Many of us are very reluctant to put together a flower arrangement. We see photos of complicated bouquets accompanied by complicated descriptions of color and texture and know we could never aspire to making such a thing. In her book Windowsill Art: Creating one-of-a-kind natural arrangements to celebrate the seasons (St. Lynn’s Press $18.95) Nancy Ross Hugo, shows us a way to make arrangements that are beautiful in their simplicity.
I am a person who is known for looking at the big picture. For me the delight of Windowsill Art is the way it encourages me to look at the details, of a flower or twig or leaf.
Hugo knows about plants, big and small. She is the education manager for the LewisGinterBotanical Garden in Virginia and has written four other books including the magnificent Seeing Trees with photographer Robert Llewellyn. In Windowsill Art she explains that she has great fun making windowsill arrangements because there is no anxiety. She also considers making these regular arrangements a kind of spiritual practice that prompts her to notice the changes that every day brings to the natural world.
This little book with its glowing photographs is divided into four sections beginning with Getting Started that will push aside all worries about finding plants or containers or even windowsills. In the next section she goes on to Explore the Process, and then on to Experimenting with Styles and Technique. The final section is a photographic record of windowsill arrangements through the seasons of the year.
Sometimes an arrangement goes solo, a single vase filled with the plants of the season. Sometimes she shows the power of massing when she puts an assortment of related flowers in un-matched containers.
Throughout all this it is clear that there is no plant or part of a plant that Hugo does not find stunning. Vegetables, herbs, weeds, and shrubs find their way into her arrangements in addition to familiar flowers. She even finds drama in the arching branch of dead leaves.
I think this is the value of all her teaching. She knows how to entice us into new ways of looking at the common things around us. And if we learn to see the elegance of a cabbage leaf while we wash dishes, it will not take long before we see the beauty of many other everyday details.
Hugo says, “ . . . although I had been meaning to create something ‘pretty’ every day, it is seldom the beauty or design success of an arrangement that moves me . . . it’s the way they capture the seasons.”
This beautiful little book is the kind of book that would even please a non-gardener. Any walk outside might result in a bit of grass or leaf or flower, all you need to make Art.
Gardens in Detail
Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs by Emma Reuss (Monacelli Press $45.) is also about details, but it is the big details of landscape design: repetition, pattern, geometry, symmetry and proportion. Those are big details and Reuss takes us to 100 contemporary gardens around the world to show how they can play out to very different effect.
My garden is not contemporary in the sense that a landscape designer would use that term, and yet any successful elements I have achieved can also be credited to repetition – of my gingko trees in the Lawn Beds – and rhythm – of the curving Rose Walk.
Water features abound in this book. Many years ago I was reading one of Beverley Nichols charming books about his garden where he insisted that ornamental water was essential in any garden. Since I could not imagine how I could get water into my garden I dismissed his dictate. However, more and more gardeners have found ways to put water in their gardens, reflecting pools, fountains, and ponds. Water in the garden is not a contemporary idea
This is the point I want to make. Although you might think that this book would be of limited use on our suburban plots, there is something to learn and adapt from almost every detail described in this book. For example, many kinds of path grace these gardens. In one formal garden the path is closely clipped and edged grass; one path through a meadow is a boardwalk; one is cement pavers arranged in an idiosyncratic pattern; a brick path ends and segues into ‘ sympathetically colored gravel of the dining area.’
One of the techniques I liked, in opposition to severely clipped hedges, is the ‘staggered hedge’ which is made up of several different shrubs. This is a softer, and less work intensive, way to create a boundary. The shrubs would be different depending on your climate.
For each garden the defining details are listed, photographed and an explanation is given for how it works within the design of the whole garden. The instruction is brief but dense as elements reappear throughout the book in a number of different ways. Five hundred photographs make the principles very clear.
Reuss is British, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and lives in London, but the ideas in this book range from the formal to the more ecologically concerned, as well as from the Arizona desert to Tokyo, Japan.
