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My husband Henry and I stood outside the back of our new Greenfield house. We each clutched a different custom garden design prepared for us by Home Outside, Julie Moir Messervy’s newest service to help homeowners create the garden they had always dreamed of. We looked at each other, we looked at the designs, and we looked at the blank green space that was our back yard.
Both Home Outside plans used the information I had sent them. We answered questions, filling out a form with the attributes (driveway, sheds, wet spot in lawn, etc.) of the Greenfield lot, and all that we wanted to have. We also explained what projects we had already begun, the planting of the hellstrip and the south shrub and rose border. I mentioned wanting a very small vegetable garden, a blueberry patch, a raspberry patch and an umbrella clothesline that would be at the back of the lot near the current sheds. This may have been a mistake. I should have let the designers have free rein.
How were we going to translate the graphics on the page into plants in the ground? Where should we start? It seemed impossible. I started to get the giggles. Henry sighed and said we had to take some measurements. The idea of measurements always strikes terror in my heart, but we had had some trouble understanding the scale given on the designs so there was no help for it.
We had already planted a clump of river birch and a weeping cherry, so we used them as markers, measuring the space from the side boundries of the lot to each of them, the distance between them, and the distances to the back of the lot. That was information. Now what?
While we had waited for the custom design to arrive in my email, my husband revealed that in fact, he had an idea or two. This was a surprise to me. He usually is content to be the muscle. He thought the clotheseline should be closer to the house and that we shouldn’t build our plan around sheds that would ‘soon’ be replaced with a better shed.
When the first Home Outside plan arrived I just loved it, even though some of it would have to be changed because of our own new plan about the clothesline. Then the second plan arrived and I loved it even more because it had more curving paths than the first and I really wanted curving paths.
We pulled our socks up and decided to begin with the curving paths that were common to both plans. One would amble along the north side of the lot, and the another on the south side. Henry waved his hands to indicate where he saw the paths going. I asked for clarifications. He waved his hands some more. I said I needed concrete markers to understand what he had in mind.
We got out stakes and string and marked the north border path, but not before a discussion on how wide a path should be, three feet or four? I decreed four feet because a path is for wandering with a companion.
Then we marked the southern curving path using the river birch which would be at the path entry, and stakes, but I kept getting confused, partly because of the big pile of compost that was impinging on this space. “The new river birch will be on the left side, right?” I asked. “No, it will be on the right side,” Henry replied. I still didn’t understand and it took more stakes and string before I was clear.
I finally walked the marked path. “Are we both on the same page?” Henry asked. “Yes!”
“How did that happen?” Henry laughed. He is very patient with me and my difficulty dealing with spatial relationships.
With the outer paths generally established, we could think about other paths through the yard which would be filled with large native shrubs that loved water. We knew when we bought the house that the backyard was very wet, but felt this was no great impediment.
I had already bought a selection of water loving native plants. They had been patiently waiting for planting day. We planted a dappled willow on one side of the north path where it was especially wet. Fifteen feet further west we planted a button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) which is so wet tolerant it can be planted in swamps and river margins. Both grow tall and wide. As we were running out of time that day, we set other shrubs in possible places to give us an idea of space required for each. We set the two potted potted winterberries on the opposite side of the willow path., as well as an elderberry.
In the potential bed headed by the weeping cherry we placed the potted clethera (sweet pepperbush), Aronia (chokeberry), and a yellow twig dogwood. The final pottedplant, a fothergilla like the one on the Bridge of Flowers, was placed just beyond the river birch.
Then we ran upstairs to look out the back bedroom window to see how it looked. If we used our imaginations, we could almost see the beds forming, not exactly as pictured on the plan, but close enough for our satisfaction.
The next day we put all those shrubs in the ground, and heaved a sigh of happy achievement.
The next day came the torrential rains and we got a not very welcome surprise. Keep reading next week.
