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Dear Friend and Gardener

Dreaming of trees

American sycamores

American sycamores on both side of the street

Since moving to Greenfield we seem unable to get through a day, or night, without thinking and dreaming about trees. When we bought our house, which was surrounded by nothing more than lawn, our attention was taken by the giant American sycamore on the tree belt in front of our house. I called an acquaintance, Dennis Ryan, who is a retired arborist and professor at the University of Massachusetts. I described our tree which we believed was a sycamore, but were not sure. He asked if it shed lots of bark as well as leaves. I gritted my teeth and said yes, it was always shedding bark. American sycamore it is, not a London plane tree which has a similar and handsome mottled bark.

The only other tree in front of our house is a lilac tree. This Japanese lilac tree is a true syringa. When it bloomed after we took possession of our house in  June 2015 we were thrilled with the large white panicled blossoms that were so fragrant they perfumed our who yard. It took a little research to discover its name, but I soon began to notice that a number of Japanese lilac trees are being planted in town. It doesn’t seem to be on many lists of recommended town trees but I think it should be. It grows to about 25 feet tall, with a similar spread and blooms through June in our region.

Japanese syringa

Japanese lilac tree in mid June

roadside maple trees

Roadside maple trees

We got those beauties with the house, but we wanted trees for the back garden as well. The first concern is to plant the right tree in the right spot. Our choice was river birch because it loves wet soil. River birch has exfoliating bark, a clumping habit, and will grow to 40-70 feet. It has grown well and is now about 20 feet tall. We liked it so much we planted another in the same bed.

Trees are an important part of our domestic landscapes, providing shade and interesting form and color to delight our eyes as it dances in the wind or changes color from delicate greens in the spring and brilliant color in the fall. While there is no denying the aesthetic delight of trees, there are the services that trees provide. They clean our air, provide oxygen, cool our cities, create barriers for unattractive views, muffle the sound of busy streets, and provide food for insects and birds that eat the insects, as well as a dozen other benefits.

Trees are important to the streetscapes of our town. Greenfield has tree wardens who can work with residents who want trees on their street. In addition, Greening Greenfield is a community organization designed to increase the sustainability of our town. One element of their goal is to increase the number of trees lining our streets.

Like all of us, trees have a lifetime. Once there were giant elms marching up and down Main Street providing beauty, shade and a sense of stability. Then Dutch elm disease hit Greenfield’s Main Street, and elms all over the country. There are ongoing efforts to replace the street trees in Greenfield. I’m sure we have all seen young trees planted by the town on the tree strip or on the front lawns of residences with their watering bags.

My neighbor Wendy Sibbison and I are interested in getting more trees on our street. When Sibbison was on the town council 20 years ago she was instrumental in getting a number of trees planted on our street, but some of them have died. Other trees on the street are simply old and failing. We met with the town tree wardens, Paul Ratskevitz and Mike Duclos, and they gave us a list of the trees that the town usually plants. They explained that residents can request a tree, or trees for their street and their name will be put on a waiting list. There is not a lot of money for street trees in the town budget so it is hard to say how long residents will have to wait. It is also possible for a resident to buy a street tree themselves and the town will plant it, and maintain it for a year with a water bag. In that case it is possible that the tree will be planted much more quickly.

Sibbison pointed out that the trees on our street are planted on residents’ lawns where the tree roots are less constricted and there is less stress from road salt. Paul Raskevitz said they prefer planting trees on lawns for that very reason. In fact Massachusetts General Law (M.G.L.) Chapter 87, Section 7, specifically allows towns and cities to plant trees within 20 feet of the public right of way. These trees are considered to be ‘public shade trees’. Aside from the benefit to the tree, planting on a lawn lessens the problems of hitting public utility lines under the tree strip, or the power lines above it.

Between the Rows   September 30, 2017

The Art of Farming – A fundamental human endeavor

Nancy Hanson

Jason Dragon, Nancy Hanson and Pete Solis (L-R)

Where do people learn the art of farming? Farmers used to raise farmers as well as crops of hay, wheat, potatoes or other vegetables. Children learned the art of farming at their father’s – or mother’s knee.

Then came a time when the farms got bigger and bigger, and more expensive, as did farming equipment, but the farmers became fewer and fewer. And yet we all need to eat. Where do our farmers come from now?

Recently I met with Nancy Hanson, Director of Farm Programs at Hampshire College at the barn where students and staff come to pick up their CSA order for the week. We were surrounded by bins of beets, pepper, carrots and other vegetables waiting for the week’s allotments to be collected. Hanson is a woman who grew up on a farm started by her grandfather, then passed on to her father. In the mid 1980s the federal government created a program to control milk prices by offering money to dairy farmers if they would sell their herds. Hanson’s father accepted the offer.

Carrots

Carrots for CSA pickup at Hampshire college

Hanson hadn’t wanted to be a dairy farmer, but she did want to work with plants; After high school she took jobs working with ornamental plants. “After some years I learned what I didn’t know in those jobs and eventually was accepted into the University of Connecticut and earned a degree in ornamental horticulture,” she said.