Reuss stresses that the “key to successful garden design is to be true to the character of both the site and the house – the genius loci . . . and environmental conditions.” That is where we all must start.
Between the Rows September 27, 2014
Birds and Blooms Magazine
In spite of its name, Birds AND Blooms, I always thought of this magazine as concentrating on Birds. However, I’ve been looking at it from time to time and have come to realize that it has lots of good information for gardeners, too.
In fact, as we all become more aware of the pressures on our environment, climate change, depredations of host environments for migrating birds, and a simple desire to attract those ‘flowers of the air” birds and butterflies to our garden, this magazine can be very useful. Features that focus on gardens, focus on those plants that are going to attract those other beautiful “flowers.” Who can complain about that.
The current issue has a useful story about the wide variety of coral bells, heucheras, that are now available. I have written about these myself because of their many shades of foliage from green to gold, to burnished reds. I was intersted in color, but it is also true that hummingbirds enjoy coral bells. What a bonus. Another story reminds us that fall is a good time to plant perennials and makes it clear that while flowers and foliage may fade at this time of the year, roots are still going and growing strong. The soil is warm, and roots will continue to grow until it freezes. Besides, there are great bargains at garden centers and other businesses that sell potted perennials. As long as plants don’t look diseased they can be a great buy. Bring them home, give them a deep watering, and then plant them. Keep them watered because those roots are taking hold. You’ll have a great plant ready to bloom in the spring.
Right now you can get a free first issue by ordering at www.birdsandblooms.com/FreeExtra and get 8 issues for $12.98. The holidays are coming and this is a great gift for gardeners – and birders.
Tricia and Brian’s wedding ceremony
Two parks played an important part in our life recently. Last week our granddaughter Tricia married her high school sweetheart, Brian. The ceremony was held in the beautiful and pastoral Look Park in Northampton at the Theater of Pines. It was a happy moment for all the extended family and there are lots of us on both sides.
The bride and groom posed with Granny and the Major, and Aunts Kate and Betsy, her mother our daughter Diane, and Uncles Chris and Philip. Pride and joy all around.
After the wedding we were off to Norwalk to visit with friends who took us to the Maritime Aquarium where there was this eerie column of Moon jellyfish. Going through the aquarium was very like wandering through a mysterious garden - there were all manner of silent creatures swimming through amazing landscapes. It was amazing to think that all the marine life in the aquarium was local; all the creatures were found in Long Island Sound.
Bryant Park, NYC
We also made a trip to New York City and strolled through Bryant Park. This park, renovated in the 1980s has a very different vibe from the violent reputation it had in the 1970s when we lived in NY, and from the pastoral Look Park. The renovation of this urban park, and several other NY parks has changed the tone of their neighborhoods, and even the economics. Buildings that look down on this lovely park with its little eateries, a carousel AND a Reading Room (the park is built over the stacks of the main NY Library) now command higher rents.
Grand Central Station
But finally it was time to leave New York, and Norwalk and return home. I love Grand Central Station. Such a beautiful building, and so much energy. And as the old radio show used to say “Grand Central Station! Crossroads of a million lives.” Still true.
For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
Dawn on September 22, 2014
The colors of the landscape on the first day of fall are shifting. Fall colors are mutable, first draining and then gathering richness. The dawn sun on the trees across the field show the rustiness of the trees as the fresh green seeps away.
Maple reds arrive
As I drove around on my errands I saw the different fall colors arrive in different ways, vibrantly on the treetops.
The low branches of the beeches are turning gold and if I look closely I can see the tiny pointy buds of next year’s leaves forming.
Golden riverside tree
A single golden tree along the river set against the green hillside.
This small maple is being transformed from emerald to ruby, but you can still see the transformation is not complete.
red leaves on a vine
Soon reds will become more prominent. Already this weedy vine has a brilliant sash.
Rich gold is to be seen in all the local farmstands as the pumpkin harvest is set out. These pumpkins are in the Hawlemont School garden.
What colors are changing in your landscape?