Between the Rows July 18, 2015
Virginia Rechtschaffen has always loved trees. She and her husband Rob even once owned a house in Belchertown that came complete with an orchard. Lots of trees. For the past 20 years she and Rob have lived in Northampton and accomplished something I would have thought impossible. Their in-town garden is embraced by a ring of large trees with a heart of sunshine at its center. How did they do it?
Virginia said when they moved into the house she felt she needed some help with a Plan. They hired a designer, but in the end they only used the design for the front of the house which is lovely in its simplicity. A boxwood hedge borders the sidewalk marking off the private space around the house. A trident maple which will grow to about 35 feet is surrounded by groundcovers like epimediums and pulmonaria, and geranium macrorrhizum. All of these bloom in early spring. Virginia said she loved the delicate flowers of each, and the spotted foliage of the pulmoniaria.
A lamp post is surrounded by white Siberian irises, just beginning to bloom when I visited. The lush foliage of the groundcovers and the elegance of the irises point out that even familiar plants can make a beautiful statement when planted en masse.
There was also a large old sugar maple in front of the house which had to be removed, but it was replaced last week with a young Katsura tree, just in time for the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13.
Another striking element of the front garden is the placement of several large stones, nestled among the plantings. There is a subtle art in knowing how to arrange stones in a garden so that they look like they belong, and give a sense of timelessness to the garden.
Blooming shrubs including rhododendrons and azaleas hug the house. A grassy walk between the house and a shrub border lead to the back garden. When I visited the garden was filled with birds that came to the birdbath and to peck away at bugs in areas of soil, left uncovered and unplanted just for them.
The garden is all curves, beds holding trees like the Acer triflorium which produces small spring flowers in clusters of three, accounting for its name as three flowered maple. It also has handsome exfoliating bark and good autumn color. The golden rain tree showers its flower petals to the ground accounting for its common name. Both these trees grow to between 20 and 30 feet tall, which some count as small trees, but which are large in a small garden.
Still, around the very edges of the property are shrubs and really large trees like a Katsura they planted in 1996 and a tall weeping conifer.
The Rechtschaffens have several different Japanese maples. Full Moon, which indeed has the shape of a full moon, stands opposite the golden rain tree at the entry of the social area, a firepit and chairs where the Rechtschaffens frequently enjoy solitude or friends around the fire.
They chose the plants and designed arrangement of these garden beds themselves because the plans created by the designers were too formal and symmetrical. That formality did not reflect the way they live or the way they look at the natural world.
As we looked at the clusters of winged maple seeds, properly called samaras, but often called helicopters or whirlybirds, Virginia said, “Even the smallest things in the garden are beautiful.
Those of us who attend garden tours are always looking to spend a day in beautiful spaces and to learn about techniques and plants we might use in our own gardens. Host gardeners also have their own desires. “What I would like is that when people leave our garden they will want to go a plant a tree in their garden,” Virginia said. I think she will very well get her desire.
The Rechtschaffen’s garden is just one of six beautiful and unique gardens on the Friends of the Forbes Library Annual Garden Tour on Saturday, June 13 from 10 am – 3 pm, rain or shine. Advance tickets are available for $15 at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, HadleyGardenCenter, North Country Landscapes and State Street Fruit Store. Tickets on Saturday will be $20. Tickets come with a map for this self guided tour. There will be descriptions and guides at each garden to answer questions
It has been a while since I have been able to post on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, but May has brought many blooms to the end of the road. Old apple trees and wild cherries are blooming in the garden , along the road and in the fields.
Blooming trees are wonderful, and each blossom is a delight.
The Sargent crabapple could not fit any more blossoms on itself.
Didn’t I tell you no more blossoms could fit on a branch?
I never get over my initial surprise that cotoneaster bears flowers!
How is it possible that I never noticed blossoms on this ornamental plum? Could this year be the first time? The tree has to be at least 15 years old in this spot.
Sometimes bluets appear in the fields, or the lawn. These bluets seem almost white
This clump of Epimedium sulphureum has increased so much. So has Epimedium rubrum on the other side of this lawn bed.
