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A Texas Garden with Rooms, Blooms – and Art

Stocker's Entry garden in Austin

Entry to this Texas Garden at the Stocker residence in Austin

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

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

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

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

One corner in one of the Stocker garden's

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

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

Garden with pavers and flowers

One garden has pavers and flowers cohabitating happily

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

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

English garden in Austin, Texas

This is the wild English garden

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

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

Every Texas garden needs a bit of artful whimsy.

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

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

Model of the Stocker's Austin house

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

Between the Rows   May 19, 2018

Bridge of Flowers Annual Plant Sale

'Goldheart' bleeding heart

Dicentra Bleeding Heart “Goldheart’

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

Carol Delorenzo and Danny New

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

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

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

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

Bee balm and bee

Bee Balm and bee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge of Flowers Plant Saale

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

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

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

Between the Rows    May 12, 2018

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

Energy Park

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

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

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

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

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

Native Single bloodroot

Native Single Bloodroot, sign made by Wisty Rorabacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson, Energy Park volunteers

Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson, Energy Park volunteers

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

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

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

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

Between the Rows   May 5, 2018

New and Interesting Perennials This Spring

Allium Millenium

Allium ‘Millenium’ or ‘Milenium’ one of the truly dependable perennials

What new perennials will you plant in your garden this year? I don’t mean brand new on the market, but new to you. Last fall I planted more than 100 crocus bulbs: white, yellow and purple. These are not new varieties, but I have never planted crocus before. In my new garden I can’t plant many bulbs because the garden is wet and bulbs would rot. But the bit of lawn in front of the house allows a small number of crocus to make an spritely spring show.

Now I am thinking of what new perennials I will put in one of the main garden beds. The clumping Allium ‘Millenium’ is my choice. ‘Millenium; is the Perennial Plant of the Year, awarded because it is beautiful with its many rosy-purple globe flowers on 12-18 inch stems. It also has the virtue of being a low maintenance plant that is pest and disease resistant. It needs good soil and at least 6 hours of sun. It is available online and at garden centers. I recently learned that many NEW! Introductions are in so little supply that they are very hard to get in spite of all their publicity.

The Perennial Plant of the Year website lists all the plants chosen since the organization was formed in 1990. You will probably recognize many of the award winning plants in your own garden like last year’s Aesclepius tuberosa. My own garden includes the delicate pink Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Joubert,’ the rich blue Salvia ‘May Night,’ the Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ with it’s wine-red foliage, and Perovskia, also known as Russian sage, with its lavender flowers that vigorously attract honeybees.

Echinacea tenneesseensis

Echinacea tenneesseensis

There seem to be more echinaceas on the market every year. This family of dependable perennials shows off with more colors, more multicolors and more petaled with wild mop heads. One reason they have become so popular is because Echinacea, coneflower, is a wonderful pollinator plant attracting bees and butterflies. If your desire is to have a flower that is especially attractive the familiar pink variety, Echinacea purpurea, is an excellent choice. The petals act as a runway for the bee or butterfly to land on and get to the source of nectar and pollen. I found an unusual variety, Echinacea tennesseenis, with unique up-facing petals that give the flower a cup-like shape. I can’t wait to try this one. These are available at American Meadows.

Naturally I want to encourage people to plant roses, especially those who are still under the misconception that roses are really finicky and a lot of work. Many people who have tip-toed into the world of roses have discovered Knock Out roses. ‘Peachy’ Knock Out is a fairly new rose, but it has been in production long enough to have been tested in the several trial gardens of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.) organization. Gardeners may remember the All America Rose Trials which gave their approval – or not – to new roses as they came on the market, but they are no longer in existence. Now we have A.R.T.S. and they are devoted to letting us know which roses are not only beautiful, but are disease resistant and must thrive in many areas of our country.

‘Peachy’ blooms over a long season and is highly resistant to black spot, powdery mildew, downy mildew and rust. It has been trialed and received awards in four regions of our country and has been named an A.R.T.S Master Rose.

