Dear Friend and Gardener

Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso

Apple Lover's Cookbook

Appke Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso

Fall is a season of thanksgiving. One of the blessings of the season is a good harvest and this year there has been a spectacular apple harvest – indeed a spectacular fruit harvest of almost every kind. I gave thanks and celebrated with Amy Traverso, author of the The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, during the Cider Days apple tasting at Clarkdale Fruit Farm. I joined the crowd at Traverso’s table tasting her pretty Quick Bread and Butter Apple Pickles that were deliciously fresh and slightly sweet. I did buy her beautiful cookbook and spent the next couple of days admiring the stunning portraits of 59 apple varieties, as well as dishes like Squash and Apple Gratin. The Apple Lover’s Cookbook has recipes for every course from appetizers to desserts, but she also includes a taste of apple history and genetics before moving on to cooking techniques and equipment with a brisk charm. Traverso has spent most of her professional life cooking and publishing. She served as the food editor of Sunset and Boston magazines, and writes for other publications including the Boston Globe and Conde Nast Traveler.

Amy Traverso

Amy Traverso

Currently she is the senior food and home editor of Yankee Magazine where she is “responsible for all the food, home and gardening content in Yankee. I assign and edit stories and write and report stories myself. They might be profiles of interesting New Englanders or deep dives into seasonal ingredients.  I develop recipes and test all the recipes that other writers develop. And I edit recipes, which is very detail-oriented and anxiety-provoking work. A small error or omission and leave readers frustrated with a dish that didn’t work properly.” She shared a story about the time she was doing a cooking demonstration in a store when she made an omission in person. She put the dish together in front of her audience and then passed out samples of that dish that she had made a home. “As luck would have it, I completely left out the salt in the completed dish, which is what I used for samples. So everyone was tasting it and politely smiling, but didn’t seem terribly enthused about what I think of as a great dessert. When I tasted it, I knew why.”

I love cooking and I adhere to the Heath Gourmet Club motto that “a recipe is only a guide” but I have always been fascinated by people who actually make up new dishes on purpose, not only because they ran out of dill or spinach. When I asked Traverso about how she made up a recipe she said, “Some are pure invention, like the quick bread-and-butter apple pickle. That’s where you get this random idea—I wonder if apples would taste good in sweet pickle?—and head to the kitchen and experiment. But others are variations on classics, like apple pie. I happen to love my pie crust recipe, which I developed over time after trying a lot of different methods. For something more classic like that, I’ll look around at a lot of recipes and learn what I can from them before putting my own take on it. The International Association of Culinary Professionals has standards that it publishes to guide recipe developers on ethics—when you can fairly call a recipe your own. And I abide by those. But all cooks are building on the work of those who came before them.”

Although I think my father was a super-taster, able to name all the ingredients in a new dish set before him, I do not have that skill. Traverso didn’t think you really needed to be a super-taster to make up a recipe but “I do think you have to have a kind of taste sense—an intuition about flavors that go together—much like a painter has to have a kind of color sense. I’ve read that some super tasters actually run into problems because their senses are so finely attuned that flavors taste stronger to them, so their recipes might be calibrated differently, she said.

Below is her recipe for Quick Bread and Butter Apple Pickles using red skinned firm-sweet apples like Baldwin, Jazz and Melrose. She also likes a mandoline for making really thin slices of the apple and cucumber. The red and green skins look very pretty together. I have slightly shortened the directions because of space limitations.

Quick Bread and Butter Apple Pickles    from  The Apple Lover’s Cookbook

1 large seedless (English) cucumber, unpeeled

1 T. kosher salt (or only 1-1/2 t. table salt)

2 large firm-sweet apples (about 1 lb) unpeeled and cut in half lengthwise

2 medium shallots

1 c. rice vinegar

½ c water

½ c honey

1 T. sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 sprig fresh tarragon, cut in four pieces

*Cut ends off cucumber and slice thin on a mandoline. Place in a colander and toss with salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. *Trim seeds and core from each apple half. Using a biscuit cutter push down into the apple to get two round cylinders. Thinly slice each cylinder on mandoline. Slice shallots on mandoline as well. Mix both in a bowl. *In a small bowl mix vinegar, water, honey, sugar and stir til sugar is dissolved. Add cinnamon stick and tarragon. Pour over apples and shallots *Rinse cucumber in colander and blot dry. Add to bowl with apples and stir well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Keeps in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

I think this would make for a delicious sweet/tart addition to the Thanksgiving menu.

