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Forbes Library Leads Off Garden Tour Season

Julie Abramson’s Garden

Julie Abramson’ s garden  is just one of six garden that will enchant garden lovers on the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 8, from 10 am til 3 pm. Julie’s is a collector’s garden that features some notable trees, clematis, and a colorful array of perennials and a rock garden. I was intrigued by the description of a rustic arbor covered with climbinbing hydrangea, PLUS two other arbors covered with roses, honeysuckle and clematis. Pure romance!

One garden combines formal and informal elements with wonderful and whimsical sculptures, and a tree house. Another garden is organically maintained with a focus on native plants. The terraced backyard features many beautiful trees and shrubs. One garden consists of six colorful garden rooms and a formal French vegetable garden. I cannot miss that. There is a lawn free garden! Perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and a grid of groundcovers, but no turf. The sixth garden surrounds a four unit condominium with a woodland in the front yard, and invidual private gardens. Clearly, there is  something for everyone. Gardens to inspire and teach.

The tickets are $15.00 ($20.00 on the day of the tour) and can be bought at Forbes Library, State St. Fruit in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence, Hadley Garden Center and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.  There are also tickets for wonderful raffle items for gardens on sale at the library; they include 2 yards of Bill Obear’s compost; gift items from Women’s Work; a garden consultation from Jim McSweeney, a planted container and gift certificate from Annie’s and gift certificates of $50.00 from Bay State Perennial Farm and $100.00 from Hadley Garden Center as well as other fun items.

What a wonderful way to start the garden tour season – and help the Forbes Library which is such an important library, serving many readers beyond the Northampton borders. Proceeds will benefit the Forbes Library

Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn Hadden

Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn Hadden

What has your lawn done for you lately? That is the question asked by Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn J. Hadden and published by Timber Press ($24.95).

My husband would answer “Not much.” He was happy to find a strong boy to give the lawn a final mowing just before Thanksgiving. The lawn requires a fair amount of time and equipment to keep it mowed, even on the irregular schedule we manage to keep. We never fertilize or water, but even so, the lawn is definitely work.

Evelyn Hadden is a founder of Lawn Reform Coalition which aims to teach people about sustainable, healthier lawns. In Beautiful No-Mow Yards she proposes 50 alternatives to mowed grass lawns, offering solutions to cutting down on grass cutting in ways that are likely to appeal to every kind of gardener: new gardeners who are more interested in flowers or vegetables, experienced gardeners who are looking for new ways to garden, and environmentally concerned gardeners who want to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, herbicides and their own energy.

The table of contents lists some of the ways to think about no-mow gardens, or elements that will eliminate a lot of mowing. Play areas, patios and ponds do not need any mowing. Rain gardens keep rain water on site, with beautiful and varied plants. They never need mowing and if you live on a residential street your rain garden will also keep water out of stressed storm sewers.

Other chapters give advice about shade gardens, meadow and prairie gardens, edible gardens and stroll gardens, but it is not necessary to devote yourself to a single garden type. Many of us have patios and play areas, but still have lawns, after all. Hadden has spoken to couples like the Mayberg’s who have a patio and fire pit where they can sit and “enjoy views into two shade gardens, a mini-prairie, and a pond garden.” Curving paths lead into spaces that create different moods, but none that require mowing.

We have too much lawn at our house, but a number of years ago I realized that the common thyme growing in my herb garden had jumped to the west, overtaking the grass around a row of roses, and even jumping into the weedy field beyond. After that I began digging up clumps of thyme and planting them in a section of our front lawn where the soil is dry and not very fertile. The thyme is happy there and has spread over a large area. I love thinking that I have this lovely English thyme lawn that needs infrequent mowing.

Thyme is one of the living carpets that Hadden includes when listing other familiar ground covers like sedums, sweet woodruff, ajuga, lamium and others. Even those of us who need or desire lawn probably have areas that are not going to get a lot of foot traffic and could very easily and attractively be planted with these types of groundcovers.

Clump of barren strawberry in bloom

Four or five years ago I started planting barren strawberry (Waldsteinia), a native groundcover with strawberry-like leaves and little yellow flowers at the edge of our too-big lawn where it has spread beautifully. I underplanted it with a variety of daffodils and this area is beautiful in the spring.

This fall I took clumps of golden marjoram that grows in a dense mat in my herb garden and planted it in my failed Circle Garden. Rabbits! Rabbits have made it impossible to grow flowers in that circle as I have done for several years. Golden marjoram will send up flower stalks but I think it will tolerate some mowing. We’ll see.

