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Dear Friend and Gardener

Tovah Martin and Terrariums

Tovah Martin

Tovah Martin photo by Kindra Clineff

Tovah Martin, gardener and author, has devoted a good part of her life to houseplants. Most of us have a limited view of what houseplants we might put on our windowsills, but when she found herself working at the wonderful Logee’s Greenhouse in Connecticut she fell in love with the hundreds of houseplant varieties put into her care.

Over the years Martin has written books like Well-Clad Windowsills: Houseplants for Four Exposures, The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home; The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow; and The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature. Her knowledge about the needs and benefits of various houseplants, as well as their beauty, sometimes sculptural and sometimes romantic, is encyclopedic, and her prose is a delight touched with humor.

As a part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Greenfield Garden Club, the Club is bringing the notable and charming Tovah Martin to Greenfield on Sunday afternoon, June 5 to give a lecture on terrariums, followed by a book signing, and then a terrarium making workshop. This event will be held at the gracious Brandt House on Highland Avenue.

Martin looks at terrariums as a practical way to have a whimsical or calming snippet of nature at hand, no matter what kind of houseplant space you might have. When I spoke to Martin I asked when she became an expert on terrariums. “I’ve made terrariums my whole adult life. Actually even before that. And now I give workshops for every age group from Brownie troops to senior citizens,” she said.

Terrariums are always a popular type of garden from the charming berry bowls filled with a bit of American teaberry with its shiny petite foliage and red berries, to fish tanks turned into a woodland scene. “Terrariums are the smallest landscape you’ll ever have to design,” Martin said. Participants in her workshop should bring their own container but other terrarium materials will be provided. “Almost any glass can be used for a terrarium,” she said. She added that she has a pretty good eye and is frugal so she is a regular at Goodwill stores. No glass container is too humble, large wide mouth mason jars work just as well.

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin

The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin

“Everyone should have nature by their side and terrariums make it easier. Terrariums are self watering, they almost grow on auto-pilot. Terrarium plants get the humidity they need, especially in the winter when our houses are so dry from the heating systems,” she said.

In her workshop she will demonstrate, and guide participants in the making of a terrarium that includes soil and plants, using surprising tools and giving useful tips. She will cover the basics of construction, and care from every angle including watering and light sources. Terrariums should not be placed in the sun, which is one reason they are such a good solution for the house that does not have much in the way of sunny windows, or possibly an office with limited light.

Beyond the closed terrarium that I am familiar with Martin points out that a terrarium is also an ideal environment for handling cuttings and making new plants, or for starting seeds. She said not all terrariums need to be closed and that even an open terrarium environment can help conserve moisture and will keep a plant happy with less work.

Extra pleasures on June 5: Michael Nix will be providing music, Kestrel of Northampton will be selling terrarium plants and supplies, and the World Eye will be selling books. Tickets are available at World Eye Books or can be ordered by calling Jean Wall at 773-9069. The cost of the lecture is $25 and $50 for the lecture and the workshop. Garden Club members get a discount of $20 and $40. For more information log on to the Greenfield Garden Club’s website http://www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org/special-events.html

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It is Plant Sale Season. Today the Bridge of Flowers is having their annual plant sale that will include shrubs, annuals and perennials; many are divisions of plants on the Bridge. There will be a great variety from asters to peonies to violets. Master Gardeners will be on hand to do soil testing. The sale will be held on the TrinityChurch’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in ShelburneFalls from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. All profits benefit the Bridge.

Next Saturday, May 21 is the Garden Club of Amherst’s plant sale under the tent on the Common next to the Farmer’s Market from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Profits benefit conservation efforts and a scholarship fund.

On Saturday, May 28 The Greenfield Garden Club will hold its annual Extravagaza on the lawn of St James Episcopal Church on Federal Street from 9 am to 2 pm. In addition to plants donated by club members there will be a tag/book sale, a bake sale and face painting for the kids. Rain or shine. Profits benefit the grant program for area schools.

Between the Rows   May 14, 2016

 

Bridge of Flowers – a Public Garden, a Public Joy

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

May 6th was American Public Gardens Day, but the American Public Gardens Association (AGPA) says official festivities continue right through Mother’s Day. The Bridge of Flowers, possibly our most notable local public garden, will not have any special festivities, but the community enjoys the festive and floriferous atmosphere every day from April 1 to October 30.

The APGA defines a public garden as one “that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning. It must be open to the public and the garden’s resources and accommodations must be made to all visitors.” This basic definition provides a physical description but does not begin to describe what the Bridge of Flowersmeans to our community.

