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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

The Dirt on Soil

 

compost

Compost for my new garden

Many of us take soil for granted. I just spoke to my daughter who said she broke sod for a tiny new vegetable garden. After taking away the sod she said she filled that space with good dirt. When I asked what good dirt was she said bags of organic dirt from Home Depot. We’re still talking dirt, even though she talked about good and bad dirt, soil.

I may get dirty while working in my garden, but I love my soil. The forester who made our forest management plan told us we were lucky because our area has good soil. And he had the soil map to prove it. And over the years I have improved the good soil.

Around 2000 we moved the vegetable garden and made it much smaller, 10×10 feet, because I was having so much trouble with my hip – all replaced in 2003. In that new space I started with my good soil and added my own compost to each planting bed.

Now you must have guessed I wouldn’t be happy with a 10×10 garden for long. We added another 10×10 space for a raspberry patch, and added more compost, plus some rock phosphate for phosphorous and greensand  for potassium, two of the three major nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. Nitrogen is the third nutrient in the NPK ratio you see when you buy fertilizer.

I also sprinkle lime from time to time to keep the soil from being too acid. I was not very scientific about any of these amounts, just sprinkling it on the soil when the mood came on me. You can imagine how happy I was when I sent my soil to the University of Massachusetts five years ago and found out that the vegetable garden had good soil with nine percent organic matter.

Any soil is made up of inorganic material like sand and silt, then organic matter. Think of the forest floor where leaves fall on the ground and rot, birds and animals die and they rot into the soil. There is water in the soil, and even, almost forgotten, air.  A good and productive soil is about 50% air.  But we are not done. The soil is also alive with fungi and bacteria that break down all that organic material and turn it into humus. The food web decrees that these fungi and bacteria will be eaten by tiny creatures like nematodes and springtails. In turn they will be eaten by beetles and ants and earthworms. All of them are adding to the richness of the soil, with their dead bodies, and their poop. They are also aerating the soil and making it possible for the water to penetrate.

How do we get good soil? We try to follow Mother Nature’s routine, by eliminating poisonous pesticides that will kill all those living creatures in the soil, and

adding more organic material, otherwise known as compost. We feed the soil, just like Mother Nature instead of later trying to feed our plants with chemical fertilizers.

I was talking to a friend who told me that she went to a permaculture workshop where one motto was “Let the carbon stay where it falls.” That means when you cut back plants in the fall you can leave the debris in the garden.  It is not neat and pretty, but you are following the natural routine. The debris will rot and enrich the soil. You and the debris are feeding the soil.

I am not a purist of any system, but I spent an afternoon pruning deadwood out of my roses and let some of the smaller twigs fall invisibly into the center of the rose bush to rot over time. I confess I did take many larger branches off to a brush pile to rot at a more leisurely pace.

I have made a fair amount of compost over the years. Some I make in a plastic bin I got from some organization. So long ago, I don’t remember who, possibly the Franklin County Waste Management? Compost adds nutrients and the organic matter improves the structure of the soil.

I also make compost piles contained within wire fencing or, in my circular black plastic potato bin with holes in the sides for the potato plants to reach through to the sun if they are so inclined.  I turned that potato bin into a compost bin. I can turn my compost pile by heaving it from one bin to the other.

I also have a plain old compost pile that I don’t turn regularly or fuss with. Eventually that pile turns into compost. I am never in a hurry.

I put all my kitchen peelings into my compost, autumn leaves, weeds, chicken manure when I have it, and debris from the garden in the fall when I am getting ready for winter. From now on I may leave some of that autumnal carbon where it falls.

I am getting ready to start a new garden in Greenfield. The first thing I will do is send a soil sample to UMass so they can tell me what my soil particularly needs.  I don’t know whether it is bad dirt or good soil, but I will find out. Currently I only know it grows a lot of grass, and I have a lot of space to fill with new plants.

I don’t have the necessary amounts of homemade compost for this new garden, so I have ordered a truck load, a major gift from my husband. I will use this compost when planting all the new trees and shrubs I am thinking of, as well as for top dressing on existing plantings.

We are fortunate to have two compost farms nearby, Martin’s Farm in Greenfield and Bear Path Farm in Whately. By feeding the soil with compost I’ll improve the structure and fertility of my soil. If it isn’t good soil to begin, it will be soon.

What next? I have to decide what to plant in this new garden. Do you think there will be roses? Keep watching.

Between the Rows   May 30, 2015

Let’s Go: Into the Nest in the Right Size Flower Garden

 

Right Size Flower Garden

Right Size Flower Garden by Kerry Ann Mendez

There comes a time when a gardener just throws up her hands and says “I can’t do this anymore!”  She doesn’t really mean she can’t do it at all, she just can’t do it all the way she has been. That moment came for Kerry Ann Mendez when her husband was in a terrible accident, broke his neck and had to retire. Mendez then needed to work full time and could no longer spend long hours tending her extensive gardens.

There are other reasons for throwing up our hands, full time employment while taking care of young children, or waking up one morning and realizing you are no long 30 years old, or even 60 years old. The time has come, as Mendez says, to create The Right Size Flower Garden.

Mendez’s book, The Right Size Flower Garden  (St. Lynn’s Press$19.95) is chatty, a real gardener to gardener conversation about the ways that our outdoor spaces can be simplified. The book is filled with photographs, before and after right-sizing, of her own gardens.

