Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Happy Birthday Gertrude Jekyll

Gertrudy Jekyll (1843-1932) was one of the great British gardeners. It is her gardens and writings that

Gertrude Jekyll

essentially define the British perennial garden to this day.  This is the 169th anniversary of her birth in in London. Though she did travel throughout England, Europe and even the United States she spent most of her life in Surrey, England. There she built her final house and garden, Munstead Wood, with Edward Luytens, the well known architect.Most of the photographs show her as a plump old woman so it is hard  to imagine her as a young woman, but she was a lively member of a large family; her  nieces and nephews called her ‘Bump’.She was first a painter, but as her eyesight deteriorated she turned to gardening and garden design, which she thought of as painting with flowers.  Her ideas about using color in large drifts remains important today. Her work was a part of the great Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris.

In all she designed over 400 gardens in England, wrote over 1000 articles and several books including the most famous Colour in the Flower Garden. Her book Roses is one of the first rose books I bought.

David Austin’s Gertrude Jekyll Rose

It is no surprise that David Austin, the famous Bristish rose hybridizer named one of his roses after this great British gardener.  These large, pink fragrant roses grow on a bush that can reach 10 feet. At least in England. One of Elsa Bakalar’s stories about how roses grow in Heath describe a visit her brother from England. He toured Elsa’s garden and stopped at the single rose bush and asked what variety it was. She bristled and replied, “Queen Elizabeth, of course!” He turned to her his eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Oh, I didn’t know there was a dwarf Queen Elizabeth.”

Rain Didn’t Deter the Crowds

Gentle Persuasion

Saturday dawned gray and misty. At 10 am those driving up to Heath for the Franklin Land Trust Farm and Garden Tour found themselves driving through thick Shangi-La fog to the mythical land of Heath with its fields and forests, blueberries, maple syrup, its country gardens, its history, and of course, its roses.

The air and the grass were wet, flowers somewhat rain battered after a week of downpours, but enthusiastic gardeners came from across the state, from Connecticut and Vermont to admire and learn and enjoy the delights of a day in Heath.

Goldbusch rose

For the first time I got to show off the Rose Bank where the brand new yellow roses opened just in time. I planted these just this spring and I probably should not have let them bloom, but I did want visitors to be able to see what kind of a flower they had. Goldbusch, a Kordes hybrid, is disease resistant with a delicate flowers. ‘Gentle Persuasion’ a Buck hybrid is described like this, “The medium-large, ovoid-pointed lemon yellow tinted Spanish orange buds open to double (25-30 petals), cupped open, 4-inch blooms of lemon yellow overlaid with Mars orange, which age lighter. The blooms have a light, sweet fragrance and are borne in clusters of 1-5. The abundant, leathery, large, semi-glossy foliage is dark olive green and has good field tolerance to common foliar diseases. The thorns are tan and awl-like. The erect, bushy plants is vigorous and blooms from June to killing frost.” You can see my husband’s hand supporting the drenched blossom and get an idea of the large size and amazing color.

Sunday was drier and even busier than Saturday. By the end of the weekend I had met new neighbors, visited with old friends, arranged a couple of plant swaps, had many discussions about the efficiency of Milky Spore Disease in getting rid of Japanese beetles, and spent a few minutes in the Cottage Ornee with visitors to enjoy the rose scented breeze, and wet our whistles. I also promised to include my recipe for what I call my official Rose Viewing cookies, but which The Shaker Cookbook: Recipes and lore from the Valley of God’s Pleasure by Caroline Piercy and Arthur Tolove call Sister Lettie’s Sand Cakes.

1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, 3 egg whites, 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 cup ground almonds.

Cream butter and sugar, til light and fluffy. Gradually beat in lemon and egg whites until batter is smooth and whites are fully incorporated.  Sift flour, salt and baking powder together, then add, with ground nuts, to batter gradually. Mixing fully after each addition.  Chill for 30-45 minutes.  After a slight kneading, roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thickness and cut into small squares. I always use a small heart cookie cutter.  Place on lightly greased baking pan. (I use a silicon mat) Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.