The Bridge of Flowers has a long history beginning in 1929 when the trolley service between Colrain and ShelburneFalls was discontinued. It was the proliferation of that new locomotion, cars and trucks, that caused the demise of the trolley. If the bridge’s important function of moving freight, mail and residents from town to town was its only function, it might have remained the weedy eyesore it quickly became, or even been torn down. However, the bridge also carried a vital water main from Shelburne to Buckland. The bridge could not be demolished.

It was Antoinette Burnham who mused that a bridge that could grow all those weeds could also grow flowers. With the help of her husband who typed up a letter to the Greenfield Recorder, community support soon began to build.

Crocosmia on the Bridge of Flowers

Crocosmia, phlox and daylilies

The Shelburne Falls Fire District bought the bridge for $1,250; they are the owners of the bridge structure to this day. In the spring of 1929 eighty loads of loam were brought to the bridge along with several loads of fertilizer. I suspect the fertilizer was manure from local farmers, but that is my own thought. All this work was done by volunteers while the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club and others in the community raised $1000. I also suspect that the first plantings included divisions of perennials from local gardens and perhaps a few packets of seed.

Ever since its creation as The Bridge of Flowers the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club (now the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club) has assumed responsibility for the care and management of the Bridge. The Bridge of Flowers committee is a subcommittee of the Women’s Club, reporting to it and receiving support from the Club.

The look of the plantings on the Bridge has changed over time. We gardeners know that the very nature of a garden is change. Over the years women like Gertrude Newell, Trudy Finck, Carolyn Wheeler and Carole Markle took over the direction of the garden, and different ideas about style have taken their turn. For the past 20 years Carole Delorenzo, with her great horticultural knowledge, has been Head Gardener. What never changed was the pleasure local residents enjoyed as they used the Bridge of Flowers, the prettiest way to get from one town to the other, as they went about their rounds.

The nation’s economy also changed over those decades. Our area which is an agricultural area, gained a reputation as a tourist area. The commonwealth now has a Department of Travel and Tourism which promotes the beauties, arts, excitements and adventures available throughout the state. The Bridge of Flowers figures in their promotions, as it does in the promotions of the Mohawk Trail Association.

The result is that over 36,000 visitors sign the Bridge of Flowers guest book every year. Of course, some of these people live locally, but there are visits from all over the US, and 90 foreign countries ranging from England to Japan and China.

When Antoinette Burnham first thought that a weedy bridge could become a community asset I doubt that she imagined anything more than a spot of beauty that would give pleasure. And yet, the Bridge has become an economic benefit to the town by attracting tourists who will stop for a meal, or an ice cream cone, or beautiful items from our galleries.

Columbines for the Plant Sale

Columbines for the Plant Sale

The Bridge of Flowers committee is grateful for the way that town businesses have appreciated the Bridge and what it means by becoming Friends of the Bridge. Until 2008 the Committee depended on funds from the donation boxes, but that was beginning to be insufficient. It was out of the need for more financial help that the Friends of the Bridge was created. The generous response from a wide community has increased every year. It is gratifying to know how the Bridge is loved and appreciated.

The last few years have seen beautiful additions to the Bridge, from the sign-in kiosks, the Silent Spring fountain, and the River Bench created by Bob Compton, Paul Forth and John Sendelbach along with the generosity of W.R. Hillman & Sons and Goshen Stone. This year the Garden House was completed. The design was donated by architect Kim Erslev and the finishing touch was the donation of a stained glass window designed by Nancy Katz and created by her husband Mark Liebowitz.

Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

In readiness for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale

Next Saturday, May 14, the Bridge of Flowers committee will hold their annual plant sale which supports the Bridge, and makes it possible to share some of the Bridge’s plants, and plants from local gardens, with area gardeners. The Plant Sale is held on the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in Shelburne Falls rain or shine. In addition to perennials there will be annuals, refreshments, vendors, and Master Gardeners who will do soil tests. Gardeners can come early and scope out the plants, but no touching until the bell rings at 9 am. Sale ends at noon.

Between the Rows   May 7, 2016

Children, Seeds and New Worlds Opening

 

Seeing Seeds by Llewellyn and Chace

Seeing Seeds by LLewellyn and Chace

It has been my privilege and joy to spend a few Thursday afternoons with Kate Bailey’s first grade at Four CornersSchool reading about, and learning about seeds. They were already quite learned. They not only knew that apples held a star in their centers, that fruit pits were seeds; they also knew that strawberry seeds were on the outside of the fruit, not inside. They are all so eager to share information about their own gardens and their favorite plants. They have a lot of favorite plants!

One afternoon I brought the squash seeds from my dinner the night before. Everyone got two or three seeds and Ms. Bailey lept up to get out the microscopes and magnifying glasses. It was just about the same moment that the children at one table and I cried out, “The seed has a shell, and the real seed is inside!”  I had nothing on those kids with their quick minds and clever fingers.

