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Rebirth of a Community Garden – John Zon Community Garden

Pleasant Street Community gardener

Eveline Macdougall with some of the lively Pleasant Street Community Gardeners

In 1997 Eveline Macdougall visited the Great Falls Community Garden in Turners Falls. She looked at that garden, and thought of all the gardens her family had grown. She thought about her own frustrations trying to ‘squeeze plants into tiny outdoor spaces while longing for a real garden.’ Then inspired by the Great Falls garden she turned to her friend Suzette Snow-Cobb who helped start the Great Falls garden for advice.

Macdougall then began creating a community garden by talking to people, and finding the right people to talk to. There were talks and more talks with the DPW about a site for the garden. None were found.

Then used as an administrative building the Davis Street School lot had space and Macdougall noticed. She talked to the school department. Macdougall told me she was “getting an interesting political lesson on how to approach people.” Months passed of talks with the school board and the selectmen.

Finally she got permission, but not before she kneeled down before them at a meeting. ‘You are wearing me down. Look at me. Look at my hands in prayer. I’m a really good community organizer.” With laughter, permission was granted.

The selectmen approved the garden but she had to check in with all the abutters which she did. Approvals were finally given and after two years the Pleasant Street Community Garden was about to be born.

Pleasant Street Community Garden is born

In the spring of 1999 Rick Pascale brought his Gravely machine (they don’t make these anymore) to Pleasant Street and spent eight long hours breaking ground. Thirteen plots were marked off and immediately found gardeners to use them. When Dorothea Sotiros came along to help Macdougall as the garden grew, thirty-plots were in use. There was always a waiting list.

There had been struggles and frustrations to get the garden and to maintain the garden, but Macdougall told me she wouldn’t trade a minute of her time in those first 15 years for anything. The gardeners who gathered there were refugees, immigrants, youngsters, elders, apartment dwellers like herself, and even prisoners from the jail. All were grateful and happy to have dirt for planting. Macdougall’s stories of trials and joy and thanks would take more than this column to tell.

Then, as we know, the brick building came down, the gardens were removed and there was gnashing of teeth. Macdougall reminded the gardeners and everyone else that the town had been very generous in giving the land, for free, for all those years. Now the garden is coming back.

John Zon Community Center – Community Garden is Reborn

Rabbi Andrea

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener on the site of the new Community Garden

The John Zon Community Center is sitting on that Pleasant Street lot. So far, there are lawns, shrubberies, and a large pollinator garden in front of the building. Behind the building is a rain garden, and the beginnings of a new Community Garden. Dorothea Sotiros is once again one of the organizers, along with Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener and others who have met for the past few months as a Working Group. On April 22, Earth Day, there will be a celebration from 5 to 7 pm, to mark the beginnings of a new Community Garden. There will be music and snacks and conversation about What Next. Attendees will be invited to participate in one way or another.

I met with Rabbi Andrea and we both looked at the 180 by 35 foot planting bed full of promise. It is not ready to be planted. Rabbi Andrea explained that the soil needs to be prepared this year before it is fertile and healthy. A healthy soil will prepare the garden for successful healthy crops next year. The Working Group has been grateful to NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) which has given them best practices advice about improving the soil.

The Working Group is happy about the educational impact of the location of the garden. Those who come to the Community Center, and even those who walk by will have an opportunity to see the skills needed and used as the garden takes form. There will be a best practices workshop in composting for those who are interested. There will demonstrations of the different ways to garden. There is talk about vertical gardening. The Working Group is welcoming the thoughts, dreams and desires of those who will be interested in getting a plot in the garden.

The soil will be worked this year with tools that had been used in the original Pleasant Street Garden, then patiently and hopefully stored while waiting for this renewal. Those tools will now be stored in a new shed due in part to the generosity of the New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund, and the Greenfield Common Good, both of which have given grants to the Community Garden. The town has absorbed the installation of the shed.

Join the Community Garden party on Earth Day, April 22, 2019 from 5 to 7pm at the John Zon Community Center.

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An extra note. Eveline Macdougall has written a book about the Amandala Chorus which she founded. It is titled Fiery Hope and will soon be for sale. I am looking forward to her book, still to be written, about her adventures in the Pleasant Street Community Garden.

Between the Rows  April 13 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – April 15, 2019

purple crocus

Purples crocus on Bloom Day

Bloom Day! The purple, and gold crocus I planted last year have bloomed!  The gold crocus is just about done, and the purple crocus no longer seem to be attracting the honey bees. I think the bees drank them both dry. This photo has a second purpose – besides showing off the blooms – I wanted a record of where they were coming up so I could plant more this fall.

