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Dear Friend and Gardener

Second Planting Season – Autumn

Wood Blue aster

Low growing woods aster – ready to be divided

Once Labor Day is past it is time for the year’s second planting season to begin. Many garden centers and nurseries will be putting potted plants on sale. Many friends will realize they have to move plants and will have divisions to pass along. Each gardener may have her own plants to divide, to share or to move to a new location in the garden. We gardeners are lucky. We get a second chance every fall to act on second thoughts, correcting decisions that didn’t work out as we had expected, or acting on new ideas we saw over the summer in the gardens we visited. It’s time to dig again.

In my own garden I have worked over the past two summers to cover the ground. My goal is a garden that needs less maintenance. For me a low maintenance garden, to a large extent, translates into large shrubs and groundcovers.  It has not been easy but I have worked hard to plant my shrubs far enough apart to allow for growth. When I do this, of course, I end up with lots of empty space between. I filled those spaces by planting perennial flowers and low ground covers closely together knowing that they would grow and spread and soon need dividing.

I have just started moving some of my plants. We are working towards a grassless front yard and have planted low growing conifers, a low growing rhododendron with pink flowers and a deutzia which will have white flowers in the spring. I dug up two dark leaved heucheras, one nearly dead from the drought, and one with amazing strength but a dusty demeanor that did not bode well for its survival. Both now share space in the front garden. I brought a few little Woods Blue aster divisions down from the Heath garden and planted them in our South Border. They grow low, bloom late and spread energetically to cover the ground nicely behind and around a viburnam. Some of these new plants will be moved to the raised bed at the northern border of our lot where I will be very glad to have them continue to spread.

Perennial ageratum

Perennial ageratum – Blue mistflower

That raised bed is so large that I am also planning to move some of my perennial ageratums, Conoclinium coelestinum. These vigorous spreaders are also called blue mistflowers and bloom in late summer into the fall. A friend gave me a few for my new garden last year. Because they were transplanted in the heat of mid-summer they never looked vigorous, but they still produced a few flowers.

This year I have a great swath of blue even though it has been so dry. I don’t know about you but I have a few mystery ground covers in the South Border. They have done their job in covering the ground, and it is now time to move them where they can spread further. I am particularly fascinated by an interesting succulent that I have replanted where I can admire it better. We are still in the process of enlarging planting beds so I am glad to be able to move these mysteries. Maybe one day a visitor will identify them for me. Before and after moving any plants they should be well watered to help them make the transition.

As summer draws to a close you will find bargains at garden centers. I saw that trees and shrubs are 30% of at the Greenfield Farmers Coop on High Street, and perennials are also on sale. Sale plants may look a little tired, and when un-potted they may be quite rootbound, but they have plenty of life. I use my garden claw to pull those roots apart. Tearing or breaking them a bit will encourage them to make new roots so don’t feel you have to be very gentle. Then give them a good watering before you put them in their new planting hole, along with some compost, and then water again. I am also mulching all my new plantings. Take advantage of garden center sales! No matter where your plants come from this fall, you’ll be ahead of the game in the spring.

mulch volcano

Mulch volcano

Last week I mentioned mulch volcanoes. Since then a number of people has asked me to explain. The term mulch volcano describes the way some well intentioned gardeners, and even landscapers, pile mulch around and up the trunk of a newly planted tree. The mulch pile can resemble a cone rising six inches or more up the tree trunk, or the effect can be that of a cupcake with a candle in the middle. Either way, piling mulch up a tree trunk stresses the tree and does it no good. Tree roots need water and air but a deep layer of mulch will suffocate them. Deep mulch around a tree trunk has the same effect as planting a tree too deeply. Two or three inches of mulch is all you need to spread around a tree to conserve water, moderate temperature and protect it from mowers and string trimmers.

Between the Rows   September 10, 2016

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – September 2016



I haven’t posted on Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day all summer so I wanted to make as full a record as I could as the season comes to a close.