My idea was to get rid of grass, and this area on the road side of the Peony Bed is coming along. Waldsteinia or barren strawberry is a native groundcover that has little yellow strawberry-like flowers. This isn’t a good photo but in the upper portion of the photo, up against the peonies is a growing section of tiarella. The white blossoms are so foamy that they don’t show up in a photo – even from this little distance.
Not a great photo, but these are great old white lilacs that have been at the end of the road since long before we arrived. There are old lilac lilacs, too, but we have added pink Miss Canada and Pocahontas, the white Miss Ellen Willmott and the Beauty of Moscow. I just this moment noticed that these are all ladies.
There are other bloomers: the forsythia is going by; grape hyacinths in the lawn here and there; a pot of sunny pansies; and of course, that common weed, the dandelion blooming in the lawn with violets and ground ivy. My own springtime flowery mead.
Carol, I am glad to be posting on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day once again. Thank you so much for hosting over at May Dreams Gardens. New dreams are coming true this May.
On Mother’s Day we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum so I could revisit the Monks Garden , newly designed by Michael VanValkenburg in 2013. I wanted to see how it was filling out, and if it really went ‘crazy with hellebores” in the spring. This is where we entered on the graceful curving path.
Visitors to the Museum can also enter the Monks Garden from one of the galleries. The trees are indeed filling out.
Hellebores are very modest plants and it’s hard to see them going crazy, but the garden is certainly crazy with varieties of white daffodils that really stand out among other ground covers, and plants that will come into bloom later in the season.
Because I am thinking how to create my own stroll garden I was paying particular to the way the paths curved and split and joined again, embracing the beds of trees and flowers that provided so much privacy for the visitors.
The oldest tree in the garden is the ancient Katsura. All the shagbark maples, birches, stewartias and conifers are new.
Of course, there are many beautiful flowers and trees in the famous interior courtyard. And the new museum rule is that photos are allowed in the courtyard, and in the Monks Garden. Hooray!
A beautiful celebration for a hot Mother’s Day.
Blooming trees are an important part of our domestic landscape, giving it substance as well as beauty. Planting a blooming tree requires more thought than planting a perennial or pots of annuals. A tree cannot be moved at will.
No matter what we plant in our garden we have to consider the site, sun or shade, and we have to consider the growth rate and the ultimate size of the plant. With a tree these considerations become even more important. We planted five ginkgo trees in our new Lawn Beds 16 years ago when we had five toddler grandsons belonging to our three daughters. The trees were a nod to our years in Beijing, and pleasing to me because of the unusual fan shape of the foliage which turns a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall.
Ginkgo trees are dioecious which means they need male and female trees to fruit. We did not know whether we had male or female trees so we couldn’t be sure they would fruit or not. Male ginkgoes are more desirable because they will never fruit, and the fruits are famous for their bad smell. We didn’t worry about this because even if we had male and female trees they would probably not mature and fruit for many years – when we would no longer be around. We might seem thoughtless, but it is my position that we can see only so far ahead into the future, and in the case of plants we can usually please ourselves. The only exception would be deliberately planting something invasive.
We had the room in our country garden to plant trees that would get fairly large. In a suburban yard or garden you will have to be more discriminating about which trees to plant. When I look at the dimensions of trees labeled ‘small’ they can still be larger than you might expect. For example, there are many crabapple varieties that range from 12 to 25 feet high with an equal spread. Donald Wyman crab, one of the ten most disease resistant, produces white flowers in spring and small red apples in the fall. Prairiefire is also highly disease resistant and has bright pink flowers in the spring. The foliage begins with a purplish shade, changes to bronzey green and finishes with a yellow/orange shade in the fall. Crabapples are wonderful trees, with beautiful spring bloom to please you and support pollinators, with small apples in the fall that you might use in the kitchen or that the birds will enjoy.
The pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is a native dogwood that can reach a height of 25 feet with an equal spread. Its airy while blossoms do not resemble the more familiar flowers of Cornus florida or Cornus kousa, but there will eventually be small blue berries that will attract birds. The name refers to the attractive layered arrangement of the branches.
The Silverbell is slightly larger, possibly reaching a height of 35 feet. You can see this tree on the Bridge of Flowers. Clusters of small white bell-like flowers appear in mid to late April.
Rate of growth will depend on your soil, but I once listened to an arborist explaining to a friend that she could control the size of a tree by regular pruning. This is good to remember when a small blooming tree that you have planted becomes larger than you and your garden’s definition of ‘small.’
Careful planting is important to the future of a tree. Dig a generously wide hole and loosen the soil within the hole. It should be only as deep as the roots, or balled roots, or the container that your tree came in
If you have a small bare root tree support it in the middle of the hole so the root collar is even with the soil level. Fill in with the original soil. Tamp it down to make sure there are no air pockets and that the tree is firmly held. As you fill in the last of the soil make sure it is just below the root collar and that there is a shallow basin to collect water. Water well. Then mulch with two inches of wood chips or bark, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. No mulch volcanoes!
If your tree came balled and burlaped place it in a good big hole so it is at the proper level. Then cut away and remove all the wires and the burlap. If there is burlap left underneath that is fine as long as it is not plastic burlap. You want to free all those roots. Fill with original soil, water and mulch as for a barerooted tree. If you have a landscaper do this for you, make sure the wires and burlap get removed. I have heard horror stories of inept landscaping help not doing this resulting in the loss of the trees.
If your tree comes in a container and you find the roots are rootbound you should cut an X at the bottom of the root ball with a sharp knife, and make three or four cuts down the sides. This root-pruning will encourage new root growth. This is not unlike firmly combing out tangled roots in a rootbound perennial before planting. As with any plant, keep it well watered for the first year while it is getting established.
Trees give us so much: sculptural form, shade, the whispering of breezes among the leaves, seasonal flowering and food and shelter for many creatures. Choosing the appropriate tree for its site and planting it well will give you decades of beauty.
Between the Rows April 4, 2015
The colors of the landscape on the first day of fall are shifting. Fall colors are mutable, first draining and then gathering richness. The dawn sun on the trees across the field show the rustiness of the trees as the fresh green seeps away.
As I drove around on my errands I saw the different fall colors arrive in different ways, vibrantly on the treetops.
The low branches of the beeches are turning gold and if I look closely I can see the tiny pointy buds of next year’s leaves forming.
A single golden tree along the river set against the green hillside.
This small maple is being transformed from emerald to ruby, but you can still see the transformation is not complete.
Soon reds will become more prominent. Already this weedy vine has a brilliant sash.
Rich gold is to be seen in all the local farmstands as the pumpkin harvest is set out. These pumpkins are in the Hawlemont School garden.
What colors are changing in your landscape?
On this First of the Month I am going to show you some long views. My camera isn’t really ideal for long views but you might get a different idea of the garden, and the text is still a bloom record. I confess the weeds are not as visible in a long view. This is the bee balm in the Herb Bed right in front of the house. We can watch the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees from out dining/kitchen table. That is the f amous Cottage Ornee across the lawn.
Leaving the Herb Bed I go across the driveway/road and come to the North Lawn Bed. This section includes a weeping cherry, echinacea, phlox, Russian sage, cosmos, pansies still blooming, and a Fulda Glow sedum which is a great plant.
Further on this side of the North Lawn Bed is The Fairy rose, toremia, phlox, and liatris.
The only thing blooming here is Mardi Gras helenium. A Montauk daisy at its base will bloom later. The Carolina lupine put out a lot of growth this year, but no blooms.
There is a wide grass path between the Lawn Beds. This tangle includes cotoneaster, shasta daisies, a mystery golden yarrow, Connecticut Yankee delphinium, Blue Paradise phlox, toremia and more Fulda Glow. This bed is mostly filled with the fourth gingko, a weeping birch and a huge Mothlight hydrangea which I love and have not been able to keep pruned down. I will continue to try.
