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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Drought Tolerant Perennials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coneflower
Coneflower

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

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

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

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

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

Zinnias
Drought Tolerant annual zinnias

Between the Rows   August 22, 2015

 

 

 

Everything Changes – Even the Garden Rules

River Birch tree bed
River Birch tree bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the Rows   August 15, 2015

 

Drainage Problems and Happy Irises

The day after we planted all our water tolerant shrubs Greenfield was inundated by torrential rains. I was told over three inches of rain fell the afternoon and evening of July 7. We knew that our Greenfield house had a wet backyard and after planting nine shrubs we were fully aware of the heavy clay soil. However we did not expect several inches of standing water in the back half of the yard.

Fortunately, our excellent plumber, Scott Zilinski, helped us out by helping to design and dig a drainage trench near the old sheds. The yard looks flat, but in fact there are subtle dips and hollows which were identifiable by looking at the worst areas of wet. The drainage trench may be extended in the corner next to our neighbor’s driveway.

It was also clear to see that the area next to the northern fence was equally under water. We are now considering the possibility of a rain garden in that area to catch heavy rainfall, and rain runoff. We now realize that our lot is slightly lower than the two lots next to us, and that those two pieces of property have a lot of paving causing some runoff onto our lot.

It was while attending events and programs at the Conway School of Design that I first learned about the importance of permeable surfaces that would allow rain to be absorbed and kept on site. It was also about that time that our son in Cambridge, Massachusetts told us that the city had regulations about how much of a lot could be covered, and how much had to be given to permeable surfaces. Cambridge’s concern was the capacity of their storm sewers. I now have a whole new appreciation of that concern and the importance of permeable surfaces.

Carrying out our Home Outside design plan has come to a brief halt while we consider various options to improving our drainage.

One new drainage idea surfaced when I joined a Greenfield Garden Club tour of Jono Neiger’s forest garden. Neiger is one of the founders of the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield. Their mission is not only to create sustainable landscapes, but to make them better, to regenerate them. One of the topics that came up as we walked through the different sections of Neiger’s garden was hugelkulture (hoo-gel culture) which makes use of logs and woodland debris to improve the soil. There are many aspects of hugelkuture but one in particular caught my attention.

When I explained our situation to Neiger he said one could dig a trench, two feet wide and three feet deep and then fill it with logs and other compostable debris, sod and leaves and such like and top it with a layer of soil. The wood will slowly compost, adding nutrients and soaking up water, improving the soil. Not a quick fix, but fascinating nonetheless. Our soil could use improvement.

Beardless Irises

Beardless Irises

While we think about next steps I have been reading Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Keven C. Vaughn and published by Schiffer. My own experience with beardless irises is with Siberian irises which are one of the most beautiful and easy care flowers in the world, and Japanese irises which often have a flatter flower and are truly spectacular. I never knew that beardless irises ranged from the sweet and petite, to the tall and stunning spurias.

I never knew anything about Pacific coast native irises which we cannot really grow in our area because of the winters, but amazingly Louisiana irises, and spuria irises are definite possibilities. I will never take the iris family for granted again.

We have purple and white Siberian irises in Heath and I always planned to bring some of them down to Greenfield. They are not only beautiful they don’t mind being wet. In fact, one gorgeous clump of deep purple/blue Siberians somehow jumped into a swale in our field where they have lived very happily for several years.

A few years ago I bought a beautiful white Japanese iris from Andrew Wheeler at Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain. He told me that Japanese iris didn’t need to be growing in a wet site, but they did need to be planted where they could be watered regularly. I planted it in front of the house where there is excellent drainage, and where I do keep it watered, but I am hoping that it will be even happier when it is moved to Greenfield.

Spurias love water so much that Vaughn suggests taking a plastic kiddie pool, with holes cut in the bottom, and sinking it into the ground, then filling it with good soil for a planting site. Then that area can be watered heavily without causing a problem for surrounding plants which might not need quite so much water. Spurias are tall ranging from three to five feet although we are warned that in our colder climate they may be slightly shorter. In any event they promise to be a dramatic planting, the clump growing larger every year, but not demanding to be divided.

Vaughn is a scholar, hybridizer and has a PhD in plant genetics. He gives us common gardeners the information about whether a particular type of iris will thrive in our climate, as well as the usual cultural info about soil, fertilizer and sun requirements, but the book is also rich in the stories of hybridizers and their work. If you like to know how a stunning plant came to be, or even how to create your own hybrids, this is the book for you. The many beautiful color photographs showing the full range of color have inspired me. Expect more beardless irises in my garden.