Cosmos took a long time to bloom this year, but they do make me happy

Firelight hydrangea

This is Firelight hydrangea snuggling with Alma Potchke aster, but Limelight and Angel Blush are also thriving and blooming


Daylily altissima

Daylily ‘altissima’ is the only daylily still blooming

Russian Sage

Perovskia, Russian sage, is such a great pollinator plant

Sanguisorba canadensis

Sanguisorba canadensis has no common name I can find, but it likes wet sites, should we ever get substantial rain


Lyon's Fairy Tale - Kordes rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale – Kordes rose. I planted new roses like Kordes varieties in the South border

Polar Express Kordes rose

Polar Express is another beautiful Kordes rose – disease resistant


"The Fairy" rose

I had to have “The Fairy” rose

Thalictrum - meadowsweet

Thalictrum has delicate blossoms but stands tall and beautiful

A bit of an annual salvia, Blue Paradise phlox and Purple Rain rose

A bit of an annual salvia,Limelight hydrangea, Blue Paradise phlox and Purple Rain rose

Dahlias and perennial ageratum

Dahlias and perennial ageratum. Other dahlias also blooming

Wood's Blue aster

Closeup of the low growing Wood’s Blue aster

Chelone, turtlehead

Turtlehead, chelone, did fine this hot dry summer

Red geraniums

Red geraniums were stunning pot plants, especially after I moved them into the sun

angel wing begonia

My new angelwing begonia has been happy on our front porch.

Purple aster

This very late blooming aster on my hellstrip had me wondering all summer if it was a weed

This is my catalog for September. I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this wonderful series. To see what else is blooming over our great land click here.

Consider the Trees – and Groundcovers

Cornus "Kousa"

Cornus “Kousa”

I was talking to a young woman and her two very young daughters, 6 and 9, about the new house they were preparing to move into. This house is set on a nearly two acre lot. She said the developer was responsible for putting in some minimal landscaping around the front of the house, but she would have the fun of choosing everything else.

She and her girls were looking forward to the trees they might plant. She likes flowering trees, the 6 year old wanted a weeping willow so she could hide under it, and the 9 year old was still thinking. I was happy that she was thinking about trees, trees that would make a statement as her garden took form, and trees that would grow up with her daughters. I’m not sure what plans the papa might have. Our conversation ended, but I got to thinking about all the opportunities people face when they move into a house on a nearly naked lot.

This house is located at the end of a long driveway. I immediately imagined a line of Kousa dogwood trees running the length of that drive. Kousa dogwoods are covered with large (three to five inches) white four-petaled flowers in late spring, May into June. In the fall the foliage turns a deep red or scarlet, and it produces tiny fruits that birds enjoy. They are hardy and happy in full sun with no serious pest or disease problems, about as trouble free a plant as you can find.

At a possible mature height of 30 feet Kousas are still considered small trees. Anyone planting in a line needs to consider the spread of the tree at maturity; one of the hardest tasks any gardener faces is allowing for future growth. Kousas should be planted about 30 feet apart in full sun. Massing plants, trees or flowers have a powerful effect. Even while they are young and small, the number of trees will give a real presence.

A number of years ago an acquaintance asked me for a suggestion for his driveway. In that case I suggested crabapples which bloom in shades of pink to almost purple. Whether or not you are interested in making crabapple jelly, the spring pollinators and autumn birds will thank you for planting crabapples.

Robinson is a fast growing crab with deep pink flowers that mature to white; the tiny fruits are a dark red. It will reach a height and spread of about 20 feet. It also has excellent disease resistance.

Prairiefire will be about 20 tall and wide at maturity. It has reddish foliage and bright pink flowers. The tree has very good disease resistance and the fruits are deep red. All crabapples prefer full sun.

Redbud  Cercis canadensis

Redbud Cercis canadensis

Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is more common in our area than it was even ten years ago. The bright pink/lavender flowers that bloom before it leafs out are eye catching and just lovely. Redbuds will mature at about 20-30 feet tall with an equal spread. Most of the redbuds I have seen are closer to 20 feet. They will thrive in full sun or part shade. They need moist, moderately fertile soil that is well drained, but it is a carefree tree.

All the trees I have mentioned tolerate acid soil, which is what most of us have, but it is good to have your soil tested to see just how acid it is and whether or not liming it might be a good idea. Do not assume.

If you are going to plant a line of trees, I think planting them in a bed that can be underplanted with a groundcovers should be considered. Trees should be planted so that the debilitating mulch volcano is forbidden.  Groundcovers will keep lawnmowers and trimmers away from the tree eliminating bark damage.

