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Water – Utility and Beauty

Water retention pond

Water is vital to a healthy productive garden. A friend, Marie Stella, has put gutters on her house that feed rainwater into this retention pond below the house which sits on a rise. Other gutters feed into a 550 gallon food grade plastic cistern in the little greenhouse she has added to the end of her house. The retention pond is not only utilitarian. She has turned it into a beautiful element, and introduction to her sustainable landscape when visitors drive up to the house.

Food grade plastic 550 gallon cistern

The cistern is not very beautiful, but it is utilitarian. The  rainfall pattern has been very difficult this summer with lots of rain in June, almost none in July and very little since the beginning of August. We cannot count on rain if we are going to harvest a reasonable crop. Watering is absolutely necessary.


Marie has also built this cheerful fountain at the edge of her terrace.  Gutters bring water into the retention pond, and a recirculating pump brings the water up to this naturalistic fountain that brings the water down a tiny constructed stream and back into the pond. That pump will also bring water up to the gardens in front of the house for irrigation.


Lazy frog – dreaming

Of course, if you have a pond, you will have frogs. This one looks like he is just dreaming in the water.

Water. Essential. Beautiful.

Water in the Garden – Fountains, Birdbaths and a Waterfall


Bloedel Reserve Reflecting Pool in the rain

Most of us will never have a reflecting pool in our garden, but water in the garden comes in many forms. The Bloedel Reserve has many beautiful ways to use water in the garden., this is just one.

A small fountain

A small fountain near the house makes electricity for the  recirculating pump easy.

A waterfall

This small waterfall has been ‘tuned’ to make lovely music. The water enters in a lovely fishpond.

A simple birdbath

A simple birdbath in the shade.

A fountain in the shade

A more elaborate fountain in the shade. Burbling.


Millstone into fountain

A fountain in the sun is beautiful, too.


You can combine a birdbath with art.

A backyard pond and fountain

Through the magic of recirculating pumps you can have a pond and a fountain.

Seattle fountain

Even municipalities can have a sense of humor and play with water.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.



X is for Xeric – and Drought Resistant Plants

X is for Xeric. Xeric plants are those adapted to an extremely dry habitat. While the weather/climate in my area is definitely changing with periods of drought, and  heavier rains when they come. I am paying more attention to those plants that are drought tolerant, if not really xeric.

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’

These Gaillardias are a wonderful perennials that have done beautifully in my garden.  After checking a list of drought resisant plants I was happy to see that I have a number already in my garden: echinops, yarrow, heliopsis, veronica, baptisia, dianthus,and perovski otherwise known as Russian Sage.

Pink Grootendorst rugosa rose

There are also a lot of drought resistant shrubs including Rugosa roses, of which I have a few, and they are tough in all weathers. Other drought resistant shrubs include the common forsythia, spirea, junipers and the wonderful fothergilla. For a larger list click here

We are all tryimg to adapt to the challenges of our weather, but adapting doesn’t mean a painful limit. We might just have to look at different plant families.

To see what else begins with x click here.

W is for Water – and Dr. Betsy

Betsy on her 50th birthday

W 1s for Water, and for Dr. Betsy our fourth child, second daughter, and Queen of Water. That actually isn’t her title, which I don’t remember, but she has been working for the Mass Water Resources  Authority for a number of years, as the scientist on the staff, although she also has administrative duties.  Why is it we parents never understand our children’s jobs anymore?

Anyway just in time for her 50th birthday celebration, she has been given a promotion and will now not only be responsible for clean water quality in Boston and environs, she will be responsible for waste water. In and out, you might say. Congratulations, Betsy.

After reading Who Really Killed Cock Robin by Jean Craighead George when she was in 6th grade she decided she would be an environmentalist. Certainly there is nothing more basic to our environmental health than clean water.  I don’t know when she really became interested in water, but when she was in the Peace Corps in Kenya (1987-1989) she was given the job of helping a mountain village get water into the village. Up to that time women had to collect and carry water from a mile away. At her birthday party her sister asked how she knew how to do things like lay a gravity feed water line and build a huge water tank. She said, “I read a book.”  Music to a librarian mother’s ears.

