Dear Friend and Gardener

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


Bloom Day September 2015 – Here and There

Anemone Robustissima, cosmos, Achillea The Pearl

Anemone Robustissima, cosmos, Achillea The Pearl

Bloom Day in Heath

Bloom Day in Heath has wild asters and cultivated asters and autumn is in full swing. The photo above shows a tangle of Japanese anemone ‘Robustissima’, annual cosmos and Achillea The Pearl. But there is more.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose

I will let dependable the Thomas Affleck roses that are blooming less floriferously – The Fairy, the Meidelland roses, and Champlain, one of the Explorer roses.



A surprise – foxglove

I couldn’t resist including this photo of a surprise foxglove – a reminder of the  generous bloom for a good part of the summer.

Sedum 'Neon'

Sedum ‘Neon’ with bee

I only caught ‘Neon’ with one bee, but the sedums, along with garlic chives in bloom now, physostogia, and bee  balm all lure lots of pollinators.




I don’t know the name of this golden yarrow with the heavy silver foliage, but it is the latest blooming yarrow in my garden this year.

Bloom Day in Greenfield

Hydrangea 'Firelight'

Hydrangea ‘Firelight’

The hydrangea ‘Firelight’ is standing in for the other hydrangea, ‘Limelight’ and ‘Blushing Angel’ which are also blooming. They have had a pretty good year and were almost the first shrubs I planted in June.

Dahlia 'Firepot'

Dahlia ‘Firepot’

I planted three dahlias in the rose and shrub border, counting on them to fill up a lot of space with color, and they have come through. The roses all seem to be settling in safely. We’ll see how they come through the winter.

OSO Easy rose 'Paprika'

OSO Easy rose “Paprika’

I couldn’t resist this bright orange-y rose when I saw it in bloom in the nursery. It is one of the small, and newer disease resistant roses that is on the market. I have it planted in a spot that is very sunny and has slightly better soil.

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye weed is a native plant but this is a hybrid with variegated foliage. It is a big plant and I think it will look great next year.


Artemesia lactiflora

Artemesia lactiflora

Artemesia lactiflora, which I also have blooming in Heath, doesn’t photograph very well, the flowers are so fine, but it is a great plant with dark stems and foliage, and a good increaser.


Alma Potschke aster

Alma Potschke aster

Alma Potschke blooms in Heath too, but the former owners of this house kindly left this generous clump for me. I love Alma.  And so ends Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day in Heath and Greenfield

Thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day and click here to see  what else is blooming around the country.

Made in the Shade Garden

Julie Abranson

Julie Abramson

Julie Abramson now lives with a graceful shade garden, but it was not always so. Like so many of us, Julie never had much interest in her mother’s garden when she was young, but over the years she has tended three very different gardens of her own. Her first garden in Albany was cheerful. “I was inexperienced, but this garden was very floriferous. I knew nothing about trees and shrubs,” she told me as we sat admiring her very green garden filled with trees and shrubs in Northampton.

Her second garden was on a hillside with a cascade of plants including a cottonwood tree that filled the air with cotton-y fluff when it was the tree’s time to carry seeds off to produce more cottonwood trees.

I was especially interested in this, her third garden, because it is a mostly a shade garden. Julie moved to her Northampton house 12 years ago and began her garden a year later by removing 25 trees. Even so, this half acre garden grows beneath the shade of maples and conifers, and smaller sculptural trees like the pagoda dogwood.

As I struggle with creating a garden design, I asked Julie for her advice. She explained that there are certain principles that can guide plant selection and placement. “Repetition, and echoing or contrasting of foliage types are basic rules. I look for relationships between the plants, looking for arrangements that please me,” she said. “Respond to the site. My garden turns out to be a series of large triangles dictated by the landscape.”

As we walked around the house and into the gardens, she pointed out examples of these principles. The sunniest garden on the gentle south slope has shrubbery including Little Devil ninebark, arctic willow and spirea which give weight to the repetition of garlic chives, nepeta and blue caryopteris. A boulder adds to that weight and the natural feel of this garden.

Pieris, Leuchothoe and geranium

Foundation planting: Pieris, Leuchothoe and geranium

Julie edited the foundation planting she inherited to make it less dense and more interesting by layering. One section starts with tall pieris that blooms in the spring, and in front of that is the graceful broadleaf evergreen leucothoe which also blooms in the spring. Hugging the ground is geranium macrorrhizum with its paler foliage. These layers contrast different foliage forms, textures and color.