Narcissus poeticus – Pheasant eye daffodil
These chilly days and cool nights have got me thinking about spring. Or more specifically the need to plant spring blooming bulbs this fall. There is something about gardening that makes us gardeners keep one eye a season or two ahead, even as we work with the challenges and pleasures of the present.
Catalogs for spring bloomers have already arrived. The Old House Gardens catalog is a favorite because I love thinking of the long history of the bulbs they offer. For example the Cloth of Gold crocus was being grown as early as 1587, and was commonly offered in catalogs during the 1800s because it was so popular. Cloth of Gold is a very early bloomer and the bees love it. That would be reason enough to grow it. We have to take care of our pollinators especially in those difficult early and late seasons.
I grow a number of small bulbs, grape hyacinths and scillas, but a favorite is the snowdrop. I have the Elwes snowdrop growing in grass and at the edge of the herb bed. I am planning to plant the Gravetye Giant Snowflake which is actually a Leucojum, not a Galanthus. The graceful, nodding bell-like blossoms with their green tips are very similar to snowdrops, but they are held on tall 18 inch stems and bloom a little later. Both snow drops and the snowflake are deer and rodent resistant.
Because they are deer and rodent resistant most of the bulbs I plant are daffodils. Often from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs great collection. Daffodils are a favorite of mine because they are so varied from tiny bi-color Jack Snipe and pale Toto to the large cool Ice Follies and big Precocious with its white perianth and deep salmon-pink cup.
Tulips on the Bridge of Flowers
I don’t grow many tulips because critters do like the planted bulbs, and because they are not as long lived as daffodils. Still, ephemeral beauty is not to be avoided just because it does not last over the years. I have planted viridian tulips like Spring Green with its ivory blossom feathered with green, and the flamboyant fringed Apricot Parrot tulip.
There are so many cultivars of these common bulbs, crocus, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, scilla, tulip and fragrant hyacinth that I still get a shock when I open the bulb catalogs to find a whole array of other fall planted spring blooming bulbs.
Alliums are flowering onions. Even non-gardeners identify and admire the large alliums like Purple Sensation and Ambassador with their large spheres of flowerets. There are also cultivars with white spheres like the creamy Ivory Queen and icy Mount Everest.
Less familiar are alliums with looser and more unusual blossoms. Allium bulgarium has a chandelier-like arrangement of tiny white, green and pink bell shaped flowers. Allium carnatum ssp pulchellum looks like a rosy fireworks display and A. flavum is a golden explosion with blue-green foliage. The John Scheepers catalog describes A. Hair as “a bit like an alien life form . . . with tentacle-like flowers.” This last would definitely be a traffic stopper during a garden tour.
Alliums are deer and rodent resistant. I have to say the fine stems and foliage of the drumstick alliums I have planted have been nibbled to nubs by deer long before they bloom. The other cultivars are bigger, sturdier, and smellier even when young and therefore more repellent.
Frittilaria imperialis Crown Imperial is another deer and rodent resistant show stopper. It is 36 inches tall, topped with an umbrella cluster of several pendant blossoms. Lutea Maxima is tall with a sunny yellow flower cluster and rubra maxima has a striking red-orange flower cluster.
Frittilaria meleagris, sometimes called the Checkered Lily has small, low maroon and white flowers. There is a white cultivar as well.
And of course, there are lilies. Not deer resistant, alas, but so beautiful. There are Asiatic lilies, species lilies, Chinese trumpet lilies, Orienpet lilies and Oriental lilies. All easily recognizable as Lilies, but differing somewhat in flower form, size and fragrance. Orienpets are a hybrid making use of the best aspects of the Chinese trumpet lily and the fragrance of the Oriental lily.
Lilium white henryii
The challenge for those passionate about lilies is the arrival of the lily beetle. However the University of Maine has done research that shows Asiatic lilies may be the most susceptible to the lily beetle while some Oriental lilies are more resistant. The most resistant cultivars they have identified were Lilium henryi ’Madame Butterfly’, Lilium speciosum ’Uchida’, and Lilium ’Black Beauty.’