When she returned to the United States, she went back to Clark University where she earned her PhD in Microbiology. Her dissertation was titled  Microbiological Pretreatment of Industrial Wastewater. One of the other mothers at the graduation ceremony said Betsy’s dissertation was the only one with a title that she could understand. I understood generally, not specifically. I kept asking what she had the microbes do? She said she trained the microbes to eat the hazardous waste in the water. Do I understand how you train a microbe? No. Surely there are no whips and chairs that small.

She then served as a Congressional Fellow for Representative Edward Markey (now trying for Senator) but eventually found her way to the MWRA and I think even Sheryl Sandberg would agree she is leaning in.

All the other women in the family

Of course, Betsy is not the only skilled, talented, energetic, forward thinking woman in the family. We all gathered to help celebrate Betsy’s birthday. We drank a lot of water. Other stuff, too.

To see what else begins w ith W click here.

Jono Neiger – Mimic Nature in Your Garden


Jono Neiger of Regenerative Design Group

Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group which has its office in Greenfield, spoke to the Greenfield Garden Club a couple of weeks ago. His inspiring talk explained how gardeners could mimic nature, and require less work and inputs to create a garden that would give us what we desire out of our garden and what wildlife and pollinators require.

He gave some very specific advice beginning with the suggestion that vegetable gardens, and gardens that need substantial cultivating be sited near the house where their needs will not be forgotten. I can tell you how valuable this advice is from my own experience. The Herb Bed, the Front Garden, the Daylily and Rose Banks, all of which are right in front of the house get more attention because those south gardens warm up first in the spring and because it is easy to do a small job or two as I come and go, in and out of the house.

It is easy to remember to spread compost and other organic fertilizers on our vegetable and flower beds wherever they are, but remembering to weed or watch for problems is easier when the garden is right in front of us.

Water is becoming more of a concern as we often seem to have too much or too little. This has inspired many people to invest in rain barrels which collect rain off our roofs to use later in the garden when there is a dry spell. Those who have used 50 gallon barrels quickly learn that they don’t hold much of the roof run-off and add more barrels.

Neiger himself has arranged it so that the runoff from his roof runs into a small artificial pond that he has created below the house. The pond holds about 300 gallons of water. When the pond is full, there is an overflow pipe that takes water to a small bog garden that he planted when his son was young featuring pitcher plants. When that area is full water runs down to the vegetable garden. His goal is to get as much use out of all the water he can collect and keep it usefully on the site.

Those of us who don’t have enough room to move rainwater across our property could buy a larger water tank to collect more water off our roof. We can count on that tank costing about a dollar a gallon, so a 400 gallon tank would cost about $400. We can also plant a rain garden that will keep rain on our site and out of storm drains.

He also told us that gray water is now legal in Massachusetts. If we can separate out our sink and bath water that gray water can be drained into our gardens. We would have to pay attention to the type of soaps and detergents we use. His passion is to produce no waste and to recycle any waste elements of our house and garden as much as possible. Compost!

He is a proponent of permaculture, growing perennial plants for food, as well as for ornament. He explained the Edible Forest Garden in terms that I could finally understand. The idea is to mimic nature in the way the forest grows with tall trees, then understory shrubs and then groundcovers. An edible forest in my garden simply means to include a fruit tree or two, some berry bushes and then ground covers. Rhubarb and asparagus are familiar perennial edible ‘ground covers.’ How simple.

If you are interested in perennial crops Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardeners Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles will give you full information about familiar and unfamiliar crops, many of which are hardy in our area.

Those of us who live in town will not be able to, or need to, include the food, fuel, fiber, fodder, farmeceuticals, fertilizer and fun that make up Neiger’s productive landscape, but all of us can include several of these elements. In the acre surrounding my house I have food in my vegetable gardens, some fodder for my chickens who then supply some fertilizer, compost for fertilizer, an herb garden for farmeceuticals and fun in the Lawn Beds that include small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and even some groundcovers. I want to point out bee balm, mint, yarrow and other pollinator magnets are among the perennials in the herb and flower gardens.