This is a very long view of the east side of the North Lawn bed. The most noticeable flower from this view if Achillea ‘The Pearl’. Phlox, white and pink on the right. This bed contains 3 gingkos, Golden threadleaf false cypress, yarrow, cosmos, and .artemesia lactiflora. More bloom still to come.
You can see the Mothlight hydrangea is nearly as tall as the weeping birch.
This view from the upstairs bedroom gives you a sense of the whole.
Echinops, meadow rue, and cimicifuga are blooming, as well and a few rose blossoms here and there: R. setigera, Belle Poitvine, Rugosa alba, Meideland red and Sitka.
Love Lies Bleeding and other potted annuals are doing well at the edge of the piazza. The vegetables are struggling this year, but the ornamental garden hasn’t minded the cool summer. Neither has the lawn. It keeps growing and growing.
Dioecious Plants: Dioecious species have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants.
The Annual Rose Viewing was a success, but it was the hardy kiwi vine on our shed that also got a lot of attention.
Of course, it is the unusual green, white and pink foliage that makes the hardy kiwi so notable. I first saw this vine at the LakewoldGarden in Washington state many years ago. It was growing on a long trellis, so I did not realize how rampantly it could grow. I did not know the artful pruning it was receiving every summer – and winter.
Our hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) was planted on a trellis attached to our shed. I thought the colorful foliage would be very pretty when the roses in the Shed Bed were not in bloom. This has certainly worked very well. I have been happy that it has grown so vigorously and covers the better part of the shed wall. I have only done the most basic pruning, but this year I have come to realize that I need to take a firmer hand – and get out the ladder.
Since visitors to the garden are familiar with fuzzy kiwis that can be found on supermarket shelves they ask if my kiwi bears fruit. It does not, because kiwis are dioecious plants. This means that you must have a male and a female to get fruit. I was only interested in the unusual foliage so I was happy with one vine. I don’t know its sex.
I do have a friend who wanted the fruit which is different from the supermarket variety. Hardy kiwis are as big as a large grape and have a smooth skin that can be eaten. He bought a male and a female vine from a nursery. One of the vines died over the winter, but he couldn’t remember which was which, so he planted another male and female. Again, one vine died, and his list and map were lost, so again he was not sure which vine had survived. I don’t actually know whether he finally got a male and female, and a fruit crop, but this is a problem with other dioecious plants as well.
I should add a caveat. Without pruning the hardy kiwi can reach a height of 40 feet, and if unattended or abandoned can overwhelm other plants and areas.
Perhaps the most commonly known dioecious shrubs are the hollies, the Ilex family. This includes the kinds of evergreen hollies with the beautiful red berries that are such a part of our Christmas traditions. I have a single ‘Blue Prince’ and a ‘Blue Princess’ holly, Ilex x meserveae. The male produces the pollen that is needed to fertilize the female’s flowers and so create the beautiful red berries. It only takes one male to fertilize nine females. You do not need to have as many males as females.
These hollies produce tiny white flowers in April and May. They are easy to miss, but not the red berries. My ‘Blue Prince’ took a beating this past winter, and the ‘Blue Princess’ also showed winter damage, but both are recovering nicely. There were lots of flowers, and even though the ‘Blue Prince’ is much smaller, I am expecting a good showing of berries later this season.
There is also the native deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata, which is more commonly called the winterberry. It also needs male and female plants in order to produce the orange-red berries that appear in the fall and persist through the winter. They tolerate wet soils which makes them an attractive shrub to plant in damp spots in the garden.
In addition to the hardy kiwi vine and the evergreen hollies, I have four ginkgo trees in my garden. We planted these about 16 years ago when our grandsons were hardly more than toddlers. We planted them partly as a memorial to our two years in Beijing. I was afraid they might be slightly too tender, but they are thriving and are even big enough now to throw welcome shade on hot summer afternoons.
