Gardening Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog 


Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Considering Small Blooming Trees

Carolina Silverbell on the Bridge of Flowers

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

Stone, Water, Earth and Sky – A Woodland Walk

Moss on the Piazza

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

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

Moss on log

I found moss on a rotting log,



I also saw a rivulet running cheerfully through the woods,

Old stone wall

Old stone wall

and old stone walls meander through the woods, marking forgotten fields.



Stones made a complicated pattern.

Lichens on a tree

Lichens on a tree

Lichens made patterns on the tree bark..

Sun shining through the evergreen woods

Sun shining through the evergreen woods

Sun shone through the evergreens

Woodland Sky

Woodland Sky

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.

First Day of Fall Colors – Shades of Change

Dawn on September 22, 2014

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

Maple reds arrive

As I drove around on my errands I saw the different fall colors arrive in different ways, vibrantly on the treetops.

Birch branches

Birch branches

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

Golden riverside tree

A single golden tree along the river set against the green hillside.


Maple leaves

Maple leaves

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

red leaves on a vine

Soon reds will become more prominent. Already this weedy vine has a brilliant sash.

Schoolyard pumpkins

Schoolyard pumpkins

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 – It Takes Two

Dioecious Plants: Dioecious species have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants.

Hardy Kiwi Vine

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

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

Magnificent Elm Trees in Central Park

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 – The Ancient Maidenhair Tree

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.

The Mighty Oak Trees – and Mine

Oak foliage

Suddenly there seem to be many young oak trees growing by the side of Heath roads. They are particularly noticeable at this time of year because they retain their leaves until late in the season, and they have turn a burnished shade of red. I do not know for sure which of the 600 species of oak they are, or even of the 70 species that grow in the United States, but it is possible they are Quercus rubra, or red oaks.

I have been paying more attention to oaks ever since the walk we took through our woodland this spring with Stu Watson of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. He came to give an assessment of our woods and overgrown fields and give us suggestions on how to improve them for logging, and for bird habitat.

We were surprised that someone from Audubon was able and willing to give advice about logging, but he explained that thoughtfully cutting down trees can mean better habitat for birds, as well as possible profit for landowners. Removing trees can open up the canopy so that more sun can penetrate, allowing new trees to germinate and grow. Birds need tall trees, but they have an equal need for shrubs and young trees for protection as well as food. Some birds spend most of their life in those lower elevations.

As we walked through the woods with Watson, he identified different trees. I now can recognize striped maple with its large rounded leaves and green striped bark. But I was able to identify the tiny oak seedling, all by myself. I was so surprised to see it growing in our woods. There were no other oaks in the neighborhood. It must have been carried and dropped by a squirrel or other creature.

My oak seedling

I was very excited to see this oak seedling, less than a foot tall, because when Dr. Douglas Tallamy spoke at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium this year he said that oaks, the king of trees, support over 500 species of native insects and animals. Since we all need to be aware of our local food web, of plants, insects, animals – and us – I have been thinking of the ways I can do my bit in maintaining this web of life. I don’t use herbicides or pesticides, my husband mows the fields after the nesting season, and I plant many native flower varieties. Of course, I want trees that will support the largest number of species.

You can buy oak seedlings from tree nurseries. You can also collect acorns and plant your own, however, you will need to identify the type of oak tree the acorn belongs to. Immediate planting should be limited to the white oak species group including white, bur, chestnut and swamp oak. Red oak species group acorns must be planted in the second season – the following spring.

I had thought I could just get some acorns from a friend with oak trees, drop them here and there in my woods and wait for Mother Nature to do the rest of the work. Since planting acorns successfully depends on knowing what kind of oak you are dealing with, I think I will just check on my seedling from time to time and send it encouraging thoughts. I will visualize it growing tall and king-like.

Oak trees have been used and enjoyed since ancient times. The oak been used for construction, and is an important timber tree to this day. Some trees in England are so ancient that they have been named. The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest is reputed to be the place where Robin Hood and his merry men met and plotted. The romantic stories surrounding this oak make it a tourist attraction today.

I don’t know that we have any romantic stories, but when I looked up large oaks on the Internet I found the American Forest website and their database of champion trees of every variety.

American Forests is the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country. Their mission is to protect and restore forests, and to help preserve the health of our planet for the benefit of its inhabitants. The organization educates and advocates for trees. In cooperation with others they have planted more than 40 million trees in the last quarter century. They also have a Big Trees program that invites people to find and nominate a Big Tree for inclusion in their database. It was in that database that I found the only listing for a Champion oak in Massachusetts is in Shelburne Falls, It was nominated by Peter Bravman in 2007. It measured 368 inches in circumference, 82 feet tall, and with a spread of 105 feet. I hoped this enormous tree grew on a street corner where we could all marvel and admire it, but it grows in the woods on Flagg Mountain. Storms in the last couple of years split the tree so it is no longer in good health. The land the tree grows on now belongs to New England Forestry and is available for walking and hiking.