When we looked closely, very closely, at the true seed we could actually see the tiny shoot and the beginnings of a root in the seed. Ms. Bailey was even able to hook up a microscope to a projector to show the enlarged image on the white board so the whole class could look with wonder and excitement at the very beginnings of this plant’s life. Hooray for a school that brings this technology to the classroom!

I also brought Seeing Seeds: A Journey into the World of Seedheads, Pods, and Fruit written by Teri Dunn Chace with extraordinary macro photography by Robert Llewellyn. This beautiful book with its clear descriptions of seed science, and its brilliant photographs was not intended for first graders, but it is ideal for parent and child to peruse together.

In class we had discussed the different ways that seeds spread. The children knew about planting seeds from a packet but they also knew that dandelion seeds moved on the wind, and that some seeds were moved in the gut of animals who ate the plant. A few giggles there.  Seeing Seeds gave them a chance to see very close up the mechanisms that some seeds make use of, as well as the whole variety of seed cases, pods, husks and shells.

With the excitement over our own “experiment”, opening the seed case to see what we could see, the book took a back seat that afternoon. Even so, in quieter moments Seeing Seeds is the kind of book that can educate our eyes (adult and child) and help us to see details of the different types and forms of seeds. This book opens our eyes to the beauty and extravagance of Mother Nature who has found so many ways to help plants reproduce and proliferate.

Seeing Seeds (Timber Press $29.95) is one coffee table book that would get a lot of use because it is so beautiful and the text is clear, colorful and informative. It is not only the variety of mechanisms that a seed might use, but the reasons for those mechanisms that I found so fascinating. Chace writes about the way seeds, fruits, pods and nuts are  enhanced with structures such as hairs, hooks, tufts, feathers, spikes, spines, etc., all  meant to help the seeds. A spiky ball will protect them from being eaten by predators, and a layer of insulation stabilizes internal temperature and physically protects them. These are things we adults might never consider, but the protections would certainly be understood by children when they are pointed out. This is a book for the whole family.

Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell

Gardening on a Shoestring by Alex Mitchell

Of course, having discussed seeds at some length, children will want to plant seeds. Indeed, the adults in the family may also be more than ready to prepare a garden and watch the magic of seeds and growth with their children. Gardening on A Shoestring: 100 Fun Upcycled Garden Projects by Alex Mitchell (Cool Springs Press$19.99) provides plenty of basic gardening advice about planning and planting a garden with the promised 100 inexpensive projects which include using tin cans, polystyrene and plastic throwaways for plant containers to making liquid fertilizers with plants, and setting up a worm farm to make rich compost.

I was particularly taken by the worm farm directions. When we made our worm farm a number of years ago, the small plastic bins that I could find were all clear, translucent. However worms don’t like the sunlight so I bought a very large plastic bin because it was the only opaque bin I could find. Mitchell suggests lining a clear plastic bin with cardboard. Why didn’t I think of that? I am on my way to having a new and smaller worm farm.

Children might be very interested in making a worm farm, but there are other projects suitable for the young set. Instead of buying plastic seedling trays you can make seedling pots out of newspaper, or toilet paper or paper towel rolls. This is a quick and useful project.

Mitchell also gives clear directions, aided by photographs, for multiplying the number of plants you already have by taking root cuttings, and layering. There is more to propagating plants than seeds.

Whether you are an adult or a child, you will find any number of inspiring projects that will feed the longing we all have to be creative, to have fun, to learn and to laugh and say – “Look what I made!”

Between the Rows   April 30, 2016

After Pollinators and Wildflowers Comes a Cocktail Hour

Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes

Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes

It doesn’t seem so very long ago that no one gave a thought to pollinators. People were afraid of bees and stings, but they never thought about the hundreds of bee species that kept vegetable and fruit farms producing. Perhaps that was because so much of our food came from far off places like California where we were never aware of what farms, farmers and crops needed.

Nowadays, with people we are more sensible of the benefits of local farms and local food. We realize that at least 30% of the world’s food crops need to be pollinated. Happily there are many more bees and insects that do this important job than we ever imagined. Unhappily human civilization continues to encroach on the habitat that pollinators need. Developments of all sorts, housing, business and even agriculture are taking land that was wild, land that provided the plants and living spaces that bees and other pollinators need to thrive.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and other Pollinators by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyageur Press $21.99) notes that our awareness of the needs of pollinators has been raised. Hayes has set about showing us how we homeowners can take responsibility for improving pollinator habitat right in our own backyards.

Hayes interviews pollinator experts to talk about the value of native plants versus ‘nativars,’ native plants that have been hybridized; the problems created by GMOs; the need for shelter for pollinators; and the necessity of many other beneficial insects.