How many of these elements do you have in your garden. Begin with fun.

Achillea, yarrow, attracts pollinators


While Jono Neiger gave us some new ecological ways to think about managing our domestic landscapes, Emily Monosson, PhD, teacher and environmental toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts will be leading a discussion at the Greenfield Library with those who have read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on Saturday, February 2. This talk, The Relevance of Silent Spring after 50 Years, is scheduled from 11 am – 1 pm and is sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this book which could be said to have started the whole environmental movement and new ways of. “No book since then has had the impact of Silent Spring. Carson saw an acute toxic change . . . and synthesized an immense amount of research. The changes in our environment today are more insidious,” Monosson said.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2013

Priorities and Preparations for Hurricane Sandy

Garlic Planted October 26, 2012

While Hurricane Sandy was making its slow and warning filled way to Heath we had to set priorities and make preparations to weather the storm. With so much notice, and stories about a possible Sandy snow  storm (like last year) I realized it was time to plant the garlic. Fortunately I had already prepared the bed so it didn’t take much to pull apart my choice garlic bulbs and plant each clove about eight inches apart in four rows. Then I mulched the wide row with slightly rotted straw from the not-very-successful tomatoes-in-a-strawbale experiment. That story in a post soon.

Beaver damage

With up to 8 inches of rain predicted we set off for the Frog Pond to see if the beavers really were back and what they had been up to. The walk down to the pond showed definite signs of their presence.

Frog Pond October 28, 2012

The level of the pond was very high and the beavers had clearly been working on the old lodge that was abandoned during the summer. There is an overflow pipe that keeps the pond at a reasonable level, but the beavers always block it. Instant beaver dam. Those lazy creatures.

Beaver lodge closeup

We did not try to get close to the beaver lodge and just set to work clearing out the overflow.

Frog Pond Overflow Pipe Flowing

Fortunately it did not take Henry long to unclog the pipe and send water gushing through into the wetland area below the pond.  We’ll have to check the pond again right after the storm passes because it does not take those beavers long to plug up the overflow.

Bridge of Flowers – Closed for the Season

This morning I was up at dawn to get down to Shelburne Falls to help close the Bridge of Flowers before Hurricane Sandy arrived in full force. Officially closed for the season! Let the storm begin!  Not too hard.

ADDENDUM – Although it didn’t seem like much of a storm we lost power around 2 pm Monday afternoon, and just got power and the phone back around 2 pm today, Tuesday. We did not suffer at all except for worrying about our full freezer. We are so fortunate, and know others really are suffering and our hearts go out to them.


Bruce Cannon’s Mountainside Garden

Bruce Cannon's stone wall and shady bed

How long does it take for a vision to become flesh? Or in this case patios, stone walls, cool shady flower beds and a koi filled pond? For Bruce Cannon who found and bought a hilly wooded site on South Mountain in Northfield fifteen years ago, the vision was complete in only three or four years, but the building took a little longer.

The house came first, set on the only bit of flat land on this steep hill. Then came the main retaining wall that Cannon and two friends built the next year. He said there is never any shortage of stone. “I had the excavators who dug out the foundation and septic field lay all the stones they removed in a single layer. We had lots to choose from,” he said. Only the large flat stones for the patios came from a quarry in Goshen.

The gently curving dry fit stone wall is a work of art. At its base it is six feet deep tapering to the top which is only one stone deep. In front of it are an array of plants that don’t mind the shade, a Lavender Mist meadow rue, hostas, summer phlox.

Built into the stone wall are tiki torches that Cannon designed and made himself. Fire is a dramatic element in this garden at night. Tiki torches light the stone wall, and an occasional tree. Tiny torches are built into the stone patio surrounding a huge tree. There is also a large firepit. This is a garden designed for sociability at every hour.

