Planting in a Post-Wild World
Everything changes. Change on all fronts is inescapable, unstoppable and inevitable. No one knows this more than a gardener who watches her garden change over the years.
In 2016 I will be gardening in a new garden, a smaller garden, a garden that will not require as much maintenance as the Heath garden. It is also a garden with very different features. The soil is heavy clay. The soil is very wet and drains slowly. There is a lot of shade.
With the help of noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy’s Home Outside Palette app my husband and I began to layout and plant garden beds, concentrating on water loving, or water tolerant native shrubs. My desire was to have a kind of woodland garden instead of perennial beds .
Over the years I have become more and more interested in native plants, and more and more aware of their value in maintaining the health of our ecosystems. Certain books have led me along this path including Bringing Nature Home by entomologist Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy also collaborated with Rick Darke on The Living Landscape: Designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Darke is a landscape lecturer and photographer who proves that a biodiverse garden can be beautiful.
Most recently Timber Press sent me a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.
One of their goals is to help gardeners create beautiful gardens that more closely replicate the ways plants grow in the wild even in urban and suburban situations. “The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious with less maintenance. The solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of compatible species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.”
While Rainer and West value native species, they call their philosophy “a middle way” in which layered plantings mean more room for compatible non-natives (never invasives) and a greater diversity of beneficial plants. They want to focus on naturally occurring plant communities which means paying less attention to purely native plantings and concentrating on performance and adaptability. Their idea is to make our relationship to nature a collaborative one.
I should mention here that the book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs that give an explicit view of what they are talking about. Photographs show the differences in landscapes from the humble hellstrip along a sidewalk to flowery meadows, droughty hillsides and woodlands.
Rainer and West lay out five basic principles. The first is to concentrate on related populations, not isolated indivduals. This means not planting the Echinacea next to the sedum next to the hellebore. It means letting plants self-seed and intermingle, as they do in nature. My own Heath lawn, or flowery mead as I called it, is a case in point.
Principle two: Stress can be an asset. This is often how we get to naturally occurring plant communities.
Principle three: Cover the ground densely by vertically layering plants. This is a reminder that bare soil does not exist in nature and we can find plants to fill every niche of space and soil type and let nature do some of that filling in.
Principle four: Make it attractive and legible. This principle will calm those who wonder if all Rainer and West desire is messy, weedy woodland. They are realists they say, and “designed plant communities can be patterned and stylized in a way that makes them understandable, ordered and attractive. They need not replicate nature in order to capture its spirit.” They suggest ‘frames’ which can be pathways or other hardscape elements like fences or walls.
Principle five: Management, not maintenance. Gardeners know you cannot plant a garden and then sit back and admire it indefinitely. But with good management you can eliminate many chores, weeding, watering, spraying, etc. This is possibly my favorite principle.
The penultimate chapter gives specific instruction on planting and maintaining a plant community.
Planting in a Post-Wild World is a dense, but readable book. Not all the ideas are brand new but they are presented in new ways, broadening their applicability, and showing how we can adapt them to our own situation. Rainer and West believe the time is right for a horticultural renaissance where plantings will be ecologically diverse, functional and sound, but will also be beautiful, understandable and appealing to the gardener and her friends.
I made a start on a new and different garden this past summer, but there is a lot of work to do in 2016 to make it functional in the ways I first imagined, and in new ways as well. I am now dreaming of a hugelkulture project. Stay tuned. I am also thinking of how I can expand on the plans I made for covering the ground in my new, and soon to be enlarged beds. I think I can be bolder about letting plants intermingle. I want to work towards the plateau of management.
How will you and your garden change in 2016?
Between the Rows January 2, 2016
The Roses at the End of the Road
The Roses at the End of the Road is the tale of my life in Heath and the roses that lived, and died, in the gardens at End of the Road Farm.
My first rose was the delicately pink Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, followed by a number of elegant ladies like Madame Legras de St. German, the Queen of Denmark and the Wife of Bath. However there were a few gentlemen like Martin Frobisher and William Baffin. The Rose Walk famously added a collection of Farmgirls, Rachel, Alli, and Mabel which came from other local farms in Heath.
For your reading delectation the following is a sample chapter
Saint Fiacre Sat Here.
Did you know, Saint Fiacre is considered the patron saint of gardeners? You can go to some garden centers and buy a statue of the good saint with his spade.
