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Gardening in Small Spaces – Book Reviews

Container Gardening Complete

Container Gardening Complete by Jessica Walliser

Many of us  will decide that gardening in small spaces is something we must, and wish to do. A number of years ago I watched a television show about centenarians, and the likely reasons they were living such long and healthy lives. The interview with one man, a devoted gardener, particularly struck me. He lived in a house on a large piece of property that included a woodlot that he tended, and vegetable and ornamental gardens. As he grew older and his strength began to diminish and he decided he would have to give up working in his woodlot. As time went on, he became less mobile, he also gave up his vegetable gardens, and then his flower gardens. In response to these losses, he turned to window boxes where he would still get his hands in the soil and tend his flowers. He had found a way to keep doing the thing he loved.

He is not the only one who has ever had to scale down, but many don’t know how. Container Gardening Complete: creative projects for growing vegetables and flowers in small places by Jessica Walliser (Cool Springs Press $30) can provide a way.  For me the key words are complete and creative projects. Gardeners of any age will find lots of inspiration.

Walliser supplies information about the basics of gardening, soil (in this case potting soils) watering, fertilizing, managing pests and plant diseases. Anyone who has gardened before will be very familiar with this information, although it never hurts to go over the basics, or to be able to review cures for pest damage or disease.

Some of us are would-be-gardeners who have limited space but would like to take up gardening. Their question is how to begin. Besides providing every type of needed information Walliser also opens up the great world of containers. Containers come in all sizes from small ceramic bowls for succulents to large handsome containers of metal or resin, and magnificent containers for small flowering trees. We can also let our imaginations go wild as we consider what items we have around the house that can be repurposed and create a unique and possibly humorous container.

A major value of the book is the interspersed directions for how-to projects. We may be gardening in small spaces by there are ways of expanding those spaces. These range from simple trellises and many other supports, self-watering containers that are much less expensive than commercial containers, and vegetable growing bins. There is  also information about brand new types of containers like fabric Smart Pots, crop pockets that make use of pocketed closet organizers, and gutter gardens that call for roof gutters that can be attached to a sunny wall, filled with potting soil and small plants like herbs.

House Plants: The Complete Guide

House Plants: The Complete Guide by David Lisa Eldred Steinkopf

Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf (Companion House Books, $19.95) presents another way to enjoy green and blooming plants if you have no outdoor space. Many people who begin growing houseplants find that is an easy way to enter the gardening world.

This is an excellent book for the novice gardener beginning with instructions on how to examine a nursery plant carefully for disease or insect damage before buying it. This is followed by information about potting soil, watering, repotting and grooming plants, as well as how to handle chemical or non-chemical treatments for pests and disease.

A useful section explains propagating, beginning with seeds, a variety of ways to take cuttings from stem and cane cuttings, to every kind of leaf cutting. I surprised myself when I tried making begonia petiole leaf cuttings and ended up with half a dozen new healthy begonia plants. It seemed quite miraculous to me that a new plant would be created from a single leaf.

In fact, when I visited Andrews Greenhouse in December I admired and was fascinated by the flats of leaf triangle cuttings sending out new begonia shoots. A new plant from just a tiny section of the mother has been created. There are many mysterious examples in the garden – life will not be denied.

The major part of the book is given over to a catalog of more than  three hundred  plant varieties that provide all necessary information about size, light, and water needs, as well as how to handle them in the different seasons. Some common houseplants like pocketbook flower (Calceolaria) are not expected to last for more than one year, but others like Schefflera can last for a decade or more. Some are familiar, like philodendron, and others, like gunpowder plant with flowers that shoot out pollen are more unusual.

There is no denying that houseplants, many of which will clean the air, will make a house seem like a more lively home. Containers for houseplants can be standard terra cotta or plastic pots, or Container Gardening Complete might help you turn your container and its plant into a work of art.

Both the Container Gardening Complete and the Houseplant Handbook have clear and beautiful photographs that will give you new information, new ways of looking at plants, and new ways of displaying them. For new gardeners or small space gardeners, both these books are useful and enjoyable.