Koi pond

While lots of seating has been provided in the shade that has been so welcome this summer, the pond sits in the sun. “I noticed a low spot when the septic field was laid out and thought then that it might be a good place for a pond,” Cannon said. He didn’t have too long to wait. Five or six years in he spent three months and built and planted the pond which is 5 feet deep and seems to be fed by small waterfalls, burbling their way down a small incline. The pond is actually fed from the well and the water is recirculated.


When I commented on the happy sound of the waterfalls Cannon said they were “tuned.” He was at the Big E where he happened to meet a friend who was there working for a company that installed water gardens. When he said he was building a pond and wanted to put in a waterfall, she said she’d help.

He learned that the sound of the waterfall can be controlled by designing the height of the water drop, the depth of the ‘cave’ behind the waterfall, and the kind of rocks that the waterfall hits. I have to say the waterfalls are a complete success.

The plantings around the pond took equal thought. Stella d’Oro and Happy Returns daylilies are happy in the wet spot as are the variegated water iris, arrowhead, porcupine rush, cattails, and waterlilies that are grown in pots. Pickerel weed is planted in a basket because the roots steal nutrients from the water that would encourage the growth of algae. The pickerel weed is just a part of the well-thought out system of filtration and circulation that keeps the water clean and healthy for the koi that live in the pond.

The waterfall originates under a graceful red Japanese maple and enters the pond amid a planting of miniature goatsbeard, astilbe, allium and heuchera.

Home for the garden dudes

The garden is beautifully thought out and arranged for strolling amid a variety of flowering plants as familiar as the fragrant lilies and as dramatic as the colocasia or elephant ears in a giant pot at the end of the pond. Cannon manages to combine the serenity and elegance of the garden with touches of whimsy like the hobbit-like door built into the base of a large tree “for the garden dudes,” and wooden fish that swim above the sea of woodland ferns.

Potting Bench

A beautiful garden like this is not made by sitting in the shade. Cannon has provided the garden with any number of practical items. I was particularly struck by the long steel sink and potting bench set at the edge of the woods. Cannon laughed as he showed me that it has running cold and cold water that just drains away onto the ground. He can keep a selection of pots here, and a bin holds rich potting soil. When the Boy Scouts come to camp in his woods every year he said the sink does get used for their washing up.

Water barrels

The pond and a new irrigation system are fed by his well, but he also has a system of three connected wooden rainbarrels that can feed the irrigation lines with the turn of a spigot.

Cannon talks about the balanced system that keeps his pond is good order, but as we strolled through the garden I couldn’t help thinking that skilled gardeners like him often balance a good sense of design, with extensive knowledge about plants. Cannon has added engineering and construction skill that make the garden not only beautiful, but practical as well.

I would be happy to hear about any practical elements that my readers have arranged in their gardens. Comments, questions and suggestions can be emailed to

Between the Rows   August 11, 2012

See you at the Heath Fair – at the Library Book Sale, and on Sunday, I’ll be reading and talking about my book The Roses at the End of the Road at 2 pm.

Rain Barrels, Rain Gardens and Raised Beds

We finally got rain. Hallelujah! And more was promised, but it does not seem to be arriving, at least not in the amounts I was hoping for. The lesson seems to be that we need to be always prepared for flood or drought. The question is how do we do that.

Rain barrels, rain gardens and raised beds can help us to moderate, though not eliminate, both of those problems.

Rain barrels that collect the rain from our roof for use during a dry period have become more popular as we face these weather extremes. What quickly becomes apparent to people after they get their first rain barrel operational is that enormous amounts of rain come off our roofs, and a 50 gallon barrel fills up really fast. Many people have taken to adding a second or even a third rain barrel to capture more of that valuable water. A friend of mine in Houston, Texas has even set up a 200 gallon plastic cistern to catch her rain water. Capturing rain for use during dry periods is getting easier and easier.

A rain barrel can give us water for our garden wherever it is. A rain garden can be planted ten feet away from a roofline specifically to make use of the hundreds of gallons of water that come sheeting off a roof during a generous rainfall. They can also be sited where a slope leads water to a street or other undesirable location. The Greenfield Public Library has built a rain garden near their back door to capture runoff from sloping paths.

