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Dear Friend and Gardener

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


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.



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


Welcome 2017 – Happy New Year

New Year's Eve View from the Window

New Year’s Eve View from the Window

The new year, 2017, has dawned. The blank pages of the calendar and the buried garden await the challenges and pleasures of the new year. All best wishes to all.


Useful Gifts for the Gardener


Full range of Felco pruners at Oesco in Conway

Full range of Felco pruners at OESCO in Conway

For me most holiday gifts for the gardener fall into two main categories, functional and informational.

Functional gifts include the necessary tools a gardener needs. We all start out with fairly inexpensive tools, partly because as a beginning gardener we don’t really know how hard a tool will have to work. As we grow as a gardener we come to recognize sturdiness and good quality and buy, or are given, better tools.

Trowels at Greenfield Farmers Coop

Trowels at Greenfield Farmers Coop

I was wandering through the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative on High Street a few days ago, looking at their large range of tools with long handles like spades and rakes. On the hand tool aisle there was an assortment of trowels. The new stainless steel trowels are one of the bargains on offer from Corona and Mint Craft at only $6. You can choose the size depending on your own need and the feel of the trowel in your hand. Some have inch markings in the steel to help you plant at the proper depths.

Also on the Coop’s rack were pruners and clippers of various sizes. The Corona by pass pruner is $30 and the smaller needle nose thinning shears is $24. The Dramm needle nose compact pruner is $15. Each pruner package lists the size of the wood that can be safely and effectively cut,

In addition to tools, the Coop has a large collection of equipment. I love my Gilmour hose and nozzle. I found various lengths of high quality Gilmour hoses from 25 to 100 feet (in blue which means they won’t get lost in the garden) ranging in price from $15 to $30.  High quality hoses with good nozzles are basic necessities and we can save money by buying quality that will last for years and years, rather than replacing worn out items every year or two.

Near the hoses and nozzles was a collection of Dramm watering wands. I acquired my Dramm rain wand after seeing it in action at a garden bloggers event. Through some kind of magic and 400 holes the rain wand allows a fast and high flow that will not beat down plants. The Coop’s Dramm Sunrise wand with its one touch control is 16 inches long and comes in beautiful shades of metallic red, blue, orange and green for $18. All Dramm products are manufactured in the U.S.

Hyacinth vase and bulb at Shelburne Farm and Garden

Hyacinth vase and bulb at Shelburne Farm and Garden

While checking out holiday gifts at the Shelburne Farm and Garden I ended up buying myself an early gift, a small iron plant stand ($40) with a mosaic top which is now holding my begonia plant in front of a window sill. If you wanted a plant stand you could furnish it with amaryllis bulbs in shades of red and white for $9, or a giant amaryllis for $25. Or you could choose a hyacinth vase, with hyacinth bulb for $8. The fragrance of blooming hyacinth in mid-winter is a happy reminder that spring will come again.

We ladies like to look our best even when covered with mud and grass stains, so striking foot ware like Sloggers at $33 are almost irresistible. I loved the Sloggers strewn with brilliant red poppies. When we wash off the mud we enjoy reviving with emollients like the Naked Bee Hand Repair, Facial Moisturizer, Body Lotion and Foot Balm made from organic plant oils. The prices range from $15-$4.

I am becoming notorious for leaving my pruners out in the garden and spending a lot of time searching for them. I drove off to OESCO in Conway to see if I could find a holster to wear on my belt. They not only had a collection of three Felco leather holsters, $10-13 they also had a sturdy bright red cloth holster for $4.

OESCO began as the Orchard Equipment and Supply Company, so it is no surprise that their products include many tools like pruners and saws for use in orchards. I was shown one item that is newly back on their sales rack, the Wheeler saw. This small, fine toothed saw was invented by Mr. Wheeler more than 40 years ago. He had an orchard but found using the kind of pruning saw that was available at the time, with its slippery handle and large teeth was uncomfortable and often not effective in the neat pruning cuts he wanted.

Wheeler saw at OESCO in Conway

wheeler Saw at OESCO in Conway

So it was that he designed a small push cut saw on the order of a bow saw, with fine teeth that was easier to handle. Indeed the instructions that come with the saw when sold at OESCO name the advantage of being able to wear warm gloves during winter pruning season, being able to slip the saw over the arm when shifting around and makes clean cuts. The saw blade is so fine that it is not worth while to sharpen, but the blade cane easily be changed without tools while working in the orchard.

OESCO bought the rights to the Wheeler saw and began manufacturing it in Conway. A number of years ago the metal bow part of the saw became unavailable locally and so production stopped. However, a new local source of this metal part is now available and the Wheeler saw is again being produced.

Next week I will talk about informational gifts, but there is actually another what-you-will category comprised of gift certificates. We all have loving relatives, or friends, who want to please us, but who, not being gardeners themselves, have no clue about plants or good quality tools. In their wisdom and love they give gift certificates which will give the gardener great pleasure. There is the pleasure of anticipating a longed for necessity or perhaps something that is more indulgent.