Between the Rows  January 27, 2018

Climate Change and Our Neighborhood Trees

Trees in the Chanticleer Garden

Trees in the Chanticleer Garden woodlands

Climate change is much in the news. There are questions about whether climate change, the warming of the atmosphere and oceans, is responsible for the recent violent weather. The number of particularly violent storms seems to be increasing. There was  Hurricane Katrina in 2005; a 2008 storm in Haiti that wiped out 70% of the island’s crops; Sandy in 2012 was the worst storm to ever hit New York City’ and hurricanes Maria and Harvey in Puerto Rico and the Houston area are storms causing billions and billions of dollars of damage, not to mention the human cost. Is global warming causing these storms?

While we all have to acknowledge that theories of global warning are multi-faceted and complicated, we also have to think about the different levels of responsibility and cooperation. We hear about the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement signed by many nations, but never ratified by the U.S. Congress. Fortunately, states and cities can make and pass their own laws and regulations about issues like the use of fossil fuels. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy have stated that the biggest natural climate solution is more trees.

Trees in Monk's Garden

New trees in Monk’s Garden at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Then we come to what our cities and towns can do to moderate climate change. We are fortunate that Greenfield has a program to plant street trees. In fact I am among several other residents on Beech Street who are working with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to put more trees on Beech Street. The town has a certain number of trees it can plant every year. Residents can contact the Parks and Forestry division of the DPW and ask to have their name put on the tree request list. Timing of the planting will depend on how many requests are already on the list. The town will then plant the tree on the tree strip if it is of adequate size, or on the resident’s lawn. It will also keep the tree watered throughout the first year.

Lilac Tree and Sycamore on Beech St

Lilac tree and Sycamore on Beech Street

Greenfield also has a Tree Committee, a non-profit volunteer organization promoting an urban forest in town and educating residents of the importance and value of trees. Last fall I drove up and down Haywood Street admiring the new street trees that were recently planted. The Committee works in cooperation with the DPW. Under founder Carolyn Maclellan’s leadership Greenfield was designated as a Tree City in 2002 by the Arbor Day Foundation. It still carries that distinction. You can learn more about the Greenfield Tree Committee at their website It was on their website that I was introduced to the fascinating Citizen Forester Newsletter which provides some really good reading.

I am proud to say that I volunteer with a group of women renovating the Energy Park gardens at the end of Miles Street. I have not been part of any tree planting there, but I have worked at maintaining some of the existing trees like the hawthorns with their red fall berries and the line of sassafras trees that rise over a bed of blooming asters in the fall. The trees, shrubs and flowers in the Energy Park are mostly natives that attract birds as well as pollinators like bees and butterflies. It is possible that a few more trees will be added.

So after all this talk about climate change and the interest of various groups to plant more trees, we might ask what it is that trees do that might affect climate change and the environment.

We have all heard and read reports of the rising amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Trees absorb and store carbon, CO2, and then release oxygen. Trees can also absorb polluting gasses like nitrogen oxides and ozone. According to a New York Times story   “One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year.”

Landscape architects and designers know the impact of the careful placement of trees on a domestic landscape. Trees can be planted where they will throw shade on a house and cool it, saving on air conditioner costs. Trees can also be planted as a windbreak thus keeping the house warmer in winter.

Trees shade and cool hard surfaces like driveways and parking lots. Most of us have wilted considerably as we walked across a sizzling parking lot on a hot summer day, radiating that heat into the atmosphere. There is a standard that says 50% of paving should be shaded. I don’t see a lot of parking lots that include trees, but I am happy to see more (small) parking lots that are shaded by solar panels.

Trees brake rainfall and keep hard rains from causing erosion on hills and slopes. They also help protect our rivers and streams because they filter the water that could otherwise carry pollutants.

There are many ways that trees affect the environment. They can also affect our interior environments by calming us with their beauty. Neighborhoods that have green and shady trees have been shown to have less violence. Businesses find that the more trees and landscaping around their stores, the greater foot traffic and profits. Studies have shown that hospital patients heal faster if they can look out at greenery.

I  give thanks to our town trees every day!

Between the Rows  January 27, 2018

Master Gardeners Spring Symposium – March 17, 2018

The Western Massachusetts Spring Symposium, Your Living Landscape, is coming right up. Mark your calendars. On March 17, 2018 Henry Homeyer will be the keynote speaker at Frontier High School in South Deerfield. Vermonter Homeyer is an expert on gardening in the Northeast and he talks with humor about life in the garden.