She provides plant lists to help us include useful plants for pollinators, plants that bloom throughout the season providing nectar, and food for caterpillars. Once I realized how important dill and parsley were to the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, I never again bemoaned loosing my crop to those caterpillars.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening includes occasional Fun Facts, as well. Did you know that the bees in White House kitchen garden produce enough honey to give as gifts at state dinners and to visiting diplomats? That a single little mason bee does as much pollinating as 100 honeybees? That milkweed seed capsules were collected during WWII so that the fluffy seed material could be used to fill servicemen’s lifejackets?

Hayes, a Master Gardener, has gardened, photographed, and written in various locations and in Minneapolis for the last few years.

Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman

Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman

Ted Elliman and the New England Wild Flower Society have put together a comprehensive new wildflower guide that has images and information of over 1000 native plants. This book not only has beautiful and helpful images, the introductory section is a veritable course in botany that will help you to identify the plants you find on your nature walks. Since 90% of the wild plants around the world need pollination I can’t help thinking how wildflowers would suffer without pollinators.

Wildflowers of New England (Timber Press $27.95) is very easy to use because it provides a clear road to identitification. You begin with color, but within the color sections plants are organized by petal design and number. For example red Kalmia angustifolia with 5 radial petals is listed after dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which has 4 radial petals.

With this guide I have hopes of finally differentiating between 11 varieties of aster from 4 different genus: Doellingeria; Oligoneurn; and Symphyotrichum. Of course, the fleabanes (Erigeron) are similar (to my uneducated eye) but I think I stand a fighting chance of knowing one from the other because of the clear photographs and text.

Wildflowers of New England is a substantial little book, in many ways, but the heavy, shiny cover, complete with ruler marking, is tough enough to take on hikes for frequent, on- site referrals.

After all the joyous work of studying pollinators and wildflowers, you might be ready for The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press $19.95) who lives out on Cape Cod.

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari

Fornari suggests we consider our domestic landscape as a party venue, beginning with a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and all kinds of family celebrations that might take place in the garden, to a companionable cocktail hour with a spouse or friends in the evening.

What plants should be included in this garden? Some plants can provide tactile experiences like the soft blades of Mexican feather grass or velvety silver lamb’s ears. Fragrance on the evening air can be supplied by perennials honeysuckle, lavender, oriental lilies. Don’t forget fragrant annuals like Virginia stocks or nicotiana.

Fornari also makes suggestions about lighting, water in many forms, and sound in the garden that can be enjoyed by the gardener, but she also writes about keeping butterflies and birds happy too.

Since this is a cocktail hour garden she is talking about, she also includes cocktail recipes, including non-alcoholic drinks, and the herbs and  flowers that can dress up and spike those drinks. Her tone is conversational, a charming invitation to join her for a cocktail and conversation at the end of the day.

Between the Rows   April 9, 2016

 

 

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Seed starting supplies

Seed starting supplies

It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.

The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.

I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.

One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.

However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.

To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers.  I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.

For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.

If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.

You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.

Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.

You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.

Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.

You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.

Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.

You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.

If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.

Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.

Happy planting.

Between the Rows   March 19, 2016

 

 

 

Groundcovers for a Lawn-less Garden.

Barren strawberry

Waldstenia, barren strawberry

One of the goals we had for our new Greenfield garden was to make it  lawnless. We certainly did not want a wild lawless garden, but we did not want large areas of grass that would need mowing. To prove his devotion to this goal my husband bought an inexpensive power lawn mower and said that it would probably last two years. He was giving me two years to design and plant a garden that would not include lawn that needed mowing.

In Heath I made small efforts to use ground covers. After I realized that the common thyme in my herb garden, and at the edge of the piazza was seeding itself in our field, I began dividing the exuberantly growing thyme and replacing a patch of grass with a shovelful of a thyme division. It took very little effort, and a generous post-planting watering to make sure the thyme roots were making good contact with the soil.

Elegant English gardens often feature a section of thyme garden, allowing it to bloom before mowing it down and waiting for another bloom time. Thyme does fine in ordinary soil and doesn’t mind being walked on. Thyme lawns work equally well in New England. We did mow the Heath lawns, but the thyme sections got fewer mowings so we felt we were taking a step in the right direction.

I did remove the turf of two lawn sections planting Waldsteinia fragarioides or barren strawberry in one area, and tiarella or foam flower in another. Both are hardy, native to the United States, bloom in April into May, and  tolerate sun or partial shade. I never needed to water these plants.

Barren strawberry with its frilly scalloped leaves bears sunny golden spring flowers on stems no more that eight inches tall in the spring. A single plant will soon cover a two foot square area, more quickly if the soil is good. It spreads by runner.

Tiarella, foam flower

Tiarella, foam flower

Foamflower  can tolerate partial to full shade. The creeping heart- shaped leaves cover the ground and the stems can reach up to 12 inches and are covered with airy, one might say foamy, white flowers in May.