Between the Rows   November 21, 2015

 Thank you all who


Farewell to the End of the Road


House at the end of the Road

House at the End of the Road

The time has come to say farewell to the End of the Road. You will notice I am not saying farewell to Heath, because our presence in Heath will not end. When it was clear that it was time to make a move and be closer to our children we realized we did not want to move away from old friends. We expect to make new friends in Greenfield, but we will keep our old friends in Heath and the surrounding towns.

The farewell is to our house where we have poured love and effort. The house holds strong memories beginning with the first night we spent there in November 1979 with our three daughters, Diane, Betsy and (then) Kathy, now all grown up Kate. Though moving day in NYC began very warm, by the time we got to Heath that evening the temperature had gone down to 10 degrees and the wind was blowing. We were late arriving so the plumber who was to meet us there gave up and left. That left us with no heat or water. Nothing to do but laugh and say we were on the frontier now. We built a fire in the stone fireplace with punky wood left in the shed, and pulled up water from the old well.

The house changed over the years as we made improvements but it is the memory of people and events that sheltered in that house that will remain with us. There were graduation parties for Chris from RPI, Betsy and Kate from Mohawk, GCC and later from Clark and Bentley. Henry graduated twice from UMass, first with his BS and then his Masters. The weather provided the drama and entertainment when Kate married Greg amid the roses.

With our first granddaughter Tracy, age 5 at our side, it was in that house that we greeted our second granddaughter Tricia at age one month for her first Heath Fair. Nine years ago we welcomed Tracy’s daughter Bella age three months. We celebrated Boy’s Weeks, and Girl’s Weeks when grandchildren came to visit in the summer.

There were riotous and educational Heath Fairs. At our first Heath Fair I learned that my china bowl of blackberries was disqualified because they needed to be in a standard cardboard container. Agricultural fairs had a mission of teaching farmers how to market their produce. Since then the grandchildren and I have won many prize ribbons.

Of course there were the gardens that changed over time. The first spring in Heath we got Luis Pazmino to come and plow up half an acre. How foolish I was! And determined, never listening to good advice. Needless to say the vegetable garden got smaller and smaller until a bad hip demanded a 12 by 12 foot plot.  Hip repair made the garden grow again until it was again too big.

My only interest in gardens in 1979 was for vegetable gardens and a few romantic antique roses like Passionate Nymph’s Thigh. My original planting of the Passionate Nymph by the front door, and Griffith Buck’s hardy Applejack at the head of our drive ultimately inspired The Rose Walk. And it was our neighbor Sheila who inspired The Annual Rose Viewing. We had invited the Heath Gourmet Club to a summer tea party and to enjoy my half dozen roses. As she polished off her second or third piece of cake Sheila said “You should do this every year.”  And so we did! We held more than 25 Rose Viewings, inviting everyone to our Garden Open Today.

My interests changed when I met our neighbor Elsa Bakalar who introduced me to perennials. I then launched a 90 by 8 foot perennial border. Twice foolish I was. That particular project did not last long. The border was a total loss when we returned from our first year in China in 1990.

It was in 1990 that we planted the first Family Trees, linden trees, for Diane, Betsy, Kate, and granddaughters Tricia and Caitlin. Weather takes a toll and only Diane and Caitlin’s trees remain.

In 1996 our first two grandsons were born, joined by three more boys in 1998. They all, Rory, Anthony, Tynan, Ryan and Drew,  got their trees, ginkgos as a reminder of our second year in Beijing, when we planted the Lawn Beds.

A family grows and changes. A garden grows and changes. Everything changes.

Now we are in the process of changing again. We bought a smaller more manageable house in Greenfield. We changed the colors of some rooms and found new ways of arranging our furnishings.

View from the Heath window

View from the Heath window

Instead of 60 acres with panoramic sunny views and a Rose Walk, Rose Shed Bed, Daylily Bank, Rose Bank, vegetable garden, berry patches, a peony border and two Lawn Beds we have a 66 by 170 foot lot with a more limited view in the shade. We are changing that limited grassy view. I am old enough for shrubs! Many shrubs like hydrangeas, viburnams, winterberries, a dappled willow, clethera, buttonbush, mountain laurel, elderberry, yellow twig dogwood, lilacs, and fothergilla are just the beginnings of this new garden.

View from the Greenfield window

View from the Greenfield

I added garden memories and moved a Purington pink rose, a Rangoon  rhododendron, and a nearly dead red tree peony, as well as a few pieces of daylily, aster, Siberian iris and lady’s mantle to the new Greenfield garden.

We are settling into our new life. A new neighbor has already brought me a few small iris divisions, the beginning of a new FriendshipGarden.

We are now full time residents of Greenfield. There will be changes in our routines, enjoyment in new urban pleasures like the Garden Theater and winter dreams of adding to our new garden in the spring.

