Subscribe via Email

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

She Sheds Style and Upcycling Projects – No Idle Hands Here

She Sheds

She Sheds like this one exhibit a very individual style. Two books, She Sheds Style and Upcycling Outdoors, have very different takes on creating stylish garden sheds and launching other projects for the garden.

Every garden is unique because every gardener has different desires. Some gardeners want vegetable gardens, some want lots of flowers, some want art and glamour, and some want a practical fixture.

Upcycling Outdoors

Upcycling Outdoors by Max Murdo

Max Murdo is a gardener, and a thrifty handy man. He likes taking throwaways and then “conceptualizing an idea, researching, developing, making prototypes and finally displaying the finished product in all its glory …” He loves designing all kinds of things for the garden from simple but handsome hanging planters to a three door potting shed and an array of hanging lights. In his book Upcycling Outdoors – 20 Creative Garden Projects Made from Reclaimed Materials (Jacqui Small $29.95) Murdo provides clear how-to photos, showing each step along the way.

Some of the pictured products are easy to put together, and require inexpensive materials, even if they are not to be found in the depths of the cellar or garden shed. I could easily image making a suitcase planter because while I don’t have any old suitcases of my own, I have seen them in thrift shops for very little. This project takes nothing more than an old suitcase, four legs, some plastic, and your own creativity for painting.

Other projects may very well take a weekend like the three door potting shed. Out here in our rural part of the world it might be possible to pick up something like three doors at our transfer stations.

The pleasure Murdo finds in these projects is the joy of working outdoors, the satisfaction of not putting more trash in our dumps, the delight in creating a piece of art and the thrill of learning new skills. I would find all those pleasures as well, but I have to add I would like to be doing bigger projects with a partner. Fortunately, my husband is always willing when I look at him with smile and say, “I’ve got an Idea!”

The scope of the projects in this book ranges from easy like the plastic gutter hanging planter to more difficult like the bicycle wheel fire pit. You will be lured from one project to another, and the clarity of the photos and directions give confidence.

Max Murdo has many strings to his bow and has shared his creativity and skills on television, at the Chelsea Flower Show, and won design awards. His work has been featured in galleries and exhibitions.

She Sheds Style

She Sheds Style

She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own by Erika Kotite (Cool Springs Press $25) is specifically devoted to sheds for the lady of the house. Ever since I visited a display of inspired and ingenious garden sheds at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in 2010 I have thought how wonderful it would be to have a shed that has more functions than for storing garden tools and equipment.

Women are still looking for a room of their own and Erika Kotite’s book about She Shed Style describes the many ways a small shed can provide private space for sewing, painting, reading or socializing. Nowadays we have the advantage of the availability of prefab wooden sheds of various sizes, and Kotite suggests ways these can be taken from a standard to an original style. She also shows different ways that an existing shed can be refurbished, or rebuilt, sometimes using salvaged windows and other materials.

While there is practical information and advice about building a she shed, the emphasis in the book is about style. Kotite’s she sheds range in style from elegant, cozy, shabby chic, and austere modernity and the whimsical. I was fascinated with the idea of weaving a Wild Vine She Shed built on an artfully painted wooden platform, with another painted canvas cover. Kotite really imagines many styles.

Besides instances of styles, the great benefit of the book is the directions given for various projects which would be valuable in many places beyond a shed. Do you want a herringbone brick floor? Do you want to learn a variety of decorative paint techniques? Do you want to plant an espalier?

Kotite has many ideas about using space, and about working with color. I found the lesson that explained color, its hues, tints, tones and shades helpful in explaining why some colors go together beautifully and effectively and others don’t.

Kotite has been the editor for Romantic Homes and Victorian  Homes and she has been featured in Architectural Digest,, NBC’s Today Show and other TV programs, as well as magazine and newspaper articles.

Now that autumn is well upon us, and our days in the garden this year is limited it is pleasant to be able to sit in our warm houses and think about next year. What do we want to change or add to our gardens? What can we do without spending too much money? Upcycling Outdoors and She Sheds Style certainly provide food for creative thought.

Gift giving is almost upon us and these well illustrated books make wonderful presents for those who like taking on creative projects little or large. ###

Between the Rows   October 13, 2018

Scheduled Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – October 2018



On this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day here in western Massachusetts I am ready to celebrate annuals – and others – who have survived the rains of this summer. Look at this sunny nasturtium – a volunteer from last year who swam happily this year through the summer.