One groundcover that has been overused is pachysandra. This is understandable because it is attractive and a good spreader. However, the pachysandra I usually see is Japanese pachysandra and can be invasive. There is a native Allegheny pachysandra whose foliage is not as shiny or evergreen but it is attractive and produces white flowers in the fall. It prefers some shade.

I have used several ground covers in my garden over the years. Lady’s mantle with its round ruffled foliage is a good spreader and noted for its lacy green flowers and the way it collects raindrops.

Tiarella or foamflower is rhizomatous and crawls along the ground but in the spring it sends up foamy racemes of flowers in white or pink, no more than 10 inches high. If you like tiarella but wish it were a bit more substantial you can try heucherella, a hybrid of tiarella and heuchera. The plant and the flowers will be larger and there will be a much larger choice of colors in both the foliage and the flowers. Tiarella and heucherella like some shade, but I have had good luck in full sun as well, if there is sufficient moisture or watering.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium sulphureum

I love epimediums which are a solution to dry shade, but they have done well in my Heath garden with lots of sun and a moist soil. Here in Greenfield my epimediums get more shade, but dryer soil – especially this year.

No matter how trees are arranged in your garden, surrounding them with appropriate groundcovers is a beautiful way of protecting the tree trunks and adding texture and flowers.

Between the Rows    September 3, 2016

View from the Window – August 31, 2016

July 25, 2016 Expansion of Lawn Beds

July 25, 2016 Expansion of Lawn Beds

The view from the window at the end of July shows the expansion two of the Lawn Beds. We wanted to plant Calycanthus in the bed on the left along with two geums , and the low growing sumac on the right.

View from the window August 31, 2016

View from the window August 31, 2016

At the end of August, with only the merest rain shower, the only change, besides the increasing drying of leaves on the horse chestnut, is an attempt to refine the borders and do a little more mulching. More refinements clearly needed. I did also bring the pots of bright red geraniums to the back garden because as welcoming as they were in front of the house they were not thriving. The garden in front of the house gets a lot of  shade.

With luck there will be more bed expansion and plantings before the snow flies.

Eric Greene and his Dahlias


The Greene’s dahlia windowsill arrangement

Eric Greene grows fabulous dahlias, among other wonderful plants, but says he is “the laziest gardener in the world” but he really means he is an efficient gardener. He doesn’t want to work any harder than necessary.

His lazy techniques result in an amazingly large garden that shares his in-town property with a swimming pool enclosed on two sides by shrubs, enormous vegetable and flower gardens, a gigantic compost pile and a small front lawn.

When I first visited the Greene garden during the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour I was amazed by the long dahlia allee, and the dahlias weren’t even in bloom yet. I quickly made a date with Eric Greene and his wife Jeanne to find out how the ‘world’s laziest gardener’ handled all those dahlias which grow from tender tubers that need to be dug after the bloom season and stored until the spring.



His long history and love affair with dahlias began when he was given a white dahlia decades ago. That dahlia taught him about exponential growth. When he dug it up in the fall that one dahlia had produced five new tubers. When he planted those tubers the following spring he harvested 25 tubers in the fall. You can see where this story is going. Those white dahlias were planted and replanted and bloomed all around the swimming pool he had at the time. At this point he has 100 varieties of dahlia, and only keeps two tubers of each one in the fall. “I always have plenty of dahlia tubers to give away to friends,” he said.

Amazingly he loved the white dahlias so much that it was many years before he considered color. Nowadays he has a rainbow of dahlias from pale to brilliant colors. Many are bought from Swan Island Dahlias in Oregon.

Greene happily explained the dahlia routines he has followed since moving to his current house 14 years ago. He begins by ordering a load of compost from Martin’s Compost Farm every year. His soil is heavy clay which is not hospitable to dahlias.

On the first weekend in May he digs all the planting holes on both sides of the walkway, removing the soil and placing it where he needs more soil. Then he fills each hole to within three inches of the top with compost, and puts an extra pile of compost off to one side. When all the holes are dug and prepared he begins planting his tubers. The eyes of the dahlia tuber must face up. If there are long tender white roots, put out during winter storage, he removes them. Any green shoots growing from the eyes of the tuber have to be planted so they are fully underground and protected from a frost.

According to his own records his frost free period usually is from May 1 to October 15.