I loved the long daylily border on the sunny side of the house which was ending its bloom season. Julie told me a secret. This border has an early bloom season when the daffodils planted  in and among the daylilies bloom. After bloom the daffodil foliage gets lost in the early daylily foliage and the gardener never needs to endure browning straggle, or worry about cutting back the foliage too early depriving the bulbs of new energy.

Of course, it was the shade garden that was of particular interest to me.  It is the shade garden that Julie admires from her study, the dining room and the screened porch. This is a more natural woodland garden planted with many natives and other shade-loving plants. Earlier in the season there is more color when shrubs like fragrant clethera and perennials like astilbe, heucherella and others are in bloom.

Right now the garden is mostly green. “I am a collector and have many different plants, but I also like calmness. I try to integrate the two sides of who I am with two sides of the garden.” She pointed out that the entry to the shade garden is a kind of tapestry where one groundcover blends into another. “This is a calm way to taper the garden,” she said.

Julie confesses to a love of mounding plants like the caryopteris and garlic chives in the sunny garden and arctic willow, hostas and heucherellas in the shade garden. There is a repetition of burgundy, and green and white foliage. “The mounds are distinct but they relate to each other. Your eye keeps moving because you can see a repeat of color or form just beyond,” she said.

Shade Garden Path

Shade garden path

She has curving paths edged by mass plantings of ajuga, hostas and bergenia that keep leading the eye along. There is a sense of movement. “The curve makes me very happy,” she said.

She struggles with the dry, root-y soil. Her first year she spread 6 inches of compost and planted in that, which is not recommended practice, but she said it worked well for her.

Julie has a simple routine for maintaining the garden. In the spring she gives her garden a thorough weeding. Then, with some help, she spreads a layer of compost over the whole garden, followed by spreading layer of wood chip mulch, again with some help. After the mulch is applied she considers the main work of the garden done. In the fall she edits the garden, dividing, removing or adding plants. “It is not just the garden itself, but the whole process of gardening that gives me pleasure,” she said.

Our style, our approach, to our gardens carries through from the way we choose and arrange our plants to the way we care for it. Although Julie gives great thought and care to the arrangements of plants the effect is of unstudied grace. Gardeners are very generous and share knowledge and experience, as well as plants, but somehow no two gardens are ever the same.

I came away from Julie Abramson’s garden with new ideas and examples of how to arrange the plants in my new garden, but we can both be confident that my garden will not be a copy of hers.

Between the Rows September 5, 2015

Autumnal Container Arrangements


White mums

White mums at 5 Acre Farm

The Heath Fair is over. Facebook is full of photos of kids going off to college and kindergarten for the first time. You can hardly get into the supermarkets for the ranks of rigidly potted containers of mums by the doors. It must be fall. Time for an autumnal arrangement.

Chrysanthemums are certainly the iconic autumnal plant, but other plants can also perk up our summer weary gardens or containers. I took a tour around the area looking at what is still available, or newly arrived for fall. I stopped at Home Depot and saw all the trays and racks of plants that looked pretty good. I pulled out an identification label and was surprised to see a clear statement that the plant had been treated with neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systemic pesticides that kill a broad number of insects including bees and other pollinators. Systemic pesticides are taken up by every part of a plant so if an insect stops by for a bite or two or a sip of nectar it will be poisoned and die. Rob Nicholson, greenhouse manager at the Smith College Lyman Plant House, says they no longer use any neonics because wild pollinators come in and out of the greenhouse when the vents are open. Plant House staff do not want to poison insects that spend most of their time on important labors out in the world.

The Home Depot label says that neonics are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.  I cannot see that this is quite true. A visit to the EPA website shows all the work being done to evaluate pesticides like the neonicotinoids. I certainly choose not to buy plants that have been so treated. I very much appreciate that Home Depot does label its plants and warn us.

Five Acre Farm Greenhouse

Five Acre Farm Greenhouse

I finally made my way to Five Acre Farm in Northfield which has an array of perennials like coral bells and salvia, as well as an array of annuals to use in autumnal arrangements. There are mums, of course, in a rainbow of colors. There are also annual asters, hibiscus, marguerite daisies, ornamental peppers, verbena, zinnias and the daisy-like sanvitalia. All of these look fresh and with lots of bloom left in them, while some, like the asters, are just coming into bloom. I was particularly impressed by the fresh, healthy looking Bull’s Blood beets, Swiss chard and several varieties of ornamental kale that I would not have thought of for an autumnal arrangement.

