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Dear Friend and Gardener

Dogwoods – Trees and Shrubs

Kousa dogwood

Kousa dogwood

With its long lasting flowers the dogwood is one of the iconic trees of early spring. On my street there are two beautiful dogwoods, Cornus florida, a native species. We are fortunate to have these trees because in the past this species has battled anthracnose, the most deadly fungus that can attack dogwoods.

The response to the dying off of many native dogwoods is the rise of Kousa dogwood, a Japanese species. The flower is very similar but the tree blooms a bit later in the spring. Both native and Kousa dogwoods are categorized as small trees, which means they will attain a height between 15 and 30 feet with an equal spread. Thirty feet does not seem very small to me.

These two dogwood species produce similar long blooming flowers, but the ‘flowers’ are actually white or pinkish bracts surrounding the very tiny true flowers in the center. There is an old legend that says Satan tried to climb over the wall that surrounded Eden to knock the flowers off Adam’s favorite tree, the dogwood. However, he fell and since the blossoms were in the shape of a cross, all he managed to do was take a tiny bite out of the petals. That bite is recognizable today.

Both species also have good fall color with shades of pink and red, and they produce berries that attract the birds.

Kousa dogwood flowers

Kousa dogwood flowers – closeup

I considered planting a native or Kousa dogwood in my new garden, but gave up the idea because I decided that it is too wet for dogwoods to thrive. These trees do enjoy some shade, and moist but well drained soil, but I feared that our floods would be fatal.

Although the dogwood trees don’t like water, dogwood shrubs don’t seem to mind at all. One of the first large shrubs I planted in the garden in the summer of 2015 was the yellow twig dogwood. This multi-stemmed shrub will reach a height and width of five or six feet and has grown energetically for us. I wanted this shrub because the yellow stems attract a lot of attention in the winter and spring. It’s a true glory when the sun is shining on it. I planted Cornus sericea  Flaviramea  right where I can see it from my kitchen window.

Yellow twig dogwoods are so water tolerant that they can be used as part of a rain garden planting which means they can stand periodic flooding and full time dampness.

I was so happy with the yellow twig that last year I bought two more dogwood shrubs. Many people are familiar with the red twig dogwood, Cornus sanguinea. It will attain the size and stature of the yellow twig but the stems are a very definite red. I saw a house with a red twig dogwood hedge once during the winter. It was nicely pruned and quite elegant.

The second new dogwood shrub is an osier Cornus sericea. The word osier threw me. It brought to mind certain willows with very flexible stems that could be cut while young to make baskets and furniture. I wondered whether the osier cornus could be used the same way. I have not yet made that determination

I was also confused because this was a C. sericea like the Flaviramea, but it was not a stunning yellow, nor was it red, but rather a mixture. The horticultural world is not always easy to understand. However this species is also extremely water tolerant and it has become the tallest and most upright of my dogwood shrubs. It must like its wet spot, next to a planting of primroses that are also happy in the wet. These three shrubs benefit from cutting back some of the stems every two or three years to keep the color vivid.

All three of these dogwoods have similar flowers. They lack the showy bracts of the trees. They have small flat-topped clusters of tiny true flowers that are not showy at all. However, in the fall small drupes replace the flowers. Drupes is a new word for me. – easily defined. Drupes are a stone fruit, with a fleshy outer part surrounding the pit. Peaches, plums cherries and other stone fruits are drupes.

Pagoda dogwood blossoms

Pagoda dogwood blossoms

The final cornus in my planting is a pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia. This is another small dogwood tree, but it has flowers and drupes just like the shrubs. No show off bracts.  The alternifolia in its name refers to the leaves which appear alternately on the stems instead of opposite each other on other cornus species.

My desire for this tree is because of the fairly horizontal arrangement of its branches much like the levels in a pagoda. I love the sculptural arrangement, but I know it will take some regular pruning to urge it on to its best form. I am not a great pruner but I am ready to accept the challenge.

I want to make a final small mention of the low growing Cornus canadensis otherwise known as bunchberry, bearberry or any one of several names including plain dwarf dogwood. It is easily recognizable as a dogwood by its foliage and the white bracts surrounding its true flowers. The only difference is its petite size. It creeps along the ground, only eight inches high and spreading two or three feet. Birds eat the red berries in the fall and spread the seeds elsewhere.

The interesting thing about bunchberry is the force with which its flower buds bend back and the anthers spring forward in less than a millisecond and throw the pollen into the air and surrounding garden at more than two thousand times the force of gravity. I don’t know how anyone ever saw or measured this phenomenon but you can find videos on YouTube.###

Between the Rows   May 27, 2017

 

Progression of Spring

Progression of Spring - April Fool snow

Progression of Spring – April Fool snow

The progression of spring is one of magisterial slowness. The April Fool snow did have the advantage of showing us where we could expect the spring flood to appear.