Zinnias and



are always stalwart and shining.  The bees love them and are grateful for their long season. There are a couple of other other potted (nameless) annuals that also keep us cheerful.



This cheerful annual in front of the yellow twig dogwood found out it knew how to swim.



This geum, blooming next to the scaveola must have been inspired – enough to put out a couple of new blossoms.

Joe Pye Weed

Variegated Joe Pye Weed

This variegated Joe Pye weed is in full bloom – finally.

"The Fairy" rose

“The Fairy” Rose

The Fairy” rose will stand in for the other roses still putting out occasional blooms. “The Fairy” is just tough and remarkable.



The three hydrangeas are in full glorious bloom, but they are bowed low by all  the heavy rains.

Red Winterberry

Red Winterberry

Though not strictly in bloom, the red (and gold) winterberries have really enjoyed all the rain. We are swamp plants, you know, they remind us.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting the wonderful Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Visit Carol and see what else is in bloom over this great land.

Sunderland School Gardens – Education and Delight

school gardens

Sunderland School gardens – early in the season

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
Gonna mulch it deep and low
Gonna make it fertile ground”

By David Mallett

School gardens can be classed as one of the special classrooms in a school, offering fertile ground for children’s learning. In a school garden students of every age can learn to observe, learn about plant growth, about insects, about the life to be found in healthy soil, and much more. A school garden provides the first practical science lessons.

Sunderland Elementary School has had a small garden for the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. For some years these young children have been able to get their hands dirty and learn to use their eyes as plants are transformed from a tiny shoot to a flower or carrot. However, when they graduated from kindergarten they lost their garden and the fun and learning they had there.

That loss was corrected. Early in the spring of 2017 Flora Cox, Amanda Berg, Darrel Beymer and Molly Wickline, who all work at the school in various capacities formed a garden committee.

Flora Cox said “The garden gave us a wonderful opportunity to teach science in a playful and natural way. We looked for earthworms, wooly bears, grubs, insects; talked about weeds and learned how to pull them out; plant our own produce like kale and carrots and learn how to harvest them and of course eat them. But once the kids graduated from Kindergarten, there was really no carryover to the upper grades.”

Cox said they made a beginning in the spring of 2017. “We staked out a plot in the back playground, removed the sod, and had each grade plant their own crop. They started their seeds indoors and planted them outside. Some seeds like carrots and potatoes were direct sown. Everyone loved doing it. Some vegetables were harvested by children in the summer program. Others like potatoes were harvested in October and cooked and eaten in the first grade classroom by the former kindergartners, now first graders, who had planted them.”

Success must build on success. This year the Sunderland community got involved. J. M. Pasiecnik, a local farmer in Whately, the Sunderland PTO ,

Deerfield Pharmacy, Sugarloaf Nursery, and Cowl’s Lumber provided the funding to buy the wood, screws, and chicken wire for the garden. Warner Brothers Construction donated 12 yards of soil while Atlas Farms and Riverland Farm donated plants. Other donors supplied trowels, gloves.

 Jeff Hubbard and his tractor removed the sod and leveled the site. The garden raised beds and fences were built by the garden committee members Cox, Berg, Beymer and Wickline with a big assist from Vinnie Cabriotti, a parent, and Douglas Cox, a horticulture professor at UMass.

The 6th graders got into the act, too. Cox said “Mrs. Von Flatern’s 6th grade class made 3-D models of our garden from my scaled landscape design and also calculated a hypothetical supply list, a great real life math application which they loved.

Darrel Beymer, Flora Cox, Amanda Berg and Molly Wickline, l-r

Last week I got to meet the garden committee and see the garden myself. Amanda Berg introduced me to Darrel Beymer and Molly Wickline and Flora Cox and gave me a tour of the garden that was built beyond the wonderful playground. Several children who were still at school for the after school schedule followed us into the garden. There were cherry tomatoes to eat, and even kale leaves to nibble.

Cox told me that the garden lent itself to nibbling, but children and parents who stopped by the school during the summer to water (not often necessary this past summer) and weed, were able to take home a vegetable or two for dinner. “I was also surprised at the way the first graders ate that kale,” Cox said.

Gardens are always a work in process. These students are observing and learning how the soil can be improved, and what crops would be best to grow next year. There is always next year.

When we left the vegetable garden we made a stop at the large pollinator garden which is a Monarch Way Station. This big wild looking garden has plants that bees and butterflies like including butterfly bushes, coneflowers, milkweed and Joe Pye weed. The children are learning about the importance of these insects, and what they need.