Gardens change over the years. There is no way to stop them changing. All of us have stories about plants we used to have, and about how we have moved a plant all around the garden until we found the perfect spot. By the time Mendez gets to Chapter 3 she says, “We are approaching the elimination round . . . which gardens will remain as they are, which can be revamped, and which will be removed.” Then she steps forward to find ways to reduce work and expense 50% – while keeping the garden as beautiful as it ever was.

Mendez is the Queen of Lists. I find myself often turning to her earlier book The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists: 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7. That title says it all, and she includes many lists in The Right Size Garden. These lists separate plants by category, plants for sun or shade, lists of long lived perennials, long lived bulbs, tidy evergreens, flowering shrubs, plants for containers and many more. She knows that one of the easiest ways to cut down labor in the garden is to put the right plant and in the right spot and these wonderful lists with many enticing photographs will help you make good choices.

The sections that were of particular interest to me were those focusing on ground covers like sedums, creeping thyme and pink sundrops for sunny areas, and shade loving groundcovers like epimediums, ajuga, tiarella, and sweet woodruff, as well as shrubs that don’t require complicated pruning like fothergilla, viburnams, and daphnes. And trees, of  course, redbuds, fringe tree, and stewartia. Can you tell I like springtime bloom?

Annuals are not forgotten. If you want color and flowers all season you must have annuals. The RightSizeGarden is not a big book, but you will find yourself turning to it as long as you are searching for the right size for your garden.

Into the Nest by and Maria Read

Into the Nest by Laura Erickson and Maria Read

While I am not a bird watcher (I can barely tell big birds from little birds) I do love to have birds in the garden. I enjoy their mostly unidentified songs, and their occasional antics. Now that we no longer have cats there is a bird feeder or two in my future.

Still even with a bird feeder sited where I can watch activities unseen, I will never see the activity shown in the beautifully photographed book Into the Nest: Intimate views of the courting, parenting, and family lives of familiar birds by Laura Erickson and Marie Read. (Storey $16.95).

Erickson and Read have compiled an extraordinary array of photographs of the nests, courtship displays, eggs hatching, and the feeding of nestlings of 25 bird species from blue jays to yellow warblers. I will never see a group of naked baby flickers sleeping inside their log home and nest, or see a hummingbird gather up the necessary spider silk as she builds a nest that is stretchy and can expand as her nestlings grow.

And who knew that baby birds actually need lessons to get on in the world. I thought they were born knowing what to do, but they need to learn their distinctive songs, and young birds in some species like cranes remain with their parents through the first winter in order to absorb all the necessary life lessons.

Those raucous American crows are very devoted, mating for life and maintaining a relationship with their young, and their neighbors, throughout their lives. The brood of one year even help raise the brood of the next year. Blue jays also mate for life and kissing is a part of their courtship. Each chapter is short and information is arranged so that it is easy to compare the habits of one species with another.

Laura Erickson has written seven books about birds, won the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Lifetime Achievement Award, and contributes to Cornell Ornithology Lab’s All About Birds website, www.allaboutbirds.org. Marie Read has written three books and her photographs and articles have appeared in many magazines including  Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birds and Blooms and National Geographic. Together they have created a book that is a delight for the novice and experienced bird watcher and bird lover.

Between the Rows   May 23, 2015

Greenfield Garden Club

 

Greenfield Garden Club members

Greenfield Garden Club members: Lynda Tyler

Who wouldn’t want friends who like to play in the dirt? Who are always learning new things? Who like to get out and about and see new beautiful places? Who everyday notice and appreciate the glorious world around them? Who are always thinking of ways to make their community more beautiful?

A group of people who all wanted friends like that decades ago and formed the Greenfield Garden Club and happily had their regular meetings in the afternoons. But we all know that time inevitably brings change. It was the change in women’s lives that brought about a re-formation of the Club in 1991. More and more women were working and afternoon meetings were no longer feasible. And more men wanted to join too.

So it was that in 1991 Richard Willard, Debran Brocklesby, Judge Alan McGuane, Margareta Athey and Jan (McGuane, as she was then) Adam, were among those who  reorganized the group. The first rule was the installation of evening meetings.

Jan Adam told me that the new Greenfield Garden Club got off to a slow start, but by the end of the first year it had over 100 members. “The mission of the club was to provide education for the gardeners, and to the community, and to work to improve and beautify community spaces.”

I can tell you that a lot of happy and friendly education takes place on field trips to nurseries and flower shows. Lots of comparing of notes and experiences, lots of new creative ideas are born at meetings and on trips.

The new Club has also seen changes over the past 24 years. A newsletter was born and mailed to members, with news of the club’s events, garden reminders, short garden features, and a list of vendors who give discounts to members. Nowadays that newsletter is emailed. There is also a Facebook page, and a website, www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org, that lists meeting dates with program information, and information about the School and Community Grant program including a list of this year’s awards.

I have served on the grant committee and it is wonderful to see the great projects that teachers are creating to teach their students about botany (at an appropriate level) growing food, the deliciousness of fresh vegetables, and the ways plants affect the environment including pollinators. The goal of these grants is to engage the children in gardening, and eating fresh vegetables, and give them a better awareness of the natural world in the small space of a garden. When I read those grant applications I cannot help harking back to my days at UMass where there was emphasis on teaching skills like math, reading and writing through projects like gardening, cooking, wood working and other kinds of practical projects. It is a joy to see it happening.

