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Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – May 2014

Coltsfoot and violets on the Rose Bank

Coltsfoot and violets on the Rose Bank

I begin this Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day post with a blooming mistake. Maybe three years ago I thought coltsfoot might be a good groundcover on the Rose Bank. I was only thinking of the flowers and the size of the early spring foliage – not what it would look like in June, July, August, September and October. Or how very rapidly and strongly it would spread. I don’t mind the violet which are everywhere here, and in the Flowery Mead – aka the Lawn.

Daffodils, dandelions and grape hyacinths

Daffodils, dandelions and grape hyacinths

Here is a blooming trifecta. The first dandelion appeared on May 2. Now, after the first lawn mowing and some warm weather, they are everywhere. The daffodils and grape hyacinths are happy under the weeping birch.



There is better, more lushly blooming forsythia in  the neighborhood, but this is the best forsythia bloom I have had in all  the 34 years we have lived here. I often thought about ripping out this hedge because it bloomed so intermittently and poorly, but it was just too much work. And now after the longest, coldest spring it is shouting out Hallelujah!

Primroses and snake

Primroses and snake

Because my camera is the ‘point and hope’ variety, and the shadows were so dappled, I did not see this snake among the primroses until I took it out of the camera. Do you see it?  I like snakes in the garden.

Van Sion daffodil

Van Sion daffodil

Van Sion is a very old daffodil. It was growing here when we moved in. It is a very strong grower and spreader. I have helped spread it here and there, but can’t ever seem to get all of it out  from this rose bush. Some years the outer petals are quite green which I really like, but others have called this an ugly daffodil.  I don’t see why. Look at all those happy petals.

Poeticus daffodil

Poeticus daffodil

I don’t think anyone dislikes or thinks the old Poeticus daffodil is ugly. At a tour of the daffodils at Tower Hill one year our guide told us that the all the pink shades in pink daffodils come from the narrow red rim on the cup in this daffodil. Poeticus is one of the many daffs I have moved to the eastern edge of the lawn. Someday soon I am going to try and name them.

Wild cherry

Wild cherry

Even the walk to the henhouse – or the solar clothes dryer – is a joy at this time of the year when the wild cherries are in bloom.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

Just in time for Bloom day are the Dutchman’s breeches. It is too wet this morning – mist and fog – to get a really good photo of the blossoms, but I was happy to see that this has spread throughout the garden – by ants!

Epimedium rubrum

Epimedium rubrum

I love the epimediums. This clump of Epimedium rubrum is a few years old.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium sulphureum

This clump of Epimedium sulphureum is only two years old, but it is taking hold nicely.

Weeping cherry

Weeping cherry

Finally, barely in time for Bloom Day, the weeping cherry has begun to bloom.

It has been a long cold spring here in the higher elevations of western Massachusetts, so I am glad to finally be able to have some bloom and join the party hosted by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens. Thank you Carol!

Tiarella Added to the Flowery Mead – Heucherellas Come Next

Tiarella June 1, 2013

Tiarella is the latest plant added to my arsenal as I try to lessen, if not eliminate our lawn, otherwise known as the Flowery Mead where thrive violets, dandelions, hawkweeds and many other wildflowers. These tiarellas are planted east of the Peony Hedge, and west of  what will be the Hydrangea Hedge.  Tiarella, also known as foam flower, for obvious reasons, is a native flower and groundcover. It likes the shade and requires no care. In the photo you can see that it is planted in a strip where I removed the sod, dug in a little compost and planted three tiarellas. They will spread in every direction which means I will have to remove more grass this year. If they grow into the peonies I will divide them and move the divisions to another newly grass-less spot.

This area gets shade all morning, and gets some shade from the peonies in the afternoon. The foliage is as pretty as the foamy flowers. I love getting rid of lawn, especially when it means adding early spring bloom.


