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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Cutting Garden – Annuals

Profusion zinnias

Profusion zinnias

I have always dreamed about having a cutting garden that would enable me to give out endless bouquets to all my friends. One good thing about a cutting garden is that it is not designed to look beautiful in any organized way. A cutting garden has no other design purpose except to give each plant room to breathe. That means flowers can be planted in rows without consideration of whether they will clash with the other flowers around them. Rows and rows of flowers cannot help but be as beautiful in an unstudied mass as they are in considered arrangements.

When planning a cutting garden I might think of the flowers I like best, beginning with annuals which stay in bloom over a long season. Zinnias immediately come to mind because they are so easy to grow and come in so many forms and colors.  I am particularly interested in the Profusion series of single zinnias because they have won prizes from the All America Selections in the U.S. and from Fleuroselect in Europe. Profusion zinnias, yellow, apricot, cherry pink, orange, white and more, attract butterflies and bees. The single form gives pollinators a landing strip on the petals pointing to the center of the flower where the pollen and nectar are waiting. Profusion zinnias are about 15 inches tall with an equal spread and will bloom all summer. Cut all you want and the plant will continue to create blossoms.

Cosmos are taller and have always been a staple in my garden. One reason I like them is because they also attract bees and certain butterflies. They come in many colors, pinks, white, yellow and gold. There is even a dramatic chocolate cosmos, with deep maroon color and a chocolaty fragrance. Renee’s Garden Seeds offers a whole palette of cosmos from single flower forms to ruffly double forms. Some have petals that are rolled tubes like a seashell. In addition to the flowers themselves, cosmos also gives you lacy, light green foliage. If you don’t plant from seed, it is easy to find six packs of seedlings.

Salvia 'Victoria Blue'

Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’

The Salvia family is large and includes perennials and annuals. Some of the perennial varieties are sold in our area as annuals because they are too tender to survive our winters. I always buy at least three little boxes of Victoria Blue annual salvia which I plant around a rose bed in lieu of a lavender edging. But I regularly steal a few spikes for the few bouquets I do make.

There are also attention getting red salvias with names like Salsa, Bonfire and Firecracker. They range in size from one to two feet tall. Salvias are another plant family that provide nectar to bees and butterflies.

Snapdragons are wonderful annuals that come in a whole variety of colors from pale pastels to rich reds, brilliant golds and yellow. There are tall varieties, usually two to three feet tall, and dwarf varieties that are only a foot tall. The Rocket series grow to almost three feet tall and are considered an excellent cut flower.

Most of us will buy snapdragon seedlings because they take so long to come into flower, but when we finally get them into our gardens they might welcome a little bit of shade. They do not like very hot weather. Of course, our weather has been so uncertain recently, that maybe this is something we don’t need to worry about too much. I know that in Heath I have not had to worry about long spells of hot summer weather for some years. But of course, that is Heath.

Even this small list, zinnia, cosmos, salvia and snapdragon, includes a variety of flower forms and this will make a bouquet interesting.

In addition to flowers a bouquet needs foliage. Cosmos have their own lacy foliage, but you can also plant annual artemesias like Dusty Miller. Dusty Miller looks like heavy silver lace and is sold in six packs in the spring. It is valuable for its silver foliage, but it does produce a yellow flower which many people remove. The foliage can be used as a kind of collar around the bouquet to hide the lip of the vase. Of course, other foliage plants will also serve this purpose, including lady’s mantle, alchemilla, which is a perennial and that is a topic for next week.

If you are bedding out your cutting garden in rows, as I hope to do, it is easy to remove sod if necessary, then add compost to the new bed. Dig the compost in well. When I am starting a new bed I usually add some greensand to provide potassium, also called potash. When you see commercial fertilizers marked with N-P-K numbers, the last number is potash. Greensand releases potash slowly so there is no worry about harming tender roots.  It is needed for root development, and plant vigor because it moves water and nutrients through the plant.