Knock Out 'Peachy' rose

Knock Out ‘Peachy’ rose

Two summers ago I was on a garden tour in Minneapolis and environs. We went to wonderful public and private gardens. We also went to a display garden with a variety of fairly new cultivars. One was the ‘Delft Lace’ Astilbe which has tall, airy blossoms in shades of pink with red stems, which I just loved. It was this plant that made me pay attention to astilbes which come in a surprising number of forms. There is‘Purple Candles’ with its ‘statuesque’ plumes in a rich shade of purple, and ‘Red Charm’ which is the reddist  astilbe  and is equally statuesque but has arching plumes that make it unusual.

Sometimes we find a plant that just speaks to us, even if we have to splurge to have it. I have never been a devotee of hostas, but, expensive as it is, I was enchanted by Hosta ‘Floramora’ ($50) a 2018 Plant Delights Nursery introduction this year. Plant Delights is a wonderful nursery in North Carolina with excellent and unusual plants.  ‘Floramora’ is a cross involving the Japanese Hosta longipes and the Chinese Hosta plantaginea. The result is a 30 inch wide clump of glossy foliage and 20 inch spikes of deliciously fragrant wide white flowers that will bloom in September.

Hosta ‘Floramora’

Like all good hostas, this is a hardy plant and enjoys some sun and some light shade. Before planting the soil should be well prepared by digging at least 12 inches or more, and improving the soil with a generous helping of compost and some slow acting fertilizer.  Hostas originated where there was a lot of rain, and they have large leaves that transpire more moisture than other perennials so they need regular watering.

We all have favorites to grow every year, and we have limited space, but it is always fun, to grow new perennials that will return spring after spring.

Sources: www.americanmeadows.com; www.bluestoneperennials.com; www.plantdelights.com

Between the Rows  April 28, 2018

Groundcovers – Base for the Layered Garden

tiarella or foam flower

Tiarella, or foam flowers, spring blooms, and groundcovers all season

The layered garden is created by arranging plants from the ground up beginning with groundcovers ranging from delicate tiarella, epimediums, and lamium to taller plants like ferns, and even low growing shrubs like cotoneaster and very spready junipers.

            The layers continue upwards with an herbaceous layer of perennials and annuals, followed by a shrub layer and ending with trees. Layers will  spread out across the garden space. For example, I have planted two river birches in one of my lawn beds. That long narrow bed does contain groundcovers like tiarella and bistort, perennials like daylilies, bee balm and Japanese anemone, and not very tall shrubs, a winterberry and a fothergilla. By mid-June most of the ground is covered and I can enjoy its beauty and know that it supports the birds and pollinators in our neighborhood  – and helping keep down  the weeds.

            To my mind it is the groundcovers, covering the soil, that knit the rest of the plantings into a pleasing whole. The first groundcovers I used were foam flower, barren strawberry, and lamium.  ‘White Nancy’ Lamium maculatum,is less than a foot tall with variegated white leaves edged with dark green. It is a vigorous grower, but it can be kept under control. It can tolerate dry soil and full shade.

Waldsteinia

Waldsteinia, or barren strawberry is a very mat-like groundcover

            Barren strawberry, Waldsteinia, is a very low growing, dense mat of foliage that is similar to that of strawberries, and the yellow flowers resemble strawberry blossoms, but there are no fruits. It likes full sun but tolerates part shade. I have always grown it successfully where it got a fair amount of shade. Each plant will spread about two feet, and the rhizomes can be separated in the spring to propagate new plants.

            Foam flower or Tiarella cordifolia lives up to its name. It creeps along the ground and in the spring sends up foamy white spires of blossom that will not reach more than 12 inches. There is also a pale pink variety. It likes some shade, but tolerates a lot of sun. In the spring it will send out stolons with plantlets which can be cut off and propagated.

            Bistort, Persicaria, bistorta, is said to grow to two feet, but in my garden it has never grown that tall, even with the tall spikes of pinky bootlebrush type flowers. The foliage is quite large and it spreads by rhizomes. It likes sun and shade. I have it growing and spreading underneath a river birch that I limbed up early this spring, so the bistort will get a little more sun, I think.

Epimedium

Epimedium sulphureum

            I first admired epimediums for their foliage. I would occasionally see these beautiful heart shaped leaves in other gardens, but could never remember what they were called. And then I finally saw the plants in bloom and could never forget the name epimediums after that.  Sometimes they are called barrenwort or charmingly, bishop’s hat. They grow well in shade, but I have grown them in full sun without any difficulty.

            Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ is a particularly sturdy cultivar that spreads easily. The delicate looking yellow blossoms are hardy to Zone 4 and are attractive all season, even after the blossoms wither. They are usually no more than a foot tall and need little care beyond cutting back last season’s foliage – which I should be doing right now.

            The world of epimediums is comprised of many flower forms and colors from pale to deep and rich. We are fortunate Garden Visions, a nursery that specializes in epimediums is located in Phillipston, not very far away. The Garden Visions nursery has a limited number Open Garden Days: April 27 and 29; May 4 through 13; and May 18 through 20.  Hours are 10 am – 4 pm rain or shine. Their catalog is online at www.epimediums.com, or you can download a printed order form or order a printed catalog by emailing  Karen@epimediums.com.

            Cotoneaster (pronounced co-tone-ee-aster) is fairly slow growing. I planted one and it came along  so slowly that I planted another one nearby to get that ground covering effect, and got quite a tangle but handsome anyway.  I first planted C. adpressus which only grows to less than 10 inches. Then, foolishly I planted C. apiculatus (I think) that grows to four to six food spread. I was happily shocked when it produced wonderful red flowers in early summer. I was only expecting red berries in the fall. I ought to read labels more carefully.

            There are a number of creeping junipers, J. horizontalis, that spread nicely and can give you a range of color. Blue-green ‘Bar Harbor’will not be more than a foot tall and will spread more than 5-10 feet. ‘Icee Blue’ is a silvery shade, less than a foot tall with a spread of 6-8 feet. Both like sun, but will tolerate some shade.

            An unusual low conifer is Picea Procumbens ‘Blue Spruce.’ It can reach a height of 2 feet and spreads slowly to cover 10 feet. Think of Blue Spruce foliage spreading along the ground. Much different from the finer foliage of the junipers. Very hardy.

           The world of groundcovers is very large. This is only a sampling of easily available plants that require very little care.

           Between The Rows   April 21, 2018

Niki Jabour’s Veggie Garden Remix

Niki Jabour's Veggie Garden Remix

Niki Jabour’s Veggie Garden Remix

Every spring we gardeners stand in the sun as we breathe deep and fill our minds with plans for new projects, using new techniques and planting new plants.

This year my new project is a small straw bale bed for vegetables. However, I have been reading Niki Jabbour’s new book Veggie Garden Remix: 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor and Fun (Storey $19.95) and my ideas about what to plant are shifting. The new plants she talks about are not just new varieties of standard plants many of us usually grow. She is talking about increasing the biodiversity of our gardens with vegetables from around the world.

We talk about using native plants in our ornamental gardens, but in our vegetable gardens we usually don’t know which vegetables are native to North America. I know a few of the vegetables in our garden are native to South America including tomatoes, avocados, cashews, potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash.  How many more edible plants that were not native to North America are now common at our supermarkets? I suspect quite a few. Other new plants are appearing all the time as our world gets smaller and smaller, as people leave one continent to live on another and bring their taste for familiar foods with them.

Jabbour’s book opens with a story about a gourd she planted and planned to use as a Halloween decoration. When her Lebanese mother-in-law, Noha, saw it her eyes lit up. She recognized the funny looking gourd as cucuzza, a squash tasting much like summer squash. Eating that cucuzza the whole family realized there were many vegetables from around the world that could be grown in their garden and give their meals a bit of a remix.

Like snap beans she asks? Jabbour then offers up a number of less familiar edible beans like hyacinth beans, edamame, chick peas and yard long beans with full cultural information for growing. She also throws in what her family calls daylily beans, the closed buds of the daylily which can be simply fried or dipped in batter for a tempura “bean.”

She uses that process as she opens our eyes to celtuce, a non-heading lettuce that produces tender leaves in the spring and a crunchy stem in late summer. Jabbour offers a whole array of greens to spinach lovers. She begins with the fast growing and pretty magenta spreen, and goes on to peppers, sweet potato leaves, tatsoi from China and more.

