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Dear Friend and Gardener

Right Plant for the Right Space

Cimicifuga on the Bridge of Flowers

Cimicifuga on the sunny Bridge of Flowers

If you are sated with garden catalogs that came in January, but still haven’t made all your 2017 choices and plans, you are probably ready to hit garden centers and nurseries. There you will face ranks of captivating and irresistible shrubs and perennials. No matter how alluring the plants it will be worthwhile to read the labels, and think about your garden spaces before you buy.

I have had gardeners tell me about their failures and disappointments, asking  why?  Sometimes it is because they did not take into account the basic needs of the plant, for sun or shade, for dry or damp sites. And I do say sometimes this is the answer, but I also say there are many mysteries in the garden with no answers or explanations to be found. Cimicifuga or bugbane, a shade loving plant blooms happily in full sun on the Bridge of Flowers. How can  that happen? I don’t know.

Still, it is best to begin with knowledge of the plant’s needs. As we have planned and planted our Greenfield garden I’ve taken into consideration the attributes of the different sections. Our house faces east and the small plot of lawn and the tree strip get sun in the morning. However there is a large sycamore tree at the southern end of the tree strip which means that the shade shifts and changes over the course of the morning, and the afternoon.

The tree strip gets morning sun. We removed most of the grass and planted perennials to provide bloom all season long. We chose really tough plants that would do all right in less than ideal conditions, support pollinators, and not require much labor for me. The soil there is dry, and we have improved it with compost.

Bee Balm  Monarda

Bee Balm

The hellstrip/tree strip plant list includes daylilies, bee balm, yarrow, Sheffield daisies and astilbe. My neighbor has promised me some rudbeckia, black eyed susans.

The small lawn in front of the house is being planted with low growing conifers, as well as a small rhododendron, a deutzia which will have small white flowers and a heuchera which will also provide some bloom among the conifers. All are supposed to tolerate some shade which they will get.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

Beauty of Moscow lila

The South Border is the first bed we planted with shrubs as well as perennials. The requirement for full  sun translates as six hours or more of sun. There are many sun loving shrubs and perennials. This bed is also the driest in our garden. We planted three paniculata hydrangeas, Limelight, Firelight and Angels Blush. They share the bed with two lilacs, Beauty of Moscow which I think is one of the most beautiful white lilacs, and the deep purple Yankee Doodle, Korean Spice viburnam for its fragrance, and the first of two highbush cranberries which are also viburnams. Some of these can attain a height of 10 feet at maturity and we have given them plenty of room to grow.

At least we think we have. Calculating how much room any plant will need as it grows is about the most difficult task when planning to provide for a plant’s requirements.

As the South Border heads west it becomes damper, and finally wet. Swamp pinks were in place when we bought the house, and we added Lindera benzoin to attract the swallowtail butterfly, and a red twig dogwood for its tolerance to dampness and its brilliant red branches.  We also planted four blueberry bushes. They do not appear to be thriving. I think the soil is too wet and they will have to be moved.

Since one of the reasons we left Heath is because the garden was too big and demanded too much work, one of the guiding principles of the Greenfield garden is that it must be less labor intensive. It is a lot of work right now as we layout and plant a blank canvas, but our strategy for cutting back on routine tasks is to plant shrubs. Since the back yard is so wet seasonally and after rains we began with shrubs that like sun and tolerate the wet. The list includes yellow twig dogwood which is just as brilliant as the red twig when the sun in shining on it, clethra or sweet pepperbush, buttonbush, winterberries, elderberries, and fothergilla.

We have also planted trees. We are confident about the water tolerance of the river birches, a dappled willow, and we have planted a weeping cherry and a pagoda dogwood in the closest we come to occasional damp. However, we have taken a gamble by planting two arborvitae in a seasonally wet spot. We wanted the arborvitae to block a view. So far, so good. I guess gardeners are among the world’s most eager gamblers.

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses love wet spots

Our layered garden will soon be less demanding. We have planted many perennial groundcovers like lady’s mantle and foam flower, and various sedums. Many perennials are very comfortable with wet spots: Siberian and Japanese irises, primroses, daylilies, mountain mint, culver’s root, Joe Pye weed, obedient plant, sanguisorba Canadensis, ferns, and cardinal plants.

Mine is a new garden; I still have bare ground while I wait for the shrubs to mature and the perennials to increase. I have been filling in with annuals like cosmos and zinnias that require little more than sun and mostly dry soil. Maybe I’ll try filling bare spots this year with summer squash, bush beans or pretty lettuces. Vegetables are beautiful (and delicious) annuals too. ###

Between the Rows   April 8, 2017

Earth Day – Support Your Pollinators

Honeybee

Honeybee – just one of the many pollinators

It is April 22 – Earth Day – and I am celebrating by writing about honeybees and pollinator plants that will help all pollinators.