Many people are unhappy with the shade in their gardens, partly because it is so difficult to grow grass in the shade. I envy them. I only have sun and long for shade, partly because it would mean I could eliminate lawn and plant ferns, hostas, and delicate flowers like tiarella, As in each of the other chapters, Hadden offers chats with gardeners who have created unique no-mow gardens with beautiful photographs. In the shade garden she points out the pleasures of working with light and shade, with colors of foliage, and with foliage size and textures.

One of the latest trends in suburban gardening is the edible garden. Hadden shows us ways that the edible garden can be as beautiful as an ornamental garden, and just as welcoming for sitting and visiting.

If we really must have a lawn Hadden devotes a chapter to Smarter Lawns. These can be achieved with low care grasses. In our region this would be fine fescues that can be kept to a height of four inches with only three or four mowings a years.

I call my unfertilized, un-herbicided, unwatered lawn filled with violets, dandelions, hawkweed, daisies and lots of clover a flowery mead, but Hadden calls this kind of lawn a freedom lawn. She provides whole list of plants that can be over-seeded a grass lawn.

A final section provides a small list of ground layer plants from Ajuga reptans only 2-4 inches high to 7 foot high joe pye weed.

Beautiful No-MowYards will be a wonderful gift to yourself, or to the gardener in your life who is rethinking where she spends her energy and labor. For myself, I find more reward in caring for my vegetable garden, roses and other ornamentals, than the lawn.

Between the Rows  December 1, 2012

A Golden Spring Walk on the Smith College Campus

Smith College Lawn 3-27-12

My walk across the sunny Smith College Campus yesterday was a golden spring garden.

Who can identify this flower growing in the lawn?

'February Gold' narcissus

Magnolia at Lyman Plant House


Magnolia buds

Corylopsis glabrescens - Winter hazel

Dandelion - even at Smith College

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.


Safe Lawn Suggestions

The Flowery Mead aka Our Lawn

We have more lawn than we would like, and more lawn than people like Susan Harris, one of the Lawn Reform instigators, recommend, we have been working to eliminate lawn. I have the Rose Bank and the Daylily Bank, to cut down on mowing and  therefore energy use. I am moving the pretty groundcover, barren strawberry (Waldenstenia), into an area along the edge of the lawn. And I am trying to turn the whole front lawn into a thyme lawn. For a couple of years we have been planting plugs of common thyme into the lawn and it is Taking Over! Less mowing.

Barren Strawberry

However, lawns are not going away anytime soon. Paul Tukey of Safe Lawns, has this advice for people who have waterlogged and damaged lawns after tropical storm Irene.

Paul Tukey’s website also passed on this horrifying news about Frenkenlawns. Many people can dismiss the news about Genetically Modified alfalfa and the problems it might cause. After all, who gives a lot of thought to alfalfa. However, even people who are concerned about the widespread use of GMO seed for corn, soybeans and alfalfa on farms, might not be aware that GMO lawn seed has been approved by the USDA.  Read this news story:

And one more piece of information from Safe Lawns:

I want children to be able to play on my lawn, weedy patch though it is. I want to walk barefoot on my lawn. I want to be safe and healthy on my own plot of land. Therefore I have never fertilized my lawn with anything other than grass clippings, and I have never used herbicides or pesticides on my lawn. All totally unnecessary. I have even added clover seed to my seed mix when I have had to plant new grass after construction. And of course, there is always common thyme.

Monday Record 5-23

Earth Oven at Katywil

There isn’t much to report about progress in the garden. This report is full of  rain, showers, downpour, drizzle, rain, spitz and fog.   Fortunately a showery day did not deter the Yestermorrow crew who came to Katywil to hold an Earth Oven Building workshop.  The stone foundation had been completed two weeks ago and Saturday was going to see building of a wood fired oven. The workshop participants had to get deep into the mud (earth) and muddy straw so a little water from the heavens was not a problem. I will have more about this project soon.

Pollen cloud

While I was watching the oven construction a great cry went out. “Look!”  And then we were all looking down and across the hills a a great wind blew up and sent clouds of green pollen across the valley. None of us had seen anything like it.  No wonder allergy sufferers are having such a bad year.

Yesterday was the first day in two weeks that we could do anything substantial out in the garden. The grass was still damp, but Henry mowed. Now I have to rake.  I will not put these clippings in the compost, because my pile never gets hot enough to kill all the dandelion seeds. So I guess this chore isn’t quite done.

My to-do list included pruning the roses and weeding along the Shed Bed, Rose Walk and the Rose Bank.  I collected two wheelbarrows full of prunings and weedings, but I think there is more to do. I don’t like to rush into pruning winterkill, in case a branch is just a lazy leaf and still alive. I can’t cross this off my list yet either.