She continued working with ornamentals in Boston and Maine. For a couple of years she was the estate horticulturist in Manchester by the Sea. “A couple bought an estate that was in disrepair. They renovated the buildings, pruned and replanted trees, and perennials.”

Hanson said that it was during those couple of years that she leaned to think about design and aesthetics in ways that were new to her. As part of her job she cared for a quarter acre vegetable garden. “That’s where I was the happiest, and that’s when vegetables became a passion.”

In the 90s Hanson learned more and more about organic growing. “This was interesting to me because it meant you had to understand the whole system,” she said. In 1999 she applied for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) position at Hampshire College, and she has been there ever since. Hanson works with two other professional farmers. Pete Solis mostly works with livestock like sheep, pigs, beef and hens, while Jason Dragon is mainly in charge of the vegetable fields. All three work with each other, and with the students.

Flock of sheep

Sheep flock at Hampshire College

Hanson explained that they have six students working full time in the summer with crops that are chosen to be ready for fall harvest. Work study students work on the farm in fall and spring. Some of those students do see farming as their life’s work, but others have different levels of interest in raising food.

“The goal is not to train farmers,” Hanson said. “Students work within academic programs like the introduction to food systems. We want them all to appreciate the goodness of fresh vegetables. This is the 26th year of our CSA. About one third of the harvest goes directly to the cafeterias serving the nearly 1500 students, and college faculty and staff.”

Hampshire’s program is not designed like a major in other colleges. Hanson explained that HampshireCollege was founded in 1965 by the other four valley colleges, the University of Massachusetts, Smith College, Amhers tCollege and Mt Holyoke College. Through the 60’s the administrations of these colleges felt the waves of new theories that were worthy of exploration and practice – but didn’t fit into their own academic visions. Thus was 800 acres of farmland bought and Hampshire College opened in 1970.

Section of Pick Your Own CSA at Hampshire College

Section of Pick Your Own CSA at Hampshire College

To this day HampshireCollege remains an experimenting institution with students creating their own self directed programs that usually include study related to societal or community problems. There are no exams or grades given. For example, the CSA program was designed and put in place by two students who made it their senior capstone project.

Hanson said that they try to bring the farm into other study fields. Art students come to the farm and one teacher brings students to look at water systems. They give tours, and this year they made bouquets with their own flowers to sell to parents bringing in the new freshmen. The bouquets sparked everyone’s interest in the gardens.”

Hanson said it is the combination of farming and teaching that makes her happy.

“I’m still here because as a teacher there is always some smart alec who asks me a question I can’t answer – and keeps me learning about something I’ve been involved with since I could walk. Some students are familiar with farms, but to some the farm is a totally new thing. I want them to realize that farming is a fundamental human endeavor. It is great to watch a student get it, when things start clicking.”

**************************************

Recently I talked to Ben Grosscup about a Pollinators and the Urban Homestead workshop where you can learn the key principles of gardening for pollinators on Ben’s urban homestead and emerging food forest. Sponsored by Western Mass Pollinator Networks, this free, in-depth workshop will be co-led by landscape designer Tom Sullivan (pollinatorswelcome.com)  Sunday, October 1, 9:30 a.m. to noon. 195 Chapman St., Greenfield.  PLEASE REGISTER by emailing your name to wmassbees@gmail.com. ###

Plant Now for Spring Bloom

Crocuses

Crocuses in early April on the Bridge of Flowers

scillas and crocus

Scillas and crocus on Bridge of Flowers

If you want to have  spring bloom in your garden you have to get to work right now. Crocus, scillas and snowdrops are three of the earliest spring bloomers in the garden – or lawn. You have to start thinking about planting them in the fall if you want them spring bloom.

I planted very few crocus while living in Heath, but now that I am living in town with a sidewalk next to the front lawn and conifer bed, I feel I must add color to this spot. I have been looking through the catalogs where I can find white crocus with golden hearts, crocus in all shades of yellow and gold and crocus in pale to deep purple.

There is also a category of small crocuses, properly named tommasinianus, and more lovingly called tommies. Some consider these the ideal crocus to plant in the lawn because their foliage is finer and less likely to offend people who like to keep their lawns very neat. The foliage of any bulb needs to ripen, which is to say it should be left to its own schedule gathering sunlight which will feed the bulb for good blooming the following year.

Crocus and all the little bulbs can be planted in beds which are cared for with fertilizers and watering, but these beds are a little more likely to attract hungry squirrels. The advantage to planting any crocus in the lawn is that squirrels tend not to search them out in the grass. However, if you are going to plant crocus in the lawn the lawn should not be fertilized or watered because this will likely make the grass too vigorous and overcome the little crocus bulbs.

The crocus in its many sizes and colors may be the first early bloomer we think of, but scillas, also known as Siberian squills, have dainty blue flowers that can live happily in a lawn and turn it into a reflection of the blue spring sky.

Snowdrops in the lawn

Snowdrops in the lawn

inches high and will naturalize and spread nicely. Because the blossoms are so small, it is best to plant them where you will be able to see and enjoy that early bloom.