As it happens Saint Fiacre is also the patron saint of French taxi drivers. In Paris there is a large taxi rank outside the Church of Saint Fiacre. A slang term for French taxi drivers is “le fic”, a colloquial reference to “figs” or that occupational hazard of taxi drivers – hemorrhoids. Inside the Church of Saint Fiacre is a stone bearing the imprint of the good saint’s bottom; sitting on this stone is said to cure that ailment.
One late June day my husband returned from working in the field shouting with excitement. “Wait til you see what I found!”.
I was confused at the sight of a somewhat triangular concave boulder.
“Sit on it!” he ordered.
I sat and was comfortable because the concavities were so well shaped to my bottom, but still confused.
“Don’t you see what this means? This means that St. Fiacre was here! He walked these Heathan hills and left his imprint for us gardeners just as he did for the French taxi drivers!”
I knew about the French taxi drivers and protested that we gardeners did not suffer from hemorrhoids.
“No, but we do suffer from a gardener’s particular problem,” he said lugging the stone to a log section I used as a stool. He set the rock on the log and sat me down on it. “Now, do you feel a cure taking place?”
I sat on the stone, my bottom tenderly supported and I looked around. The sky was an azure dome, birds were singing and turning somersaults in the air. The breezes were fragrant with the scent of my roses, blooming in shades of pink and white. The lawn, weedy patch though it was, was cool and green beneath my bare feet.
I sat in silence for a moment, then sighed. “I don’t know what you mean about a cure, but just look at this perfect day,” I said. “And I think the garden looks perfect, too.”
“There you have it. You are cured of gardener’s syndrome of never sitting to simply admire the beauty of the garden. You have put aside the spade and trowel, the weeder and pruners. You’ve ignored the weed, the beetle and aphid and admired the whole.”
Well, I wasn’t totally cured, of course, but I do sit periodically on the stone for booster shots.
The Annual Rose Viewing at the End of the Road is our ritual event to encourage everyone to stop and smell the roses.
One visitor this year asked me if roses were a youthful passion, if I had loved them always. I had to confess that this was not the case. Like so many others I thought roses were fussy plants requiring much more care than I could imagine supplying. Even after reading Katherine White’s book, Onward and Upward in the Garden, even after becoming fascinated with the romantic idea of the ancient gallicas, albas, and damasks, I did not picture myself as a rose gardener.
When we first moved to Heath I was devoted to the idea of vegetable gardens, but in 1981 I planted my first hardy old fashioned rose. I was seduced by the provocative name, Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, as well as by its history as a favorite of the Empress Josephine. Without giving much thought to the ramifications, I planted Passionate Nymph’s Thigh next to the unused front door and right under the roof line where it has endured ice and snow cascading down onto it for over 20 years. In self defense it leans away from the house and towards the sun, but blooms every year in a shade of delicate flesh pink. It thrives with the stamina that you might expect of any passionate nymph.
Our own Saint Fiacre stone still sits in the Rose Walk between Madame Zoetmans and Therese Bugnet, across from the Queen of Denmark. Visitors to the Rose Viewing sit on the saint’s stone, or touch it, and we all ignore whatever tasks have been left undone. We walk under the azure dome of sky, and inhale the breeze-borne scent of roses. We forget our chores, admire the beauty that we have cultivated and give thanks.
If you would like to buy a copy of the book send me an email order at commonweeder.com and I will respond and make arrangements. If you want to read the book right now, Kindle editions are now on sale for only 99 cents.
At my house every gift giving occasion should include a book, or three. Every year there is a new crop of books to help new and experienced gardeners keep up with new trends and techniques, and find new ways to make their gardens, indoors and out, more beautiful and/or productive. Here is a sampling of new books for the gardener.
Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry
Fruit Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit and Nuts in the Home Garden by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry ($25 Storey Publishing)
Lewis Hill’s books have been with me almost ever since we moved to Heath and planned to start producing a lot of our food. I constantly referred to his book Cold Climate Gardening, Fruits and Berries for the HomeGarden, and Pruning Simplified. Lewis Hill was a Vermonter who did his best to help gardeners in their endeavors. He passed away in 2008, but his good friend and colleague Leonard Perry took on the job of revising Hill’s book on growing berries and fruits.
