Ruah Donnelly’s house overlooks a wooded ravine, a tapestry of shades of green and shifting light. There is not a flower in sight. Donnelly says that over her years as a gardener she has experienced a growing struggle between wanting art in the garden and wanting to conserve the landscape. While she thinks conservation is winning the battle, any visitor to this garden and landscape will see no struggle, only beauty.
Donnelly’s garden is only one of the unique private gardens, and farms, on the Franklin Land Trust Garden Tour that is open to visitors on Saturday, June 27 from 10 am – 4 pm.
For the past 15 years Donnelly has been gardening on what is considered the site of the oldest farm in Conway. She loves the New England landscape where she has spent most of her life, and has dedicated great energy to its beauty by serving on the boards of TowerHillBotanical Garden, the New England Wildflower Society and the Franklin Land Trust. When she began planning the Conway landscape she said, “I wanted to figure this out. I didn’t want it to look like New Jersey. I wanted to let nature have something to say, without too much pruning, or too many flowers.” She also said that at this time of her life she needed to make it sustainable. She cannot be out in the garden doing everything all the time.
Donnelly’s garden is essentially a woodland garden. There is the Grove, a stand of trees that has grown up around the cellar hole of the original house. It has been ‘edited’ so that you can see the form of the trees and stroll through the grove which is underplanted thousands of daffodils that have naturalized and bloom in the spring, as well as native groundcovers like epimediums, and ferns. One of the striking shrubs growing beneath the trees is a large Calycanthus floridus which has graceful lax limbs and fragrant, wine red fragrant flowers that are responsible for its common name sweetshrub.
There is art in the grove as well a very large black and yellow container holding shining yellow begonias. “Yellow is an accent in the grove, and points up the beauty of all the green.”’
Ornamental yellow begonias in The Grove
Even so, beyond the desire for some ornamental plantings, “What makes me happy is the deeper question, of finding ways to make the landscape more beautiful in ways that are good for the land. I want to bring out the best in the woodland; that is something beyond my own pleasure,” she said.
Donnelly took me on a long walk across a lawn that edges an unmowed field that hides the road, through the Grove on paths that allow you to see the plants, across more lawn to an old barn surrounded by lilacs and peonies and other old fashioned plants, past ancient apple trees, to a planting of new apple trees. We walked towards another woodland at the edge of the ravine. Some of the trees had been pruned recently and the branches and limbs were chipped to make a mulch. That wood chip mulch will eventually rot and provide nourishment for the soil. This sounds a lot like “let the carbon stay where it falls”, which I have mentioned before.
We sat beneath the trees on one of the well placed benches, and watched the large swath of hay scented ferns, bowing in the breeze like waves on the sea. But still more sections of the garden were urging us onward. We wandered back towards the house, under the silverbell tree where we were surrounded by fragrance, admired the espaliered star magnolia behind an herb garden, and on toward more magnolias.
I did not realize that so many magnolias were hardy in our area but Donnelly explained that many native species are hardier than the more ornamental hybrids that have been developed.
Donnelly has written two books, The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New England and The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New York and New Jersey, about interesting nurseries that sell natives and other interesting, less common plants. The books are somewhat outdated, as nurseries have gone out of business, but you can find the books online and many nurseries, like Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst are still going strong. One nursery she recommended is the Broken Arrow nursery in Hamden, Connecticut which specializes in mountain laurels, and other unusual plants like the sweetshrub. Also she reminded me that Nasami Farm in Whately, the propagating wing of the New England Wildflower Society, is now open every weekend, all season long, and offers many native flowers, shrubs and trees
There are other treats in Donnelly’s garden: a vegetable, herb, and flower potager surrounded by a wattle fence, and a hedge made of living basket willows woven together. There is also a Witches’ Walk, a woodland allee of witch hazels, something you will not see anywhere else. I love the way gardeners find a way to share their sense of humor as well as their gardens.