After the tuber is planted he puts a tomato cage around it, and pounds a wooden stake outside the cage. He ties the cage to the stake as extra support because his tall healthy dahlias are heavy and need that strong support. He waters the dahlias after planting, and then as needed. “Dahlias are thirsty,” he said. “I try to make sure everything in the garden gets an inch of water every week.”

In September, when he knows the bloom season will soon be ending he takes his woodsman’s tape and identifies each plant by type, size and color. The names are not as important to him as knowing what they look like.

Frost will kill the dahlias in the fall. He leaves them in the ground for a couple of days and cuts off all the foliage, leaving about two inches of stems. Then he digs them up and lets them sit in the sun all day. He shakes off the loose soil but never washes them.

The identifying tape follows each clump into a grain bag. The woven plastic grain bags do breathe and protect the tubers. All the grain bags then go onto wood pallets in his basement where temperatures stay in the low forties or less. It is essential to keep the tubers cool all winter.

In mid to late April Greene goes through the clumps separating and cutting off the tubers that have at least one eye, and attaching an identifying tape to each separated tuber. The identified tubers then go into boxes, separate boxes for each variety. That way he can easily share particular dahlias with friends. Many tubers are also donated at plant sales.

Jeanne and Eric Greene

Jeanne and Eric Greene

The dahlia walk is just a part of the gardens on the western side of the house. Tall sunflowers, majestic red cannas, airy cleome, small calla lilies and zinnias. The garden is a veritable bouquet. Jeanne keeps the house filled with bouquets, artful arrangements of a floral mix, or single dahlias in separate vases but lined up together on a windowsill.

Greene is a man with many strings to his bow. While he had his first garden as a 10 year old trying to grow corn next to the driveway, he also fell in love with crystals and minerals. After enjoying careers as a sculptor, an art teacher, and manager of companies that mined Herkimer diamonds, he and Jeanne now own and operate Treasure Mountain Mining, an online company selling crystals from all over the world. I have to think there might be some connection between the brilliant beauty and variety of the dahlias in his garden, and the sparkling beauty and variety of the minerals and crystals he sells online.

Between the Rows    August 27, 2016

Dedication of Stupas at Wilder Hill Gardens


Stupa (Buddhist sacred sculptures) to be dedicated on September 4

These two stupas at Wilder Hill Gardens on Shirkshire Rd in Conway will be dedicated this Sunday, September 4 from 3-5 pm. There will be Tibetan dancing, food and fun for young and old(er). Come and help celebrate. This is also a chance to see Lilian Jackman’s beautiful gardens. There is no charge, but donations are welcome. I can’t wait.

I have written about Lilian before here and here and here

Water-Saving Gardens by Pam Penick

Pam Penick

Pam Penick

Pam Penick, who grew up in the southeastern part of our country, wasn’t expecting the very dry garden she would get when she and her husband moved to Austin, Texas. The years she has spent learning how to have a beautiful dry garden have resulted in a desire to share all she has learned.

The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water (Ten Speed Press $19.99) begins by showing us some beautiful low-water gardens, in case we thought it was really impossible, and then teaches us the many ways to accomplish that kind of garden.

She urges us to make our gardens water savers, not water guzzlers. That means learning about the various ways that we can keep water from the heavens on our property and preventing it from draining away into the streets and sewers. In our own area we are familiar with the benefits of rain barrels, and even rain cisterns that can hold 500 gallons or more. Rain gardens are less familiar here but there is enormous benefit to keeping rainwater from the roof or parking lots on site instead of sending that dirty water into drains that may end up in streams and rivers.

Berming, microbasins and swales are other techniques that can be used, as well as creating permeable paths and patios by using unmortared stone pavers, gravel or mulch.

Penick gives full directions for these techniques and then launches into water-saving design elements like eliminating lawn. Penick is not a purist, she sees the beauty and appeal of lawn, but suggests that it need not be the main element of our property. Choosing lawn grasses that are more drought tolerant is another way to handle the desire for a lawn.

After planning comes the actual planting. Penick discusses drought resistant plants, and native plants that thrive in your climate and soil. There is so much to consider when planning any garden and Penick’s view is certainly comprehensive.

