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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

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.

Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont

Fletcher Free Library

Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, Vermont

While visiting cousins in Vermont I made a stop at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. As a retired librarian  I always stop in to visit libraries along the way. The Fletcher Free Library was founded in 1873 by Mrs. Mary L. Fletcher and her daughter, beginning with $20,000. Half was to be spent on books and half for an endowment. What a wise woman Mrs. Fletcher was to know that a library would need that ongoing support. Originally the library was housed in the City Hall. By 1901 it was outgrowing it space, but that year Andrew Carnegie gave $50,000 and a new library was built and opened in 1904.

Fletcher Free Library

Fletcher Free Library

Of course time does not stand still for any building. The Carnegie building needed work – and saving by the community. In 1974 it was added to the register of Historic Places, and necessary restoration work was made to the foundation and building. But time continues to march on. A new addition was dedicated in 1981.

Fletcher Free Library

Fletcher Free Library

The new addition is very beautiful with three stories full of books, CDs DVDs, magazines, audio books, museum passes, and garden tools! All can be checked out. Or you can work on the computers in  this serene space.

Fletcher Free Library, Children's Room

Fletcher Free Library, Children’s Room

The original Carnegie building now houses the Children’s Room. In addition there is a Local History room and collection. I like the mermaid flying over the circulation desk. I think it is an apt symbol for the invitation to come and swim in the worlds of story, history, philosophy and with instruction how to do almost anything.

Fletcher Free Library book van

Fletcher Free Library book van

The library even has a cool van to bring books and programs to children where they are.

I enjoyed visiting the Fletcher Free Library very much, and could have settled down with a good book for the afternoon, but time marches on. Cousins were waiting.  Besides, I knew I could visit my own Heath Free Public Library when I got home. In fact, I knew Interlibrary Loan books were waiting for me.

Honey Badger Garden Gloves – with Claws?

Honey Badger Garden Gloves

Honey Badger Garden Gloves

Recently I was sent a pair of Honey Badger Garden Gloves to try out. These gloves are made by a small company in Atlanta, Georgia. Before they sent them they asked if I preferred to have the ‘claws’ on the right hand or the left hand. I chose to have them on the right hand, my dominant hand.

This offer came fairly late in the season but I still had a whole long peony bed to clean out. I had cut back most of the peonies and had launched myself into getting out all the weeds hidden by the peony foliage.

Honey Badger Garden Glove

Honey Badger Garden Glove

Before I got my hands into the soil, I did scratch around with my Korean hand hoe to loosen up the soil – and the weeds. Then I began digging around the weeds with my claws so that I could  pull them out with the roots intact.

Honey Badger Garden Glove

Honey Badger Garden Glove

Once I get my claws  around the root I  can pull up the whole weed  clump. I am a gardener who spends a lot of time on her knees, and I use my hands a lot. It was a big day for me when I finally realized I really could use gloves efficiently and stop walking around with dirty, broken nails. The construction of the glove protects the fingertips and nails inside the claw tip. You get some leverage, and a lot of protection. Even without the claw, the gloves are made of slightly heavier material  than I am used to, but they are flexible and rated for 200 hours of wear.  I have not used them for that long yet. I do know that the first place my gloves ware out is at the finger tip. The claws are made of ABS plastic – just like LEGOs.

These gloves  are available online and cost $24.95 for claws on one hand, but you can request claws on both hands for $29.95. Plus shipping. The claws also come in different colors, gray like mine, gray & blue, green, or green &  blue.


UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2015 Available

UMass Garden Calendar 2015

UMass Garden Calendar 2015

The UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2015 is now available. This excellent, and beautiful, calendar contains excellent information about garden chores throughout the year. Reminders of when to plant, when to mulch, when to prune, when to fertilize and much more. On some days you will get information about which plants attract pollinators, definitions of words like ‘layering,” and transplanting advice.

I appreciate the fact that the low gloss paper takes my own notes very easily.

The opening pages this year give full information about how and when to fertilize  flowering plants, what kinds of fertilizers are available – and how you should get a soil test to properly determine what fertilizers your plants really need.

UMass Extension Garden calendar

UMass Extension Garden calendar for 2015.

In addition to all this good advice, there is a gorgeous photograph of a seasonal plant for every month. I was particularly taken with the Gold Heart Bleeding Heart, which I happen to know lights up a shady garden spot with its bright golden foliage and pink blossoms.

To order send $12 payable to UMass, to Garden Calendar, c/o Five Maples, 78 River Road South, Putney, VT 05346. If you order before November 1 Shipping is Free.  After November 1 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 with this beautiful and useful calendar.

View From the Bedroom Window – September 2014

View from the bedroom window September 2, 2014

View from the bedroom window September 2, 2014

August was relatively cool this year, so it should have been no surprise that on September 2 it was 80 degrees and humid. The roofers came to put on a new roof – and were slowed down by a shower in the middle of the afternoon.

September 21, 2014

September 21, 201As

As the month progressed it became cool again. There was two inches of torrential rain on September 6 – and the new roof is not leaking! Our granddaughter Tricia’s wedding was held at Look Park in Northampton on Friday, September 12. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. Then cooler weather again with a light frost on September 18. Some plants were nipped, but no serious damage. There does not appear to be much change, but the phlox is nearly gone by and you can see the green seeping out of the foliage in  the woodlands.

September 29, 2014

September 29, 2014

Fewer flowers are blooming in the Lawn Beds, but color is rising all around us in the woods.