It is hard to find fresh looking annuals at this time of the year but Five Acre Farm has made it a point to have them so that gardeners can create a bright look. Annuals that have seen better days in the garden can be pulled up and replaced with new vigorously blooming annuals.

Flowers are not necessary to have a handsome autumnal arrangement. Foliage plants can make their own statement. We might be able to find foliage plants in our own gardens. This is the time of year that we might be dividing up some of the perennials in our garden. Divisions of coral bells, Hakone grass, hostas, northern sea oats, blanket flower and others can find a happy place in a container arrangement. At the end of the container season they can be separated again, and put back in the garden to resume blooming next year.

You might also find perennials on sale at garden centers. If they are in pretty good shape, or in a small pot, they might be happy in a container arrangement. Again, when the season is over, they can be put in the garden to grow and bloom next year.

My autumnal arrangement

My autumnal arrangement

Staff member Joan Turban gave me advice as I went through the greenhouse and gave her approval when I made my selections.  My central tall plant is Mahogany Splendor, a dark leafed annual hibiscus. Surrounding it is an ornamental pepper in shades of yellow and orange and a bit of purple. The Great Yellow sanvitalia has small yellow daisy-like flowers while the Zahara Sunburst zinnia is rich orange. At the last minute I bought a cream, green and pink coleus to add a little light to the arrangement. Finally I included two gold and orange lantana plants to droop prettily.

I loosened the roots of these plants as I placed them in my large container, especially of the hibiscus which was quite root bound. I watered all the root balls, just for good measure before I crowed the plants in together. For the first time I think I might have done a good job of jamming and cramming. I gave the container a good watering and set it in front of our new house where it can recuperate in the shade. In a few days I think I will give it a sunnier spot by the back door.

Since we had the Rose Viewing this year I haven’t paid much attention to other blooming plants in the garden so it felt very good to put together this autumnal bouquet.

Do you usually put together an autumnal arrangement in your container?

Between the Rows   August 29, 2015

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ seems to be a really hot plant this summer. Several of these flowers are in bloom on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, and I have a couple blooming on my hellstrip in Greenfield.

Visitors to  the Bridge have written and asked the name of this beautiful shrub. It took me a while to identify it because  I think of it as an annual and not a shrub. However, Monrovia Nursery calls it a shrub and in zones 8-10 it is a perennial.  It has a very airy habit and the two tone flowers are delightful. Under ideal circumstances it will reach three feet tall with an equal spread.

Monrovia calls this a  waterwise plant because it does not need much watering once it is established. It loves the sun and heat. I have planted this on my curbside garden which gets a lot of shade during the day so it is less floriferous right now, but on the Bridge of Flowers where it gets full sun it is still blooming energetically. I will find a sunnier spot for it next year.

The photo is from Monrovia by Richard Schiell.


Drought Tolerant Perennials

Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers and phlox
My drought tolerant perennials: Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers, and phlox

I need water loving plants, but I have not forgotten that many need drought tolerant perennials. Some gardeners have soil that drains quickly, and we all fret about summer months when no rain falls, or have periods of very hot weather of the kind we’ve enjoyed recently. Fortunately there is a long list of plants that do not mind long periods of hot and dry weather. Some of them may surprise you.

One surprising family of drought resistant plants are the heucheras, coral bells. Coral bells will grow in full sun, but they also welcome some shade in our area. The coral bell flowers of their name are not always very notable, but it is the foliage that is the real draw. Heucheras now come in a myriad of colors from bright lime green to rich burgundy and even black. The cultivar names tell it all from Champagne and Electric Lime to Fire Chief and Grape Soda to Chocolate Ruffles and Black Taffeta. It is the foliage that makes heucheras so welcome all season long.

Fall, when temperatures are moderated, is a good planting season for heucheras as for many perennials that you might find on sale, or that you may be dividing in your own garden.

I was also surprised to see that Baptisia, false indigo, is also drought tolerant. Although I have it in my own garden, which I very rarely water, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the baptisia and most of my perennials don’t suffer noticeably from the dry summers we have had. Baptisia with its clover-like foliage and erect racemes of blue flowers blooms in the spring. There are white and yellow varieties as well. Full sun is about all they need to be happy. They develop long tap roots so once established they are not easy to transplant successfully.