I was particularly charmed by the chapters on creating the illusion of water. There are photos of grasses that ripple in the wind, wavy clipped hedges, weeping trees, a meandering ‘stream’ made of a single type of groundcover or flower, dry steam beds or even a reflecting pond made by a mirror.

The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick

The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick     Photo courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Penick concludes with 101 plants for water-saving gardens. Here in Massachusetts we don’t have Austin’s blistering climate, at least not most of the time, but this year our gardens have suffered for lack of rain. The whole region has been declared a drought region. Indeed, the whole country is experiencing more drought and we all need to think about water conservation. If we are going to cut down on supplemental watering we need to think about drought tolerant plants, unless we have a special fund to cover our increased water bills. Many of the drought tolerant plants on Penick’s list are very happy in our part of the world.

Penick is a garden designer, an award winning blogger and the author of Lawn Gone! which I have written about in the past. She has also written for Garden Design, Organic Life and Wildflower. She is a conversational and graceful writer who will delight as well as educate and inspire.

Mystery Solved

Last week in my column on weeds I included a photo of a mystery plant. Before I even woke on Saturday I received an email from Liz Pichette who said it was an aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, or heartleaf aster. I was glad she agreed with my waffly thought that it was an aster, but after checking my plant again, I did not see any heart shaped leaves.

However, Liz quickly sent another email saying she thought the tall plant by my porch that I described, but did not provide a photo, was wild lettuce.  Had I ever heard of wild lettuce? No. She gave the name Lactuca biennis, which I then checked on the Minnesota Wildflowers website and it matched perfectly, down to the very very fine hairs on the stem.

Lactuca biennis identified

Lactuca biennis identified

Shirley Pelletier also sent me an email and said the aster looked like the “common wild aster” to her – and I agreed with my weed book which listed the white heath aster as very common. It also said that the branching flower panicles could account for half the height of the plant. I ran out to look again at my plant, and sure enough, the branching portion of the plant is half the height. This business of identifying a plant means very careful observations of all the parts of the plant, and it helps if you have the vocabulary to match up what you observe with the written scientific descriptions in a guide book.

Thank you Liz and Shirley for being so helpful. I resolve to be more observant.###
Between the Rows   August 20, 2016

 Lilian Jackman is the owner of Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway and I have written about her wonderful gardens in the past. On Sunday, September 4  she is inviting everyone to her garden and the dedication of her two stone stupas which are Buddhist sacred sculptures. There will be activities for all, including the children, Tibetan dancing, and food. Come between 3 and 5 PM and join the celebration. There is no cost, but donations are welcome.

Small Change on a Summer Night

Small Change quartet

Small Change 

Our friends (L-R) Dick Bohme on the one-string bass, Dennis Avery on the dobros , Al Canali on guitar and Karen Hogness  on mandolin comprise Small Change.  One of the great benefits of living in Greenfield is the concert series held in the Energy Park on Miles Street  which  is only 5 minutes from our house. We found out about this concert series the morning that Small Change was to perform. Of course we were there. But we learned pretty quick after our arrival that it is wise to bring your own lawn chair.

Small Change with an admirer

Small Change with an admirer

These concerts are a great evening event, and particularly attractive to families. There were a number of young girls, fleet of foot,  who must have been training for a marathon, they ran from one end to the other. There were short breaks for somersaulting, including the four year old. But one young man was transfixed by Small Change’s music. Over the course of their set he drew closer and closer to the bandstand. Once in a while he’d try out a few dance steps, but more frequently his little arms were moving – we couldn’t tell if he was conducting, or trying to imitate the musicians’ strokes.  Either way, when the performance was over and his mother came to take him away he kept turning back to look at the musicians. He was reluctant to let the magic of the music go.


Life Among the Weeds

Mystery weed from my garden

Mystery weed from my garden

What is a weed?

A friend recently gave me a branchy stem of a plant with fine alternate leaves she has growing all over her garden. She asked if I could identify it. She didn’t know if it was a “real plant” or a weed that she should be pulling out. Off hand I couldn’t identify it and turned to my Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and Di Tomasso and still could not definitely identify it, but I thought it might possibly be an aster. Later when I was watering my hellstrip filled with daylilies, astilbes, yarrow and more, I noticed a plant sticking its head up through a clump of coneflowers – and it looked just like the slightly wilted plant my friend had given me!

