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Underutilized Trees and Shrubs

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey gave a useful workshop on Underutilized Trees and Shrubs at the WMMGA Spring Garden Symposium last weekend. I attended because I may not be quite finished choosing shrubs for our new Greenfield garden and I was looking for more suggestions. Small trees and shrubs are the elements I am counting on to make this a sustainable, low maintenance garden.

Vinskey’s list included trees like paperbark maple, tupelo, ironwood, redbud, stewartia, and pagoda dogwood. His shrub list included beautyberry, Carolina allspice, fringe tree, witch hazel, and redvein enkianthus. Vinskey chose these because of their fine attributes of bark, blossom and autumn color or winter interest. Happily for me I had already planted some of his suggestions.

It is important to know that Vinskey chose plants that were hardy in our region. The USDA lists Greenfield as zone 5b which means plants will survive winter temperatures as low as -15 to -10.  Nowadays I have to wonder whether we might actually be in zone 6a which is -10 to -5 and I would be willing to take a gamble on a slightly more tender plant like stewartia.

It is also important to know how much shade or sun a plant needs to thrive. However, I also have to take into account that my garden is very wet at least during late winter and early spring, even when we are having a drought. While listening to Vinskey I was happy that I had already planted pagoda dogwood and Carolina allspice in my garden. The pagoda dogwood is a small tree with a very horizontal arrangement of branches. The flowers are small and not particularly notable, but the sculptural shape of the tree is the delight. I saw a beautiful specimen in Minneapolis last summer; the tree’s gardener told me it did require some regular pruning to keep that clean shape at its best.

Calycanthus or Carolina allspice is a shrub that can take a fair amount of shade and produces dramatic dark red blossoms from May into July. And, of course, there is the sweet fragrance.

Elderberry bush

Elderberry bush

In addition I’ve planted buttonbush, elderberry, spicebush and winterberry shrubs, which I personally think of as underutilized. Perhaps some gardeners would consider them too wild for a cultivated garden.

My perennial list includes joe pye weed, boneset, culver’s root, Echinacea, American burnet, turtlehead, bee balm, Siberian irises Japanese primroses, and bog rosemary which is a water tolerant ground cover. You can see that in a sense I have been cultivating a wetland garden. These plants don’t need to be in wet ground all the time, but they thrive when the soil is moist, or water is puddling around their feet. Some are familiar to flower gardeners, but others are more unusual although those who love native flowers may find them familiar.

Monarda or bee balm

Monarda or bee balm with bee

The fact that I have so many native plants in my garden is because I wanted plants attractive to bees and other pollinators including butterflies. Having a pollinator garden is one of my goals. Because honeybees and other pollinators are under so much attack by the use, and often overuse, of herbicides and pesticides I want to play my part in supporting these vital creatures. Without pollinators many of our vegetables and fruits would no longer exist.

Bee Spaces Pollinator Garden Award

This year there will be a special opportunity and event at the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3. The Second Congregational Church, which this year is celebrating its 200th anniversary, has cooperated with the Franklin County Beekeepers Association for several years creating a bee festival that will entertain and educate children, and all the rest of us too, about honey bees and the 300 odd other native bees that work hard to make sure we have good vegetables and fruits to eat.

Greenfield has a very special connection to honeybees because the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth served as the Second Congregational Church’s minister from 1840-1848. He is one of the people who recognized ‘bee space’, the specific distance that honeybees leave between their honeycombs so that they could fill, or empty them. He also invented the modern wooden beehive that allows for ‘bee space’ between the removable frames.

This year, in honor of the church’s anniversary, special celebratory events are scheduled for the Bee Festival. Kim Flottam, editor in chief of Bee Culture Magazine and author of several books on beekeeping, will be the main speaker.

For those who do not keep bees, but welcome bees to their gardens the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Beekeeping Association will present awards to home gardens, farms, public or community gardens or businesses that provide some space for bees. Former Governor Deval Patrick will be on hand to present the awards. The award itself is a beautiful pottery plaque designed and made by the well known potter Molly Cantor. It is designed to be placed on a house or business, “designating you as a pollinator friendly garden of distinction.”