This year the Franklin County Land Trust Garden Tour is featuring gardens and farms in Ashfield and Conway. Tickets, $15 for members, and $20 for non-members, may be purchased any weekday at the FLT office at 5 Mechanic Street, ShelburneFalls or on the morning of the event at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market, Ashfield Town Common. Lunch tickets for an additional $15 are available with a reservation. The FLT website, www.franklinlandtrust.org has more information about the Land Trust mission, and about the tour. For still more information e-mail or call Mary with questions: email@example.com or 413.625.9151
Between the Rows June 13, 2015
Virginia and Rob Rechtschaffen
Virginia Rechtschaffen has always loved trees. She and her husband Rob even once owned a house in Belchertown that came complete with an orchard. Lots of trees. For the past 20 years she and Rob have lived in Northampton and accomplished something I would have thought impossible. Their in-town garden is embraced by a ring of large trees with a heart of sunshine at its center. How did they do it?
Virginia said when they moved into the house she felt she needed some help with a Plan. They hired a designer, but in the end they only used the design for the front of the house which is lovely in its simplicity. A boxwood hedge borders the sidewalk marking off the private space around the house. A trident maple which will grow to about 35 feet is surrounded by groundcovers like epimediums and pulmonaria, and geranium macrorrhizum. All of these bloom in early spring. Virginia said she loved the delicate flowers of each, and the spotted foliage of the pulmoniaria.
Entry garden in Northampton
A lamp post is surrounded by white Siberian irises, just beginning to bloom when I visited. The lush foliage of the groundcovers and the elegance of the irises point out that even familiar plants can make a beautiful statement when planted en masse.
There was also a large old sugar maple in front of the house which had to be removed, but it was replaced last week with a young Katsura tree, just in time for the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13.
Another striking element of the front garden is the placement of several large stones, nestled among the plantings. There is a subtle art in knowing how to arrange stones in a garden so that they look like they belong, and give a sense of timelessness to the garden.
Blooming shrubs including rhododendrons and azaleas hug the house. A grassy walk between the house and a shrub border lead to the back garden. When I visited the garden was filled with birds that came to the birdbath and to peck away at bugs in areas of soil, left uncovered and unplanted just for them.
The garden is all curves, beds holding trees like the Acer triflorium which produces small spring flowers in clusters of three, accounting for its name as three flowered maple. It also has handsome exfoliating bark and good autumn color. The golden rain tree showers its flower petals to the ground accounting for its common name. Both these trees grow to between 20 and 30 feet tall, which some count as small trees, but which are large in a small garden.
Still, around the very edges of the property are shrubs and really large trees like a Katsura they planted in 1996 and a tall weeping conifer.
Full Moon Japanese maple at entry to firepit area
The Rechtschaffens have several different Japanese maples. Full Moon, which indeed has the shape of a full moon, stands opposite the golden rain tree at the entry of the social area, a firepit and chairs where the Rechtschaffens frequently enjoy solitude or friends around the fire.
They chose the plants and designed arrangement of these garden beds themselves because the plans created by the designers were too formal and symmetrical. That formality did not reflect the way they live or the way they look at the natural world.
As we looked at the clusters of winged maple seeds, properly called samaras, but often called helicopters or whirlybirds, Virginia said, “Even the smallest things in the garden are beautiful.
Those of us who attend garden tours are always looking to spend a day in beautiful spaces and to learn about techniques and plants we might use in our own gardens. Host gardeners also have their own desires. “What I would like is that when people leave our garden they will want to go a plant a tree in their garden,” Virginia said. I think she will very well get her desire.
The Rechtschaffen’s garden is just one of six beautiful and unique gardens on the Friends of the Forbes Library Annual Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13 from 10 am – 3 pm, rain or shine. Advance tickets are available for $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, HadleyGardenCenter, North Country Landscapes and State Street Fruit Store. Tickets on Saturday will be $20. Tickets come with a map for this self guided tour. There will be descriptions and guides at each garden to answer questions
Old apple tree in bloom
It has been a while since I have been able to post on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, but May has brought many blooms to the end of the road. Old apple trees and wild cherries are blooming in the garden , along the road and in the fields.