April 18, 2017

April 18, 2017

The snow didn’t last too long and it didn’t even look that wet anymore in mid-April. The slow progression of spring.

May 14, 2017 - Flood

May 14, 2017 – Flood

There were considerable rains  which started things greening up, but also brought the flood. This shows the progression of spring took a leap, but then stepped back for a rest.

May 30, 2017

May 30, 2017

In spite of the rains which leave the area around the shed underwater, it looks like spring is firmly ensconced throughout most of the garden. The primroses have loved the rain and welcomed new plants from the Bridge of Flowers and Greenfield Garden Club plant sales.  The lilacs have gone by but the roses are budding up nicely. It looks like OSO Easy Paprika will be the  first to bloom

OSO Easy Paprika

OSO Easy Paprika

Now, if the progression of spring would just take us into the sunshine. I am expecting a BOOM! of blossom.

Cutting Back and Glorious Shade

Cutting Back

Cutting Back by

Cutting Back, and Glorious Shade are two new books that held a particular appeal to me. For me Japanese gardens and shade gardens share an atmosphere of serenity and calm. There is no rushing, no ecstatic clamor at the brilliance of blossoms; there is a quiet peacefulness when you are strolling through a wild woodland garden or an artful Japanese garden. Both types of garden use design to emulate the beauty of nature in different ways.

In Cutting Back: My apprenticeship in the gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck (Timber Press $24.95) Buck gives us a memoir of the six months she spent in Japan working six days a week in every weather with expert gardeners.

Once we are in our mid-30s, most of us cannot imagine turning back to the beginning by presenting ourselves as a novice welcoming criticism and instruction. And yet, this is what Buck did. As a garden designer in the San FranciscoBay area she loved Japanese gardens and worked in them, but wanted to learn from the masters in Japan. She left her work and friends and without arranging a job in Japan she left California. She was amazingly fortunate because she did land a job with an elite Japanese landscaping company.

When you go to a foreign country to take a job the experience is as much about adjusting to a different culture as it is to learning or refining skills. As a woman Buck was an unlikely member of an all male crew, taking her place in the lowest rank. She is the first woman to train in Japan with this company. The Japanese aesthetic is to create a landscape that looks completely natural, but this requires gardeners with an artistic eye, fine pruning skills and patience to attend to every detail of a garden down to cleaning pebble paths. Buck, with her minimal fluency in Japanese, found all this challenging, exhausting and sometimes disheartening, but she was also inspired by the gardeners in her crew and appreciative of their teachings.

Cutting Back describes the work and skills of a Japanese crew, but it is not a how-to book in any sense except possibly the joy ultimately found when you cast aside your fears and move on to fulfill a dream.

Leslie Buck had a dream, but she already had an aesthetic education. She has a degree from the University of California, Berkeley and attended the Bordeaux School of Fine Arts in France. She has taken to heart the Japanese worker’s creed that to become a master you must continually practice and you must teach. She has worked, taught and volunteered in hundreds of private landscapes and many public gardens including the PortlandJapaneseGarden and the gardens at TassajaraZenCenter.

Glorious Shade: Dazzling Plants, Design Ideas and Proven Techniques for Your Shade Garden by Jenny Rose Carey (Timber Press $24.95) will give you new ways to look at shade in your garden. I certainly have moved from thinking of shade as some static thing that has only a single quality to appreciating the many facets and changeability of shade.

Glorious Shade by Carey

Glorious Shade by Jenny Rose Carey

Glorious Shade begins with chapters on the Shades of Shade and Gardener’s Calendar, reminding us that shade is not static but varying over the seasons, even over the course of a day, and that green foliage is not a single shade either. The book is heavily illustrated with beautiful and instructional photographs.

The third chapter Down and Dirty focuses on the intertwined, underground world of soil and roots, a world that is getting more and more attention. Nowadays we are fortunate to be learning more  about soil and roots, and worlds of life that we never knew about before. We all become better gardeners when we pay attention to the most basic part of our gardens – the soil.

Planting for Success gives us those techniques and schedules for maintaining a garden over time.

Designing in the Shadows gives us many bright ideas for gardening in the shade with ideas on how the many types of shade can be used to create the areas of calm and peace that I welcome.

The next 150 pages begin with information about layering the garden, trees, shrubs, perennials, and then provides one of the best plant lists I have ever seen. From trees and shrubs: Aesculus parviflora (buckeye) and Aesculus pavia to Viburnam tinus; vines from Aristolochia marophylla (Dutchman’s pipe) to Passiflora caerulea; ferns from Adiantum, (maidenhair fern) to Polystichum setiferum; and Perennials from Aconitum carmichaelii to Viola labradorica, our common American violet. There is also a short list for tropicals and annuals.