Rudbeckia is another good bee plant

Rudbeckia, black eyed susans are another good bee plant

Those who are interested in this award should fill out an application. Requirements are that the garden be in Franklin County, and that no pesticides or herbicides can be used anywhere on the property. For more information check out the Bee Spaces pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

This is the kick off of the award, so if you think your garden might need a little updating to be eligible remember that there is always next year, and the Second Annual Bee Spaces Award.

Between the Rows   March 25, 2017

D is for Dandelion on the A to Z Blogger Challenge

The Sunken Garden Dandelions

D is for Dandelion and the Dandelion is the Common Weed of the commonweeder blog. I consider the dandelion an important element in my Flowery Mead. The Extension Service might call my lawn a typical weedy patch, but I take a different view. The Flowery Mead also sports many violets which I just learned are important in supporting certain butterflies, clover, ground ivy and hawkweeds.

While many despise the dandelion, they do have many uses. My Swedish grandfather liked them in his salad. Some people cook them like spinach. You can even buy seeds (if you don’t have a neighbor with a Flowery Mead) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. All around the world, in Europe and China, dandelions are regarded as tonics, and credited with being a laxative, a diuretic, a blood cleanser (so necessary in the Spring), a digetive aid, AND when used in a poultice it can be used on snake bites. It is the root that is used in all these medicinal applications.

The name dandelion is a corruption of the French Dent de Lion, or teeth of the lion, based on the appearance of the jagged leaves. That is one of the reasons I chose the dandelion as symbol of my blog. I am a Leo. Also, the flower is like a little sun, and Leo is one of the Fire signs of the zodiac. It all fits together in my mind.

To see what else begins with D click here.

Bringing Nature Home at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium

Dr. Douglas Tallamy

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, was the keynote speaker at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium last week. His talk focused on the need for more insects to make our gardens – and the world – healthier and more ecologically balanced. “A mere 1 % [of all insects] interact with humans in negative ways. The other 99 % pollinate plants, return the nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, keep populations of insect herbivores in check, aerate and enrich the soil, and as I keep stressing, provide food either directly or indirectly for most other animals,” Tallamy writes in his book and illustrated in his talk.

Bringing Nature Home


His enlightening talk covered a lot of ground, but two ideas made a particular impression on me. The first was the idea of the environmental carrying capacity of our local landscape, and ultimately of the whole earth. The term carrying capacity refers to the amount of resources needed to sustain a certain population. It is easy to understand that a given population of insects, or birds or whatever, will decline when the food they require decreases.

So, what happens when, for example, the emerald ash borer, which is a threat inMassachusettsright now, were to kill all the ash trees? Forty-four insect species rely on the ash tree to survive. No ash trees; no more 44 insect species. And that means reduced food for the creatures who depend on those insects so their populations will decline as well. Insects are the very bottom of the food chain and we usually do not consider how important they are to the wildlife that we enjoy. At least, that is true for me.

Tallamy said many people ask him why insects can’t eat some other tree or plant? He explains that over thousands of years plants and insects have evolved together. The insects’ digestive systems have adapted/evolved to digest the particular chemicals in a plant’s foliage. They cannot immediately adapt to a new plant. That is one of the reasons that invasive plants can take over. The food web of insects, birds and wildlife cannot keep the invading plants in check.

The second idea Tallamy put forth is that not all native plants are equal. Some plants support many more species of wildlife than others. This was an eye opener for me. I have been talking about the benefits of native plants for a long time, but this idea never occurred to me. As you might expect, trees are the most productive in having what it takes to support many insects and birds. Trees are big. But even here, some trees are more productive than others. In his book, and on his website,, Tallamy lists the 22 of the best woody plants beginning with oaks that support 534 species, down to the chestnut which supports 125 species. Black cherries, maples and willows are also highly productive.

