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Dear Friend and Gardener

Tree Peonies on the Bridge of Flowers

Kamata Nishiki tree peony

Kamata Nishiki tree peony

It is tree peony season on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. There are a number of tree peonies, but not all of them have retained their names. No matter. They are all still stunning. We have been promised a few days of hot weather. I hope the tree peonies don’t mind too much.

Shimanishiki tree peony

Shimanishiki tree peony

This tree peony took a beating in the rain – and now here we are fearing the hot sun.


tree peony

Nameless tree peony

Of course other flowers and blooming trees are blooming on the Bridge, but the Tree Peonies are particularly ephemeral and I wait for them every year.

Bridge of Flowers – Sale and Stroll

Bridge of Flowers set up for annuals

Bridge of Flowers set up for annuals

Yesterday the Bridge of Flowers held its annual Plant Sale and it was a great success! The sale included perennials from the Bridge itself as well as from area gardeners. Shrubs and trees as well: pussy willows, thornless raspberries, Japanese maples. Lots of special peonies! Japanese jack in the pulpits. Amazing. Hillside Nursery sent a few of its rare wildflowers down. In addition the master Gardeners were there to do soil tests, there were garden books from the Shelburne Booksellers, cards from the Friends of Robert Strong Woodward, and lots of cookies, muffins, cakes and coffee! To keep up our strength.

Checking over the plant choices

Checking over the plant choices

So many choices! Let’s look again. Let’s confer. It takes the whole family to make the final decisions about what to buy.

Bridge of Flowers  Plant Sale line

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale line

Once decisions are made it’s time to get in line.  There are always old friends, and maybe a new friend to talk to about plants and gardens and the weather – and everything.

Bridge of Flowers frolic

Bridge of Flowers frolic

Of course, some people would rather race and frolic than look at the plants.  There is no getting around the fact that the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale is an important social community event. Joy!

Pink dogwood

Pink dogwood

I was  almost ready for my nap after the Plant Sale site was cleaned up but I had to take a few minutes for a revitalizing stroll over the Bridge. The pink dogwood on the Shelburne entry is in full bloom.

Carolina silverbell

Carolina silverbell

The Carolina silverbell is one of my favorite blooming trees, just one of the many blooming trees and shrubs on the Bridge of Flowers.

Pearl Bush

Pearl Bush

The Pearl Bush  (Exochorda) is in full heavy bloom. An absolute glory.  Very satisfying to know  that the Plant Sale supports the purchase of all the gorgeous flowers, trees and shrubs on the Bridge of Flowers. Now – time for a nap.

Children, Seeds and New Worlds Opening


Seeing Seeds by Llewellyn and Chace

Seeing Seeds by LLewellyn and Chace

It has been my privilege and joy to spend a few Thursday afternoons with Kate Bailey’s first grade at Four CornersSchool reading about, and learning about seeds. They were already quite learned. They not only knew that apples held a star in their centers, that fruit pits were seeds; they also knew that strawberry seeds were on the outside of the fruit, not inside. They are all so eager to share information about their own gardens and their favorite plants. They have a lot of favorite plants!

One afternoon I brought the squash seeds from my dinner the night before. Everyone got two or three seeds and Ms. Bailey lept up to get out the microscopes and magnifying glasses. It was just about the same moment that the children at one table and I cried out, “The seed has a shell, and the real seed is inside!”  I had nothing on those kids with their quick minds and clever fingers.

When we looked closely, very closely, at the true seed we could actually see the tiny shoot and the beginnings of a root in the seed. Ms. Bailey was even able to hook up a microscope to a projector to show the enlarged image on the white board so the whole class could look with wonder and excitement at the very beginnings of this plant’s life. Hooray for a school that brings this technology to the classroom!

I also brought Seeing Seeds: A Journey into the World of Seedheads, Pods, and Fruit written by Teri Dunn Chace with extraordinary macro photography by Robert Llewellyn. This beautiful book with its clear descriptions of seed science, and its brilliant photographs was not intended for first graders, but it is ideal for parent and child to peruse together.