The Fruit Gardener’s Bible is a truly encyclopedic work. In revising the book Perry has updated and included new information about sustainable practices including biological pest and disease control. He also discusses the ways gardeners want to incorporate fruits and nuts into their ornamental landscapes to make use of their beauty as well as their harvests. In addition there are many new varieties of common fruits and more interest in less familiar fruits like loganberries and hardy kiwis.
Hill was a lifelong Vermonter and his writings tended to concentrate on gardens for the New England climates. Perry has expanded the scope of crops and the needs of gardeners who live where the climate posses different challenges.
This book has a focus on organic techniques and provides information from propagating to harvesting. The photographs are beautiful and instructive.
Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph
Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph ($17 Storey Publishing)
Ann Ralph’s book is dedicated to the idea that fruit trees can be kept small, no taller than you are, while remaining healthy and productive. What it takes is careful pruning. Her focus is on rootstocks instead of the semi-dwarf label which she criticizes as giving a false idea of how big a tree will grow.
I appreciated her attitude towards growing fruit – which is a good attitude for life. “When you garden, good results depend on three things: what you expect the plant to do, what the plant is capable of in the environment where you put it, and your willingness to contribute.”
Ralph’s prose has a charm and wisdom that would be enjoyable if you never dreamed of planting even a small tree.
Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti
Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti ($25 Cool Springs Press)
You may not aspire to creating a terrarium in an elegant Wardian case as shown on the cover of this book, but Maria Colletti will show you how to choose containers and plants that can be used to create the landscape of your choice, desert or woodland or tropical.
Colletti is the terrarium designer for the Shop in the Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden and she loves experimenting with carnivorous plants, cacti, succulents, ferns and tropical plants. She gives us step by step projects with advice and sources for terrarium necessities. She shares traditional, standard and classic building steps but always invites experimentation.
Of course it is one thing to set up and plant a beautiful terrarium, but then maintenance is required to mange moisture. The goal is to reach a state of equilibrium so that you can get to a level of “hands off and enjoy.”
The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin
The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow by Tovah Martin ($23 Timber Press)
As far as I am concerned Tovah Martin is certainly the Queen of Houseplants. Readers who drooled over her earlier book The Unexpected Houseplant with special attention to gorgeous or surprising containers will be happy to see The Indestructible Houseplant.
Martin is a captivating writer and the layout of the book gives her plenty of scope. Along with a photograph of one of her own houseplants she gives an extended description of the plant including the different cultivars, and her own experiences with the plant. In addition there is a sidebar for each that lays out specific information about size, foliage, exposure, water requirements, soil type, fertilization schedule and companions that will live with it happily in the same container. She also includes a line for “other attributes” where she comments “famously indomitable” for aspidistra, “succulent, wonderfully bizarre and varied” for kalanchoe.
We often think the houseplant category is pretty limited, often because we see so few varieties in local garden centers, but Martin blasts that idea and gives us a pageful of sources for the indestructibles she has in her own collection. She begins with African violets and ends with Zamioculas samiifolia (ZZ to its friends) which has “no flowers but bulletproof.”
When to do what is often a big question for gardeners as we go through the year and the UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2016 is available for $12 each plus $3.50 for mailing, and $2 for each additional calendar up to nine. It includes one stunning and inspiring plant image for the month, daily gardening tips for our climate, sunrise and sunset times and more.
Between the Rows December 11, 2015
Natural History of Winnie-the-Pooh
Winnie-the-Pooh and I did not become acquainted until I was an adult and read what had become literary classics, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, to my young children. I had known of the books, of course, but only through an Eeyore-ish high school friend who was devoted to all the characters who lived in the 100 Acre Wood. I did not understand his devotion at the time, but as I read these gentle stories of friendship and adventure to my children I gained some understanding of what these characters might have meant to my friend.
Those memories of my friend and of the happy bedtime reading to my children came freshly back to me as I read The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood by Kathryn Aalto (Timber Press $24.95). They also reminded me of my own childhood when I had the freedom to wander in the fields and woods of a family farm in Vermont, quite intent on “doing Nothing.”
By the time Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926 Alan Alexander Milne had already written 18 plays and three novels. He wrote screen plays, and humorous columns for Punch magazine and was a highly respected writer. It was while working at Punch that he met and became friends with Ernest Howard Shepard who was an illustrator of books, as well as working at Punch. A. A. Milne and E.H. Shepard shared the same sensibilities about nature which came together in a happy partnership when Milne wrote his famous children’s books.