Japanese anemones bloom in late summer and into the fall. I always think the white or pink blossoms look very fragile, but they have three to four foot strong wiry stems and have never minded our recent dry summers. They have been slow to take hold in my garden, but once they do they make generous clumps. I have seen waves of Japanese anemones shining in the autumnal sun at BerkshireBotanical Garden. It makes a stunning display.

A sunny and sun-loving flower is heliopsis, the oxeye perennial sunflower. It will grow to three or four feet tall and bloom for a good part of the summer, especially if you deadhead spent blossoms. It’s a relative of helianthus, the true sunflower. It attracts butterflies and is useful as a cut flower.

Coreopsis, tickseed, is a family of golden yellow flowers ranging in size from three feet like Crème Brulee, but most range from 12-18 inches tall. Shades of yellow abound, but the new Sienna Sunset has shades of apricot and sienna. Coreopsis needs no special soil, attention or watering.

It is no real surprise that lavender which grows in the Mediterranean climate of Provence in France is drought tolerant. I remember Elsa Bakalar’s lavender hedge which sometimes gave her trouble because it was too wet in the spring. I could never keep straight the names, but my favorite was the classic Hidcote which has deep purple blossoms, but she also grew Munstead which was a paler shade. There are larger varieties. Provence grows to more than two feet tall in a generous clump. Of course, it is the unique fragrance of lavender that makes it such a popular plant. Flower stalks can be harvested and dried to make sachets or potpourri.

Achilleas, yarrow, come in many shades from white Snowsport to the deep red of Red Velvet. Moonshine, with blue-grey foliage and gentle yellow blossoms is an old favorite as is the tall Coronation Gold with its large flower heads that dry well and are wonderful in fall arrangements.


Happily there are many annuals that can keep a mixed border in bloom all season. Some like zinnias, marigolds, cleome and cosmos easily tolerate hot, dry summer days. Nasturtiums can crawl over dry soil and create a kind of living mulch without demanding regular watering.

There are drought tolerant vines. Sweet peas are beautiful annual vines that don’t mind dry soil once they are established.

Clematis is a perennial vine that comes in many shades and flower forms. The rich purple jackmanii that twines over so many mailboxes and lampposts is familiar and loved, but there is the new Red Star which produces double red blossoms in early summer and then in early fall.

The trick with growing clematis is to get the pruning schedule under control. There are three groups of clematis with three pruning schedules. Catalogs or nurseries will always mark which group a particular plant belongs to. I just read a mnemonic that says Group A means prune AFTER bloom; Group B means prune BEORE bloom in early spring and Group C means CUT back hard in early spring to 12-18 inches from the ground. There is a little more to it than that, but a good beginning.

There are many other suitable plants, salvias, catmints, penstemons, Russian sage, asters and coneflowers. We should remember that even drought tolerant plants need to be watered regularly after they are planted until they are established. It is good to know that whether we have a wet or a dry garden, we will always have many choices.

Drought Tolerant annual zinnias

Between the Rows   August 22, 2015




Views from Two Windows

View from the window
View from the Bedroom Window in Heath

The views from two windows show what we are leaving and where we are going. Over the past couple of years I have been documenting the view from our bedroom in Heath, marking the changes in the seasons. These photos of the  foreground view of the lawn gardens, the mid-ground view of the fields and the background view of the hills are what we have enjoyed living with, admiring and working with for 35 years.  We continue to enjoy and work on this plot of land, but our focus is broadening to encompass a new garden in the making in Greenfield.

View from the window
View from the window in Greenfield

The West Garden in Greenfield does not yet show the graceful beds and paths that I imagine, but there are hints that can be seen. The placement of the waterloving shrubs is visible, but we have planted perennials that are too small to make a photographic impact. Most of these perennials like Siberian and Japanese irises, mistflower, culvers root, joe pye weed and others are also wet tolerant if not water loving.

View from the window

View from the Greenfield window

The latest addition to the West Garden is the new fence that changes the whole feeling of the garden. It defines the spece so that we can really see the spot that is intended for our blueberry patch, as well as support for some climbers. By this time next week I expect/hope to have the plantings done. The last bit of loam will be gone, but there may still be some compost. I don’t think it will take long to use up.