Adam explained that while the Club did have its own town beautification program for a time, it involved so much work that now the club partners with other organizations to make and keep the town a beautiful place.

Because gardening is so closely allied to cooking, members volunteer at the August community meal at the First Congregational Church. “The club has so many good cooks, and we always bring bouquets of flowers which people really enjoy,” Adam said.

In order to pay for these programs the club has two fundraising events every year, the Extravaganza Plant Sale will be held Saturday, May 23 from 8 am to 1pm. “There are big changes this year because the sale will be held at St. James Episcopal Church on Federal Street which will make it much easier for people to find parking. In addition to all manner of plants, perennials, annuals, herbs and houseplants, there will be baked goodies, and a tag and book sale. For the first time we will also have vendors selling garden related products,” Adam said.

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club  tour

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club garden tour

The second big fundraiser is the Annual Garden Tour which gives gardeners the opportunity to visit some really stunning, and very different private gardens in the area, not only Greenfield. This year that tour will be on Saturday, June 27 from 9 am – 4 pm. Tickets ($12) to this self-guided tour will be on sale at the Trap Plain garden at the intersection of Silver and Federal Streets. Tickets will be on sale all morning. It is best to leave pets at home.

The gardens on the tour are always a surprise. Some are small and amaze me by their artful use of so many common plants, and so many unusual plants that are as stunning as a piece of art. The tour is a place to learn about plants, but also about how to arrange a landscape. Sometimes, a farm makes it into the tour. There is always something for everyone.

Even though it is the GreenfieldGarden Club, membership is open to anyone who wants to join the fun. I have been a member for years.

Between the Rows   May 16, 2015

Celebrations and Caladiums

An Eagle Scout family

An Eagle Scout Family, Kate, Greg, Anthony and Drew

My husband and I just returned from a celebratory trip to the southland. We visited an uncle in Gulfport, drove through very wet bayou country in Mississippi and Texas, and then on to beyond the big Houston metropolis where towers of the city are a showy exclamation point in the flat landscape. We were off to Sienna Plantation where daughter Kate and her family live. We had come to Texas to participate in a solemn ceremony as grandson Anthony received his Eagle Scout award.

Anthony is a third generation Eagle Scout, following in the steps of his father and grandfather. The ceremony was attended by family, brother Scouts, Scout leaders and mentors, friends and neighbors who have watched Anthony grow and helped him along the way. There was some mention of an occasional ‘kick in the pants.’ The ceremony was a moving and important moment in Anthony’s life, and in the life of our family.

The celebration included barbecue at famous Rudy’s. We could tell it was authentic BBQ because menu items, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, coleslaw and beans, etcetera, were sold by the pound and served on waxed paper with plenty of paper towels. No dishes. This is real barbecue! The barbecue was so celebratory we didn’t even have room left to eat any of the leftover celebration cake.

Enchanted Forest nursery

The Enchanted Forest nursery

Of course, no celebratory trip is complete for me until I have visited a nursery. Fortunately Kate needed some new plants for her decorative pots, so we sailed down The Six (that’s the nearby highway) to the EnchantedForest. There, under the shade of enormous century old pecan trees, was a fabulous array of plants. Many of these are too tender for us in Massachusetts, but it is fun to see new, exotic plants that are native to an area where they are as common as sugar maples in our neighborhood.

I had to admire the rose selection that included the brilliant red Miracle on the Hudson named for Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s heroic landing of a passenger plane on the Hudson. I also got to see the array of Drift Roses that are low-growing landscape roses. These roses are not only perfect for mass plantings, low hedging, and at the front of the border, they are disease resistant and bloom for a long season. I was quite partial to the peach and apricot Drifts. I am hoping I can find them locally for my proposed new garden.

The one shade plant that made the biggest impression on me was the caladiums. Caladiums are a tender bulb that needs to be dug in the fall if you want to hold them over for the next year. Many cultivars are quite large and they make it possible to have brilliant or bright color in a shady garden.

I did grow caladiums a couple of summers ago and made a couple of mistakes. First, I chose a cultivar with red and green foliage. They did not show up as grandly on either side of the Cottage Ornee as I had imagined.

Second, I did not pay attention to the fact that the roof overhang kept the potted caladiums from getting rainfall, so I didn’t think to water them very often.

Third, I didn’t set the plants firmly enough so that a critter or two knocked the pots over, damaging the delicate roots. If these three errors can be avoided, caladiums can be a great addition to the shady garden.

Kate bought a few plants for pots in front of her house, torenia, shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), a hybrid impatiens sold under the name Bounce, an unusual kalanchoe named Flap Jacks, creeping jenny and a white Shades of Innocence caladium. It was quite a task to remember the light requirements of each plant as we made our choices because we did have a particular site in mind. We spent Tuesday morning potting them all up for a shady  space in front of her house that gets some afternoon sun. Too much sun and heat is one of threats in Texas.

Caladium

Caladium

I think they will all make a delightful show, but we planted the caladium in a substantial tall blue pot, with a bit of golden creeping jenny to cascade over the side. We chose a spot where the pot would be surrounded by shrubbery. The caladium is relatively small at the moment, but it will grow to be about 18 inches tall, and the leaves will become larger than they are now. The surrounding shrub may need some pruning as the plant grows and this is easily done.

I do think the plant labels that come with most plants these days are helpful. They give requirements for sun or shade, dry or moist soil, drought tolerance, size of the mature plant, bloom season, fertilizing and pruning advice. It’s a good idea to keep these labels to refer to if there is a problem. They also help you keep a record of plants that do well.