Milne always said his writing was inspired by the life around him and in 1920 his son Christopher Robin was born. Then in 1925 he bought Cotchford Farm, in East Sussex, only an hour’s drive south of London. Milne and his wife Daphne shared their love of the natural world with their son, and watched him play with his stuffed toys – and so the books were born.
The One Hundred Acre Wood is actually inspired by the real AshdownForest. While the Forest has not capitalized on its being a model for Milne’s book, visitors will find a small sign directing them to PoohsticksBridge. Aalto has given us more landmarks to connect Winnie-the-Pooh to the actual landscape of Cotchford Farm and the Forest. She quotes substantially from the Pooh books and takes us right back to the time when we were children, or were reading to our children about the sweet and gentle adventures of Christopher Robin and his friends, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Roo and Eeyore. I have to say I am moved to go back to the books themselves and savor them anew.
Milne’s prose is an evocative and charming view of childhood, but it is enhanced by E.H. Shepard’s exquisite illustrations. It is hard to imagine the one without the other. Aalto includes many of Shepard’s delightful illustrations.
Still, if we were to travel to Ashdown Forest today we will not spy a young child busy building a house for Eeyore or reading to a fat little bear who has been stuck in a door because he ate too much ‘hunny.’ What Aalto can give us in one section is a beautifully illustrated guide to the flora of the Forest and a geography of the streams and woodland.
The book is well researched and includes many photograph s of the Forest today but it is the charm of Aalto’s prose that carries us into this Enchanted Place. In this book she has given us some biography, geography, and botany, but most of all a trip back in time to a loving childhood.
Flowering Tobacco by Richard Pocker
In the Illustrated Guide to Flowering Tobacco for Gardens, Richard Pocker takes us on an enthusiast’s tour of nicotianas. I have never grown nicotianas, and therefore have never gotten an appreciation for the delicious fragrance which makes them such a desirable flower. My friend Wendy sent me a photo of nicotiana taken at twilight when the fragrance begins to fill the summer garden air. Unfortunately, the fragrance cannot be transmitted digitally. I never fully realized that the nicotianas for the flower garden were sometimes the same kinds of tobacco plants that get made into cigarettes.
One variety of nicotiana is called Perfume, but Pocker lists dozens of heirloom varieties as well as nursery hybrids, complete with a photograph, description, information about growing and seed sources, as well as diseases and pests. He also gives a stern warning not to grow nicotianas in the vegetable garden because they are toxic. You may recall that nicotine is a poison sometimes used to kill garden pests.
One variety example he gives is the heirloom Florida Sumatra which has been grown in Florida as far back as 1884. “Primarily raised as a cigar tobacco, the leaves are large, about 24 inches long by 15 inches wide and fast growing as it matures in 55 days. Topped with a cluster of pink flowers, the leaves emanate a delicious smell, described by some people as spicy. A unique nicotiana that is easy to grow and with abundant sources of seeds. It is a good beginner’s plant.”
Interwoven with the cultural information are brief stories of the part tobacco played in American history and in the lives of characters like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.
This book is available at Amazon for $39.99 for the paperback, but a Kindle version now only costs $4.99.
Between the Rows October 24, 2015
We have a winner for Beardless Irises: A plant for every garden situation by Kevin C. Vaughn. Congratulations to Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden.
Beardless Irises: A plant for Every Garden Situation
I recently reviewed Beardless Irises: A plant for every garden situation and now Schiffer publishing is offering a Giveaway of this beautiful, fascinating and useful book.
I have been reading Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Keven C. Vaughn and published by Schiffer. My own experience with beardless irises is with Siberian irises which are one of the most beautiful and easy care flowers in the world, and Japanese irises which often have a flatter flower and are truly spectacular. I never knew that beardless irises ranged from the sweet and petite, to the tall and stunning spurias.
I never knew anything about Pacific coast native irises which we cannot really grow in our area because of the winters, but amazingly Louisiana irises, and spuria irises are definite possibilities. I will never take the iris family for granted again.
Vaughn is a scholar, hybridizer and has a PhD in plant genetics. He gives us common gardeners the information about whether a particular type of iris will thrive in our climate, as well as the usual cultural info about soil, fertilizer and sun requirements, but the book is also rich in the stories of hybridizers and their work. If you like to know how a stunning plant came to be, or even how to create your own hybrids, this is the book for you.