If we don’t have the room to plant an oak or two, we might be able to fit in a crabapple or some blueberries. We can plant asters, morning glories and lupines in our ornamental gardens. We can not only marvel at and admire the lupine meadows that some people in our area have cultivated, we can thank them for supporting 33 species of wildlife.

Those lupine meadows also remind up that birds and other pollinators need clumps of productive native plants. Their eyesight is not always good so they need big clumps of a useful plant to catch their attention. Tallamy pointed out that 80% of our food crops are pollinated by animals. It is clear that supporting that wildlife is very important in our area where there is a growing number of farms.

Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.

Suburban yards can play an enormous part in restoring the health of our ecosystem. A whole neighborhood that includes a substantial number of native trees, shrubs and other plants can make a significant impact.

I am so grateful to the Western Massachusetts Gardeners for bringing us this excellent program that included Ellen Sousa of Spencer and the author of The Green Garden, as well as workshops on making compost, hypertufa containers and bentwood trellises that not only make our gardens healthful and productive, but beautiful as well.

Their Spring Symposium is their big educational effort of the year, and there are two more Symposia coming up on April 6 in Holyokeand April 13 in Lenox. Check their website for complete details. However, they hold soil testing events, phone and email hotlines where you can get your questions answered, and lots of question answers right on the website. They even have a speakers bureau that can send a speaker to your club, or class, or other organization. If this is of interest to you send an email to for more information.

Now I am wondering how many of us will find a place to plant an oak. Or a crabapple.

Between  the Rows –  March 23, 2013

Timber Press and a Spring Giveaway

Jennifer Kujawski signing the book she wrote with her father, Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook

I spent today at a wonderful Spring Symposium organized by our local Master Gardeners who do so much to help us all improve our skills while offering us lots of inspiration. I bought a copy of the Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski and his daughter Jennifer, who live near by.
I know Ron from his days as a Cooperative Extension educator (and my days on the Extension Board). This sturdy spiral bound book published by Storey Publishing has all the down to earth information I expect from Ron, but it also has pages that make it operate as a three year garden journal. I am looking forward to putting the book and journal pages to good use.
Many Timber Press books were on sale too, and I have just started reading Ivette Soler’s book The Edible Front Yard which is part of a big Timber Press Giveaway.  If you click here and leave your email address on the Timber Press website you’ll be entered in a drawing with a basketful of prizes.

Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables

First you will get 35 packets of organic heirloom vegetable seeds (worth $87) from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, and a bare root fruit tree, also from Peaceful Valley. In addition you’ll get a whole edible gardening library from Timber Press including:

Click here to leave your email address and be entered in a drawing.

Everyone is thinking about how they can take a little more control of the food they eat, and thinking how they can get more enjoyment out of the day. Timber Press is helping us all to do this with their excellent and beautiful books – and this chance to win them  Good luck!

The Contest ends March 23! Don’t wait another moment.

Growing at the MG Spring Symposium

There was a great crowd at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium on Saturday. The arrangements were wonderful with a delicious and energizing breakfast buffet, fruit, muffins, juice, coffee and tea – all free.  And later a yummy lunch and great conversation with our fellow gardeners.

There were all manner of workshops from fruit tree pruning to roses!  Naturally I went to hear Tracey Culver, who is a head gardener at Smith College, talk about the roses she grows at home, and at the College. She was a mine of information about the care and maintenance of many kinds of roses. I’m going to pay special attention to the roses the next time I visit Smith.

Sue Reed, author of Energy Wise Landscape Design, filled us in on the many ways we can save all kinds of energy through our landscape design.  Those who couldn’t attend can find all that information in her book.  I’m glad I can refer to the book as I plant my windbreak this spring.

I can hardly wait for next year’s program, but I have plenty to do in the meantime and I am full of spring symposium inspiration!

Three Special Events for Thursday

Courtesy of Mead Art Museum

Some events are not just for one day. The wonderful art exhibit at Mead Art Museum on  the Amherst College campus, will run until May 29.  There is no admission charge and the Mead is open from 9 am til midnight!  There is no excuse for Amherst students to not get their art assignments done.  Closed Mondays, and closed  at 5 pm on Friday and Saturday.  I guess those students need a little time for social life.