What next?  I’m not sure. We are taking this step by step.

Everything Changes – Even the Garden Rules

River Birch tree bed
River Birch tree bed

Everything changes. Our whole life is changing, but there are smaller changes in the world, like changes  in cultivation rules, come to all gardeners with some regularity.

We have been planting trees and shrubs in Greenfield and have followed new rules, and rubbed up against others unhappily.

One old practice, if not a rule, about planting trees was that you could leave on the wire cage if it came with one, and that you could leave the ball and burlap if it came to the garden that way. I don’t really understand the rationale about leaving those constraints, but I do know of a case where a person had a landscaper plant several trees and they were all dead or dying the by the following year. A different landscaper was brought in to investigate and discovered strangled roots caused by the intact wire cage. This did not seem like a surprising outcome to me.

Even planting a tree with burlap holding soil and the roots together needs to be undone. The burlap can be cut away, and beyond that, the roots should be disturbed. The situation is similar for container grown trees. I bought two container grown trees, and when I finally got them out of the container it was clear that there was very little planting medium left and that substantial roots and just grown round and round inside the container.

We dug planting holes that were at least twice as wide as the container, but not much deeper. The soil in our new garden is heavy clay and I simply could not bring myself to use this soil without adding compost. The newest thinking about planting trees and large shrubs is that if you add fertilizer or large amounts of compost the roots will be happy growing in the planting hole until they need to grow into the surrounding soil, which they do not find enticing. Also, large amounts of compost will rot over time and the tree will sink slightly.

So I confess, I did add some compost, and a measure of loam to the removed soil. I also loosened soil within the planting hole. Before planting I cut and untangled the roots as best I could and gave the root-bound mass a vigorous watering with the hose that also helped loosen the roots. The disturbed roots will then start growing new roots. I made sure not to plant the tree too deeply. The planting hole more resembled a bowl than a pit.

The new thinking about what to do after the tree is planted and watered properly is to spread a layer of compost and mulch around the newly planted tree. It has been pointed out that this is the way Mother Nature enriches the soil, from the top down. Because my design plan is to have wide tree and shrub beds separated by curving paths I have been using the lasagna method with compost, cardboard and mulch over the whole area of the bed.

In this case I have not completely followed the rules and we’ll have to see how things come along. So far so good, but that is not proof. Indeed it will not even be proof that breaking the rules is proof that the rule is not correct. I always say there are many mysteries in the garden, and other people say you can not always claim that result B was caused by action A. Sometimes it is hard to pin down a cause.

The final part of planting a tree is staking it. Or not. I certainly remember the careful directions for staking a tree carefully. I think I may even have staked a tree or two, with firm wire and old hose length and stout stakes, but usually I was too busy or too lazy and most of our trees did fine without a stake. Now the official word is out. Staking not needed. A tree swaying in the breeze is getting just the exercise it needs to grow strong.

Recently my husband and I have been having what we like to call discussions about the benefits of mulching with arborist wood chips. Last year I got a couple of big free loads of chips from the arborists clearing along the side of the road. My husband retains the view that wood chips will tie up the nitrogen in the soil and make it acidic.

I counter by quoting Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott Associate Professor at WashingtonStateUniversity, author of The Informed Gardener and other books, and a participant in The Garden Professors ™ blog. According to research arborist wood chips were one of the best mulch performers in a group of 15 in terms of moisture retention, temperature moderation, weed control and sustainability.

One of the reasons for their benefits is that arborist wood chips are made up of bark, wood and leaves. The physical diversity of these materials reduce compaction that will occur with sawdust or bark mulches. Different elements in wood chips mulch break down at different rates and so create a diverse environment that encourages diverse biological and bacterial life in  the soil.

Often wood chips can be acquired at no charge. Using local wood chips will keep them out of landfills, and this is another environmental benefit.

I am using some bark mulch in my new Greenfield garden beds, but I am bringing down as much of my Heath wood chip pile as I can. I am working on improving my soil structure and adding some enrichment. Mulch applied before weeds arrive will keep the weed count down – just exactly what I am trying  to do now.

Science is always refining its knowledge. Advice is always changing, and while it can be hard to give up old habits and methods, I try to keep up with new research and new ideas about the best ways to garden.

Between the Rows   August 15, 2015