Purington pink rose

Purington Pink rose

Chinese and Japanese Gardens at the Huntington


Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

In my youth I thought Chinese and Japanese gardens were very similar. Over the years I have learned how wrong I was. Both concentrate on bringing the gardener – and visitors – into nature. With the Chinese it is a wilder nature, intended for strolling, visiting and sharing with friends. For the Japanese the garden is more stylized with carefully pruned trees and shrubs that can be admired from inside a sheltered spot. There are many ways in which they differ, some are easily perceived while others are more subtle.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanic Gardens in San Marino, California has a Japanese garden, built about the time the Huntington opened in 1928, and a Chinese Garden that was installed in 2008. These two gardens, right next to each other, give the visitor a chance to experience each type of garden, to feel the differences even if we don’t have a vocabulary for describing them.

Japanese Dry Garden

Japanese Dry Garden

On our visit my husband and I began with the Japanese garden. The first section was a dry garden, which is probably familiar to most of us – an area with raked gravel representing the waves of an ocean while stones, large and small, represent mountains, islands, and other features. One does not walk in this garden. You sit on a bench, or from the platform of your teahouse and you meditate and admire.

Past the dry garden we walked into a courtyard filled with a display of bonsai specimens. Creating a bonsai is a serious art among the Japanese and this courtyard is the site of the Golden State Bonsai Federation. The display of dwarfed trees with graceful limbs and twisted trunks and roots are chosen that most suit the season. The rotating collection now includes hundreds of bonsai.

Montezuma cypress bonsai

Montezuma cypress bonsai

The central part of the Japanese garden includes a historic Japanese house where the owners might once have sat to view their garden. Now that house overlooks two small hills separated by a shallow valley with streams and ponds and a moon bridge. Winding paths provide a stroll with ever changing views.

A teahouse stood off by itself where a tea ceremony could be performed, or where one could just enjoy the view of the garden. Often teahouses are built in a more distant wooded part of the garden, but for this public garden it was built where we could admire the teahouse and the view.

A path between walls of bamboo takes you to the Chinese Garden of Flowing Fragrance which was completed (so far) in 2008. More features are in a planning stage. Once through the bamboo pathway way we came out onto a wild hillside scattered with tormented white stones punctuated with holes. We immediately recognized the highly prized Taihu stones from LakeTai. While they look very odd to us westerners they are considered works of art made by nature.

Chinese Garden

Chinese Garden                                            

We entered the garden through a decorative opening and walked down a covered walk and into a paved courtyard circled with a few green plants and more Taihu stone this time inscribed with a few words of poetry. This is another Chinese tradition, to inscribe a poem or bit of wisdom on stones in picturesque places. They feel gardens are an art and that art should include other arts including the literary.

Beside the courtyard was a large pavilion, the Hall of the Green Camellia filled with tables and chairs where visitors could relax and visit for a while, but no tea was served here.

The pavilion sat on the edge of a large pond and looked across at another pavilion, while a smaller rendition of Empress Cixi’s famous marble boat was moored off to the side.

While Japanese gardens are more for looking at, Chinese gardens are for being in and enjoying with family and friends. There are covered walkways and pavilions and courtyards. There tend to be more buildings and pavilions in a Chinese garden and the paths are paved, while Japanese paths tend to be covered with gravel, moss or other groundcovers and there are fewer structures.

Stone and water are essential to these gardens, and the plants are mostly trees and shrubs. Flowers play a minor role, a role that is often more metaphoric than purely decorative. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any flowers in these two gardens, but I did see two of the three Friends of Winter, pine and bamboo. The plum tree is the third Friend, but he was not showing himself to me that day. The Chinese honor the pine and bamboo and plum because they thrive even in the bitterest winter proving themselves resilient and strong, persevering in adversity, inspiring us all to do the same. Pine and bamboo are evergreen so it is easy to understand their place in this trio, but the plum is the very first tree to bloom as winter draws to a close.

The lotus which grows out of the mud of a pond to bloom bright and unsullied is a symbol of purity, and peonies are symbols of nobility.

The Four Gentlemen are four plants that denote the seasons. The orchid is for spring, bamboo for summer, chrysanthemum for fall and the plum, again, for winter. There are many Chinese paintings that depict a scholar or official who has retired from the stresses of life in the rich court for life in his mountain top hut to care for his chrysanthemums.

Chinese and Japanese Gardens are both beautiful. Whether you enjoy parsing the traditions and philosophies of the two countries that lead to the creation of stunning gardens, or just want to enjoy the view the Huntington Botanic Gardens will give you great pleasure.

Between the Rows  October 3, 2015

Fallscaping – Color and Bloom in Autumn

Japandese anemone 'Robustissima'

Japanese anemone ‘Robustissima

Fallscaping is a way of thinking about our autumnal landscape. After the heat and riotous color of the summer garden, things can start to look a little tired, but we can include plantings that will bring fresh color and life to our landscape even as the days grow shorter.