Epimedium rubra

Epimedium rubra

It is sometimes difficult to find plants that will thrive in dry shade. I was not very confident when I planted my first Epimedium rubra with delicate pink flowers because I thought it was very tender. But it proved happy in Heath, and spread into such a good clump that I was able to give divisions to friends. I later planted Epimedium x versicolor ‘Suphureum’ which had spurred yellow blossoms held above the foliage and was an equally strong grower. These delicate looking plants are actually hardy, the dainty flowers borne on wiry stems are often called fairy hats.

The Epimedium world was a lot larger than I imagined and there is an excellent epimedium nursery in Templeton, Massachusetts which offers scores of epimedium cultivars. You can view the online catalog at www.epimediums.com which also gives the only dates when you can actually visit in May and see the plants in bloom.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’

I have never grown wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, but I have seen it growing in the shady woods. It prefers acid, moist but well drained soil. This plant is no more than six inches tall, with shiny dark green leaves and red berries. When you crush the leaves you will get the sweet wintergreen fragrance.

It is possible that many of us know partridgeberry, Mitchella repens, from its appearance in Berry Bowls during the Christmas season. This is a real creeper, only one or two inches tall with tiny leaves, white flowers in the spring and red berries in the fall and winter.

Barren strawberry, foam flower, epimediums, wintergreen and partridgeberry are all good choices for a shady woodland garden which is one way I am hoping to have a lawnless garden.

Pachysandra is a common groundcover beloved because it attractive with glossy toothed foliage, as well as hardy and dependable, happily growing and spreading under trees. However, the pachysandra that is available at most nurseries is Pachysandra terminalis which has been known to be invasive. The alternative is Pachysandra procumbens, otherwise known as Allegheny spurge. This pachysandra does not have the glossy leaves, but it does have more distinctive flowers in the spring, fragrant bottlebrush spikes rising a few inches above the foliage.

So far, I have only mentioned low growing groundcovers that will grow in the shade. However, shrubs can also be an answer. I have a friend who has planted a tapestry of creeping junipers. Many junipers grow rapidly, covering a six foot square area in a year or two. My friend’s junipers were planted to cover the space she wanted in two years, but she said they are amenable to pruning and easy to keep under control. Junipers prefer full sun and a well draining soil. They do not like to be wet.

Low growing junipers do not limit themselves to a dull green. Juniperus horizontalis Wiltonii, has a blue-green tone and creeps along, only eight inches high. Golden Carpet is even more mat-like at for inches high, with charteuse-gold foliage.

Groundcovers are only one way to have a lawn-less garden. I’ll explore other methods in future.

Between the Rows   February 20, 2016

Plentiful Primroses

 

Primroses

Primroses from Fosters

Earlier this week I entered Foster’s Market and the first thing I saw was a bank of primroses. I could not have been happier. Many years ago I bought a pot of Foster’s primroses and after the blossoms had gone by I saved the plant until spring tip toed in. I planted it at the edge of a wooded spot in our Heath backyard. I didn’t do much in the way of preparation, just digging with a trowel and adding a couple of handfuls of compost. The primroses did increase with no help from me and were still blooming last spring. Those pale primroses were not my last. I bought more primroses at Fosters, adding richer and more brilliant red, and purple varieties.

Of course, having seen the new array I had to buy four pots (two pots for $7) in shades of primrose cream, yellow and gold. They made a lovely centerpiece on the dining table for a luncheon with friends. There are over 500 species of primula, but I believe the species on my table is P. vulgaris, sometimes called the English primrose. They will also go into the garden when the time comes.

Another primrose for the wild garden is P. veris. The flowers are very similar to the English primrose but they form pendulous clusters on slightly taller stems, up to 10 or 12 inches. This is the primrose that is referred to as cowslips in Shakespeare’s plays like The Tempest. Ariel sings his  song, “Where the bee sucks, there suck I. In a cowslip’s bell I lie.”

Over the years I have admired other primroses. I visited a friend one wet spring and she showed me the pale pink Japanese primroses growing in a shallow stream. Most P. japonica primroses bloom in shades of pink and white. These are a candelabra type with tiers of blossoms held high on a stem that can be two feet tall. They obviously like water and reseed freely making a lovely wild planting in the shade. This seems like a perfect plant for my very wet Greenfield garden.

While the P. japonica have a candelabra form, there are other types in this large candelabra family. P. bulleyana is tall with apricot/orange blooms bringing color later in the season. It also likes the wet and will naturalize quickly. P. beesiana is another candelabra variety, about two feet tall, with pinky/purple blossoms blooming from spring into summer. These primroses, like most that have enough of a stem, are good cutting flowers for bouquets.

