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Spring at Last in the Vegetable Garden

Ready for planting

Ready for planting in  the vegetable garden

Dear Friend and Gardener: Even  though I have planted seeds in the vegetable  garden, and a few seedlings that I started in the guestroom a few weeks ago, I can never resist  buying a few starts at the garden center.  I can never have enough parsley in the summer, and I don’t need very much chard, and I just want a headstart on the tender basil – so purchased starts are needed. Tomorrow should be perfect planting weather with clouds and showers predicted.  I also bought ‘Evolution’ an annual blue salvia, my traditional edging around the Shed Bed which holds the roses Belle Amour, Mary Rose, Leda, and Mrs. Doreen Pike. The rose are very slowly coming out of hibernation so it is too early to tell how much winter kill there has been.

Early garden for vegetables in  front of the house.

Early garden for vegetables in front of the house.

I did plant seeds (and forgot to note the date – Earth Day?) which  are starting to come up in the bed closest to the house – Early Rapini, Purple Top White Globe turnips, Patty’s Choice lettuce and Ruby and Emerald Duet lettuce – all from Renee’s Garden. I can see tiny plants coming up in rows so the variable weather did not deter these cool season crops.  I also planted a few cippolini onions from Dixondale Farms. The main vegetable garden  and onion beds are down in the Potager. A neighbor  is running a kind of one man coop and he puts together  a bulk order of various kinds of onions and leeks.   On Saturday I planted more seeds – DiCicco broccoli, Bloomsdale Spinach and more lettuces, again from Renee, in the more southern bed.  Those planting take me beyond the crest of the bank where a collection of daylilies is planted. I’ll plant Renee’s Garden Vanilla Berry nasturtiums as the transition between vegetables and daylilies. Nasturtiums act as a really good groundcover, keeping down the weeds, and lots of biomass in the fall to put in the compost pile. In addition, I can eat  the flowers, leaves and seeds.

Pansy studded salad

Pansy studded salad

Then in the summer my salads might resemble this one. Today was the day we priced the  1000 perennials that will be sold on Saturday at the Bridge of Flowers Annual Plant Sale. Lynda Leitner who has been giving the plants tender loving care and watering over the past month put our little subcommittee in a good mood with a beautiful lunch that included this charming salad.

This is my first post as a new member of Dear Friend  and Gardener,  the virtual edible garden club started by Dee Nash, Carol Michel and Mary Ann Newcomer. I have had a vegetable garden for many years, but I am planning to learn a lot from the other members!

Touring Colleges with Rory

Rory in the rain at UMass Lowell

Rory in the rain at UMass Lowell

High schools are off this week so we had the chance to go touring colleges with grandson Rory. It was pouring all during the UMass-Lowell campus tour, but we were undaunted, and got to see the O’Leary Library, the bookstore, a dining hall, a classroom and lots of students very busily going about their business. We were also fortunate enough to speak to one of the faculty members who gave us lots of  good advice.

While we were in Lowell we stopped at Middlesex Community College and picked up various printed materials, but they weren’t giving tours this week.

Rory and The Major at UMass Amherst

Rory and The Major at UMass Amherst

Sometimes we go touring colleges for sentimental reasons. We stopped on the UMass Amherst campus where Henry and I got our degrees. They don’t have the programs Rory is most interested in, but we got to visit  with friends who are on staff and get all the local news. The campus has changed a lot – new buildings! – since we were students – even though we were rather elderly students. Comparatively speaking.

Dandelions at UMass

Dandelions at UMass

For me, I was glad to see that dandelions are blooming in the UMass Amherst valley. No dandelions in Heath yet.

Pink hyacinths on Bridge of Flowers

Pink hyacinths on Bridge of Flowers

And even happier to see that the hyacinths are beginning to bloom on the Bridge of Flowers. Just because we were touring colleges doesn’t mean we couldn’t look at flowers. It was breezy, but spring was in the air.

Cameras are rolling on the Bridge of Flowers

Warner Brothers’ camera

The cameras are rolling in Shelburne Falls. The camera dolly was ready on the Bridge of Flowers early this morning, but it was  covered with camouflage netting.

Camera dolly under camouflage netting

The dolly was covered with camouflage netting to hide it from the circling helicopter that was taking aerial shots.

The Bridge of Flowers flowers were unimpressed. They bloom like this, cameras or not.

Blue irises

Yellow Fairy Bells

Two irises

Tree Peony


Birdsong not heard for years

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

I have not been posting very regularly because I have been so quietly busy. There were preparations for the fabulous Bridge of Flowers Plant sale which went off on Saturday without a hitch. I think we had 36 plants left over. Out of over 1300!