The lily beetle is more active early in the season when the adult beetles that have overwintered in the soil emerge and almost immediately begin laying eggs. Neem oil and spinosad are organic controls that have been useful. Even so, if you have lily beetles close observation very early in the season and control, including removal by hand of the egg clusters and larvae, can save your lilies.
All bulbs need to be planted in well drained soil. Bulbs need phosphorus to bloom well which means that when planting bulbs the soil beneath should be amended with bonemeal or rock phosphate. To maintain the necessary nutrients the bulb planting should be given a fall helping of bone meal, two cups for a 10 foot square area. Repeat that feeding in the spring, when the shoots are starting to appear. A 10-10-10 fertilizer could also be spread. Whatever fertilizer I use, I try to spread it when rain is expected.
Sources: Your local garden center: www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com; www.oldhousegardens.com; www.johnscheepers.com ###
Between the Rows September 13, 2014
Encino lettuce is a tender green oakleaf. I always pay attention when a vendor like Rich Pascale of Shoestring Farm urges me to try something. I am really glad I took home a huge head of Encino. The end of August is getting to be the end of the season for Encino, but now only the beginning of my desire to grow it, or at least eat it. I found seed at Seedway and as far as I can tell I can buy 1000 seeds for $6.92. That is a few too many seeds for me, but Rich will grow it again next year, and I will be sure to visit the Farmers Market in Greenfield frequently. This is a beautiful and flavorful lettuce. Big heads. It makes really good salads.
Salad made with Encino lettuce.
There is nothing like a salad fresh out of the garden. And if not my own garden, it is perfect from a market farmer’s garden. Thanks Rich.
Canning Display at Franklin County Fair
Harvest season is upon us. This is the reward of summer-long labors. I’ve been talking to neighbors who are canning dilly beans and corn, making peach jam and drying herbs. One neighbor is seeing what she can rescue from the late blight that is hitting many tomato patches in the area. Harvest time can be hectic when so much produce is coming in at the same time.
I don’t do much canning any more. I depend more on the freezer, and a cold closet where I store winter squash. However, this week I tried out a new recipe for a turnip and beet pickle from my Ottolenghi Jerusalem cookbook. Delicious, and I don’t think I will have any trouble finishing the jar within the month – as recommended.
I always admire the canning display at the Heath Fair and the even bigger display at the Franklin County Fair. Those sparkling jars of beets, tomatoes and corn, of relishes and jams glowing with color and flavor are so inspiring. I am reminded of all the canning my Aunt Ruth did back in the 40s and 50s, turning the basement into Ali Baba’s cave. I also remember hot summer days and making sure I stayed out of the steaming kitchen with its bowls of produce and boiling kettles.
Preparing for the Fair and reading about the root cellar workshop that was held at the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield last weekend (unfortunately I was not able to attend) I got to thinking about the many ways food has been preserved over the ages. It is all very well to invent agriculture, but even that will only take you so far. Winter comes and the fields are covered with snow. How did the ancients preserve food?
One of the oldest methods of preserving food was drying. Dried grains have been found in ancient Egyptian and Chinese tombs. Most of us don’t dry grains anymore, but it is easy to dry beans and store them for the winter. I know people who air dry apple rings, and others who now use dehydrators. The skill of drying food has come a long way since 3500 B.C. when all you had was the sun and breeze, to the 21st century when you can have a little electric dehydrator on your kitchen counter.
Once fire was invented drying meat and fish took on the extra dash of smoking, adding an interesting flavor to the drying process.
Fermenting was also an early food preservation technique that resulted in the happy invention of beer and wine, but also the fermented milk drinks of Asia. We must also remember that when Johnny Appleseed was making his rounds his apple trees were intended to make cider. Hard cider. Fermented apple juice. Cider could be much more reliable than water for safe drinking in those days.