The time we spent with Kate and her family was a reminder that everything changes. Anthony has achieved the rank of Eagle denoting his leadership skills, and soon he will graduate and his intellectual talents will be recognized. Then he will become a lowly freshman at the University of Texas at Dallas where his intellect and leadership will be tested anew. His parents and brother will create a whole new daily rhythm without Anthony. And Henry and I will be anticipating big changes in our life. Gardens grow and change, and so do we.

Between the Rows   May  2,2015

 

 

Perennials for the Cutting Garden

 

Peony

Peony

A cutting garden needs annuals to give you a particular blossom for your bouquets all season long, but it also needs perennials to give you blossoms in their season -  and more new plants next year.

In my garden the first perennials that make a big splash are the peonies. They bloom in June. I began growing early season peonies, but soon added late season peonies. My reasoning was that visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing, held the last Sunday in June, would have a glorious show of pink, white and red peonies, even if the roses were a little slow to bloom.

Peonies are a long lived plant, are mostly disease free, and need very little care. Unlike most perennials they don’t even need dividing. The clump will just get bigger and more beautiful every year. It used to be that you were supposed to plant peony roots in the fall, but nowadays you can go to many garden centers and buy a potted peony in the spring. The secret to success with peonies is good, well drained, slightly acid soil, and careful planting. Peony roots should be planted no more than two inches below the surface of the soil. If planted too deep they will not flower, although the foliage will thrive. The cure is to replant at a shallower depth.

Alchemilla or lady’s mantle blooms in May and June. This low growing perennial has round scalloped foliage that is very pretty, and useful, in flower arrangements. The lacy flowers are greenish, a striking element in any bouquet. Lady’s mantle spreads and makes a lovely ground cover as well as abundant flowers and foliage for bouquets.

Achillea 'Terra Cotta'

Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’

Achillea or yarrow is a care-free plant that is not fussy about soil, and is drought tolerant. It repels deer, but attracts bees and butterflies and gardeners who like a guarantee when they buy a plant. Yarrow guarantees success.

Yarrow usually grows to between 16 and 24 inches tall. It has flat flower heads with many tiny flowerets in shades of white, peach, red, yellow and gold.  Coronation Gold which also makes a great dried flower, and Moonshine are favorites. Terra Cotta is a favorite in my garden, and I keep waiting for Paprika to gain the orange tint that shows up in the catalogs. There is no guarantee that flowers in your garden will look exactly like their catalog images.

My granddaughter, a new gardener, was telling me she likes plants with straight stems. She planted tulips, but critters ate all the bulbs. I suggested she try alliums with tall straight stems like Globemaster, which grows to a height of over three feet with a 10 inch globe shaped violet flower head made of tiny star shaped blossoms. No deer or rodents go after these ornamental onion plants. Other varieties include the 8 inch purple Firmament with silver anthers, the Gladiator with 6 inch pinky-purple blossoms and Graceful Beauty which has more delicate white 3 inch blossoms. They all need rich, well drained soil and a sunny location. Alliums in an arrangement are very dramatic.

Helenium, heliopsis and gaillardia are three flowers that seem so similar to me that when I see them in the garden I never know which is which. Heliopsis has sunny yellow/gold petals and centers. Summer Nights and Summer Sun are between 3 and 4 feet tall Songbirds will love the seed in the fall and you will have endless bouquets.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

Helenium and gaillardia are daisy-like flowers in sunny colors, shades of yellow, gold, orange and red. Both come in similar colors but heleniums have slightly reflexed petals like a skirt, around deep brown mounded centers. They are about 3 feet tall. I have Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ in my garden and it hearty, hardy and makes great bouquests.

Most gaillardias are smaller, and include varieties like Arizona Apricot and Goblin that are suitable for containers. Like the heleniums they have colorful rays arranged around a dark center. They need sun and well drained soil, and the bees love them.

The large dahlia family gives you everything you need in a cut flower, different flower forms and sizes, good long and strong stems, and a long vase life.

Most dahlias start to bloom in midsummer and there are many sizes from low growing tiny pom pom varieties to blossoms so large, 10 inches or more, that they are called dinner plate dahlias. Hummingbirds like dahlias. The Swan Island Dahlia catalog and website even have pages devoted to their best cut flower varieties.

Once you have your cutting garden you’ll be making bouquets on a regular basis. Some people have natural artistic talent. I cannot lay any claim to artistic talent at all, but putting together a bouquet is a relaxing activity, and in the end the flowers, leaves and grasses are so pretty in you can hardly make an unattractive bouquet. The flowers themselves will help and speak to you.

Needless to say there are many more excellent annuals, perennials, grasses, and bulbs suitable for flower arranging than I can include here. Years ago I bought A Garden for Cutting: Gardening for Flower Arrangements by Margaret Parke and it is a book I turn to time and again because it is so beautiful and inspiring. Used copies are available on Amazon, but there are new books like The Cut Flower Patch: Grow your own cut flowers all year round by Louise Curley.

A cutting garden is an easy way to have colorful flowers, and uncountable bouquets for your friends – and yourself.

Between the Rows   April 28, 2015

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time by Craig LeHoullier

Tomatoes are the most popular fruit in the world. First grown by the Aztecs and Incas around 700 AD, they spread to Europe in the late 16th century and are now grown all around the world.