How do honey bees pollinate plants? I knew bees had hairy little baskets on their knees that collected pollen while they were wandering around the stamens and anthers of a blossom. When Dan Conlon, beekeeper and president of the Russian Honeybee Breeders Association, spoke at a recent Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium, he showed an enlarged photo of a bee that was covered with pollen. Not only were her pollen baskets full, her skin and the tiny fuzzy feathers around her head and body were covered with grains of pollen. Conlon said it was an electrical charge that attracted the pollen to the bee’s body. When the bee flew to another plant it brushed against another set of anthers, exchanging the pollen, thus pollinating the plant. The pollen baskets are emptied at the hive and stored for food for all the bees.

Electrical charges! Pollination wasn’t just about a little pollen falling out of the pollen baskets.

Rudbeckia "Goldsturm"

Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”

I also learned that honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought from Europe with the Puritans. Governor John Winthrop brought honeybees, and apple trees with him when he and his family sailed to what became Massachusetts in 1630. By 1650 maple syrup and honey were the main sources of sweetening.

Nowadays commercial beekeepers move thousands of hives around the country to pollinate vegetable and fruit crops. Conlon himself used to put several hives on a wagon and move them around the cucumber fields when the pickle factory was in operation. He explained that a poorly pollinated cucumber would be misshapen and not suitable as a pickle.

Honeybees and the 300 other bee species, are essential to our food supply. On Earth Day we can recognize the benefits of native bees, wasps, butterflies and many other small creatures that do their bit to pollinate.

Don Conlon gave us lots of wonderful information and then got down to the problems faced by the bees. He said that one of the biggest challenges for honeybees is the loss of habit. He told us about an urban/suburban community that decided to support pollinators. They were told that a 10 x 10 foot raised bed filled with pollinator plants would attract many pollinators. The idea was so appealing that many people planted pollinator beds. The result was acres of pollinator plants – and many pollinators.

Echinacea and Bee

Echinacea and bee

It is easy to find lists of plants that will provide nectar and pollen over a long season. You may already have bee plants in your garden. Some of my favorite bee perennials include: wild columbine, foam flower, butterfly weed, asters, turtlehead, Joe Pye weed, lupines, coneflower, liatris, bee balm, and black eyed Susans. Annuals that attract bees are zinnias, African (Tagetes) marigolds, cosmos, and sweet alyssum. Your herb garden with chives, rosemary, borage, thyme, and dill will attract bees.

Many people have room for a pollinator plant bed in their garden, but when I spoke to Susannah Lerman,  on the University of Massachusetts faculty, she said you didn’t even need a flower bed to attract and sustain pollinators. She said you do it by doing nothing.

Lerman has been doing research on improving wildlife habitat in urban locations. A recent experiment was located in the Springfield area devastated by a tornado a few years ago. The landscape was wiped clean. She worked with 17 yards with lawns. Her project hired people to mow those lawns for the homeowners. Some lawns were mowed regularly once a week, others were mowed every two weeks, and the final lawns were mowed every three weeks.

Without planting anything new the lawns filled with blooming pollinator plants, dandelions, clover, violets, creeping Charlie, dwarf cinquefoil, speedwell, yellow hawkweed, yellow wood sorrel, annual fleabane, purple smartweed and more. Lerman identified 64 plant species spontaneously growing in those 17 yards. None of those yards used herbicides which is an important aspect of the experiment.

Lerman’s group also identified 111 bee species visiting those lawns. She now knows there are 300 or so native bees in Massachusetts.

Dandelions and  violets

Dandelions and violets

When looking at mowing results Lerman said that a week between mowings appeared to be unnecessary. Those householders did not think it was necessary. The lawns mowed every two weeks had noticeable flowering ‘weeds’ but everyone agreed they looked perfectly respectable. The lawns mowed every three weeks looked a little messy and one could imagine neighbors frowning. “Mowing every two weeks was the sweet spot,” Lerman said. “Mowing every two weeks gave plants time to flower, and to keep neighbors happy.”

The Xerces Society and the Pollinator Partnership are two places where you can find good lists of pollinator plants.

She added that another way of keeping neighbors happy is by creating a ‘cues to care’ sign. I have seen such signs myself. The Xerces Society sells an explanatory Pollinator Garden sign for $25. But you can always make your own sign. People are apt to be more tolerant if they know that your lawn is blooming intentionally, not neglected and full of weeds.