Snowdrops in the garden next to the house

Snowdrops in the garden next to the house

Snowdrops are not to be confused with snowflakes which is a completely different family, Leucojum aestivum. The flower of the snowflakes, sometimes called a summer snowflake even though it usually blooms in late April and May, closely resembles the snowdrop flower, a drooping white blossom with a  touch of green. However the snowflake is at least a foot tall. It is more noticeable in the garden than the snowdrop but still I think it is good to plant these small bulbs in clumps.

Because these early blooming bulbs are so tiny it is suggested that they be planted as closely as 10 to 15 bulbs in a square foot. They only need to be planted about three inches deep in soil that drains well. Too wet a location can rot bulbs. I mostly planted daffodils in my Heath lawn and my technique was to dig up about a square foot of turf, dig in a little compost and phosphorous which could be bone meal or phosphate rock. Then arrange the bulbs as per directions in the soil. I replace the piece of turf and wait for spring blooms. This technique works as well for the small bulbs. These very early spring bulbs are tiny so you need to plant a fair number of them to make them noticeable.

Fortunately these little bulbs are not terribly expensive. I have just ordered four different sets of little bulbs that ranged between $13-18 for 50 bulbs. The bulbs are small so they won’t put on much of a show next spring – but they will increase.  If I get too impatient I can buy another 200 in 2018.

Fall is also the season for planting garlic bulbs. You can buy them online. I got my first bulbs from a friend, but Filaree Garlic Farm offers about 100 varieties of hard neck and soft neck garlic. There is not much to planting garlic in the fall. It is possible to break apart a supermarket garlic bulb and plant those, but it is really a better to plant what is intended as seed garlic. The bulb will be of good size and healthy.

Like all the bulbs garlic cloves should be planted in well drained soil. Plant each clove about 6-8 inches apart in a 3 inch deep furrow. Give it agood straw mulch about 6 inches deep. In our area garlic should be planted by the end of October. In the spring you can remove most of the mulch. In addition to foliage the plant produces scapes which should be cut off because they will sap energy needed for making a nice big bulb. Those scapes are useful and can be used in recipes that call for garlic. The new bulbs can be harvested in July.

I will only be planting little bulbs this fall, but of course, if you want daffodils, tulips, alliums, low growing anemones, and more this is the time to look for bulbs in garden centers, or online. There are many choices

Between the Rows   September 9, 2016

Visiting Neighborhood Edible Gardens

Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis

Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis  planted their first edible garden

The edible garden tour arranged by Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener of TempleIsrael took us to several gardens within walking distance of my house. The first garden we visited is a very pretty small garden created by Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis. This was their first garden and they showed their wisdom by saying they thought it best to start small. We admired the design, the assortment of vegetables and the exclamation points of marigolds. But we also noticed a summer squash plant that had yellowing and drooping foliage. How could a single plant in a well tended garden droop for lack of water? Well, of course, the problem was not a lack of water. Nancee Bershof, an experienced gardener, took one look at the plant and then named the problem – the presence of squash borers.

Never having any experience with squash borers I was as surprised as anyone. (It was probably too cold up in Heath.) The plant was pulled out and passed around enabling us all to examine the damage so that we would recognize the problem in our own gardens.

Squash borer damage

Squash borer damage

When I got home that evening I did recognize the problem in my own edible garden. I am only growing zucchini and yellow summer squash, so I could not see that there was anything to do but pull out the affected plants. However, if you plant butternut, or other squash growing on a vine, you can slit the stem and try to pull out the borer. If you are successful, you can then bury a section of the vine and it can make new roots and continue growing.

Prevention is the best solution to vine borers. Right after planting seeds, cover the site with a floating row cover to protect the plants as they emerge from the squash borer moth. You can also plant radish seeds around each squash hill because they will repel borers and squash bugs.

When the summer squash plants have established stems you can wrap two inches of stem with aluminum foil to protect them, and redo that foil wrapping every week or so, as the plant grows. The foil must touch the soil. Or you can make use of one of the safest organic pesticides, Bacillus thuringiensis often referred to as simply BT. You can begin a weekly regime of spraying with Btk, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki that can specifically control caterpillar pests like cabbage moths and vine borers.

Tomatoes staked high off the ground

Tomatoes staked high off the ground

Mary Chicoine and Glen Ayers care for another edible garden, a veritable urban homestead amazing in its size and variety. There were fruit trees, a strawberry bed, cucumber trellises and countless vegetables. Well staked tomatoes grew in one area and we were told that the staking system was designed to keep the tomato foliage up off the ground to help prevent tomato blights.

Fortunately we did not see any tomato blights on our tour, but recently this has been a threat to our vegetable gardens and a disaster for farms. Tomato blights are caused by wind borne fungi spores. The spores take hold of tomato foliage when it is wet for several hours. There are several ways to reduce the threat. Plant the tomatoes in a way that allows good air circulation and keeps the plants off the ground. Use drip irrigation or at least water early in the day so foliage will dry quickly. Clean up all diseased plants and foliage and remove them. It is best not to compost affected plants, and always be sure to rotate crops from year to year.