School gardens

Sunderland school gardens Monarch Way Station

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this school garden, and I am happy to report that there are other school gardens where students of all ages learn to follow the cycles of the seasons, life cycles of insects and plants. Four Corners School in Greenfield continues the school garden they’ve had for about five years and involves all the children. I know of at least ten other school gardens.

Amy Donovan of the Franklin County Waste Management District has put 30 vermiculture bins in school classrooms so children can see how worms live and how they make compost for the garden.

The Hawlemont School has created a whole curriculum around agriculture called Hawlemont, Agriculture and You (HAY). They now have a barn for goats and sheep, a hen house, a greenhouse and gardens! Beyond classes children learn more agricultural skills in the afterschool 4-H clubs.

A garden offers lessons in science, in close observation, but also in counting and calculating, reading and recording. Inch by inch our children grow and grow.###

Between the Rows   October 6, 2018

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day Early – or Late?


“Alma Potchke” asters on a early Bloom Day – or late – depending on  your view

I missed Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in September because we were out of town for a few days. So now I am posting an early view of my garden – or perhaps I am just later. Either way, there was and is, still  color as long as my ‘Alma Potchke’ aster is in bloom. No frost yet.

Boltonia and asters

Boltonia and asters

Boltonia is a wonderful perennial blooming lushly and late in the season. Usually it doesn’t need propping, but with all the heavy rain this one is laid a little low. The boltonia next to a rose bush in the South Border can relax a little on the rose.

variegated joe pye weed

Variegated Joe Pye Weed

This variegated Joe Pye weed is still in bloom, but the more common version which grows in a shadier spot in my garden is well finished for the season.

chelone or turtlehead

Chelone or turtlehead

My stand of chelone is substantial, at least 6 feet tall, and mostly upright, but again the heavy rains have given some stalks a bit of languid relaxation.

Red winterberry

Red winterberry

gold winterberry

Gold winterberry

The four winterberries in the garden are doing magnificently – Two red, one gold and one male. Please note that the winter berries, like the joe pye weed, amd chelone are all plants that often grow in the swamp. They are water lovers! Knowing that our garden was wet, we have chosen other plants (not blooming at this season) that are also water lovers – the dappled willow, elderberries, yellow twig dogwood, clethra and river birches. However, while the water lovers have thrived this year, other plants have struggled.

Potted annual

On the  other hand, there has been so much rain that this potted annual continues to bloom even though no one has been around to water it.

Nameless annual

And this nameless annual has grown happily all summer under the yellow twig dogwood, perfectly happy in the swamp.  As I have always said, there are many mysteries in the garden.

Pumpkins and Apples Mean Autumn Health Food


Supermarkets have piles of pumpkins

Apples and pumpkins are everywhere singing of autumn.  It was recently pointed out to me that apples and pumpkins have a lot in common – aside from both being emblematic of the season. Apples and pumpkins are both low calorie, health supporting foods.

We all know the saying ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ but have we asked why this is so? What is it that makes apples delicious and healthy.

Actually apples are mostly water, but they contain a good measure of fiber which is so important to the health of our gut. They are also made up of carbohydrates and the simple sugars, sucrose, fructose and glucose, which give them a low glycemic index. That means that blood sugar levels do not rise greatly after eating. This is a good thing.

Apples supply vitamin C, and antioxidants that protect us from the damage caused by free radicals. All of these elements may help reduce the risk of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.

Apples also supply B complex vitamins that are key in maintaining red blood cells and the nervous system in good health. What a wonderful fruit!

It is true that the skin of the apple supplies most of the fiber and antioxidants. Cut the apple in pieces for your children, but don’t peel them. As a young person I used to think that the idea of serving raw fruit as a dessert on a special little plate and with a special little fruit knife was silly. Now that I am no longer young I have found myself following in my father’s steps, eating an unpeeled apple served on an ordinary little plate with a paring knife on many evenings. Or afternoons.  Which is not to say that I don’t include apple crisp, applesauce cake and apple pie in my dessert repertoire.


Pie pumpkins can be a soup pumpkins

Most of us don’t make use of pumpkin in as many ways as are possible. We go as far as pumpkin pie and that’s it. Even there we have to be wary of the canned pumpkin that many of us use. Canned pumpkin is often squash, and beyond that it often includes sugar and water.