The concept of a rain garden is fairly simple. It requires a depression in the soil, four feet or more deep, and as wide and long as you think you need. If you have a long roof, and room on that side of your house, you might want to make the garden as long as the roof and perhaps six feet or more wide. The downloadable and well illustrated Vermont Rain Garden Manual ( gives specific instructions for calculating the appropriate size, as well as practical advice about locating and maintaining a rain garden.

The depression will first be filled with a layer of gravel and then with layers of soil and compost. These layers do not bring the level to where it was before. A depression must remain to allow rain to collect and pool.

Now you have a site for a beautiful garden of water tolerant plants whether your site is shady or sunny. There are perennials like asters, astilbe, echinacea, goatsbeard, Joe Pye weed, bee balm, coral bells, and daylilies, but there are also shrubs like various small willows, yellow or red twig dogwood, viburnams, and elderberry that will thrive in a rain garden and attract birds and butterflies as well.

Ornamental grasses can have a place in the rain garden, switch grass, feather reed grass and others. It is not hard to find over a hundred plants that are suitable for a rain garden.

I worried about mosquitoes when I first learned about rain gardens, but mosquitoes need 7-14 days of standing water to find the water and lay their eggs. The water in a rain garden will usually be absorbed within 24 hours, or 48 hours at the most.

A rain garden will give you a beautiful garden bed, and will keep all that water on your site. This is not only good for you, it is good for your town because it will keep excessive runoff out of town sewers, and thus out of our waterways. Storm water runoff pollutants typically include sediment; bacteria from animal waste; and oil, grease, and heavy metals from cars. We do not want that dirty water fouling our streams and rivers.

Rain gardens are such an efficient way of managing storm water run off that more and more towns are inaugurating programs to install rain gardens on town properties and in parking lots.

Finally, I want to mention raised beds for the garden. Raised beds seem to be quite fashionable right now and almost every garden supplier can offer kits or instructions on building raised beds out of lumber. The benefits of these constructions is that they can be laid out on your site and filled with good soil and compost and be ready for planting quickly. I would add a caveat. If these beds are set up on a grassy area, I would mow as low as possible and then lay down a couple of layers of cardboard to kill weeds before adding good soil and planting.

However, raised beds can also be created simply by removing some of the soil from paths between beds and mounding it on the bed. Adding compost every season will also help raise the level of the soil and keep it high over time. Raised beds drain better so plant roots don’t get waterlogged, but they also allow that moisture to be absorbed and kept on the site.

Keeping as much rain on our site as possible makes it easier for plants to come through dry periods. Of course, with the possibility of real drought, we might also want to consider an ornamental bed filled with beautiful drought resistant plants. That is a thought for another day.

Our dug well and new pump

This is my plan for using on site water – our old dug well ( a marvel of engineering) and a new pump. I will be able to use this water for irrigation when necessary and not deplete water in the new drilled well.

Between the Rows  April 28, 2012

I Love Water – Earth Day – Every Day

Our Frog Pond - once a Fire Pond

Water is everywhere around us. In streams, rivers and the oceans. We need water for everything, drinking, cleaning, agriculture, powering turbines. We cannot exist without water. In fact, we are water – about 60 percent water.

Because it is so easy to turn on our taps and get all the clean, sweet water we need, we rarely think about water, how much we use, how we use it, what other people use it for, who doesn’t have safe water, or how dangerous water can be by contamination or unleashed nature’s floods and tsunamis.

Last fall our region suffered from terrible flooding caused by hurricane Irene. This spring farmers and gardeners are anxious because the winter was so dry and there has been very little rain this spring. Drought. Water has risen to the surface of our minds.

Jane Wegscheider, founder of the Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, has spent the past few months thinking about water and collaborating with celebration artist Phyllis Labanowski to organize a community exhibit titled Drink Water, Ponder Source.

While the exhibit is interdisciplinary including written works and performances as well as images done in a variety of media, Wegscheider suspects there will be a number of beautiful waterscapes. “Beautiful images of water reflect how much we treasure water. You have to love something, to care about it, in order to work for it,” she said.