As we enter the autumnal season we can take advantage of the color changes among the plants we already have. Do we have trees like kousa dogwoods whose foliage changes from green to a rich burnished red? Do we already enjoy the dark wine red of the oakleaf hydrangea?

In my garden we have four ginkgo trees that turn into bright golden ornaments in the fall. At least until the cold night when almost all the foliage drops at once. We also have a highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum  which I love for the red berries that last into late fall by which time they have mostly been eaten by the birds.

In our Greenfield house we have planted more viburnams, one of which already has rich red color. No berries yet. The winterberries, Ilex verticillata, are still green but the berries are starting to color up and they will be bright and cheerful going into the winter.

American witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, produces its twirly blooms in the fall, and the foliage turns golden. I am going to have to think of a place to put this tree in the Greenfield garden because it sometimes grows along stream banks, and it also tolerates clay soil.

I have already planted a small clump of the Japanese Anemone Robustissima, but I am planning to bring more down to the Greenfield house. Robustissima is one of those flowers that looks delicate but it is very tough. It is about three or four feet tall and looks great as a mass planting when a cloud of these blossoms is glowing in the sun.  There is also a white variety and hybrids with double blossoms.

Aster 'Alma Potchke'

Aster ‘Alma Potchke’

I love asters. I have the tall bright pink Alma Potchke in both the Heath and Greenfield gardens. I moved several of the lowgrowing Woods Blue asters from Heath to Greenfield where I hope they will create another blue carpet.

I have mentioned my wild New England asters that grow uninvited around our Heath landscape, but there are named New England asters that are available to all of us. Purple Dome is shorter than many asters, only about 18 inches, but the rich royal purple petals around a golden center are stunning. I am interested that though they need sun, they are tolerant of wet sites. I had the very tall Harrington’s Pink aster in my garden for years, and now I don’t know where it has gone. It makes a great show

The native Bluebird aster grows to between two and three feet tall, with hundreds of lavender-blue blossoms around a yellow eye. They are drought tolerant. A different benefit. It is important to know sun and water needs or tolerances if we are going to put the right plant in the right spot where it will thrive.

Although not an aster, pink or white boltonia has a similar form of fine daisy-like rays around a golden center. It’s three to four feet tall and never needs staking. A single plant makes a glorious show and all it needs is a sunny spot. I don’t know why, but I rarely see boltonia in the gardens I visit, but there is a great clump on the Bridge of Flowers.

Fallscaping could not be complete without mums. Chrysanthemums are an iconic autumn flower, but we don’t have to settle for the pots of mums sold at every supermarket. They do come in glowing colors, but there are many more varieties of chrysanthemum that we can grow for ourselves. The big generous chrysanthemum I have growing in Heath and in Greenfield is the so called Sheffield daisy. I first saw this wonderful plant growing in the SmithCollege gardens one October and I could not believe the lush bloom.  Even in Heath the plant has increased so much that I have been able to divide it and divide it again, giving away divisions.

Chrysanthemum koreanum Sheffield Pink blooms late in the season, a bushy plant covered with peachy-pink daisies. A wonderful easy care plant.



Another plant that I rarely see is cotoneaster, pronounced co-toe-nee-aster. When I was planting the lawn beds I was trying to cover up as much bare soil as possible. For that reason I planted two cotoneasters close together. A mistake. They started off very slowly, at least in my garden, but once they got going they grew into and around each other. I have lost the names, but both have typical cotoneaster growth, about two feet high and with a spread of about 6 feet. One of mine has bright green smooth foliage, and the other has smaller, deep green pointed leaves with more definite veining. In the fall they usually have ornamental red berries, although I don’t see any this year on mine. One of them produces large coral-red blossoms  in the spring that resemble quince blossoms. They are trouble free deciduous shrubs that only need sun. I am surprised I don’t see them more often.

What is still blooming or producing beautiful berries or foliage in your fall garden? Nasturtiums? Morning glories?  Salvia? Hydrangeas? Autumn crocus? With a little planning we can have color in our gardens well into November.

Sheffield daisies

Sheffield daisies

Between the Rows   September 19, 2015

Blood Moon Eclipse on Wordless Wednesday

Blood Moon Eclipse - before

Blood Moon Eclipse – before

On September 27, 2015 there was a rare eclipse of the super ‘blood moon’. On that night the moon was at its perigee, the closest it gets to the earth which makes it look larger when it rises.

Blood Moon eclipse

Blood Moon eclipse

Fortunately the blood moon eclipse took place before my bedtime. This was taken at about 10 pm EST.

