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Bloom Day May 15, 2011

I don’t think I have ever had this Bloom before on my blog. Several forsythia bushes were here when we bought they house : they are so old and entrenched that we have never been able even to contemplate the work it would take to pull them out. They rarely bloom, but they sure do grow.  But this year!  Not spectacular, but a regular profusion. A milder winter?  Global climate change? I have no idea why, but the blossoms are very welcome.

Ice Wings daffodil?

There are lots of daffodils in bloom right now. I must have at least eight varieties in various shades of yellow and white, but I will let this one stand in for all the rest. I think it is Ice Wings and it is the most unusual of my collection. If it is Ice Wings it is a tazetta. The daffodils grow in the lawn and you can see the hawkweeds budding up.


I love the yellow primroses that has been blooming in this weedy spot under the trees near our blueberry patch for probably 20 years, ever since I stuck the pot that I bought at the supermarket in the ground.

Cherry blossoms

We planted this sour cherry tree years ago.  I love cherry pie.  But we never get the berries, the birds do.

There are thickets of wild cherry trees around the hen house. When I look from a distance they are not impressive, and when I look up close they are just beautiful.


Last year for the first time the cotoneaster bloomed.  Or at least I noticed it for the first time. The blossoms are quite quince-like.


Three blooms in one photo.  Muscari or grape hyacinths growing in the lawn, as well as dandelions, of course, and if you look very carefully in the top left corner, a yellow daffodil.


We’ve been planting our windbreak and saw the first clump of bluets just starting to bloom.  These must be a wildflower, surely.


The vibrunams growing in our woods where they can get a few rays of sun have started blooming.  Can I call this plant a wildflower, too?  They seem to grow wild in the local woods.

There are other plants blooming, white and purple violets in the lawn as well as ground ivy, johnny jump-ups, sweet violets (not the lawn kind)-  and the lilacs have fat buds, but no bloom yet.

Thank you Carol for inventing this wonderful way for us all to keep a good bloom record of our gardens, and for making it possible to visit the blooms in gardens across the country. Click here to visit Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens.

A Flower Hill Farm Idyll

A welcoming table

I drove over hill and over dale until I found the white house with the green roof – and a welcoming table in the garden. Prettier than the table, and with a smile that said more about welcome than a pretty table, Carol greeted me under centuries old maples and led me into the garden.

A field for the monarchs

Those who are familiar with the Flower Hill Farm landscape through Carol’s gorgeous photographs, can imagine the gardens that meander downhill, and the hill rising in the distance, just now turning into a tapestry of autumn color. And yet to be there under Carol’s sky, and watch the monarchs flitting and resting in her field made for a truly magical afternoon.

When I arrived it was time for my midafternoon snack and Carol had anticipated my need with beautiful little sandwiches and apples from her tree. She made tea and I uncovered the cake I brought while we chattered and compared notes about our life here in the  country.  Sometimes people who read our ‘country’ blogs may think our life is one long idyll, but we are busy in and out of our gardens and we had a lot to say to each other.

Carol of Flower Hill Farm

Carol is an artist. I got to see some of her beautiful paintings, as well as more more of her stunning photographic prints. But as  we began our walk through the garden it was clear her artistry takes another form in the garden in a way I will never emulate. She prunes! Her trees and shrubs are graceful sculptures, and yet totally natural and seemingly artless.

My photographs will not do justice to her expertise, but I was amazed at how she has trained this hydrangea. I have never thought about pruning my hydrangea for any purpose except keeping it in bloom.

The Three Graces

I loved the Three Graces. Carol has placed and pruned these crabapples to make a fruitful sisterhood providing food and shelter for the birds.

As we walked  I couldn’t help but think of the lines in the Christina Rosetti poem, “My heart is like an apple tree/ Whose boughs are bent with thick set fruit.”  These laden boughs were for the birds, but there were many other fruitful trees, an echo of the  fruitful life Carol has made for herself here.

The gateway

She led me towards a gateway formed by two trees to a curving path that led to who knew what beauty. From a slightly different perspective the trees framed the stark white birches. Light and shadow. Every artist’s friend.

Pale sedum

There were so many interesting and beautiful plants to admire as we strolled. After a while I had to hold myself in check because I had barely to express my pleasure at an unusual  plant like this pale sedum when Carol would have offered to dig up a root – or to promise one in the spring. This fall is really too dry for transplanting now.