Whenever you are starting a new bed it is good practice to dig in plenty of organic matter, rotted manure and compost. I am not very scientific so I add rock phosphate (NOT superphosphate) as well as greensand because both release nutrients very slowly. I do not use commercial 5-10-5 fertilizers which are commonly available at garden centers.

After digging your bed, incorporating any compost and fertilizer, you can plant your seeds or seedlings. Keep them watered while they germinate and become established.

Next week I’ll write about those perennials that make good cut flowers.

Between the Rows   April 18, 2015

Water – Fountains, Pools and Ponds

Mirror Lake, Japanese Garden in Buffalo NY

Mirror Lake, Japanese Garden in Buffalo NY

Water is a precious resource. It is also a source of beauty in our gardens. We cannot all have water like this in our garden, but . . .

Circular Fountain

Circular Fountain

we can have a circular fountain, and

Grotto fountain  and pool

Grotto fountain and pool

and we can have fountain and grotto pool in our back yard jungle, and

Urn Fountain

Urn Fountain

and we can have a simple urn fountain, but

Frog Fountain, Seattle WA

Frog Fountain, Seattle WA

we will probably never have a frogs with turtles fountain like this one in Seattle, Washington.

What kind of water  do you have in your garden?

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Garden-pedia by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini


Garden-pedia by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini

With all the bad weather I’ve been happy to sit by the woodstove and read two new books from St. Lynn’s Press. Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini ($16.95 paperback) is an excellent book for the novice gardener. There are so many terms that arise even in catalogs and other places that can confuse and confound. Writers and speakers may be trying to write or speak plainly, but sometimes assume prior knowledge. I should ask experienced gardeners how they felt the first time they ran into high tunnel, or nativar, or panicle.

In fact, I was very happy to go through Garden-pedia and see clearer ways of explaining or describing these particular three terms. I had never heard of high tunnels a decade or so ago until I was talking to a farmer who told me he had put his whole raspberry operation under high tunnels. Nowadays high tunnels, “a crop growing system that is structured somewhat between a greenhouse and row covers,” are more common. There are always new terms to describe new practices and it can take a while to catch up.

I knew about cultivars, a particular cultivated variety of a plant like Heuchera ‘Fireworks’ but what was a nativar?  A nativar is a cultivar or hybrid created from a native plant. For example, Ilex verticillata, winterberry, is native to the American northeast, but when you go to the nursery to buy one you will find ‘Red Sprite,’ ‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Apollo.’ These are nativars. I was interested that Bennett and Zampini do explain that there is some debate about whether nativars give all the benefits of a plain native. We will each have to make our own decision about how purist we will be in growing the natives that will support our local food web. Where I live now, in the midst of fields and woods full of natives, I don’t worry about including nativars, or even exotics, plants that came from elsewhere to my garden. But that may change.

Bennett and Zampini clearly explain 300 gardening and horticultural terms from Abiotic to Zone but they say they are happy to hear of other terms that are not included for the next edition of the book. Do you think the term ‘food web’ needs an explanation?

Bennett took many of the clear photographs that are really all you need when trying to understand leaf patterns or the structure of a panicle. There is an excellent index and a list of resources: books, websites, plant organizations and societies, and databases. Of course, as a New Englander I wish they could have included the New England Wildflower Society with its Go Botany website which can help all  of us explore, identify and learn about  our native plants.

Cool Flowers

Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler

Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques by Lisa Mason Siegler ($17.95 hardcover) is another small book with a lot of information!

Lisa Ziegler is a flower farmer, growing and selling cut flowers to florists and at farmers markets. She lives in Virginia on her husband’s old family farm, a farm now devoted to colorful flowers. Her book gives careful instruction on sowing seeds directly outdoors in fall, as well as in spring. Most of us will find seed starting indoors in the spring the most likely to work for us.

After a brief discussion of when to plant seeds indoors and out, Ziegler gives specific instructions for planting seeds of 30 particular hardy annuals from the familiar bachelor’s buttons and sweet peas to the less familiar False Queen Anne’s Lace.