There aren’t too many tomatoes used in dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, so it may come as a surprise that China grows and consumes more tomatoes than any other country. Still it is not so surprising when you consider that China is home to at least 18% of the world’s population. India with 17% of the world’s population runs a close second in tomato consumption, while the United States with only about 4% of the world’s population, is third on the list by eating 11 million metric tonnes of tomatoes to China’s 34 million metric tonnes. That is a lot of tomatoes! Those population percentages suggest a lot about what changes are likely over the next decades, not only with tomatoes.

In our country the vast amount of tomatoes are grown in California and Florida which means many of these tomatoes are grown to withstand hundreds and even thousands of miles of shipping. Some are grown to ripen all at once to make harvesting more efficient for food companies like Heinz and companies that can tomatoes in various forms. And yet we all long for flavorful sun ripened tomatoes to eat off the vine on a summer afternoon – which means that a lot of us grow tomatoes in the backyard. Fortunately, with the rise of local farms and farmer’s markets, it is easier to get those fresh grown tomatoes even if we don’t have yards.

Craig LeHoullier, tomato aficionado extraordinaire, has grown over 1,200 tomato varieties over 30 years and has now written Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing $19.95). This is a book about the history of tomatoes, and the delights of heirloom tomatoes. He does admit “To be fair, with the exception of Moreton, Supersteak, Early Cascade, Big Girl and Ultra Sweet, the hybrids did very well in terms of yield and flavor. However none of the hybrids were superior to the best of the open-pollinated varieties – Nepal, Brandywine, Anna Russian, and Polish, to name but a few of the superb heirlooms that I tested.”

Epic Tomatoes is just chock-full of amazing historical facts including the famous public tomato consumption event staged by Robert Gibbon Johnson, a leading citizen of Salem, New Jersey in 1820. Because they are members of the nightshade family tomatoes were generally considered poisonous at that time, so hundreds of people came from miles around to witness this startling event. “The story goes that when Johnson bit into a tomato some onlookers fainted, and with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”  However tomatoes did not really become popular until after the Civil War.

History is fascinating, but LeHoullier goes on to give information about his favorite varieties which include Tiger Tom, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, the now more familiar Brandywine and the encouraging Mortgage Lifter. The book would be fun to read if only for the names of these historic and delicious tomatoes: Kellogg’s Breakfast, Stump of the World, Rosella Purple, Mexico Midget, Giant Syrian, Black from Tula, Green Zebra, Black Prince, Hugh’s German Johnson, and Gregori’s Altai.

All this information is as delicious as a sun warmed Cherokee Purple, one of my own favorites, but LeHoullier has practical advice and instruction to offer new and experienced gardeners. When do you plant seeds indoors? What’s the best planting mix? There is full information about caring for seedlings indoors and when to plant them outdoors. He also gives advice on buying transplants and even the new grafted transplants. He thinks the jury is still out on the benefits of grafting, but that the idea is promising.

Cat faced tomato

Cat Face afflicted tomato – Now I know what cat face looks like

Chapter 9: Troubleshooting Diseases , Pests and Other Problems was particularly fascinating and useful. Clear photographs make it easy to identify the problems that can occur, with causes, and control. I had heard the term cat-face but never knew what it meant. Now I do. Cat-face causes brown corky folds at the blossom end of a tomato that usually afflicts beefsteak tomato varieties. I have grown cat-faced tomatoes.

It is easier to find heirloom tomato seeds, and even transplants, than it used to be. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) offers dozens of varieties from green, to yellow, pink, red and purple as well as paste tomatoes, cherry and plum. Local garden centers also offer an array of these heirloom seedlings.  How to choose from so many? LeHoullier provides a list of 250 recommendations, across the various spectrums, listing size, season and flavor.

In spite of the discouraging snow cover around our house, it is time to start gardening. It is time to start planting tomato seeds indoors. It is time to start visualizing fresh picked tomatoes eaten on the way from the garden to the house. With juice running down your arm. LeHoullier has definitely put me in the mood.

I do not expect to have a vegetable garden this year, but I was given a couple of fabric Smart Pots to test, and I plan to Smart Pot up some small heirloom tomatoes. Expect to hear more about Smart Pots, and my heirloom tomato adventures.

Between the Rows   April 11, 2015

Considering Small Blooming Trees

Carolina Silverbell on the Bridge of Flowers

Carolina Silverbell on the Bridge of Flowers

Blooming trees are an important part of our domestic landscape, giving it substance as well as beauty. Planting a blooming tree requires more thought than planting a perennial or pots of annuals. A tree cannot be moved at will.

No matter what we plant in our garden we have to consider the site, sun or shade, and we have to consider the growth rate and the ultimate size of the plant. With a tree these considerations become even more important. We planted five ginkgo trees in our new Lawn Beds 16 years ago when we had five toddler grandsons belonging to our three daughters. The trees were a nod to our years in Beijing, and pleasing to me because of the unusual fan shape of the foliage which turns a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall.

Ginkgo

Ginkgo in October 2012

Ginkgo trees are dioecious which means they need male and female trees to fruit. We did not know whether we had male or female trees so we couldn’t be sure they would fruit or not. Male ginkgoes are more desirable because they will never fruit, and the fruits are famous for their bad smell. We didn’t worry about this because even if we had male and female trees they would probably not mature and fruit for many years – when we would no longer be around. We might seem thoughtless, but it is my position that we can see only so far ahead into the future, and in the case of plants we can usually please ourselves. The only exception would be deliberately planting something invasive.