Ginkgo biloba trees are used in cities because they are hardy, but the fruit of the female is said to be unpleasantly smelly. I cannot attest to this from my own experience because during our New York city years, and our Beijing years, I never came across ginkgo fruit. It takes at least 30 years for the tree to mature and produce fruit, which means that when my trees drop their fruit smelling of rotten eggs or vomit, I will not be around to suffer.
However, it seems to me that 30 years or more of a beautiful, hardy, disease resistant tree is better than those years without the tree even if it ultimately has got be cut down. Or at least the females have to be cut down.
The ginkgo is an ancient tree, sometimes called a living fossil, and is known for its unusual fan shaped leaves. They turn a beautiful gold in the fall which tend to fall all at once. We have often gone to bed on an October night, and awakened to find every golden leaf on the ground.
These are the three types of dioecious plants in my garden, but I recently checked a long list of dioecious plants online and found that the stinging nettles among my weeds, Urtica diocia, and the hop vine, Humulus, that is growing in a tangle of grapes and multiflora roses, are also dioecious plants, but they are subjects for another time.
Between the Rows July 5, 2014
I have been reading Evelyn Hadden’s book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and the curb, with all its beautiful photographs of the different ways a curbside garden can be created. Hadden includes gardens from across the country from Oregon and California to Minnesota and New York. Different climates and different inspirations. I was very happy that she also included Rain Gardens as one of her themes because many urban areas have a great problem with rain runoff. In these days some rains have become amazingly heavy, stressing storm sewer systems that then flood waste water sewers. It is ever more important that we all work to keep rainfall where it falls. We can make sure we have many permeable surfaces – and raingardens. I know in Cambridge, Massachusetts where my son lives, there are rules about how much square footage in a house lot must be permeable. You cannot build or cover more.
While Heath is a rural town and I live where there is not a single sidewalk, there are local towns that have sidewalks and some of them even have hellstrips, an area between the street and the sidewalk. However, I have a friend with an absolutely fabulous curbside garden.
This photo gives an idea of how this curbside garden works in the streetscape.
With heucheras, hostas and creeping phlox in this area there is a wonderful arrangement of foliage color and texture.
A great use is made of everygreens which can supply a surprising range of color.
Small trees, shrubs, ground cover – and flowers! This curbside garden has everything! And something for every season.
If you would like to win a copy of Evelyn Hadden’s book, Hellstrip Gardening, leave a comment here before midnight July 6.
The view from the bedroom window on May 5 shows that the grass is greening up, but it is cold, 46 degrees, cloudy and windy. I dug up plants for the Bridge of Flowers plant sale, but then went back in the house to work in front of the woodstove.
Now it is hot! 80 degrees. What a difference a week makes. We had a little rain and warmer days – although with strong breezes it has still felt cool – until today. The lawn just had its first mowing and you can see the lilacs beginning to leaf out. A close look will show tiny budded lilac flowers. The weeping birch in the South Lawn Bed is greening, and a green brush has barely touched the trees in the field. Perennials are well started, summer phlox, achilleas, delphiniums, and more and more daffodils.
A beautiful day, 70′s and sunny. You can see the trees are beginning to green, and the lilacs are just beginning to bloom.
58 degrees this morning and still misting from last night’s rain which saved me from watering the gardens this morning. The lilacs are in full bloom, and the apple trees are also beginning to bloom. The ginkgo trees are finally greening up. Some of the daffodils are still blooming, but they are joined by columbine, epimediums, tiarella, trollius, barren strawberry, as well as a host of annuals bought at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, geraniums, cuphea, Diamond Frost , lobelia, torenia, and blue felicia daisy. Boule de Neige and Rangoon rhodies are also starting to bloom. Full spring!
My record for May has not been very regular and doesn’t give a full taste of how cold it was for most of the month. Winter blankets still on our bed. And fires in the woodstove the first half of the month – and sometimes in the evening after that.
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