Primula tommasinii You and Me Blue is a very unusual primrose that has a double blossom, but it does not have double the number of petals, it has a second blossom growing up from the first blossom on an 8 to 12 inch stem. It is called a hose-in-hose flower named after a type of hose that men wore in the 1500s. Blue is an unusual color in primroses, so this is a fascinating flower on at least two levels.

Many primulas are hardy to zone 5 and are not difficult to grow given rich soil, moisture and some shade. But there are other varieties that have very different requirements.

The auriculas are a group of primroses that are ideal for a partly shady spot with neutral or slightly alkaline soil. They are alpine plants and do well in a rock garden that can be top dressed with fine gravel. Auriculas have a more dramatic form comprised of richly colored petals surrounding a white or pale center. Most also have a pale coating that is called ‘farina’ and is considered desirable, especially if you are entering your auricula in a flower show. Unlike the candelabra primroses they do not come true from seed, nor do they reseed themselves as freely.

Primroses

Primroses in the garden

I never attempted to divide my primroses, leaving them to their own devices, and gave them no attention after planting. They did increase in size, but not to the extent that is possible.

Dividing primroses can be done after blooming after deadheading, or in the early fall. A clump can be dug up and the corms can be seen and pulled apart gently. The new planting spot should be enriched with rotted manure or good compost. Then the leaves can be cut back to three inches, as well as the roots. Cutting back in this way will encourage the division to make new strong roots without needing to feed lush foliage. They can be fertilized again after replanting with non-nitrogen fertilizers. We want to concentrate on building new roots, not new foliage.

Aside from Foster’s Market which sells primroses for a brief period I don’t know where you can buy plants locally. Portland Nursery and Garden Center in Portland, Washington sells a selection of primula varieties (www.portlandnursery.com, and I did find Primula tomasinii You and Me Blue at Bluestone Perennials (www.bluestoneperennials.com) among their selection of single and frilly double primulas.

I don’t often see primroses in gardens so I am especially looking forward to having my own bank of P. japonica, luxuriating in my wet garden. Even though I am now living in town I am trying to create a woodland garden, a garden unlike my sunny hill garden. This woodland garden will be a response to my very different site, to my desire for more native plants that will support birds and pollinators, and (I hope) it will be less labor intensive.

Primroses

Primroses

Between the Rows  January 23, 2016

Everything Changes – in the garden and everywhere

Planting in a Post Wild World

Planting in a Post-Wild World

Everything changes. Change on all fronts is inescapable, unstoppable and inevitable. No one knows this more than a gardener who watches her garden change over the years.

In 2016 I will be gardening in a new garden, a smaller garden, a garden that will not require as much maintenance as the Heath garden. It is also a garden with very different features. The soil is heavy clay. The soil is very wet and drains slowly.  There is a lot of shade.

With the help of noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy’s Home Outside Palette app my husband and I began to layout and plant garden beds, concentrating on water loving, or water tolerant native shrubs.  My desire was to have a kind of woodland garden instead of perennial beds .

Over the years I have become more and more interested in native plants, and more and more aware of their value in maintaining the health of our ecosystems. Certain books have led me along this path including Bringing Nature Home by entomologist Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy also collaborated with Rick Darke on The Living Landscape: Designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Darke is a landscape lecturer and photographer who proves that a biodiverse garden can be beautiful.

Most recently Timber Press sent me a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.

One of their goals is to help gardeners create beautiful gardens that more closely replicate the ways plants grow in the wild even in urban and suburban situations.  “The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious with less maintenance. The solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of compatible species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.”

While Rainer and West value native species, they call their philosophy “a middle way” in which layered plantings mean more room for compatible non-natives (never invasives) and a greater diversity of beneficial plants. They want to focus on naturally occurring plant communities which means paying less attention to purely native plantings and concentrating on performance and adaptability. Their idea is to make our relationship to nature a collaborative one.

I should mention here that the book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs that give an explicit view of what they are talking about. Photographs show the differences in landscapes from the humble hellstrip along a sidewalk to flowery meadows, droughty hillsides and woodlands.

Rainer and West lay out five basic principles. The first is to concentrate on related populations, not isolated indivduals. This means not planting the Echinacea next to the sedum next to the hellebore. It means letting plants self-seed and intermingle, as they do in nature. My own Heath lawn, or flowery mead as I called it, is a case in point.

Principle two: Stress can be an asset. This is often how we get to naturally occurring plant communities.

Principle three: Cover the ground densely by vertically layering plants. This is a reminder that bare soil does not exist in nature and we can find plants to fill every niche of space and soil type and let nature do some of that filling in.

Principle four: Make it attractive and legible. This principle will calm those who wonder if all Rainer and West desire is messy, weedy woodland. They are realists they say, and “designed plant communities can be patterned and stylized in a way that makes them understandable, ordered and attractive. They need not replicate nature in order to capture its spirit.”  They suggest ‘frames’ which can be pathways or other hardscape elements like fences or walls.