To find out more about bees and plants mark your calendar for the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3, at the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row.  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. There will be special activities for children. Former Governor Deval Patrick, who is a beekeeper,  will also be awarding beautiful plaques created by potter Molly Cantor to several notable pollinator gardens in FranklinCounty.

Bewtween the Rows   April 1, 2017

Fresh Garden Vegetables at Home

Fresh from the Garden

Fresh from the Garden

 

Is there anything better than garden fresh vegetables? How can you beat a sun warmed tomato eaten out of hand? What about exactly the kind of lettuce you like best, ready when you are, for a luscious salad? Why can’t foliage from beets, carrots, or parsley be used as an ornamental edging before it makes it into the kitchen?

I left a regular small vegetable garden in Heath, but my first garden work in Greenfield was on ornamental gardens. I immediately needed to change the expanses of lawn into something more interesting. And so began the South and North Borders, and three amoeba-like lawn beds. The Hugel at the back of our lot was not far behind.

But something was missing. Vegetables. I am a cook as well as a gardener and while I have never really had any interest in trying to grow, harvest and preserve everything, I love being able to go into the garden and harvest tomatoes, lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli, and more. How was I going to get vegetables into my garden which was so definitely arranged as an ornamental garden?

A quick survey of the garden reminded me that there are still planting spaces. First of all, the Lawn Beds, intended for trees, shrubs and perennials, most of them native varieties, still have a fair amount of bare ground because it will take a while for those plants to mature and cover that ground themselves. Vegetables are annuals and they could take over that space, at least for a year or two.

I even have a relatively large space that has perplexed us. What can we do with a spring flooded area in front of the stone wall? We will be raising the level of that space, as we have with the Lawn Beds, and this year we will use that space as a vegetable garden. I just want to come up with an interesting layout to make it an integral part of our ornamental garden, and not like a complete afterthought. When the harvest is completed this year we can assess the garden and our own reactions.

Edible Front Yard

Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler

The idea of trying to incorporate more vegetables into the garden has been fed by my return to Ivette Soler’s book The Edible Front Yard: the Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden. Soler lives in California so I’ll forgive her for including bay trees, artichokes and guava, in the section of cultivation information. I’ll concentrate on her design advice. She says edible gardens can use the same techniques garden designers use to make “fancy gardens” look great. She talks about structure, form, repetition, texture and color

I don’t often think of structure and texture when I think of the vegetable garden but given this push the little gray cells are beginning to light up. I turned to Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates by John Whitman. He says I can grow cardoons, known for their sculptural leaves, not unlike those of the artichoke which he also says I can grow. Given the push I remember that cardoons were fairly common on the menu when we lived in Beijing for a year. Beijing is nothing like California where Soler grows her artichokes and cardoons so I am ready to give them a try. The spiky leaves of these plants are full of structure.

Whitman not only opens his book with 120 pages of extensive and excellent advice about The Basics of Gardening from choosing a planting site, planting with seeds, transplanting, and routine care from watering to fertilizing, mulching, pruning and more, he goes on to solving problems, harvesting and culinary uses, and finishing up with tools and materials. The 375 pages of Part Two give information about 150 vegetables, herbs and berries (1700 varieties) in their particulars.

Whitman’s photographs are beautiful and the book is a veritable encyclopedia. The publisher is the University of Minnesota Press knows about cold weather. I can highly recommend it for all its instruction, and because carrying it around the house and taking it on and off the shelf  has improved my muscle tone.

As for texture Soler reminds us that tomatoes are silken and smooth, sage is velvety and carrots are lacy. It’s all about looking at the vegetable palette through a different lens.

Color. Red chard with purple sage? Add some nasturtiums?  What pleasing or striking color combinations can I come up with?

With all this advice, I still have limited space. How will I choose what to grow? Obviously I will plant my favorites like cherry tomatoes which come in different colors. I must have leafy and crispy lettuces, crunchy radishes, beets for greens and roots, Harukei turnips, sugar snap peas and green beans.

I have already planted an herb bed next to the house with oregano, thyme, sage, chives and garlic chives, but will plant basils, parsley, borage, dill and cilantro. I will never have a garden without dill.

When I asked a friend how to choose what to plant she said plant those things that are expensive to buy – like shallots. Good advice.

It won’t be long before I can follow all John Whitman’s advice in preparing the garden site. Piles of compost and soil are waiting to create a new Lawn Vegetable Bed. I can almost taste the first radishes of spring.