Between the Rows   July 25, 2015

If you want to play around with your own garden designs on the free Home Outside Palette app for smart phones and tablets click here.

The Shrub and Rose Border Begins in Greenfield

Shrub border begins

Shrub and rose border  begins

I first became acquainted with Julie Moir Messervy through her book The Inward Garden: Creating a space of beauty and meaning. This beautiful book approaches garden design through seven archetypes, the cave the prairie, the mountain, the sea etc., and the way that a garden makes you feel. It is this attention to the mood I might want in my garden that interested me.

That attention to mood might have begun when as a graduate student she spent a year and a half in Japan and fell in love with Japanese gardens while working with a master. She later wrote Tenshin-in about the renovation of the Japanese garden at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that she worked on. The quiet mood of a Japanese garden is one that has always appealed to me and I felt that Messervy and I were of one mind.

I met her in the flesh in 2009 when she came to South Deerfield to speak at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium. She had finished her book Home Outside: Creating the landscape you love and came to encourage us as we worked to create a domestic landscape that worked functionally, and that made us happy in that space. I say all this so you will understand how pleased I was when her design business asked me if I would test her new free app, Home Outside Palette which allows you to play with design elements in your yard/garden on your phone or tablet. For $14.95 extra you can fill the app with extra design capabilities. But beyond that they asked if I would use their custom design service Home Outside and write about the experience.

When this offer came we had just closed on our house in Greenfield. The house has a hellstrip and a tiny front yard, a sunny southern side yard and a mostly blank rectangular back yard that was all grass. I had been looking at that blank slate of a yard and saw infinite possibilities and so many decisions waiting to be made. Needless to say I accepted the offer.

Home Outside design service begins with a questionnaire about your style preferences – modern, curvy, symmetrical; what you like to do in your garden; description of the space; and finally a Wish List, as long as you want, of everything you wish to have in your garden. That questionnaire gets e-mailed along with a Google Map image of your house and lot.

While we waited for the design to arrive my husband and I got to work on the parts of the garden that were already planned. I have written about our hellstrip which is now almost completed. Time to set to work on the southern shrub and rose border.

cardboard - first layer for lasagna

cardboard – first layer for lasagna

The south border of our lot abuts the driveway of my new neighbor. Our plan was to create a shrub border that would eventually provide a prettier view than a strip of blacktop, as well as plenty of bloom. In front of large shrubs like hydrangea I wanted roses, with particular attention to modern, disease free roses. It was great fun to go off and buy enough shrubs and roses to fill a 40 foot long border. I have hydrangeas in Heath and I now have Limelight, Firelight, and Angel’s Blush in Greenfield. I bought Yankee Doodle and Beauty of Moscow lilacs, Korean spice viburnam and viburnam trilobum or highbush cranberry. The lilacs are about the smallest bushes of this array.

In front of the shrubs I planted roses: Zaide, Polar Express, Thomas Affleck, Folksinger, Lion Fairy Tale, The Fairy, Purple Rain and Knock Out Red. In between are perennials and groundcovers from Heath.

On June 3 we started to work on the shrub and rose border. Instead of trying to dig up all that sod we once again used the lasagna method of planting. My husband weed-whacked the grass down to soil level and then we planted the shrubs, digging large holes and amending the removed soil with a good helping of compost before returning it to the hole. After each shrub was in the ground we watered them well.

Compost and loam on cardboard

Compost and loam on cardboard

We usually planted at least two shrubs at a time, because the next step was covering the soil with a good layer of cardboard, making sure to overlap pieces so that no soil was showing. Then I watered the cardboard, getting it as soaked as possible. On top of the cardboard we spread about three inches of compost, and then topped that with another three inches of compost-enriched loam.

All the shrubs, including the roses are planted in the ground, but most of the perennials, groundcovers and annuals are planted in the compost and loam on top of the cardboard. Over time the cardboard will rot away, becoming compost itself, and all plants will be growing in improved soil. We have been fortunate to have had so much rain which meant that we didn’t have to do a lot of watering.

As of July 6th the shrub border is essentially finished although we haven’t yet created a real edge. Right now we just have raggedy bits of cardboard sticking out. An edge will come soon, along with a layer of mulch. All that bare soil cannot be left to welcome the weed seeds in the air.

First shrubs and roses in south border

First Shrubs and Roses in South border  July 6, 2015

Just as we were finishing we received our Home Outside plans for the backyard! The powers that be decided to send us two different custom plans. We could choose one or the other or combine them to our hearts content.