The autumn afternoon was drawing to a close and we had to say – not goodbye – but a bientot. Til soon.  Now that I know the road, and know that Carol’s friendship is waiting at the end, the road will be short.

The road to pleasure is also short for those who take advantage of all that Flower Hill has to offer, a B&B retreat, and stunning flower arrangements for every occasion.

Weeding, Mowing – and a Surprise

Stanley Plum

Mostly I just weeded, and weeded all weekend, while Henry mowed and mowed.  The big job we did, almost, was to take down this Stanley plum tree in our little ‘orchard’ next to the vegetable garden and rasberry patch. This tree has suffered over the years, most notably during the year we lived in Beijing and had renters;  their horses had a fondness for fruit tree bark.  The chain saw gave out before we got down the main trunks. We will enjoy the ‘sculpture’ until we get a new bar for the saw.

Plum black knot

The plum tree we took down was suffering from a severe case of black knot fungus.  There was no way to remove a few branches to clean up the tree and making it bear once more. Black knot is unmistakable and very ugly.  The knots will get bigger and bigger every year, and spread through out the tree, sapping its vitality until the tree is no longer productive. All I can do is keep a close eye on the remaining tree and cut out and burn any further knots.

Stanley plums

Fortunately we will be able to continue enjoying  self pollinating Stanley plums because our other tree is bearing. There is a bit of black knot on this tree, but I will  prune out the few affected branches.  Stanley plums are suseptible to black knot.  I don’t know where the original spores come from, possibly from wild cherry trees in  the area.

My compost pile

I had just gathered up and dumped the spent broccoli plants and last weeds for the day on our unlovely compost pile; Henry had put away the lawn mower and we were preparing to call it a day, when a little red Zipcar pulled up.  Usually when an unfamiliar car arrives at the End of the Road it is because the driver has made a wrong turn, but not this time.

Nick and Emily

The End of the Road was very familiar to Nick Griffin whose stepfather sold us the house in 1979.  He and his fiance Emily had been at a big wedding in Vermont and were so close to the vacation home of his youth that he could not resist trying to find it and see if he would remember any of the house or town after 30 years.  We gave him the tour, beginning with his old treehouse, which did have some renovations some number of years ago – and in need of more. It was fun to look at the changes in the house with them, describe the Fourth of July barn fire, talk about our first neighbor, Mabel Vreeland,  and reminisce about summer vacations and ski weekends with only a fireplace for heat. Brrrrr!  I like knowing about how previous owners enjoyed the house, and hearing about their fond memories.

William Baffin – on Tour

William Baffin

This is not my William Baffin rose! Alas!  I visited Deirdre Bonifaz whose garden is on the Franklin Land Trust Garden tour on June 26 & 27. Her garden has everything – blooming trees, blooming shrubs, fruit trees, perennials, vegetables, herbs, AND roses!

We went around identifying the roses when we could, and admiring them always.  Deirdre could hardly believe that I had managed to kill a William Baffin rose.  You can see what hers looks like. When Nina Newington was living here and helping Deirdre she insisted on building a sturdy support to hold the William Baffin. It looks kind of like a ‘short’ pergola, but I should point out that the rose is at least  ten feet tall.  The support was about as tall as I am.

I have never seen a rose like this, even though William Baffin, one of the Canadian Explorer hybrids, is known for being a vigorous grower. Deirdre bought hers from the Pickering Nursery in Canada and said their is no problem with the plants crossing the border.

This year’s Franklin Land Trust tour focuses on gardens and farms in Conway and Whately. Please contact the office at 413.625.9151 to purchase tickets or email:

There are other roses in this beautiful garden including climbing roses on a pergola.

White climber

Based on its size and fierce thorns we think this pink mystery rose might be Jens Munk.

The  roses are spectacular, but there are more subtle beauties as well. I loved this little yellow columbine.



The first unpleasant surprise was frost!  The 7 am temperature on our thermometer on the north side of the house, but in the sun, said 42 degrees and I rejoiced. But my husband brought in the cat’s frozen water dish from the welcoming platform. The first shock. Then I went out to open our ad hoc cold frame and the inside was all frosty. I’d better mark this frost date in my Journal.

Jewel Black Raspberry

The second, and final, unpleasant surprise of the morning was finding one of the 10 newly planted and mulched black raspberry plants dug up. Who would do that? The deer have munched the hostas, but there’s not much to eat on a new ‘black cap’.  I will have to rush out and replant this, but I fear the roots may have dried out beyond reviving.