Young Elliott and friends

On Sunday we hosted the Presentation of Elliott (in the plaid suit) and celebrated. And celebrated!

Monday was just one thing after another and yesterday, in the heat, I was out of the house all day,  with first graders at the Bridge of Flowers, at the Clarke School Hearing Center, at the Forbes and Jones libraries, and at a Bridge of Flowers meeting in the evening. Then wild thunderstorms all night that left us the gift of more than 2 inches of rain.

Sargent Crabapple in Sunken Garden

This morning I walked barefoot through the garden to inspect all the newly refreshed flowers. The birds were singing, trilling, warbling, and calling,  as they hadn’t for years. Or, to put it another way, birdsong as I had not heard it for years. What a gift.  And why?

I think I may even be able to hear my tiny fountain this  summer. I am so happy. If only my husband’s morning newspaper didn’t make such a racket!

Who Makes the Bridge of Flowers Bloom? Carol DeLorenzo

The Bridge of Flowers in May

For the past 12 years Carol DeLorenzo has been the guiding vision behind the changing bloom seasons on the Bridge of Flowers. However, she didn’t start her professional life thinking about flowers.

“After I graduated from the College of the Atlantic, I got a fellowship that allowed me to spend a year traveling around the world, focusing on agricultural issues. When I returned to the United States I got a job as co-manager of a community based farm. I was all about turnips and rutabagas, “ she said. But the farm included a pick-your-own flowers operation. “It was there I learned the value of flowers in people’s lives. I also saw that a flower garden draws people’s attention to the plants.”

After five years she left the farm and worked for landscapers in the Boston suburbs and eventually began her own landscaping company. When she was pregnant with her first child they moved to Shelburne Falls where friends rented them a house. “We never looked back after we got to the Falls,” she said. “It seemed like a natural progression that led me to a town with a Bridge of Flowers.”

Of course DeLorenzo was busy for a while with that new baby, and settling into a new town. Then, after about two years, she saw a notice that the Bridge of Flowers was looking for a new head gardener and applied for the 20 hour a week position. Soon she saw there was too much work for 20 hours and asked for an assistant. With an assistant hired the schedule was altered so that they both work 15 hours a week, more or less, depending  on the season. “It is a great way to be in the community and very satisfying to garden for thousands of people,” she said. She also stressed that it takes the work of the volunteers of the Flower Brigade to keep the Bridge looking so fine.

What impresses me about the Bridge of Flowers is the number of plants that come into bloom between April and through October. First there are bulbs, blooming trees, and bunches of pansies and Johnny jump ups. There are also native wildflowers like bloodroot, and trillium. Flowering shrubs like azaleas, fothergilla and viburnam take their turn. By the end of May the Bridge is a miracle of bloom with dozens of perennials and roses, right through to dahlia and chrysanthemum season.

Carol DeLorenzo

“Keeping the garden in full bloom is an ongoing journey and puzzle,” DeLorenzo said. “That’s where I get my satisfaction. I get to make art with plants. I’m out on the Bridge, looking at the plants, and wonder what it would be like to do this or that. And then I try it. When it works it is very satisfying.  Nothing is permanent. If a particular vignette isn’t working I change it.”

I asked DeLorenzo how she managed to fit all those plants in such a limited space. “Bulbs are planted usually 2–4 inches down all through the length of the borders, into the roots of other plants. I am always root pruning shrubs so I have soil space for bulbs and other plants, but root pruning also controls the size of the shrub,” she said.

She added that “Possibly as much of 40 percent of the flowers are annuals. That is the only way to have constant bloom. The annuals provide insurance, in case some  of the perennials have a bad year.  But not every inch has to be in bloom every minute. If there is a short green section the eye moves on to the next colorful feature.,” she said.

DeLorenzo said her interest is in organic gardening, but the Bridge is not totally organic. She spreads an organic fertilizer in the spring and top dresses with compost. Annuals are very heavy feeders. I fertilize annuals about twice over the course of the season and use seaweed, fish emulsion and water soluble fertilizers like Peter’s.

“This garden doesn’t feed anyone, the emphasis is on bloom so I  do use slug bait and neem soil and Pyola, a pyrethrum oil. We have lots of bugs that want to eat our plants, including rose chafers, but not too many Japanese beetles.  We’ve put out praying mantis cases, but that is mostly for the fun,” she said.