In class we had discussed the different ways that seeds spread. The children knew about planting seeds from a packet but they also knew that dandelion seeds moved on the wind, and that some seeds were moved in the gut of animals who ate the plant. A few giggles there.  Seeing Seeds gave them a chance to see very close up the mechanisms that some seeds make use of, as well as the whole variety of seed cases, pods, husks and shells.

With the excitement over our own “experiment”, opening the seed case to see what we could see, the book took a back seat that afternoon. Even so, in quieter moments Seeing Seeds is the kind of book that can educate our eyes (adult and child) and help us to see details of the different types and forms of seeds. This book opens our eyes to the beauty and extravagance of Mother Nature who has found so many ways to help plants reproduce and proliferate.

Seeing Seeds (Timber Press $29.95) is one coffee table book that would get a lot of use because it is so beautiful and the text is clear, colorful and informative. It is not only the variety of mechanisms that a seed might use, but the reasons for those mechanisms that I found so fascinating. Chace writes about the way seeds, fruits, pods and nuts are  enhanced with structures such as hairs, hooks, tufts, feathers, spikes, spines, etc., all  meant to help the seeds. A spiky ball will protect them from being eaten by predators, and a layer of insulation stabilizes internal temperature and physically protects them. These are things we adults might never consider, but the protections would certainly be understood by children when they are pointed out. This is a book for the whole family.

Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell

Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell

Of course, having discussed seeds at some length, children will want to plant seeds. Indeed, the adults in the family may also be more than ready to prepare a garden and watch the magic of seeds and growth with their children. Gardening on A Shoestring: 100 Fun Upcycled Garden Projects by Alex Mitchell (Cool Springs Press$19.99) provides plenty of basic gardening advice about planning and planting a garden with the promised 100 inexpensive projects which include using tin cans, polystyrene and plastic throwaways for plant containers to making liquid fertilizers with plants, and setting up a worm farm to make rich compost.

I was particularly taken by the worm farm directions. When we made our worm farm a number of years ago, the small plastic bins that I could find were all clear, translucent. However worms don’t like the sunlight so I bought a very large plastic bin because it was the only opaque bin I could find. Mitchell suggests lining a clear plastic bin with cardboard. Why didn’t I think of that? I am on my way to having a new and smaller worm farm.

Children might be very interested in making a worm farm, but there are other projects suitable for the young set. Instead of buying plastic seedling trays you can make seedling pots out of newspaper, or toilet paper or paper towel rolls. This is a quick and useful project.

Mitchell also gives clear directions, aided by photographs, for multiplying the number of plants you already have by taking root cuttings, and layering. There is more to propagating plants than seeds.

Whether you are an adult or a child, you will find any number of inspiring projects that will feed the longing we all have to be creative, to have fun, to learn and to laugh and say – “Look what I made!”

Between the Rows   April 30, 2016

Water Loving Japanese Primroses

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses

These newly planted Japanese primroses are one of the reasons I am so excited this spring. A friend invited me to dig the primroses where they were invading her lawn. We did not make much of a dent in the patch that is thriving in front of her house and I am imagining that it will not be very long before they cover the ground in  this bed where it is very wet. Although you can barely tell from the photo the Japanese primroses are planted between the buttonbush and a golden berried winterberry whose tiny new buds are almost invisible.

As you can see we dug up the primroses before they had begun to think “Flowers!”  We got them in the ground less than two hours after digging them out of the ground and ever since the damp, rainy and cool weather has given them just what they need to settle in. Japanese primroses prefer partially shady sites and humusy damp soil.  I am dreaming that before too long they might look like this

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses

My friend sent me this photo so I would know what to expect. Beauty and Joy!

Pruning Flowering Shrubs


Basic tools for pruning

Basic tools for pruning at Greenfield Farmers Coop

Last weekend I attended an introductory pruning demonstration given by Lilian Jackman at WilderHillGardens arranged by the Greenfield Garden Club, of which I am a proud member. I am a bad pruner. I am much too timid, which I am sure is almost as bad as being a too bold pruner. When I face a shrub that has spent blossoms, or dead or broken branches I know what to do with my pruning shears. Take out the dead or damaged wood. Deadhead the spent flowers. When Lilian Jackman took club members on a tour of her gardens to demonstrate how to prune different plants with different pruning needs, or different needs of the gardener, we were all eyes and ears.

