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Dear Friend and Gardener

Shades of Green

Greenery on the Bridge of Flowers

Shades of Green on the Bridge of Flowers

Every garden, vegetable or ornamental, includes many shades of green, and yet so much of our attention is on color. We look for blooming trees and shrubs, we consider how to combine colors in the flower garden and we even welcome unusual colors in the vegetable garden – rainbow chard, purple carrots, nearly black cherry tomatoes. And yet green is the overarching color in our gardens and requires consideration in its own right.

Having said I will focus on low growing plants with green foliage today, it must be said that many of the plants I mention will also have flowers. However, flowers often appear for just a short period of the season.

In early spring the first plants to make themselves known are ground covers like lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, and foam flower, Tiarella cordifolia. Lady’s mantle is famous for the way it collects drops of rain water on its gray-green scalloped leaves. It is the fine hairs on the foliage that account for the velvety soft color, and the plants ability to turn drops of rain or dew into a jeweled adornment. It produces airy chartreuse blossoms on fine stems in late May or early June. It is a foot or so tall and each plant will spread to about two and a half feet. It is happy in sun or dappled shade especially if the soil is moist.

Tiarella cordifolia

Tiarella cordifolia

Tiarella cordifolia is a clumping plant just under a foot tall. It will send out runners and spreads beautifully. Its bright green leaves are also scalloped, but smaller than those of lady’s mantle. It blooms in May, sending up airy racemes of pink or white flowers that will rise a foot or more above the foliage. The blooms can be snipped off when they begin to die to keep the plant neat. Tiarella thrives in part or full shade and prefers moist soil.

Ginger

Ginger

Wild gingers also make excellent ground covers. There is Asarum canadensis which is a native ginger. The stemless dull green kidney shaped foliage will not grow more than a foot tall. It does produce a small brownish blossom but it is not notable or very noticeable. I have Asarum europaneum, which is not native, but whose leaves are shiny and leathery. It stays at a height of six inches and spreads slowly. Both asarums will grow in shade or part shade and prefer moist or even wet sites.

While I have been concentrating on plants that welcome moist locations I also have a spot for epimediums, sometimes called bishop’s hat, which thrives in dry shade. Garden Visions nursery in Templeton offers an amazing array of these sturdy little plants with airy blossoms that appear in the spring. I have E. rubrum with a reddish border on the green foliage and delicate pink flowers, as well as E. sulphureum which has yellow flowers. The heart shaped green leaves are handsome into the fall.

I do not grow hostas. In Heath hostas were a losing battle with the deer, but the truth is I do not like the blossoms and that kept hostas out of my garden. I know, I know. I could just cut off the blossom, stalks, and now that I am in town, maybe I will. The truth is there is a world of color, size and texture in the hosta world.

A few years ago I was on a garden tour in Buffalo and environs. We made a stop at renowned hosta expert Michael Shadrack’s fabulous garden with its enormous collection of hostas and daylilies. Hostas are not groundcovers, but they do cover a lot of ground at the edges of mixed beds or as an important statement of their own.

Hostas come in a full range of green from deep dark green, bright green, golden green, blue green, and many patterns of variegation. They also come in a full range of sizes. As I was going through my Shadrack Pocket Guide to Hostas I came upon a single large Liberty hosta which can grow to 40 inches wide with leaves “dark blue-green turning green, widely margined with golden yellow turning ivory-cream toward the mid-rib.”

Shadrack was very fond of miniature hostas, and I could join him in that affection. There are many tiny hostas like the six inch Mouse Ears with its blue-green round-ish foliage and Tears of Joy which is only four inches tall and with grassier brighter foliage.

Hakone grass

Hakone grass

Hakone grass, Hakonechola macra, is a bright green ornamental grass from Japan that has become more and more popular. This graceful grass grows to a foot tall or more and several varieties give a choice of shades of green and gold that will turn shades of pink or golden orange in the fall.

I have a bit of “Aureola” in my garden with slim variegated leaves in bright green striped with gold. “Naomi” is creamy gold and green in the summer but in the fall it turns a rich shade of purple-red. “Nicholas” is solid green in summer but cool autumn temperatures turn it stunning shades of red, orange and gold.