Blood moon eclipse totality - almost

Blood moon eclipse totality – almost

As the eclipse drew near to totality, the ‘blood’ became apparent. This was nearly 10:30 pm EST.

It has been quite a few years since I have seen a total eclipse. So often it is too cloudy or too late at night, but this was a beautiful clear night.  It is the earth’s shadow that is red around the edges that causes the red tint on the moon. For more information about eclipses click here.

For more (nearly)  Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge


Million Pollinator Gardens Challenge badge

Million Pollinator Gardens Challenge badge

Most of us know that pollinators are important. Without pollinators many of the ordinary foods we eat would not be available. We hear about Colony Collapse Disorder which affects honey bees, but there are thousands of other types of bee and many other insect and animal pollinators including bats. These pollinators are also dying. What to do?

This past June the National Pollinator Garden Network (NPGN), an amazing collaboration of gardening and conservation organizations, launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge to give all of us an opportunity to support the pollinators in our part of the world. The NPGN says they “represent nearly one million active gardeners and 15,000 schoolyard gardens. The Network is challenging the nation to reach the goal of one million additional pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. The Network will work to provide resources for individuals, community groups, government agencies and the garden industry to create more pollinator habitat through sustainable gardening practices and conservation efforts.”

Pollinators are a particular and important set of the insects that make up our food web and we can support them by planting a garden that will supply them with nectar, pollen, water and shelter. The garden can be of any size from a window box to a field. We can support pollinators by not using herbicides and pesticides that will make them sick and die.



The first thing to think of when planting a pollinator garden is choosing plants that will supply a generous helping of nectar and pollen. At this time of the year we are surrounded by one of the best pollinator plants – golden rod. Joe Pye Weed is almost as common. I also have wild asters (I would never use the word weed) coming up in our field, and in places we have not managed to keep mown. I don’t know if these are New England asters which are listed as a good pollinator plant, but I certainly see unidentified little bees and other insects buzzing around and visiting them.

Wild asters

Wild asters

Pollinators will need pollen and nectar in every season. We should never curse our dandelions. They are one of the earliest good sources of pollen in the spring. Other familiar spring blooming plants supplying nectar and pollen include red maples, shadbush (amelancheir), willows, apple, plum and cherry trees, pieris, viburnams, blueberry bushes, Johnny jump-ups, tiarella, red columbine, crocus, and daffodils.

As the season progresses bee balm, chives, purple coneflower, thyme, rhodendron, swamp milkweed, penstemon hirsutus, black eyed susans and winterberry are in bloom. Some annuals like old fashioned zinnias and cosmos are useful. There are many more pollinator plants that are attractive and suitable for the home garden and lists are easily found on the Internet.

It is best to choose a variety of pollinator plants that will bloom over the full season, providing food spring through fall. Also, they should be planted in large clumps so that the pollinators will find them easily.

It is important to remember that many of the hybrid plants that have been improved to have bigger, more double or complex flowers may not have as much pollen or nectar. For instance, there are many bright and sometimes humorous cultivars of Echinacea, but pollinators need the basic coneflower Echinacea purpurea. They have the simple petals providing a landing strip and a big center cone filled  with pollen and nectar.

Some of the principles followed by birdlovers will serve pollinator lovers as well. Insects need protection so use different layers in your garden by including trees and shrubs as well as perennials of different heights. Even leaf litter will offer them protection. A bit of bare ground is important because some insects nest in underground tunnels.

Many of us are  already leary of using herbicides and pesticides in our gardens because  we are concerned about harming other living things in addition to the particular pest or problem that is bothering us. Avoiding these poisons is sometimes harder than we think because they are added to lawn fertilizers. The idea is that you can eliminate weeds before they get started at the same time you are fertilizing.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are a new class of pesticides that are systemic. They  are watered into the soil where they are then taken up into all parts of the plant. The plant looks good, but any insect that goes for pollen or nectar or a bite of a leaf will be poisoned. Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Thiocloprid, and Thiamethoxam are all neonics. Read the ingredients labels carefully when you buy pesticides or fertilizers, and always use them carefully, if you must use them at all.

Insects, like birds, need water. It is a good idea to provide a shallow container of water with an island of stones so they can sip easily. Make sure to provide a constant supply of this clean water in a sheltered spot.

If you want to join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (and you may already have achieved many of the goals of the Challenge) go to the website and sign up online. Currently there are 184,427 pollinator gardens registered, and I am one of them. Won’t you join me?