The cookies are easy to make and the secret to their appeal, I think, is their crispness, which is mainly due to the use of egg whites only.

Today it is Monday, the Rose Viewing/FLT Tour is only a memory.  Do I need to tell you that the sun is shining and warm?


Monday Record June 13, 2011

Rain. Downpours. But the intrepid Garden Club of Amherst members were undaunted. I met them for a tour of the Elsa Bakalar/Scott Prior garden. In the background you can see that the old rhododendrons in back of the house near the woodland path are still blooming. The daffodils are long gone

It’s iris season in the garden right now. The Siberians don’t mind how much rain they get.

Of course, there are other bloomers right now like these pink poppies, a verbascum – and blue irises. A whole different palette will be in bloom during the Franklin Land Trust Farm and Garden Tour on June 25 and 26.  For full information click here.

The rain was sporadic in the afternoon, but I had to finish baking and dousing the Pina Colada cake for a Hawaiian themed Gourmet Club. Delish!  Downpours continued on Sunday morning which allowed me to go out and spread some rose fertilizer knowing it would be well watered in. Two inches or more of rain!  Damp and cold, but I got finished pruning out all the winterkill on the roses, and weeded the herb bed.

Blanc Double de Coubert rugosa

Every day a new rose begins to bloom. Roses love good spring rains.

All the rain is just what the gardens needed. I could see this second planting of greens and radishes grow in front of my eyes.

Fresh picked salad with supper, topped off with the last piece of my husband’s birthday cake – and local strawberries.

Three Special Events for Thursday

Courtesy of Mead Art Museum

Some events are not just for one day. The wonderful art exhibit at Mead Art Museum on  the Amherst College campus, will run until May 29.  There is no admission charge and the Mead is open from 9 am til midnight!  There is no excuse for Amherst students to not get their art assignments done.  Closed Mondays, and closed  at 5 pm on Friday and Saturday.  I guess those students need a little time for social life.

Orra White Hitchcock had a considerable social life as the wife of a minister/professor/college president, as a mother, and as an artist, providing the  drawings, paintings and charts that her husband needed for his work.

Her life intersected with those other important women of her time, Mary Lyon, founder of Mt. Holyoke College, and her daughter was a good friend of Lavinia Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s sister.

Daria D’Arienzo, co-curator of the exhibit, Orra White Hitchcock (1796-18-63): An Amherst Woman of Art  and Science said “She was a woman of her time, who transcended her time.”

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Tower Hill Botanic Garden is celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a host of special events along with its usual roster of workshops, and classes for  children during school vacation.  And right now the new Limonia and Winter Garden can still give us a respite from winter.

And finally I want everyone to remember the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 19 from 9 am to 2 pm at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield.  This event has grown and has something for everyone, basics for beginning gardeners (but we all have something to learn from these) special topics like pruning (I wish I were a good pruner), cooking demonstrations with the good people from Stockbridge Herbs, and something for fun like my slide show and talk about the late Elsa Bakalar’s garden.  That garden, and my own will be part of the Franklin Landtrust Farm and Garden tour this June.   (Uh-oh. I think I just sneaked in a fourth event.)

I hope I’ll see you at the Spring Symposium!

And thank you Cindy at My Corner of Katy for hosting Three for Thursday.

Three Women, Three Gardens

Layanee deMerchant and me

Layanee of Ledge and Gardens came to Heath to see Elsa Bakalar’s gardens, now owned by Scott Prior and his wife Nanny Vonnegut.  I joined her, pleased to have an opportunity to introduce a new friend (we met at the bloggers July meet up in Buffalo) to the garden of an old friend. We got a private peek, but there is a tour on Saturday, September 19 being given by Jeff Farrell of Trillium Workshops. There are still a few places if you want to attend. Logon to the Trillium website for information.  Jeff worked shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee with Elsa in this garden before she sold it and he continues to maintain it.  The garden was featured in the September 2010 issue of Horticulture Magazine with a reference – and link – to the article I wrote about Elsa and her ideas about color in the garden way back in 1987. I told her all about my adventures will Elsa.