Pumpkins are rich in vitamins and minerals, but like apples, they have a low glycemic index. Potassium in pumpkins has a positive effect on blood pressure. A cup of cooked pumpkin supplies more than 200 times the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A. The antioxidents in pumpkin also help prevent damage to the eyes. Pumpkin is a source of Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

While people have been eating pumpkin of all sorts for thousands of years, the modern cook would be wise to look for a pie pumpkin or cheese pumpkin to use in the cakes, cookies, bread, soup, risotto or pasta of the season.


Roasted pumpkin

We recently had dinner with friends who spent the first part of their lives in South Africa. They said that pumpkin was a staple of their meals, much as potatoes are of our American meals. While mashed pumpkin was an every day dish, they also regularly used it in soups, usually adding a half cup or more of applesauce.

I can see that I have been missing a good item to include in my shopping list and my recipe collection. As the days become cooler homemade soups become more

appetizing. Today my daughter Kate and I decided to make pumpkin soup from scratch with a bit of applesauce to celebrate the first day of fall.

We found a seven pound pie pumpkin at the supermarket and began checking pumpkin soup recipes online. There are many pumpkin soup recipes to be found but there is great similarity between them all.

My husband cut the pumpkin into eight pieces; this does take a little muscle. I cleaned out the pulp and seeds. We oiled each piece and put them in a 400 degree oven for about one hour. We cooled the pumpkin and removed the flesh from the rind. This is very easy.

pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup – with a little applesauce and roasted pumpkin seeds

This is our improvised basic recipe. Serves 6

8 cups roasted pumpkin (and put the rest of the pumpkin in the fridge for another project)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion – diced

3 cloves garlic – minced

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Medium apple – peeled, sliced

1 quart chicken broth

1 cup coconut milk

Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a 3 quart pot. Add diced onion and garlic. Cook gently till onion is soft and golden.

Stir in cumin, cinnamon and the cutup apple.

Add half chicken broth. Stir in the roasted pumpkin, adding more broth as you stir it in. Add cup of coconut milk.  Stir and bring to a simmer. Puree with immersion blender, or regular blender.

Ready to serve.

This is a basic recipe, but it is open to improvisation. You may want to use more or less broth, or real cream instead of coconut milk. Some recipes we saw added sweet potatoes, squash and carrots. Additional spices included varying amounts of fresh ground nutmeg, fresh grated ginger, chili powder, allspice, curry paste or powder, coriander, sage, and turmeric.

Some recipes include substantial additions, cannellini beans, bacon and fried chickpeas, shrimp, rice noodles, fennel, quinoa and cooked chicken. Bon  appétit.

Between the Rows  September 29, 2018

Olbrich Botanical Garden – Beauty and Learning

wisteria in Olbrich Botanical Garden

Olbrich Botanical Garden Pergola garlanded with wisteria

The Olbrich Botanical Garden is a magnificent 16 acre garden in Madison, Wisconsin. A sister garden blogger, Beth Stetenfeld, took my husband and me on a tour of the garden in the spring. The first surprise was that there was no entry fee at all. The Olbrich is free and open every day.

Michael Olbrich (I881-1929) spent most of his adult life in Madison where he was an esteemed lawyer, but he was also a man who had a “passion for social betterment and a love of nature.” He believed parks were important to urban life. In 1921 he gave the city a plot of land he owned on the shores of Lake Monona for a park and in 1952 the city built the first buildings for the botanical garden on a portion of that land which they named after Olbrich.

As in any botanical garden, there are sections for different types of plants. We strolled below a graceful wisteria garlanded pergola to enter the main parts of the garden. It will not be a surprise that I wanted to see the Rose Garden, even though there was not much in bloom at that time. However, the gardeners included spring bulbs, and blooming perennials like amsonia, columbine, and verbascum so there is always something to enjoy. In addition, the Rose Garden has many containers filled with dianthus, verbena, helichrysum, salvia, artemesias, fuchsia and many other plants to keep that garden in full and varied bloom all season.

The Garden has been designed to reflect the style and culture of that part of the world. A case in point is the stone prairie style tower stands over the Rose Garden giving visitors the chance to enjoy the garden from a whole different perspective. The space beneath the tower structure created a cool shady walkway lined with potted plants.            I was fascinated by the Rain Garden which collects storm water and runoff so that it can slowly be absorbed, hence recharging the ground water.

The Olbrich Rose Garden, and all others, are designed and maintained in a sustainable manner. Plants are adapted to and sustained in the local climate, without extraordinary water, chemical, and care demands.