Between the Rows   September 12, 2015

Joe Pye weed

Joe Pye weed


Progress Report – Home Outside Design


July 13 Hellstrip

Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade” Kipling said, and I must add that they are not made by looking at a plan, even one as beautiful as the custom design I am holding created by Home Outside. Gardens are made by thinking and digging, moving compost, planting and getting very dirty. Lots of skull work, and lots of muscle work.

Let me recap our adventures of planting a whole new garden in Greenfield. We took possession of our house at the end of May. My first garden project was digging up the hellstrip, that bit of grass between the sidewalk and the road. I dug in compost and then planted astilbes, daylilies, bee balm, chrysanthemums and clumps of the annual salvia ‘Hot Lips.’ I was marking my space and also letting my neighbors know we had arrived.

The second project was planting a holding bed on the north side of the backyard to hold perennials that were being moved from Heath, or purchased before I could plant them in the garden. Using the lasagna method, we moved compost and loam on top of cardboard and created a 12 foot long raised bed that has proved very useful. Not much thinking but a lot of muscle work.

Shrub and Rose Border

July 6 Shrub and Rose Boder

The third project was planting a shrub, rose and perennial border along the south property line. More lasagna technique, again moving loads of compost and loam, and planting hydrangeas, lilacs, and viburnams in the ground. Now at the end of July, roses have been planted in front of the big shrubs, a few perennials have been added along with groundcovers. I keep telling myself it will look great next year.

In early July we began working with the two custom design plans that Home Outside created for us. Their designs were based on the constraints of the lot, and answers we gave on a questionnaire about the ways we use our garden and our wishlist. We found out that it is not always easy to follow a plan. New ideas of our own, prompted by the plan pop up, as well as delays and changes caused by unexpected events like a flood in the backyard.

But we are forging on. Over the past week or so we created more lasagna beds around the water tolerant trees and shrubs we planted. More cardboard, compost and loam. I also saw the need for more plants to put in the new beds. Time to shop.

Along with a new neighbor I drove off to Nasami Farm, the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society. I couldn’t resist buying another winterberry. Remember it only takes one male winterberry to keep several females in beautiful berries. I also bought another viburnam because these shrubs have lacy spring flowers, produce berries in the fall, and get big. The viburnam we have in Heath is about ten feet tall or more, and with a wide spread. That is a lot of plant for the price when you are trying to fill up a low maintenance garden quickly. I am celebrating my 75th birthday this week, so I am in a hurry to enjoy a lush garden, but one that doesn’t make me work so hard.

The perennials I added include butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberose, which blooms in a hot shade of golden orange. It is only one or two feet tall. While it does not demand a wet site, it is considered suitable for rain gardens which will periodically be very wet.

Culver’s root, Veronicacastrum virginicum, looks something like a tall veronica, and could reach six or seven feet tall. It tolerates wet sites and is suitable for a rain garden. The tall spires of pale flowers that bloom in July attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Another tall plant that doesn’t mind wet sites is Joe Pye weed. This tough plant often seen by roadsides attracts butterflies and other pollinators as well. The mounded pink-mauve compound blossoms bloom from midsummer into the fall.

You can see that many of the plants I am putting in my garden are plants that you might find in the wild. In fact, the driving motive for my plant choices, besides being wet tolerant, is plants that will feed the small wildlife of our region, birds, butterflies, bees, and all the other unsung pollinators that are so important to our environment.

The garden we are planting in Greenfield is different from any garden we have desired in the past. Originally I only wanted to grow vegetables. Then with my friend Elsa Bakalar I discovered the joys of flower gardening. During our two years in China I developed a whole new appreciation for the green garden where very few flowers were wanted or needed for beauty.

Broadening my view of what a garden is or could be does not mean that I dismiss all that I wanted before. A broader view means I can appreciate more kinds of plants and more ways of arranging them in the landscape. I still want some edibles like blueberries and herbs in my new garden. I still want flowers. I still want color. But I also want to know that my garden is benefitting the natural world in ways I had not actively considered before.

View from the window

July 30 View from the window

Now when I look out at the view from the bedroom window the planted beds still don’t have any grace. The meandering paths I demanded from Home Outside haven’t appeared, but I can see graceful, meandering shapes forming. I may be the only one who can see those shapes right now, but I know that gardens are not made by sitting in the shade, and we haven’t been doing much sitting recently.

Between the Rows   August 1, 2015

Weeds – An Appreciation

Purple vetch

Purple vetch

I’ve learned a lot about weeds over the decades, but I was never given the ominous warning “one year of seed, seven years of weed” until last year. I think every novice gardener should be given a t-shirt with this bit of wisdom. On the other hand that bit of wisdom might be too discouraging for a beginner.

The truth is that if you are a gardener, you will have weeds. All kinds of weeds, and all are fascinating in their own right.