The term green foliage does not tell you very much, but shades of green with a variety of textures can make a brilliant arrangement in your garden I find the mostly green array of plants at the Shelburne entrance of the Bridge of Flowers perfectly beautiful. I always stop to admire the serene arrangements before I go on to the amazing color and form on the Bridge itself. Serenity is as important to me in my garden as is joyous color. I have room for every mood.###

Between the Rows   April 29, 2-17

 

May – A Golden Month

Wood poppy

Wood poppy

It’s May and the flowers that bloom in the spring are beginning to show themselves. Lots of gold in May, not counting the dandelions.

barren strawberry

Waldsteinia or barren strawberry

The barren strawberry plants on The Hugel are thriving and blooming. They are not really strawberry plants at all. It’s just that Waldsteinia have strawberry-like foliage and flowers.

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa is a more lackadaisical form of Trollius europaeus, which is taller and even more golden. It is also called globeflower which is more prominent in the T. europaeus plant.

primroses

Primroses

The sun  has shone on  these golden beauties but we have been very grateful for t he 1-1/2 inch of rain this week.

Herb Garden for Savor and Beauty

Herb seedlings

Herb seedlings are available everywhere – Rosemary, parsley and basil

Why have an herb garden? Simon and Garfunkel sang about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, increasing their fame, but this 17th century song just begins to touch on the herbs that can easily be grown by gardeners. Herb gardens are ideal for a novice gardener to tackle and a rich resource for the cook.

To begin all you need is a sunny space with ordinarily fertile soil. You can plant herbs in your vegetable garden or you can make a very pretty herb garden devoted to culinary, or ornamental herbs. My own small herb garden is located along the house foundation and right outside the kitchen door.

Parsley is treated as an annual herb, although it is actually a biennial. With a little luck it will come back its second spring, but will rapidly go to seed which is why most of us plant fresh seed, or buy new seedlings every year. Most people will recognize the two types of parsley, the flat leaved variety which has the best flavor for cooking, and the curly leaved type. I have grown parsley from seed indoors, but it is very slow to germinate. In some areas of England it is said that parsley must visit the devil seven times before it will germinate.

Parsley has been used in the past for many medicinal reasons but today only its power as a diuretic, and its nutritional value that is acknowledged. So remember that all the parsley you use in cooking is adding vitamins as well as flavor and a pretty garnish to your dishes. Parsley makes a pretty edging for an herb garden, or any garden.

sage

Sage

Sage, a perennial herb, was considered a general heal-all while preserving the memory and lifting depression Today it mostly used in the kitchen to flavor recipes including eggs, chicken, lamb, polenta and in stuffings with onions and apples.

Sage is a foot tall perennial that can be grown outside in our area, although over time the stems will become woody and you might want to replace it with a new plant. The texture of the foliage is velvety. The common Salvia officinalis is tender gray-green but there are also purple and golden salvias. It is an essential plant in the herb garden, but it is also a good addition to the ornamental garden.

Rosemary is tender in our region. In the past I have dug up my rosemary and potted it for a winter inside the house. I kept it in a cool room and kept it watered. It came through the winters but was always happy to be back outdoors once spring was fully in charge.

Sometimes I put my rosemary plant right in the ground for the summer, but I often have it grow in a beautiful pot which gives it more presence in the garden.

There are many varieties of thyme. I have only grown the common Thymus vulgaris. This is a low growing and wonderfully spready herb. Here in my new garden I have it growing in front of a low stone wall to make a thyme path and consider it a cousin to the English thyme lawn. In fact, in Heath where our lawn had very dry spots I planted thinnings from the thyme near the house. Those thinnings took root and spread. I did not have whole thyme lawn but it was an important element in the lawn which included dandelions, violets, clover, hawkweeds and other nameless flowering weeds creating what I called my flowery mead.

A busy friend of mine placed a sun dial in her lawn and then surrounded it with varieties of thyme. I don’t know what varieties she had but I have seen gardens with Mother of Thyme which is only three inches tall, silvery wooly thyme only one inch tall, and Elfin thyme which will rarely reach one inch, making a very flat mat. My friend just wanted to be able to say that she had all the time in the world.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are essential herbs in my kitchen, but they are not alone.

Dill and chives didn’t get songs, but they are also essential. I would grow dill even if I never used it in my cooking because I love the fragrance. It always reminds me of my childhood on the shores of Lake Champlain where my grandmother occasionally held a shrimp fest – all the shrimp (cooked with dill) that the extended family could eat. Dill is also a great pollinator plant.

dill

Dill

Dill is an annual, but it can hardly help seeding itself.

Chives are a perennial and the clump will get bigger every year. It is one of the earliest plants to come up in my garden. I can start harvesting the grassy, oniony foliage in early April. Late in the spring it will blossom and those blossoms are a pretty addition to a salad.