Scillas

Scillas

I love scillas – in large swaths. I am finding it hard to think why I planted three little clumps where they are easily stepped on.  I think I will dig them up and replant them when they are done blooming.

I have nothing else to celebrate this Bloom Day – except buds on the hydrangeas (newly pruned), on the lilac, viburnams, willow, Korean spice bush, and raspberries. Oh, yes, and startling green shoots of daylilies, asters, waldsteinia, and foam flower. Spring is coming. Slowly here in Massachusetts. The thermometer went up to 70 degrees this gray  day, and heavy rains are scheduled for tomorrow. Once again my garden will be flooded, but not where these bulbs are blooming.

Thank you Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens for inviting us all to show our gardens on Bloom Day! This is the third spring for our new gardens in the valley.

Thomas Jefferson – Lover of Liberty and Monticello

Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743-July 4, 1826) was a man of many parts. We all know he had a plantation, but I never knew he inherited it from his father along with a lot of debts. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, but I didn’t know he practiced law. Briefly. He represented his county in the Virginia House of Burgesses, but I didn’t know he served as the second Governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. I know he attended the Second Continental Congress and is considered the main author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He did not attend the Constitutional Congress in 1787 that gave us our Constitution because he was in Paris. He kept in touch with letters and during the ratification process he was instrumental in the addition of the Bill of Rights. We all know he became our third President in 1801 but I didn’t know (no blame to my history teachers I am sure) that he served as Minister to France, then Secretary of State to George Washington, and Vice-president to John Adams.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams take a tour

There are a lot of other things I didn’t know about Jefferson including a garden tour he took in 1786. That April Jefferson was living in France as the American Minister to France, at the same time that John Adams was living in London as the American Minister to the court at St. James Palace. Adams was having difficulties with trade negotiations that stalled. He invited Jefferson to come to Britain for a week or so and tour some of the gardens. A respite. At that time British gardens were considered the ultimate in garden fashion. Jefferson agreed to come. In spite of difficulties with Britain, he did feel that the English had the most magnificent landscapes.

Jefferson's vegetable garden, 1000 feet long

Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello

On April 3, the second day of their tour, they visited the famous Woodburn Farm. At that time such estates were open to the public. Woodburn was considered a “ferme ornee’ which combined the beauties of a pleasure garden with the elements of a working farm. Jefferson had been fascinated by the idea of the simple delights of a country life which included elegant landscapes. He admired the groves of trees and shrubberies that bordered paths and wound around the Woodburn’s fields and meadows. Though it was too early in the season to really see the foliage and flowers of the shrubs, the sight of the blooming crabapples, and the yellow pendant catkins of the alders was enough to feed his imagination about the kind of gardens he wanted to design and plant at Monticello.

Monticello

Jefferson was a learned man who knew about science and horticulture. Today visitors can see and enjoy the fruit (pun intended) of his passions and interests. There had been large gardens but in 1806 the 1000 foot long vegetable garden we see today was hewed and terraced out of the side of a mountain by slaves. There he grew 330 varieties of 70 vegetables. The garden mainly served the functional needs of the plantation, but Jefferson built a beautiful pavilion where he and guests could admire the magnificent view of the mountains beyond. That Pavilion was destroyed during a storm in the 1820’s. It was replaced in 1984 so that today’s visitors can imagine Jefferson sitting in solitude, or possibly showing off the view to visiting friends.

For many years Jefferson kept a Garden Kalendar. He experimented with seeds from Italy, Britain, France and Mexico. He wanted to find the best of the varieties that he planted. He loved the English pea, but he also appreciated figs and asparagus. Jefferson enjoyed planting those ‘new ‘vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower.

One of the biggest, and earliest things Jefferson did while President was make the Louisiana Purchase. The size of our country was doubled when he signed this agreement with France. He sent Lewis and Clark off to explore and map the area. In addition to the maps and information about the land and the Indian tribes, he had them send back plants for his gardens.

South Orchard at Monticello

South Orchard at Monticello today

Man cannot live by vegetable alone. Jefferson also planted an eight acre ‘fruitery.” Over time the South Orchard was planted with over 1000 fruit trees including many varieties of apples, peaches, cherries, pears, plums, nectarines, almonds, and apricots. It is said that Spitzenberg was Jefferson’s favorite apple. I am happy to say it is easy to come by in our area in season. Many of the apple trees were grown for cider. Over the years some of those trees did not thrive and died. The orchards were restored in 1981, so visitors today will see the orchard as it might have looked at its best period.

Of course, there were berries, and his grape vineyards today thrive as they could not when Jefferson made his attempts.

Jefferson continued with his many interests after his terms as President. His notable accomplishment during those years was the founding of the University of Virginia.