Heucherella and johnny jump-ups

Last year I planted Heucherella ‘Dayglow Pink’ in the North Lawn Bed. Heucherellas are a cross between heucheras or coral bells, and tiarellas. The advantage is the various colors of heuchera foliage, and more prominent flowers. Heucherellas also bloom later, in June and July, and can take a lot more sun than the tiarellas. I’m wondering whether I should add some heucherellas to the tiarella area. What do you think?


Birds That Sing in the Spring Tra La

Birds on snow – snacking

Here are the birds that sing in the spring. Robins are joining the blue jays – and other birds that I can only identify as Big Birds and Little Birds. Sunday the temperature reached a high of 46 degrees, and gentle breezes are wafting across the hill.

Birds and Staghorn sumac

Birds have been flying in and out  of  the staghorn sumac grove across the lawn. The snow is still deep in  spite of warmer temperatures these last few days. Birds are finding meals pretty hard to find. In fact, Tom over at the Mon@rchs Nature Blog says that robins and other birds  will only eat the sumac fruits if there is really nothing else to eat. I knew that crushed dried sumac fruit was edible because I once bought some at a very complete spice shop in Cambridge, Mass.  I never did do anything  with that packet  of sumac; unfortunately I hadn’t yet acquired middle eastern cookbooks like those written by the fabulous chef Yotam Ottolenghi

My husband said he was listening to birdsong the other day and thought it sounded, and felt, like spring. I watch these birds and and hear a snatch of song. Spring is coming, so these must be the birds that sing in the spring.  With a small apology to Gilbert and Sullivan.


Winterberry – Ilex verticillata

Winterberry – Ilex verticillata

Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a native deciduous holly. Its tiny white flowers appear in midsummer, and in the fall beautiful red berries add their color to the autumnal show. Winterberries are dioecious, which is to say that it takes a male and a female plant to create those bright berries. If you are adding winterberries to your garden it is important to order a male and female. Only the female will produce berries, but it only takes one male to pollinate 10 females.

Winterberries have become more popular and are no long difficult to locate. Proven Winners offers Berry Nice, which produces the familiar red berries. They suggest Mr. Poppins as a male pollinator.  Mr. Poppins will not grow as tall as Berry Nice, but is a handsome shrub in its own right.  Wayside Gardens offers Golden Verboom, hybridized by a Dutch nursery, which has beautiful golden berries – no surprise. They offer Jim Dandy as a pollinator.

The deciduous winterberry is native to northeastern America and is cold hardy to zone 3. The winterberry shown above grows in a thicket, in a boggy spot by the side of the road. The photo was taken in September when the berries were not quite red ripe. They remain after the foliage has fallen off and blown away, and until the birds have eaten the last one.

Winterberry. Good for the birds. Good for winter decorations. Good to brighten the season.


Beaver Lodge on NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour

Marie Stella

“I’m a designer. I’ve always been absorbed by fashion, interior and landscape design,” Marie Stella said when she began my tour of Beaver Lodge in Ashfield. Her current and ongoing design project is the landscape surrounding her beautiful house which has been give a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. This is very unusual for a residence.

LEED designations require that materials be as local as possible, that recycled materials be used when possible. For example, at Beaver Lodge floors are made with wood from trees removed from the site. Stella touched on many other examples as we walked.

Since her house has been designed with energy efficiency and environmental concerns in mind, it is no surprise that the limited domestic landscape shares these design constraints. The garden is designed on permaculture principles with a large emphasis on edibles.

Front view of Beaver Lodge

The first notable aspect of the garden that stretches to the south, in front of the house is the absence of lawn. In the center are large raised vegetable beds, with perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries and dwarf fruit trees along the eastern border. A small new collection of shitake mushroom logs rests in the shade of the woods.

The western border includes a grapevine covered arbor furnished with a rustic table and benches to provide a shady resting space,. Closer to the house a wild garden filled with native pollinator plants nestles against the broad Ashfield stone terrace that is the transition between the garden and the house. Instead of grass, woodchips carpet the ground. This relatively small cultivated space is held in the embrace of a mixed woodland.