Jackman began by saying that good tools are essential to pruning well. She mentioned bypass Felco and Corona pruners, and stressed the need to keep our tools sharp. She herself begins every pruning session by sharpening her tools with a file, much as a butcher sharpens his knives before setting to work. I have Felco pruners and a Corona lopper for bigger jobs, and I bought a diamond file last year. I am just starting to learn to use that file. It is not difficult, it just takes practice. Like so much in life.

She also demonstrated her small folding pruning saw that will make quick work of branches that are too big for pruners or loppers. Tools and sharpening files can be bought at The Farmers Coop in Greenfield, and at OESCO in Ashfield.

There are different reasons for the necessity of pruning. Pruning is done for aesthetic purposes, to control size and shape. Pruning a fruit tree is done to keep it healthy and encourage fruit production. Pruning can encourage foliage or flower production on other plants. Pruning can also revitalize a neglected plant. later.In all cases it is necessary to know your plant, when it sets bud and where pruning cuts should be made.

Pieris japonica

Pieris japonica – in need of pruning

For example, our house came with a Pieris japonica. We missed the bloom season last year because we did not buy the house until very late May, after the Pieris had bloomed. I had no familiarity with this plant and did no pruning. This spring there was very little bloom, and branches were tipped fine spent stems from last year like little tassels. This year, I looked carefully at those spent stems  and cut them back to where I could see the new buds, already set. Pruning makes you really look at the details of your plants.

A statement that really confused me when I was beginning to put shrubs in my gardens was the difference between old wood, and new wood. Plants like pieris that bloom on old wood should be pruned right after their bloom season. Growth will continue, but the following spring that growth will be old wood and there will be good bloom. Forsythia also blooms on old wood.

Plants that bloom on new wood can be pruned in the early spring. The spring growth that follows is the new wood and the bloom will follow.

Many of the most popular hydrangeas right now are the hardy paniculata hydrangeas like Limelight, Pinky Winky and Quickfire. They bloom on new wood and can be cut back in the early spring, before leaf buds open to give new strong growth and bloom. Jackman uses hydrangea blossoms in the flower arrangements she creates for weddings and other events. In the spring she cuts the paniculata hydrangeas back about one third, finding a node and cutting just above it. Don’t cut between branches which will leave an ugly stub. She makes sure the center doesn’t get too overcrowded, and also prunes out any branches that are crawling across the ground.

Mothlight hydrangea

Mothlight hydrangea – not well pruned

I confess I was a bit nervous when she started cutting back those hydrangeas, taking them from five or six feet down to three feet. She assured us that they would send up another three feet of new growth and exuberant bloom.

She also showed us the remnants of a macrophylla hydrangea, a bigleaf mophead type. This is the kind of hydrangea that came with our new house. There were shrubs in front of our house but the northern corner was bare. I thought something had to be planted there but couldn’t imagine what. It wasn’t until the end of May that I could see the beginnings of new growth. Once it begins to grow in the spring this type of hydrangea grows rapidly producing a lot of bloom.

Certain shrubs like lilacs, viburnams and dogwood should have old stems removed periodically because they thrive with this kind of renewal. In fact, red and yellow twig dogwoods need this kind of pruning because the color is more prominent on young growth.

I can see that pruning need not cause angst. I have a garden full of new shrubs; I plan to be brave and to start a pruning regime while the plants are young. However, I can watch them grow for two or three years learning their habits before I have to take up my pruners and set to any serious work.

Between the Rows    April 23, 2016

Y is for Yes! and Z is for Zinnia

A is  for Yes! at Nasami Farm.  Yes, is what I wanted to say to almost every plant set out at the  special opening of Nasami  Farm yesterday.

Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm

I am not the only one saying yes as members of the New England Wildflower Society got a special invitation to tour the Nasami Greenhouses and get a headstart on our shopping.