Ever since pesto became a staple in our kitchens, basil, an annual, has become a necessity. There is the big leafed Genovese basil I began with, but now there is any number of basils including Thai basil, lemon, cinnamon, Greek dwarf, dark purple opal, and Holy basil. They are delicious in a variety of ways in the kitchen and their different forms make them striking in the garden.

Whether you are a serious cook or not, herbs are a hardy and lovely addition to any garden. Most garden centers sell seedlings and you can set up an herb garden very quickly.

Between the Rows   April 22, 2017

Right Plant for the Right Space

Cimicifuga on the Bridge of Flowers

Cimicifuga on the sunny Bridge of Flowers

If you are sated with garden catalogs that came in January, but still haven’t made all your 2017 choices and plans, you are probably ready to hit garden centers and nurseries. There you will face ranks of captivating and irresistible shrubs and perennials. No matter how alluring the plants it will be worthwhile to read the labels, and think about your garden spaces before you buy.

I have had gardeners tell me about their failures and disappointments, asking  why?  Sometimes it is because they did not take into account the basic needs of the plant, for sun or shade, for dry or damp sites. And I do say sometimes this is the answer, but I also say there are many mysteries in the garden with no answers or explanations to be found. Cimicifuga or bugbane, a shade loving plant blooms happily in full sun on the Bridge of Flowers. How can  that happen? I don’t know.

Still, it is best to begin with knowledge of the plant’s needs. As we have planned and planted our Greenfield garden I’ve taken into consideration the attributes of the different sections. Our house faces east and the small plot of lawn and the tree strip get sun in the morning. However there is a large sycamore tree at the southern end of the tree strip which means that the shade shifts and changes over the course of the morning, and the afternoon.

The tree strip gets morning sun. We removed most of the grass and planted perennials to provide bloom all season long. We chose really tough plants that would do all right in less than ideal conditions, support pollinators, and not require much labor for me. The soil there is dry, and we have improved it with compost.

Bee Balm  Monarda

Bee Balm

The hellstrip/tree strip plant list includes daylilies, bee balm, yarrow, Sheffield daisies and astilbe. My neighbor has promised me some rudbeckia, black eyed susans.

The small lawn in front of the house is being planted with low growing conifers, as well as a small rhododendron, a deutzia which will have small white flowers and a heuchera which will also provide some bloom among the conifers. All are supposed to tolerate some shade which they will get.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

Beauty of Moscow lila

The South Border is the first bed we planted with shrubs as well as perennials. The requirement for full  sun translates as six hours or more of sun. There are many sun loving shrubs and perennials. This bed is also the driest in our garden. We planted three paniculata hydrangeas, Limelight, Firelight and Angels Blush. They share the bed with two lilacs, Beauty of Moscow which I think is one of the most beautiful white lilacs, and the deep purple Yankee Doodle, Korean Spice viburnam for its fragrance, and the first of two highbush cranberries which are also viburnams. Some of these can attain a height of 10 feet at maturity and we have given them plenty of room to grow.

At least we think we have. Calculating how much room any plant will need as it grows is about the most difficult task when planning to provide for a plant’s requirements.

As the South Border heads west it becomes damper, and finally wet. Swamp pinks were in place when we bought the house, and we added Lindera benzoin to attract the swallowtail butterfly, and a red twig dogwood for its tolerance to dampness and its brilliant red branches.  We also planted four blueberry bushes. They do not appear to be thriving. I think the soil is too wet and they will have to be moved.

Since one of the reasons we left Heath is because the garden was too big and demanded too much work, one of the guiding principles of the Greenfield garden is that it must be less labor intensive. It is a lot of work right now as we layout and plant a blank canvas, but our strategy for cutting back on routine tasks is to plant shrubs. Since the back yard is so wet seasonally and after rains we began with shrubs that like sun and tolerate the wet. The list includes yellow twig dogwood which is just as brilliant as the red twig when the sun in shining on it, clethra or sweet pepperbush, buttonbush, winterberries, elderberries, and fothergilla.

We have also planted trees. We are confident about the water tolerance of the river birches, a dappled willow, and we have planted a weeping cherry and a pagoda dogwood in the closest we come to occasional damp. However, we have taken a gamble by planting two arborvitae in a seasonally wet spot. We wanted the arborvitae to block a view. So far, so good. I guess gardeners are among the world’s most eager gamblers.