To the north of the house is an old beaver pond which gives its name to Stella’s model house and landscape. In addition to being a designer, Stella is a teacher, and she has designed Beaver Lodge as a teaching tool,. She gives classes at the Landscape Institute at Boston Architecture College, and online.

She did not begin her career as a teacher, and gardening was only an avocation.  However, 25 years or so ago, when her children were young, she took a couple of Elsa Bakalar’s garden classes at her house here in Heath. She found those so inspiring she was led to a course in plant materials at the Radcliff Institute in Boston. That was so engaging that she went on to complete the certification program, and then another one.

During those Radcliff classes she realized a new future was waiting for her. She could combine her earlier background as a historian with her interest in the landscape. She liked writing. Soon she was writing and lecturing about landscape history. She organized and led garden tours to Japan and Italy.

As fascinated as she has been with the history of the landscape, she began to look towards the future, and so came about the construction of Beaver Lodge which will be part of the free NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour.

Water retention pond

Of course, Stella realizes that if you have a vegetable garden it must be watered. I was very impressed with the systems she has in place to supply adequate water to the edible gardens. At one end of the house the rain gutters bring water to a large stone retention pond that serves an important function, but is also beautiful since it is constructed of stone blasted from construction of the house. A pump brings water up to the vegetable garden when it is needed. She has added a bit of whimsy as well. She has created a small fountain that uses water from the retention pond, and then brings it back to the pond down a created stream bed.

Bubbling fountain

Marie Stella’s greenhouse

Since I visited last in 2009, Stella has added a small greenhouse that incorporates a cold frame and makes use of recycled windows. The greenhouse will give her a chance to get seedlings started early. Inside the greenhouse is a 550 gallon food grade plastic cistern that collects rain from the gutters at the end of then, and then pipes it into the garden.

She also has a root cellar where she can overwinter bulbs and tubers. The constraint for other uses is that snow build up in often prevents access during the winter.

Shakespeare once penned the line “Sermons in stones and good in everything . . .” Those who study and visit Beaver Lodge will find encyclopedias of  good knowledge in this living lesson book.

For information on visiting Beaver Lodge and all the sites on the Green Buildings Open House Tour on Saturday, October 5 you can go to the NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association) website,, and click on the Green Buildings Open House button. There you will be able to put in your own zip code and the distance you are willing to drive. Over 200 houses are on the tour in the whole northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania, but 37 house are within 30 miles of Greenfield. Several are in Greenfield itself with others in Montague, Colrain, Northfield, and South Deerfield, in addition to Beaver Lodge. The website will give you information about each house and it’s green elements, along with cost, benefits, and suppliers. The tour is free, but you should sign up.

Just browsing the Open House website will give you a lot of information and ideas. The owner of an historic house in Montague will be giving a talk from 10am-noon “about how we successfully survived a Deep Energy Retrofit with our marriage AND our historic windows intact!”

Between the Rows   September 28k 2013

Walk on the Wildside with Sue Bridge

Wildside Cottage

How would you plan your retirement if you had already received a degree from Wellesley College, earned a further degree in Russian and Middle Eastern Studies, hitchhiked to Morocco, lived in Paris, worked for the United Nations, as well as in the cable TV world, and for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper?

Sue Bridge, with the urging of a Northampton friend, bought eight acres of hilly land in Conway. For the past seven years her retirement project has been to create a sustainable, self-sufficient home and landscape where she can live off the grid. The house she designed is energy efficient, well insulated with electricity and hot water provided by solar panels. It is also beautiful, inside and out. The sunny main living space is comprised of a kitchen, dining and living areas. French doors form the south wall of the living area which opens out onto a stone terrace with low stone walls overlooking terraced gardens and across to the hills beyond. The house is small but there is no sense of being cramped, only of spacious comfort.

For help in creating a sustainable landscape she turned to Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group. Neiger and his group are proponents of permaculture systems. Bridge confesses she didn’t really understand what that meant when she began. Neiger came several times to visit; he’d walk around, make notes and walk around some more. Finally, after he had walked the land for several months and not a single spade of soil had been moved, she asked him if his crews were very busy. Did he have any idea when work would begin?