Between the Rows  April 8, 2017

I will be giving an illustrated talk on The Sustainable Garden on Sunday, May 23 at 1 pm  at the Franklin County Fairgrounds during the Eco-Living program. This is a two day event with lots of informative and fascinating talks. Hope to see you there.

Bloom Day April 15, 2017

yellow primrose

yellow primrose

I am so happy to finally have a Bloom Day post that I don’t even mind how meager the bloom. I will definitely plant bulbs in my new garden this fall.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

These delicate plants were among the exceedingly few flowers at our new house. Lawn used  to be the theme, but no more. These Dutchman’s breeches grow near the back door, right up against south wall of the house. I love them.

Carol of May Dreams Gardens, you have my everlasting gratitude for inventing Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. I am so happy to be able  to  see what is in bloom  all over the country.

Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

Margaret Roach, keynote speaker at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

Margaret Roach, keynote speaker at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

Every March I celebrate the arrival of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium held at FrontierHigh School on Saturday, March 18. This gala event includes a broadening and informational key note talk by the noted gardener, writer and speaker Margaret Roach. There will also be a wide range of practical workshops. This year gardeners can choose from among 15 talks that include choosing “no fuss” shrubs for the small garden, underutilized trees and shrubs, basics of making hard cider, mushroom growing and garlic growing. You can go to the Western Mass Master Gardeners website, www.wmmga.org for the full program and registration form. It is wise to register early in order to get your preferred workshop. This year’s keynote speaker, Margaret Roach, has been gardening for 30 years, and has inspired other gardeners for nearly that long. Early on she worked as garden editor for Newsday, and then went on to be the first garden editor for Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. Her first book written in those years is A Way to Garden. Since ‘retiring’ ten years ago she has written two new books titled And I Shall Have Some Peace There, and The Backyard Parables. I’ve been familiar with Roach’s gardens and writing, almost from the start. Years of enjoyment for me, not to mention new ways of looking at my garden. I liked the subtlety of the title A Way to Garden. At first I kept reading it as Away to garden, suggesting a retreat, but really A Way to Garden suggests that this is her way to garden, and that we will all find our own way to garden. The title of Roach’s presentation is Unlocking Seed Secrets: From Politics to the Practical. There is more to understanding what kind of seeds are on the market than you might think. Roach will demystify the issues of regular seed versus organic seed, hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds, and GMO seeds.

Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm

Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm

I was happy to see that Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm was on the workshop schedule. His talk is about planting, tending and storing garlic. I visited Baruc and his wife Deb Habib in 2009 and was amazed and encouraged to see their farming techniques, their energy efficient house, and solar panels. They grow garlic and other vegetables for sale using no-till methods without the use of machinery. Nowadays they sell their produce only at their own farmstand, and to their local coop. I was also impressed by their Plant Food Everywhere SOL program (Seeds of Leadership) for teens which “speaks to the body-mind-soul approach of our food justice program,” and their work helping start school gardens. Indeed, over the years they have helped various community groups throughout our area build raised bed gardens. Baruc is famous for his garlic and is a co-founder of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival, the Festival that Stinks. It celebrates its 19th anniversary this year. When I visited in 2009 I saw how he used what seemed like acres of cardboard, covered with compost to make new planting beds. I was fascinated by this technique but never had too much opportunity to try it out myself, but all the beds in our new Greenfield gardens began with cardboard (I‘ll never be able to thank Manny’s enough) and beautiful compost from Martin’s Compost Farm. I haven’t grown much in the way of edibles here, but this year I plan to put the Seeds of Solidarity motto back in action – Plant Food Everywhere. Dawn Davis of Tower Hill Botanical Garden, who has been using and creating all kinds of materials to make supports for vegetables and flowers for 17 years, will give an illustrated talk on Vertical Vegetable Gardening – The Art of Growing Up in the Garden.     Davis said she has used regular tomato cages and stakes in the garden, but she has also used PVC pipes to make arches. She also uses rebar to make arches, but sometimes combines the rebar with concrete reinforcement mesh to make supports for sweet peas, nasturtiums, cukes, tomatoes.

Creative plants supports at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Creative plant supports at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

She also mentioned using pocket melons which I had never heard of. She said they are very small, and have a bland taste, but they do have attractive stripes. I was so intrigued I had to look them us and while everyone agreed that the Queen Anne pocket melon doesn’t have strong flavor, it does have a wonderful fragrance. I love wonderful fragrances, but I also think this melon must be a terrible to tease to promise so much and deliver so little.