Many hardy annuals can be started indoors six to eight weeks before you could put them outdoors. In my garden that means I could start seeds indoors in mid-March. I remember Elsa Bakalar starting snapdragon seeds at the very end of February. She had a homemade arrangement of shelves with low hanging grow-lights that enabled her to keep the seedlings growing sturdily for ten weeks.

Elsa did not use heat pads underneath her planting trays, but that is a technique we have available to us. Heat mats helps seeds germinate more quickly and dependably, but once the seeds have sent up shoots the heat mat should be removed. The seedlings now need good light for 16 hours a day. It is the long day under the lights that will give you strong transplants. I’m sure most of us have had experience with long leggy seedlings reaching for the sun.

Ziegler gives full instructions from seeding plants indoors, fertilizing, and hardening off the young transplants to prepare them for going into the ground. Once planted outdoors, she mulches, and then covers them with a floating row cover to protect them from the wind and any surprises in the winter weather. She finishes with advice for maintaining the garden all season long.

I was inspired by Ziegler’s plan for a 3×10 foot cutting bed for five flowers that would provide more bouquets over a long season than you ever imagined possible. Think of how all your neighbors would love you bouquets. The magic of a cutting garden is that the more you harvest the more flowers will come into bloom.

Garden-pedia and Cool Flowers will appeal to two different audiences; one of them might be just right for you.

Between the Rows   February 14, 2015

Conifers, Cone-bearing Evergreens in the Garden

Marsha Session's Conifers

Marsha Session’s Conifers

Pines, firs, junipers, spruces and others are all conifers, cone-bearing evergreen trees. Within this large family there are many sizes, from low growing groundcovers, to very tall trees, with many types of foliage and many foliage colors from green to blue-green to gold. Evergreens like pines, firs and spruces have needles, while junipers, cedars and arborvitae have scalelike foliage.

Recently I visited two friends with conifer collections. Both bought their plants locally at different nurseries so they could choose the exact plant they desired. One friend has made use of low-growing conifers for the edges of her in-town garden, while the other lives in Heath and chose large trees which she planted about 20 years ago. It seems that conifers can fulfill many garden fantasies and visions,

Weeping Nootka false cypress

Weeping Nootka false cypress

Marsha Sessions lives on a Heath hill surrounded by open fields, but she had a vision of a grove of evergreens on a rise. Her husband Norm created a hill for her; then she went shopping. For this planting she wanted evergreens that would make a statement and chose a collection of large conifers, trees and shrubs. Of course, as most of us have experienced, plants bought 20 years ago have lost their names.

The conifers have grown substantially over the years. In fact, a couple of them have grown so large that there is some crowding. One of the trickiest parts of gardening is estimating how wide and how tall our plants will grow over time, and making allowances for that growth, even if we think it looks a little skimpy at first.

Sessions has chosen different types of conifers, from dense shrubby forms to tall graceful forms. It was the tall skinny tree that I always found most fascinating as I passed by on my rounds. I believe it might be Abies alba Green Spiral, a tall silver fir tree that has a very narrow, graceful and slightly pendulous form.

On the other side of her grove is another large tree with a different form of grace. I think this tree might be a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Pendula, a tree with scale-like foliage. This is a majestic dark green tree with horizontal branches, but drooping leaflets.

In contrast to these two trees she has a couple of shrubby gold threadleaf false cypress, another Chamaecyparis. There are several cultivars of this familiar bright evergreen available in local garden centers or nurseries. Sessions has created a brilliant collection of conifers with contrasting foliage, form and color.

It is a tribute to the hardiness of all these trees that they have thrived on an open hillside in the higher elevations of Heath for 20 winters. They get full sun, except for what shade they might throw on each other over the course of the day.

In ShelburneFalls, Maureen Moore has made use of low growing conifers in her lawn-less gardens. Marsha Sessions evergreen grove stands in majestic isolation, but Moore’s garden huddles around her in-town house, protecting it while providing a colorful delight for those who pass by.

lowgrowing conifer groundcovers

Maureen’s low-growiing conifer groundcovers

Moore told me that most of her evergreens are junipers, with a few pine and cypress. “The low ones along the walk are a combo of Nana juniper, Blue Rug juniper, Siberian cypress, and another (nameless) crawler, a very nice light green.”