Rangoon rhododendron

Fortunately there was a pleasant surprise. The Rangoon rhododendron’s buds are preparing to open, as are the buds on Boule de Neige.  A tiny red primrose was also blooming this morning. I haven’t been paying very much attention to this bed next to the Cottage Ornee, but I got here in time. Buds of the tree peonies are swelling. It won’t be long.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

The reason I bought Beauty of Moscow is because the fat pink buds are just as beautiful as the big double white flowers. I bought this lilac locally from the Shelburne Farm and Garden Center several years ago.

The lovely blossoms on this ancient apple tree next to the Cottage Ornee are no surprise. The Cottage was sited to nestle between, and almost under, this apple tree and a large high bush cranberry (virburnam), both of which suffered terribly in the Ice Storm of 2008. Yet it still blooms, full of grace and determination.

The Week That Was

Sargent Crabapple

It was quite a week, with two New York days, visiting parks, and the New York Botanical Garden’s Emily Dickinson Exhibit. (See my earlier posts) I came home to my own show – the Sargent Crab in the mucky Sunken Garden is in full bloom. So far it has been able to hold on to it’s leaves and flowers but ever since I got home late Wednesday the winds have been blowing, and the temperature has been dropping. Not below freezing, so far.

Although the Sunken Garden is still boggy, the winds have been drying. I have been watering the roses and vegetables. On April 1 I planted Renee’s Baby Leaf ‘Catalina’ spinach in the Herb Bed and it is just about ready for a thinning.  The soil here is good, and there is some protection from the wind.  The seeds and seedlings that I planted in the new Front Garden are also surviving. I must have slipped with the Red Sails lettuce because there are clumps in serious need of thinning. I think we’ll have our first garden salad this week.

Forget me nots

Of course I have flowers. The daffodils are continuing and the lilacs are just beginning to bloom, as are these tulips which I have no memory of planting. I can’t wait to see what color they are.  And the forget me nots! Last year at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale (coming up May 22 in Shelburne Falls) I bought two little pots and now I have all the forget me nots I could want. Plenty to share too.

Golden marjoram

Looking forward to this year’s Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale I have been potting up bits of golden marjoram for the new Herb Section of the sale. I’ll also be bringing some down to the Greenfield Garden Club’s Spring Extravaganza plant sale on May 29.   Friends of the Sunderland Library are having a Book and Plant Sale on Saturday, May 15 from 9-3 pm. Baked Goods too. All these local fund-raising sales are excellent ways to get good plants for your own garden and support the good works of many community organizations.

All Kinds of Apple Trees

View from the kitchen stove

When we first moved into our old farmhouse in Heath in November of 1979, I cooked in what the previous owners called ‘the summer kitchen’ although there was no other kitchen. It was small and oddly shaped because of the stairway that went up to a loft/attic space. The 1930s era stove was on the north wall next to a small window that looked up the hill, across the field to an old apple tree.

When the wind blew through the many drafty windows, that first bitter winter the view out the kitchen window was not inspiring. But, in the spring, when the apple tree burst into glorious bloom I remembered all the reasons we had moved to the country.

We don’t actually harvest many apples from the tree on the hill. One visitor said it might be a Baldwin, and Baldwin apples were a common variety in our area. When you drive through town you can still see the remnants of old orchards, and the promise of one new orchard growing a whole variety of apples.

I no longer look out of that particular window when I am cooking, but the view to the north is one of my favorites in the spring.

Apple trees bloom early in the season and are welcome and valuable for that very reason. We planted some dwarf apple trees that are now about 15 feet tall. We planted heirloom varieties as well as Freedom and Liberty, disease resistant hybrids. Only the Liberty and Freedom survived tenants we had one year. They had horses, and the horses seemed to be very fond of romping beyond fences and of apple bark.

I confess that we have not taken very good care of the surviving trees which is a tribute to their hardiness and disease resistance, the very reasons we chose them. Liberty and Freedom produce medium sized red apples that ripen in September and are good for eating and cooking.  Given good conditions they can be stored for up to five months. We harvest too few apples to store, but we get some good eating.

A friend gave us a Sargent crabapple, a small ornamental tree with good disease resistance, which we planted in the center of the Sunken Garden about 15 years ago. In the spring the tight red buds make the tree seem to blush; when the flowers open the tree is a cloud of blossom. I have not pruned it to the spare sculptural shape that many people manage, but it remains a small tree not much more than eight feet tall with a spread of twice that. It produces tiny red fruits that are of no use in the kitchen, but the birds like them.

