a Tree Trust Fund grant. Grants paid for the sculptures. The caboose came later. We opened the stairs down to Bank Row and decorated them with rainbow tiles.”

Construction moved apace but an essential element was missing – safety for children. “It was not a safe environment. There were no fences and you could walk right over to the train tracks on both sides.” Iron railings were built for safety and setting the park boundaries.”

I asked Thomas about The Station, which acts as a stage for Energy Park events. “It was built in 2003, the 250th anniversary of Greenfield’s founding. David Miller who played trumpet in the Greenfield Military Band that gave concerts there was an important part of that effort.”

Thomas gave me so many names of those who helped bring the Energy Park into being that it is impossible to list them all. She concluded by saying “The man I cannot leave out is Al Dray. I couldn’t have done it without Al. He kept things going and got the Kiwanis to help.”

The Energy Park, like any garden, is always changing. There are additions and subtractions. Volunteers are always changing as well. I am pleased to be a part of the current group of volunteers who are supported by The Greenfield Garden Club with funds for the park gardens. The town does not have the money for the plantings. Nowadays, our goal continues to be using native plants, but we have added the effort to support pollinators.

Nancy Hazard is still volunteering. Her love is the woodland. “I work a lot in the grove of River birches. It’s the wildness that I love, and the spring ephemerals,” she said.

Wisty Rorabacher and Judy Draper have been working on the big Welcome Garden, along with Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson who are members of the Garden Club.

Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson, Energy Park volunteers

Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson, Energy Park volunteers

Patteson was eloquent about what it means to be a volunteer in a project like the Energy Park. “As I quickly learned, gardening with people is very different than gardening alone. My way of doing things was not the only way! At the Energy Park I have had the good fortune to be mentored by amazing gardeners and I have learned so much. I have been embraced by a supportive environment and enriched by a wonderful sense of community. I continue to work at the Energy Park because of the friendships I have made with my fellow gardeners and because of the rewards of watching an urban garden space come to life under the watchful eyes of a handful of volunteers.

I credit Linda Smith with taking me under her wing, Nancy Hazard with being my role model for sustainable gardening, and Wisty Rorabacher and Judy Draper for sharing their love and appreciation of native plants.”

If you wish to donate to the plant fund you can make a donation to The Greenfield Garden Club, and please be sure to note that it is for The Energy Park.

And do visit the Park and enjoy its beauty and peace.

Between the Rows   May 5, 2018