However, before the bugs drove me inside to get busy roasting a chicken, and getting some blueberry muffins into the over,  I did do a bit of weeding in the front garden, and put in a second planting of spinach and Tango lettuce.  It is not often I get such a good photo of a completed job.  Actually, its not often I actually complete a job to photo-worthiness.

Another Lawn-less Garden

Yesterday I attended a reunion of the book club I helped found in 1965. The book club continues, and the book under discussion was Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time.  I very much enjoy Petterson’s books, and indeed many of the chilly books of the Scandinavian writers, but it is ironic that this book of lonliness and the failure of emotional ties was the topic among a group of women friends meeting over tea and cake while rain fell on the verdant garden outside the windows.

The club membership has shifted over the years, but all of us could look back over the river of time we each have swum and been generally happy – while admitting that there may have been dangerous rapids from time to time.  We are all women of  “a certain age’, no one gets to this point without having experienced sorrows, but we are all fortunate to have many joys.

The Gazebo

I enjoyed the view of this charming gazebo from the window, but just before we left I got a tour of Audrey’s dripping garden and got to peek into the windows where other meetings of the book club have met.

The brook next to the gazebo was racing and tumbling over the stones.

Next to the screened gazebo was a little seating area. I loved the little side table made of pots and a board.

Audrey said she has seats all over the garden because she can’t work for very long without needing a respite.

I looked at all those seats and saw the reminder that we all should sit and enjoy the garden from time to time –  without a weeder clutched in our hand.

Every garden should have a touch of humor.

Did you miss a lawn?  I didn’t.

The First Mowing

Grass loves cool weather and rain. We have had both in abundance which means it was time for the first lawn mowing. The strip of lawn in front of the house looks neat, and so does the main lawn. Henry even managed to get into the Sunken Garden. I thought it was still pretty wet.  The late Elsa Bakalar, friend and mentor, said one of the tricks to preparing a garden for a Garden Tour is to keep the lawn regularly mowed – at least until the day of the tour.  She also said another important trick is to have sharp clean edges on the garden beds. I will have to work on that.

Bridge of Flowers May 6, 2011


In addition to working on my own garden, I brought plants down to the Bridge of Flowers to be potted up for the big Plant Sale on May 14.  The explosion of spring bloom is truly magnificent.

Earlier in the week I joined two other member of the Bridge committee to buy annuals for the sale, and I also got a delivery from Bluestone Perennials.  I put three yellow Digitalis grandiflora ‘Ambigua’ and three little red Achillea ‘Paprika’ in the new bed by Miss Willmott lilac as well as a yellow strawflower from LaSalles. I will get more annuals at the Plant Sale to fill in!

The Front Garden is starting to settle in.  The spinach isn’t doing too well yet, but the tiny lettuce seedlings I put in a week ago are growing, as are the very tiny broccoli seedlings. On the other side of the path I also planted French Breakfast radishes, a mustard salad mix and beets.  That bed had beautiful broccoli last year and I think the soil will be really good for root crops. The photo does not do the growth justice, but I am very happy.

Of course, it was Mother’s Day weekend. We drove out to Tyngsboro for a barbecue with daughters Diane and Betsy and their kids. Son Chris also showed up. We had a wonderful visit!  Here is a rare photo of Diane with 16 year old Colleen, the youngest of Diane’s three daughters.

Lawn Pesticide Awareness Day

My 'flowery mead' aka my lawn

My lawn might not inspire anyone who demands fine turf, but it is safe for the children who play on it, and my water supply. It has lots of clover which is very green and beautiful. How did clover become a ‘weed’ in the garden? I do not know.

Canada has been more aware of the dangers of lawn care chemicals for longer than the U.S., but that is changing.  With organizations like Safe Lawns and the Lawn Reform Coalition spreading the word Americans are beginning to limit their lawn size and eliminating the poisons that can cause skin rashes and pollute our water systems.

“On Friday, May 6, more than 70 international organizations are aligning with a proclamation to honor the woman credited with instigating an international movement:

“We, the undersigned members of the North American health, environmental, landscape and farming community, hereby proclaim Friday, May 6, 2011 as Lawn Pesticide Awareness Day in honor of Dr. June Irwin’s leading role in passage of North America’s lawn first pesticide ban in Hudson, Quebec, on May 6, 1991.” To see this full story with all the signatories click on the link below.

I hope you will all go out today and enjoy your healthy, pesticide-free lawn.

Ohhhh – Look at that!

Ohhhhhh – Look at that! I cannot tell you how many times I uttered those words, and Le Flaneur listened patiently, turned and followed my pointing fingers at heucheras, sailboats, meat packing establishments, roof top restaurants and etc., etc., etc.