The Rose Garden is just one of many special gardens. There is a special garden devoted to wildflowers, to herbs, to perennials, a rock garden, and a garden designed for shade. Happily there are many places along the way to sit, to catch your breath and to take in the view. Beth and I enjoyed just such a respite in the Meadow Garden.

Thai Pavilion

Thai Pavilion in Olbrich Botanical Garden

One of the surprises of the Olbrich Botanical Garden was the Thai Pavilion. According to the Olbrich website the University of Wisconsin-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university. The Thai Government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association made a gift of this pavilion to the garden. The site is near a stream because water is a Thai symbol for good health and prosperity.

Thai Pavilion in Olbrich Botanical Garden

Red and Gold Thai Pavilion in Olbrich Botanical Garden

The pavilion was built in Thailand, then dismembered and reassembled on the chosen site in the Olbrich garden. No nails or screws are used in its construction. The intricate decorations include gold leaf etchings, and a lacquer finish. This pavilion is only one of four located outside of Thailand; others are in Germany, Norway, and Hawaii.

A special Thai garden surrounds the pavilion. Wisconsin is not a place that can grow the tropical plants that abound in Thailand, but the idea is to surround the pavilion with plants that resemble Thai plants in size and form. These include grasses that reach 12 feet and hardy bamboos. This is truly a wonder that I never expected to find in a state as chilly as Wisconsin.

Olbrich Botanical Garden

Pat and Beth in Meadow Garden at the Olbrich

In their various ways all botanical gardens are educational. The Olbrich spells this out for gardeners in their website. One section of the website is devoted to sustainability, with information about soil building, natural insect control, advice about using chemicals, greener garden alternatives and more.

Another section is a gardening calendar beginning with December and listing appropriate chores through the year. Obviously this is a Wisconsin calendar, but it would provide plenty of reminders for us in Massachusetts.

On our flight home we talked to a young woman who was settling in at a new house and she was ready to think about her landscape. She asked me what she should do. What should she plant?

These were not questions I could answer for a Texan in the half hour we had left. I only had questions for her.  Where did she live?  What was the climate? What plants did she like? How much time does she want to spend tending a garden? This is a question budding gardeners do not often ask themselves. They must also remember that a garden is not made by sitting in the shade.

In a botanical garden a novice gardener might find appealing plants, and get ideas about where to put them. An experienced gardener might find an ever widening palette of plants. Anyone will find beauty and pleasure in a botanical garden, and maybe they will find inspiration too. ###

Between the Rows    September 22,2018

Just Roots Community Farm


Meryl LaTronica at Just Roots

Meryl LaTronica planting at Just Roots

Meryl LaTronica found her way to Just Roots Community Farm slowly. When she graduated from college and considered her future she realized that farming might be her calling. “Farming felt like such a great combination of outdoor physical work and working with land & nature, but also doing work that is about serving and connecting people.  The people plus plants life has always felt like the most amazing balance, getting to work every day under the beautiful sky, but side by side with other people and for people.”

For over fifteen years now she has worked as a production farmer and educator in the eastern part of the state, and then helped create and manage Powisset Farm in Dover for Trustees of Reservations. All her interests and skills are being put to work for the Just Roots Farm.

Some of us may remember that when the Davis Street School was demolished to make way for a new community center, the Pleasant Street Gardeners lost their garden plots. That was a heart-breaking consequence, but the gardeners were determined to get community garden space back. They petitioned the town for a new space; the ultimate decision was to site this new garden on farmland that had once held the Greenfield Poor Farm.

In 1849 the farm was owned by Justin Root who sold it to the town for the Poor Farm. The name Just Roots is a nod to the history of the land, but also a statement about what kind of farm it would be in the future as it planned to make good healthy food available to everyone, including those with low incomes.

Last week I met Meryl LaTronica, the official Director of Farm Operations, at the old red barn and saw the setup for the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Nowadays they have 240 CSA members who get to choose how they want to fill their order. One hundred and forty of those shares are for low income customers. “We are always looking for creative ways that people can pay. They can use SNAP. We like to give people options,” she said.

Bicycle operated root washer

Bicycle operated root washer at Just Roots Farm

I saw the equipment used for cleaning the vegetables. The most fascinating piece of equipment was the bicycle powered root washer that cleaned beets, daikon radishes and other roots.

Two small greenhouses and a 95 foot long hoop house filled with still ripening tomatoes stand near the 60 Community Gardens. Gardeners who don’t have garden space can get a 20 by 20 foot plot. The herbs, squash, beans and lots of flowers riotously fill their plots.

