Marsha Session’s Conifers
Pines, firs, junipers, spruces and others are all conifers, cone-bearing evergreen trees. Within this large family there are many sizes, from low growing groundcovers, to very tall trees, with many types of foliage and many foliage colors from green to blue-green to gold. Evergreens like pines, firs and spruces have needles, while junipers, cedars and arborvitae have scalelike foliage.
Recently I visited two friends with conifer collections. Both bought their plants locally at different nurseries so they could choose the exact plant they desired. One friend has made use of low-growing conifers for the edges of her in-town garden, while the other lives in Heath and chose large trees which she planted about 20 years ago. It seems that conifers can fulfill many garden fantasies and visions,
Weeping Nootka false cypress
Marsha Sessions lives on a Heath hill surrounded by open fields, but she had a vision of a grove of evergreens on a rise. Her husband Norm created a hill for her; then she went shopping. For this planting she wanted evergreens that would make a statement and chose a collection of large conifers, trees and shrubs. Of course, as most of us have experienced, plants bought 20 years ago have lost their names.
The conifers have grown substantially over the years. In fact, a couple of them have grown so large that there is some crowding. One of the trickiest parts of gardening is estimating how wide and how tall our plants will grow over time, and making allowances for that growth, even if we think it looks a little skimpy at first.
Sessions has chosen different types of conifers, from dense shrubby forms to tall graceful forms. It was the tall skinny tree that I always found most fascinating as I passed by on my rounds. I believe it might be Abies alba Green Spiral, a tall silver fir tree that has a very narrow, graceful and slightly pendulous form.
On the other side of her grove is another large tree with a different form of grace. I think this tree might be a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis Pendula, a tree with scale-like foliage. This is a majestic dark green tree with horizontal branches, but drooping leaflets.
In contrast to these two trees she has a couple of shrubby gold threadleaf false cypress, another Chamaecyparis. There are several cultivars of this familiar bright evergreen available in local garden centers or nurseries. Sessions has created a brilliant collection of conifers with contrasting foliage, form and color.
It is a tribute to the hardiness of all these trees that they have thrived on an open hillside in the higher elevations of Heath for 20 winters. They get full sun, except for what shade they might throw on each other over the course of the day.
In ShelburneFalls, Maureen Moore has made use of low growing conifers in her lawn-less gardens. Marsha Sessions evergreen grove stands in majestic isolation, but Moore’s garden huddles around her in-town house, protecting it while providing a colorful delight for those who pass by.
Maureen’s low-growiing conifer groundcovers
Moore told me that most of her evergreens are junipers, with a few pine and cypress. “The low ones along the walk are a combo of Nana juniper, Blue Rug juniper, Siberian cypress, and another (nameless) crawler, a very nice light green.”
It is the range of color and texture that she likes as well as their amenability to pruning, and ease of being controlled. Moore has also bought her plants locally.
Both Nana and Blue Rug are low growing junipers with blue-green foliage. They like sun and are undemanding of soil as long as it is well drained. Junipers in general are tolerant of drought and are not relished by deer.
Nana may reach a height of one foot, and spreads out to five or six feet, but Blue Rug is even lower, reaching a height of only six inches.
An All Gold juniper will only grow to a foot tall and will spread about six feet in 10 years. This is another tough plant, drought resistant in a golden shade that can really brighten the garden.
Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) is also known as Russian arbor-vitae. You can see that some of these plants have common names that have little to do with their proper name; this is not a proper cypress or juniper. It has bright green lacy foliage which becomes a purple-brown in the winter. It can reach a height of a foot or a little more and will spread vigorously to 10-12 feet. This makes it suitable for a slope. It is also one of the few conifers that will tolerate some shade.
I have given only hints about the richness of these two gardens, but I hope I have whetted your interest in exploring the large world of needle conifers.
While I prefer to shop locally for plants as much as I can, I also like to scroll through online plant sites because they show a full range of cultivars, and provide so much additional information about the plants I am interested in. Two dependable online sites for information are missouribotanicalgarden.org, and greatplantpicks.org, maintained by the ElisabethC.MillerBotanical Garden in Seattle. While neither of these institutions are local, they provide good plant photographs, and a great deal of their information is valuable to us in the PioneerValley. Greenfield is listed as being in hardiness zone 5b which means temperatures down to 15 degrees below zero. This classification is not the be-all or end-all of requirements for success with a plant, but it is a good start.