Registration form – Cost is $35 for the entire day; additional fee for optional lunch.
Register online (extra service fee applies) at WMMGA.ORG or by mail using the form below. Send mailed
registrations to: Lucy Alman, 27 Park Rd., Sunderland, MA 01375. Please make checks payable to WMMGA.
Preregistration is required as seating is limited. Register early to get first pick of workshops!

In addition to Homeyer’s talk Sculpting the Living Landscape, the Spring Symposium will offer a variety of workshops in the morning and afternoon: Don’t forget the workshops fill early.

Morning Session
A. Shrubs for All Seasons
B. Vegetable Gardening
C. Good Bug vs. Bad Bug
D. Pruning Tools – Selection and Care
E. Invasive Plants
F. Pollinator Habitat Gardens
G. A Garden Bounty Breakfast
H. Herbal Spa Workshop

Afternoon Session

I. Eat Something You Grew Every Day
J. Gardening for the Birds
K. Those Wildlife Pests!
L. New Perennials
M. The Ins and Outs of Starting Seeds
N. Backyard Blueberries
O. Trellis Making from Natural Materials
P. Pressed Flower Art from the Garden

In addition to Henry Homeyer and a variety of workshops vendors will be on site selling honey and plants and lots of books. The lunch is always delicious and there are snacks to be be had.

I’ve written about earlier Spring Symposiums here and here   and here.  Check it out and see what the Symposium offers.

Summer Tour of Chanticleer Garden Remembered

Shady seating at Chanticleer

Shady seating at Chanticleer

The Chanticleer gardens were created by the Rosengarten family beginning in the early 20th century; in 1993 it became a public garden and is considered one of the grand gardens of our country. On these frigid and snowy days I am happy to share my memories of a great garden on a blistering summer day last June.

The Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts arranged a tour for those gardeners who are always looking for more knowledge and inspiration. Chanticleer provides all of that and more.

Potted plants on Chanticleer patio

Potted plants on Chanticleer patio

It seems to me that how a tour begins is a good indicator of how it will reveal itself. We arrived at the house and got off our bus. After making use of the handsome restrooms we walked on and around the terraces, struck by the beauty and variety of  potted plants, exotic and familiar, fountains, walking from sun into shade. That was our experience all afternoon, going from sunny gardens like the Tennis Court garden, filled with riotous color, perennials and shrubs, that gave no hint of its prior life as a tennis court, and into the shady woodlands.

Chanticleer wildflower hillside

Chanticleer wildflower hillside

Soon we were on a sinuous elevated walkway that took us down a steep hillside all abloom with plants like Queen Anne’s Lace, poppies, cone flowers and many more that turned the hill into a fairy tale meadow. That walkway was also a lesson in caring for the environment and the visitors. First the walkway is beautiful with sculptured railings that are works of art, a permeable surface that allows rain to drain off the walk immediately instead of sending a river of water down to the bottom of the hill. In addition a drinking fountain was placed at a viewing spot on the walkway. A drink was very welcome on that hot day. How long has it been since you have seen a public drinking fountain outdoors? The Chanticleer staff seems to have given careful thought to the needs of its visitors; there were more artistic drinking fountains in other garden areas.

Drinking water fountain

Water fountain

The names of some gardens like the Ruin Garden, the Pond Garden and the Gravel Garden are self explanatory, but they do not begin to explain the effect and mood. The Ruin Garden looks like the remnants of a (small) stone castle garlanded with vines, plants growing up and between paving and small trees adding to the shade of the stone walls. There is even a large stone “tank” possibly suggesting a water source for the castle, or possibly built just because water is such an important feature of any garden.

The Gravel Garden is just that, planted with miniature bulbs that bloom in the spring, with butterfly weed, lavender, cone flowers, daisies, poppies and all manner of perennials blooming in their own season. Stone steps lead down another hill from which there is a wonderful view of the Pond Garden and the Serpentine, a graceful path of arborvitae hedge leading to “an almost pagan semi-circle backed by upright gingko trees — a marriage of stone and wood, dedicated to Flora.”