We had the room in our country garden to plant trees that would get fairly large. In a suburban yard or garden you will have to be more discriminating about which trees to plant. When I look at the dimensions of trees labeled ‘small’ they can still be larger than you might expect. For example, there are many crabapple varieties that range from 12 to 25 feet high with an equal spread. Donald Wyman crab, one of the ten most disease resistant, produces white flowers in spring and small red apples in the fall. Prairiefire is also highly disease resistant and has bright pink flowers in the spring. The foliage begins with a purplish shade, changes to bronzey green and finishes with a yellow/orange shade in the fall. Crabapples are wonderful trees, with beautiful spring bloom to please you and support pollinators, with small apples in the fall that you might use in the kitchen or that the birds will enjoy.

The pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is a native dogwood that can reach a height of 25 feet with an equal spread. Its airy while blossoms do not resemble the more familiar flowers of Cornus florida or Cornus kousa, but there will eventually be small blue berries that will attract birds. The name refers to the attractive layered arrangement of the branches.

The Silverbell is slightly larger, possibly reaching a height of 35 feet. You can see this tree on the Bridge of Flowers. Clusters of small white bell-like flowers appear in mid to late April.

Rate of growth will depend on your soil, but I once listened to an arborist explaining to a friend that she could control the size of a tree by regular pruning. This is good to remember when a small blooming tree that you have planted becomes larger than you and your garden’s definition of ‘small.’

Careful planting is important to the future of a tree. Dig a generously wide hole and loosen the soil within the hole. It should be only as deep as the roots, or balled roots, or the container that your tree came in

If you have a small bare root tree support it in the middle of the hole so the root collar is even with the soil level. Fill in with the original soil. Tamp it down to make sure there are no air pockets and that the tree is firmly held. As you fill in the last of the soil make sure it is just below the root collar and that there is a shallow basin to collect water. Water well. Then mulch with two inches of wood chips or bark, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. No mulch volcanoes!

If your tree came balled and burlaped place it in a good big hole so it is at the proper level. Then cut away and remove all the wires and the burlap. If there is burlap left underneath that is fine as long as it is not plastic burlap. You want to free all those roots. Fill with original soil, water and mulch as for a barerooted tree. If you have a landscaper do this for you, make sure the wires and burlap get removed. I have heard horror stories of inept landscaping help not doing this resulting in the loss of the trees.

If your tree comes in a container and you find the roots are rootbound you should cut an X at the bottom of the root ball with a sharp knife, and make three or four cuts down the sides. This root-pruning will encourage new root growth. This is not unlike firmly combing out tangled roots in a rootbound perennial before planting. As with any plant, keep it well watered for the first year while it is getting established.

Trees give us so much: sculptural form, shade, the whispering of breezes among the leaves, seasonal flowering and food and shelter for many creatures. Choosing the appropriate tree for its site and planting it well will give you decades of beauty.

Between the Rows   April 4, 2015

Water in the Garden

Bird Bath

Bird Bath – Still water

For years putting water in the garden was a problem for me. Beverley Nichols was one of my favorite authors when I was younger and spent a lot of time reading English garden books. He is wonderfully witty (the British are never merely funny) and I can certainly identify with many of his adventures with plants, and other gardeners. I did take against one thing he said with great energy which was that a good garden required water. How the heck was I supposed to get water into my garden? All I could manage was a birdbath and I didn’t think that counted. In my defense I have to say this was before the advent of solar powered fountain pumps, and electric recycling pumps that came with the fountain urns sold in every garden center.

Three years ago, in lieu of buying a whole fountain with urn, reservoir and recycling pump, I bought a little fountain setup with some bamboo that rested across a small livestock waterer and a recycling pump that sat inside the waterer. I thought the bamboo made it look serenely Asian. (We all do have our fantasies.) I placed it on the Welcoming Platform next to our piazza where we sit in the shade of the wisteria to eat or just to relax and enjoy the view. I surrounded the not very attractive black water basin with potted plants and hid the electric cord almost invisibly.

The day was fine and sunny. I took my book, about American gardens, out to the piazza, plugged the fountain into an outlet in the wall near the door, sat and waited. What I really wanted from my fountain was the burble of falling water. I could hear only the slightest sigh from fountain. What was wrong?

My husband came home and we fiddled with the depth of the water, the fall of the water into the basin but nothing made much difference to me. Why not? Well, the problem was my ears. They just were not working as they had 20 years earlier. It then occurred to me I hadn’t been hearing the birds as much as I used to either.

Something had to be done and I did it. I now have almost invisible (not that I care) bits of silver in my ears that help me hear the birds, but my little bamboo fountain never burbled sufficiently.

A friend gave me a wonderful bird bath that we put in front of the piazza. It had a solar pump that sent the water splashing and that was lovely. But the pump died and I could never find a suitable replacement pump. Now the birds on our hill have still water awaiting them, but birders tell me that it is the sound of moving water that most dependably attracts birds.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of being invited into many gardens and many of those gardens have had water. Jane Markoski has a fountain made of an old millstone, but she also has a lotus pond. The water is still but the lotuses, holding their heads above the water are magnificent.