Do you have conifers in your garden? Wouldn’t you like to have more?
January 12, 2014 32 degrees at 7 am Windy day
A year ago I determined that I would keep a Weather Review for the year. The purpose of the Weather Review was an aide memoire because I can never remember whether last summer was droughty – or was it the year before. I wasn’t able to stick to a strict schedule of photography, but here we go for a quick run through the year. January 2014 was a month of extremes with early morning temperatures that ranged from -10 on January 4, to 38 on January 14.
February 2, 2014 34 degrees at 7 am
February was cold with lots of snow. Snow on February 5, 8, 13, 14, 15, snow showers until February 20 when we got a wet snow fall. Just cold!
March 9, 2014 20 degrees at 8 am and sunny
March was cold, single digit temperatures until March 8 dawned sunny and warm 40 degrees! Perfect for Heath’s first Cellar and Cave Tour. March 12 temperatures rose to 50 degrees with rain! But then plunged to single digits again. We finished the month with warmer temperatures and RAIN.
April 6, 2014 32 degrees and sunny at 7 am
April brought freezing temperatures, and rain, but also warmth and sun. Temperatures up from 38 to 52 and 70 degrees. However Easter dawned cloudy and 32 degrees, but got as high as 56. Planted pansies.
April 16, 2014 20 degrees at 7 am Two inches of snow
At least April snow doesn’t last long.
May 12, 2014 Mid day temperatures in the 90s
You can’t see the bloom from this distance, but bloom there is. Forsythia, daffodils, epimediums. And after a heavy rain, 2 inches, the night before the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale on May 16 went off without a hitch in the sun. Many days with temperatures in the 50s. Frost occasionally threatened but the lowest recorded temperature was 40 degrees on May 29.
June 6, 2014 58 degrees at 7 am
Almost time for the Annual Rose Viewing. There is color in the garden, but no roses yet. The month began hot with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Mostly moderate temperatures in the 70s during the rest of the month. Perfect weather for the Annual Rose Viewing on June 29
July 16, 2014 75 degrees at 7 am showery day three inches of rain at night
July begins with a heat wave. Temperatures in the 80s. Torrential rains on the Fourth of July. All festivities cancelled. The last three days of the month were the coolest with temperature at 58 degrees each morning at 7. The highest temperature in the 90s on July 23. Thunderstorms. Look here and see how happy the flowers were.
August 19, 2014 54 degrees at 7 am
After a hot July, August was comparatively cool. Many temperatures below 60 early in the morning. The first day of the Heath Fair temperatures barely got over 60. I recorded 80 degrees on August 26, the hottest for the month, but we did spend 4 days in Vermont. Maybe we missed the hot weather. Lots of flowers in August, as you can see.
September 21, 2014
No recorded temperature for September 21, but it was cold and I was sick and spent the day by the woodstove. As in June many early morning temperatures were around 60 degrees. Torrents of rain on September 6, over 2 inches. September was a month of pleasures, visits to friends, a granddaughter’s wedding and the beginning of autumn color.
October 6, 2014 36 degrees at 7 am
Our first hard frost! Moderate morning temperatures mostly in the 60s until October 20 gave us 30 degrees. The coldest morning of the month. It is time to start thinking about the end of the garden but in mid-month there is still a lot to enjoy.
October 14, 2014
The First Snow. At least a snow like this, a couple of inches in October, doesn’t last too long.
November 28, 2014
On November 28th, the day after Thanksgiving, we left the family throng to race home because our neighbor’s Facebook page announced 17 inches of snow and 31 powerless hours. Fortunately, the long power outage was oddly scattered and did not hit our house. Our pipes were not frozen. Beautiful, isn’t it?
December 9, 2014 30 degrees at 7 am
Snow is pretty, but sleet, freezing rain and ice are not. Still morning temperatures are often around 30 degrees. The coldest day recorded was 15 degrees on December 30.