Visitors to the Bridge this year will notice the absence of the four big crabapples. They have been replaced with new trees, a Cherokee Princess dogwood, Prairie Fire crabapple, golden chain tree, Seven Sons tree and a Chinese fringe tree, joining the many other blooming trees and shrubs.

When I asked for advice for the new gardener she was quick to say, “Start small. Let your garden grow naturally. Start at your doorstep and have fun. Too big a garden can be overwhelming and discouraging. Remember, gardening is just one way of interacting with nature.”


Between the Rows   May 12,2013

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale – Saturday May 18

Plants ready for the sale

One thousdand perennials are ready for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale on Saturday, May 18. When the starting bell rings at 9 am (no sales before that hour) the buying begins. From this photo you might be able to pick out lady’s mantle, candelabra primroses, hostas, Solomon’s seal, ferns, and bleeding hearts, pink and white. I can tell you that there are also peonies, fairy bells (new to me) campanulas, yarrow, achillea, shasta daisies, and some shrubs including  butterfly bush, rose of sharon and forsythia. All at bargain prices.

Candelabra primroses

There are other primroses, too. pink and wine colors.  Most of the plants, including these primroses come off the Bridge. There will also be vendors selling tools, notecards, books – and wooden spoons. Unusual native flowers from Hillside Nursery will also be on sale – as usual. Annuals and geraniums will  also be available. Come early!

Pots for Sale

This year we also have an array of handsome, gently used, pots. This is not the whole collection. Beautiful plants deserve a beautiful pot.

Plant Sale begins promptly at 9 am and will conclude at noon. Hope to see you there.


The Bridge of Flowers is Closed

Bridge of Flowers

The Bridge of Flowers was prepared for closing, just before Superstorm Sandy – that did no damage this year. Unlike Irene last year.

For more Wordlessness  this Wednesday click here.

Priorities and Preparations for Hurricane Sandy

Garlic Planted October 26, 2012

While Hurricane Sandy was making its slow and warning filled way to Heath we had to set priorities and make preparations to weather the storm. With so much notice, and stories about a possible Sandy snow  storm (like last year) I realized it was time to plant the garlic. Fortunately I had already prepared the bed so it didn’t take much to pull apart my choice garlic bulbs and plant each clove about eight inches apart in four rows. Then I mulched the wide row with slightly rotted straw from the not-very-successful tomatoes-in-a-strawbale experiment. That story in a post soon.

Beaver damage

With up to 8 inches of rain predicted we set off for the Frog Pond to see if the beavers really were back and what they had been up to. The walk down to the pond showed definite signs of their presence.

Frog Pond October 28, 2012

The level of the pond was very high and the beavers had clearly been working on the old lodge that was abandoned during the summer. There is an overflow pipe that keeps the pond at a reasonable level, but the beavers always block it. Instant beaver dam. Those lazy creatures.

Beaver lodge closeup

We did not try to get close to the beaver lodge and just set to work clearing out the overflow.

Frog Pond Overflow Pipe Flowing

Fortunately it did not take Henry long to unclog the pipe and send water gushing through into the wetland area below the pond.  We’ll have to check the pond again right after the storm passes because it does not take those beavers long to plug up the overflow.

Bridge of Flowers – Closed for the Season

This morning I was up at dawn to get down to Shelburne Falls to help close the Bridge of Flowers before Hurricane Sandy arrived in full force. Officially closed for the season! Let the storm begin!  Not too hard.

ADDENDUM – Although it didn’t seem like much of a storm we lost power around 2 pm Monday afternoon, and just got power and the phone back around 2 pm today, Tuesday. We did not suffer at all except for worrying about our full freezer. We are so fortunate, and know others really are suffering and our hearts go out to them.


Planting Japanese Iris – Pruning Trees

Fox Brook Iris Farm

One of the benefits of the summer garden tour and event season is the chance to meet new people with unique passions and knowledge. When I attended the Western New England Japanese Iris Show in Shelburne Falls at the end of June. I saw exhibition blossoms of beautiful Japanese irises grown by local gardeners, stunning arrangements, and was inspired.

Japanese iris bloom from mid-June into July, coming into flower when the Siberian and then the bearded iris seasons have passed. The blossoms are flatter than bearded irises, but they are certainly just as glamorous, coming in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white with many bi-colors – and they are less trouble than bearded irises.

After I left the Iris Show I drove to the Fox Brook Iris Farm in Colrain which is run by Deborah Wheeler and her son Andrew. Andrew became fascinated by irises in high school, and is currently working on his PhD thesis on viro-genetics which involves the DNA sequencing of plants. This means he will be one of those people who decides that a particular plant has been put in the wrong family, and corrects the error.