Prevention is best, but if blight is caught very early it might be possible to attack the problem with fungicides like copper spray, oil based fungicides like Neem, or Actinovate a bacterial fungicide.

Happily, there are a number of blight resistant tomato varieties from Jasper Hybrid cherry tomato, Brandywine, Yellow Pear, Tigrella and Roma, among others.

Coneflowers

Coneflowers for the pollinators

It was inspiring to visit these edible gardens and see how much food can be grown on a town lot. I must also say that the riotously growing pollinator plants in the gardens, coneflowers, bee balm, rudbeckia, zinnias and others added color and beauty. As I take stock of my edible garden this fall I am trying to think of ways I might add a few more edibles than I have so far.

Between the Rows  August 19, 2017

Weeds in My Garden

  1. Pennsylvania smartweed

    One of my weeds – Pennsylvania smartweed

    What is a weed? How do I get rid of weeds? These are two of the questions gardeners agonize over.

I own a wonderful book, Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and DiTomasso, that offers a page of extensive information of about 160 weeds, and a facing page of photographs showing those weeds in their various stages of development and flower form from baby seedling to seed at the end of the season. I use this book to identify my weeds and I have a substantial collection. I keep hoping that naming my weeds will give me power over them.

Some weeds like nettles, lambs quarters, hairy galinsoga with its tiny white flowers and bedstraw were common problems in my Heath garden but have not appeared in Greenfield. I cannot tell you why.

The most prolific weed in my garden is probably the common violet which fills the south border and fights to enter the other beds as well. However, I have also identified broadleaf plaintain, dock, ground ivy, mullein, Pennyslvania smartweed which is quite a pretty plant, prostrate spurge, Virginia creeper, bindweed, moneywort, purslane, woodsorrel, white clover, vetch, garlic mustard, and mugwort. These are not the only weeds in my garden, but I cannot identify any others.

Garlic mustard is the most dangerous weed in my garden. I have no idea where it came from. I saw it for the first time in my garden last year and I did not recognize the leaves. They were nice leaves, and I have been known to forget what I planted where so I let it grow. Fortunately for me when I asked a visiting friend if she recognized the plant she gasped and ordered me to pull it up immediately. I have never seen it bloom in my garden, but I have found those leaves coming up here and there. I continue pulling them up.

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is an aggressive invasive plant that originated in Eurasia. It was originally imported as a garden herb and salad green. Now it can take over woodlands where beautiful spring blooms like trilliums, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches and others bloom. They outcompete these spring beauties taking up light, moisture and space. Deer can eat plants around the garlic mustard, giving it more space to spread. Other creatures who depend on spring natives for their food, foliage or nectar and such, are then out of luck. I continue to pull up this weed, and wonder where it came from and how it comes up here and there in the garden.

Some of my weeds do not trouble me too much. I am loosing the battle with violets, and console myself with the thought that their pretty flowers feed the pollinators in season, and cover the ground – so  that other more noxious weeds cannot get a foot hold. As for white clover, I do not even consider it a weed. It is an important plant in my lawn and is also a pollinator plant. My husband likes it so much he has used it where we are replanting sections of lawn.

That brings up the question – what is a weed – really? The best description is simply a plant that is growing where we do not want it. We want the clover.

Once we identify what we consider a weed we need to find a way to get rid of it. We can always pull up our weeds and put them on the compost pile, but we should not put plants gone to seed in the compost, because the heat in most compost bins is not hot enough to kill the seeds. We should always try to get rid of our weeds before they set seed.

A new suggestion is to cut down the foliage of a weed. If this is done two or three times the roots will have been starved of nutrition and die.

Wendy and her mini-dragon

Wendy and her mini-dragon

My neighbor bought a flame thrower and has been using it to eradicate the weeds in her gravel driveway. The weeds bothered her sufficiently that she was considering paving the driveway, which would not only have been an expense, it would have been an impermeable surface and would not keep our rains on site instead of sending it into the storm drains.

She gave us a demonstration showing that the flame thrower does not need to burn the weed to ash. The flame is so hot that it will not only burn the foliage, it will also kill the roots. The small propane tank holds about two hours of flame, but a larger canister can be hooked up to the torch.

Horticultural vinegar is not an herbicide but just a few drops on the center of a weed will kill it the same way a chemical herbicide kills a plant.

Weeds will always be with us. We can mulch, but seeds are always in the air and will find a place to root.  However, we can control them and we can do it without  using poisons.

Between the Rows   August 5, 2017

Onions and Garlic for Savor

 

garlic ready for harvest

Garlic ready for harvest

Cooks can hardly start a dinner without peeling with an onion, or some garlic, or maybe a shallot. For all the common necessity of onions in the kitchen, or even the gourmet at the table, alliums are not difficult to grow.I have grown regular onions and garlic. Onions can be grown from seed. The onions I usually grow begin as a handful of sets, immature plants that you can buy at local garden stores in the spring, or order online from a farm like Dixondale Farms that specializes in organic onions, leeks, and shallots. This is one way you can find a wide variety of onion plants. In our region we can grow long day onions that need 14 or more hours of sun every day. The onion patch should have fertile, slightly acidic (pH 6-6.8), well drained soil and be sited where there is full sun. Onions are hardy plants and can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost. Here in Greenfield that could be as early as April 1.