It is the range of color and texture that she likes as well as their amenability to pruning, and ease of being controlled. Moore has also bought her plants locally.

Both Nana and Blue Rug are low growing junipers with blue-green foliage. They like sun and are undemanding of soil as long as it is well drained. Junipers in general are tolerant of drought and are not relished by deer.

Nana may reach a height of one foot, and spreads out to five or six feet, but Blue Rug is even lower, reaching a height of only six inches.

An All Gold juniper will only grow to a foot tall and will spread about six feet in 10 years. This is another tough plant, drought resistant in a golden shade that can really brighten the garden.

Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) is also known as Russian arbor-vitae. You can see that some of  these plants have common names that have little to do with their proper name; this is not a proper cypress or juniper. It has bright green lacy foliage which becomes a purple-brown in the winter. It can reach a height of a foot or a little more and will spread vigorously to 10-12 feet. This makes it suitable for a slope. It is also one of the few conifers that will tolerate some shade.

I have given only hints about the richness of these two gardens, but I hope I have whetted your interest in exploring the large world of needle conifers.

While I prefer to shop locally for plants as much as I can, I also like to scroll through online plant sites because they show a full range of cultivars, and  provide so much additional information about the plants I am interested in. Two dependable online sites for information are, and, maintained by the ElisabethC.MillerBotanical Garden in Seattle. While neither of these institutions are local, they provide good plant photographs, and a great deal of their information is valuable to us in the PioneerValley. Greenfield is listed as being in hardiness zone 5b which means temperatures down to 15 degrees below zero. This classification is not the be-all or end-all of requirements for success with a plant, but it is a good start.

Do you have conifers in your garden? Wouldn’t you like to have more?

Beyond Rhododendrons – Broadleaf Evergreens in the Garden

Rhododendron 'Calsap' a broadleaf evergreen

Rhododendron ‘Calsap’ a broadleaf evergreen

Rhododendrons are probably the largest group of broadleaf evergreens that are familiar to most of us. They can play a big part in adding substance and interest in the garden during the winter. I do confess it took me a while to understand the cigar roll shape those broad leaves take when the temperatures are very low, but I accept that even plants must protect themselves from the elements as best they can.

Rhododendrons come in a whole range of sizes and colors from low growing varieties like the pink ‘Yaku Princess’ to brilliantly colored shrubs that will tower over us. After visiting Jerry Sternstein, whose rhododendron hillside in Hawley opened my eyes to this range, I have added rhodies to my garden. ‘Boule de Neige’ is an old white variety, ‘Calsap’ is white with a speckled purple flair at its heart, and the deep red ‘Rangoon’ is not as tall but it spreads wide in maturity.

Rhododendrons need an acid soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. Its feeding roots are close to the surface and so need to be protected from heat and drought. Those feeding roots also explain Sternstein’s rule about planting, “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” Rhodies do not need a big deep planting hole, but after planting in a dimple a layer of mulch is good practice. Mulch helps keep the roots cool and moist.

Rhododendrons are considered a plant that likes at least some shade, but Sternstein’s rhodies flourish in the sun. It seems that some rules can be broken. The height of Sternstein’s garden is usually Memorial Day – hundreds of rhododendrons in full bloom.

Mountain laurels, Kalmia, have most of the same requirements as rhododendrons, rich acid soil, and dependable moisture. They do require some shade, especially protection from summer afternoon sun. The hybrids intended for home gardens usually range about three to four feet tall with about that much spread. The white and pink of the native mountain laurel is beautiful, but there are other shades and combinations in the hybrids that you will find in catalogs. ‘Carol’ has dark pink buds that open to pale pink petals,‘Firecracker’ has intense red buds that open to white and pink, ‘Peppermint’, as you might expect has candy stripes. ‘Minuet’ is slow-growing reaching three feet after ten years with bicolor blossoms of cinnamon and white. Again, be careful planting. Just a dimple.