Beauty Heart Radish AKA Watermelon Radish

Beauty Heart Radish AKA Watermelon Radish

There are bigger families of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips and radishes than you ever imagined. I first saw and ate Beauty Heart, a beautiful winter radish with a green exterior, then a white layer and a broad pink layer, in China. I kept insisting my translators were mistranslating when they called it a radish. I thought the fist sized radish must be a turnip. I was wrong. When I got back to the U.S. I started seeing this radish at farmer’s markets, where it was called watermelon radish. The Chinese usually pickle it and it is delicious. It only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to complete the pickling process, and is almost immediately ready to eat.

Jabbour gives us the opportunity to try out vegetables from other lands. The Asparagus pea, a plant native to Africa, was a tintillating idea. However, she said she “is not a fan of eating Asparagus peas. “The four sided winged pods do have a hint of asparagus as well as its own sharp flavor,” but what Jabbour likes is their low sprawling habit which can cover about one to two feet of horizontal space, and the brick red flowers that bloom before the pods appear. She says they can grow in Zone 5, but it is a good idea to start the seeds indoors and wait until it is dependably warm to plant outside.

Amaranth is a plant I have admired as a flower, and knew it was edible, but I could never imagine quite how. First Jabbour describes the different species that she recommends for greens, using the foliage, as the edible element. They can be cooked like spinach. The foliage is often colorful; Thomas Jefferson brought home seeds of the tricolor amaranth from Paris for his garden.

Amaranth is also a protein rich grain plant. It needs at least 100 frost free days to produce usable seed. The amaranth many of us think of as love-lies-bleeding (A. caudatus) can be used for a seed harvest. Harvest time arrives after the first frost and Jabbour gives information about harvesting, threshing, winnowing and cooking.

The book concludes with information about Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata), which she describes as having a peppery-cilantro flavor, a good herb for the delicious Vietnamese noodle soup ‘Pho.’ It needs at least 6 hours of sun and prefers a moist soil. Clearly this is an herb I can grow successfully in my wet and damp garden. It is possible to order Vietnamese coriander plants from Richter’s Herbs. This is a great advantage if you like cilantro which goes to seed so quickly over the summer, Vietnamese coriander produces flavorful foliage all season.

There is a good index, and a list of seed companies that can give you entrée into a whole new world of vegetables.###

Between the Rows   April 14, 2018

Straw Bale Solutions and Red Lily Beetle Controls

Straw Bale Solutions

Straw Bale Solutions

The idea of using a straw bale as a planting medium attracted me a number of years ago.  I bought a two straw bales, gave them a good soaking, punched holes in the bales with my Japanese hori hori knife, put a cup or so of compost into the hole, and then put my tomato seedlings in the holes. I watered the bale and watched the tomatoes grow. They grew slowly, and produced a very few tomatoes.

I tried again, using hay bales instead of straw  bales, but was no more successful. Where was Joel Karsten when I needed him? Joel Karsten is the author of Straw Bale Solutions: Creative tips for growing vegetables in bales at home, in community gardens and around the world. Karsten begins with his own story of gardening with straw bales, and writing his first booklet simply titled Straw Bale Gardening: A complete guide to growing vegetables in bales without soil or weeds.

Now that I have read the book I see where I made my fatal mistake. I did not ‘condition’ my straw bales.

Karsten gives very specific directions with a schedule that begins soaking the straw to saturation on day 1 and sprinkling 3 cups of organic nitrogen on each bale. He explains that organic nitrogen can come in the form of organic blood meal. If you want to use non-organic nitrogen you can use ordinary lawn fertilizer (NPK 29-0-4) but be absolutely sure it does not contain pre-emergent weed killer or you are killing the whole system. When using lawn fertilizer, only a half cup per bale is needed. The Greenfield Farmers Coop sells straw bales from local farmers who use no herbicides.

I am not going to give you the whole schedule here but I can see that the key is providing just the right amount of water once the bale is truly saturated, and adding specific amounts of nutrients including phosphorous and potassium as well as the nitrogen. “High nitrogen fertilizer stimulates the bacteria and fungi that are latent in  the bales and causes them to accelerate the decomposition  process, magically transforming straw into compost in just a couple of weeks.”