Layanee deMerchant

I couldn’t let Layanee leave Heath without a tour of Heath, pop. 800.  That didn’t take long. We were in separate cars and I stopped as we were about to enter Heath Center, to warn her that we were about to enter downtown Heath, with its town hall/library/post office/police office, all housed in Sawyer Hall, as well as the Union Church where noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr first uttered the Serenity Prayer in 1943, then the old town hall and one of the 8 one room school houses that used to operate in Heath.

We drove through town, we drove through the woods to my house at the End of the Road. The garden doesn’t look as wonderful as it did in June after this long hot summer, but Laynee was generous in her comments, and posed in front of the Moth Light hydrangea which has not minded the heat much at all. Laynee told me all about her radio call-in show.

After the Heath tour I led Laynee and her mother, Beth, down the scenic Mohawk Trail to Shelburne Falls. They agreed that the Glacial Potholes were impressive, but really what they wanted to see were more flowers.

The Bridge of Flowers filled the bill. Layanee got lots of photos of this wonderful public garden that attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. I photographed Beth admiring a combination that we all thought was beautiful. And tall. Beth told me all about her days as a school librarian.  Now I am looking forward to a visit to Rhode Island and Layanee’s garden. I don’t think we finished talking.

How’s that Cyndy?  I got Three for Thursday – twice.  Thanks for hosting from your Corner of Katy.

Muse Day August 2010

Flowers to honor Elsa

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening preparing for, and enjoying a memorial for Elsa Bakalar,  my friend, neighbor, colleague, and garden mentor who passed away in January at the age of 91.  The flowers at the buffet supper in Jan and Cal’s party barn were provided by The Passionate Gardeners, Mary, Susan and Eileen, gardeners who had come to learn from Elsa, and continued to help her in her garden- until that garden had to be given up.

Mary, Eileen and Susan

Many people did their part for Elsa yesterday. Scott Prior and his wife, Nanny Vonnegut, who own and maintain ‘Elsa’s Garden’ in Heath, invited neighbors and family for a tour and champagne toast to a beloved relative and friend. Cousin Stan read a section of Kipling’s poem Glory of the Garden with that famous line, “such gardens are not made
By singing:–“Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade . . .”
Then we all trooped over to Jan and Cal’s barn, surrounded by a beautiful garden,  for a feast organized by Elsa’s nephew Jake and his wife Susan. Chief among this group were Elsa’s former grade school students, honorary daughters, Marie and Nicole who took major responsibilities for Elsa’s care in the years after her husband’s death in 2000.

A special treat of the evening was listening to a recording Nicole had made of Elsa reading the opening chapter of Dicken’s Bleak House. Elsa read Great Expectations to her fifth and sixth grade class every year – a wonderful choice for students at that age – and Elsa was wonderful reader.  It must be admitted that the sound of a loved one’s voice is evocative and heart breaking.

Today is Muse Day. I had forgotten, but a friend emailed me a poem by Mary de la Valette this morning that seemed serendipitous.  Kipling noted in his poem that  “Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees.”  A very young Nicole  who spent her summers with Elsa in her ‘summer camp’ found that she could have Elsa all to herself if she joined her in the garden  while everyone else still slept. One morning she asked Elsa if she liked teaching or gardening better. Without hesitation Elsa answered “gardening.”  It
may have surprised and angered young Nicole who wanted to be much more important to her beloved teacher than an old garden, but it is clear to me that the garden was a sacred place for Elsa.

I do not have to go
To Sacred Places
In far-off lands.
The ground I stand on
Is holy.

Here, in this little garden
I tend
My pilgrimage ends.
The wild honeybees
The hummingbird moths
The flickering fireflies at dusk
Are a microcosm
Of the Universe.
Each seed that grows
Each spade of soil
Is full of miracles.

And I toil and sweat
And watch and wonder
And am full of love.
Living in place
In this place.
For truth and beauty
Dwell here.

I thank Carolyngail for making me stop and consider other muses the first day of every month.