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses love wet spots

Our layered garden will soon be less demanding. We have planted many perennial groundcovers like lady’s mantle and foam flower, and various sedums. Many perennials are very comfortable with wet spots: Siberian and Japanese irises, primroses, daylilies, mountain mint, culver’s root, Joe Pye weed, obedient plant, sanguisorba Canadensis, ferns, and cardinal plants.

Mine is a new garden; I still have bare ground while I wait for the shrubs to mature and the perennials to increase. I have been filling in with annuals like cosmos and zinnias that require little more than sun and mostly dry soil. Maybe I’ll try filling bare spots this year with summer squash, bush beans or pretty lettuces. Vegetables are beautiful (and delicious) annuals too. ###

Between the Rows   April 15, 2017

Earth Day – Support Your Pollinators

Honeybee

Honeybee – just one of the many pollinators

It is April 22 – Earth Day – and I am celebrating by writing about honeybees and pollinator plants that will help all pollinators.

How do honey bees pollinate plants? I knew bees had hairy little baskets on their knees that collected pollen while they were wandering around the stamens and anthers of a blossom. When Dan Conlon, beekeeper and president of the Russian Honeybee Breeders Association, spoke at a recent Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium, he showed an enlarged photo of a bee that was covered with pollen. Not only were her pollen baskets full, her skin and the tiny fuzzy feathers around her head and body were covered with grains of pollen. Conlon said it was an electrical charge that attracted the pollen to the bee’s body. When the bee flew to another plant it brushed against another set of anthers, exchanging the pollen, thus pollinating the plant. The pollen baskets are emptied at the hive and stored for food for all the bees.

Electrical charges! Pollination wasn’t just about a little pollen falling out of the pollen baskets.

Rudbeckia "Goldsturm"

Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”

I also learned that honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought from Europe with the Puritans. Governor John Winthrop brought honeybees, and apple trees with him when he and his family sailed to what became Massachusetts in 1630. By 1650 maple syrup and honey were the main sources of sweetening.

Nowadays commercial beekeepers move thousands of hives around the country to pollinate vegetable and fruit crops. Conlon himself used to put several hives on a wagon and move them around the cucumber fields when the pickle factory was in operation. He explained that a poorly pollinated cucumber would be misshapen and not suitable as a pickle.

Honeybees and the 300 other bee species, are essential to our food supply. On Earth Day we can recognize the benefits of native bees, wasps, butterflies and many other small creatures that do their bit to pollinate.

Don Conlon gave us lots of wonderful information and then got down to the problems faced by the bees. He said that one of the biggest challenges for honeybees is the loss of habit. He told us about an urban/suburban community that decided to support pollinators. They were told that a 10 x 10 foot raised bed filled with pollinator plants would attract many pollinators. The idea was so appealing that many people planted pollinator beds. The result was acres of pollinator plants – and many pollinators.

Echinacea and Bee

Echinacea and bee

It is easy to find lists of plants that will provide nectar and pollen over a long season. You may already have bee plants in your garden. Some of my favorite bee perennials include: wild columbine, foam flower, butterfly weed, asters, turtlehead, Joe Pye weed, lupines, coneflower, liatris, bee balm, and black eyed Susans. Annuals that attract bees are zinnias, African (Tagetes) marigolds, cosmos, and sweet alyssum. Your herb garden with chives, rosemary, borage, thyme, and dill will attract bees.

Many people have room for a pollinator plant bed in their garden, but when I spoke to Susannah Lerman,  on the University of Massachusetts faculty, she said you didn’t even need a flower bed to attract and sustain pollinators. She said you do it by doing nothing.

Lerman has been doing research on improving wildlife habitat in urban locations. A recent experiment was located in the Springfield area devastated by a tornado a few years ago. The landscape was wiped clean. She worked with 17 yards with lawns. Her project hired people to mow those lawns for the homeowners. Some lawns were mowed regularly once a week, others were mowed every two weeks, and the final lawns were mowed every three weeks.

Without planting anything new the lawns filled with blooming pollinator plants, dandelions, clover, violets, creeping Charlie, dwarf cinquefoil, speedwell, yellow hawkweed, yellow wood sorrel, annual fleabane, purple smartweed and more. Lerman identified 64 plant species spontaneously growing in those 17 yards. None of those yards used herbicides which is an important aspect of the experiment.

Lerman’s group also identified 111 bee species visiting those lawns. She now knows there are 300 or so native bees in Massachusetts.