Ruin garden

Ruin garden

On that hot day you can image how happy we were to wander in any or all of the named woodlands. The Asian Woods and Bell’s Woodland are very different in their plantings, but both are wild shady spaces with trickling streams. The Asian Woods features native plants from Korea, Japan and China, but the feel is very much of an American woodland. We learned that this is the one garden that concentrates on a particular type of plants.

Bell’s Woodland would feel very familiar to any of us and concentrated environmental sustainability. The plantings focused on native plants, and I was fascinated by the practical path which was made permeable by the use of shredded tires.

plant list home

“Mushroom” home for plant list

The design of the woodlands and gardens made it very easy for the visiting gardener who is already thinking of what ideas or plant suggestions they can take away with them to use in their own gardens. One of the thoughtful features of the gardens are the plant lists placed in protective containers like that of what seemed a large mushroom growing along a path, or some other artistically created container. For those of us who wish we had bought a list while we were visiting, the Chanticleer website provides all the plant lists for each garden.

The website also provides a bloom list so that if you are a person who loves bulbs you can check when your favorite bulbs are blooming.  Or any other favorite type of plant. The Bridge of Flowers also has a bloom list on its website, and I often wish that visitors from away would use it. I feel sad when I get an email in mid-October asking if the roses are still in bloom.


Chanticleer tourists on a hill

Chanticleer is a grand garden maintained by a skilled and creative staff. Most of us do not have grand gardens, or a staff, but summer garden tours can open our eyes to new approaches. We see details that we might borrow, even if we have to do some tweaking. Now that snow is falling and wind is blowing I am remembering and thinking about my own summer garden.

Between the Rows   January 13, 2018

Chanticleer is located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, 30 minutes from Philadelphia. It opens Wednesday, March 28, 2018 and closes November 4. Adult admission is $10.



Emily Dickinson – Poet and Gardener

Emily Dickinson's flowers at NYBG exhibit

Emily Dickinson’s flowers at NYBG exhibit

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was born into a prominent Amherst family so everyone knew who she was. She attended the Amherst Academy and went on to the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (as it was called at the time) for a period before she went back home, to garden and write poetry. She was more known for her gardening than her poetry in those days; now she is more known for her poetry and her reclusiveness. In the spring of 2010 I experienced both at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) exhibit titled Emily Dickinson’s Garden – The Poetry of Flowers.

This exhibit presented Emily Dickinson as gardener and botanist as well as a poet, and the ways her observations of nature and love of flowers fed her poetry. The original garden was no longer in existence at the time of this exhibit but research and a close reading of her poems were the basis for recreating the gardens around the Dickinson house.

The exhibit also included a conservatory, a reminder of the small conservatory Emily’s father Edward built adjoining the dining room. Here were small placards with poems as well as some of the exotic houseplants that would have been sheltered in the conservatory.

Dickinson felt the appeal of flowers as a young girl and by the time she was 14 she had completed an herbarium, a collection of over 400 pressed and dried flowers, complete with proper botanical names, bound into a book. This was not an unusual pastime for a girl during those times, but it indicates the start of her knowledgeable approach to gardening. A printed facsimile of that herbarium was published, and Harvard University, where the book now lives, has made it available to the public online at$1i.

Tulips at NYBG Emily Dickinson exhibit

Tulips at NYBG Emily Dickinson exhibit

The NYBG exhibit was set up in the great Enid Haupt Conservatory and presented a section of the house exterior surrounded by garden beds separated by paths. The effect is that of a charming New England garden in spring with tulips, narcissus, forget-me-nots, primroses and lily of the valley blooming beneath lilacs, dogwoods and magnolias. In fact many of the plants in her garden were ground covers which run so quickly over the ground choking out weeds. There were occasional signs with names of flowers and appropriate poems.

          There I have ‘shares’ in Primrose “Banks” –         

          Daffodil Dowries – spicey “stocks” –

          Dominions – broad as Dew

          Bags of  Doubloons – adventurous Bees

          Brought me – from firmamental seas –

          And Purple – from Peru.

Grandpa Ott morning glories at NYBG Emily Dickinson exhibit

People may sometimes think of Dickinson as a difficult poet but I think this is a delightful poem touching on the way primroses and daffodils increase every year, and even the part bees play in the garden.