Elsa Bakalar’s Garden

Horticulture Magazine January 1987

In 1985 (could it be that long ago?) Elsa Bakalar,  my Heath neighbor and friend, and I started writing an article about color in the garden for Horticulture magazine.  One summer day in 1986 the brilliant photographer, and gardener, Garry Mottau arrived in Elsa’s garden at dawn. That’s when I learned about the importance and desirability of that early morning light for photography. I even got to hold a piece of shiny Thermax to throw some gentle light on Elsa’s face, or the flowers she was  working with.  That was another photography lesson for me.  The article finally appeared in the January 1987 issue of Horticulture Magazine. Elsa was the cover girl!

At the end of the story you will see a note saying that Elsa and I were writing a book together. I bombed out, but Elsa not only wrote her book, with her beloved husband Mike’s editorial support and advice, she started criss-crossing the US,  in demand as a garden speaker, well known for her wit and humor as well as her knowledge.

Several years ago, after her husband’s death, Elsa sold her house and garden to noted artists  Scott Prior and his wife Nanny Vonnegut. Nanny confessed that she lets Scott handle the garden, which he maintains with the help of Jeff Farrell.  Jeff  worked with Elsa in her garden for a number of years. Among other things he is a now a member of the Trillium Workshops trio; they have arranged tours of this garden for those who want to enjoy a fabulous, riotous country garden that is also sophisticated and inspiring. The next tour is July 18, and the final tour is on Sept. 19.  It is best to sign up early.

Horticulture never forgot Elsa’s beautiful garden. The results of their revisit are in the new issue, with an interview with Scott and Nanny. More photos!  Horticulture has made it possible to download the original story by clicking on

You can see the new story by Jane Roy Brown with photos by Bill Regan by picking up the August/September issue. If you live close enough you can even visit with Jeff Farrell and see the garden ‘in the flesh’.

Elsa passed away this winter. I wish she could have seen her garden’s return to the pages of Horticulture magazine. She would have enjoyed it, and she would love knowing people still have the pleasure of visiting her garden and learning from it.

Thirty Years Between the Rows

How has your garden changed in 30 years?  How has your life changed in 30 years?

As a person who moved every two or three years (on average) for the first four sevenths of my life, I was stunned to realize that Henry and I have been in Heath for 30 years! And that means, that on May 22, today, I celebrate my 30th anniversary as garden columnist for The Recorder.

It was a happy day for me when Bob Dolan hired me to write a local garden column for the new Leisure tabloid section that The Recorder planned. The garden season was beginning and so was my first Heath garden.  My plan that first spring was to put in a huge vegetable garden. We got one of our new neighbors to come and plow up a big section. I don’t remember the measurements, but it was more than we were able to plant. Do you think I have learned to make my garden a manageable size?  Not really. Which means I sympathize with everyone who has big plans and little time.

Gardens inevitably change over time. Gardeners become more skilled. They develop new interests. They find new mentors. They meet other gardeners who give them plants they never dreamed of growing.

Guan Yin Mian tree peony

Sometimes travel changes the way a gardener approaches the garden. My first mentor was Elsa Bakalar with her British perennial borders. I accompanied her and a busload of enthusiastic gardeners on a tour of England gardens in 1983 and was entranced with perennials, and ‘garden rooms.’  I started my own perennial border. but realized that it takes special artistic skills (and time or hired labor) to have fantastic borders like those at the stately homes of Britain.

Queen Elizabeth grandiflora

Then Henry and I went to China where the gardens use a limited palette of plants, and very few of those at a time. In China the word for gardens, shan shui, means mountains and water.  And ‘mountains’ in the garden often take the form of stones.  When we returned from China, British borders began to look crowded and busy. My view of what was attractive was enlarged.

There are many climates, many landscapes, many types of gardens, many types of beauty, and each of us gets to discover our own preferences. Some know right away what kind of garden they want, and make up a master plan (with or without professional help) and proceed to implement that plan with little revision.

Others, like me, work on one project like The Rose Walk and then decide how to fit the next project in and around what already exists.  I’ve often thought that if I knew what I liked and knew what I was doing 30 years ago, my gardens would be very different.