Dandelions and  violets

Dandelions and violets

When looking at mowing results Lerman said that a week between mowings appeared to be unnecessary. Those householders did not think it was necessary. The lawns mowed every two weeks had noticeable flowering ‘weeds’ but everyone agreed they looked perfectly respectable. The lawns mowed every three weeks looked a little messy and one could imagine neighbors frowning. “Mowing every two weeks was the sweet spot,” Lerman said. “Mowing every two weeks gave plants time to flower, and to keep neighbors happy.”

The Xerces Society and the Pollinator Partnership are two places where you can find good lists of pollinator plants.

She added that another way of keeping neighbors happy is by creating a ‘cues to care’ sign. I have seen such signs myself. The Xerces Society sells an explanatory Pollinator Garden sign for $25. But you can always make your own sign. People are apt to be more tolerant if they know that your lawn is blooming intentionally, not neglected and full of weeds.

To find out more about bees and plants mark your calendar for the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3, at the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row.  This year, in honor of the church’s anniversary, special celebratory events are scheduled for the Bee Festival. Kim Flottam, editor in chief of Bee Culture Magazine and author of several books on beekeeping, will be the main speaker. There will be special activities for children. Former Governor Deval Patrick, who is a beekeeper,  will also be awarding beautiful plaques created by potter Molly Cantor to several notable pollinator gardens in FranklinCounty.

Bewtween the Rows   April 1, 2017

Fresh Garden Vegetables at Home

Fresh from the Garden

Fresh from the Garden

 

Is there anything better than garden fresh vegetables? How can you beat a sun warmed tomato eaten out of hand? What about exactly the kind of lettuce you like best, ready when you are, for a luscious salad? Why can’t foliage from beets, carrots, or parsley be used as an ornamental edging before it makes it into the kitchen?

I left a regular small vegetable garden in Heath, but my first garden work in Greenfield was on ornamental gardens. I immediately needed to change the expanses of lawn into something more interesting. And so began the South and North Borders, and three amoeba-like lawn beds. The Hugel at the back of our lot was not far behind.

But something was missing. Vegetables. I am a cook as well as a gardener and while I have never really had any interest in trying to grow, harvest and preserve everything, I love being able to go into the garden and harvest tomatoes, lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli, and more. How was I going to get vegetables into my garden which was so definitely arranged as an ornamental garden?

A quick survey of the garden reminded me that there are still planting spaces. First of all, the Lawn Beds, intended for trees, shrubs and perennials, most of them native varieties, still have a fair amount of bare ground because it will take a while for those plants to mature and cover that ground themselves. Vegetables are annuals and they could take over that space, at least for a year or two.

I even have a relatively large space that has perplexed us. What can we do with a spring flooded area in front of the stone wall? We will be raising the level of that space, as we have with the Lawn Beds, and this year we will use that space as a vegetable garden. I just want to come up with an interesting layout to make it an integral part of our ornamental garden, and not like a complete afterthought. When the harvest is completed this year we can assess the garden and our own reactions.

Edible Front Yard

Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler

The idea of trying to incorporate more vegetables into the garden has been fed by my return to Ivette Soler’s book The Edible Front Yard: the Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden. Soler lives in California so I’ll forgive her for including bay trees, artichokes and guava, in the section of cultivation information. I’ll concentrate on her design advice. She says edible gardens can use the same techniques garden designers use to make “fancy gardens” look great. She talks about structure, form, repetition, texture and color

I don’t often think of structure and texture when I think of the vegetable garden but given this push the little gray cells are beginning to light up. I turned to Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates by John Whitman. He says I can grow cardoons, known for their sculptural leaves, not unlike those of the artichoke which he also says I can grow. Given the push I remember that cardoons were fairly common on the menu when we lived in Beijing for a year. Beijing is nothing like California where Soler grows her artichokes and cardoons so I am ready to give them a try. The spiky leaves of these plants are full of structure.

Whitman not only opens his book with 120 pages of extensive and excellent advice about The Basics of Gardening from choosing a planting site, planting with seeds, transplanting, and routine care from watering to fertilizing, mulching, pruning and more, he goes on to solving problems, harvesting and culinary uses, and finishing up with tools and materials. The 375 pages of Part Two give information about 150 vegetables, herbs and berries (1700 varieties) in their particulars.

Whitman’s photographs are beautiful and the book is a veritable encyclopedia. The publisher is the University of Minnesota Press knows about cold weather. I can highly recommend it for all its instruction, and because carrying it around the house and taking it on and off the shelf  has improved my muscle tone.

As for texture Soler reminds us that tomatoes are silken and smooth, sage is velvety and carrots are lacy. It’s all about looking at the vegetable palette through a different lens.