I will never see my oak seedling reach even the size of one of its limbs, but other people will in the future, and that makes me happy right now.

Between the Rows   November 16, 2013

Golden Gingko – Fallen in Fall


Heavy frost on Monday. 21 degrees yesterday! The gingkos are unleafed all at once. As is their wont.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Brilliant Autumn Color is Flooding Heath’s Hills

Maple autumn color

All of sudden the autumn color we hope for and wait for has appeared. Every hour it seems more brilliant.


Brilliant autumn color


Golden birches

Blushing blueberry bushes

Down with invasive Burning Bush. Up with blueberries. Delicious berries and delightful autumn  color.

Oakleaf hydrangea

Deep autumn color on the oakleaf hydrangea is stunning and unusual.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

The Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last week I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to meet the noted landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg and hear him speak about how he approached the challenge of redesigning the Monks Garden. He said that Isabella Stewart Gardener herself acknowledged that she was never satisfied with the small walled garden she called the Monks Garden. “That gave me the confidence and courage . . . to make a garden for the future of the Museum.”

Certainly the Monks Garden has been transformed. The last time I visited, a year or two ago, it seemed very bare and brown. In fairness, it was a gray early spring day and my mood may not have been the best. Now the Monks Garden was a sun dappled woodland, with groundcovers of hellebores and ferns. It was a surprise to enter this enchanted space that is so different from the structured geometry of the interior Courtyard.

Van Valkenburg said, “I wasn’t trying to channel Isabella Stewart Gardner . . . but her museum is not a practical place. The garden doesn’t have to be a practical place. The paths are not practical. They don’t have to take you from point A to point B. They don’t have to take you anyplace.” He wanted the garden to be a place where you could get lost.

Anne Hawley, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum said, “Michael responded to the spirit of the museum which is totally mad. It is just a romp.”

Hawley later explained that the final decision to choose  Van Valkenburg came after she visited his own garden on Martha’s Vineyard. She said it was ‘beguiling.” I was certainly beguiled, gladdened and delighted as I wandered through this magical woodland. The 7500 square foot garden feels spacious even though it is hemmed in on one side by the Palace, and by a curving high brick wall on the other two.

The undulating dark brick paths, subtly brightened by shist blocks, often wind close to each other and sometimes actually kiss, and yet you can rarely see across the planting bed to the opposite path. As I walked the paths I soon began to notice that there are subtle changes in grade. This garden is not flat. The dark brick paths narrow and swell, but they also rise and fall. I think this is another one of the elements that make this garden seem so march larger than it is.


There are many kinds of groundcover plants from the hellebores that will bloom, to evergreens like Christmas fern and European ginger with it shiny leathery leaves. Van Valkenberg said the garden “will be crazy  with hellebores in the spring.” When they have settled in and put out their own new growth visitors to the garden will have an even greater sense of privacy.

Amazingly the Monks Garden was installed just this year. It is a very new garden.  Van Valkenburg talked about the ephemerality of a garden. We gardeners know that a garden is never the same from week to week. Certainly when early spring arrives next year and the bulbs, hepaticas and hellebores come into bloom, no one will remember this fall’s sheen of newness.

Van Valkenburg said one of the goals of the plan was to stretch the seasons. Although there was only one brave hellebore blossom last week, there will be flowers rising through the groundcovers over a long season. Four varieties of camellia, in shades of white and pink will bloom spring and fall. Several stewartia trees will come into bloom in July with their camellia-like flowers. Species daylilies and tall cimicifuga will follow. Several climbing hydrangeas have been planted against the brick wall, another rich variation that will grow over the years.

The small slow growing trees will bring their own color that will carry even into winter. The foliage of the paperbark maples and stewartias provide good autumn color. In the winter the paperbark maple has beautiful exfoliating bark in shades of cinnamon and reddish brown, the gray birch has chalky white bark, while the stewartia has a subtly mottled bark providing substantial interest..

The one large tree in the garden is an ancient katsura with rough gray bark growing against the brick wall lending an air of majesty to this very informal garden.

Van Valkenburg has designed large parks and urban sites. He has won prizes and awards for his work, including the 2003 National Design Award in Environmental Design awarded by the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects Design Medal. Still he says he always remembers the advice given him when he was beginning his own business by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner and designer, to make as many gardens as you can. Along with large projects like the 85 acre Brooklyn Bridge Park which is still under construction, he has always maintained a consistent focus on small scale gardens.

Monks Garden at the ISG Museum

And that brought him to the end of his talk with a beaming smile as he invited us into the Monks Garden saying, “I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun making a garden.”

Between the Rows    September 21, 2013