Another poem, an ode to a dandelion, one of my favorite flowers, celebrates spring just as I do when I see the first dandelion.

          The Dandelion’s pallid Tube

          Astonishes the grass –

          And Winter instantly becomes

          An infinite Alas –

          The Tube uplifts a signal Bud

          And then a shouting Flower –

                                                                 The Proclamation of the Suns

                                                                That sepulture is o’er.

By chance a book about her gardens, with garden tips, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A celebration of a poet and gardener by Marta McDowell, was given to me years ago. McDowell’s book concentrates on the garden, and the flower poems that quite clearly tell of Dickinson’s planting chores from planting seeds to harvesting of “grape – and Maize.” This is an excellent book attaching the realities of the garden to Dickinson’s poems.

Of course, in addition to gaining some insight into Emily Dickinson and her poetry, such exhibits and books supply a different kind of inspiration to us individually – plans for our own gardens. Nowadays, we can visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst and stroll through the gardens that have been designed and planted using knowledge of the plants that were originally in the garden, or likely to have been in the garden. In this high tech world visitors can bring their smart phone to the garden and connect to an audio tour as they follow the paths.

Dickinson’s garden was not an exotic garden and most of us will likely have at least a few of her flowers in our own gardens: violets, daisies, peonies, morning glories, marigolds, zinnias, asters, taking us from spring to fall. At the Museum we can even buy packets of seed collected from the gardens in the fall.

Zinnias at NYBG Emily Dickinson Exhibit

zinnias at Emily Dickinson exhibit held at NYBG

When I look at my own roses, morning glories and autumnal chrysanthemums I can imagine Emily, and the generations of other women that have come before me, wandering their garden paths, sometimes with poetry on their minds, sometimes simple appreciation of the loveliness of the flowers – and sometimes just checking off items on their to-do lists.

I wrote more about the Emily Dickinson/NYBG exhibit here

Between the Rows   January 20, 2018

Snow Day on Beech Street

Norway Spruce

Snow Day for the Norway Spruce at dawn

I knew it was a Snow Day, no exercise class, when I woke. When I went out to take this photo at 6:30 am the plows had not come through and it was still snowing. Not as much as predicted, but enough to close the schools and the Y.

river birch and snow

Snow and River Birch

Time for coffee and reading before the day really  got under way.

Sycamore and Lilac Tree

Sycamore and Lilac Tree

The sun was hiding, but sharing some of its light. In town there is no room  for the wind to create sastrugi, but I remember those waves fondly.

Son Phlip and his snow shovel

Wasn’t it clever of us to buy a house right around the corner from No. 1 Son. And he insists that he loves shovelling – and lawn mowing. My husband did make it out before the job was done and the two men finished up in no  time.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – January 15, 2018

Rain Flood Ice

Rain Flood Ice

Bloom Day is here, but there are no blooms outdoors.



But for the first time in a couple of years I have blooms in January.  The amaryllis that is opening was an early Christmas present and it grew rapidly. The amaryllis with  buds about to open spent the summer out in my garden and is giving me great gratification Two other amaryllis bulbs that spent the summer in the ground are coming along – slowly. I have hopes.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day.

My Winter Garden in Color

Red winterberries and osier dogwood

Red winterberries, osier dogwood and arborvitae in my winter garden

My frigid winter garden is peaceful, blanketed with snow. Mysterious tracks speak of the creatures that wander across the landscape, leaving hints of their dancing in the bright moonlight, or shifting shadows of the breezy day. Tiny birds frolic near the Norway spruce, and seem to be feasting on the spruce seeds left for them on the snow.

My town winter garden is small, and very different from the fields of Heath, where the snow danced with the wind, jiving its way down the hill and into the woods of Heath.  However, no matter whether you have an urban plot or country fields, the winter garden needs no hand or back to tend it during the colder and colder days of the new year.

What the winter garden does need is thought in spring, summer and fall about which plants can add interest during the cold and snowy months. That interest can be created in numerous ways. Color comes to my mind first because it immediately makes itself felt. Because I wanted color in my winter garden as I chose shrubs for my low maintenance and wet garden I first chose dogwood shrubs. I bought the aptly named red twig dogwood with its bare crimson branches that stand out elegantly against the snow.