Color. Red chard with purple sage? Add some nasturtiums?  What pleasing or striking color combinations can I come up with?

With all this advice, I still have limited space. How will I choose what to grow? Obviously I will plant my favorites like cherry tomatoes which come in different colors. I must have leafy and crispy lettuces, crunchy radishes, beets for greens and roots, Harukei turnips, sugar snap peas and green beans.

I have already planted an herb bed next to the house with oregano, thyme, sage, chives and garlic chives, but will plant basils, parsley, borage, dill and cilantro. I will never have a garden without dill.

When I asked a friend how to choose what to plant she said plant those things that are expensive to buy – like shallots. Good advice.

It won’t be long before I can follow all John Whitman’s advice in preparing the garden site. Piles of compost and soil are waiting to create a new Lawn Vegetable Bed. I can almost taste the first radishes of spring.

Between the Rows  April 8, 2017

I will be giving an illustrated talk on The Sustainable Garden on Sunday, May 23 at 1 pm  at the Franklin County Fairgrounds during the Eco-Living program. This is a two day event with lots of informative and fascinating talks. Hope to see you there.

Bloom Day April 15, 2017

yellow primrose

yellow primrose

I am so happy to finally have a Bloom Day post that I don’t even mind how meager the bloom. I will definitely plant bulbs in my new garden this fall.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

These delicate plants were among the exceedingly few flowers at our new house. Lawn used  to be the theme, but no more. These Dutchman’s breeches grow near the back door, right up against south wall of the house. I love them.

Carol of May Dreams Gardens, you have my everlasting gratitude for inventing Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. I am so happy to be able  to  see what is in bloom  all over the country.

Conversation of Trees

Norway spruce

Norway spruce

Recently at the Greenfield Library I saw a small book on the best seller shelf, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World. It looked like a quiet book with its creamy cover and drawing of three trees, with roots gently touching. The idea that plants can hear and talk is not new. I know of experiments with classroom or greenhouse plants, providing classical or rock music, talking to the plants encouragingly, or insulting them, all to see if these different approaches affect the plants differently.

Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and the author of the book, cared for his forests in the standard way in the1980s, but he never felt happy about the kind of thinning he had to do, or the pesticides he had to use. He also believed the science that already existed about the communality of trees.

What makes that communality and communication possible is the web of fungi which grows into and around tree roots, increasing the ability of the tree to gather nutrients and water, and to share those resources with other nearby trees that may be weaker or suffering. The fungi also send chemical and electrical signals. Dr. Suzanne Simard in Nature magazine coined the term Wood Wide Web.

One example of the experiments that were done showed that beeches share resources. In a grove of beeches, even though certain areas had different qualities of soil, it was found that the rate of photosynthesis in all the trees was the same. The trees were not dependent on the sunlight or nutrients gathered individually. The trees were sharing so that every leaf of every tree got the same amount of sugar. Wohlleben worked with oak and beech forests. It doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to think that trees in close proximity could communicate and help each other. Of course there is more to the book than that, and I recommend it.

By the time we left our 60 acres in Heath about half the acreage was mixed woodland, mostly white pine and some hardwoods. We had loggers come in twice during our 35 years there to harvest the white pine and some hardwood for firewood. It was fairly young woodland, and it increased over time. A field west of the house was adjacent to a stand of white pines to its west. The wind blew pine seeds into the field creating a substantial new stand of white pine.

The forester told us that the new stand of pines was very healthy with no white pine weevil in evidence. I had been keen to show myself a responsible forest owner and talked to our forester about thinning. The trees were young enough that I could go out with our Christmas tree saw. He strongly discouraged me. He said it was too hard to know which trees to take out, which were weaker. So no work of that sort was done.

I thought maybe the forester shared my motto that procrastination is the gardener’s friend, but I never imagined that he might be considering the benefits that the trees in our pine grove offered each other.

Our Greenfield property has two trees that made it very appealing. We first saw the house in wintery March, but the tall Norway spruce in the northwestern corner was dignified and stately.

Then while we were going through the buying process the horsechestnut tree came into beautiful bloom. The view from the kitchen window is pure delight. Next to the horsechestnut are two slim hemlocks. I can’t help wondering if these trees communicate with each other even if they are not the same species.