Sargent crab May 2009

Even though I do not  rigorously control the tree, it takes a lot of pruning. I do what I consider a radical pruning every spring, but there is more to do the following spring.  They can be given another pruning in summer if you wish, but I haven’t done that.

Sargent crab, like other crabapples, is not fussy. It needs full sun, but the soil can be heavy or loamy, acid or alkaline. It prefers well drained soil, but my Sargent crab thrives in a very wet spot.

The Sargent crab is a small crabapple, but there are many other beautiful crabapples most of which reach a height of between 15 and 25 feet. They bloom in many shades. SugarTyme is one of the most popular of these ornamental trees. It has white spring blossoms, green foliage and red fruits.

Royalty crabapple is notable for the deep reddish foliage and dark red flowers, while Red Splendor has reddish foliage but pink blossoms and red fruits that do not fall off the tree. No litter.

Profussion is a larger tree, reaching a height of 25 feet, with at least as wide a spread. The flowers are purple-red  with bronze-y green foliage. As you might guess from its name, this variety is noted for the profusion of bloom.

For those who like the grace of a weeping tree there is Red Jade. This crab grows to 12 feet and just as wide – a lovely pink umbrella of a tree that bright red fruits in the fall.

If you are looking for a crabapple that you can actually eat, Whitney is the choice. Whitney’s one to two inch fruits are yellow and red, perfect for making jelly or a spiced pickle.

One stunning way to use crabapples would be as an allee, planting them on either side of drive or road. Here in New England we are aware of the beauty of magnificent maples along old roads, a kind of municipal allee. Allees of large deciduous trees, or graceful birches have been used on great estates leading up to stately homes. I think an allee planted with a humbler tree, a blooming tree, is a beautiful way to lead up a long drive to a house in the country.

Allees remind us of the power of massing a single plant. That power is all the more dramatic when you are talking about trees.

Whether you want fruit to eat, food for the birds, or a big spring bouquet, there is an apple tree for you.

Between the Rows  April 24, 2010

Apple Harvest

These apples may not be the most beautiful, but they are pretty sound inside which means I spent the afternoon peeling, chopping and boiling them down to make 5 quarts of apple butter, a delicacy I only discovered last year.

Two quarts have already been passed along to my oldest daughter and her family. They like apple butter on black pumpernickel bread, we like it on French toast.  There is hardly any way to use apples that is not delicious, in sauce, in stuffings, in chutney, in ‘mincemeat’, in oven pancakes, in pies, cakes and cookies. Oh, and you can eat them right out of hand.

Apples Apples Apples

Ginger Gold and Paula Red

Ginger Gold and Paula Red

My father never felt dinner was over until he had eaten his apple. The apple was a ritual. He loved cutting an apple in half around the equator to show us, or any available children, the star hidden in the center of the apple. And he proved the adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. He rarely needed the services of a doctor until his short final illness.

            With news coverage of the H1N1 flu, we are all looking for ways to stay healthy.  I haven’t heard that the beneficial properties of apples will help in this instance; frequent thorough handwashing is the main prophylactic, but keeping all systems strong and healthy is never a bad idea.

            Apples have all sorts of nutritional benefits providing antioxidants, Vitamins A and C, fiber, and boron which helps strengthen bones.  All this and only 81 calories for a medium sized apple.  It is important to remember that the apple skin is a vital part of these benefits.

            Perhaps the ancients knew of these benefits because apples have been cultivated for thousands of years.  Apples are thought to have originated in Kazakstan. Their culture spread throughout the Fertile Crescent and by 6500 B.C. archeological finds show they were grown in the Jordan Valley.

            The Greek Homer wrote of the pleasure of apples; the Romans Cicero and Pliny the Elder encouraged the growing of apples.  Right here in the United States we have our own historic apple planter, Johnny Appleseed.

            Johnny Appleseed was born as John Chapman in Leominster on September 26, 1774 which seems an appropriate month for the birth of a man who gave his life to planting apples.

            He was only 18 when he set out from Massachusetts and spent the rest of his life wandering in the Midwest, mainly Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, planting apples wherever he went.

            As Michael Pollan pointed out in his book, Botany of Desire, settlers of that day were not as interested in eating an apple a day as they were in drinking apples.  Cider, hard cider, was a way of preserving apples for use all year long.