More and more people have become familiar with red twig dogwoods, Cornus alba, with cultivar names like “Prairie Fire”, and “Midnight Sun” as well as others with varying sizes and shades of red.

Cornus sanguinea cultivars like “Arctic Fire” are smaller than the C. alba. Not all of the Sanguinea family are solely red. “Midnight Fire” is quite golden turning red at the tips.

Cornus sericea is the family of osier dogwood shrubs. I have one that lacks a cultivar name, but it has both red and yellow-green branches. I have always called my third cornus a yellow twig. I believe it to be “Flaviramea”. When the sun is shining on it I find it even more stunning than the red twig . It is also extremely tolerant of my wet soil. The lower branches that touch the ground easily sucker, and I could have babies to share.

Gold winterberries

Gold winterberries

Berries are another way of adding color to the winter garden. Again, because my garden is wet I chose swamp loving winterberries.  One is the necessary male, two produce red berries, and one has surprising golden berries.

The former owners of my house planted two beautiful English hollies. One, the female, is quite large and filled with scarlet berries, while the other, the male, is somewhat smaller, and bears no berries. If I had neighbors that wanted to have a berried holly, they might not even need the male. Pollinators can easily travel around a whole neighborhood.

English holly

English Holly

A berried tree I have come to admire in Greenfield is the hawthorn that produces lots of red berries. The berries certainly provide winter interest, and feed the birds.

In addition to berries some trees have the advantage of unusual bark. I have planted two river birches which have a peeling sort of bark with cinnamon tones. This is a tree that loves the wet, and the bark is just as beautiful as that of the white birch.

River birch bark

River birch bark

When I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum’s wooded Monk’s Garden I was fascinated by the paperbark maple, Acer grisem, which has bark in shades of brown and reddish brown that peels away to reveal the new cinnamon-y bark.

A friend gave me a beautiful book for Christmas, The Winter Garden: Reinventing the Season by Cedric Pollett (Francis Lincoln publisher) that shows the drama of these plants in the garden, especially when planted in masses, which is to say in groups of two or three.

Pollet took beautiful photographs of many winter gardens, most of which are planted on a scale larger than many of us will enjoy. These are English winter gardens where the weather is much milder than ours in New England. Even though we share many plants the blooming period might be different because of that milder weather.

One of the especially helpful aspects of the book is the section given over to photographs, descriptions, and needs of many dramatic winter garden plants. One of the  trees that captured my attention was the maple Acer conspicuum.  It certainly would be conspicuous in a garden because during the spring and summer the bark is a shade of orange, turns pink in the fall, and scarlet in mid-winter. However, Pollet says it is hardy to -11 degrees, and right now that is feeling a little iffy in this year’s glacial winter.

I have not mentioned conifers because I do not have much experience with them. We did plant a couple of Green Emerald arborvitae next to the majestic Norway spruce at the back of our yard and they are doing quite well, in spite of the fact that the soil there is wetter than conifers appreciate. These are popular privacy or hedge evergreens, and that is their function in my garden.

Evergreens certainly make a statement in the winter garden, and they are not always green. In fact, conifers are so disparate in color, texture and form that they need a whole column of their own, but some other day.

For now I close, with wishes for happy gardens of every sort in 2018.

Between the Rows   January 6, 2018

New Cultivars and Old Favorites for the 2018 Garden

Super Hero Spry Marigold

Marigold “Super Hero Spry”

New cultivars and old favorites plants are a part of every garden. When I was a Girl Scout we sang a song with the line “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver but the other gold.”  As I look out at my garden and look at the dawning of a new year, I am thinking about the new things I may plant and use in the garden, but I know there are certain things that I will always keep.

This is the time of year when the catalogs can fill our mailboxes, or our emails, with colorful photos of new varieties of familiar plants. The All America Selections has chosen 12 special edible and ornamental plants to recommend for 2018. They chose Pak Choi Asian Delight, a beautiful Marigold Super Hero Spry and Canna South Pacific Orange which is a real stunner.

The All America Selections (AAS) program was created in 1932 to provide a testing service so that gardeners would know which new seeds were truly improved and would be successful over most of the country. The 2018 Canna South Pacific Orange can be grown from seed, attracts pollinators, is more vigorous and more uniform than other varieties with more basal branching. They are also smaller and suitable for containers.