If you would like a chance to win a copy of this book with its stunning photographs of the many varieties and cultivars of beardless irises, all you have to do is leave a comment below. Perhaps you have a favorite iris to mention. I will have a drawing for this book on Wednesday, August 19. Good luck!
Japanese iris on display
The day after we planted all our water tolerant shrubs Greenfield was inundated by torrential rains. I was told over three inches of rain fell the afternoon and evening of July 7. We knew that our Greenfield house had a wet backyard and after planting nine shrubs we were fully aware of the heavy clay soil. However we did not expect several inches of standing water in the back half of the yard.
Fortunately, our excellent plumber, Scott Zilinski, helped us out by helping to design and dig a drainage trench near the old sheds. The yard looks flat, but in fact there are subtle dips and hollows which were identifiable by looking at the worst areas of wet. The drainage trench may be extended in the corner next to our neighbor’s driveway.
It was also clear to see that the area next to the northern fence was equally under water. We are now considering the possibility of a rain garden in that area to catch heavy rainfall, and rain runoff. We now realize that our lot is slightly lower than the two lots next to us, and that those two pieces of property have a lot of paving causing some runoff onto our lot.
It was while attending events and programs at the Conway School of Design that I first learned about the importance of permeable surfaces that would allow rain to be absorbed and kept on site. It was also about that time that our son in Cambridge, Massachusetts told us that the city had regulations about how much of a lot could be covered, and how much had to be given to permeable surfaces. Cambridge’s concern was the capacity of their storm sewers. I now have a whole new appreciation of that concern and the importance of permeable surfaces.
Carrying out our Home Outside design plan has come to a brief halt while we consider various options to improving our drainage.
One new drainage idea surfaced when I joined a Greenfield Garden Club tour of Jono Neiger’s forest garden. Neiger is one of the founders of the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield. Their mission is not only to create sustainable landscapes, but to make them better, to regenerate them. One of the topics that came up as we walked through the different sections of Neiger’s garden was hugelkulture (hoo-gel culture) which makes use of logs and woodland debris to improve the soil. There are many aspects of hugelkuture but one in particular caught my attention.
When I explained our situation to Neiger he said one could dig a trench, two feet wide and three feet deep and then fill it with logs and other compostable debris, sod and leaves and such like and top it with a layer of soil. The wood will slowly compost, adding nutrients and soaking up water, improving the soil. Not a quick fix, but fascinating nonetheless. Our soil could use improvement.
While we think about next steps I have been reading Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Keven C. Vaughn and published by Schiffer. My own experience with beardless irises is with Siberian irises which are one of the most beautiful and easy care flowers in the world, and Japanese irises which often have a flatter flower and are truly spectacular. I never knew that beardless irises ranged from the sweet and petite, to the tall and stunning spurias.
I never knew anything about Pacific coast native irises which we cannot really grow in our area because of the winters, but amazingly Louisiana irises, and spuria irises are definite possibilities. I will never take the iris family for granted again.
We have purple and white Siberian irises in Heath and I always planned to bring some of them down to Greenfield. They are not only beautiful they don’t mind being wet. In fact, one gorgeous clump of deep purple/blue Siberians somehow jumped into a swale in our field where they have lived very happily for several years.
A few years ago I bought a beautiful white Japanese iris from Andrew Wheeler at Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain. He told me that Japanese iris didn’t need to be growing in a wet site, but they did need to be planted where they could be watered regularly. I planted it in front of the house where there is excellent drainage, and where I do keep it watered, but I am hoping that it will be even happier when it is moved to Greenfield.
Spurias love water so much that Vaughn suggests taking a plastic kiddie pool, with holes cut in the bottom, and sinking it into the ground, then filling it with good soil for a planting site. Then that area can be watered heavily without causing a problem for surrounding plants which might not need quite so much water. Spurias are tall ranging from three to five feet although we are warned that in our colder climate they may be slightly shorter. In any event they promise to be a dramatic planting, the clump growing larger every year, but not demanding to be divided.
Vaughn is a scholar, hybridizer and has a PhD in plant genetics. He gives us common gardeners the information about whether a particular type of iris will thrive in our climate, as well as the usual cultural info about soil, fertilizer and sun requirements, but the book is also rich in the stories of hybridizers and their work. If you like to know how a stunning plant came to be, or even how to create your own hybrids, this is the book for you. The many beautiful color photographs showing the full range of color have inspired me. Expect more beardless irises in my garden.
Between the Rows July 25, 2015
If you want to play around with your own garden designs on the free Home Outside Palette app for smart phones and tablets click here.