Stream and fountain

Rose Deskavitch’s stream and fountain

Rose Deskavich has a burbling fountain in her front yard, and a bit of woman-made stream with pool and a spouting splashing fountain in her backyard. Except for the fountain spout in the pool I thought it was a natural stream, and thought she was awfully lucky to have a stream emerge from her property line the way it did. Deskavich laughed at me when I exclaimed at her good fortune, but my husband now merely rolls his eyes and thinks I am the most gullible person he has ever met.

But I digress. Other gardens have bowls of water in the sun or in the shade, resting on the ground or supported by handsome columns, but always surrounded by shrubs or trees so that birds stopping by for a drink or a quick bath can also find quick shelter if they suddenly feel threatened. Whether you have a stream or a pond or a small birdbath, it is possible to have water in the garden and it all counts.

The good news is that solar or electrical fountains on any scale from small to grand, are now available in garden centers. When I attended the February New England Grows exhibits in Boston there were booths filled with fountains of every type. There were splashing fountains and silent fountains where water slid down stone plinths, or granite balls resting on a plinth, or large stone bowls resting on a plinth. Our own Bridge of Flowers has a silent fountain in the shade that I call the Stone Spring. A beautiful boulder that is set on river stones has been slightly hollowed so that water collects and then silently slips over the edge into the reservoir where it is recirculated, setting the mood for contemplation after the riotous  color of the sunny Bridge of Flowers.

And fortunately for people such as myself, beautiful or amusing birdbaths are still easy to find in garden centers.

millstone fountain

Jane Markoski’s millstone fountain

Do you have water in your garden? What is it that you most enjoy? The sound of moving water, or the way water attracts birds and butterflies to your garden? Does your fountain or birdbath serve as a work of art? I would love to hear about the water in your garden. You can email me at commonweeder@gmail.com.

Between the Rows  March 28, 2015

 

Herbs for the Kitchen and for the Soul

Homegrown Herb Garden

Homegrown Herb Garden

Herbs. Some people like herb gardens because they are so practical, others like the romance of herbs. All new herb gardeners will find that they are about the easiest gardens to tend. Herbs are not fussy plants.

Lisa Baker Morgan and Ann McCormick belong to the practical school. Their book Homegrown Herb Garden: A Guide to Growing and Culinary Uses (Quarry Books $24.99) gives information about growing 15 flavorful herbs, and then delicious recipes using each of the 15.

These 15 herbs range from the familiar basil and Italian parsley to the more exotic bay laurel and lemongrass. They include fashionable herbs like cilantro and chervil which were never in any cookbook I owned in1960.

Morgan and McCormick give basic growing information for all herbs which is basically a site in the sun, and soil with good drainage. Herbs will not need much in the way of fertilizer if you give them ordinarily fertile garden soil, but you will need to fertilize herbs planted in containers. You will also need to give potted plants sufficient water.

Growing culinary herbs is only half the job. Once you have these plants producing prolifically you will need to know how to harvest and preserve them. We are all familiar with jars of dried herbs in the store, or bunches tied prettily with ribbon hanging from the rafters in a colonial home. But how do you know which of the many varieties to grow, when to harvest, how best to dry, how best to store. The Homegrown Herb Garden has all the answers which vary with each herb.

Drying herbs is one way method of preservation. Freezing is another. Morgan and McCormick suggest one way of freezing basil or cilantro or other herbs that you plan to use in a sauce or soup is to puree the fresh leaves with a bit of water and then put the puree in ice cube trays and freeze. You can then put these frozen herb cubes in plastic freezer bags and pull out one or two when you need them.

I have my own method for preserving parsley which is often called for in soup or sauce recipes. I grow a lot of Italian, flat leaf, parsley. It makes a nice border for the herb garden in front of my house and saves me a lot of money when I consider how many $1.99 bunches of parsley I would buy over the season. With the arrival of September I start to harvest bunches of parsley and remove the heavier stems, then I lay a good amount on a piece of waxed paper and roll it up like a cigarette. I will put three or four parsley rolls in a freezer bag and freeze them When a recipe calls for parsley I just cut off as much of a parsley roll as needed.

A look at the recipes included will make this valuable as a cookbook as well. Kabocha and Coconut Soup with Thai basil, and Venetian Seafood en Papillote with garlic, shallots, basil, chives, bay leaves and dill sound particularly yummy.

Herb Lovers Spa Book

Herb Lovers Spa Book

In The Herb Lover’s Spa Book: Create a Luxury Spa Experience at Home With Fragrant Herbs from Your Garden Sue Goetz comes at herbs from a different direction. She takes 19 common herbs from Aloe vera to witch hazel and with the help of beeswax, alcohol, salt and vinegar turns their sap, foliage, and flowers into facial steam, bathing potions, herbal teas, herbal scrubs, healing ointments and more. What do you need? Invigoration? Soothing? Healing? Your herb garden can provide all of these.

Goetz begins with the design of your garden which will very well include more than herbs. How do you want to arrange plants and spaces to give you a retreat where you can refresh yourself? We gardeners know that our time in the garden is about more than the plants. There is sun and shade, fragrance, birdsong, and maybe the sound of trickling water.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as mints, are not only culinary herbs (and a popular song) they are also the basis, singly and in combination, for tub teas, foot scrubs, aftershave, and other spa potions.

For Goetz the rose is an herb and it certainly is used in many lotions and balms. The rose water that is used in some recipes is not difficult to make. Count on me to make my own this summer. My rugosa roses are fragrant and perfect for this project.