"Asian Delight" Pak choi

Pak Choi “Asian Delight”

‘Asian Delight’ produces a beautiful mini 5-7 inch head with tender white ribs that has been rated vastly superior to other varieties because it does not bolt as fast as others which means it will have a longer harvest season.

I love marigolds and the ‘Super Hero Spry’ is a compact 10-12 inch French marigold with beautiful colors that needs no deadheading. Plants that are self cleaning, that need no deadheading, are one of the great gifts of hybridizers.

The Perennial Plant Association has named the ‘Millenium’ allium its Plant of 2018. It is a compact allium with rosy purple rounded clusters of blossoms. It blooms in late July and August. Alliums are easy care plants, increase nicely and attract pollinators, especially butterflies. Last year the PPA chose ‘Asclepius tuberosa’,  butterfly weed, as one of its winners because it is a butterfly magnet. Gardeners are becoming more aware of the importance of pollinators and their needs.

Because Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an employee owned company, does not use GMO seeds, and has dependable organic seeds it is one of my favorite seed companies. This year they announced that they are adding 150 new offerings, many of which are new varieties.

‘Valentine’ is a new bright red grape tomato, rich in the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Along with its rich flavor it has good resistance to early blight.

‘Fino’ is a new fennel with a larger, heavier bulb with good bolt tolerance. This is a good vegetable for succession planting because it can be planted in summer for fall harvest.

‘Carmine’ larkspur is a new variety of an old favorite with deep pink flower spikes between 9-12 inches long. It is useful in flower arranging, and attracts hummingbirds.  I have grown larkspur, but somehow never realized that all parts of this plant are poisonous. If you have young children or pets you need to be aware of this.

Of course, there are the new ‘olds,’ those heritage varieties that have their own new place in the sun. The Seed Savers Exchange has been around since 1975, with the goal of saving heirloom seeds, sharing those seeds with gardeners and working to preserve the biodiversity of our food crops. It is important to keep many types of a vegetable in production because we never know what blights or diseases may arise, or what genes will be needed to create a new hybrid.

Seed Savers Exchange does have a seed bank with 25,000 plant varieties, but it also grows seeds, and makes them available to gardeners to grow for their own use, and to save themselves. Nowadays you can sometimes finds Seed Savers seeds on sale in familiar packets at the nursery center, but you can also become a member of the Seed Savers. Membership grants you a 10% discount at their online store, subscription to the quarterly Heritage Farm Companion, free or reduced admission to gardens, and conservatories through the American Horticultural Society.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is relatively new on the scene but is an amazing company started by Jerre Gettler in 1998 when he was only 17. Now he owns Baker Creek Seeds in Missouri, Comstock Ferre and Company in Connecticut, and the Petaluma Seed Bank in California. He also instituted the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa California which is possibly the world’s largest annual heritage food event.

The Baker Creek catalog is over 300 pages with hundreds of seed varieties from around the world. This year some of the ‘new’ seeds are Big Horse Spotted corn from Lima, Peru, the Achievment Runner Bean from Britain, and Aonaga Jibai cucumber from Japan.

Of course, there will always be NEW plants, and we will want to try some of them. We gardeners are great scholars and we are always ready to learn. But we also treasure our own old favorites. And that is a good thing.

I wish you all a beautiful, productive and delicious 2018 in your garden,

Between the Rows   December 30, 2017

Resources:;;;  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;

December Celebrations for All

Our Christmas tree 2017

Our Christmas Tree 2017

December celebrations for all. Today is December 23. The Hanukkah celebration has concluded, Christmas is two days away, and Kwanzaa is three days away. December is a month of celebrations with traditions that lead us through the days. As I prepared for our own family Christmas I suddenly realized that the celebration of each of these holidays involves plants, plants which are essential in one way or another.

Hanukkah is a moveable feast because, like Christian Easter, it depends on the sun to set the celebratory date. This year the eight days of Hanukkah began on December 12. I celebrated a day early when I read a story about Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, to first graders at Four Corners School. The dreidel played a part in the story – and the children taught me how to play dreidel.