Principle five: Management, not maintenance. Gardeners know you cannot plant a garden and then sit back and admire it indefinitely. But with good management you can eliminate many chores, weeding, watering, spraying, etc. This is possibly my favorite principle.

The penultimate chapter gives specific instruction on planting and maintaining a plant community.

Planting in a Post-Wild World is a dense, but readable book. Not all the ideas are brand new but they are presented in new ways, broadening their applicability, and showing how we can adapt them to our own situation. Rainer and West believe the time is right for a horticultural renaissance where plantings will be ecologically diverse, functional and sound, but will also be beautiful, understandable and appealing to the gardener and her friends.

I made a start on a new and different garden this past summer, but there is a lot of work to do in 2016 to make it functional in the ways I first imagined, and in new ways as well. I am now dreaming of a hugelkulture project. Stay tuned. I am also thinking of how I can expand on the plans I made for covering the ground in my new, and soon to be enlarged beds. I think I can be bolder about letting plants intermingle. I want to work towards the plateau of management.

How will you and your garden change in 2016?

Between the Rows  January 2, 2016

Gift Books for the Gardener

At my house every gift giving occasion should include a book, or three. Every year there is a new crop of books to help new and experienced gardeners keep up with new trends and techniques, and find new ways to make their gardens, indoors and out, more beautiful and/or productive. Here is a sampling of new books for the gardener.

Fruit Gardener's Bible

Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry

Fruit Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit and Nuts in the Home Garden by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry ($25 Storey Publishing)

Lewis Hill’s books have been with me almost ever since we moved to Heath and planned to start producing a lot of our food. I constantly referred to his book Cold Climate Gardening, Fruits and Berries for the HomeGarden, and Pruning Simplified. Lewis Hill was a Vermonter who did his best to help gardeners in their endeavors. He passed away in 2008, but his good friend and colleague Leonard Perry took on the job of revising Hill’s book on growing berries and fruits.

The Fruit Gardener’s Bible is a truly encyclopedic work. In revising the book Perry has updated and included new information about sustainable practices including biological pest and disease control. He also discusses the ways gardeners want to incorporate fruits and nuts into their ornamental landscapes to make use of their beauty as well as their harvests. In addition there are many new varieties of common fruits and more interest in less familiar fruits like loganberries and hardy kiwis.

Hill was a lifelong Vermonter and his writings tended to concentrate on gardens for the New England climates. Perry has expanded the scope of crops and the needs of gardeners who live where the climate posses different challenges.

This book has a focus on organic techniques and provides information from propagating to harvesting. The photographs are beautiful and instructive.

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph

Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph ($17 Storey Publishing)

Ann Ralph’s book is dedicated to the idea that fruit trees can be kept small, no taller than you are, while remaining healthy and productive. What it takes is careful pruning. Her focus is on rootstocks instead of the semi-dwarf label which she criticizes as giving a false idea of how big a tree will grow.

I appreciated her attitude towards growing fruit – which is a good attitude for life. “When you garden, good results depend on three things: what you expect the plant to do, what the plant is capable of in the environment where you put it, and your willingness to contribute.”

Ralph’s prose has a charm and wisdom that would be enjoyable if you never dreamed of planting even a small tree.

Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti

Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti

Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti ($25 Cool Springs Press)

You may not aspire to creating a terrarium in an elegant Wardian case as shown on the cover of this book, but Maria Colletti will show you how to choose containers and plants that can be used to create the landscape of your choice, desert or woodland or tropical.

Colletti is the terrarium designer for the Shop in the Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden and she loves experimenting with carnivorous plants, cacti, succulents, ferns and tropical plants. She gives us step by step projects with advice and sources for terrarium necessities. She shares traditional, standard and classic building steps but always invites experimentation.

Of course it is one thing to set up and plant a beautiful terrarium, but then maintenance is required to mange moisture. The goal is to reach a state of equilibrium so that you can get to a level of “hands off and enjoy.”

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin

The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow by Tovah Martin ($23 Timber Press)

As far as I am concerned Tovah Martin is certainly the Queen of Houseplants. Readers who drooled over her earlier book The Unexpected Houseplant with special attention to gorgeous or surprising containers will be happy to see The Indestructible Houseplant.

Martin is a captivating writer and the layout of the book gives her plenty of scope. Along with a photograph of one of her own houseplants she gives an extended description of the plant including the different cultivars, and her own experiences with the plant. In addition there is a sidebar for each that lays out specific information about size, foliage, exposure, water requirements, soil type, fertilization schedule and companions that will live with it happily in the same container. She also includes a line for “other attributes” where she comments “famously indomitable” for aspidistra, “succulent, wonderfully bizarre and varied” for kalanchoe.