Next week I’ll reveal the landscape designs – and what we have made of them.

Between the Rows   July 11, 2015

Down Memory Lane at the End of the Road

View from the Bedroom Window

View from the Bedroom Window in June

As I begin planting new gardens in Greenfield, I have been reminiscing about the adventures we’ve had with gardens at the End of the Road. When we moved here in November of 1979 I must confess to having very little garden experience. In 1972-3 I had a very tiny vegetable garden at my Grinnell Street House. Then we moved to North Berwick, Maine and in the spring of 1975 I planted a large vegetable garden there.

            I was in a manic mood in 1975. I was unhappily teaching 6th grade and found great pleasure in the garden, the chicks we bought and the two piglets named Supper and Dinner. The garden was too big and my skills were minimal. Our old neighbor, Mr. Leslie, once chatted with my husband while I planted carrots. “I never saw anyone broadcast carrot seed,” he said with amazement. Henry just shook his head.

            A change in plans put an end to that garden before the harvest and we moved to New York City, where Henry’s ancestral apartment did have a shady backyard garden. No vegetables, and I paid very little attention to it

            The move to Heath filled me with big plans and dreams for a vegetable garden, a root cellar, and canning marathons. In the spring of 1980 we hired Louis Pazmino to come over with his tractor to come and plow up a very big vegetable garden. It only took that one year of picking potato bugs and watching half the garden become enveloped in weeds for me to be ready to rethink the plan.  Henry shook his head, and I agreed a smaller garden would be wise.

            I also began working at GreenfieldCommunity College where I met our famous neighbor Elsa Bakalar, perennial gardener extraordinaire. I, who had never thought about flowers beyond marigolds, zinnias, and The Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose, suddenly started planning and planting a perennial border at the edge of the big front lawn. I filled it with strong growers like plume poppy and feverfew from Elsa’s garden and local plant swaps. Henry shook his head while he watched me try to keep up with weeding the perennial border, the vegetable garden and the beginnings of the Rose Walk.

By the time we left for our year in Beijing in 1989 the border had grown to 90 x 8 feet.     When we returned to Heath the spring of 1990 the perennial border was officially lost. As gardeners we learn that a garden is a delicate ephemeral thing. It is always changing, and cannot survive a year of neglect. We worked to revive the vegetable garden, and plant more rose bushes and then took a break to celebrate the Fourth of July with friends and barbecue. The day was enervating, very hot, still and humid. We were happy to fall into our bed that night.

            At 2 in the morning a violent thunderstorm woke us and the smell of smoke moved us into action. Lightning had struck the big old barn across from the house and was burning. Lightning had also struck the telephone pole and knocked out the phone. Henry drove down to our neighbor, leaning on the horn all the way, to call the fire department.

            The volunteer firemen immediately sprayed the house which was already beginning to smoke. It took the rest of the night to put the fire out, but the house was saved. Nearby trees, and roses were singed but they survived. We were left with three stone barn foundation walls.

            The perennial border was gone, but now we had the beginnings of a SunkenGarden which was never a part of any plan. With the help of tons of autumn leaves we turned that space into a vegetable garden filled with cold compost leaf beds according to the Larry Leitner method. In 1994 our daughter was married in front of the by-then more familiar raised beds for vegetables.

            I planted David Austin Roses along the north wall of the Sunken Garden, forgetting that the plow dumped a lot of snow over the edge of the Garden. The roses were too tender and did not survive two Heath winters, or the plowed snow. The rest of the garden, even with raised beds proved to be too wet for vegetables. Only the Sargent crab, planted in the middle of the space survives.

            In 1991, while the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings provided conversation over the hammers and beams, our family gathering spent the Columbus Day weekend working on a new shed. That shed provided space for a rose filled Shed Bed.

Shed and Rose Bed

Shed and Rose Bed

 

            It was also at that year (I think) that I went on a Franklin Land Trust garden tour and visited Walt Cudnohufsky’s garden where I was taken with is use of native plants, but especially by a little grove of trees that casually divided a lawn. While our Lawn Beds do not resemble Cudnohufsky’s grove, it was the inspiration for the Lawn Beds which define spaces in our lawn, and they remain successful elements in our landscape.

            There have been other changes. Troubles with my hip led to a very tiny vegetable garden, the building of the Cottage Ornee and friendship with Jerry Sternstein, rhododendron expert, led to rhododendron plantings. The building of the arbor in front of the house led to an extended Herb Bed.