When I went up to the Benson Place in Heath to pick up my order of blueberries I was admiring a bed of large plants, few of which I recognized. Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, current owners of the Benson Place, explained that the bed was designed as a pollinator bed. They identified the enormous elecampane with its shaggy golden flowers all a-buzz with bees, the anise hyssop and the tall blue vervain. And there in the middle of a clump of flowers was the plant I had been trying to identify. This plant was everywhere!

I  asked what it was. Meredith and Andrew looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s just a weed.”  I had made no progress in my researches.

Another very tall mystery plant - a weed?

Another very tall mystery plant – a weed?

I have  another mystery plant, which I am sure is a weed, but not exactly sure which weed. Next to our front porch, in the shade, we have been watching a single plant with large deeply cut leaves growing taller and taller. We thought the foliage looked thistle-like but there are no prickers and so far no familiar blossom. In fact, now that it is eight or nine feet tall what appears to be a flower head is kind of droopy and is not yet blooming.

On our ride to the Benson Place we drove on a dirt road edged with all manner of  – dare I say it – weeds. And among them were plants similar to my front porch weed, although not quite as tall.

My son says his lawn is full of weeds i.e. violets. Our lawn in Heath was full of weeds i.e. dandelions. Lots of weeds i.e. wildflowers like chicory grow along the roadsides. I like violets and dandelions and chicory. Why would anyone consider them a weed?

The definition of a weed is very difficult. My comprehensive book, titled Weeds of  the Northeast, gives excellent descriptions and photos of hundreds of weeds in their different growth stages including the seed stage. Violets, dandelions and chicory are all included. So are creeping thyme, wild strawberries and the low growing English daisy. What makes all these plants weeds?

They are all rampant growers and spreaders, but others seem to be called weeds because they are growing where the gardeners and farmers don’t want them to grow.  Sometimes you find out a plant that you chose and planted is a weed. While I was leafing through my weed book I noticed the pages devoted to field horsetail, Equisetum arvense. I like the horsetails with their leafless green bottle-brushy stems that I saw growing by the roadsides in Heath. They are also called scouring-rush, foxtail rush, horsepipes, and pine grass.

Equisetum hyemale

Equisetum hyemale

When I drive to Colrain to visit friends I usually take the Colrain road, a winding road through the woods, and I noticed large stands of the larger Equisetum hyemale growing in the damp shade. I have always admired this plant because it is unusual, about 18 inches tall, leafless, with bamboo-like nodes along the evergreen stem. One day I stopped and pulled up a few of these stems which spread by creeping rhizomes. I planted them in a wet shady spot in my garden and most of them took root and seem to be doing well.

According to Weeds of the Northeast equisetums are resistant to herbicides used by farmers. According to the MissouriBotanical Garden, which has an excellent website that often helps me identify plants and understand their requirements, Equisetum hyemale is an aggressively spreading plant that is difficult to eradicate because the rhizomes spread wide and deep.

I then remembered my recent trip to Minneapolis and environ with 60 garden bloggers. Our final garden tour was across the border into Wisconsin and the amazing gardens and sculptures of Woutrina DeRaad. For 25 years Trina has been creating an amazing wild garden filled not only with wonderful plants, but with her concrete and mosaic sculptures. One sculpture was of a long couch with a built in plant container she had filled with equisetum five years earlier. I admired it, but when Trina asked if anyone in our group knew about equisetum, one of the men shook his head and said it was probably already sending roots deep into the soil and she’d never get rid of it. It was hard to see how that could happen since it was in a concrete container, but clearly he considered it a danger. And Trina seemed to be taking him seriously, and starting to consider what she could use to replace the equisetum.

When I came home it did not take me long to dig up my equisetum  which had already sent out one rhizome. I do not believe it was sending rhizome out deeply.

It has been said that if you can name a thing, you will have power over it. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help give me power over the two mystery plants in my garden. In the meantime I will just have to wait and see if their flowers can give me another hint.

Between the Rows   August 13, 2016

I want to thank everyone who responded to my query with the answers. That tall weed is wild lettuce Lactuca biennis, first identified by Liz Pichette, but followed by several other knowledgeable plant people. Thank you all!