I’ve sometimes looked longingly in stores at clear spray bottles with fancy labels for water to spray on linens when you iron them. To me they speak of an organized life with old fashioned amenities. I have never bought them of course, but with Goetz’s help I realized I can make these myself very easily. Sometimes I am amazed that I don’t instantly see the obvious.

I have had an herb garden for many years. I always laugh when I see photos of neat geometric herb gardens that look nothing like mine. My herbs have been more rowdy than neat and I love them for their energy and their willingness to be undemanding while giving me savor in my kitchen, fresh fragrance in my linen closet, and lots and lots of pollinators in the garden.

If you are a new gardener an herb garden will satisfy you with the success the common herbs will give you, and if you are an experienced gardener Goetz, Morgan and McCormick will show how to grow more exotics like lemongrass and new delicious and soothing ways to use them.

Herb garden in front of our house

My herb garden in front of the house

Between the Rows   March 21, 2015

Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski

 

Peter Kukielski, author of Roses Without Chemicals

Peter Kukielski, author of Roses Without Chemicals

Peter Kukielski knows how to grow roses without chemicals and I have learned a little about disease resistant roses over the past 30 years. One thing I love about our Annual Rose Viewing is the chance to tell visitors that you do not need an arsenal of chemicals to grow healthy, beautiful roses. I did not always know this. My rose education began when we moved to Heath in 1979. In my admiration for Katherine White, wife of the brilliant writer E.B. White, and her book Onward and Upward in the Garden, I determined that I too would grow romantic old-fashioned roses in my country garden from the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery in California.

The very first rose I planted was Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, sometimes called Cuisse de Nymph, La Seduisante or Maiden’s Blush.  This is an old alba rose, a fragrant blush pink rose with slightly blue green foliage and much hardier than you might expect from her name. I came to think that Passionate Nymphs must have a lot of stamina.

The Passionate Nymph is nearly buried right now, but I think she likes the snow and prefers to be blanketed and thus protected from the terrible frigid temperatures of February.

Other hardy alba roses line the Rose Walk, Celestial, Felicite Parmentier, Queen of Denmark, Madame Plantier, and Semi-plena, as well as damasks, rugosas, hardy Griffith Buck roses and nameless farm girl roses. Many of these are fragrant and all have healthy foliage without any help from me. Early hybridizers put fragrance and disease resistance high on their list of vital attributes. What those roses don’t have is a long bloom season. Thus the Annual Rose Viewing is scheduled for the last Sunday in June when, for a brief period, all the roses are in bloom.

Happily for rose lovers, and organic gardeners who never considered growing roses, dozens of new disease resistant roses have been hybridized that also have a long bloom period. It was Peter Kukielski, former Curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden, who first introduced me to the lush First Crush and Cinderella and other hybrids created by the German Kordes company. It was over 20 years ago that the German government outlawed the kinds of poisons that rose growers routinely used. This set the Kordes hybridizers to creating beautiful disease resistant roses with a long bloom season.

Now other hybridizers have hopped on the band wagon. I was a little dubious about roses groups with names like Oso Easy, but these are also roses bred with disease resistance. Drift roses are another family of small shrubby disease resistant rose in shades of peach, pink, coral and red.

Kukielski also introduced me to Earth Kind roses. Again I thought the name was a marketing gimmick, but no, these are old roses tested and classified by Texas A&M to be disease resistant. Red Knock Out, New Dawn and The Fairy are familiar roses that claim the Earth Kind label.

When I spoke to Kukielski recently I asked why the list of Earth Kind roses hadn’t grown any longer. He assured me I shouldn’t have to wait too much longer. In the meantime I can watch the rose trial gardens set up at NaugatuckValleyCommunity College in Connecticut, Cornell University, and at the Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine where Kukielski lives and is now leading the northeast rose trials as part of the Earth Kind Team. He is also Executive Director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (ARTS) which will soon have a website up and running. He has his own new website the millennial rose garden.

Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukiuelski

Roses Without Chemicals

Right now you can get Kukielski’s new book, Roses Without Chemicals: 150 Disease Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses (Timber Press $19.95)

Kukielski wants unhappy or potential rose gardeners to know that failure in the rose garden is not their fault, it is (often) the fault of the rose’s genes. However, he does say that there are things you are responsible for.

Roses need a good site that has at least six hours of sun a day.

Roses need a good soil, with a pH  between  5.5-7, enriched with compost and a layer of mulch.

Roses need consistent water especially for the first year or two after planting. However the soil must drain well or the roots will rot.

Roses need annual helpings of compost and an organic fertilizer like Rose-Tone, as well as a renewed layer of mulch.

Gardeners are familiar with hybrid vegetable seeds with disease resistance. New varieties are always being developed to resist various rots, mildews, fusarium and blights. This makes success more sure for the vegetable gardener. Now rose lovers can look for roses with genetic disease resistance and a long bloom period. Red Knock Out Roses have gotten a lot of publicity but some of  Kukielski’s favorites are Drift landscape roses in Pink, Peach and Coral, Oso Easy Cherry Pie, Julia Child yellow rose and three Kordes hybrids: KOSMOS (pale creamy peach), Cinderella (pink) and Brothers Grimm (orange). That is just the beginning. More easy care, disease resistant roses are on their way.

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I will be giving a talk about the sustainable rose at the Western Mass Master Gardener Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 21 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. I will also be selling my book The Roses at the End of the Road. For full information about the Symposium go to www.wmmga.org. Hope to see you there.

The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose

The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose

Between the Rows   March 14, 2015