It is interesting to think how the ancients learned the rules of fermentation, and how to control the process for ever better flavor. In fact for every development in food preservation there must have been careful observation, and perhaps deliberate experimentation to make these techniques work dependably. They may not have come up with any ideas about the microbial action that caused spoiling, but they could observe that certain actions kept food edible for a longer period of time, as well as adding new flavors.
Pickling was also invented and used in ancient times. The first pickles were a product of fermenting. Real Pickles in our own neighborhood uses the ancient techniques of fermentation to make their array of pickles. I also have friends who make their own sauerkraut, another fermented food.
Most of us these days use vinegar to make our dilly beans or bread and butter pickles, or chow chow relish. When was vinegar invented? First you needed wine, but the discovery that spoiled wine could be useful was not far behind. Legend has it that 5000 years ago the Sumerians used vinegar as a cleaning agent as well as food preservative and condiment. Caesar’s armies drank vinegar and hot and thirsty 17th century colonists drank switchel, water, vinegar and a sweetener like honey, or maple syrup.
Heath root cellar – end of season
Another of the simplest ancient ways of preserving food is cooling, as Emmet Van Driesche explained at the Bullitt Reservation. Here in Heath we had a Cellars and Cave Tour this past spring, organized by the Heath Agricultural Society. We got to see how several of our Heath neighbors set up root cellars in their basements without the work and expense of digging a root cellar. The trick is to maintain temperatures above freezing and below 40 degrees.
My Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth had a big root cellar on their Vermont farm. When we bought a house in Maine there was a root cellar set up in the basement, equipped with rat traps. In confusion and dismay I asked Uncle Wally what I should do? “Set the traps,” he growled. We never used the traps or the root cellar because we moved to New York before the harvest was in.
Nowadays my own food preservation activities are limited. We hardly heat our upstairs (I require a cold bedroom for sleeping) and the guest room closet works well for storing cured butternut winter squash. There is the freezer for green beans and berries. Obviously I am lucky that I am not dependent on my own labors for fruit, vegetables and condiments to feed me during the cold season of winter.
Are you putting by any of your harvest?
Between the Rows September 6, 2014
Bouquet of Roadside Weeds
A bouquet of roadside weeds. My roadside. Quite lovely, don’t you think. Two kinds of aster, blackeyed susans, lots of goldenrod, tansy and a bit of a cheat – red highbush cranberry (Viburnam) berries and some rugosa rose hips. Mother Nature must love us a lot to give us these beauties in such abundance.
August 11, 2014
A cool cool August. That means the grass grows really fast, even though there hasn’t been any rain to speak of.
August 19, 2014
This has got to be one of the coolest Augusts ever. Nighttime temperatures in the 50s – and often taking a long while to warm up. The one rainfall came all at once. Torrents amounting to 2-1/2 inches on August 13.
August 26, 2014
The Lawn Beds don’t change very much, at least from this angle, but the field beyond has become more and more golden as the goldenrod comes into bloom. The weather remains cool.
Roundhouse – Franklin County Fair
The Franklin County Fair is always a celebration of family farms and gardeners. This view from the balcony gives only a hint of the perfect produce, creativity and business acumen of local farmers and gardeners.
Red Fire Farm at Franklin County Fair
Red Fire Farm is just one of the area’s most successful small farm, a testament to farmer Ryan Voilland’s farming skills, but also his people management and business skills.
Youth cattle judging at Franklin County Fair
The dairy farm is not yet dead in Western Massachusetts and these young people are keeping ideal of the family farm alive. Those are Ayrshire heifers. Beautiful Ayrshires are a rugged cattle breed suitable for our climate, efficient grazers and milk producers.
Youth sheep judging at Franklin County Fair
Sheep have long been a farm crop in this part of Massachusetts. These youngsters are keeping that tradition going. Our farms produce food AND fiber.
The United Nations has named this the International Year of the Family Farm to highlight the importance of the family farm all around the world. It is easy to understand the importance of local food security, even here in the U.S., because of the vagaries of extreme weather. Family farms are also vital to rural community development. In our own area we are lucky to have CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) supporting family farms