December 3, 2016

Commonweeder – My Ninth Blogaversary

View from the window in Heath, MA, where the Commonweeder was born in 2007

View from the window in Heath, MA, where the Commonweeder was born in 2007

It  was on a snowy December 6 in 2007, the feast of St. Nicholas, that I inaugurated my Commonweeder blog. On this anniversary I’m taking a  look at the last nine years, on the blog, in the garden, and in my life. That first post gave a hint that I was not only a gardener but a reader. I mentioned Eleanor Perenyi’s wonderful book Green Thoughts, and a chapter that talked about the house and garden that was owned by Henry James and E.F. Benson at different times. James and Benson were both writers whose works were very different. And so were their gardens. It is the differences in all our gardens that I have especially come to appreciate and love.

December 15, 2008 Heath Ice Storm

December 15, 2008 Heath Ice Storm

My First Blogaversary was quiet and uneventful but on the December 12, there was a terrific and very beautiful ice storm that left the town encased in ice for more than three days – brilliant sun but near zero temperatures. I wrote about that excitement here. There were meals prepared at the Community Hall because so many didn’t have power or heat. The National Guard came to help clear the roads and they slept on the floor in the Community Hall.

Henry and our freshly cut Christmas tree in 2009

Henry and our freshly cut Christmas tree in 2009

This 2009 photo became an iconic view of Christmas at our house, Henry tramping through the snow with a tree cut from our snowbreak. I was following  with the camera and the tree cutting tools. We are now in a new in-town house and this is my favorite photo of the Heath house. Three years of blogging have passed with thoughts about gardens, gardeners, garden books, Bloom Day, and all t he directions down the garden path that all gardeners travel, history, myth,and art.

Lyanee Merchant and her mother

Layanee Merchant and her mother

In 2010 Layanee Merchant of Ledge and Gardens fame, and her mother visited my garden, Elsa Bakalar’s garden (although it no longer had her hand at the helm) the Bridge of Flowers and The Glacial Potholes. They said the trip to  the Bridge of Flowers alone was  worth  the trip. Their visit was a highlight of my year. Blogging brought me so many new friends and widened my world.

The daylily bank

The Daylily Bank looking good

It’s 2011 and I  think this is the fourth year of the Daylily Bank and it is finally looking pretty good. I don’t know why it took us decades to  find this solution to the steep bank right in front of  the house. No mowing and beautiful color.

Winterfare, a winter  farmer's market

Winterfare, a winter farmer’s market

In 2012 I attended my first Winterfare, a winter Farmers Market. We are fortunate to live where there are so many small farms bringing us wonderful fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and even meat. It has been exciting to see this renaissance of farming. Gone is the tobacco and here is the goodness of fresh, organic foods from potatoes to the honey wine called mead and an array of ciders, sweet and hard.

Great granddaughters,  Bella and Lola

Great granddaughters, Bella and Lola

In 2013 our great-granddaughters, Bella and Lola came to live in Massachusetts, not far from us. We put them right to work cleaning out the shed and then helping prepare for the Annual Rose Viewing. A garden grows and so do families.

Purinton Pink rose at the Annual Rose Viewing 2014

Purinton Pink rose at the Annual Rose Viewing 2014

The Rose Walk grew and grew including the Queen of Denmark  and Madame Hardy, but I also had a collection of Farm Girls, roses from local farms that had often been tended for many decades. There was Rachel’s Rose and more recently this sturdy, dainty and sweet Purinton Rose, given to me by those at Woodslawn Farm in Colrain.  If you want you take a Virtual Tour of the Rose Walk.  In 2014 we held the penultimate Rose Viewing. We were thinking about leaving Heath for life in the town of Greenfield.

A load of Heath plants for the Greenfield garden

A load of Heath plants for the Greenfield garden

In early spring of 2015 we bought a house in Greenfield and started our new garden with plants  from the Heath gardens. The Greenfield house had no gardens at all and we were eager get to get started right away. A gardener’s blank canvas cannot be left blank for long. We began with the South Border which was drier than the backyard which we knew was wet from the moment we saw the house.

February 2016 flood

February 2016 flood

In 2016 this February flood showed us just how wet our garden could get.  You can also see the fence we put up, a mate to  the fence in  our neighbors garden. I was dubious about the fence, but it gave the garden definition.

Button bush

Button bush can grow in the water

In 2016, having sold the Heath house, and begun settling in at the Greenfield house we learned that our new garden was not only wet, it could become a pond. But we were undaunted and chose our plants, shrubs, trees, and perennials that tolerated, or even loved, water.

Now that I have arrived at my 9th year of blogging I am thinking of all the benefits the Commonweeder has brought me, visits to many gardens across the country, new friendships, and the most delightful ways to learn about plants. Now I am moving into a new stage in my life and on my blog. Here a few photos of my summer 2016 new garden.

My daughter Betsy and her man Mike, throwing 8 yards of soil on the Hugel.