Then Neiger had to explain that work was well-begun. He had been building a scientific portrait of the land, how the sun, wind and water moved across the hill, and over the season.

It was not until Neiger invited Bridge to his own garden that she began to understand what permaculture is. On the appointed day she arrived at his house and garden before he did and was very confused. “Where’s the garden,” she asked when he drove up. The truth is that permaculture gardens do not look like the beautifully arranged flower gardens or orderly vegetable gardens that most of us are familiar with.

I was in the same position she had been with Neiger. I could see why she had named her place Wildside. I needed to have the garden explained. “This is not traditional farmland, but it is incredibly productive,” she said as we walked across the broad terraces  carved into the hillside. “Terraces are a permaculture trademark.”

The terraces help keep the soil from eroding, even in severe storms. “We had 17 inches of rain during Irene, but there was no erosion,” Bridge said.

To the east the living room terrace is an herb garden. One of Bridge’s specialties is five-herb tea. The terraces on the south hillside are first planted to vegetables that are harvested during the summer, the next terrace on the slope is for perennial vegetables like sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes, and the third is for pollinators, bee balm, garlic chives and other plants that attract pollinators.

Productive sweet potato vines in greenhouse

At the bottom of the slope is a small greenhouse where she grows sweet potatoes in the ground, harvesting more than 100 pounds of nutritious sweet potatoes, as well as ginger, and turmeric plants good for the digestion, and pain relief. The garden outside the greenhouse is mostly storage vegetables, beets, carrots, potatoes and squash. Of course, if you raise enough of this kind of vegetable you need a root cellar and Bridge has built a small one behind her house. Other edible crops are canned or dried.

Wildside rice

We walked past the path to the orchard with apple, peach, pear and plum trees and to the rice paddy in the Wet Meadow. It took heavy digging, but Bridge is growing rice!

The land rises slightly beyond the Wet Meadow. We walked through a stand of overgrown Christmas trees, planted by the former owners, then came into a sunny meadow where nut trees, including chestnut have been planted. The surrounding evergreens help protect them from high winter winds.

Mountain mint with Monarch butterfly

Bridge said she learned that eastern slopes are ideal for fruit trees and berries. On her eastern slope she grows persimmons, pawpaws, quince, Asian pears, shadbush, blueberries, elderberries, and black chokeberries. sell chokeberriess. Chokeberries are not very sweet, but they are extremely nutritious and do make good jelly. Bridge has also tucked mountain mint and other plants for pollinators everywhere on this east slope.

I was fascinated by the “fertility bed” a long row of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass which Bridge cuts down twice a year and uses as mulch or compost.

Bridge has come to love Conway where she has found a great community with lots of grass roots action. “This is a friendly environment for me,” she said.

A broad community has found Sue Bridge to be very friendly, and inspirational. Her gardens have become a model of sustainable food production. Students from Wellesley and Smith Colleges, the Conway School of Landscape Design, Greenfield Community College and others come to see what she is doing and learn about the science behind what she is doing.

When I asked if she had intended to launch such an educational project in her retirement she said no. “I did not intend, but I do not resist.”    

Between the Rows   August 24, 2013

Welcome Pollinators

Tom Sullivan of Welcome Pollinators

When we think of pollinators we think of honeybees, being trucked to orchards in the spring or to pollinate vast mid-western fields in the summer. The decline of the honey bee, because of disease, mites, and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has been in the news for some years. The concern is that crops will be threatened by insufficient pollination and our food supply will be in danger.

Knowing all this, Tom Sullivan, a former bee keeper, is taking a larger view of the array of pollinators available to farmers and gardeners, pollinators that often work quietly, and almost invisibly.

I visited Sullivan in his small garden in “The Patch” where flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit trees attract and benefit all manner of pollinators including some of the 356 (and counting) kinds of native bees. He showed me the simple bee box he made that would attract some of these native bees and give them the conditions they need to lay their eggs. Of course, buzzing bumblebees and all kinds of other pollinating insects like the tiny hoverfly were also working the flowers in the garden.