Reemay covered rows

Reemay covered rows in to foil flea beetles

Beyond these structures are the seven acres of production fields. I was amazed to see that there were new plantings. LaTronica said they want to get the most food they can from the land. “This is the last planting for the year. We like to get these seedlings in the ground by September 1, but all the rain this summer upset our schedule. Still, we keep planting greens, celery, lettuce, fall carrots and other vegetables that don’t need a long season. Maybe we’ll get a harvest, and maybe not, but we have to try. Right now we are harvesting about every other day,” she said.

We walked past leeks, potatoes and sweet potatoes. “I like growing sweet potatoes because it sends out such pretty flowering vines,” LaTronica said.

I wondered why so many rows were covered with white reemay, a very light row cover. She said this has been a terrible year for flea beetles on the brassicas and the reemay is the answer.

My tour led us to a large area planted with buckwheat, a good cover crop that that will be cut down. The virtue of buckwheat is that it very efficiently smothers weeds, and adds nutrients when tilled into the soil.

It was wonderful to see all this great production, but this farm is about more than the vegetables. It is about people. “We go out to people when we hold our Farmer’s Market in the alley next to Green Fields Market, and at the Saturday Farmer’s Market,” LaTronica said. “But we also want to bring people to the farm. They come here to put together their CSA shares.” For a small extra fee, CSA members can also make use of the pick-your-own garden. That garden includes a few vegetable varieties and enormous number of trellised cherry tomato plants, and flowers.  Gardeners do not live by vegetables alone. “

Just Roots sells produce at Green Fields Co-op, but they donate food to the Center for Self Reliance, and the Stone Soup Café. Last year LaTronica estimates that about 10,000 pounds of produce was donated to the community.

Some Community garden plots also made use of Reemay

I volunteer Four Corners Elementary School so I already knew about the School Snack Market. Every week Just Roots brings vegetables to the school and each class comes and the children taste what has been brought. Then they go to the research station where they can give their opinion of the different vegetables. I can just imagine the importance these children feel as they make their report. Then they move on to the Snack Station and choose a healthy snack to take back to their classroom.

I asked LaTronica if she ever thought about the farm’s history as a Poor Farm. “Oh yes, I do think about the people  who lived here,” she said. “I can hear them whispering to me.”

I like to think those whispering spirits are rejoicing that the farm is poor no more.

Between the Rows  September 15, 2018

Spring Blooming Bulbs Need Fall Planting

Spring blooming narcissus

Unnamed narcissus  was one of the spring blooming bulbs in my garden. All daffodils are in the Narcissus family

There is a world of spring blooming bulbs to plant in the fall. Daffodils immediately come to mind, but we don’t often think about the various forms and colors these flowers take. Think of the choices; you can plant large cup daffs in pale shades of lemon or pure white, but with frilled cups in shades of pink or orange. Precocious a particularly showy daffodil with icy white petals and a coral pink and very curly flat cup blooms mid spring.

If the large cup division is too flashy for your taste, you can first look at the small cup daffodils. They can surprise with a brilliant orange cup like Barrett Browning that blooms early to mid spring. Or you can choose Dallas and enjoy white serenity with a small frilly white cup that blooms late.

Double daffodils can go from the heirloom Albus Plenus Odoatus, so ruffly white that it  almost looks and smells like a gardenia and blooms in late spring. Another late bloomer is Delnashaugh, white with large overlapping petals surrounding apricot pink inner segments.

There is also a large family of miniature daffodils some of which are only three inches tall. Fragrant yellow Tiny Bubbles is four inches tall with recurved petals and blooms mid spring. Rip Van Winkle is almost out of  the miniature category because it can grow between five to eight inches. It looks like exploding yellow fireworks and blooms early-mid spring.


Poeticus daffodil

In the past I grew the poeticus daffodil which is a very old daff. I liked it because it was a heritage variety but also because it was just so simple, plain and elegant. At the same time I also love the Van Sion daff which was growing on our Heath property when we moved there. It was not plain or elegant, but I liked the wild explosion of golden petals that sometimes included many green petals. A friend thought it was the ugliest daffodil ever, but I disagreed.

A very different, and much less common spring blooming bulb is camassia, a member of the lily family. I have not grown camassia but the Brent and Becky catalog says it “tolerates damp meadows and pond edges as well as heavy clay soil.” I might have to give it a try.