Bedstraw, Galium

Today I was trying to weed around the Rose Walk. The weeds here are very familiar to me. First there is the prettiest weed, galium or bedstraw. When I first noticed this weed many years ago I thought it was so pretty coming up in the middle of a rose bush that I hardly bothered to pull it out. I thought it turned the whole rose bush into a bouquet, like adding a bit of baby’s breath, gypsophilia, to a handful of flowers. Unfortunately, the variety of galium growing in my garden, Galium mollugo, has invaded thousands of acres of pastures and hayfields and been an enormous problem for farmers.      In spite of the legend that Galium aparine was in the manger where the Christ Child was laid on Christmas, leading to the name Lady’s bedstraw, cows won’t eat this bedstraw. Do not be seduced by the delicacy of the foliage and flowers; galium is a bad weed.

Another pretty weed is purple vetch. Vetch in my garden is fighting with the bedstraw on the Daylily Bank, right next to the Rose Bank. Purple vetch, like the galium has long loose stems with tendrils and fine foliage that will climb up and through other plants. I have to find an end of a vetch vine, and plow my way down the stem, through the heavy daylily foliage until I can put it out by the root. If I don’t weed it out, the whole daylily bank will be covered with a purple haze of the flowers – and then the seed pods will drop hundreds more seeds into the soil.

Less pretty is the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Children who spend any time in a garden learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick. Every part of the stinging nettle plant has tiny hairs that are like little hypodermic needles that release a venom into your skin. The sting will vary in intensity person to person.

Stinging nettles

Stinging Nettles, Urtica

Curly dock

Curly dock

A traditional soothing agent is the crushed leaves of curled (or curly) dock, Rumex crispus, which often grows near nettles. I can testify that curled dock does indeed grow near nettles in my garden. Dock is tall, about four or five feet, with narrow lanced shaped leaves, large at the base and smaller near the top. It took me a long time to recognize that the upright spike sections were made of scores of tiny flowers. There are many surprises when you really get to know your weeds.

Nettles are easy to pull out of the ground when wearing gloves, but dock is something else. The roots are tenacious and greenish-brown stems are very fibrous requiring a garden clippers to cut.

Nettles sting, but burdock grabs you and won’t let go. The burrs on burdock are one of the ways Mother Nature make sure seeds are carried hither and yon. You don’t have to be a gardener to recognize burdock. These weeds are everywhere.

Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is one of the commonest weeds in the vegetable garden. I can never rid my Herb Bed of purslane. When I read Charles Dudley Warner’s delightful and humorous book My Summer in a Garden about the trials and tribulations of a vegetable gardener, I echoed his complaints about “pussley” which was the scourge the garden. Purslane is a succulent weed that creeps along the ground that produces tiny white flowers that will quickly turn to seed. But I have found that if I leave the tiniest bit of root or a leaf of purslane in my soil it will never be eradicated.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “a weed is just a plant whose virtues have not been discovered.”  According to that definition most of these plants are  not weeds because generations of gardeners, herbalists and apothecaries have found them useful and full of virtue.

Galium aparine has been used in spring drinks to purify the blood for centuries, and treated skin complaints including psoriasis. Its been used as a diuretic and as a remedy for scalds and burns – as well as many other medical problems. Dock shares many medicinal properties with Galium aparine.

Nettles were once used to make linen even as late at World War I when many materials were in short supply. Dried nettles and nettle seed have been used as feed or cows, horses and birds. They have numerous medicinal properties, treating conditions as different as arthritis and migraines. Nettles have also been used for nutritious soup or in puddings. Purslane, too, is edible and nutritious, but has fewer medicinal uses.

Burdock is a big imposing plant each part has been used medicinally. Decoctions of the seeds are said to improve the skin, bruised leaves will soothe various bruises, swellings and even gout. In the Middle Ages burdock leaves macerated in wine were considered a cure for leprosy. The roots are still used as a vegetable, most frequently in Japan.

That leaves us with the pretty and useless vetch. Do not eat it. It is toxic.

Useful or not, all the weeds I have pulled or dug these past few days have been dumped in the weed pile.

Visitors to the Last Rose Viewing at the End of Knott Rd in Heath on Sunday, June 27 from 1-4 pm will surely find more weeds, but we can celebrate everything – summer, roses and weeds.

Between the Rows  June 28, 2015


Hellstrip – or Curbside Garden

Carload of plants
Carload of plants including divisions from Heath Garden to Greenfield

Now that I have planted Greenfield hellstrip I can make the official announcement: we are the proud owners of a small house with a small yard in Greenfield. The house has garden space on the south side and a rectangular back yard, but there is only a small front yard plus a hellstrip, which a polite person might call a curbside garden. Once it is planted.