Plant support at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Plant support at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Then Davis told me she paints the supports different colors every year “to carry the design theme. The color also makes a big impact, especially early in the season.” It is time to register for this rich and varied program. And, in addition to noted speaker Margaret Roach, and 15 workshops, local vendors will be on hand, as well as books from Timber Press and Storey Publishers, and a good lunch. You can download the brochure and registration form by going to www.wmmga.org. Cost is $35 for the full day. Optional lunch and materials are extra. I also advise carpooling if possible. The parking lot is not large. Between the Rows  March 4, 2017

Local Environmental Action 2017 – Water

Indigenous Rising at the Indigenous Environmental Network

Indigenous Rising at the Indigenous Environmental Network

This past Sunday I attended the Local Environmental  Action conference 2017 in Boston. One of the two keynote speakers was Kandi Mossett, a leading voice in the fight against climate change and environmental justice.  Unlike my experiences at most conferences I did not come home with a load of paper. I came home with a list of links which I will share.

The Conference was organized by toxicsaction.org  Since 1987, Toxics Action Center organizers have worked side by side with more than 750 communities across New England to clean up hazardous waste sites, reduce industrial pollution, curb pesticide use, ensure healthy land use, replace dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives, and oppose dangerous waste, energy, and industrial facilities. We work on issues where environmental pollution threatens our health.

MCAN   Massachusetts Climate Action Network was the co-sponsor with  Toxics Action  www.massclimateaction.net  MCAN’s role as a facilitator of municipal-level action is unique among Massachusetts environmental groups. We empower our local chapters by enhancing communication, promoting town-level projects that improve communities, decreasing climate change-causing pollution, and reducing development time for those projects. MCAN speaks on behalf of all chapters to improve Massachusetts energy and climate policies and programs.

Kandi Mossett of Mandan, Hidsata and Arikara tribal heritage, is a leading voice in the fight to the impacts that environmental injustice are having on indigenous communities across our country. She works with the Indigenous Environmental Network. She gave a passionate speech about events leading up to the Standing Rock protest. “You’re not guaranteed change when you make your voice heard against injustice; but you are guaranteed to fail if you choose to remain silent.”

Lois Gibbs was the founder of the Love Canal Homeowners Association in 1978 which finally got the government to move the 100 plus families from their contaminated neighborhood. This housing development was built on a toxic landfill. In 1981 she went on to found the Center for Health, Environment and Justice which has assisted over 13,000 grassroots groups with organizing, technical and general information nationwide. She says we must fight politically, never violently, and always together.

Water is life for us, for our gardens, and for all living things. We need to protect and guard it.

There are many more links which I will share over time.

Value of the Garden Tour

Japanese

A version of the Japanese tsukabai

The coming of spring has me looking at garden tour inspirations from the past. I love this shady Japanese scene in a garden in 2014.

Water bowl

Water bowl

This water bowl in another garden shows that even a small garden with less piping and infrastructure can have  this Japanese feature with it shade loving ferns and other plants. I have always felt the serenity of green Japanese gardens which are designed for looking at, and quiet meditation.

Dry stream bed

Dry stream bed

A garden tour in 2016 took me to Minneapolis where I saw this dry stream. I keep trying to figure out how I can use  this idea to provide more drainage in my very wet garden.

Stone and water

Stone and water

I can tell you I have many photos of water in gardens. This was one of my favorites in Minneapolis. I  don’t think I will get anything like  this in my garden.

Lilies in Minneapolis

Lilies in Minneapolis

As much as I love the serenity of  Japanese garden elements, I also love big lush plantings of flowers.

Vera's Steps in Minneapolis

Vera’s steps in Minneapolis

A garden tour can give inspiration for public spaces. This stairway is just a small part of a steep incline leading from a parking lot down to a busy road. A wasteland was turned into a beautiful public park. We need more green public spaces for our  souls, and for the benefit of the environment.

Mysterious curving path

Mysterious curving path

I have gotten lots of inspiration from Greenfield Garden Club tours. This garden tour gave me one of my favorite gardens. It is a lot similar to mine, but it has curving paths that don’t let you see what comes next.

Gazebo

Gazebo

And yet, this fully planted garden has a little gazebo for visiting.

Pergola for picknicing

Pergola for picnicing

And a pergola for shady picnics. As I design and plant my garden, this is a garden I look to for inspiration.

All You Need is Love – Valentine

 

Kiss me over  the garden gate

Kiss me over the garden gate  -  courtesy Annie’s Annuals

The Beatles sang out “all you need is love, love, love”, an ancient philosophy not created by the Beatles, and it can play out in our gardens. As Valentine’s Day draws close the song is playing over and over in my head, combined with visions of Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, otherwise known as Polygonum orientale.

Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate is a fast growing five or six foot tall annual, loaded with graceful pendant pink flowers. This is a bushy sort of plant that I can easily imagine twining around a picturesque garden gate where a shy lady and a bold lover might share a kiss. This plant is not hardy, but it self seeds and will come back year after year. It would do equally well against a fence.

Love Lies Bleeding

Love lies bleeding  in my cousin’s garden

Of course, if kisses at the garden gate turn sour, there is always Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus. I first saw this annual in bloom at the Wave Hill Gardens in Riverdale, New York. It was stunning, if not shocking, with its long pendant wine red blossoms drooping and puddling on the ground. When I found the plant label I was distressed to find that I was looking at a visceral symbol of love gone bad. Having gotten over the shock, I now appreciate the drama of amaranth in the garden. Last year I admired the new amaranth that was planted at the EnergyPark in shades of gold as well as red.  Both Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, and Love-lies-bleeding are substantial plants, tall and wide; both need full sun.

Bleeding heart

Bleeding heart

Coming on Love-lies-bleeding as an adult was an unexpected shock, but somehow my young self found bleeding hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, delicate and charming. Maybe in my younger years I could not imagine anything more tragic than a poet’s sigh when his beloved sent him away. Dicentra is a modest plant, usually less than two feet tall, with attractive foliage. It will increase in spread over the years. An annual helping of compost is always a good idea. The name bleeding heart is clearly descriptive of the little pink heart shaped blossoms with their tiny white droplets of blood arranged on arching stems. They bloom in spring in damp part shade, not shouting of a broken heart, just a whisper.

Roses have their own language of love and friendship. It all depends on the color. Of course, we all know that the red rose shouts out I love you passionately. The white rose has been known as the wedding rose, and white promises more than passion; it speaks of true love, reverence and charm. Certainly in a marriage we hope that by definition true love does not age, nor does the reverence and care each will take of the other, and that they will never cease to charm each other.

Roses, like the other flowers under discussion, do not bloom in New England winters. Valentine bouquets must come from somewhere else. I found statistics that estimated 110 million roses get sent on Valentine’s Day in the United States. Not even California can supply all those roses. Over the course of a year many of our roses come from Columbia, South America.

Lion's Fairy Tale rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale rose by Kordes in October 2016

I am devoted to growing at least a few roses in my garden. In Heath I wanted old fashioned antique roses even though they usually bloomed for only a short season because they were naturally hardy and disease resistant. Now I am looking for disease resistant roses that will bloom for a long season. I have included the very small Pink Drift, and OSO Easy Paprika with its small bright sprays. I have also added white Polar Express and Lion’s Fairy Tale with its peach blush, both by Kordes, a company that has been breeding disease resistant roses for 30 years or more.

We will never be able to buy local roses during the winter, but there are more and more local flower farms like Wild Rose Farm in Florence, that grow annuals and perennials that they sell over a long season in mixed bouquets, or in arrangements for special occasions – like weddings! One advantage to local flowers is that they are much more likely to be grown organically which is a benefit to the birds and bugs of our local environment.

Sometimes flowers are grown as an addition to the main crops of a farm. We once took a family trip to a pick your own orchard with our daughters and their children. We got a wagon ride, petted the animals, picked apples and then chose our pumpkins, and a big bouquet of bright autumnal flowers, asters, brown-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, zinnias and big golden marigolds.

And that list of plants brings us to some of the results of all that love and romance – children. Flower names are growing in popularity for girls. There have always been girls named Rose, Violet, Lily and Rosemary, but flowers are claiming more girls. I have a friend whose daughter is named Hazel, back in favor, and my youngest cousin is named Zinnia. Newer names gaining popularity are Petal, and Iolanthe which besides being the name of the Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta is also the word for ‘violet flower’.

Boys are claiming the plant world, too. There is Fiorello or little flower, Jared, Hebrew for rose, and Florian.

This Valentine’s Day, whether we give a bouquet or a living plant – or box of chocolates – the recipient will know the gift is all about love, and that love is all we need.

Between the Rows  February 11, 2017

 

Art in the Garden

Stone garden plaque

Stone plaque in the garden

Art in the garden. Art has had a place in the garden for centuries. Archeologists found pools, fountains and statuary in the ancient gardens of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Nowadays it would be hard to find any public garden or park that does not include art.