Onion sets should be planted in a well prepared and fertilized bed, about 1-2 inches deep and watered well. Because they have such shallow roots, they should be watered regularly and kept well weeded.

Onions are ready for harvest when the tops bend over. You can always pull up a slightly immature onion before the tops flops, but don’t rush that bending of the tops. When the onion tops have fallen over, and the onion shoulders are in view, pull them up and leave them to dry in the garden for a few days. Bring them to a sheltered space if there is rain. After they are dry trim the top and the roots and store them in a cool place.

Although I always thought of onions as something to add savor to my cooking, they do have health benefits. Onions are a source of vitamin C, sulphuric compounds (the element that makes your eyes water)  flavonoids and phytochemicals. These phytochemicals have antimicrobial properties and can help lower blood pressure. They are high in  antioxidents which battle the free radicals in our blood that can cause disease.

Garlic harvest

Garlic Harvest

Garlic is another common member of the allium family, and like onions garlic has health giving phytochemicals and antioxidants.

It is not too late to get a garlic crop for 2018 in the ground. In fact, garlic is planted in the fall, towards the end of October. You want to plant at least four weeks before the ground freezes. You can plant the individual cloves from a supermarket garlic bulb, but it really is best to begin with good seed garlic from a place like Filaree Garlic Farm that sells 100 varieties of organic garlic. I guarantee this is a way to get a better crop from your own garden.

In late October prepare your garlic bed. Garlic also needs rich, well drained soil. Dig in well rotted compost before planting. I made three furrows about 6-8 inches apart. Push the cloves into the furrow, point up, and cover with soil so it is about 3 inches deep. Plant cloves about 4-6 inches apart. Water well and mulch with an eight inch layer of hay or straw. Tucked into rich soil the cloves will start to send out roots before the frost. There are many varieties and flavors of garlic. If you plant different varieties be sure to label your rows so you can later identify the varieties you like best.

Garlic starts to send up shoots through the mulch early in the spring. When the weather is really warm you can remove some of the mulch to let the soil warm up. Keep the garlic watered as you would any vegetable bed.

The large garlic had the scape removed and the small bulb kept its scape

The large garlic had the scape removed and the small bulb kept its scape

Curly scapes will appear in June. The scapes should be cut off because they steal energy needed by the forming bulb. I didn’t cut off the scapes of my first harvest and the bulbs were quite small. The scapes can be diced and used for flavor in any recipe calling for garlic.

In July the foliage will start to yellow. When half of the foliage is yellow, some time in July, it is time to dig up the new garlic bulbs. Do not pull them up. Be careful with your spade not to dig into the bulbs.

Let them dry in a shady spot for a couple of days being careful not to damage the papery skins. When dry cut off the stem, leaving only about an inch, and trim the roots. Store them in a cool place. They will be fully ripe in about 6 weeks, but of course you can use them as you need them.

Choose a different place for your garlic every year.

Alliums are an essential part of our pantries, and they are easy to have right at hand.

Between the Rows  July 30, 2017

Gardens of the High Line

Gardens of the High Line

Gardens of the High Line by Oudolf and Darke

Those involved with the creation of the High Line gardens in New York City were always aware of their predecessor, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls. Both gardens make use of disused railroad/trolley tracks to create a beautiful garden that will welcome strollers from the neighborhood and visitors from far away. But there is a difference between these two public gardens that goes beyond physical scale.

In Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke (Timber Press $40) the authors explain that the difference lies in their aesthetic and philosophy. The Bridge of Flowers was always intended to be a bright and colorful flower garden. The High Line gardens were inspired by the wildflowers that took over the space after the railroad was discontinued. A survey of the High Line before work began counted 161 plant species, with a pretty even split between indigenous and introduced varieties. The designers of the High Line focused, but not exclusively, on native plants, trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses and the way biological process change the scene over time.

High Line Garden

High Line planting leaving railroad tracks visible

I was fortunate enough to visit the High Line in 2010 with a friend when only the first section of the now 1.45 mile long park was completed. Strolling along through a small woodland of gray birches and alongside casual plantings of ferns, grasses and flowering spring bulbs that gave way to native flowers like Amsonia was magical – a walk through a wild garden but floating past the old brick buildings and newer towers of lower Manhattan while catching glints of sunlight on the Hudson River to the west.

The different perspective of the city was astounding. It seemed almost impossible to be walking in mid-air. Piet Oudolf, one of the great modern designers of our age, seemed to make a point of this disassociation between city and garden in the 10th Street Square area. Here the walkway swerves to the side to make way for amphitheater seating going down to large windows that gave a view of the traffic below, a visceral reminder of the fact that this garden was in a great bustling metropolis. Those down on the street can look up and see garden visitors. I see you and you see me!