Ilex Blue Princess holly

Ilex Blue Princess holly

I hadn’t ever thought of them that way, but hollies are counted among the broadleaf evergreens. I have planted Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ and they have proven hardy even on my windy hill. All hollies are dioecious which means they require a male and female plant to produce fruit. Actually, you only need one male for several females. ‘Blue Princess’ is the more vigorous grower, but she needs her little prince to produce those red berries.

Ilex opaca’Compacta’ is a native holly that is similar in form to the shiny leaved hollies we expect at Christmas, but the foliage does not have that sheen. This variety will grow slowly to six or eight feet.

Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ is an inkberry cultivar. Inkberry is a broadleaf evergreen with fine small foliage and little black berries in late fall. It likes sun, but can tolerate some shade and doesn’t mind the wet. It can even be used as part of a rain garden planting. It grows slowly to a height of about four feet with an equal spread. It is a neat plant, and like other Ilex is not much bothered by deer or rabbits. Good to know.

Yucca filamentosa is another plant I don’t think of as an evergreen, but so it is. It looks like a southwestern sort of plant with its rosette of spiky golden leaves. In midsummer it sends up a five or six foot spike with panicles of fragrant, creamy white flowers. The spiky form is so unusual in a New England garden that it makes a great focal point. The fragrance is a surprise and delight.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachusetts’, better known as bearberry, is a very low-growing evergreen; this variety has small leaves bordered in white. The words uva and ursi refer to the fact that berries are prized by bears. Birds relish the berries, too. A sunny spot with good drainage is ideal for this native groundcover. Don’t worry about fertilizing; bearberry doesn’t need it. Red berries appear in the fall, and are often used as Christmas decorations, as holly is.

To a great degree our gardens in winter can be a simple blanket of white – if we have cut back all the perennials, removed the shriveled annuals and weeded carefully. We are lucky if we have trees with interesting sculptural limbs, but without broadleaf evergreens or conifers the effect can be a little skimpy.

Next week I’ll discuss conifers, those cone-bearing evergreens like pines, spruce and junipers.

Between the Rows   January 17, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!  And holiday wishes  for every good thing for every one.

A Handful of GardenBooks – Reading Roundup

Books are the perfect gift for every occasion, and every season. Here are a few of the garden books I have enjoyed this year

Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from Garden Meadow and Farm  by Debra Prinzing is an encouraging book. Debra’s 52 weeks of bouquets from local flowers from ‘garden, meadow and farm’ are full of surprises and inspiration for those of us who are fearful and reluctant flower arrangers. She says she always put herself in that company of timid arrangers but the  work she did with flower farmers and arrangers for her earlier book, The 50 Mile Bouquet, with gorgeous photos by David Perry, gave her more confidence.  Each two page spread in  the  book includes a photo and description of a seasonal arrangement with a list of ‘ingredients.’ We don’t have flowers from our own gardens  at this time of the year, but we may be thinking about the flowers we want to grow that will help us make our own beautiful arrangements. Slow Flowers will also make us look at the bouquet we get with  our weekly CSAorder quite differently. We love local flower growers! Like so many garden books Slow Flowers has beautiful photographs.

Five Plant Gardens by Nancy OnFive Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a PerennialGarden with Just Five Plants by Nancy Ondra. This book has something for everyone, but it provides an extra measure of design confidence for the novice gardener.

Ondra’s book is first divided into two parts, sunny gardens and then shady gardens. Within each section are 25 five plant combinations, but with some alternate plants in case you want to provide a little more variety when you are extending the original plan. For example, theWelcomeSpringGardenappeals to me because I am so hungry for flowers after our long winters. The five suggestions are Jacob’s ladder with its tall lacy foliage and clusters of blue flowers, deep blue Caesar’s Brother Siberian iris, ‘Corbett’ a yellow wild columbine and a striped bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum) and ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow.’ I was pleased that Ondra gave a warning about the vigor of ajuga. Ajuga is wonderful because it so quickly covers a lot of ground but it is so vigorous that it is difficult to contain. I don’t mind the ajuga that has invaded a section of my lawn because I am no devotee of fine turf, but it is good to be warned.