Orra White Hitchcock had a considerable social life as the wife of a minister/professor/college president, as a mother, and as an artist, providing the  drawings, paintings and charts that her husband needed for his work.

Her life intersected with those other important women of her time, Mary Lyon, founder of Mt. Holyoke College, and her daughter was a good friend of Lavinia Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s sister.

Daria D’Arienzo, co-curator of the exhibit, Orra White Hitchcock (1796-18-63): An Amherst Woman of Art  and Science said “She was a woman of her time, who transcended her time.”

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Tower Hill Botanic Garden is celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a host of special events along with its usual roster of workshops, and classes for  children during school vacation.  And right now the new Limonia and Winter Garden can still give us a respite from winter.

And finally I want everyone to remember the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 19 from 9 am to 2 pm at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield.  This event has grown and has something for everyone, basics for beginning gardeners (but we all have something to learn from these) special topics like pruning (I wish I were a good pruner), cooking demonstrations with the good people from Stockbridge Herbs, and something for fun like my slide show and talk about the late Elsa Bakalar’s garden.  That garden, and my own will be part of the Franklin Landtrust Farm and Garden tour this June.   (Uh-oh. I think I just sneaked in a fourth event.)

I hope I’ll see you at the Spring Symposium!

And thank you Cindy at My Corner of Katy for hosting Three for Thursday.

Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium

Sue Reed, Keynote Speaker at her drawing table

The days are longer and the sun is brighter, so even though snow lies deep on the ground we know that spring is coming.  That means that the annual Master Gardeners Spring Symposium held on Saturday, March 19 at Frontier Regional High School is coming up, too..

This year I am presenting a slide show of Elsa Bakalar’s perennial gardens in all their glory. Elsa passed away last year, but her memory remains green for many of us. Her gardens remain an inspiration, especially knowing that she achieved those magnificent blooms and sturdy plants organically. Compost was her secret.

Elsa’s garden was certainly extraordinary, a perfect garden to be included in this year’s theme Gardening Beyond the Ordinary.

This year’s keynote speaker Sue Reed, landscape architect and author of “Energy Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden”,  will talk about the ways we can all design our domestic landscapes to be sustainable and beautiful.

Reed’s book covers some familiar ways that we are used to thinking about saving energy through our plantings. I have known that windbreaks can help cut down on heating bills in the winter and that deciduous trees can help keep a house cool in the summer, cutting down on cooling bills. The trick is knowing just how and where to arrange these plantings.

Sometimes the energy Reed talks about saving is human energy. Minimizing lawn areas that have to be mowed is an energy saving project that my husband heartily endorses. If not lawn, then what? Reed talks about trees and shrubs, and even vegetable gardens, that can be grown instead of lawn. Generously sized paths and patios can be attractive design elements as well as being welcoming spaces that can be used. Ground covers can be used in areas that are not hospitable to lawn grasses, or that are not needed for social activities.

Minimizing lawn areas not only save human energy, they benefit the environment. People tend to use unnecessary amounts of fertilizers and herbicides that take energy to manufacture, and then cause problems with toxic run-off into our sewers and waterways.

Reed’s book is a comprehensive guide to creating an energy saving landscape that protects the environment and is beautiful, giving us pleasure for many years.

All of the 14 workshop sessions, will give practical information. Ryan Voiland who is in the process of moving his amazingly productive Red Fire Farm from Granby back to his home town of Montague, will talk about using cover crops in the garden; Jonathan Bates of Food Forest Farm Permaculture Nursery will talk about creating edible landscapes for beauty and food in the morning, and mushrooms in the afternoon. Everyone attending the mushroom workshop will go home with a log inoculated with shitake mushrooms and the promise of homegrown mushrooms later in the season.

Ed Sourdiffe, Master Gardener will once again give his always popular workshop about Easy Gardening and Simple Organic Methods for Organic Gardeners, and Wes Autio, UMass professor of pomology will reveal the secrets of pruning.