Camassia florets

Camassia florets closeup

Camassia bloom late spring into early summer with three foot spikes of starry flowers in shades of white, blue and purple. Camassia attracts pollinators, but is deer and squirrel resistant. It likes sun but can take some shade.

One white variety, C. leichtlinii ‘Sacajewea’ is so named because Sacajewea helped feed Lewis and Clark this ‘quamash’ bulb which kept them alive when on the Weippe Prairie in Idaho. This was an important food for the Indians, but Lewis said it did his stomach little good.

When we look at large purple alliums it is hard to remember these grow from bulbs. The different varieties, from six inches tall to three feet or more bloom over a long season and help bridge the spring bloomers to the summer bloomers. They need sun and a well drained fertile soil.

Allium gigantium

Allium giganteum on Bridge of Flowers

The purple Globemaster allium always gets a lot of attention. The flower head has dense florets and can be a foot across on a three foot stem! Even though these alliums are large they should be planted in groups in order to make a real statement. Globemaster will bloom from late May into June. White Giant and A. christophii, also known as Stars of Persia, are of similar size but their blossoms consist of loosely arranged florets. A. christophii blooms in early summer. Its amethyst florets have a lovely metallic sheen on a two foot stem. White Giant blooms in late spring on a nearly four foot stem.

I have grown the unique A. siculum bugaricum with its numerous and graceful pendulous florets in shades of green, purple and white on 32 inch stems.

Petite Jeanine has airy and sunny yellow blossoms that bloom in early summer on 12 inch stems. Allim flavum has pendulous lemon yellow flowers on 10 inch stems. Allium oreophilum is only six inches tall but the loosely arranged pink florets work well, as do other small alliums, at the front of the border or in rock gardens.

Perhaps it is the tulip that can give us the widest range of color from icy white like the Clearwater early single tulip to the nearly black fringed Vincent van Gogh. In the past I rarely planted tulips because they are not dependable repeaters. However, in the limited  sunny (relatively speaking) and rich soil spot that is my tree strip garden I think a few tulips would brighten things up in May. I am willing to make a small investment.

Scarlet tulips

This spring blooming bulb is a brilliant, but unnamed tulip

For this experiment I want something bright and flashy like Flaming Parrot all red, yellow and white. Orca, a brilliant ruffled orange would really wake me up in early spring. Foxy Foxtrot with ruffled shades of apricot, yellow peach and orange is also tempting.

Bulbs give us the ability to enter spring with calm elegance or a brilliant splash. Our bulbs can surprise us all at once or they can amaze us with brilliance over a long season.

The options are endless and illustrated catalogs like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, John Scheepers, Old House Gardens, Odyssey Bulbs and others will offer you a world of spring color.

Spring blooming tulips

Spring blooming tulips

Between the Rows  September 8, 2018

Water an Essential Element – Vital in Every Garden

essential water

Water – an essential element in every garden

According to all the garden books I read early on water is an essential element in every garden. Then there were photos of ponds and streams, rivulets and all manner of water. I could not imagine how I would ever get essential water in my garden. I have gotten bird baths, and now I have a garden that floods. However, others have found a myriad of ways to include essential water features.  This little waterfall is part of a handmade pond. The waterfall itself is not only constructed it has been tuned by carefully arranging the fall and the depth of the water to provide a musical note.  Here are a few photos of the ways that gardeners have created essential water features.

Handmade pond

Handmade pond

Another smaller pond makes use of local stone at  the edge  of a woodland.

essential water

A small water feature in a small garden

Sometimes there is very little room, but even a pot with some papyrus or elephant ears adds that essential quality to a small garden.

esssential water

Water – Japanese style

A  corner of this garden in the shade makes use of a Japanese water feature.

waterlilies in a small pond

Waterlilies in a small pond

Water provides an opportunity for whole new families of plants.

Essential water

Essential water at Clark Art Museum

The Clark Art Museum saw the beauty of water and built a large water feature with shallow waterfalls and a way to circulate the water to help with heat and cooling in the new building.

Smith waterfall

There are smaller public water features, like this one at the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College. Here one can sit in the shade and enjoy the serenity that water often provides.

How many ways have you seen gardeners put water features in their gardens?

Asters, Chrysanthemums, Dahlias – Autumn Glory

Autumn Glory

Autumn Glory – Chrysanthemums and dahlias on the Bridge of Flowers

Autumn glory begins to glow in September. I’m thinking about the ACDs of the autumnal garden – asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias. There is a lot of bloom left in the garden year. The wonderful thing about asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias is that they come in so many sizes, forms and colors. One hardly knows where to begin.