Apple blossom closeup
Blooming trees are wonderful, and each blossom is a delight.
The Sargent crabapple could not fit any more blossoms on itself.
Sargent crab blossoms
Didn’t I tell you no more blossoms could fit on a branch?
Cotoneaster in bloom
I never get over my initial surprise that cotoneaster bears flowers!
Ornamental plum blooming
How is it possible that I never noticed blossoms on this ornamental plum? Could this year be the first time? The tree has to be at least 15 years old in this spot.
Sometimes bluets appear in the fields, or the lawn. These bluets seem almost white
This clump of Epimedium sulphureum has increased so much. So has Epimedium rubrum on the other side of this lawn bed.
Daffodils, Waldsteinia and tiarella
My idea was to get rid of grass, and this area on the road side of the Peony Bed is coming along. Waldsteinia or barren strawberry is a native groundcover that has little yellow strawberry-like flowers. This isn’t a good photo but in the upper portion of the photo, up against the peonies is a growing section of tiarella. The white blossoms are so foamy that they don’t show up in a photo – even from this little distance.
Not a great photo, but these are great old white lilacs that have been at the end of the road since long before we arrived. There are old lilac lilacs, too, but we have added pink Miss Canada and Pocahontas, the white Miss Ellen Willmott and the Beauty of Moscow. I just this moment noticed that these are all ladies.
Dandelions and violets
There are other bloomers: the forsythia is going by; grape hyacinths in the lawn here and there; a pot of sunny pansies; and of course, that common weed, the dandelion blooming in the lawn with violets and ground ivy. My own springtime flowery mead.
Carol, I am glad to be posting on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day once again. Thank you so much for hosting over at May Dreams Gardens. New dreams are coming true this May.
Monks Garden at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
On Mother’s Day we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum so I could revisit the Monks Garden , newly designed by Michael VanValkenburg in 2013. I wanted to see how it was filling out, and if it really went ‘crazy with hellebores” in the spring. This is where we entered on the graceful curving path.
Monks Garden Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Visitors to the Museum can also enter the Monks Garden from one of the galleries. The trees are indeed filling out.
Monks Garden Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Hellebores are very modest plants and it’s hard to see them going crazy, but the garden is certainly crazy with varieties of white daffodils that really stand out among other ground covers, and plants that will come into bloom later in the season.
Monks Garden Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Because I am thinking how to create my own stroll garden I was paying particular to the way the paths curved and split and joined again, embracing the beds of trees and flowers that provided so much privacy for the visitors.
Katsura at Monks Garden
The oldest tree in the garden is the ancient Katsura. All the shagbark maples, birches, stewartias and conifers are new.
Orchids in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard
Of course, there are many beautiful flowers and trees in the famous interior courtyard. And the new museum rule is that photos are allowed in the courtyard, and in the Monks Garden. Hooray!
A beautiful celebration for a hot Mother’s Day.
Carolina Silverbell on the Bridge of Flowers
Blooming trees are an important part of our domestic landscape, giving it substance as well as beauty. Planting a blooming tree requires more thought than planting a perennial or pots of annuals. A tree cannot be moved at will.
No matter what we plant in our garden we have to consider the site, sun or shade, and we have to consider the growth rate and the ultimate size of the plant. With a tree these considerations become even more important. We planted five ginkgo trees in our new Lawn Beds 16 years ago when we had five toddler grandsons belonging to our three daughters. The trees were a nod to our years in Beijing, and pleasing to me because of the unusual fan shape of the foliage which turns a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall.
Ginkgo in October 2012
Ginkgo trees are dioecious which means they need male and female trees to fruit. We did not know whether we had male or female trees so we couldn’t be sure they would fruit or not. Male ginkgoes are more desirable because they will never fruit, and the fruits are famous for their bad smell. We didn’t worry about this because even if we had male and female trees they would probably not mature and fruit for many years – when we would no longer be around. We might seem thoughtless, but it is my position that we can see only so far ahead into the future, and in the case of plants we can usually please ourselves. The only exception would be deliberately planting something invasive.