December 25, 2014
Christmas Day in the morning! And so ends my Weather Review for 2014. When I think back to our second December in Heath when the temperatures dipped below -25 every night for a month, I have no complaints.
Birch Tree before the “Blizzard for the Ages”
All was quiet and beautiful after a slight snowfall, but the “Blizzard for the Ages” was predicted. Everyone prepared to hunker down. Supermarkets and libraries were unusually busy as hunkering has many aspects. Pots of water set aside along with firewood and flashlight batteries. A state of emergency was declared for Massachusetts and all non-emergency workers told to stay home.
The snow, a fine dry snow, did not begin in Heath until 10 pm on Monday, January 26.
“Blizzard for the Ages” 10 am January 27, 2015
This morning I woke to 12 degree temperatures and stiff breezes blowing the fine dry snow off the roof, and across the fields. The “Blizzard for the Ages” seems to be a bust in Heath – for which we are very grateful. The town plow arrived, and we could leave our hill and explore, but I think we will just stay by the fireside.
Rhododendron ‘Calsap’ a broadleaf evergreen
Rhododendrons are probably the largest group of broadleaf evergreens that are familiar to most of us. They can play a big part in adding substance and interest in the garden during the winter. I do confess it took me a while to understand the cigar roll shape those broad leaves take when the temperatures are very low, but I accept that even plants must protect themselves from the elements as best they can.
Rhododendrons come in a whole range of sizes and colors from low growing varieties like the pink ‘Yaku Princess’ to brilliantly colored shrubs that will tower over us. After visiting Jerry Sternstein, whose rhododendron hillside in Hawley opened my eyes to this range, I have added rhodies to my garden. ‘Boule de Neige’ is an old white variety, ‘Calsap’ is white with a speckled purple flair at its heart, and the deep red ‘Rangoon’ is not as tall but it spreads wide in maturity.
Rhododendrons need an acid soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. Its feeding roots are close to the surface and so need to be protected from heat and drought. Those feeding roots also explain Sternstein’s rule about planting, “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” Rhodies do not need a big deep planting hole, but after planting in a dimple a layer of mulch is good practice. Mulch helps keep the roots cool and moist.
Rhododendrons are considered a plant that likes at least some shade, but Sternstein’s rhodies flourish in the sun. It seems that some rules can be broken. The height of Sternstein’s garden is usually Memorial Day – hundreds of rhododendrons in full bloom.
Mountain laurels, Kalmia, have most of the same requirements as rhododendrons, rich acid soil, and dependable moisture. They do require some shade, especially protection from summer afternoon sun. The hybrids intended for home gardens usually range about three to four feet tall with about that much spread. The white and pink of the native mountain laurel is beautiful, but there are other shades and combinations in the hybrids that you will find in catalogs. ‘Carol’ has dark pink buds that open to pale pink petals,‘Firecracker’ has intense red buds that open to white and pink, ‘Peppermint’, as you might expect has candy stripes. ‘Minuet’ is slow-growing reaching three feet after ten years with bicolor blossoms of cinnamon and white. Again, be careful planting. Just a dimple.
Ilex Blue Princess holly
I hadn’t ever thought of them that way, but hollies are counted among the broadleaf evergreens. I have planted Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ and they have proven hardy even on my windy hill. All hollies are dioecious which means they require a male and female plant to produce fruit. Actually, you only need one male for several females. ‘Blue Princess’ is the more vigorous grower, but she needs her little prince to produce those red berries.
Ilex opaca’Compacta’ is a native holly that is similar in form to the shiny leaved hollies we expect at Christmas, but the foliage does not have that sheen. This variety will grow slowly to six or eight feet.
Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ is an inkberry cultivar. Inkberry is a broadleaf evergreen with fine small foliage and little black berries in late fall. It likes sun, but can tolerate some shade and doesn’t mind the wet. It can even be used as part of a rain garden planting. It grows slowly to a height of about four feet with an equal spread. It is a neat plant, and like other Ilex is not much bothered by deer or rabbits. Good to know.