Benefits of Blueberries

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place

Blueberries offer many benefits to the gardeners who want to grow more of their own food. When I lived in Heath I had access to the low-bush blueberry farms that operate there, but highbush blueberries were among the first shrubs I planted. I do not prefer one over the other, except that the highbush blueberries are larger and easier to pick. Nowadays lowbush blueberries to plant are much more available than they once were. We are also fortunate that we live near Nourse Farms which sells a variety of highbush blueberries from Patriot and Reka which begin bearing early in the season to Jersey and Nelson which are late season bearers. You can have fresh blueberries from your garden over a long season, into September. Having two or more varieties will also give you the cross pollination that is needed for good fruiting.

Blueberry pickers at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Blueberry Pickers at Benson Place

Blueberry requirements

Blueberries are native to North America and so are very hardy. They thrive during the cold of New England winters. They need a lot of sun, and cannot tolerate standing water in the spring. Well drained soil with plenty of organic material is ideal. At the same time, they need adequate water during the growing season.

Here in New England we don’t usually have to worry about having acid soil, although we might have to work a little to get the soil to a 4.5 to 5.5 pH level. A soil test will give you the pH and indicate how you can go about improving it for the blueberries. Fortunately, you can find fertilizers for acid loving plants like Espoma Holly Tone, or other fertilizers designed for rhododendrons or azaleas, at your garden center, or even soil acidifiers. Fertilizing should be done in the spring, and a 2- 4 inch bark mulch is a good idea. Besides conserving moisture, mulch will keep adding organic matter to the soil over time.

Once blueberry bushes are planted they are very easy to maintain. They suffer very little from pests or diseases. They will not need pruning for several years. For myself the only pruning I ever did was removing broken or dead branches in the spring. However, there is a benefit to keeping the interior of the bush more open. Easier picking if nothing else.

Once you are regularly harvesting your berries, your biggest problem will be the birds. I wish I had considered this when I planted my Heath blueberries in a long hedge. It was very difficult to manage a long netting arrangement to protect the berries.  My four Greenfield blueberry bushes are planted in a square that will ultimately be netted in a block that is 10 by 10 feet square.

High Bush Blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

High bush blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

Benefits of blueberries

There are many benefits for the gardener and the consumer of blueberries. A benefit for the gardener is that, unlike raspberries that need to be picked every day, blueberries will hang on the bush for several days until you can pick them. This means you can harvest a couple of times a week instead of making time every day.

And of course, I have already mentioned how little work it takes to maintain the bushes.

I have not mentioned their beauty, the tiny bell shaped blossoms in the spring and the beautiful red color in the fall. Blueberry bushes are a good alternative to the invasive euonymous, the burning bush.

For the consumer, the eater of blueberries, the first benefit is the berry’s deliciousness. Then there are the many ways it can be prepared, pies, muffins, salads, on your cereal or ice cream, or out of your hand.

Not only is there all that delciousness, there is the fact that blueberries are very good for you. Blueberries are ranked as having one the highest capacities of antioxidants among all fruits and vegetables. Antioxidents battle the free radicals that can attack healthy cells in the body. Cell damage contributes to cancer, heart disease, and decline in the immune system.

Anthrocyanins, the color pigments of red, purple and blue, are powerful antioxidents. They have been connected to lower risks of some cancers, urinary tract health, memory function and age related diseases. Needless to say, other fruits like strawberries and raspberries also contain anthrocyanins, but blueberries are richer.

To get the real health benefit of blueberries it would be necessary to eat about two cups of fresh berries a day, but I feel healthier with every cup of berries I enjoy. Fortunately, fresh blueberries can be bagged up and popped into the freezer very easily and will lose little of their nutritional value. Blueberry crisp gives me a taste of summer all winter long.

Even without growing your own it is easy to find fresh blueberries in our area. Farm stands will be selling them as will farms like the Benson Place in Heath. You can also pick your own low bush berries at the Benson Place, or high bush at Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway.

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Farm

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Gardens

When I was picking berries at Wilder Hill Gardens, I also got to admire the flower arrangements that owner Lilian Jackman was creating for her daughter’s wedding. Every single arrangement included a bit of blueberry foliage and fruit. The blueberries were a particular request of the bride and groom. For myself, I consider those blueberries a wish for years of a sweet, healthy and fruitful life together.

Between the Rows   August 6, 2016