Cottage Ornee and Rhodies

Cottage Ornee and rhodies

            In our 35 years here at the End of the Road, one thing has followed another. There was never a master plan. My husband has often watched me, and shaken his head, but he is always willing to fall in with the latest plan.

            Now we are in the process of planting a new garden, one that is more limited in scope. And we are older, no longer looking ahead at what seems like endless years ahead of us. This time we thought we should have a master plan. Our good fortune is that, by chance, I was given the opportunity to ‘test’ noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy’s new Home Outside Palette App for IOS and Android phones and tablets. In addition, they asked me to use and review their other services which included two custom designs. The timing was perfect and I agreed.

            Next week I will start talking about our experiences with the Home Outside Palette.

Between the Rows   July 4, 2015

The Dirt on Soil

 

compost

Compost for my new garden

Many of us take soil for granted. I just spoke to my daughter who said she broke sod for a tiny new vegetable garden. After taking away the sod she said she filled that space with good dirt. When I asked what good dirt was she said bags of organic dirt from Home Depot. We’re still talking dirt, even though she talked about good and bad dirt, soil.

I may get dirty while working in my garden, but I love my soil. The forester who made our forest management plan told us we were lucky because our area has good soil. And he had the soil map to prove it. And over the years I have improved the good soil.

Around 2000 we moved the vegetable garden and made it much smaller, 10×10 feet, because I was having so much trouble with my hip – all replaced in 2003. In that new space I started with my good soil and added my own compost to each planting bed.

Now you must have guessed I wouldn’t be happy with a 10×10 garden for long. We added another 10×10 space for a raspberry patch, and added more compost, plus some rock phosphate for phosphorous and greensand  for potassium, two of the three major nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. Nitrogen is the third nutrient in the NPK ratio you see when you buy fertilizer.

I also sprinkle lime from time to time to keep the soil from being too acid. I was not very scientific about any of these amounts, just sprinkling it on the soil when the mood came on me. You can imagine how happy I was when I sent my soil to the University of Massachusetts five years ago and found out that the vegetable garden had good soil with nine percent organic matter.

Any soil is made up of inorganic material like sand and silt, then organic matter. Think of the forest floor where leaves fall on the ground and rot, birds and animals die and they rot into the soil. There is water in the soil, and even, almost forgotten, air.  A good and productive soil is about 50% air.  But we are not done. The soil is also alive with fungi and bacteria that break down all that organic material and turn it into humus. The food web decrees that these fungi and bacteria will be eaten by tiny creatures like nematodes and springtails. In turn they will be eaten by beetles and ants and earthworms. All of them are adding to the richness of the soil, with their dead bodies, and their poop. They are also aerating the soil and making it possible for the water to penetrate.

How do we get good soil? We try to follow Mother Nature’s routine, by eliminating poisonous pesticides that will kill all those living creatures in the soil, and

adding more organic material, otherwise known as compost. We feed the soil, just like Mother Nature instead of later trying to feed our plants with chemical fertilizers.

I was talking to a friend who told me that she went to a permaculture workshop where one motto was “Let the carbon stay where it falls.” That means when you cut back plants in the fall you can leave the debris in the garden.  It is not neat and pretty, but you are following the natural routine. The debris will rot and enrich the soil. You and the debris are feeding the soil.

I am not a purist of any system, but I spent an afternoon pruning deadwood out of my roses and let some of the smaller twigs fall invisibly into the center of the rose bush to rot over time. I confess I did take many larger branches off to a brush pile to rot at a more leisurely pace.

I have made a fair amount of compost over the years. Some I make in a plastic bin I got from some organization. So long ago, I don’t remember who, possibly the Franklin County Waste Management? Compost adds nutrients and the organic matter improves the structure of the soil.

I also make compost piles contained within wire fencing or, in my circular black plastic potato bin with holes in the sides for the potato plants to reach through to the sun if they are so inclined.  I turned that potato bin into a compost bin. I can turn my compost pile by heaving it from one bin to the other.

I also have a plain old compost pile that I don’t turn regularly or fuss with. Eventually that pile turns into compost. I am never in a hurry.

I put all my kitchen peelings into my compost, autumn leaves, weeds, chicken manure when I have it, and debris from the garden in the fall when I am getting ready for winter. From now on I may leave some of that autumnal carbon where it falls.

I am getting ready to start a new garden in Greenfield. The first thing I will do is send a soil sample to UMass so they can tell me what my soil particularly needs.  I don’t know whether it is bad dirt or good soil, but I will find out. Currently I only know it grows a lot of grass, and I have a lot of space to fill with new plants.