Yucca filamentosa is another plant I don’t think of as an evergreen, but so it is. It looks like a southwestern sort of plant with its rosette of spiky golden leaves. In midsummer it sends up a five or six foot spike with panicles of fragrant, creamy white flowers. The spiky form is so unusual in a New England garden that it makes a great focal point. The fragrance is a surprise and delight.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachusetts’, better known as bearberry, is a very low-growing evergreen; this variety has small leaves bordered in white. The words uva and ursi refer to the fact that berries are prized by bears. Birds relish the berries, too. A sunny spot with good drainage is ideal for this native groundcover. Don’t worry about fertilizing; bearberry doesn’t need it. Red berries appear in the fall, and are often used as Christmas decorations, as holly is.
To a great degree our gardens in winter can be a simple blanket of white – if we have cut back all the perennials, removed the shriveled annuals and weeded carefully. We are lucky if we have trees with interesting sculptural limbs, but without broadleaf evergreens or conifers the effect can be a little skimpy.
Next week I’ll discuss conifers, those cone-bearing evergreens like pines, spruce and junipers.
Between the Rows January 17, 2015
boxed amaryllis bulbs
I suppose my amaryllis mystery began on December 11, 2014 when I rather belatedly bought boxed amaryllis bulbs ready for planting and blooming. I knew they would not bloom in time for Christmas, but glamorous amaryllis flowers are welcome in January and February as well.
I potted all three bulbs up as directed. I did notice that the Athene white amaryllis seemed to have been pruned back more severely or more recently than the other two. I kept all three bulbs together in our living space which is the warmest part of the house.
Amaryllis on January 19
As time passed the three bulbs showed various rates of growth, most especially Athene. If you look closely you can see that I marked her pot with a little W in expectation of a white flower. That bulb never produced any foliage but did send up two bud shoots, one of which began to open a couple of days ago. We will let the mis-labelling pass. That has happened often enough in the garden, indoors and out. It is the rates of growth that amaze me. One bulb has produced two bud shoots with one blooming; one has produced foliage and two bud shoots, one of which is beginning to open; and the third produced foliage and two bud shoots of very different heights.
Is there a solution to my amaryllis mystery? Is it just c’est la vie? or is there a reason? All three bulbs had exactly the same care and conditions, although we have to assume kind of difference in the striped bulb now blooming. Any ideas?
Growing Healthy Houseplants
Some of us may have gotten gift houseplants during the holidays. If we are not experienced indoor gardeners this can cause some anxiety. “Now what do I do?” the recipient may wonder when the gift givers have left the premises. I personally think it is perfectly acceptable to treat any gift plant as a living bouquet, which will last longer than cut flowers, but still a bouquet that will have a limited life span.
At the same time, I know that a little information can help keep a gift houseplant alive for many months, and possibly years. Just as in the outdoor garden, if you want an indoor garden you must choose the right plant for the right place. Does your plant need sun, or does it require a northern light? Does it need frequent waterings?
Storey Publishing has put together a series of useful little books called Storey Basics. Ellen Zachos is the author of Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely and Control Pests ($8.95) which has exactly the basic information needed to provide proper care to a gift plant, or the plant you give yourself. Beverly Duncan, of Ashfield has provided the black and white drawings throughout the book.
Growing Healthy Houseplants is organized to give you basic information about lighting, watering, potting soils and fertilizing in general and then goes on to talk about maintaining plants which includes a section on making more plants and managing pests.
The final section talks about ways to display houseplants, and provides specific information about an array of flowering and foliage plants from ferns and begonias to ficus trees and mistletoe cactus. Orchids, too.
The days are growing longer and brighter. If you didn’t get a gift plant, enjoy a minor splurge and choose one for yourself. Flowers are cheerful, and foliage plants are an optimistic addition to a room in winter. This book will set you on the road to months and years of pleasure. A plant or two (given appropriate light) will add a note of vibrant life and welcome to any room.
Whether you have houseplants or not, most of us gardeners are starting to leaf through the catalogs that arrived even before Christmas. What new directions will our garden take this year?
Guan Yin Mian tree peony
I love to shop for perennials locally, but local garden centers are necessarily limited in their choices. They can only carry so many varieties of rhododendron or iris or rose. I recommend a look at mostly local specialty nurseries like the ones I’ve listed below – in alphabetical order by plant.