You will not be planting in a straw bale, you will be planting in recently decomposed straw! Bales will last for two years.

Once the bales are fully saturated Karsten warns against overwatering which will wash away nutrients, and the use of cold water straight out of the hose which will chill  and kill the bacteria cooking away in the bale. It will take between two and three weeks to condition the bale. A compost thermometer is a good tool for checking the temperature inside the bale.

The rest of Straw Bale Solutions is given over to how straw bales make gardening and farming possible in difficult situations. Chapters include Conquering the Slopes of Switzerland, Flood Zone Gardens, Rocky Mountain and Rocky Soil, and Sandy Soil and Rampant Wildlife. I am counting on my straw bales to deter the bunnies in my neighborhood.

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Those who read my column about lilies last week were quick to tell me that I left out a vital piece of information. I did not give any advice about the wicked scarlet lily beetle and possible ways to control it. It was easy for me to put such an unpleasant subject out of my mind. I was fortunate not to have lily beetles on my lilies in Heath. That may have been due to the colder climate, or to the fact that there were no other lilies anywhere nearby so that the beetle simply had not made its way to our area.

First the good news. Certain lilies are less susceptible to the lily beetle. The University of Maine has named Lilium henryi ‘Madame Butterfly’, Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’, and Lilium ‘Black Beauty’ as the most resistant in their tests. It was just by chance that I did grow those lilies in Heath. Keep in mind that Asiatic lilies are MORE susceptible.

Scarlet lily beetles are a terrible scourge and will destroy our lilies. The lily leaf beetle dines on the foliage and lays its eggs underneath the leaf. It is possible to handpick the beetles and put them in a jar of soapy water. The difficulty is that the beetle can often sense movement and will respond by instantly letting go of the leaf, fall on the ground and lie on its back. It is very difficult to see on the ground.

You can also handpick the larvae which can be yellow, brown or orange, although you may not see much color because they hide themselves with excrement, a disgusting and slippery ‘fecal shield.’ It is best to wear nitrile glove s if you are going to squash them with your fingers. Make sure to keep using that jar of soapy water for squashed larvae. They are hard to kill. The larvae will feed for two to three weeks before going into the soil to pupate for two or three weeks when they will hatch and begin the process all over.

Beyond handpicking you can use neem oil every five days to kill the larvae. Spinosad is another pesticide that can work. Spinosad is sold as Monterey Garden Insect Spray, BULL’S-EYE™ and others. What is unavoidable is keeping after the beetles. The University of Massachusetts offers an excellent Lily Leaf Beetle Fact Sheet.

Addendum – It has been pointed out to me that Spinosad is deadly to honeybees. However, there is no point in spraying lily blossoms; the beetles are on  the lily stem and leaf undersides. Spinosad is effective (and it will not hurt bees after it has dried) so I think it is a good and safe pesticide. You will have to keep watching for lily beetles and keep treating the plant.  All pesticides should be used carefully

An addendum to this column as it appeared on April 7. 2018

Vines Are Looking Up In My Garden

wisteria vines

Wisteria chinensis vines

Vines have become more important to me over time. Vines have become more important to me over time. When we built a south facing patio in front of our Heath house in 1990 we also planned a kind of loggia structure that would hold a wisteria vine to shade and cool the patio. to shade and cool the patio. That shade would also alter the quality of light in our living room and even keep that space a little cooler.

            We had to keep our wisteria, Wisteria chinensis, in its pot all summer while we built the structure. This was not the best idea we ever had. However, we did get it in the ground in September. In the spring the plant greened up and put out a few new shoots, but it did not climb and twine up the loggia support. Over the years our friends gave us all kinds of advice. Some said we needed to beat the plant. Some said we needed to give it more water. Others said we needed to stop watering it. Some said more fertilizer. No bit of advice had any affect.

             In 1999 my husband swatted the low and languid wisteria vines swearing that if the plant did not grow and bloom in 2000, he was pulling it out. So threatened, the wisteria complied, and we did have several years of lovely, fragrant and lush bloom.