I don’t have the necessary amounts of homemade compost for this new garden, so I have ordered a truck load, a major gift from my husband. I will use this compost when planting all the new trees and shrubs I am thinking of, as well as for top dressing on existing plantings.

We are fortunate to have two compost farms nearby, Martin’s Farm in Greenfield and Bear Path Farm in Whately. By feeding the soil with compost I’ll improve the structure and fertility of my soil. If it isn’t good soil to begin, it will be soon.

What next? I have to decide what to plant in this new garden. Do you think there will be roses? Keep watching.

Between the Rows   May 30, 2015

Greenfield Garden Club

 

Greenfield Garden Club members

Greenfield Garden Club members: Lynda Tyler

Who wouldn’t want friends who like to play in the dirt? Who are always learning new things? Who like to get out and about and see new beautiful places? Who everyday notice and appreciate the glorious world around them? Who are always thinking of ways to make their community more beautiful?

A group of people who all wanted friends like that decades ago and formed the Greenfield Garden Club and happily had their regular meetings in the afternoons. But we all know that time inevitably brings change. It was the change in women’s lives that brought about a re-formation of the Club in 1991. More and more women were working and afternoon meetings were no longer feasible. And more men wanted to join too.

So it was that in 1991 Richard Willard, Debran Brocklesby, Judge Alan McGuane, Margareta Athey and Jan (McGuane, as she was then) Adam, were among those who  reorganized the group. The first rule was the installation of evening meetings.

Jan Adam told me that the new Greenfield Garden Club got off to a slow start, but by the end of the first year it had over 100 members. “The mission of the club was to provide education for the gardeners, and to the community, and to work to improve and beautify community spaces.”

I can tell you that a lot of happy and friendly education takes place on field trips to nurseries and flower shows. Lots of comparing of notes and experiences, lots of new creative ideas are born at meetings and on trips.

The new Club has also seen changes over the past 24 years. A newsletter was born and mailed to members, with news of the club’s events, garden reminders, short garden features, and a list of vendors who give discounts to members. Nowadays that newsletter is emailed. There is also a Facebook page, and a website, www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org, that lists meeting dates with program information, and information about the School and Community Grant program including a list of this year’s awards.

I have served on the grant committee and it is wonderful to see the great projects that teachers are creating to teach their students about botany (at an appropriate level) growing food, the deliciousness of fresh vegetables, and the ways plants affect the environment including pollinators. The goal of these grants is to engage the children in gardening, and eating fresh vegetables, and give them a better awareness of the natural world in the small space of a garden. When I read those grant applications I cannot help harking back to my days at UMass where there was emphasis on teaching skills like math, reading and writing through projects like gardening, cooking, wood working and other kinds of practical projects. It is a joy to see it happening.

Adam explained that while the Club did have its own town beautification program for a time, it involved so much work that now the club partners with other organizations to make and keep the town a beautiful place.

Because gardening is so closely allied to cooking, members volunteer at the August community meal at the First Congregational Church. “The club has so many good cooks, and we always bring bouquets of flowers which people really enjoy,” Adam said.

In order to pay for these programs the club has two fundraising events every year, the Extravaganza Plant Sale will be held Saturday, May 23 from 8 am to 1pm. “There are big changes this year because the sale will be held at St. James Episcopal Church on Federal Street which will make it much easier for people to find parking. In addition to all manner of plants, perennials, annuals, herbs and houseplants, there will be baked goodies, and a tag and book sale. For the first time we will also have vendors selling garden related products,” Adam said.

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club  tour

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club garden tour

The second big fundraiser is the Annual Garden Tour which gives gardeners the opportunity to visit some really stunning, and very different private gardens in the area, not only Greenfield. This year that tour will be on Saturday, June 27 from 9 am – 4 pm. Tickets ($12) to this self-guided tour will be on sale at the Trap Plain garden at the intersection of Silver and Federal Streets. Tickets will be on sale all morning. It is best to leave pets at home.

The gardens on the tour are always a surprise. Some are small and amaze me by their artful use of so many common plants, and so many unusual plants that are as stunning as a piece of art. The tour is a place to learn about plants, but also about how to arrange a landscape. Sometimes, a farm makes it into the tour. There is always something for everyone.

Even though it is the GreenfieldGarden Club, membership is open to anyone who wants to join the fun. I have been a member for years.