High Line 10th Street Square

High Line 10th Street Square

I like the title of Gardens of the High Line with its subtitle Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes. The Elevating pun seems like a hint of the pleasures of this elevated site, elevating the spirit, and touching the reality of nature’s beauties.

The book begins with an introduction by Robert Hammond, one of the founders of the Friends of the High Line. He talks about this hybrid space, “It’s an art museum on an industrial structure. It’s a community space . . . . a botanical garden . . . it’s an immersion in the city, not an escape from it. . . . It’s always free. It is a living, changing space that anyone can experience.”

Every one of these four season gardens, from the entry into the Gansevoort Woodland, the Washington Grasslands, Chelsea Thicket, Meadow Walk and all the others, gets its own description with big, beautiful photos over the seasons and from different angles. Plants are named and the rationale behind designs are explained.

High Line Northern Spur

High Line Northern Spur

The High Line is a public garden but the book reveals it as a work of art, as is the book itself. Rick Darke’s photographs carry us along through the woodlands, meadows, grasslands, and even a lawn, a walk almost as good as one on your own two feet and feasting with your own two eyes. Darke’s photographs do not show the High Line as a perfect uninhabited garden; he include images of the social life created by the garden. If you have the chance I recommend that you make the High Line a part of your New York visit. If a physical visit is not in the cards, this stunning book is the next best thing.

For me the book is a reminder of my own visit, and a spur to making another trip to see the completed garden. I suspect many people will visit and walk the High Line with no greater purpose than enjoying nameless beauties they had never seen before, or certainly never in a public garden. A visiting gardener will have her eyes opened to new plants, and new ways of using unusual plants, as well as a new recognition of the richness of pollinator and bird life attracted to this garden.

As said before, the Bridge of Flowers is nothing like the High Line. However, right in Greenfield the Energy Park at the end of Miles Street has been based on the High Line principles before the High Line was imagined. Right now the Energy Park is in the process of a renovation, with new walkways and new pollinator friendly plantings. Replanting and editing is an ongoing process, just like on the High Line. I hope you will visit the Energy Park. It is not as far away as New York City

Backyard Berries for Delight

Raspberries

Raspberries beginning to ripen

If you have berries in your backyard you can have fresh blueberries on your cereal in the morning and raspberries on your shortcake or ice cream for your dinner dessert. As far as I am concerned these are the easiest backyard berries to plant and harvest, but I am considering adding thornless blackberries.

No matter what kind of berries you want, the first thing to do is choose your site and prepare your soil. All berries need at least 6 hours of full sun a day, and regular watering in well draining soil. Check your soil pH. Raspberries prefer soil 5.5 to 6.5 and blueberries need more acid soil, below 6.0.

I grew different varieties of red raspberries in Heath, and I have two rows of red raspberries and one row of golden raspberries in Greenfield. I think these are easy to grow and handle, and I confess that the older I get the easier I want my gardening tasks to be.

Preparing the soil means digging out all the weeds and testing the soil. Then you can incorporate compost and a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Those numbers refer to the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, the three major nutrients needed for good plant growth, in the fertilizer. All this should be done at least a week or two before planting.

I chose bare root Prelude raspberries which are supposed to begin bearing at the end of June, and Nova which begins fruiting a bit later and bears into early August. My neighbor gave me five gold raspberry roots which will bear even later. These berries do not have large roots, and should be planted only deeply enough to cover the root, and spaced at least 18 inches apart. They should be watered in thoroughly after planting and watered well, an inch a week over the first season.

My three rows of five raspberry plants each are arranged with a bit more than two feet between the rows which are mulched to keep down the weeds. Those rows will fill out with extra canes over time. Next year I plan to install T-trellises that will define and hold in the three rows, making harvesting easier. Canes should be cut out after bearing at the end of the season.

raspberry trellis

Raspberry trellis of a different sort to keep cane contained and controlled

Earlier this week I visited a friend’s garden, and took came away with a box of ripe red raspberries. Already a few berries have formed on my new bushes , but I do not expect any real harvest until next year. Fifteen bushes is not a lot of berries, and I don’t see myself boiling up jars of jam, but there will be enough berries to eat fresh, and enough to freeze for future treats.

Blueberries

Blueberries under netting

The blueberries we planted in Heath over 35 years ago are still bearing generously. I assumed the soil there was sufficiently acid and so it proved. The one mistake we made was not to consider how to protect the berries from the birds. Amazingly  birds are not very interested in raspberries. We did ultimately put up a kind of netted tunnel arrangement, but it was after years of makesift netting schemes. Here in Greenfield we have arranged four bushes in a square with a planned net tent to cover them.

In 2015 we planted our potted blueberry bushes, even easier than planting bare root plants, at the end of the South Border which we hoped was sufficiently dry. We were wrong. This year we moved the four bushes which seemed healthy but had not gained much growth. We put them into the North Border which is a higher raised bed. They have gained in growth, but still no berries. I am going to spread a little Espoma Holly-tone (4-3-1) fertilizer in that bed. Earlier I spread some around my new acid-loving rhododendrons because it includes a measure of sulfur which will lower the pH of my soil. It will do the same for the blueberries. We will think positively about blueberries in 2018.