            Not everyone will have the same problems we did. Chinese wisteria is a beautiful and vigorous vine. It comes into bloom before the foliage appears in late May and into June. The drooping purple racemes are graceful and fragrant. However, the vine can be invasive. We did not have baby wisteria growing up all around the garden, but I did have to keep cutting back new vines that grew up from the root. What I did learn is that wisteria often takes a long time to bloom, loves the sun and good well drained soil.

            Because Chinese wisteria can be invasive, some people have chosen the better behaved American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens. The flowers are smaller and less graceful. They bloom after the foliage so they don’t make much of a show and they lack fragrance. There are hard choices to make in the garden world.

            We grew another large vine in Heath. To provide a background for a rose bed next to our shed we planted a kiwi vine. This aggressive vine grew lustily and climbed up the side of the shed on the trellis my husband built.

Kiwi foliage

Kiwi, Actinidia kolomikta, foliage closeup

            I only planted one kiwi, Actinidia kolomikta, because all I wanted was the beautiful green, white and pink foliage. It takes two or three years for the color to develop, but I think it is just lovely. It does need sharp pruning to keep it under control once it gets going. Like the wisteria, it likes sun and a good rich well drained soil.

            If you want kiwi fruits you need a male and a female plant. I can tell you if one of them dies you will never remember whether it was the male or the female, and good luck ordering the appropriate replacement. I’ve heard stories.

Honeysuckle vines

Honeysuckle vines

            In our new garden we have planted trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, to ornament our wooden fence and to attract bees and hummingbirds. Once again my husband built a sturdy trellis for the honeysuckle vines to weave in and around. The honeysuckle immediately began to grow and bloom, never looking back. It has grown and bloomed energetically on the fence that gets shade part of the day. I do some pruning to keep it from going wild, and give it a helping of compost and mulch every spring. 

trumpet vine

Trumpet vine – Campsis radicans

            The trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, is another very energetic vine native to eastern North America. It produces bright red-orange blossoms that are a delight, but it may take several years before it begins to bloom. The vines are not so shy and will begin growing immediately and can grow to 35 feet. It is aerial rootlets that allow it to cling.  These rootlets can damage stone, brick and wood. Do not plant trumpet vines against your house! I have been told that it should be grown near concrete where it can be kept under control because it can make new plants by seed, and by sending out underground runners that may come up in unexpected places. When I was on a garden tour last summer I saw a stunning trumpet vine climbing up a tall tree. The hummingbirds love it.

            Like trumpet vines the climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, clings to its support by aerial roots, so the same warnings apply. It needs a very sturdy wall, and will cling and climb on a tree. The Bridge of Flowers has several climbing hydrangeas, although most of them artfully dangle down over the side of the Bridge. Even from a slight distance the large lace cap flowers are beautiful. Needless to say they do not get any pruning but just continue blooming year after year. It is a slow growing vine so it is necessary to practice patience the first few years after planting.

            The least problematic vine I have in my garden is the Grandpa Ott morning glory. It is the plumy purple exclamation point at the end of my fence. I provide a few strings from the ground to the top of the fence for the Grandpa to climb on; little patience is required before it clambers up the strings and blooms. After an autumnal frost I cut it all back and wait for spring. Then I arrange new strings and wait for new shoots to appear. Grandpa Ott always leaves a few seeds in the soil, so I don’t even need to replant.

           Between the Rows  March 24, 2018

Do You Have Poisonous Plants in Your Garden?

Castor bean plant

Castor bean plant – one of the first poisonous plants I knew I had in my garden

Few of us hear much about castor oil anymore, but my childhood memory is that it was a common laxative and I never imagined there was a castor bean plant and it was one of the very poisonous plants  Even as an adult I never gave a thought as to where castor oil came from so it was with great shock that when I admired a beautiful big plant with dark red-tinged leaves and prickly red seed cases it was identified as the poisonous castor bean (Ricinus communis) plant.

I continue to admire castor bean plants, but I would be too nervous to grow it in my garden. Castor bean plants are very poisonous. The poisons are ricin, a toxic protein, and ricinine, an alkaloid. When ingested the beans will cause serious symptoms from nausea, convulsions, coma and death.