Autumn glory comes in many sizes. I have three asters in my garden. There is a tall New York (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii)  aster at the back of the South Border. It is now a large clump, over five feet tall, with sprays of tiny white flowers held high on wiry slim stems with narrow smooth leaves. If I ever had the name of this plant it is long gone. Bees and other pollinators love it. It began blooming a week or so ago, and will continue through September and beyond.

‘Alma Potschke’ is a New England aster (S.novae-angliae). It has more substantial foliage and grows between three and four feet. The rosy red flowers have bright yellow centers. It likes rich soils, but is water tolerant and would be happy in a rain garden. This is a delightfully cheerful and showy addition to the autumnal garden.

Autumn glory Blue woods aster

Blue Woods aster

My Woods Blue aster (S.cordifolium) grows low and spreads well making it a great ground cover. As its name indicates it is a shade of blue, but there are also purple and pink low growing asters.  It will be blooming soon.

All asters like a lot of sun and a rich soil. They will increase! They will also attract bees and butterflies. I rarely think to do it, but in the spring, before the end of June, you can pinch back the plant guaranteeing even more flowers. They are very hardy.

Chrysanthemums  are a major aspect of autumn glory. Mums are another large family with varied sizes and forms. At this time of the year you can find pots of nicely formed mum clumps at supermarkets as well as garden centers. You can pop these in the ground, keep them watered, and you will have color through the autumn.

If you want more than color you can turn to catalogs like King’s Mums and Bluestone Perennials. Both of these outfits provide images of the full range of color and forms. They are both an eye opening and inspiring resource, but you have to begin early in the growing season.

Autumn Glory spoon chrysanthemums

Spoon Chrysanthemums

For a while in Heath I grew spoon and quilled chrysanthemums. Each petal of the spoon mum opened up into a spoon shape. Quilled petals are a more complete tube. There are more and more spoon mum forms. One of the most popular seems to be Matchsticks which has tubular yellow petals that open to a fiery red spoon at the end. Very dramatic. My own spoon mums did not provide drama, but they did provide enjoyable variety.

There are many chrysanthemum forms that are familiar from the airy spider mums, little pom pom mums and great big mums to wear as a corsage at college football games. I grow a mum that I am very fond of even though it looks like a daisy, and carries the nickname Sheffield daisy. It does indeed look like a daisy with pink petals and a golden center. The foliage is definitely mum foliage. This is a languid plant, lounging gracefully in its bed. While it increases amazingly every year it blooms late and keeps going until it is shut down by a heavy frost. If you live locally you’ll be able to see it among the Energy Park flower beds.

Sheffield daissies

Sheffield daisies are really in the chrysanthemum family

Chrysanthemums also offer special gardens an opportunity to show off. I am a regular attendee at the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show. This year the Show opens on November 3 and continues through November 18. On display will be many chrysanthemum forms, as well as arrangements like the traditional chrysanthemum cascade.  Hybrids created by the students will also be on display; you will have an opportunity to vote on your favorite.

Chrysanthemums are not quite as dependably hardy in our area as asters, but they should do well most of the time.

Like chrysanthemums, dahlias come in many forms from large dinner plate dahlias to tiny pom poms.  A six foot tall dahlia loaded with big red blossoms knows all about autumn glory. A walk across the Bridge of Flowers at this time of the year will show a large range of the dahlia family.

Unlike asters and mums, they grow from tubers that need to be dug up in the fall and stored in a cool dry spot until spring. If you have a suitable basement you will be able to store four or five new tubers, for the one you planted in the spring. Tubers can be planted early in the spring and get a head start on growing roots and foliage so that there is something substantial to plant when the weather is warm enough.

Tubers are available in the spring, but to get a sense of the range, browsing through the Swan Island or American Meadows catalogs will be a pleasant pastime. In our region it can help to start the dahlia tubers in a pot in April because they need warm soil and the new shoots shouldn’t be planted until the end of May when the soil is dependably warm. Whether you are choosing small dahlias that can spend their life in a pot or a tall garden dahlia they need rich, slightly acid soil. While they are just getting started they should not be over watered or the tubers will rot.

Pink dahlias

Pink dahlias on the Bridge of Flowers

There is a case to be made that now is the time to think about  mums and dahlias since 2019 early spring will the time to order and plant the more unusual varieties.

Between  the Rows   September 1, 2018