Right Size Flower Garden by Kerry Ann Mendez
There comes a time when a gardener just throws up her hands and says “I can’t do this anymore!” She doesn’t really mean she can’t do it at all, she just can’t do it all the way she has been. That moment came for Kerry Ann Mendez when her husband was in a terrible accident, broke his neck and had to retire. Mendez then needed to work full time and could no longer spend long hours tending her extensive gardens.
There are other reasons for throwing up our hands, full time employment while taking care of young children, or waking up one morning and realizing you are no long 30 years old, or even 60 years old. The time has come, as Mendez says, to create The Right Size Flower Garden.
Mendez’s book, The Right Size Flower Garden (St. Lynn’s Press$19.95) is chatty, a real gardener to gardener conversation about the ways that our outdoor spaces can be simplified. The book is filled with photographs, before and after right-sizing, of her own gardens.
Gardens change over the years. There is no way to stop them changing. All of us have stories about plants we used to have, and about how we have moved a plant all around the garden until we found the perfect spot. By the time Mendez gets to Chapter 3 she says, “We are approaching the elimination round . . . which gardens will remain as they are, which can be revamped, and which will be removed.” Then she steps forward to find ways to reduce work and expense 50% – while keeping the garden as beautiful as it ever was.
Mendez is the Queen of Lists. I find myself often turning to her earlier book The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists: 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3 Through 7. That title says it all, and she includes many lists in The Right Size Garden. These lists separate plants by category, plants for sun or shade, lists of long lived perennials, long lived bulbs, tidy evergreens, flowering shrubs, plants for containers and many more. She knows that one of the easiest ways to cut down labor in the garden is to put the right plant and in the right spot and these wonderful lists with many enticing photographs will help you make good choices.
The sections that were of particular interest to me were those focusing on ground covers like sedums, creeping thyme and pink sundrops for sunny areas, and shade loving groundcovers like epimediums, ajuga, tiarella, and sweet woodruff, as well as shrubs that don’t require complicated pruning like fothergilla, viburnams, and daphnes. And trees, of course, redbuds, fringe tree, and stewartia. Can you tell I like springtime bloom?
Annuals are not forgotten. If you want color and flowers all season you must have annuals. The RightSizeGarden is not a big book, but you will find yourself turning to it as long as you are searching for the right size for your garden.
Into the Nest by Laura Erickson and Maria Read
While I am not a bird watcher (I can barely tell big birds from little birds) I do love to have birds in the garden. I enjoy their mostly unidentified songs, and their occasional antics. Now that we no longer have cats there is a bird feeder or two in my future.
Still even with a bird feeder sited where I can watch activities unseen, I will never see the activity shown in the beautifully photographed book Into the Nest: Intimate views of the courting, parenting, and family lives of familiar birds by Laura Erickson and Marie Read. (Storey $16.95).
Erickson and Read have compiled an extraordinary array of photographs of the nests, courtship displays, eggs hatching, and the feeding of nestlings of 25 bird species from blue jays to yellow warblers. I will never see a group of naked baby flickers sleeping inside their log home and nest, or see a hummingbird gather up the necessary spider silk as she builds a nest that is stretchy and can expand as her nestlings grow.
And who knew that baby birds actually need lessons to get on in the world. I thought they were born knowing what to do, but they need to learn their distinctive songs, and young birds in some species like cranes remain with their parents through the first winter in order to absorb all the necessary life lessons.
Those raucous American crows are very devoted, mating for life and maintaining a relationship with their young, and their neighbors, throughout their lives. The brood of one year even help raise the brood of the next year. Blue jays also mate for life and kissing is a part of their courtship. Each chapter is short and information is arranged so that it is easy to compare the habits of one species with another.
Laura Erickson has written seven books about birds, won the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Lifetime Achievement Award, and contributes to Cornell Ornithology Lab’s All About Birds website, www.allaboutbirds.org. Marie Read has written three books and her photographs and articles have appeared in many magazines including Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birds and Blooms and National Geographic. Together they have created a book that is a delight for the novice and experienced bird watcher and bird lover.
Between the Rows May 23, 2015
Homegrown Herb Garden
Herbs. Some people like herb gardens because they are so practical, others like the romance of herbs. All new herb gardeners will find that they are about the easiest gardens to tend. Herbs are not fussy plants.