Lilac tree and sycamore

Syringa, lilac tree, and sycamore in mid-May

My husband was more taken by the very tall sycamore or buttonball tree that grows in front of the house on the street side of the sidewalk. It is very impressive. On the opposite side of the sidewalk is a lilac tree. It is a true syringa and produces airy white blossoms, not really like lilac flowers, but breathing out a delicious fragrance that catches everyone’s attention as they walk by. Two very different trees. Could the tall and imposing sycamore have anything to say to the smaller, flowery lilac tree? Those sycamore roots travel far. We have hit them when planting perennials some distance away. Those roots could easily embrace and whisper to the lilac so close by.

We have planted new trees in the backyard, part of my low maintenance garden plan. Two river birch trees don’t mind flood season in the garden. The weeping cherry is planted nearer to the house which is less apt to be flooded. These three trees are doing nicely.

Last year I planted a small pagoda dogwood, chosen for the sculptural arrangement of its branches. It too is near the house but it’s too early to see how it has come through the winter.

Surely the birches will bond, but will they have any interest in the cherry or dogwood? I think the birches are gentlemanly and I will be watching to see if they show any care for the pretty ladies, or if they will leave them to their sighs and fans, like ladies in cocktail party corners, longing for someone to come and make conversation?

When you look out your windows what trees do you see? Do you think they are paying any attention to each other? It is hard to tell but maybe it is possible, even if they come from different branches of the tree family. I hope so.

Between the Rows   April 1, 2017

Underutilized Trees and Shrubs

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey gave a useful workshop on Underutilized Trees and Shrubs at the WMMGA Spring Garden Symposium last weekend. I attended because I may not be quite finished choosing shrubs for our new Greenfield garden and I was looking for more suggestions. Small trees and shrubs are the elements I am counting on to make this a sustainable, low maintenance garden.

Vinskey’s list included trees like paperbark maple, tupelo, ironwood, redbud, stewartia, and pagoda dogwood. His shrub list included beautyberry, Carolina allspice, fringe tree, witch hazel, and redvein enkianthus. Vinskey chose these because of their fine attributes of bark, blossom and autumn color or winter interest. Happily for me I had already planted some of his suggestions.

It is important to know that Vinskey chose plants that were hardy in our region. The USDA lists Greenfield as zone 5b which means plants will survive winter temperatures as low as -15 to -10.  Nowadays I have to wonder whether we might actually be in zone 6a which is -10 to -5 and I would be willing to take a gamble on a slightly more tender plant like stewartia.

It is also important to know how much shade or sun a plant needs to thrive. However, I also have to take into account that my garden is very wet at least during late winter and early spring, even when we are having a drought. While listening to Vinskey I was happy that I had already planted pagoda dogwood and Carolina allspice in my garden. The pagoda dogwood is a small tree with a very horizontal arrangement of branches. The flowers are small and not particularly notable, but the sculptural shape of the tree is the delight. I saw a beautiful specimen in Minneapolis last summer; the tree’s gardener told me it did require some regular pruning to keep that clean shape at its best.

Calycanthus or Carolina allspice is a shrub that can take a fair amount of shade and produces dramatic dark red blossoms from May into July. And, of course, there is the sweet fragrance.

Elderberry bush

Elderberry bush

In addition I’ve planted buttonbush, elderberry, spicebush and winterberry shrubs, which I personally think of as underutilized. Perhaps some gardeners would consider them too wild for a cultivated garden.

My perennial list includes joe pye weed, boneset, culver’s root, Echinacea, American burnet, turtlehead, bee balm, Siberian irises Japanese primroses, and bog rosemary which is a water tolerant ground cover. You can see that in a sense I have been cultivating a wetland garden. These plants don’t need to be in wet ground all the time, but they thrive when the soil is moist, or water is puddling around their feet. Some are familiar to flower gardeners, but others are more unusual although those who love native flowers may find them familiar.

Monarda or bee balm

Monarda or bee balm with bee

The fact that I have so many native plants in my garden is because I wanted plants attractive to bees and other pollinators including butterflies. Having a pollinator garden is one of my goals. Because honeybees and other pollinators are under so much attack by the use, and often overuse, of herbicides and pesticides I want to play my part in supporting these vital creatures. Without pollinators many of our vegetables and fruits would no longer exist.

Bee Spaces Pollinator Garden Award

This year there will be a special opportunity and event at the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3. The Second Congregational Church, which this year is celebrating its 200th anniversary, has cooperated with the Franklin County Beekeepers Association for several years creating a bee festival that will entertain and educate children, and all the rest of us too, about honey bees and the 300 odd other native bees that work hard to make sure we have good vegetables and fruits to eat.