Like most of us I don’t often think about whether the plants in my garden are poisonous, but I just read a startling statistic from the 2015 Annual Report by the National Poison Control Center that “plants were implicated in over 28,000 cases of poison exposures.” That statistic is a warning that if we have pets or young children we should be aware of the level of danger of some of our favorite plants.

Rhubarb only eat the stalks

Rhubarb – beautiful foliage but the leaves are poisonous

The list of plants that will cause illness and death is much longer than I imagined. I knew that rhubarb leaves were poisonous and should not be eaten, and all parts of the beautiful datura are dangerous causing hallucinations, delirium convulsions and even cause death. Foxgloves are so toxic that even the water left in a vase holding a foxglove bouquet is toxic. Poisonous plants  surround us.

If you are a reader you may recall that water hemlock, Cicuta maculata, played a vital part in A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Water hemlock is considered the most toxic plant native to North America.

Delphiniums and foxgloves are poisonous plants

Delphiniums and foxgloves are among the list of beautiful and poisonous plants

All parts of several familiar and common plants like delphinium, foxglove, lily of the valley, daphne, monkshood, azaleas and rhododendrons are toxic and if taken in sufficient quantity can sometimes cause death.

I am fascinated that many creatures are aware of plant poisons and know they must not nibble on them. I got all excited when I was told that rhodendron flowers were toxic to honey bees. I had just planted three rhododendrons! But just in time I learned that bumblebees love rhododendron flowers and that the honey bees had zip interest in them. I can relax and enjoy my rhodies, knowing that visiting pollinators are safe. I don’t think there is anyone else of my acquaintance who might be tempted to nibble at the flowers or the foliage.

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons – avoided by honey bees but delighting bumblebees

While we should all be aware of the toxicity of the plants in our gardens, I do not think we need to avoid these plants, we just need to be aware of the dangers. I don’t have children in my garden anymore, nor do I have pets. The squirrels and rabbits who visit must take their chances, but I actually think they are much too smart to eat anything that would upset their little stomachs.

Some houseplants are toxic as well.  Cyclamen, spathiphyllum, philodendron, kalanchoe, pothos,  and scheffleras are all dangerous for cats. Bouquets can sometimes be toxic. Lilies are highly toxic to cats who might nibble on the petals, stamens or even the roots after they knock the vase over.

You can go online to find out about the toxicity of garden plants. Cornell has a database listing poisonous plants that can hurt livestock and other animals like humans at http://poisonousplants.ansci.cornell.edu/php/plants.php?action=display&ispecies=human. I can tell you that the AMA Handbook of poisonous and injurious plants by Kenneth Lampe published by the American Medical Association and The Handbook of poisonous and injurious plants by Lewis Nelson are both available through our local library system.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

One of my favorite garden writers is Amy Stewart. An early book she wrote is titled Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. This fascinating book tells the story, among others, that you don’t even need to eat a certain plant to have it kill you. Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, didn’t eat the Eupotorium rugosum that caused delirium, tremors, weakness and ultimately death. It was the cow she milked that ate the white snakeroot making its milk poisonous. In 1818 when Hanks died Abraham Lincoln was only nine years old. Milk sickness was not an unheard of ailment. It was a problem for cows, as well as for those who drank their milk. Areas where the weed grew in pastures even came to be called Milk Sick Ridge and Milk Sick Holler. It was not until the 1920s that the cause of milk sickness was identified.

Stewart’s book is organized by the types and severity of poison plants from Deadly and Dangerous to Painful and includes the plants are Destructive for the way they can spread and play havoc with the environment. Purple loosestrife and Caulerpa taxifolia, a killer algae are just a few examples.  C. taxifolia is considered one of the worst invaders by the Invasive Species Specialist Group. There are many ways a plant can become dangerous and deadly.

Enjoy your gardens, but beware!

Between the Rows   March 10, 2018

Delicious Culinary Herbs for Taste and Pleasure

Culinary herbs basil

A handful of basil – culinary herbs at Stockbridge Herb Farm

Culinary herbs bring flavor and savor to a meal, that bit of piquance that can turn a bland dish into something delectable. They all have their own stories as well. I enjoy thinking of women from time immemorial harvesting their herbs and preparing meals and medicinal potions for their families. Herb gardens have an ancient history and we moderns can still grow a handful of the herbs we use most often.