Nowadays Jefferson has lost some luster because he was a slave owner, as were George Washington and James Madison. Still we cannot deny the energy and wisdom that these men devoted to the creation of our country. I am as happy to celebrate his April 13 birthday as I do Washington’s.

Between the Rows   April 6, 2019

Flowering Shrubs All Season Long

Witch hazel

Hamamelis – witch hazel in mid-March

Many of us gardeners eventually come to embrace shrubs because we need a low maintenance garden. I believe that in my new town garden, I have gotten a shrub garden that requires less work, and works with the limitations of my soil and space.

I have concentrated on water loving shrubs like button bush, elderberry, and willow, but the shrub list is long.

The earliest shrub to bloom in our neighborhood is Hammamelis or witch hazel. My neighbor’s witch hazel grows in front of her house and those twirly golden flowers are brilliant in a landscape where there is so little color. They began blooming at the beginning of March.

Witch hazels can grow to about 15 feet with a pretty wide spread. They like well drained, loamy soil and lots of sun. They are natives, but there are cultivars in addition to the native bright yellow. Arnold’s Promise was introduced by the Arnold Arboretum about 40 years ago. It has the large fragrant flowers

Hamamelis x intermedia “Diane” blooms at the end of winter and has deep red flowers that will age to a copper tone. There is very little fragrance. This cultivar will be about 10 feet, wide and tall. “Jelena” is a coppery orange and also blooms in March.

Depending on what you read the size of these witch hazels seems to fluctuate.  I think we can count on between 10 to 15 feet. Pruning should be done after the blooms are done in the spring.

Pearl bush

Pearl bush

The common Pearl bush, (Exochorda racemosa) can grow to six feet or more, and is covered with white flowers in early May in zones 4-8. Cultivars like ‘Snow Day Surprise’, and ‘Snow Day Blizzard’, are easy to find in garden centers. These will grow to about three or four feet and will bloom profusely and beautifully in May. There is a lovely pearl bush on the Bridge of Flowers but I cannot be sure of the cultivar. It is a stunning spring bloomer.

Pearl bush will need pruning when the flowers fall off because it is a shrub that blooms on ‘old wood.’ That means the wood that will grow after pruning and will be ‘old’ the following spring when buds will set and bloom. If you prune a pearl bush in the spring, you will be throwing away all the spring buds.

The issue of old wood and new wood has confused many gardeners. I just attended the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium and attended a talk by John Barry. Barry is a hydrangea lover and told us of the aggravation gardeners give themselves if they don’t understand old wood and new wood.

Mothlight hydrangea

Mothlight hydrangea

I have known these terms for a long time, but they confused me. In Heath my first hydrangea was MothLight. In my timidity I did not prune it much, I just cut out dead branches, or branches that crossed each other. Mothlight did not seem to care very much. It just grew and grew to a height of ten feet or more with a wide spread.

Barry said that was understandable. Mothlight is a hydrangea in the paniculata family. It blooms on new wood, and if you are not pruning it at all, it will keep growing and making that new wood to bloom every year.

The thrust of Barry’s talk was really about the new smaller hydrangeas that are so useful for people with smaller gardens. He gave suggestions.

One list was of new small hydrangeas in the Arborescens family which can tolerate some shade. These all bloom on new wood and should be pruned back to one or two feet in the very early spring, which is to say, now. They are hardy in our zone. Some gardeners may be familiar with Annabelle, a very popular ‘mophead’ with its large round flower. There are now two new similar cultivars. Invinciball has the biggest flowers and the sturdiest stems. Spirit II is the deliciously pink flowered Annabelle.

Hydrangea paniculata is also called Hardy Hydrangea. All the hydrangeas I have grown have been paniculatas. Limelight, Firelight and Angel’s Blush are all doing well in my South Border. Barry said that Arborescens and Paniculatas are just about fool proof in our area.

While I have full sized hydrangeas there are small paniculatas which have airier blossoms than arborescens.  Little Lime, with green flowers, will only grow to four feet. Little Quickfire has flowers that turn from white to pink over the summer on a four foot shrub. BoBo has the largest white flowers in this group.

Hydrangeas bloom all summer and into the fall.

Beauty bush - callicarpa

Callicarpa – Beauty bush

Callicarpa or American beauty bush is a relatively small shrub. It is said to grow to a height of three to six feet with an equal spread in zone 5 or 6 – 10. However, in our valley climate it will probably not grow much taller than three or four feet. A callicarpa has grown on the Bridge of Flowers for a number of years. I don’t know if the river provides some modifying warmth.

Beauty bush prefers a lot of sun and a well draining soil.

This small native shrub has insignificant white flowers in June. The real attraction in is the small purple fruits that appear in late August and last until hard frost.