I named this column Between the Rows because our neighbor in Maine, Mr. Leslie, who had a great garden (and a wooden gas lawn mower that he contrived), said he was always ready to stop between the rows and swap a few lies.  He knew that gardeners have as many tales as fishermen in their repertoire.

I hoped that this column would allow me to swap stories and information with other gardeners and talking to gardeners has been the main delight of this column I have seen beautiful and amazing gardens, small and large, and met the most fascinating, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people who are willing to share their knowledge – and their plants. Recently I have also been asked to take photographs to go along with my columns, so I’ve had a new learning curve.

Hoki tree peony on Bridge of Flowers

I’ve always known that gardeners are among the most generous of people, always happy to share a plant, or seeds, or a tip about how they do things. What has surprised me is how gardeners band together to provide service and beauty to their communities.  The Greenfield Garden Club supports educational horticultural projects in the schools, and beautiful plantings throughout the town. The Bridge of Flowers committee oversees the upkeep of the Bridge which gives so much pleasure to us locals who work or run errands in Shelburne Falls, but it also attracts over 34,000 tourists – and those are just the ones who sign the guest book.

Gardeners singly and in groups are aware of the economic pressures on many families, making monetary donations to the various food pantries in the county, but also by Planting a Row for the Hungry and donating extra produce to local organizations.

Greeenfield Farmers Market

Since my first passion was organic vegetables I have been so happy to see the growing appreciation for fresh local vegetables and fruits – and the concurrent rise of small farms, farm stands, farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture farms – CSAs.

As I’ve written about gardens and gardeners, I’ve learned about farms and farmers. I’ve learned about threats to our environment and the ways that we can all protect our precious soil, water and air.

People often ask me how I find something to say every week. I’ve learned that the more I write, the more gardeners, farmers, and issues I find to write about. I can only hope The Recorder will give me another 30 years to get through my list of people and topics.

Grandsons with good Heath Blueberries

Between the Rows  May 22, 2010

Flowers and More Flowers

Kerry Mendez and me

What a weekend. While I am waiting for the snow to melt I had a glorious weekend thinking about – and looking at flowers!

On Saturday I got to meet Kerry Mendez, the spirited, humorous and knowledgeable keynote speaker at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium on Saturday. She engaged the audience in lively conversation and talked about how to have a successful flower garden- choose the right plant for the right site – and gave great design tips.  Fortunately, if you can’t attend any of her talks you can get her excellent and useful book The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists.

Do you have dry shade, want unusual perennials, need annuals? Kerry has lists for you that will give you quickly accessible information and suggestions.

That was on Saturday. On Sunday I attended the first workshop given by the three charming and skilled gardeners,  Jeff Farrell, Lisa Newman, and Gloria Pacosa who formed Trillium Workshops just a month ago.

Gloria Pacosa at work

There was information about planting and maintaining a separate cutting garden,  including many annuals that bloom all summer, so  that you don’t ruin the effect of your borders and gardens when you want to bring  flowers into the house.  I also learned a lot about arranging flowers – not my forte – but Gloria Pacosa is a master. I learned that the best time to pick flowers is early in the evening when flowers have gained a day’s worth of sun and energy, that they should be conditioned by standing in clean deep water in clean containers overnight, and that I need to soak my floral foam until it is really saturated. Of course, I learned A Lot  more, and you’ll be hearing more of that over time.

Jeff told me that Horticulture magazine is publishing a follow-up article about Elsa Bakalar’s Heath gardens this spring. I wrote  the original article for Horticulture, published in 1987, in which Elsa expounded on her theories about color in the garden.  The follow up article includes interviews with Jeff who began working with Elsa on her garden over 20 years ago, and has continued maintaining it with the new owner, the artist Scott Prior and his wife. The article will include many photographs of the garden taken last summer. Those who would like to visit the garden again, or for the first time, can join one (or all) of the three Trillum tours of Elsa’s garden scheduled for June 20, July 18, and September 19.  For more information about registration logon to the Trillium blog.

My Friend Elsa

Elsa Bakalar was my friend. This morning I got the call that I had been dreading. Elsa passed away peacefully on January 29.