These lists are comprehensive including information about the different cultivars of a single species, including growing zone, depth of shade, need for water, and height and spread of plant. There is also more specific information about each species or cultivar than is usually given in more general plant lists. This gives the gardener a fuller understanding of a plant’s requirements.

Carey is the director of the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University which includes shade gardens as does her own Northview garden shown in her blog.. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Pennsylvania Gardener and other publications.

Between the Rows  May 20, 2017

Herb Garden for Savor and Beauty

Herb seedlings

Herb seedlings are available everywhere – Rosemary, parsley and basil

Why have an herb garden? Simon and Garfunkel sang about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, increasing their fame, but this 17th century song just begins to touch on the herbs that can easily be grown by gardeners. Herb gardens are ideal for a novice gardener to tackle and a rich resource for the cook.

To begin all you need is a sunny space with ordinarily fertile soil. You can plant herbs in your vegetable garden or you can make a very pretty herb garden devoted to culinary, or ornamental herbs. My own small herb garden is located along the house foundation and right outside the kitchen door.

Parsley is treated as an annual herb, although it is actually a biennial. With a little luck it will come back its second spring, but will rapidly go to seed which is why most of us plant fresh seed, or buy new seedlings every year. Most people will recognize the two types of parsley, the flat leaved variety which has the best flavor for cooking, and the curly leaved type. I have grown parsley from seed indoors, but it is very slow to germinate. In some areas of England it is said that parsley must visit the devil seven times before it will germinate.

Parsley has been used in the past for many medicinal reasons but today only its power as a diuretic, and its nutritional value that is acknowledged. So remember that all the parsley you use in cooking is adding vitamins as well as flavor and a pretty garnish to your dishes. Parsley makes a pretty edging for an herb garden, or any garden.

sage

Sage

Sage, a perennial herb, was considered a general heal-all while preserving the memory and lifting depression Today it mostly used in the kitchen to flavor recipes including eggs, chicken, lamb, polenta and in stuffings with onions and apples.

Sage is a foot tall perennial that can be grown outside in our area, although over time the stems will become woody and you might want to replace it with a new plant. The texture of the foliage is velvety. The common Salvia officinalis is tender gray-green but there are also purple and golden salvias. It is an essential plant in the herb garden, but it is also a good addition to the ornamental garden.

Rosemary is tender in our region. In the past I have dug up my rosemary and potted it for a winter inside the house. I kept it in a cool room and kept it watered. It came through the winters but was always happy to be back outdoors once spring was fully in charge.

Sometimes I put my rosemary plant right in the ground for the summer, but I often have it grow in a beautiful pot which gives it more presence in the garden.

There are many varieties of thyme. I have only grown the common Thymus vulgaris. This is a low growing and wonderfully spready herb. Here in my new garden I have it growing in front of a low stone wall to make a thyme path and consider it a cousin to the English thyme lawn. In fact, in Heath where our lawn had very dry spots I planted thinnings from the thyme near the house. Those thinnings took root and spread. I did not have whole thyme lawn but it was an important element in the lawn which included dandelions, violets, clover, hawkweeds and other nameless flowering weeds creating what I called my flowery mead.

A busy friend of mine placed a sun dial in her lawn and then surrounded it with varieties of thyme. I don’t know what varieties she had but I have seen gardens with Mother of Thyme which is only three inches tall, silvery wooly thyme only one inch tall, and Elfin thyme which will rarely reach one inch, making a very flat mat. My friend just wanted to be able to say that she had all the time in the world.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are essential herbs in my kitchen, but they are not alone.

Dill and chives didn’t get songs, but they are also essential. I would grow dill even if I never used it in my cooking because I love the fragrance. It always reminds me of my childhood on the shores of Lake Champlain where my grandmother occasionally held a shrimp fest – all the shrimp (cooked with dill) that the extended family could eat. Dill is also a great pollinator plant.

dill

Dill

Dill is an annual, but it can hardly help seeding itself.

Chives are a perennial and the clump will get bigger every year. It is one of the earliest plants to come up in my garden. I can start harvesting the grassy, oniony foliage in early April. Late in the spring it will blossom and those blossoms are a pretty addition to a salad.

Ever since pesto became a staple in our kitchens, basil, an annual, has become a necessity. There is the big leafed Genovese basil I began with, but now there is any number of basils including Thai basil, lemon, cinnamon, Greek dwarf, dark purple opal, and Holy basil. They are delicious in a variety of ways in the kitchen and their different forms make them striking in the garden.

Whether you are a serious cook or not, herbs are a hardy and lovely addition to any garden. Most garden centers sell seedlings and you can set up an herb garden very quickly.

Between the Rows   April 22, 2017

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 15, 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.