We had the room in our country garden to plant trees that would get fairly large. In a suburban yard or garden you will have to be more discriminating about which trees to plant. When I look at the dimensions of trees labeled ‘small’ they can still be larger than you might expect. For example, there are many crabapple varieties that range from 12 to 25 feet high with an equal spread. Donald Wyman crab, one of the ten most disease resistant, produces white flowers in spring and small red apples in the fall. Prairiefire is also highly disease resistant and has bright pink flowers in the spring. The foliage begins with a purplish shade, changes to bronzey green and finishes with a yellow/orange shade in the fall. Crabapples are wonderful trees, with beautiful spring bloom to please you and support pollinators, with small apples in the fall that you might use in the kitchen or that the birds will enjoy.
The pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is a native dogwood that can reach a height of 25 feet with an equal spread. Its airy while blossoms do not resemble the more familiar flowers of Cornus florida or Cornus kousa, but there will eventually be small blue berries that will attract birds. The name refers to the attractive layered arrangement of the branches.
The Silverbell is slightly larger, possibly reaching a height of 35 feet. You can see this tree on the Bridge of Flowers. Clusters of small white bell-like flowers appear in mid to late April.
Rate of growth will depend on your soil, but I once listened to an arborist explaining to a friend that she could control the size of a tree by regular pruning. This is good to remember when a small blooming tree that you have planted becomes larger than you and your garden’s definition of ‘small.’
Careful planting is important to the future of a tree. Dig a generously wide hole and loosen the soil within the hole. It should be only as deep as the roots, or balled roots, or the container that your tree came in
If you have a small bare root tree support it in the middle of the hole so the root collar is even with the soil level. Fill in with the original soil. Tamp it down to make sure there are no air pockets and that the tree is firmly held. As you fill in the last of the soil make sure it is just below the root collar and that there is a shallow basin to collect water. Water well. Then mulch with two inches of wood chips or bark, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. No mulch volcanoes!
If your tree came balled and burlaped place it in a good big hole so it is at the proper level. Then cut away and remove all the wires and the burlap. If there is burlap left underneath that is fine as long as it is not plastic burlap. You want to free all those roots. Fill with original soil, water and mulch as for a barerooted tree. If you have a landscaper do this for you, make sure the wires and burlap get removed. I have heard horror stories of inept landscaping help not doing this resulting in the loss of the trees.
If your tree comes in a container and you find the roots are rootbound you should cut an X at the bottom of the root ball with a sharp knife, and make three or four cuts down the sides. This root-pruning will encourage new root growth. This is not unlike firmly combing out tangled roots in a rootbound perennial before planting. As with any plant, keep it well watered for the first year while it is getting established.
Trees give us so much: sculptural form, shade, the whispering of breezes among the leaves, seasonal flowering and food and shelter for many creatures. Choosing the appropriate tree for its site and planting it well will give you decades of beauty.
Between the Rows April 4, 2015
Moss on the Piazza
The moss on the piazza in front of the house begins to turn lush and green as we begin the walk into winter. I went on a woodland walk to see if I could find any more moss to photograph, but I found much more.
Moss on the roadside
I found moss on one side of the road
and on the other, wetter, side of the road.
Moss on log
I found moss on a rotting log,
I also saw a rivulet running cheerfully through the woods,
Old stone wall
and old stone walls meander through the woods, marking forgotten fields.
Stones made a complicated pattern.
Lichens on a tree
Lichens made patterns on the tree bark..
Sun shining through the evergreen woods
Sun shone through the evergreens
and turned the sky blue behind the birches. Stone, water, earth and sky.
This was my woodland walk in Heath on Wordless Wednesday. For more click here.
Dawn on September 22, 2014
The colors of the landscape on the first day of fall are shifting. Fall colors are mutable, first draining and then gathering richness. The dawn sun on the trees across the field show the rustiness of the trees as the fresh green seeps away.
Maple reds arrive
As I drove around on my errands I saw the different fall colors arrive in different ways, vibrantly on the treetops.