A father and daughter team, Ron and Jennifer Kujawksi will also talk about getting more out of your vegetable garden including ways to prioritize your crop selection and ways to use your space more efficiently.

Master gardener John Barry will present his talk about the importance of growing native shrubs in the morning and the afternoon.  Nowadays even people who live on suburban lots are realizing the important part they can play in maintaining the local food web, supporting local birds, butterflies, and all the little creatures that may be less beautiful and less noticeable, but just as important to our environment.

Denise Lemay and Mary Ellen Warchol of Stockbridge Herbs will once again be on hand to prepare and hand out treats. In the morning they will discuss – and share – gluten free dishes; in the afternoon they’ll be whipping up all manner of classic and special salad dressings. Spring is salad season and these ladies will prepare us.

Allison Bell and Maida Goodwin, Plant Conservation volunteers will talk about Grace Greylock Niles who wrote Bog-Trotting for orchids in 1904, and was a part of the conservation movement in the early 20th century.

One kind of unusual garden that is becoming more and more popular is a “green roof”. Michael Keeney of Treefrog Landscapes will talk about the challenges and benefits of growing plants on your roof, and how to choose suitable plants.

Needless to say I am looking forward to Everything’s Coming Up Roses – tried and True Roses for Western Massachusetts presented by Tracey Putnam Culver who works at the Smith College Botanical Gardens.

The only problem with the Spring Symposium is knowing that you can only choose two of these great workshops. Very difficult.

The Master Gardeners Spring Symposium runs from 9 am to 2 pm on Saturday, March 19.  The cost for the whole program is $30, or $15 to attend only the keynote talk.  A delicious lunch for $7.50 is also available. It is advisable to sign up early.

For more information logon to or contact Bridget Heller at or 665-8662.  ###

Today, March 5, the Spring Bulb Show opens and runs til March 20. Hours are 10 am – 4 pm. Click here for more information.

Between the Rows        February 26, 2011

Spring at last!


The calendar says it’s spring, but I can drive past my snowy lawn and only DREAM of coltfoot growing at the side of my road. Coltsfoot, an herb, is one of the very first plants to bloom here on the hill.

More dreaming – of daffodils – my celebration of the first day of spring. I’m off to the Western Mass Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium. I will be sharing what I learn.

On Sunday I’m off to the Trillium cutting garden workshop. More dreaming of flowers.

My Pleasure Ground

Last Saturday was the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium. I was honored to share the bill with Julie Moir Messervy who was the keynote speaker. I talked about worm farming and Julie talked about garden design and her new book, Home Outside.

Julie had a lot to say, but she set the tone immediately for me in her talk and in her books when she says that her aim is to help us all create our own Pleasure Ground.

A Pleasure Ground is exactly what I am aiming for in my garden. There is the Rose Walk which is a glory in June when the peonies are also blooming. That’s when we invite in friends and anyone passing by for our Annual Rose Viewing to share the pleasures of stopping to smell the roses.

There are the pleasures of watching grandchildren play on the lawn.

There are the pleasures of resting from chores in the Cottage Ornee.

There are the pleasures of an abundant vegetable garden.We all have ways of defining our own Pleasure Grounds – and it is a pleasure for me to visit so many Pleasure Grounds as I travel the garden blogs.

The Worm Turns

I feared my worms had all died during a great winter cold spell. Temperatures in my basement dipped below 50 degrees which I had read was the absolute limit for red wiggler survival. One day I went down to see if I could at least harvest some worm castings for houseplants I was repotting – and I found a worm. More than one worm!

I don’t know how many there are, but although my photo doesn’t show it, the worms I saw do have a white band known as the clitellum. Worms join themselves at the clitella to exchange sperm, and soon a cocoon will form on each worm. Baby worms are in the making.

My worms and I will be at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 21 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. We’ll be joining keynote speaker, Julie Moir Messervy, landscape architect and author of Home Outside, as well as many other knowledgeable presenters. Hope to see you there.