When I arrived Andrew was in the middle of the Japanese iris field, a sea of flue and white, ready to dig. It took a while but I finally chose a very frilly white Hakuroko-ten which he dug and wrapped for me in wet newspaper while he explained how to care for it. I said I knew it needed to be in a damp spot. He said, “I think people misunderstand the Japanese iris’s need for water. The do not want to grow in a boggy spot that is always wet. They do need to be kept watered, but the roots need to be able to breathe between waterings.”

He also pointed out that irises are heavy feeders so they should be planted in soil enriched with rotted manure and compost. The soil should not be limed. A soil that is too sweet can eventually kill the iris.

When I asked if irises were attractive to rabbits, who have been giving me so much trouble this year, he said, no. Apparently, animals know that all irises are purgative, and keep well away from them That is why if there are blue flags growing near a pasture stream, they thrive because the cows will not go near them.

I planted my irises instantly when I got home and have been keeping them well watered. I am looking forward to wonderful spring bloom.

I also got to walk across the Bridge of Flowers with Dennis Ryan, an urban forester, Umass faculty member, and friend of the Bridge, to look at the trees. Some of the trees like the flowering cherry are small and will stay small, but some like the flowering crabapples have become quite large.

Ryan explained that it is possible to prune trees, as they grow, to control their size. I am such a timid pruner, but he said that one third of a tree can be pruned away without causing any damage. He showed me where he could prune one of the Bridge’s Rose of Sharons, which is actually a large shrub, but the same rules apply. You can take off a large branch, cutting  back to a branch that is one third the diameter.

Of course he reminded me that trees or shrubs that bloom in mid-summer or later can be pruned in early spring, but spring flowering shrubs like rhododendrons need to be pruned right after they bloom. Close observation will show a gardener that a rhododendron sets buds in the fall. If you prune in the spring, you will cut off all the buds.

If flowering is not an issue, he said that summer was an ideal time for pruning. “Farmers prune their fruit trees in winter because that’s when they have time, but winter pruning causes more suckering. When you are pruning for shaping and control of size you should prune in the summer because there is little likelihood of suckering,” he said.

I put his suggestions to use in my own garden by pruning a weeping birch that has branches dragging on the ground, and also has a dense curtain of graceful branches where I had envisioned a lacier effect.

My huge Mothlight hydrangea, planted next to the birch is in need of pruning to bring the height down. I will do that in the fall after it has bloomed, but I am already looking at the branching patterns to see where I might cut.

I also decided to limb up my gingkos. While I treasure every inch of shade these 13 year old trees supply, the branching begins at about four feet. I’d like to be able to walk below these trees which are at the edge of the bed without bending and crouching.

Limbing up, pruning off the lower branches of a tree, can be desirable when the need is for dappled shade, also sometimes known as high shade. Even sun loving plants don’t mind a couple of hours in the shade if it is not too dense and dark.

Have you met anyone this summer with an interesting passion or useful information? I would be glad to share that with my readers. Just email your comments to ###

Between the Rows   July 14, 2012

Bug on the Bridge of Flowers! Emerald Ash Borer

"Emerald Ash Borer"

When a 5 foot tall bug appears on the Bridge of Flowers we all take notice. Especially when it is a shimmering shade of emerald green

"Emerald Ash Borer"

I wasn’t the only one taking photos of this beautiful creature. But beauty is as beauty does, and the Emerald Ash Borer is no beauty infesting and killing ash trees. The USDA Forest Service has created a website with full information about how to watch  ash trees for damage. These bugs are only half an inch long with  metallic green backs. They lay their eggs only in ash tree bark where they hatch and eat their way to an exit hole. Watch for extra woodpecker activity and damage, as well as sprouts from the root of the tree and branches dying from the top down.

Fortunately, no one has found the Emerald Ash Borer in Massachusetts yet, but infestations are in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New York. We all have to be aware of threats to our trees before the damage is so great that the only cure is the wholesale removal of our trees which is happening in Worcester, Mass. due to the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

The Emerald Ash Borer is not a native insect. It originated in eastern Russia  and northern China. No one knows how it arrived in North American, but it probably came as ash wood used for stabilizing cargo is ships or in crating for heaving products. The Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Longhorned Beetle are not unique invaders. The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health has an excellent website naming hundred of invasive insects, diseases, plants, fish and more. We must all be on the alert, and not complain when we have to take routine precautions when we have to wash the bottom of our boat when moving it from place to place.

Do you battle any invasives where you are?