The low branches of the beeches are turning gold and if I look closely I can see the tiny pointy buds of next year’s leaves forming.
Golden riverside tree
A single golden tree along the river set against the green hillside.
This small maple is being transformed from emerald to ruby, but you can still see the transformation is not complete.
red leaves on a vine
Soon reds will become more prominent. Already this weedy vine has a brilliant sash.
Rich gold is to be seen in all the local farmstands as the pumpkin harvest is set out. These pumpkins are in the Hawlemont School garden.
What colors are changing in your landscape?
Dioecious Plants: Dioecious species have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants.
Hardy Kiwi Vine
The Annual Rose Viewing was a success, but it was the hardy kiwi vine on our shed that also got a lot of attention.
Of course, it is the unusual green, white and pink foliage that makes the hardy kiwi so notable. I first saw this vine at the LakewoldGarden in Washington state many years ago. It was growing on a long trellis, so I did not realize how rampantly it could grow. I did not know the artful pruning it was receiving every summer – and winter.
Our hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) was planted on a trellis attached to our shed. I thought the colorful foliage would be very pretty when the roses in the Shed Bed were not in bloom. This has certainly worked very well. I have been happy that it has grown so vigorously and covers the better part of the shed wall. I have only done the most basic pruning, but this year I have come to realize that I need to take a firmer hand – and get out the ladder.
Since visitors to the garden are familiar with fuzzy kiwis that can be found on supermarket shelves they ask if my kiwi bears fruit. It does not, because kiwis are dioecious plants. This means that you must have a male and a female to get fruit. I was only interested in the unusual foliage so I was happy with one vine. I don’t know its sex.
Hardy Kiwi foliage
I do have a friend who wanted the fruit which is different from the supermarket variety. Hardy kiwis are as big as a large grape and have a smooth skin that can be eaten. He bought a male and a female vine from a nursery. One of the vines died over the winter, but he couldn’t remember which was which, so he planted another male and female. Again, one vine died, and his list and map were lost, so again he was not sure which vine had survived. I don’t actually know whether he finally got a male and female, and a fruit crop, but this is a problem with other dioecious plants as well.
I should add a caveat. Without pruning the hardy kiwi can reach a height of 40 feet, and if unattended or abandoned can overwhelm other plants and areas.
Perhaps the most commonly known dioecious shrubs are the hollies, the Ilex family. This includes the kinds of evergreen hollies with the beautiful red berries that are such a part of our Christmas traditions. I have a single ‘Blue Prince’ and a ‘Blue Princess’ holly, Ilex x meserveae. The male produces the pollen that is needed to fertilize the female’s flowers and so create the beautiful red berries. It only takes one male to fertilize nine females. You do not need to have as many males as females.
These hollies produce tiny white flowers in April and May. They are easy to miss, but not the red berries. My ‘Blue Prince’ took a beating this past winter, and the ‘Blue Princess’ also showed winter damage, but both are recovering nicely. There were lots of flowers, and even though the ‘Blue Prince’ is much smaller, I am expecting a good showing of berries later this season.
There is also the native deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata, which is more commonly called the winterberry. It also needs male and female plants in order to produce the orange-red berries that appear in the fall and persist through the winter. They tolerate wet soils which makes them an attractive shrub to plant in damp spots in the garden.
In addition to the hardy kiwi vine and the evergreen hollies, I have four ginkgo trees in my garden. We planted these about 16 years ago when our grandsons were hardly more than toddlers. We planted them partly as a memorial to our two years in Beijing. I was afraid they might be slightly too tender, but they are thriving and are even big enough now to throw welcome shade on hot summer afternoons.
Ginkgo biloba trees are used in cities because they are hardy, but the fruit of the female is said to be unpleasantly smelly. I cannot attest to this from my own experience because during our New York city years, and our Beijing years, I never came across ginkgo fruit. It takes at least 30 years for the tree to mature and produce fruit, which means that when my trees drop their fruit smelling of rotten eggs or vomit, I will not be around to suffer.