Between the Rows   May 16, 2015

Celebrations and Caladiums

An Eagle Scout family

An Eagle Scout Family, Kate, Greg, Anthony and Drew

My husband and I just returned from a celebratory trip to the southland. We visited an uncle in Gulfport, drove through very wet bayou country in Mississippi and Texas, and then on to beyond the big Houston metropolis where towers of the city are a showy exclamation point in the flat landscape. We were off to Sienna Plantation where daughter Kate and her family live. We had come to Texas to participate in a solemn ceremony as grandson Anthony received his Eagle Scout award.

Anthony is a third generation Eagle Scout, following in the steps of his father and grandfather. The ceremony was attended by family, brother Scouts, Scout leaders and mentors, friends and neighbors who have watched Anthony grow and helped him along the way. There was some mention of an occasional ‘kick in the pants.’ The ceremony was a moving and important moment in Anthony’s life, and in the life of our family.

The celebration included barbecue at famous Rudy’s. We could tell it was authentic BBQ because menu items, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, coleslaw and beans, etcetera, were sold by the pound and served on waxed paper with plenty of paper towels. No dishes. This is real barbecue! The barbecue was so celebratory we didn’t even have room left to eat any of the leftover celebration cake.

Enchanted Forest nursery

The Enchanted Forest nursery

Of course, no celebratory trip is complete for me until I have visited a nursery. Fortunately Kate needed some new plants for her decorative pots, so we sailed down The Six (that’s the nearby highway) to the EnchantedForest. There, under the shade of enormous century old pecan trees, was a fabulous array of plants. Many of these are too tender for us in Massachusetts, but it is fun to see new, exotic plants that are native to an area where they are as common as sugar maples in our neighborhood.

I had to admire the rose selection that included the brilliant red Miracle on the Hudson named for Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s heroic landing of a passenger plane on the Hudson. I also got to see the array of Drift Roses that are low-growing landscape roses. These roses are not only perfect for mass plantings, low hedging, and at the front of the border, they are disease resistant and bloom for a long season. I was quite partial to the peach and apricot Drifts. I am hoping I can find them locally for my proposed new garden.

The one shade plant that made the biggest impression on me was the caladiums. Caladiums are a tender bulb that needs to be dug in the fall if you want to hold them over for the next year. Many cultivars are quite large and they make it possible to have brilliant or bright color in a shady garden.

I did grow caladiums a couple of summers ago and made a couple of mistakes. First, I chose a cultivar with red and green foliage. They did not show up as grandly on either side of the Cottage Ornee as I had imagined.

Second, I did not pay attention to the fact that the roof overhang kept the potted caladiums from getting rainfall, so I didn’t think to water them very often.

Third, I didn’t set the plants firmly enough so that a critter or two knocked the pots over, damaging the delicate roots. If these three errors can be avoided, caladiums can be a great addition to the shady garden.

Kate bought a few plants for pots in front of her house, torenia, shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), a hybrid impatiens sold under the name Bounce, an unusual kalanchoe named Flap Jacks, creeping jenny and a white Shades of Innocence caladium. It was quite a task to remember the light requirements of each plant as we made our choices because we did have a particular site in mind. We spent Tuesday morning potting them all up for a shady  space in front of her house that gets some afternoon sun. Too much sun and heat is one of threats in Texas.

Caladium

Caladium

I think they will all make a delightful show, but we planted the caladium in a substantial tall blue pot, with a bit of golden creeping jenny to cascade over the side. We chose a spot where the pot would be surrounded by shrubbery. The caladium is relatively small at the moment, but it will grow to be about 18 inches tall, and the leaves will become larger than they are now. The surrounding shrub may need some pruning as the plant grows and this is easily done.

I do think the plant labels that come with most plants these days are helpful. They give requirements for sun or shade, dry or moist soil, drought tolerance, size of the mature plant, bloom season, fertilizing and pruning advice. It’s a good idea to keep these labels to refer to if there is a problem. They also help you keep a record of plants that do well.

The time we spent with Kate and her family was a reminder that everything changes. Anthony has achieved the rank of Eagle denoting his leadership skills, and soon he will graduate and his intellectual talents will be recognized. Then he will become a lowly freshman at the University of Texas at Dallas where his intellect and leadership will be tested anew. His parents and brother will create a whole new daily rhythm without Anthony. And Henry and I will be anticipating big changes in our life. Gardens grow and change, and so do we.

Between the Rows   May  2,2015

 

 

Perennials for the Cutting Garden

 

Peony

Peony

A cutting garden needs annuals to give you a particular blossom for your bouquets all season long, but it also needs perennials to give you blossoms in their season -  and more new plants next year.