Silver Garden Daylilies (www.silvergardendaylilies.com) run by Richard Willard has over 400 daylilies now located on Pickett Avenue in Greenfield. It is often possible to choose your daylilies while they are in bloom so you can get exactly the colors you want.
Noted plant hunter Darrell Probst has been finding rare epimediums in China for many years. This beautiful shade loving ground cover with delicate flowers is also known by the name fairy wings. The nursery, Garden Visions Epimediums (www.epimediums.com) in Templeton sells other shade loving perennials like iris cristata. It is open to the public only on select weekends in May.
Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain is operated by Deborah Wheeler and her son Andrew Wheeler. Their specialty is Japanese iris which bloom in July. They usually have open digging days that are announced. When I bought my white Japanese iris from Andrew he said it didn’t need to be planted where it was wet, but it should be planted where it could be watered regularly. Good advice.
Joe Pye Weed’s Garden (http://www.jpwflowers.com) in Carlisle specializes in Siberian irises, but also grows versicolor, crested and species irises as well as primroses. There is an online catalog with photos, or you can request a print catalog for $2, refundable with your order.
Nasami Farm (www.newenglandwild.org) in Whately is the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society which has its main office and the famed Garden in the Woods in Framingham. Nasami sells an array of native plants, perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees on weekends in the spring and fall. With all the interest in the importance of supporting our local food web, more and more people are making a special effort to make sure at least some of their plantings are natives.
Not quite so local is Fox Hill Lilac (www.lilacs.com/) in Brunswick, Maine, but it offers scores of lilac varieties and the catalog gives information about fragrance as well as color and size. I cannot imagine my own garden without a lilac or two.
A luxurious plant in the garden is the tree peony. Unlike the familiar herbaceous peonies, these have a shrubby structure that does not die down in the fall. Although the large blossoms look fragile, the plant is very hardy and blooms earlier than herbaceous varieties. Klehm’s Song Sparrow nursery (www.songsparrow.com) offers a large variety of tree and herbaceous peonies.
A very large collection of rhododendrons can be found at WhitneyGardens nursery in Washington state (www.whitneygardens.com). They also offer azaleas, mountain laurels and other plants. PJM rhodies are very pretty and very hardy, but there are so many other varieties and colors, it is a shame to limit yourself.
Whatever new plants you add to your garden this year, take the time to find something that might be a little unusual – and yet no more difficult to care for. ###
Between the Rows January 10, 2015
Snowflakes on the car window early this frigid morning. And the photographer’s hands.
Snowflake Bentley will tell you more about snowflakes and photographing snowflakes. Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells the wonderful story about a Vermont boy born in 1865 who loved snowflakes and learned how to photograph them.
For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
Do you treat your Christmas Poinsettia as an annual, and throw it way when it finally loses all those beautiful bracts, or do you care for it, baby it, and suffer its dormancy in order to bring it back into glorious bloom next December?
Can you guess which approach I take with a Christmas poinsettia?
I’ll give you a hint. This is my second poinsettia, a gift from my husband. I left my first one in the car. Overnight. Temperatures down to 10 degrees.
Digging Deep by Fran Sorin
In her book Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening ($14.95) Fran Sorin makes the point that we are all creative creatures. Every baby ever born learns something new every day, laughs at something new every day. That creative urge can be tamped down in dozens of ways from an early age. Remember the coloring book and the stricture not to color outside the lines? Remember the frown when you couldn’t help it, or just wanted to color outside the lines?
Digging Deep is about garden design and planning and planting. Sorin shows us ways to create a healthy and beautiful garden that is unique and our very own. She also shows us that digging in the dirt and connecting with nature in a very physical way releases the other creative impulses that may have been discouraged.
Digging Deep is a perfect book to use as a guide as a new year begins. What do any of us want as we look ahead? A lot. We want to enjoy the love of family and friends. We want adventures. We want to make things better at home or work and we want to learn more and have fun. All those things will take imagination and resourcefulness, the elements of creativity. All it takes is a little confidence.