We often think the houseplant category is pretty limited, often because we see so few varieties in local garden centers, but Martin blasts that idea and gives us a pageful of sources for the indestructibles she has in her own collection. She begins with African violets and ends with Zamioculas samiifolia (ZZ to its friends) which has “no flowers but bulletproof.”

When to do what is often a big question for gardeners as we go through the year and the UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2016 is available for $12 each plus $3.50 for mailing, and $2 for each additional calendar up to nine.  It includes one stunning and inspiring plant image for the month, daily gardening tips for our climate, sunrise and sunset times and more.

Between the Rows  December 11, 2015

Root Cellars and Root Vegetables

Root vegetables

Root vegetables at Green Fields Coop

Our Thanksgiving table will include  root vegetables like Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, beets, parsnips and carrots.

Even the Pilgrims might have had some of these vegetables at the first Thanksgiving. Root vegetables were an important part of the food supply in Europe before canning and freezing were available. Root vegetables were harvested in the fall and stored for winter use without preserving them in some way, like pickling or drying.

When I was a child living on a Vermont farm I remember the bins filled with sand and carrots in the basement. There was also a root cellar dug into a hill beyond the house for potatoes. Added to my aunt’s canning, producing scores of jars of vegetables and fruit, she and my uncle managed to provide their family with a good measure of their family’s diet.

I even kept some carrots and beets in the basement of our Heath house in our early days there. However, a root cellar required more management skills and time than I possessed.  Last year the Heath Agricultural Society held a well attended Cellars and Cave tour, giving visitors from across the valley a look at what is entailed in operating a root cellar. Some cellars were used for vegetables, some for cheese, and some for homemade hard cider.

The cellars varied in complexity from what was essentially a large insulated closet in the garage for storing apples, onions and potatoes, to a more elaborate walled off corner of a basement that included a window and a flexible duct that made it possible to adjust airflow and temperature. Setting up a site with fairly consistent or adjustable chill and humidity is essential for a root cellar.

Those who are planning to try and keep vegetables and fruit like apples through even a part of the winter must begin by choosing vegetable varieties and apples that are most amenable to storage. For example, the McIntosh apple harvest is usually over in October, but the apples will only keep well through December. Other apples like the old New England Baldwin apple and newer varieties like Fuji will keep through the winter. Many of the old winter keepers are now more available than they were in the recent past.    The same is true for vegetables. Kennebec and Katahdin are among the list of good potatoes for storage, as Danvers and Scarlet Keeper are good storage carrots. Most catalogs will tell you which particular varieties will store well into the winter.

Root Cellaring: The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Buble is a comprehensive book for those who are interested in storing some of their winter harvest. They give information about choosing specific crops, storage requirements, and the many ways of building a root cellar. My copy dates back to 1979, not long before we set up our first bins. Root Cellaring is still available and still a functional tool.

Most of us are happy to have a summer garden, enjoying freshly picked lettuce and tomatoes, as well as green beans, summer squash and peas of many varieties. Others of us will enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of setting up a root cellar, and eating our own root crops or other keepers like cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

I spoke to Dave Jackson at the 100 acre Enterprise Farm in Whately about how he keeps root crops. He says he uses a large walk in cooler. During the good weather the cooler keeps his summer vegetables fresh before they are packed up into CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. In the winter he uses the cooler for vegetable storage, getting as much value as possible out of the farm’s infrastructure. When I was the Buckland Librarian I bought apples from the Scott Orchard, saw their enormous cooling room and got my first understanding of the way orchardists handle their harvest. Vegetable farmers have the same need.

Jackson agreed that local consumers are looking for more local food over a longer season. He said local farmers have found a variety of ways of keeping root crops available, from the basic old-fashioned root cellar to cooling rooms and solar power. All cold storage options need to keep a consistent cold temperature, usually between 36 to 45 degrees, depending on the crop.

Jackson also gave me a tip, in case I ever take up root cellaring again. He said apples should never be stored with carrots. I knew that apples produce ethylene gas that might cause other fruits to ripen more quickly, but I did not know that the ethylene gas might change the flavor of other fruits – or vegetables. I guess that is why our refrigerator produce drawers are marked to keep fruits and vegetables separate.

Greenfield’s farmer’s market used to be in business from May through October. Happily for us, local farmers have worked to meet our desire for more local food over a longer season. I attended the first Wintermarket in February of 2008. At this year’s second winter farmer’s market  I bought squash, parsnips, beets and carrots  and look forward to the next markets in December, January, February and March!

I see the growth of farmer’s markets, CSA farms, and roadside stands giving us a growing and stronger local food security. That is something to be thankful for.

Between the Rows   November 28, 2015