In my garden the first perennials that make a big splash are the peonies. They bloom in June. I began growing early season peonies, but soon added late season peonies. My reasoning was that visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing, held the last Sunday in June, would have a glorious show of pink, white and red peonies, even if the roses were a little slow to bloom.

Peonies are a long lived plant, are mostly disease free, and need very little care. Unlike most perennials they don’t even need dividing. The clump will just get bigger and more beautiful every year. It used to be that you were supposed to plant peony roots in the fall, but nowadays you can go to many garden centers and buy a potted peony in the spring. The secret to success with peonies is good, well drained, slightly acid soil, and careful planting. Peony roots should be planted no more than two inches below the surface of the soil. If planted too deep they will not flower, although the foliage will thrive. The cure is to replant at a shallower depth.

Alchemilla or lady’s mantle blooms in May and June. This low growing perennial has round scalloped foliage that is very pretty, and useful, in flower arrangements. The lacy flowers are greenish, a striking element in any bouquet. Lady’s mantle spreads and makes a lovely ground cover as well as abundant flowers and foliage for bouquets.

Achillea 'Terra Cotta'

Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’

Achillea or yarrow is a care-free plant that is not fussy about soil, and is drought tolerant. It repels deer, but attracts bees and butterflies and gardeners who like a guarantee when they buy a plant. Yarrow guarantees success.

Yarrow usually grows to between 16 and 24 inches tall. It has flat flower heads with many tiny flowerets in shades of white, peach, red, yellow and gold.  Coronation Gold which also makes a great dried flower, and Moonshine are favorites. Terra Cotta is a favorite in my garden, and I keep waiting for Paprika to gain the orange tint that shows up in the catalogs. There is no guarantee that flowers in your garden will look exactly like their catalog images.

My granddaughter, a new gardener, was telling me she likes plants with straight stems. She planted tulips, but critters ate all the bulbs. I suggested she try alliums with tall straight stems like Globemaster, which grows to a height of over three feet with a 10 inch globe shaped violet flower head made of tiny star shaped blossoms. No deer or rodents go after these ornamental onion plants. Other varieties include the 8 inch purple Firmament with silver anthers, the Gladiator with 6 inch pinky-purple blossoms and Graceful Beauty which has more delicate white 3 inch blossoms. They all need rich, well drained soil and a sunny location. Alliums in an arrangement are very dramatic.

Helenium, heliopsis and gaillardia are three flowers that seem so similar to me that when I see them in the garden I never know which is which. Heliopsis has sunny yellow/gold petals and centers. Summer Nights and Summer Sun are between 3 and 4 feet tall Songbirds will love the seed in the fall and you will have endless bouquets.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

Helenium and gaillardia are daisy-like flowers in sunny colors, shades of yellow, gold, orange and red. Both come in similar colors but heleniums have slightly reflexed petals like a skirt, around deep brown mounded centers. They are about 3 feet tall. I have Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ in my garden and it hearty, hardy and makes great bouquests.

Most gaillardias are smaller, and include varieties like Arizona Apricot and Goblin that are suitable for containers. Like the heleniums they have colorful rays arranged around a dark center. They need sun and well drained soil, and the bees love them.

The large dahlia family gives you everything you need in a cut flower, different flower forms and sizes, good long and strong stems, and a long vase life.

Most dahlias start to bloom in midsummer and there are many sizes from low growing tiny pom pom varieties to blossoms so large, 10 inches or more, that they are called dinner plate dahlias. Hummingbirds like dahlias. The Swan Island Dahlia catalog and website even have pages devoted to their best cut flower varieties.

Once you have your cutting garden you’ll be making bouquets on a regular basis. Some people have natural artistic talent. I cannot lay any claim to artistic talent at all, but putting together a bouquet is a relaxing activity, and in the end the flowers, leaves and grasses are so pretty in you can hardly make an unattractive bouquet. The flowers themselves will help and speak to you.

Needless to say there are many more excellent annuals, perennials, grasses, and bulbs suitable for flower arranging than I can include here. Years ago I bought A Garden for Cutting: Gardening for Flower Arrangements by Margaret Parke and it is a book I turn to time and again because it is so beautiful and inspiring. Used copies are available on Amazon, but there are new books like The Cut Flower Patch: Grow your own cut flowers all year round by Louise Curley.

A cutting garden is an easy way to have colorful flowers, and uncountable bouquets for your friends – and yourself.