Lisa Baker Morgan and Ann McCormick belong to the practical school. Their book Homegrown Herb Garden: A Guide to Growing and Culinary Uses (Quarry Books $24.99) gives information about growing 15 flavorful herbs, and then delicious recipes using each of the 15.
These 15 herbs range from the familiar basil and Italian parsley to the more exotic bay laurel and lemongrass. They include fashionable herbs like cilantro and chervil which were never in any cookbook I owned in1960.
Morgan and McCormick give basic growing information for all herbs which is basically a site in the sun, and soil with good drainage. Herbs will not need much in the way of fertilizer if you give them ordinarily fertile garden soil, but you will need to fertilize herbs planted in containers. You will also need to give potted plants sufficient water.
Growing culinary herbs is only half the job. Once you have these plants producing prolifically you will need to know how to harvest and preserve them. We are all familiar with jars of dried herbs in the store, or bunches tied prettily with ribbon hanging from the rafters in a colonial home. But how do you know which of the many varieties to grow, when to harvest, how best to dry, how best to store. The Homegrown Herb Garden has all the answers which vary with each herb.
Drying herbs is one way method of preservation. Freezing is another. Morgan and McCormick suggest one way of freezing basil or cilantro or other herbs that you plan to use in a sauce or soup is to puree the fresh leaves with a bit of water and then put the puree in ice cube trays and freeze. You can then put these frozen herb cubes in plastic freezer bags and pull out one or two when you need them.
I have my own method for preserving parsley which is often called for in soup or sauce recipes. I grow a lot of Italian, flat leaf, parsley. It makes a nice border for the herb garden in front of my house and saves me a lot of money when I consider how many $1.99 bunches of parsley I would buy over the season. With the arrival of September I start to harvest bunches of parsley and remove the heavier stems, then I lay a good amount on a piece of waxed paper and roll it up like a cigarette. I will put three or four parsley rolls in a freezer bag and freeze them When a recipe calls for parsley I just cut off as much of a parsley roll as needed.
A look at the recipes included will make this valuable as a cookbook as well. Kabocha and Coconut Soup with Thai basil, and Venetian Seafood en Papillote with garlic, shallots, basil, chives, bay leaves and dill sound particularly yummy.
Herb Lovers Spa Book
In The Herb Lover’s Spa Book: Create a Luxury Spa Experience at Home With Fragrant Herbs from Your Garden Sue Goetz comes at herbs from a different direction. She takes 19 common herbs from Aloe vera to witch hazel and with the help of beeswax, alcohol, salt and vinegar turns their sap, foliage, and flowers into facial steam, bathing potions, herbal teas, herbal scrubs, healing ointments and more. What do you need? Invigoration? Soothing? Healing? Your herb garden can provide all of these.
Goetz begins with the design of your garden which will very well include more than herbs. How do you want to arrange plants and spaces to give you a retreat where you can refresh yourself? We gardeners know that our time in the garden is about more than the plants. There is sun and shade, fragrance, birdsong, and maybe the sound of trickling water.
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as mints, are not only culinary herbs (and a popular song) they are also the basis, singly and in combination, for tub teas, foot scrubs, aftershave, and other spa potions.
For Goetz the rose is an herb and it certainly is used in many lotions and balms. The rose water that is used in some recipes is not difficult to make. Count on me to make my own this summer. My rugosa roses are fragrant and perfect for this project.
I’ve sometimes looked longingly in stores at clear spray bottles with fancy labels for water to spray on linens when you iron them. To me they speak of an organized life with old fashioned amenities. I have never bought them of course, but with Goetz’s help I realized I can make these myself very easily. Sometimes I am amazed that I don’t instantly see the obvious.
I have had an herb garden for many years. I always laugh when I see photos of neat geometric herb gardens that look nothing like mine. My herbs have been more rowdy than neat and I love them for their energy and their willingness to be undemanding while giving me savor in my kitchen, fresh fragrance in my linen closet, and lots and lots of pollinators in the garden.
If you are a new gardener an herb garden will satisfy you with the success the common herbs will give you, and if you are an experienced gardener Goetz, Morgan and McCormick will show how to grow more exotics like lemongrass and new delicious and soothing ways to use them.