Wegscheider said she hopes the exhibit will explore the many ways we think about water, and find ways to create images for the harder issues around water. She told me about a website, that provides an image of how much water is used in the creation of hundreds of common items from a cup of coffee (37 gallons from coffee plant to coffee cup) to a pork chop (530 gallons from piglet to supermarket).

Munyaka water tank - in operation!

I have lived for different short periods of time without running water. It takes a lot of work to haul water from a well and carry it to a house to supply enough for washing and cooking. My middle daughter, Betsy, worked for the Peace Corps in Kenya helping a village lay a gravity feed line from a spring to large storage tanks they built. Women, including Betsy, no longer needed to walk a mile to get and carry water for family needs. By chance we made our visit to her village during the week one storage tank was finally ready for use. What a celebration!

We bought a ceramic water filter for Betsy to carry during her Peace Corps years so we would have fewer worries about her health and the dangers of disease from contaminated water.

Although we have given thought about and worried about water at different times, while Wegscheider was thinking about the deeper issues of water, I was thinking about how to get water into my garden. Our house is surrounded by water, streams, wells, and a pond that helped save our house from burning down on the Fourth of July in 1990. But aside from a small birdbath there is no water in my ornamental garden. A birdbath, a pool of still water is peaceful and tranquil, occasionally tempting a bird into the garden, but I long for the music of water. I long for a fountain.

Fountains can be works of art. For a while I had a lovely small solar powered fountain that I set in the Herb Bed in front of our Piazza. I loved the sound of splashing water. Then the pump died and was not replaceable. Now I am looking for another simple way to have a fountain that will provide the gentle sound of moving water.

For me the sound of water dripping, falling, and splashing is refreshing and peaceful. In the garden I look for renewal in tranquility. The sound of water is a part of that tranquility.

I am looking forward to the opening of the Drink Water, Ponder Source exhibit at the Shelburne Falls Art Walk on May 5. At  4 p.m. The Water Carriers, in a piece called this side of the flood WATERS, will carry water from the Iron Bridge and walk to The Art Garden reflecting on their love of the river, the power of water and the effects of last summer’s flood.  I am looking forward to all the ways that others have responded to the theme of water.

“Community projects excite and energize me,” Wegscheider said. “There are always delightful surprises as people, who do not necessarily consider themselves ‘artists,’ take conceptual ideas and make art from them. . . . I can’t imagine not giving some visual and active form to ideas. It is how I think, and how I live. This exhibit, this work will grow from what other people bring to it.”

Full instructions for participating in this exhibit are on the Art Garden website, All submissions must be brought to the Art Garden by Saturday, April 28.

“Art is a way of working through an idea. This exhibit is a small drop in the bucket of thinking about the deep issues surrounding water,” Wegscheider said.

The exhibit will close with Act 2 of this side of the flood WATERS at the Shelburne Falls Riverfest on June 9.

Between the Rows –  April 21, 2012

Bridge of Flowers Is Sweetly Fragrant

Viburnam carlesii

As I walked across the Bridge of Flowers yesterday I was suddenly aware of a sweet fragrance. Looking around and sniffing first in one direction and then another I realized the fragrance was coming from this Viburnam carlesii, just beginning to bloom.

This shrub is also called Koreanspice viburnam, and the fragrance certainly certainly is spicily sweet. It is not a surprise this is a member of the honeysuckle family. It is not fussy about soil, but I can tell you that the Bridge volunteers keep all the plants well fertilized with compost, and occasionally organic amendments if they are needed. They like full sun but can tolerate some shade. Happily in this dry spring the Bridge can borrow water from the river to supply the irrigation system.

Red and Purple Tulips

The viburnam has pink buds but the blossoms open to white. A very different palette is shown in this large show of tulips.

Light just before sunset begins

When the sun is low in the west it shines on the hills in our viewshed.  You can just see the square green field in the midst of the woodlands. All these years later that field, Cutter’s Field, is kept mowed and free of trees though it has been many decades since Mr. Cutter would take off and land his little plane there. Heath has always been progressive in many areas.

To see more skies on Skywatch Friday click here.