Nasami Farm

Shoppers at Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from now until October. There is a wonderful selection of native perennials, ferns, shrubs and trees. I bought another elderberry, as well as a white aster, liatris, monarda fistulosa, and troillus laxa which doesn’t mind heavy wet soil.

Troillius laxa

Troillius laxus

And, although I have not really completed the A to Z Challenge properly I will end with Z is for Zinnia.



What is  there to say about Zinnias. Colorful, cheerful, welcoming to pollinators.  I even have a beautiful cousin (twice removed?) who will celebrate her first  birthday in July – a month for Zinnias.

X is for Xerces Society on the A to Z Challenge

Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society

Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society

 X is for the Xerces Society.  

“The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.”

What are invertebrates? All creatures without a backbone which includes, bees, butterflies and other creatures you might find in the garden like worms. It is the mission of the Xerces Society to teach us all how to support pollinators in our gardens. We can do this  by planting plants that will provide them with shelter, nectar and pollen. We can avoid using pesticides!  We can join entomologist  Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , in espousing the idea that we don’t need fewer bugs in  our garden, we need more.

Their new book Gardening for Butterflies published by Timber Press will teach you how you can support butterflies and other pollinators.

T is for Troillius in the A to Z Challenge


Troillius europaeus or Globeflower

T is for Troillius europeaneus, or Globeflower on  the A to Z Challenge. I bought my Trollius at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale a few years ago.  It is the sunniest, happiest flower I know. Bloom season is the end of May into June.

I did not move it to the new garden in Greenfield, but I just looked up its requirements, and while it prefers a neutral soil, it also doesn’t mind wet or heavy soil. I will start looking for a spot to plant this again. And, as it turns out, maybe I will find it at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale again – coming right up on May 14, 2016, 9 am to noon. Don’t be late, because when the bell rings to start the sale the rush begins.


Globeflower or Troillius europaeus

S is for Snowdrop, Snowflake and Sustainability


Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis

S is for Snowdrop and Snowflake. The snowdrop is a tiny delicate flower, one of the first of the little bulbs to bloom in the spring, often rising through the snow in February or March. One of the most common snowdrops in the catalogs in the Giant or Elwes Snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, but it just a slightly more robust version of Galanthus nivalis, the 5 or 6 inch tall common snowdrop. G. nivalis has been gracing the early spring gardens ever since 1597 – according to my Old House Gardens catalog.

Old House Gardens specializes in heritage plants and some do indeed go back a long way. I think only the martagon lily is older than the common snowdrop.

I was always confused by the summer snowflake. It looked just like the snowdrop with drooping petals and a tiny green ‘polka dot’. Oh, and it is about a foot tall. And it blooms in April, still very early in the year.

Snowdrop – Snowflake – Both are beautiful.

S is also for Sustainability on this Earth Day. In the garden I am working to include native plants, plants that will attract pollinators, and that will support butterflies through all the phases of  their development.

To see who else is posting every day in April during the A to Z Challenge click here.

Q is for Quiet on the A to Z Challenge

Q is for Quiet in the garden. The older I get the more I look to the garden for green serenity. Of course the quiet of the garden contains the whisper of breezes, ecstatic birdsong,   the patter of falling rain, and perhaps a burbling fountain. Water is considered to be one of the essential elements in a garden

Burbling fountain

Burbling fountain in Buffalo, NY

Japanese garden

Quiet of a Japanese garden

This  is a section of the quiet and serene Japanese Garden is located behind the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in the Olmsted Conservancy’s Delaware Park which I visited in 2010.

Reflecting Pool at Bloedel Reserve

Reflecting Pool at Bloedel Reserve

The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island off Seattle is the epitome of the quiet garden, especially the Japanese Garden and the Moss Garden.

Vista at Bloedel Reserve

Vista at Bloedel Reserve

The day I visited the Bloedel Reserve in 2011 everything was perfect in this quiet garden. Floating mists and soft showers.

To see who else is posting every day in April click here for other participants in the A to Z challenge.