Our new town garden only has room for two edible berries, but I want to add that we planted two elderberry bushes which delight the bees when they are in bloom, and the birds when they bear their berries in late summer. That is all we require of them. However, the small berries these easy care shrubs produce can be eaten by humans as well especially if you are interested in making elderberry syrup to stave off winter colds and the flu, or elderberry jam, or elderberry wine.

My neighbor's thornless blackberries

My neighbor’s thornless blackberries

When we were in Heath, the house came with a wickedly thorny blackberry patch, but a Greenfield neighbor has thornless blackberries supported by her back fence. They are delicious out of hand, but can be turned into wonderful jam or jelly. Nourse Farms offers five varieties that will bear fruit at the end of July and into September. These berries need a lot more room than other bramble fruits. They should be planted three to four feet apart, with three yards between the rows. They would benefit by being given the support of a larger T-trellis than is needed for regular raspberries. Or you can provide stabilizing wires to hold them against a sturdy fence as my neighbor has done. They need soil with a pH of 6.5-6.8.

We are fortunate to live where we have access to a wonderful berry farm like Nourse Farms in Whately where we can get a large selection of berry plants and a large selection of cultivars with good advice about planting and harvesting.

Between the Rows   July 15, 2017

Tranquility in the Shade

The Cathedral Walk

Cathedral Walk at Mt. Cuba Center

The Master Gardeners organized a wonderful garden tour to Philadelphia and environs.  Both Chanticleer and the Mt.CubaCenter gave us the shade of a woodland and I am so glad both were included.

The first garden we went to was Chanticleer. Once the Rosengarten estate, it opened as a public garden in 1993. I had expected lush, but neat beds of exotic flowers, but what I found at Chanticleer was a peaceful garden with large potted plants in the terraces around the house, a vegetable garden that donated its produce to the local food bank, and sunny “wildflower” hills with paths that led down to shady woodlands,. That shade was especially welcome on what was the hottest day of our tour.

Drinking fountain

Artistic drinking fountain

One of the design and functional elements in the garden that provided sustainability for visitors was the presence of drinking fountains! It has been a long time since I have seen drinking fountains in public spaces and to find drinking water on a blistering hot day was a blessing.

In addition we found beautiful handmade bridge railings and benches for moments to rest and enjoy the tranquility of the shade. Every sense was engaged, the whisper of the breezes in the trees, the play of light and shadow over the green plantings, and the quieting of busy thoughts.

Though the woodlands provided green shade there was color like the Indian pinks which were actually red with a touch of yellow, and buttery yellow corydalis.

On our second day we traveled to the Mt.Cuba Center where our group spent most of our time in a shady woodland. When the Copeland family bought this land it was always their intent “to be a place where people will learn to appreciate our native plants and to see how these plants can enrich their lives so that they, in turn, will become conservators of our natural habitats.” It was just a joy to wander through the woodland filled with rhododendrons beneath tall tulip poplars that had been limbed up so high that the effect was of strolling past pillars and down a cathedral aisle.

One of the trees had been trimmed with a “coronet cut” which means that instead of just slicing off the top of a damaged tree, the cut imitated the irregular way a tree might have been naturally damaged and broken. That natural cut causes a faster rotting process that attracts birds and insects, a kind of conservation that goes beyond just caring for plants on the ground.

As we walked along the light and shade would alter and shift providing enough sunlight to allow plants to thrive and bloom.

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

Oakleaf hydrangea blossom close up

There were many native oakleaf hydrangeas in the woodland. Our guide pointed out that the ray flowers, what we think of as real flowers, are only intended to attract insects to the tiny ‘true’ flowers which is where the nectar and pollen are located. I am going to examine the hydrangeas I planted to see if these hybrids provide the same temptations to pollinators. I had wanted to buy at least one oakleaf hydrangea for our South Border, but I could not find one locally in 2015 – and I was too impatient to wait another season to plant.

Pondside primroses and ferns

Pondside primroses and ferns

One path led to a series of ponds that reflected the dappled sunlight and the surrounding trees. I was fascinated and inspired to see primroses, irises and ferns living on the banks of the ponds, as well as other unidentified water-loving plants. I began to think this was the answer to our question of how to handle the edges of the “dry stream bed” we are creating as part of our flood management plan.

Pitcher plants

Pitcher Plants

One pond included a boggy section that was planted with pitcher plants. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that lure insects that drown in its fluids. The insects decay  and the enzymes produced by the plant allow the plant to absorb all the nutrients. These are fascinating plants and always exciting to young children who visit the garden.

I was paying particular attention to low growing plants because our low maintenance garden strategy is to have large shrubs, low ground covers and a few flowering perennials and annuals to provide color. We saw large areas of pachysandra procumbens, a native plant also known as Allegheny spurge. It looks a lot like the pachysandra we see in so many gardens, and it produces small fragrant blossoms in the spring, but the leaves are not as shiny.