We home gardeners have also found that we desire art in our gardens. Water is considered by many to be the most basic artistic element. By definition the Chinese garden includes water and stone. This is true of the Japanese garden as well. Centuries old grand gardens in England, France and Italy have elaborate fountains.

I was happy to know that a handsome birdbath could be considered an artful source of water, and I was thrilled when I received the gift of a solar birdbath fountain. How fortunate we are that the entrance to every garden center is graced with bubbling fountains that only need access to an electrical outlet to keep flowing and recycling their water. In addition, there are more and more fountains that are powered by the sun

simple urn fountain recycles water

Urn fountain recycles water

.On my travels I have seen many simple fountains from millstones that burble at ground level, silently slip over the sides of urns, cascade from level to level, or splash over the tiers of the fountain. All are easily available at garden centers and online.

Stone is essential to the Chinese and Japanese garden, but not always appreciated in American gardens, but I think that is changing. About 25 years ago a friend asked me what he could do with the outcropping of ledge that he felt spoiled his lawn. I suggested that he had a ready made rock garden and could turn to small spring bulbs, and low growing plants like a prostrate veronica, sea pinks, dianthus, purple blossomed aubretia, thyme and, of course, sedums. However, in that particular case, the lawn won out with the help of loads of loam.

Some of us can take advantage of stone that is on site, but others of us may import the stone. We have local quarries like Goshen Stone Quarry to cut stone for us. A newer friend arranged to have a very large boulder installed in her garden making quite a statement. We imported stone and stone masons to give us a low stone wall.

Stone turtle 'sculpture'

Stone turtle ‘sculpture’

There are other ways to use stone. I saw a stone turtle comprised of several differently sized stones that,T placed together, formed a little turtle sculpture on the edge of a small lily pond. One of my favorite ways of using small stones of slightly different shades is treating them as mosaic material. I have seen them used in small projects and large. In a garden magazine I saw a photo of a pebble mosaic that took the form of a large oriental carpet. On the other hand I saw a stone stairway with a mosaic landing, as well as a path made of plain circular mosaic stepping stones.

Pebble mosaic

Pebble mosaic

Statuary can be the easiest thing for any of us to add to our gardens. There are always charming gnomes to be had, arranged to peek through the fern foliage. I have enjoyed the appearance of St. Fiacre, patron of gardeners and cab drivers in many gardens, but  I think the Buddha may be creeping up in popularity.  St. Fiacre may stand, breathing deep, taking a moment to recover from his chores, but Buddha is always sitting in peaceful meditation. I have a friend whose Buddha sits at the edge of a quiet woodland, and if he should open his eyes they would rest on the view of a stony brook singing its way down the hillside.

Buddha on stone

Buddha on stone

Some people have the talent and skill to make their own statuary. Many gardeners are now taking classes to learn how to turn cement into garden ornaments and troughs.  However, there are artists who make their own statuary. This past summer I was on a garden tour in Minneapolis and environs. The final garden was Wouterina de Raad’s Sculpture Garden.

Wouteriana de Raad

Wouteriana de Raad and metal mesh base

De Raad is a Dutch artist who emigrated to the U.S. about 40 years ago. She bought her small property with a rickety farmhouse and no plumbing 10 years later. She set to work building herself a garden and a workshop where she now creates concrete mosaic sculptures. She has turned her wilderness into a sculpture garden that attracts visitors who come to view and enjoy, and students who want to learn her techniques.

Wouteriana de Raad

Wouteriana de Raad’s greeter

Her sculptures begin with wire mesh that is then covered with concrete and then the mosaic pieces. Her subjects include many creatures of the wild, jaguars that she remembers from her childhood in Indonesia, snakes, birds and fish. There is the jaunty man who greets visitors when they arrive, sprites who line the lush paths through the one and a half acre garden, mosaic chairs and gift boxes, and concrete couches for party gatherings around the fireside.

De Raad's self portrait as an American Citizen

Wouteriana de Raad’s self portrait of herself as an American citizen

De Raad’s garden is exotic, always luring the visitor around the next corner. If any of us wanted to make our own concrete sculpture we could attend one of her 2-3 day workshops at her studio. Her  website  will also answer questions about the process, and give you an idea of what to expect. And you could always make a try on your own.

concrete and mosaic bird by Wouteriana de Raad

Bird and bath by Wouteriana de Raad

What kind of art do you have, or desire in your garden?

Between the Rows   January 28, 2017

For those who would like to see more of Wouteriana De Raad’s sculpture, Pam Penick who writes the Digging Blog has written more fully, and taken better photographs here and here. Pam also wrote two excellent books: Lawn Gone and The Water Saving Garden

Seeds and Seedspeople

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Mail order catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Attractive and colorful seed packets are blooming in garden centers. The constant promise of seeds is that they will germinate and grow providing us with healthy foods, zesty herbs and colorful flowers.