However, it seems to me that 30 years or more of a beautiful, hardy, disease resistant tree is better than those years without the tree even if it ultimately has got be cut down. Or at least the females have to be cut down.
The ginkgo is an ancient tree, sometimes called a living fossil, and is known for its unusual fan shaped leaves. They turn a beautiful gold in the fall which tend to fall all at once. We have often gone to bed on an October night, and awakened to find every golden leaf on the ground.
These are the three types of dioecious plants in my garden, but I recently checked a long list of dioecious plants online and found that the stinging nettles among my weeds, Urtica diocia, and the hop vine, Humulus, that is growing in a tangle of grapes and multiflora roses, are also dioecious plants, but they are subjects for another time.
Between the Rows July 5, 2014
Elm Trees in Central Park
The Elm Trees in Central Park were featured prominently in the NYTimes Sunday Review (2-23-14) in a wonderful article by Guy Trebay. I have not walked in Central Park for many years, but even as a New Yorker in the 1980s I would not have paid much attention to the magnificent allee of elms that runs for about 2.5 miles along Fifth Avenue, “a continuous stand that, as it happens, may be the longest in the world.” In the summer these trees shade the Literary Walk and the stunning photograph by Craig Blankenhorn turns them into an urban sculpture.
Even after I started paying attention to trees, and trying to identify them after our move to Heath, I could not identify an elm which is quite recognizable by it graceful vase shape. I was so inept as identifying trees, and the elm in particular that I was stunned to find that a majestic elm was growing about 200 feet from my front door. One early spring day I was walking with a friend in front of my house and noticed honeybees flying around. One alighted long enough for us to see that the pollen baskets on its knees were full of a pale yellow pollen. I expressed my surprise that the bee was finding pollen anywhere; my friend raised his eyebrows at me and pointed to the elm tree, a very early producer of tiny flowers and pollen.
The majority of elm trees in the US and Europe were decimated in the 20th century by Dutch Elm Disease, a fungus carried by the elm bark beetle. These allees of giant elms used to adorn many rural roadsides and city avenues. No more. However, organizations like the Men’s Garden Club of Youngstown, OH have launched efforts to re-elm their region. Think how wonderful it would be if we could not only imagine all the still existing Elm Streets and Avenues as they looked more than half a century ago. And yet again wonderful if we could bring them back to our cities and towns. For ways we can each help this project visit the Liberty Tree Society.
Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair tree
While we were living in Beijing we became fascinated with the ginkgo tree, sometimes called the maidenhair tree. This is an ancient tree and fossilized leaves dating back 270 MILLION years have been found. They saw the rise and fall of the dinosaur. Today it grows in many temperate and sub-tropical areas of the world because it is so unusual and beautiful and because it is so adaptable. It even tolerates pollution and is used in cities as a street tree.
Ginkgo leaves are distinctive with a fan shape, veins radiating from the stem end and a kind of waxy feel to the leaf. Their flexible stems allow them to flutter in the breeze, giving form to a summer zephyr. And of course, in the fall they turn a brilliant gold, and most of those leaves will drop all at once during an autumnal night. The leaf above has two lobes which account for its name Ginkgo biloba, but it can have no lobes, or three lobes.
When we planted our trees everyone said “but their fruit stinks.” So I have heard many times before. Was I worried? No. First off I have never experienced this stink in New York City or Beijing. Second, I have been told that they will not produce this fruit until they are over 30 years old – and we are old enough not to worry about things that may not happen for another ten or twenty years. As our construction guy said when we told him we were putting of a portion of our project he asked, “How long you plan on livin’?”
Ginkgos are male and female. I don’t know what we have. Perhaps we only have males and will never have to worry about stinky fruit. I did hear recently that nurseries propagate only male trees for this very reason. A friend told me that male and female ginkgos have different shapes. One is more upright, and they other is more horizontal, but she didn’t know which is which. If anyone can illuminate this theory I will be glad to hear it. I have both upright and horizontal trees. No sign of stinky fruit.
Our trees are about 15 years old, ceremonially planted by grandsons when they were between one and three years old. It was a great day, and the trees a tangible reminder.