Between the Rows   April 28, 2015

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time by Craig LeHoullier

Tomatoes are the most popular fruit in the world. First grown by the Aztecs and Incas around 700 AD, they spread to Europe in the late 16th century and are now grown all around the world.

There aren’t too many tomatoes used in dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, so it may come as a surprise that China grows and consumes more tomatoes than any other country. Still it is not so surprising when you consider that China is home to at least 18% of the world’s population. India with 17% of the world’s population runs a close second in tomato consumption, while the United States with only about 4% of the world’s population, is third on the list by eating 11 million metric tonnes of tomatoes to China’s 34 million metric tonnes. That is a lot of tomatoes! Those population percentages suggest a lot about what changes are likely over the next decades, not only with tomatoes.

In our country the vast amount of tomatoes are grown in California and Florida which means many of these tomatoes are grown to withstand hundreds and even thousands of miles of shipping. Some are grown to ripen all at once to make harvesting more efficient for food companies like Heinz and companies that can tomatoes in various forms. And yet we all long for flavorful sun ripened tomatoes to eat off the vine on a summer afternoon – which means that a lot of us grow tomatoes in the backyard. Fortunately, with the rise of local farms and farmer’s markets, it is easier to get those fresh grown tomatoes even if we don’t have yards.

Craig LeHoullier, tomato aficionado extraordinaire, has grown over 1,200 tomato varieties over 30 years and has now written Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing $19.95). This is a book about the history of tomatoes, and the delights of heirloom tomatoes. He does admit “To be fair, with the exception of Moreton, Supersteak, Early Cascade, Big Girl and Ultra Sweet, the hybrids did very well in terms of yield and flavor. However none of the hybrids were superior to the best of the open-pollinated varieties – Nepal, Brandywine, Anna Russian, and Polish, to name but a few of the superb heirlooms that I tested.”

Epic Tomatoes is just chock-full of amazing historical facts including the famous public tomato consumption event staged by Robert Gibbon Johnson, a leading citizen of Salem, New Jersey in 1820. Because they are members of the nightshade family tomatoes were generally considered poisonous at that time, so hundreds of people came from miles around to witness this startling event. “The story goes that when Johnson bit into a tomato some onlookers fainted, and with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.”  However tomatoes did not really become popular until after the Civil War.

History is fascinating, but LeHoullier goes on to give information about his favorite varieties which include Tiger Tom, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, the now more familiar Brandywine and the encouraging Mortgage Lifter. The book would be fun to read if only for the names of these historic and delicious tomatoes: Kellogg’s Breakfast, Stump of the World, Rosella Purple, Mexico Midget, Giant Syrian, Black from Tula, Green Zebra, Black Prince, Hugh’s German Johnson, and Gregori’s Altai.

All this information is as delicious as a sun warmed Cherokee Purple, one of my own favorites, but LeHoullier has practical advice and instruction to offer new and experienced gardeners. When do you plant seeds indoors? What’s the best planting mix? There is full information about caring for seedlings indoors and when to plant them outdoors. He also gives advice on buying transplants and even the new grafted transplants. He thinks the jury is still out on the benefits of grafting, but that the idea is promising.

Cat faced tomato

Cat Face afflicted tomato – Now I know what cat face looks like

Chapter 9: Troubleshooting Diseases , Pests and Other Problems was particularly fascinating and useful. Clear photographs make it easy to identify the problems that can occur, with causes, and control. I had heard the term cat-face but never knew what it meant. Now I do. Cat-face causes brown corky folds at the blossom end of a tomato that usually afflicts beefsteak tomato varieties. I have grown cat-faced tomatoes.

It is easier to find heirloom tomato seeds, and even transplants, than it used to be. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) offers dozens of varieties from green, to yellow, pink, red and purple as well as paste tomatoes, cherry and plum. Local garden centers also offer an array of these heirloom seedlings.  How to choose from so many? LeHoullier provides a list of 250 recommendations, across the various spectrums, listing size, season and flavor.

In spite of the discouraging snow cover around our house, it is time to start gardening. It is time to start planting tomato seeds indoors. It is time to start visualizing fresh picked tomatoes eaten on the way from the garden to the house. With juice running down your arm. LeHoullier has definitely put me in the mood.

I do not expect to have a vegetable garden this year, but I was given a couple of fabric Smart Pots to test, and I plan to Smart Pot up some small heirloom tomatoes. Expect to hear more about Smart Pots, and my heirloom tomato adventures.

Between the Rows   April 11, 2015