When we are lacking confidence in the garden Sorin takes us through the stages of creativity: awakening, imagining, envisioning, planning, planting, enjoying and completing. I think awakening may be the biggest first step. I know a number of people who have turned down the invitation to ice skate, bake bread, knit, build a trellis because when they tried any of those things it wasn’t perfect. They fell on the ice, the bread didn’t rise, the knitting got knotted and the trellis collapsed. It can be hard to live in spite of the fear of seeming foolish or incompetent. It takes time and patience to learn something new.
Sorin takes her time in teaching us how to begin visualizing our own garden, trusting our own instincts, and owning our own style. She suggests different styles from funky to romantic to minimalist. The question is what style or combination appeals to you? How do you see yourself in your garden, with friends and alone?
Then we come to the more practical advice about actually building soil, choosing plants, waiting while they grow, and making necessary changes. Nature will bring change, and you will see the need for change. At the conclusion of each chapter there are things To Try, or lists of equipment ongoing chores.
The final chapters are for enjoyment and celebration. You would not think gardeners would need to be reminded to enjoy and celebrate, but sometimes we cannot turn off the busy button.
I’m older now, and more apt to sit in my garden chair and appreciate what Mother Nature and I, and my husband, have accomplished, but I am not beyond needing a reminder to stop, breathe and enjoy. Sorin’s conversational style is also a joy to read, and re-read, in quiet moments.
Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual by Roger Marshall
For those whose creative juices are still bubbling away Roger Marshall brings us The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual ($24.95). This readable and encyclopedic manual begins with a review of the different types of greenhouses, warm and cool, and their pros and cons. It is obvious that many gardeners are not satisfied with two or even three season gardens because I have seen more and more greenhouses, modest and grand, going up in our region.
Growing in a greenhouse requires more than your outdoor skills. No longer are you limited to planting in soil. Hydroponics and aquaponics require new skills and techniques.
Many local greenhouses or hoophouses are used for raising vegetables through the winter. Marshall gives full information about growing 70 vegetables, but he opens up who new worlds of plants that are more easily grown in a warm greenhouse than a sunny windowsill. Chapters on growing fruit, ornamentals like flowers and foliage plants, specialty plants like cactus, bromeliads and orchids all suggest new opportunities for experiment and fun.
The colorful photographs of all the systems and beautiful plants are inspiring. Many photos give clear information about how to manage certain techniques.
In case you need a little extra encouragement to get a greenhouse Marshall even suggests ways it might make you some money.
Any garden venture requires maintenance, cleanups, management of bugs and disease. Marshall gives clear, brief instructions how to manage all the every day aspects of greenhouse ownership.
If you are dreaming of the delights of having a greenhouse, read this book first. It will help you make decisions about every aspect of greenhouse ownership.
Now that 2015 is here, what are you seeing as you gaze at the blank calendar pages? What opportunities do you imagine will present themselves? Will you grab them?
Of course, you will! You are a gardener! ###
Between the Rows January 3, 2015
Books in the Great Room
Where do you keep your books for the reading season that follows the delightful chaos of the holidays? I will show you my bookshelves – or at least portions of the ranks of bookshelves in my house. There are about 44 feet of bookshelves in the Great Room. This section includes nature refernce books, mysteries, essays and cookbooks and books on cooking.
Cookbooks by the dining table
This array of cookbooks is next to the dining table that also serves as a worktable. This is probably the most used collection of cookbooks in the house.
More cookbooks, with an emphasis on baking
When we remodeled the kitchen a couple of years ago I gained shelf space for more cookbooks (and the dictionary which must always be at the ready for family ‘discussions’) with an emphasis on baking.
Books in the downstairs sitting room
This is just one section of bookshelves in the sitting room – and you can see it hold more than books. Culinary liquers that can’t fit in the kitchen and Christmas is not quite over at our house which accounts for gifts waiting for more chaos.
Bookshelves in the bedroom
A motley collection of books lives in the bedroom – fiction, essays, mysteries, and non-fiction.
Garden books in the office
My husband and I share a tiny ‘office’ under the eaves, but the books are all ‘mine.’The garden books in this section of office bookshelves have to share with reams of paper, envelopes, toner, etc.
Ever since I learned to read, winter has been a welcomed Reading Season. Where do you keep your books for the reading season? For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.