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Dear Friend and Gardener

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.

N is for Nasami Farm on the A to Z Challenge

N is for Nasami Farm, the propagating arm of the New England Wildflower Society which was founded in 1900 and is oldest plant conservation society in the U.S.

Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm

I have shopped for many plants at Nasami Farm, last year purchasing several water tolerant if not water loving plants. I planted Buttonbush in the wettest part of our new garden because it  can often be growing in a river, not just on its bank. I also bought winterberries, viburnams, culver root, black chokeberry, and Joe Pye Weed. What a selection! All doing well this spring.

The New England Wildflower Society knew the importance of preserving the wild plants of our region. An importance that we are all more aware of as we learn that pollinators need native plants, and do the birds, and insects. All of these plants, birds and insects evolved together over the millenia, dependent on each other to survive. Insects, eat the native plants, leaving damage, but not enough to harm the plant. Birds eat the insects, especially during brooding season when baby birds need the high nutritional value of insects, even if  they will grow up to eat mostly seeds.

Nasami Farm will open on the weekends beginning Saturday, April 30 from 10 am – 5 pm through the summer until October 18.  You can find a list of usually available plants here.


2014 Nasami Farm Plant Swap

2014 Nasami Farm Plant Swap

M is for Mirrors in the Garden in the A to Z Challenge

M is for Mirrors in the garden. A tour of Buffalo gardens a few years ago were filled with ideas that were new to me.

Mirrors in the Garden

Mirrors in the Garden

This mirror was one of several mirrors in the garden with lush plantings that were carefully pruned to keep the mirror mysteriously visible.

7-11-10 mirror and tiki

I was particularly taken with the function of this mirror in the garden, set as it was in back of a tiki lamp, acting to reflect firelight at an evening gathering.

Mirrors in the Garden

Mirrors in the Garden

It may have been the misting rain and the romance of this lush garden urban garden complete with pond and waterfall, but when I looked at this planting I was completely confused and disoriented about what I was looking at. I did not recognize the presence of a mirror that was throwing me off balance. It seems so much clearer to me in the photo than it did that rainy day in Buffalo.

I have two walls in my new garden. Will I find a place for mirrors?

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


Martin’s Compost Farm


Adam Martin and his screener

Adam Martin and his screener

Why do we need compost farms? On October 1, 2014 the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection made a requirement that all businesses or institutions that created more than one ton of organic waste a week find a source to accept and recycle that waste. This rule affected schools, colleges, hospitals, prisons, restaurants and more. Although compost farms already existed the rule created a need for even more places that would accept and use these organics. Massachusetts has been at the forefront of this environmental policy for years.

Robert Martin was ahead of the curve. In 1981 he bought 90 acres of farmland from the Meyer family and raised beef, pigs and vegetables. He sold his products locally and in Boston. Like all such farms he generated wastes, and green debris. He was aware of the stresses and needs of the environment, and he thought his waste could be turned into a benefit; he began making compost. In 1987 the Mass DEP permitted him as an on-farm composting operation. It was the first one in the state.

Adam Martin

Adam Martin

I met with Adam Martin who bought the farm from his father, who retired with his mother to Kentucky, in 2014.

Adam worked on the farm during his growing up years, but his father hadn’t wanted his son to go into farming. He wanted his son to have an easier life and a more dependable job.  The plan was for Adam to attend a diesel school in Wyoming for a year, which he did, but he continued working on the farm after finishing the program.

It wasn’t until he went to Africa for two weeks in 2006 with a church youth group that his eyes were opened to the work that was to be done in the world to help others. He looked at the world differently and he looked at the farm differently. In 2008 he led another church group to India and his determination to do something meaningful increased. Upon his return Adam told his father he had no desire to leave the farm. He loved the farm and he saw how the farm could provide benefits to the community and the environment while it gave him and a staff a reasonable livelihood.

Today Martin’s Compost Farm removes tons of organic waste from the waste stream. In the United States food waste is the second highest component of landfills which are the largest source of methane emissions. Locally our garbage is taken and burned emitting carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas that is causing climate disruption.

Martin's Farm compost steaming as it cooks

Martin’s Farm compost steaming as it cooks

The farm now handles up to 15 tons of organic waste a week. Martin hauls much of this himself, collecting dumpsters from various sites. The Bridge of Flowers participates in a compost collective in ShelburneFalls organized by Franklin County Solid Waste Management. Bridge staff and volunteers throw weeds and spent plants into a dumpster that also holds waste from the different town restaurants. The dumpster is emptied every week or two depending on the season.

In addition to food waste Martin’s Farm compost includes newspaper and cardboard, manure, and leaves from the town. Martin spoke enthusiastically and energetically about his goal “to generate the best compost. Customers use it to amend their soil and their success is my success.”

I never dreamed of all the work it takes to make compost commercially. Martin’s farm begins with not accepting any material that has used herbicides. The compost is certified organic which makes his compost acceptable by organic farms. The process on the farm begins with hand sorting, pulling out large pieces of trash. Then large machinery is called into action.

First, there is the machine that turns the windrows of waste. There are usually 12 or 13 windrows in various states of decomposition at any one time. The windrows are carefully monitored for temperatures, oxygen and moisture, maintaining a temperature no higher than 133 degrees, just hot enough to kill weeds and pathogens.

When the compost is ready it goes into the enormous screener with a fine mesh that screens out wood chips and other non-compostable materials. The wood ultimately makes its way into wood chip mulch pile. “It is so important to me to have as pure a product as possible” Martin said.

Finally, there is a super vacuum that removes any further non-compostables. The finished compost is tested by the University of Massachusetts three times a year so Martin can be certain that he is maintaining his own standards of quality.

Gardeners and landscapers need more than compost and Martin’s Compost Farm also offers a 50-50 compost and loam mix, compo-mulch and wood chip mulches.

I will always use compost to enrich my soil and improve it structure. I will always make my own compost because it is the small way I can keep organic waste out of the waste stream. However there are times when a garden needs more than what my little compost bin can supply. I am thrilled that Martin’s Farm and other compost farms exist locally taking compostable materials and turning them into a benefit instead of an environmental problem.

For full information about Martin’s Compost Farm log on to their website

Martin's compost  -  in the rain

Martin’s compost – in the rain

Between the Rows   April 3, 2016


C is for Clethra – or Sweet Pepperbush

Clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia

C is for Clethra alnifolia, otherwise known as sweet pepperbush. It was one of the first plants I put in my new, and very wet, garden last summer. It has everything I need: is very hardy, likes some shade, tolerates clay soil, likes a wet so much that it can be used in a rain garden where there is occasional flooding.

Clethra is also the right size for my garden. It will grow between 4 to 6 feet tall with a 4 to 6 foot spread.

Shrubs are my answer to Gardening in Place as I age, and clethra will not only like my site, it is a substantial size, and the cherry on top is the fragrant summer bloom. AND it is very attractive to bees and other pollinators as well as butterflies.

Clethra is native to the northeast US. I bought mine at Nasami Farm, the propagating wing of the New England Wildflower Society.

I am participating in the A to Z Challenge, joining nearly 1000 other bloggers who will post every single day of April – except Sundays. Check out some of the other blogs.