            Cider is still an important product for apple orchardists, and for their customers. This year Cider Days are scheduled for November 7 and 8, with tours of local orchards throughout the county, and tastings of local cider and apples.  Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farm said they press cider about once a week. For Cider Days they will have a special Vintage Blend cider, made solely from Northern Spy and Baldwin apples, as well as a Russet Blend made from Roxbury Russet and Golden Russet apples.

            Johnny Appleseed might very well recognize some of the heritage apple varieties that still go into good cider, and are becoming more popular for eating out of hand. Of the 50 or so varieties grown at Clarkdale, about 15 are heritage apples like Cox’s Orange Pippin and Spitzenberg. In fact Spitzenberg is thought to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple.

            Tim Smith at Apex Orchard also grows several heritage varieties including Spitzenberg, Ashmead Kernel, Milton and Baldwin.  Instead of cider, Apex Orchard makes vinegar. Smith says that since the different varieties ripen for harvest over the fall season they use the sweetest varieties available at any given time to make their vinegar. 

            As a baker I was interested in recommendations for pie baking.  Tastes in pies differ as I found.  Clark prefers Gravenstein and Northern Spy, while Smith says his family uses Macintosh and Cortland. He added that when he bakes the pie he always adds a Mutsu.  They both agree that a combination of apples makes the best pie. That is the way I bake my apple pies as well.

            Both Clarkdale and Apex also grow the very popular Honey Crisp apple, a relatively new variety. Smith said that Honey Crisp ripens over a month starting now. One of its benefits is that it keeps so well in the orchard’s storage room where the temperature is kept at 32 or even 30 degrees.  Smith explained that the sugar in the apples keeps them from freezing.

            I asked if I could store apples in my 50 degree dirt floored basement. Smith said yes, depending.  He explained that for every degree above 32 degrees, two weeks of storage time is lost.  I guess I’ll just keep using my refrigerator crisper and restock it frequently.

            We all have our favorite apples. When I was a child I thought Red Delicious apples were a real treat. Nowadays I like Spencer apples for eating.

            Apples are available all year long in the supermarket, but I prefer to eat them during the very long local season. Apples take me through the fall and winter, right into spring when local strawberries come in. 

Davenport Apple Collection at Tower Hill

Davenport Apple Collection at Tower Hill


            Tower Hill Botanic Garden celebrates the fall with their Shades of Autumn: A Family Celebration of the Fall Harvest Season on Columbus Day weekend, October 10, 11 and 12.  A star of the event is the Davenport Collection of Heirloom Apples comprised of 238 trees and 119 pre-20th century apple varieties.  Each afternoon at 2 pm they will hold an apple tasting, giving visitors a chance to taste some of their old apples, many of which have been very uncommon at the market.

 For full information about Shades of Autumn entertainments including entry fees logon to the Calendar section of their website, 

Between the Rows  September 12, 2009

Bloom Day May 15, 2009

Dandelions and violets in the flowery mead are still blooming.

Johnny jump ups are scattered everywhere. Where do they all come from? I wonder what a johnny jump up seed looks like flying on the wind. I’m not sounding like much of a gardener so far.

Many of the daffodils are starting to wind down, but others like this pheasant eye daff (Poeticus) bloom late. When I visited the daffodils at Tower Hill Botanic Garden last year I learned that all the shades of pink in pink daffodils come from the red genes in the pheasant eye.

How is it that I never noticed this low growing cotoneaster bloomed? Is this really the first year? Name lost.

Lilac season is just beginning. This is the ancient white lilac that was here when we bought our house in 1979. There is a hedge of white lilacs melding into a row of the old lavender lilacs. I’ve added a Beauty of Moscow whose beautiful pink buds open to white, Miss Willmott who won’t bloom until at least next year, deep purple Ludwig Spaeth, and the pretty pink Miss Canada who will not bloom until a bit later.

We’ve got a couple of semi-dwarf plum trees, and sometimes we get plums. When there are extras I can them and I think they are just beautiful in their juice.

We planted a sour cherry years ago. Any cherries that develop go to the birds. I was racing the rain when I took this photo.

We have apple trees  in bloom – at the edge of the lawn, along the drive (actually the town road), in the fields, next to the vegetable garden and

most spectacularly, the Sargent Crabapple in the center of the Sunken Garden.

For more beatiful blooms go to May Dreams Gardens. And thank you Carol for giving us this great way of seeing what is going on all across the country.