Tom Sullivan’s Bee Box


Sullivan did not come to his passion for pollinators all at once. He has a degree in education but as a young man he joined many others in their desire to go back-to-the-land. Living and farming inNew Hampshirehe found training at The Rural Education Center (TREC) founded in 1979 by Stanley Kaymen. There he met and was inspired by Bill Mollison who awoke his interest in permaculture, a system of sustainable agriculture. TREC soon became Stonyfield Yogurt and Sullivan was able to use his skill as mason and tile-setter to build the first Stonyfield Yogurt building in 1984.

His skill as mason has supported his agricultural dreams and efforts over the decades, and he was always taking advantage of opportunities to learn more. A move to theBostonarea found him working for the Boston Parks Department, doing landscape construction, and getting additional training through the Urban Environmental Practices Program at Roxbury Community College.

When Boston became “too much city” Sullivan moved out to western Massachusetts and ultimately to Montague City. His new friendship with Dave Jacke and Jono Neiger, both Conway School of Landscape Design graduates, led him to the School and his own graduation in 2008. By this time the news was filled with stories of Colony Collapse Disorder. Dan Conlon of the Warm Colors Apiary invited Sullivan to a 2008 pollinator conference at the University of Massachusetts. “I was just blown away,” he said.

As Sullivan gave me the tour of his garden he explained that his first desire was “to support the whole ecosystem with pollinator habitat expansion because our native bees, and so many other insects and native plants, are being affected by loss of habitat. There is also indiscriminate use of pesticides and herbicides, so freely applied by home owners and to a lesser extent by farmers. Multiple forces are at work that we must counter with abundant well-functioning ecologies.”

One way he expands pollinator habitat is by reducing his lawn. He does have a shady spot where he and friends can sit on a bit of lawn, but his yard is densely planted with vegetables and herbs mingled with flowers including bee balm, butterfly weed, garlic chives, and asters that attract pollinators. He went on to explain his Yard by Yard project. “If we only gave up 3 feet around the perimeter of our properties we’d add a lot [of habitat] and it would be beautiful — or even more so with a good design. Yard By Yard is a concept – my idea of making more connectivity between habitats with our yards being the conduit.”

While he has designed his garden to be attractive to pollinators, it is also attractive to visitors. A large apple tree provides an oasis of shade in this sunny garden, flowers are in bloom in every season, and a large handsome bamboo trellis supports green beans. Sullivan wouldn’t know what to do with vegetables grown in rows. They are arranged between curving paths which can lead you into corner where you’ll discover a real surprise – fig trees. The fig trees need to be brought inside for the winter, but they were bearing fruit when I saw them.

He has even planted the hell-strip in front of his house with pollinator friendly plants, again reducing lawn.

In other words, Sullivan’s desire to provide habitat for pollinators goes beyond what he needs for his small vegetable garden. With the recognized importance of our local food system and the growth of local small farms he wants to teach us all how we can participate in protecting and creating pollinator habitat. “The deepest part of me is teaching,” he said.

To this end, he has launched a website,, and a garden design and installation business. He has also found himself in demand as a speaker for garden clubs and other organizations like the Hitchock Center.  Later this summer he will be speaking at the Northeast Organic Farmers Association conference in Amherst, and then at the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange.

Between the Rows  July 20, 2013

Forbes Library Leads Off Garden Tour Season

Julie Abramson’s Garden

Julie Abramson’ s garden  is just one of six garden that will enchant garden lovers on the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 8, from 10 am til 3 pm. Julie’s is a collector’s garden that features some notable trees, clematis, and a colorful array of perennials and a rock garden. I was intrigued by the description of a rustic arbor covered with climbinbing hydrangea, PLUS two other arbors covered with roses, honeysuckle and clematis. Pure romance!