Some  companies like Burpee have been around for over 100 years. Others are newer. Stories about beginnings are always fascinating and today I have stories about three newer seed companies.

When we lived in Maine in 1974-5 I learned about Johnny’s Selected Seeds when I was a member of the wonderful Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) organization. Johnny’s was founded by the 22 year old Rob Johnston in 1973 and I usually buy some seed from them every year. A visit to the johnnyseeds.com website tells the story of Johnston’s first inspirations when he was a student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and worked at the Yellow Sun Food Cooperative and goes on to tell the history of the farm and the business.

Johnny's Selected Seeds

Johnny’s Selected Seeds mailorder catalog

The history of the farm includes prizes for their plant breeding which includes Sunshine kabocha squash, Bon Bon buttercup squash, Honey Bear acorn squash, Baby Bear pie pumpkin, Diva seedless cucumber, and Carmen sweet pepper, all of which were chosen as All America Selections, and all were bred by Johnny’s. They are also one of the nine original signers of the Safe Seed Initiative which pledges they will not knowingly sell GMO seeds, and in 2015 Johnny’s became an employee owned company. In 2016 Johnny’s breeder, and Johnston’s wife, Janika Eckert, was awarded the 2016 All America Selections Breeders Cup.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, rareseeds.com, is a newer company, founded by another young farmer in 1998 with a particular passion for heirlooms. Jere Gettler was only 17 when he sent out his first catalog; nowadays he offers nearly 2,000 heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. This is the largest collection of heirloom seed in the United States, and it includes varieties from Europe and Asia.

Complete Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog $9.95

Complete Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog $9.95

Many of the vegetables pictured in his large catalog are not likely to be found anywhere else. It’s fun to browse through and find wonders like the French Jaune Paille Des Vertus, a long keeping onion introduced c. 1793; the large Old Greek melon; Italian Verde de Taglio chard; Turkish Striped Monastery tomato; and Thai Chao Praya eggplant. There is also a variety of herbs, and even flowers.

Gettle must be an amazing businessman as well as a great seedsman. In addition to their farm and headquarters in Missouri, they opened a store, the Petaluma Seed Bank in California that sells 1800 varieties of seed, and more recently bought the Comstock Ferre Seed Company in Wethersfield, Connecticut. He also instituted the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California. His concern is that we all need to know where our food comes from, and we shouldn’t have to worry about GMOs. In addition to selling seeds from his outlets in Missouri, California, and Connecticut he and his wife, Emilee, have written The Heirloom Life Gardener and the Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook.

Gettle is not averse to anyone saving their own seeds. The staff at the Seed Savers Exchange farm in Decorah, Iowa hope you will save your own seeds and pass them on. This non-profit was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Wheatley and Kent Wheatley because they were concerned about the shrinking of the gene pool of  our vegetable food supply.

Any tour of our local supermarkets over the course of a year will show you how few varieties of vegetables are available. We certainly have a good supply, but all the supermarket broccoli (here and everywhere) is likely to be the same variety. The Wheatley’s considered the danger if that broccoli, or any other vegetable, was hit by a blight. In 1845 much of the extremely poor Irish population was subsisting mainly on a certain variety of potato. Potatoes are a good healthy food and you can live on them alone, but in 1845 the potatoes were destroyed by a blight that was not defeated until 1851. Over a million people died from malnutrition and another million left the country, many to the United States.

The Wheatleys worked to connect gardeners with old, open pollinated varieties with others who would also grow that variety and pass it on. Nowadays the Heritage Farm in Decorah has a refrigerated seedbank that holds 20,000 varieties of seeds at below freezing temperatures. It also sells packaged seeds that you might see at a garden center, but it is till possible to contact an individual gardener to get seeds to an unusual variety. For example they offer 495 beet varieties, each named with an indication if it is commercially available, if it is rare, or if it is only available through personal contact. The list is available on line, but you have to be a member to purchase the seeds through the Exchange.

The work that Kent Wheatley did was important enough that he was awarded one of the ‘genius’ MacArthur Fellowships in 1990.

Of course there are other reputable and wonderful seed companies. I was given a link to a post about other good sources for heirloom seeds.  http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/10-best-seed-companies-selected-by-readers.html like Kusa Seed Society, Territorial Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Organic Seed Alliance that lists other organic seed companies.

Between the Rows   January 14, 2017