Battery Park NYC

We took the train into the city and set off to explore an array of Parks.  We began at Battery Park, South Ferry, where people can get ferries to Staten Island, or Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. This area has all been refurbished since we left New York in 1979.  The plantings were big and varied, with spring bloomers, foliage in every shade of green and red, ferns, grasses, and shrubs. The weather was mild, although rain threatened all day, and people were enjoying the promenades along the Hudson River.

Where to go? Castle Clinton? or off to the Islands?

Guide books are available with information about plantings. For the website click here.

Wagner Park

School children were enjoying Wagner Park, the first of the Parks for Battery Park City. Plantings for this Park were designed by Lynden B. Miller who I heard speak about her book, Parks, Plants and People: Beautifying the Urban Landscape. She was the inspiration for this tour. We saw our first roses in bloom here.

The Hudson as Water Feature

These gardens between the Hudson River and the building of Battery Park City look right down at the  tidal river. With its tides and moods the river becomes an amazing water feature.

A luncheon view

We had lunch at the South West Restaurant. We watched the boats on the river, the joggers, bicyclists, moms with strollers, and workers taking their lunch hour picnics.

The Wintergarden

I expected a lavish conservatory to be inside the Wintergarden, but the large skylit lobby had only eight very tall palm trees – and a wonderful photography exhibit of the faces of our Elders, Clint Eastwood, Bishop Tutu, Vanessa Redgrave, Madeline Albright and many others.


We set off  to find The Highline and saw that parks aren’t the only place to see magnificent plants. These wisteria are amazing.

The High Line

We walked uptown and over to 14th Street and ascended to the new High Line Gardens built on the old elevated freight train tracks.  We walked along up to West 23rd Street. The High Line is still being built and planted and will continue up to 34th Street.

Bryant Park

The beauty of the Battery Park City Gardens was an unexpected pleasure. They were so beautiful and were being enjoyed by so many people, even on this less than lovely day. But Bryant Park, the park behind the 42nd St. Public Library, was the highlight of the day. The park was restored and renovated in 1986 and it is a treasure. Seating, drinks, and so much more.

Children's Wing of the Bryant Park Reading Room

A section of the park was designated as The Reading Room with a number of bookshelves filled with books and audio books, to be read and returned right there. If you aren’t reading those books you can’t sit in this area of the park.

Book Club Meeting!

Actually, I guess you were allowed to sit here, if you had read the books. A lively book club meeting was being held here.  Nearby were people playing chess and one gentleman was offering chess lessons.  This park is named for one of our great American poets, William Cullen Bryant. A statue of this poet who was born in Cummington, Mass, not far from us, watches over the gatherings in the park. I am sure he will be happy to know that tomorrow we will be celebrating Emily Dickinson at the New York Botanical Garden.

Monday Record April 4

The main task for these past few beautiful days has been setting up the new garden in front of the house which gets protection from the wind,  and sun early in the season. I thought I could plant hardy vegetables here and start my harvest early.  Once again I used the lasagna method of starting a new garden.  First I put down old chick house cleanings in lieu of finished compost.  We did not get chicks last year and although we gave a major cleaning of the area, moving the chick bedding to the compost pile, the hens occasionally got in there and so there was a bit more bedding and manure.

I watered that material and then laid down cardboard over the area including what would be the path. On top of the cardboard I put down soil mixed with finished compost.

I got a couple of stationwagon loads of public wood chips, a benefit of the big ice storm in December 2008.  I put the chips on top of cardboard behind the planting bed, against the house, and then on the cardboard path.

On the other side of the path I spread unfinished compost from the pile I started last spring.  When I get more cardboard I will finish this planting bed.

I haven’t planted in the new bed yet, but I did plant a little block of spinach in the Herb Garden, again in front of the house where it is easy to keep watered. Down in the Potager I planted a 7 foot double row of sugar snap peas, a 6 foot row of Renee’s Saltwater Taffy Swirls sweet peas, and Renee’s larkspur.

I also got several little flats of seeds going in the house, zinnias, broccoli, cilantro, cosmos, stocks, and lettuce. One tray of seeds is on a heating mat which slightly speeds up germination.  Both trays sit on a southern windowsill. I can see spring looking more and more as though she is almost ready to stay.

Barren Strawberry and daffodil shoots

An evening stroll through the garden showed that daffodil shoots are coming up everywhere. Eventually I hope the native barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) will form a groundcover mat with the daffodils coming up through. I will get a few more barren strawberry plants from Nasami Farm when it opens in a couple of weeks. We are in the process of eliminating lawn in this area between the road and the peonies and hydrangeas.

Now that the gardening season has begun the Monday Record will be a regular feature. I keep a garden journal, but  the Monday Record has been a fun and helpful way for me to me to be able to check the weekly progression of chores and results.