My herb garden in front of the house
Between the Rows March 21, 2015
Peter Kukielski, author of Roses Without Chemicals
Peter Kukielski knows how to grow roses without chemicals and I have learned a little about disease resistant roses over the past 30 years. One thing I love about our Annual Rose Viewing is the chance to tell visitors that you do not need an arsenal of chemicals to grow healthy, beautiful roses. I did not always know this. My rose education began when we moved to Heath in 1979. In my admiration for Katherine White, wife of the brilliant writer E.B. White, and her book Onward and Upward in the Garden, I determined that I too would grow romantic old-fashioned roses in my country garden from the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery in California.
The very first rose I planted was Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, sometimes called Cuisse de Nymph, La Seduisante or Maiden’s Blush. This is an old alba rose, a fragrant blush pink rose with slightly blue green foliage and much hardier than you might expect from her name. I came to think that Passionate Nymphs must have a lot of stamina.
The Passionate Nymph is nearly buried right now, but I think she likes the snow and prefers to be blanketed and thus protected from the terrible frigid temperatures of February.
Other hardy alba roses line the Rose Walk, Celestial, Felicite Parmentier, Queen of Denmark, Madame Plantier, and Semi-plena, as well as damasks, rugosas, hardy Griffith Buck roses and nameless farm girl roses. Many of these are fragrant and all have healthy foliage without any help from me. Early hybridizers put fragrance and disease resistance high on their list of vital attributes. What those roses don’t have is a long bloom season. Thus the Annual Rose Viewing is scheduled for the last Sunday in June when, for a brief period, all the roses are in bloom.
Happily for rose lovers, and organic gardeners who never considered growing roses, dozens of new disease resistant roses have been hybridized that also have a long bloom period. It was Peter Kukielski, former Curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden, who first introduced me to the lush First Crush and Cinderella and other hybrids created by the German Kordes company. It was over 20 years ago that the German government outlawed the kinds of poisons that rose growers routinely used. This set the Kordes hybridizers to creating beautiful disease resistant roses with a long bloom season.
Now other hybridizers have hopped on the band wagon. I was a little dubious about roses groups with names like Oso Easy, but these are also roses bred with disease resistance. Drift roses are another family of small shrubby disease resistant rose in shades of peach, pink, coral and red.
Kukielski also introduced me to Earth Kind roses. Again I thought the name was a marketing gimmick, but no, these are old roses tested and classified by Texas A&M to be disease resistant. Red Knock Out, New Dawn and The Fairy are familiar roses that claim the Earth Kind label.
When I spoke to Kukielski recently I asked why the list of Earth Kind roses hadn’t grown any longer. He assured me I shouldn’t have to wait too much longer. In the meantime I can watch the rose trial gardens set up at NaugatuckValleyCommunity College in Connecticut, Cornell University, and at the Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine where Kukielski lives and is now leading the northeast rose trials as part of the Earth Kind Team. He is also Executive Director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (ARTS) which will soon have a website up and running. He has his own new website the millennial rose garden.
Roses Without Chemicals
Right now you can get Kukielski’s new book, Roses Without Chemicals: 150 Disease Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses (Timber Press $19.95)
Kukielski wants unhappy or potential rose gardeners to know that failure in the rose garden is not their fault, it is (often) the fault of the rose’s genes. However, he does say that there are things you are responsible for.
Roses need a good site that has at least six hours of sun a day.
Roses need a good soil, with a pH between 5.5-7, enriched with compost and a layer of mulch.
Roses need consistent water especially for the first year or two after planting. However the soil must drain well or the roots will rot.
Roses need annual helpings of compost and an organic fertilizer like Rose-Tone, as well as a renewed layer of mulch.
Gardeners are familiar with hybrid vegetable seeds with disease resistance. New varieties are always being developed to resist various rots, mildews, fusarium and blights. This makes success more sure for the vegetable gardener. Now rose lovers can look for roses with genetic disease resistance and a long bloom period. Red Knock Out Roses have gotten a lot of publicity but some of Kukielski’s favorites are Drift landscape roses in Pink, Peach and Coral, Oso Easy Cherry Pie, Julia Child yellow rose and three Kordes hybrids: KOSMOS (pale creamy peach), Cinderella (pink) and Brothers Grimm (orange). That is just the beginning. More easy care, disease resistant roses are on their way.
I will be giving a talk about the sustainable rose at the Western Mass Master Gardener Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 21 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. I will also be selling my book The Roses at the End of the Road. For full information about the Symposium go to www.wmmga.org. Hope to see you there.
The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose
Between the Rows March 14, 2015