One garden combines formal and informal elements with wonderful and whimsical sculptures, and a tree house. Another garden is organically maintained with a focus on native plants. The terraced backyard features many beautiful trees and shrubs. One garden consists of six colorful garden rooms and a formal French vegetable garden. I cannot miss that. There is a lawn free garden! Perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and a grid of groundcovers, but no turf. The sixth garden surrounds a four unit condominium with a woodland in the front yard, and invidual private gardens. Clearly, there is  something for everyone. Gardens to inspire and teach.

The tickets are $15.00 ($20.00 on the day of the tour) and can be bought at Forbes Library, State St. Fruit in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence, Hadley Garden Center and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.  There are also tickets for wonderful raffle items for gardens on sale at the library; they include 2 yards of Bill Obear’s compost; gift items from Women’s Work; a garden consultation from Jim McSweeney, a planted container and gift certificate from Annie’s and gift certificates of $50.00 from Bay State Perennial Farm and $100.00 from Hadley Garden Center as well as other fun items.

What a wonderful way to start the garden tour season – and help the Forbes Library which is such an important library, serving many readers beyond the Northampton borders. Proceeds will benefit the Forbes Library

O is for Organizations on the A to Z Challenge

Our Annual Rose Viewing – designed to delight and edify

O is for Organizations. We gardeners have all sorts of enthusiasms, about plants, about conservations, and about education. There are many Organizations that support those enthusiasms. I belong to the Massaachusetts Horticultural Society which is headquartered in Wellesley. There Mass Hort has a library, classrooms, and wonderful gardens from the Italianate Garden to the delightful Weezies Garden for Children. Founded in 1829 this organization isty is “dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and developing the public’s enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment.” I wrote about Mass Hort here.

I belong to the New England Wildflower Society, one of the oldest conservation organization in the United States. Founded in 1900 mission of the  New England Wild Flower Society is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes.  Members have access to  classes, and the beautiful Garden of the Woods in Framingham and the Nasami Farm native nursery in Whately. And much more

I also belong to the American Horticultural Society because my interest in supporting botanical education is more than just regional.

There are also plant societies where you can learn everything there is to know about hostas or rhododendrons or irises. I did attend a meeting of the New England Rose Society but most of the people attending that meeting were competitive men who were mostly interested in raising roses for exhibition, no matter how much poison it took. That may be an unfair characterization of the whole organization, but I did not continue. I recently learned that the New England Rose Society has brought its Rose Library to Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boyleston. Books are available to NERS members and members of Tower Hill.

You can also join the organizations that support public gardens like Tower Hill Botanic Garden and the Berkshire Botanical Garden. We are gardeners are always learning – in our own gardens, and in the gardens that have been created for our delight and edification. What is your nearest botanical or public garden?


Weezie’s Garden plaque at the Mass Horticultural Society

To see what else begins with O click here for the A to Z Blogger Challenge.

N is for Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm shop and classrooms

N is for Nasami Farm, the Native plant nursery of the New England Wildflower Society. Founded in 1900 the New England Wildflower Society is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the country. “The mission of New England Wild Flower Society is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes.”

The Society owns and oeperates the beautiful Garden in t he Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts which features the largest landscape of native flowers in the northeast. The Society offers programs, sells native plants and has a wonderful gift shop. You, too, can become a member of the Society.

Nasami Farm is located in Whately. Behind the handsome building which contains a small gift shop and classrooms are several large greenhouses where thousands of native plants are propagated and put on sale in the spring, here at Nasami and at the Garden in the Woods. The season will open on April 20.

Barren Strawberry, Waldsteinia fragrarioides

I have bought any number of beautiful healthy plants at Nasami Farm including Waldsteinia fragarioidies, a thickly spreading groundcover that blooms in the spring. I have planted mine at the edge of our road where I am slowly eliminating lawn. This barrenstrawberry is not a strawberry plant at all. It is so named because the foliage and flowers resemble the strawberry plant. I love the barren strawberry, but I have also bought penstemon and a native rose and tiarella. When I shop at Nasami Farm I know I am helping to maintain the food web, supporting the insects, birds and other  wildlife that help keep everything in balance.

To see  what else begins with N on the A to Z Blogger Challenge click here.