The dreidel is a four sided top with four Hebrew symbols for the words nun, shin, gimmel, and hey. A common gelt in this game is chocolate coins and every one starts out with an equal number with a pot of gelt in the center. The player who spins the dreidel and get nun, doesn’t get or lose any gelt; when the shin symbol comes up the player gets  two gelt; gimmel and the player gets all the gelt in the center; and hey makes the player put two gelt in the pot. As he started to play with me, one very serious boy, explained that this is not a game about winning. And I could happily accept the idea that it is about sharing the chocolate gelt.

Playing dreidel was a rousing way to conclude my reading session, but the book made clear that the celebration was a commemoration of the victory of the Maccabees over a greater Greek army in 165 BC. The Holy Temple had been greatly damaged, but when the temple was purified and ready for rededication there was only enough holy oil to keep the seven branched menorah burning for one day. The miracle was that this bit of oil kept the menorah burning for eight days, when more holy oil was ready. The oil was olive oil, and olive trees were an important part of agriculture and cuisine in Israel.

The solemn lighting of menorahs, and the joy of frying up and eating delicious latkes could not happen without olive oil

Christmas has many plant symbols, but the most common might be the Christmas tree. As early as the 12th century Paradise Plays were performed in Germany in December on what some considered the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Set in the Garden of Eden, where fir trees were arranged and ornamented with fruits, the play told of their sin and banishment, but it ended with the promise of a Savior.

There is another story, not proven, that Martin Luther was walking home through the forest on Christmas night. He was struck by the beauty of the evergreens, with their boughs touched with snow, and the brilliant stars above. When he arrived home he put up a little fir tree and decorated it with candles for his children to celebrate the Christ Child’s birth.

However it began the German Christmas tree custom was carried to England when Prince Albert married Queen Victoria – and thence to other parts of the world including the United States where there is a substantial business in growing Christmas trees..

Kwanzaa is a new December celebration created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Kareng, a professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Originally, Dr. Kareng thought to replace Christmas for the black community and bring them together in their own special celebration, but the meaning shifted over time. Now it is a holiday that the black community can celebrate in ways referring to their own original culture without denying their religious beliefs. The celebration focuses on family, community and their culture, which includes the Swahili language, a lingua franca language used in many parts of Africa allowing the different areas to communicate with each other.

Like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is a week long celebration beginning on December 26 and ending January 1. A kinara, candle holder, on the holiday table with seven candles reflects the Seven Principles including unity, self-determination, cooperation and creativity.

The Kwanzaa celebratory table is set with the colors of black, red and green, the colors signifying the people, the struggle and the future. Corn, Muhindi, is placed on the table, a symbol of the children and the future. Kwanzaa is such a new holiday that the menu is not as specific as that for Christmas and Hanukkah but it might include chicken, hoppin’ john made with black eyed peas, rice and some ham, or sweet potatoes in any form. These are foods that anyone who enjoys Southern soul food would welcome at a Kwanzaa feast.

I hoped to describe a Muslim December celebration but when I spoke to Liza Lozovaya, the Muslim Chaplin at Mt. Holyoke College she explained “there are no Muslim holidays celebrated in December . . . In Islam we follow the lunar calendar so there are no fixed dates for any holiday. Ramadan and both Eids will be celebrated in December with the movement of the dates – but not at this point.”

And so, today as I prepare for my Christmas family celebration, I wish joy to all in their celebrations, in December and every month of the New Year.

Between the Rows  December 23, 2017

Since my column ran in the Greenfield Recorder on December 23, I got a nice note from Diane Kurinsky. She corrected and added to my description of the dreidel game, and really explained what the game was about. As the little boy told me, it is not about winning.  I did want to let you know that your explanation of what a dreidel is is slightly incorrect.  The four sides of the dreidel have the four Hebrew letters :  nun, gimmel, hay and shin.  These letters stand for the Hebrew sentence:  ness gadol haya sham which means, a great miracle happened there.  It is meant to remind us of the miracle of the lights.  It is said that in ancient times when studying the Torah was forbidden by the Greeks, the dreidel was used to disguise Torah study by allowing players to make it look like they were playing a game instead of discussing scripture.  I am always happy for corrections and additions so I look forward to more of these comments from all my readers.  Happy New Year!