The house does come with a few small plantings of lovely perennials, but essentially we are being given a blank slate to design a whole new garden. Where to begin?

I don’t know about you, but when I am in a new space, even a temporary motel room on vacation, I have the need to mark my space. The result in a motel room can be pretty messy, but the result in a new house is achieved differently. For example, the living room and dining room in the new house were respectively bright yellow and sage-y green. Perfectly fine colors. Was I happy? No.

So to mark my space I enlisted a young friend to help me paint those two rooms. Eva painted the living room a slightly different shade of sage-y green, very similar to our Heath living room, while I painted the dining room a glowing peach color. When I look into that room I feel like the sun is shining even when it is not. I have marked my space and the house begins to feel like home.

The yard is small compared to the cultivated landscape around the Heath house, but it is still too large to handle without a lot of thought and lots of work. I needed a small space to help me mark this landscape as my own. The hellstrip was the answer.

Hellstrip begins
Hellstrip begins

Here in the countryside we don’t have hellstrips, but they are very common in urban areas. The area between the roadway and the sidewalk often officially belongs to the town. Trees on the hellstrip are usually the town responsibility. It is unrealistic to think that a town administration can care for all these spaces and most of them remain grass, mowed by the homeowner.

Over the past few years, however, I have noticed that some home owners have taken ownership of the hellstrips and turned them into curbside gardens. Some of them have tough low groundcovers with a few flowers, and some have riotous displays. Last summer Timber Press sent me a new book to review, Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb. This is a comprehensive book that includes inspiring gardens in different climes, how to handle difficult situations from road maintenance to laws and covenants, how to choose plants and reduce your labor, as well as a list of “curbside worthy plants.”

I turned to this book for a refresher course and set to work. To say I started with a plan would be inaccurate, but I am happy with what I have done so far.

My hellstrip was all grass. I asked my husband to zip it down to the soil with a weed wacker. Then we took turns digging out the sod. We did this by stages, and of course, I neglected to take a before photo before we began. However, I am sure you all know what a grassy hellstrip looks like.

I dug up the first three foot section at both ends of the hellstrip, dug in some good compost and planted white astilbes and Stella d’Oro daylilies dug up from the front yard. Since these plants were dug, and replanted within minutes they suffered very little shock and I do not think I have lost any bloom.

Hellstrip planting continues on both ends

My husband looked at these two plantings and reminded me that they shouldn’t be too symmetrical. He knows me so well. When I dug the next section I planted clumps of a chrysanthemum and bee balm from Heath as well as the annual Salvia Hot Lips when has already brought a little color to the strip.

More digging, removing sod and incorporating compost before more planting. This time I added daylilies, yarrow and cone flowers from Heath, more astilbe and an aster from the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale.

I am not quite done planting. I need to pick up some new daylilies from the local Silver Garden Daylilies, and see what else I can bring from my own garden to finish. Please notice that many of these plants will support the pollinator population with their nectar and pollen. All will be cut down in the fall. Any plowed snow that is pushed on them will do no harm.

Hellstrip – almost done

My new curbside garden has two sections. The third section is an extension of the walkway from the side walk to the porch steps. That will provide a path for the passenger from a car parking right in front of the house. I will have to think of a way to keep it weed free. Peastone?  Wood chips? Big paving stone? That will require more thought.

So here we are, just a month into our new ownership and I feel I have marked our space. In the past when I have moved I have felt that if I had a few pots and pans and a box of books easily accessible I would feel comfortable and able to operate. This move has required more. Pots and pans, and boxes of books are already in place. Two rooms are painted with my own chosen colors.

Now the bit of (almost) finished garden in front of the house marks my outside space and makes me comfortable, but it also tells my neighbors, who we are slowly meeting, something about us and one of the ways we want to become a part of the neighborhood.

Keep watching for more developments as we slowly make a new garden.

Between the Rows   June 20, 2015

Garden Club of Amherst celebrates 100 years!

Garden Club of Amherst

Garden Club of Amherst Garden Tour

The Amherst Historical Society is helping the Garden Club of Amherst celebrate their 100th anniversary – in its own way. The Amherst Historical Society will hold its Annual Garden Tour June 27 from 10:00-4:00.  Tickets are available at A.J. Hastings, Andrews Greenhouse, Amherst Books and Hadley Garden Center.  For more information click here.

100 YEARS!  In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Garden Club of Amherst is holding a lecture by Roger Swain, the former host of PBS Victory Garden, Sunday June 28, 2:00 p.m. at the Yiddish Book Center with a reception to follow.  Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased at A.J. Hastings, Andrew’s Greenhouse, Bay State Perennial Farm, and Hadley Garden Center. Come hear “the man with the red suspenders”!