Green and gold, Chrysogonum virginiana, is only six inches tall but the small yellow flowers bloom in spring and fall. It likes moist shade, and is hardy in Greenfield. I have not seen this used locally, but I will be on the watch, and will be checking the offerings at Nasami Farm, the native plant nursery in Whately.

There was so much to see at these two gardens that included sunny and formal areas as well as the woodlands, but it was thought-provoking to consider that these two families were thinking of the importance of native plants and conservation, long before popular garden books, magazines, and even botanical gardens stressed the importance of these issues. Visiting these gardens give us examples of beauty that can inspire us as we consider changes in our own gardens. And there are always changes in our gardens.

Between the Rows   July 8, 2017

Bee Fest Awards Excellent Pollinator Gardens

Bee Spaces plaque

Bee Spaces plaque

The world needs more pollinator gardens. The Bee Fest organized by the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Bee Keepers Association last week included talks by bee experts Lynn-Adler  and Susannah Lerman, researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Kim Flottum the editor of Bee Culture Magazine. All gave us information about problems facing pollinators and how we can help.

Susannah Lerman told us about her research which showed that mowing a non-herbicide/pesticide and un-fertilized lawn every two weeks generated 64 varieties of pollinator plants (that some would have called weeds) and 111 pollinators including honeybees and many native bees. Her research was unanimously acclaimed by all those who have lawns to mow!

Most of us have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder which causes a whole hive to die, but the cause has been unclear. Lynn Adler has been doing research on the bee’s digestive gut. It turns out that bees have some skill in diagnosing some of their ailments and know how to medicate themselves.

She knew that many plants have been used medicinally over the centuries. She thought that those biological compounds, called secondary metabolites, might be an important medicine for bees. Her research showed that sunflower pollen and sunflower honey can both help bees suffering from Nosema ceranae, a pathogen that can kill bees in little more than a week. It has been suggested that this pathogen has been responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder that mysteriously kills whole bee hives. Where bumblebees and honey bees have access to sunflowers they tend to be much healthier.

Honeybees have an advantage over bumblebees in fighting this disease. Honeybees live in community. Their hive can live through many generations of bees. They store a good stock of honey and pollen to keep everyone fed and well. Adler said honeybees are able to diagnose disease and seem to keep a pharmacy so whenever there is illness they have the wherewithal to treat it.

Bumblebees do not overwinter together. After mating in the fall the queen bumblebee bee eats as much as she can to build up fat that will carry her through her winter hibernation in the ground. When spring arrives she leaves her home every day to feed on nectar and gather strength. At first she does everything alone, gathering nectar and pollen, laying eggs and raising the first brood. After that she will have the support of those first bees while she devotes herself to egg laying.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

I never considered sunflowers great pollinator plants. I usually think of the great Mammoth sunflowers making seeds for snacks, but a browse though any catalog will list any number of sunflowers. They have different sizes and different colors – and some of them do not make pollen. Hybridizers have created sunflowers that do not make pollen which looks messy when it falls on a tablecloth. If you want to plant sunflowers for bees be sure to buy pollen bearing varieties.

Kim Flottum spoke about the loss of pollinator habitat which has been decreasing over the years. He told us ways that habitat can be increased. One idea taking hold in the Midwest cornfields is planting a border of pollinator plants all around cornfields. Corn does not need pollinators, but if there are pollinator plant borders, bees will come and the ecosystems will be healthier.

He also reported that two million bee hives are needed to pollinate almond orchards in California but there is nothing else for the bees to eat. Almond farmers have learned the benefit of planting pollinator plants in and around their orchards. The trees are pollinated better when the bees have additional food sources.

The National Wildlife Federation created the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge to add plants that will support the decimated populations of Monarch butterflies. They plant milkweeds in public parks, civic gathering place and along the highways.

Flottum talked about how easy it is to plant pollinator plants along the highways, which then would not need to be mowed. A town could save money while being more beautiful, and a supporter of birds and bees.

Flottum left us with a few words “Plant a flower, feed a bee. Make the world a better place.”

Deval Patrick, our former governor, then told a few stories about his own beekeeping practice, but he was there to help honor those who are already feeding the bees and making the world a better place. The Franklin County Beekeeper’s Association instituted the Bee Spaces Award this year, to be given to excellent pollinator gardens.

The first Annual Bee Spaces awards were presented to ErvingElementary School for its pollinator garden, Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls and the University of Massachusetts for its two pollinator gardens.

Deval Patrick presenting  and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award

Deval Patrick presenting and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award for the Bridge of Flowers

If you have a garden supportive of pollinators, or want to add pollinator plants to your garden, you might win one of next year’s Bee Spaces awards. There are many books available at the library with lists of good pollinator plants including 100 Plants to Feed the Bees published by the Xerces Society, or you can go online to many sites including the New England Wildflower Society, newenglandwild.org. You can start collecting photos so you can apply to be a winner next spring. More information will be available soon.

Between the Rows   June 10, 2017