My daughter Betsy and her man Mike, throwing 8 yards of soil on the Hugel. Henry, too.

September 30, 2016 and the beds have been enlarged again. No more work this year.

September 30, 2016 and the beds have been enlarged again. No more work this year.


Kordes Lions Fairy Tale Rose

Kordes Lion’s Fairy Tale rose

Only a few roses can be planted in the new garden, but the Greenfield climate allows for more tender roses like this Lions Fairy Tale disease resistant rose which began blooming in late May and continued through October. Now we are on to a new season in the garden.

Wildside Cottage and Gardens

Wildside Cottage

Wildside Cottage

The development of Wildside Cottage and Gardens surprised Sue Bridge. She spent an active life learning and working. She earned a Masters degree in Russian and Middle Eastern studies, learned about different worlds while hitchhiking to Morocco, worked for the Christian Science Monitor, and learned how to gather information and pass it on through print and electronic media. She also supported environmental causes because of her belief that future generations would face great challenges.

Ten years ago she bought eight acres on the hills of Conway where she built a small, off-the-grid house she named Wildside and set herself to building a sustainable homestead. Soon word spread about what she was doing, and it did not take long before local people began asking to come and see. She had long been a communicator in one way or another and realized she had now an opportunity to share what she was learning about the land, about food, about energy and a new way of living.

Sue Bridge

Sue Bridge in front of her root cellar

I first visited Bridge three years ago. I asked her if she had ever imagined that she would be giving tours of Wildside to adults and to children. She shook her head and smiled. “I did not intend, but I do not resist,” she said.

On that first visit three years ago she invited me into her solar powered home. I opened the French doors from the living room and walked out onto the stone terrace to admire the view of planted terraces falling away down the hillside, the little greenhouse with its sod roof, and several fruit trees all embraced by the surrounding hills. She does not care for all this by herself.

Four planted terraces in front of Wildside Cottage

Four terraces cascade down the hill in front of Wildside Cottage

Jono Neiger of Regnerative Design was early on the scene, but he has been joined by others, from summer interns to teachers.

The word ‘gardens’ does not begin to describe the way vegetables, fruits and nuts are grown on Bridge’s eight acres. A map she has created of the space divides it into areas by use. Bridge gave me my own tour beginning with the area around the house with its solar panels, root cellar and terraced beds.

We walked down the hill to the greenhouse with its sod roof. Three years ago it was filled with a winter’s worth of sweet potatoes as well as small plantings of ginger and turmeric. Now a fig tree is bearing fruit.

A large vegetable garden lies next to the greenhouse, and I was able to walk around the fence in the new deer deterrent path. The path was mowed and shrubs with fodder for deer were planted while tall saplings visually reinforced the wire fence. Marauding deer can eat their fill of berries or fruit intended for them, but will be disoriented by the organization of space and barriers and will not try to get over the fence. Deer do not jump over fences unless they understand where they will be landing.

Me in the Wildside rice field

Me in the Wildside rice field

Bridge walked me past the rice bed. It cannot be called a rice paddy where rice is planted in a submerged bed; she use a dry bed technique. Three years ago that bed was quite small, but it has grown to encompass 450 square feet.

On our way back up the hill to the house we passed through the ForestGarden which includes blueberry bushes and a variety of fruit trees from apples to paw paws.  Bridge has also planted what she calls Fertility Beds. These beds of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass are cut down twice a year and used as mulch or compost.

Comfrey is known as a dynamic accumulator whose deep roots gather nutrients like nitrogen and potassium from the soil, and then returns them to the soil as it decomposes. Bush clover is a legume which can also fix nitrogen. These are sustainable ways that soil is improved without chemical fertilizers.

It was on this hill that I first met mountain mint that attracts many kinds of bees, beneficial wasps, butterflies and moths who are all busy pollinators. I have added it to my own garden and love watching all those busy bees.

We walked and compared notes and experiences in the garden, some of which were more humorous than instructive, but I have always said that there are mysteries – and a lot of fun to be found in the garden.

Bridge told me about the teacher from WellesleyCollege who came to teach school children about bees and other pollinators. In order to examine the pollinators more closely, the children caught them in plastic tubes (formerly holding tennis balls) and laid the tubes in an ice filled cooler. Within 10 minutes the pollinators had fallen asleep and could be closely examined with out fear of stinging. This is a technique that is sure to enchant grandchildren and others of your acquaintance! This is training for citizen science at a very young age.

We can all learn about how to use our land, whether acres or backyards, more sustainably from Bridge’s example at the Wildside Cottage and Gardens. She has a website,www. wildsidecottageandgardens.org and will be holding workshops. However, some of us older folks have an opportunity to get a virtual tour of Wildside. Sue Bridge will be speaking on Planting for Uncertain Times at the Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium at the Downtown Campus on Wednesday, November 9 from 2-4 pm with many photographs to illustrate the projects at Wildside Cottage and Gardens. You can call 413-775-1605 for more information.

Between the Rows   October 29, 2016