Simon and Garfunkel aside, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are just the beginnings of the culinary herbs that can fill an herb garden. In my experience it is easy to find space for annual herbs in an herb garden or added to flower beds .

Every spring I buy a flat or two of Italian parsley, and a flat of curly parsley. Italian parsley with its flat leaves is considered the best culinary parsley, but I like growing curly parsley as well. Although I consider it an annual, I often find the curly parsley sending up new shoots early in the spring and it is usable almost until the Italian parsley can spare some shoots for the kitchen. Parsley is possibly the most basic used of the culinary herbs.

I do not plant parsley from seed because it takes so long to germinate. There is a saying that parsley has to go to Satan and back seven times before it will germinate. Buying a flat of plants is easier. Buying a collection of herb starts means I can have a pretty herb garden in just one afternoon.

I also buy annual basil, rosemary, tarragon and fennel, cilantro, and onion plant starts. The rosemary can sometimes make it through the winter indoors, but that really depends on the indoor climate of your house.

Aromatic fennel is both a vegetable and and an herb. The fennel ‘bulb’ can be braised for a delicious side dish, and the fronds can be used in salads, pesto and adding a piquant note to salmon en papillote. You can add that licorice-y flavor to any number of dishes. While scallions are not really an herb I plant a handful of spring onion starts as well. Many summer salads and dishes call for a few scallions and it is a treat to be able to go outside and pick them as needed.

Cilantro, with its lacy foliage resembles parsley and is in a class by itself. The cilantro foliage is useful in many ways, but it must be admitted it goes to seed quickly. It is best to make succession plantings to keep flavorful cilantro foliage coming throughout the season. Cilantro is a staple in many Mexican, and southeast Asian dishes. When cilantro goes to seed, it is called coriander so it is really two herbs in one.

dill is one of my favorite culinary herbs

Dill is one of my favorite culinary herbs

Other useful and common herbs are the perennials: dill, chives, lemon balm, and mints like spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint. Dill and chives are well behaved in my garden. I don’t make dill pickles and confess that I love the dill for its fragrance as much as its flavor. It’s a reminder of my childhood and the vegetable gardens of my grandmother and aunt in Vermont. Dill fronds, otherwise known as dill weed, add flavor to many dishes as do the seeds when they are set and ready to be harvested for winter use. Some of that dill seed always falls on the ground and plant another year’s crop. I have not found it to be invasive at all.

Chive clumps will increase in size every year so from time to time you can share a piece with a friend. The globular lavender flowers can be tossed into a salad for a bit of color and laughter when served.

Sage is almost like a tiny bush in the herb garden. I prefer the plain silvery sage. I harvest leaves during the season as necessary, and I always dry a few leaves to keep for the winter. There are fancier sages showing off golden foliage, or purple or tri-color, but these are not as hardy.

Finally there is thyme and I plant thyme in my lawn. The English have been known to have thyme lawns and I have found common thyme pretty in the lawn, and useful as an edging plant, just waiting to be harvested as needed. Like sage, thyme is available in shades of gold and green and a dull gray-green that covers the ground like a carpet.

A circle of thyme

This circle of thyme at Pickety Place has thyme to eat and thyme to admire

There is absolutely no reason that herbs cannot be planted among the ornamentals in your garden. However, I like having my herbs near the kitchen door. One benefit is that they are close at hand and I can nip out when I need a few leaves for recipe. There is also the advantage that since I walk by it several times a day I often stop to do a bit of weeding, keeping it neat, turning it into a welcoming doorway garden.

Still, I find that parsley makes a great edging plant, and any of the fancy sages would be a pretty note in the flower garden.

Herbs are not demanding plants. They have been grown since ancient times when they had medicinal as well as culinary uses.  They require sun and soil of average fertility. Like all new plantings they should be kept watered as they are becoming established, but beyond that they need very little care.

Herbs are also happy outdoors in containers, whether a collection of classic terra cotta pots, or more decorative pots. Herbs and other plants grown in containers do need to be watered regularly which in the summer heat means every day.

Between the Rows  March 10, 2018