Greenfield has a very special connection to honeybees because the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth served as the Second Congregational Church’s minister from 1840-1848. He is one of the people who recognized ‘bee space’, the specific distance that honeybees leave between their honeycombs so that they could fill, or empty them. He also invented the modern wooden beehive that allows for ‘bee space’ between the removable frames.

This year, in honor of the church’s anniversary, special celebratory events are scheduled for the Bee Festival. Kim Flottam, editor in chief of Bee Culture Magazine and author of several books on beekeeping, will be the main speaker.

For those who do not keep bees, but welcome bees to their gardens the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Beekeeping Association will present awards to home gardens, farms, public or community gardens or businesses that provide some space for bees. Former Governor Deval Patrick will be on hand to present the awards. The award itself is a beautiful pottery plaque designed and made by the well known potter Molly Cantor. It is designed to be placed on a house or business, “designating you as a pollinator friendly garden of distinction.”

Rudbeckia is another good bee plant

Rudbeckia, black eyed susans are another good bee plant

Those who are interested in this award should fill out an application. Requirements are that the garden be in Franklin County, and that no pesticides or herbicides can be used anywhere on the property. For more information check out the Bee Spaces pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

This is the kick off of the award, so if you think your garden might need a little updating to be eligible remember that there is always next year, and the Second Annual Bee Spaces Award.

Between the Rows   March 25, 2017

World Water Day – March 22, 2017

Lake near Minneapolis

Lake near Minneapolis

On this World Water Day I want to share some of my water photos. This group of gardeners has been visiting Minneapolis area gardens on a hot summer day. It was bliss to sit in the shade and enjoy the lake breeze and serenity.

Beautiful Minneapolis fountain

Beautiful Minneapolis fountain

We can’t all have a lake in our garden, but we can arrange to have fountains like this patio fountain in Minneapolis.

Another Minneapolis area  water fountain

Another Minneapolis area water fountain

This might have been my favorite Minneapolis water fountain – located at the end of a very formal vegetable garden and set on a slightly raised rocky platform

Northfield constructed pond and waterfall

Northfield constructed pond and waterfall

This waterfall was carefully ‘tuned’ with each step of the fall placed at a particular height to make a certain burbling sound.

A Greenfield water fountain

A Greenfield water fountain

A Greenfield gardener knew just what to do with this old millstone – she made it a fountain.

Water in a Japanese garden

Water in a Japanese garden

An important element in the serenity of a Japanese garden is the water.

Japanese Garden in Buffalo

Japanese Garden in Buffalo

All of these pretty photos are of recreational or ornamental water in gardens, and yet the water we most value is the water that comes out of our kitchen taps. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have good clean drinking water, but even here we know there have been contaminated water supplies or pipes. We must be vigilant. How will you mark World Water Day?

World Water Day poster

World Water Day poster

Today is World Water Day which teaches us that 1.5 billion people around the world do not have clean uncontaminated water to drink.

World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about taking action on water issues. In 2017, the theme is wastewater and the campaign, ‘Why waste water?’, is about reducing and reusing wastewater. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.3 requires us by 2030 to “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.” Progress towards target 6.3 will also help achieve the SDGs on health and well-being (SDG 3), safe water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), life below water (SDG 14), and life on land among others.

TOP LINE MESSAGES • Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.

1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces2 , putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.

By 2050, close to 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 50% today

Currently, most cities in developing countries do not have adequate infrastructure and resources to address wastewater management in an efficient and sustainable way

The opportunities from exploiting wastewater as a resource are enormous. Safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.

The costs of wastewater management are greatly outweighed by the benefits to human health, economic development and environmental sustainability – providing new business opportunities and creating more ‘green’ jobs.

WASTEWATER AND THE WATER CYCLE

Water has to be carefully managed during every part of the water cycle: from fresh water abstraction, pre-treatment, distribution, use, collection and post-treatment, to the use of treated wastewater and its ultimate return to the environment, ready to be abstracted to start the cycle again.

Due to population growth, accelerated urbanisation and economic development, the quantity of wastewater generated and its overall pollution load are increasing globally. However, wastewater management is being seriously neglected, and wastewater is grossly undervalued as a potentially affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials. It therefore needs to be seen as a resource, rather than a burden to be disposed of. There are many treatment processes and operational systems that will allow us to use wastewater to meet the growing water demand in growing cities, support sustainable agriculture, and enhance energy production and industrial development.

For further reading logon to World Water Day and go to the Make Waves button on the home page.