We moved to Heath in December of 1979, but I did not meet Elsa, who also lived in Heath until I began writing a weekly garden column, Between the Rows, for The Recorder. I had heard about Elsa and her garden and finally got up my courage to ask her for an interview. It must be admitted that I was not an expert gardener, but got the job because I wrote a compelling letter saying I would interview all the expert gardeners in our region.

I  had seen Elsa’s initialed articles in Mike’s West County News launched not too long before we moved to Heath and I imagined a young couple sharing a romantic journalistic enterprise. When we met I was somewhat shocked to find that it was more in the nature of a romantic post retirement project. They taught me that it is never too late for new beginnings.

Elsa not only gave me an interview, about starting flower seeds in the dead of winter, she began my education. I had been concentrating on vegetables and had hardly planted a marigold. She also hired me to work alongside her at Greenfield Community College where she was the Director of Community Service.

All too soon I was trying to tend a 90 foot long perennial border, filled with divisions from Elsa’s garden. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is not what Elsa expected from her students. Although she had very definite opinions of her own, she always insisted that gardeners please themselves, and plant what they liked, in the way they liked.

Elsa became known for her garden designs, how she combined color and form, but in the end she said, all the colors of nature go together, and there was no point worrying excessively. .

I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the Study and Travel courses Elsa taught at GCC. After familiarizing ourselves with England and its gardens in class for a few weeks, 35 or so of us set off to tour the great and intimate gardens of England with Elsa, entertained by her wit and knowledge. It was  well known that where Elsa was, there was a party.

Right up to the end when she was frail Elsa made a party happen. My husband and I visited her for the last time in mid-January. As it happened, two other friends arrived as well. There was chocolate cake and candies. Laughter and talk. Another of Elsa’s parties.

If there is any word that defines Elsa it is teacher. She had taught elementary children in a village school in England, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in NYC,  and more locally, the Academy at Charlemont. She taught garden workshops in her own garden, and she went on the road lecturing, teaching, amusing, and delighting audiences all across the country. Sometimes she lectured to local garden clubs, and sometimes she gave workshops or lectures for august organizations like Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, the New York Botanical Garden, and even the Whitney Museum of Art.

Together we wrote an article for Horticulture Magazine. I loved interviewing Elsa for that piece about Color in the Garden because we talked about so much more than the task at hand. I learned about her job teaching in the Penshurst Village school in England during WWII where her young students brought her jam jars filled with flowers. She lived in a cottage where she gave the goats free range, and entertained a number of servicemen who seemed to find their way to her door.

She told me about her days working for British Information Services in Rockefeller Center in NYC, and meeting Mike. When we heard that Benny Goodman had died she reminisced about the apartment she and Mike shared on West 13th Street, and how they wore out three Benny Goodman records – and the linoleum dancing in the kitchen.

Elsa edited and revised the article with me numerous times, and then the editor at Horticulture had a few things to suggest. It finally appeared in January 1987 with gorgeous photographs by Garry Mottau. Elsa, Gary and I all met in Elsa’s July garden at dawn to get the best light. I ran around holding a shiny sheet of thermax insulation to help gently direct sun onto Elsa’s face or particular flower. It was an amazing photography lesson for me, and lots of fun.

When she retired from GCC, she wrote a book, A Garden of One’s Own: Making and Keeping Your Flower Garden that was published in 1994. Mottau again did the photos. I remember the discussions about a title.  She would have no designing or creating. “Make and keep were good anglo-saxon words,” she said. That is what she chose.

Elsa was just a little older than my mother, but I never thought of her in those terms. Still I loved hearing about the girls, students from Fieldston where she taught, who spent summers with her in Heath for several years. Elsa once told me that they had all gone on an outing to Tanglewood and some music lover looked at this bevy of girls and asked what camp they belonged to. One girl drew herself up, . “We are not a camp. We are Mrs. Bakalar’s girls,” she said with great dignity.

I like to think maybe I became one of Mrs. Bakalar’s girls, too. ###

BETWEEN THE ROWS  February 6, 2010