Square Foot Gardening with KidsSquare Foot Gardening With Kids by Mel Bartholomew. Those who are familiar with Mel Bartholomew’s unique Square Foot Gardening techniques may be surprised to see how they can lead children not only into a successful garden, but into science and math understanding. Mel begins with a sensible overview of how to use the book with different age groups, and continues with basic information for all.

Bartholomew’s book will be valuable to parents, but it will also intrigue children with various experiments, making functional trellises, and even a season-extending plastic dome. A final section gives growing information about the most common herbs and vegetables. Advice to any new gardener, child or adult, is to keep the beginning small so that it does not overwhelm. Teachers might find these garden books helpful as well. Right in our own area we have an elementary school with an agricultural curriculum, and many other schools are starting their own school gardens.
Gardening Labor For Kids While Square Foot Gardening for Kids is mostly geared to school age children, Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments by Renata Fossen Brown is designed to help the parents of young children find their way into the garden with a series of discrete projects. A list of the short chapters shows the variety of approaches from Planting Spring Seeds, Make a Rain Gauge, Plant an Herb Spiral, Make a Bird Feeder and Make a Sweet Pea Teepee.

Fossen is the Associate Director of Education at the ClevelandBotanical Garden where thousands of children come with their classes or with parents to learn about butterflies and pollinators and all kinds of plants so she is familiar with the many tactile ways children engage with nature and a garden.

Old or young, there is a lot to learn in the garden, and inspiration to be found. Who on your gift list doesn’t know that these books provide just the information and inspiration they need?


We Have a Winner of Cultivating Garden Style

We have a winner! A copy of Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality  by Rochelle Greayer, AND a copy of The Roses at the End of the Road  will be sent out directly to Jan McGuane Adam – a pillar of the Greenfield Garden Club. Congratulaations, Jan!

Preview the Year of 2015 with the UMass Extension Calendar

2015 UMass Extension Calendar

2015 UMass Extension Calendar

Wouldn’t we all like to peek into the new year ahead? Sometimes we can look forward to certain events with a fair amount of certainty – a baby due in May?  A graduation? A special anniversary? Maybe even a new garden? The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar is a great holiday gift for any gardener who is already thinking how the new year will unfold as s/he promises to be really organized and get chores done on time.

2015 UMass Extension Calendar - Julia Child Rose for June

2015 UMass Extension Calendar – Julia Child Rose for June

The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar does give you a peek into the new year by listing timely chores.  This excellent, and beautiful, calendar also contains useful horticultural information about plants throughout the year.  To order send $12 payable to UMass, to Garden Calendar, c/o Five Maples, 78 River Road South, Putney, VT 05346. Add $3.50 for the first calendar and $2.00 for each additional calendar. Think of all the gardeners in your life you could make happy.

UMass Extension Calendar

UMass Extension Calendar

Don’t wait to order. December days pass more quickly than any others.

View from the Bedroom Window – October 2014

First hard frost - October 6, 2014

View from the Bedroom Window – First hard frost – October 6, 2014

The view from the bedroom window shows that I have been working out in the Lawn Beds, and not picking up after myself, and the arrival of the first hard frost.

View from the Bedroom Window 10-13, 2014

View from the Bedroom Window 10-13, 2014

The weather warmed up but there was another lighter frost on October 13. The gingko trees are slowly turning gold, color has nearly all left the rest of the distant landscape.

View from the Bedroom Window October 28, 2014

View from the Bedroom Window October 28, 2014

Since the 13th we have had about 7 inches of rain in three rainfalls. There has been time in between to cut back and divide perennials and and put the garden to bed. It has been wet and cold, but the gingkos are golden.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.