Between the Rows   March 30, 2019

 

 

Walter Cudnohufsky – Cultivating the Designer’s Mind

Cultivating the Designer's Mind

Walter Cudnohufsky’s book Cultivating the Designer’s Mind

Walter Cudnohufsky says “Design is Optimism Personified.” I saw Cudnohufsky’s design and optimism myself, one day about 11 years ago.

“Keep talking. Keep talking,” Cudnohufsky said as my Heath neighbors, Lynn Perry and Rol Hesselbart, brought out all their concerns about the landscape surrounding their new garage. I was invited to watch Cudnohufsky at work. It was a lively consultation and I was amazed at how patiently he listened, how carefully he observed the area.

Lynn visited me last week with all her notes of that afternoon, and the sketch Cudnohufsky created during the two hour consultation. “It made me so happy going through all those notes.” Lynn said. “That was a wonderful afternoon with Walt. And we did everything he suggested. There was nothing authoritative about him. And nothing was wasted that afternoon. He gave us what we needed and was gone,” she said.

Walter Cudnohufsky

Walter Cudnohufsky

I have seen Cudnohufsky at work since then, and become aware of what a good and encouraging teacher he is. Everyone who goes to him for a landscape design will get a lesson.

He has been teaching for over 40 years. During the first 20 years he founded the Conway School of Landscape Design in his renovated Ashfield barn. Fifteen students attended that first 10 month intensive program of learning and doing. Since he retired (mostly) from the Conway School he has continued his landscape practice. He is now sharing his expertise and teaching with a larger world.

Cultivating the Designer’s Mind: Principles and Process for Coherent Landscape Design, written by Cudnohufsky, with Molly Babize is a book that sets out to explain what design is. It also defines the many benefits of good design. Mollie Babize joined his practice about 35 years ago, and besides being a workmate and friend for all these years, she was at his side at the writing table. She was “striving to get my thoughts and make them coherent”. Cudnohufsky said.

The 313 page book is organized in ten chapters beginning with What is Design? One chapter talks about Understanding the Designer’s Role which is what Walt did when consulting with Lynn and Rol. He was listening and asking questions. He made a graphic rendering and continued talking and exploring more. This is an excellent chapter because it is not only for designers. It also provides information for the client about what to expect, what to think about, and what kinds of information the designer needs to make a good design.”

Cudnohufsky said that when he began more than 40 years ago he felt “a sustained and growing frustration with the general quality of design decisions. This was leading all too often towards fashion and decorating for dollars, rather than the higher order tasks of landscape design, first serving multiple environmental as well as human needs and desires, . . . as well as being aesthetically appealing. Good money is too often being spent unwisely when the same investment in landscape could often serve better ends.

“I have proven over decades that with a little elbow grease and focus, design is fun. A proportionally better designed result is possible. It is all within reach. I place a capital D on design because it is more than trivial.”

The book also includes case studies. One detailed case study illustrates how to build a basic map of a property, how to identify the views of adjoining properties, what plants are in good health, what are the impacts of trees on their surroundings and more. What are first impressions of the property? Cudnohufsky explains, “First begin with existing assets. Then look for constraints. Consider the topography, slopes and flatland.” There are sketches and drawings to show the various aspects of wind, light and shade, notes about electric lines and other important elements that are in place. Learning to see all this is as important for the client – or a house buyer who will come to see the need for a Design.

This book is intended for designers, young and experienced, as well as home owners. Understanding more about the needs of a site, as well as what they want from a sight will help them become better clients or self-designers. It is also hoped to be useful to the sister professionals in architecture, engineering, urban design, and planning.

I felt some of the exercises Cudnohufsky asked of his clients were useful to me as I work on creating my new urban garden. “I’m aware – I imagine.” In my garden I am aware of the movement of the sun – I imagine making a place that will provide shade for social space. There is also “I wish.” I wish I had more shelter in the garden. I wish there wasn’t so much water. Those wishes certainly tell me what I should be thinking about.

Cudnohufsky doesn’t seem capable of not designing and teaching. He said, “Beauty is not a luxury. It is a central human need and right – beauty leads predictably to reverie and sustaining human experience.” His book provides many lessons for all of us as we tend our domestic landscapes.

Between the Rows   March 23, 2019

Culinary Herb Garden – easy to grow for flavor and thrift

parsley

Parsley peeking up in the Culinary herb garden

A culinary herb garden is almost a necessity for gardeners, because so many of us enjoy cooking. Even if cooking is not our first love, it is hard to make meals without some basic herb for almost every dinner. It can be expensive if we have to buy our parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but a small culinary herb garden, preferably not too far from the kitchen door is a thrifty answer. Fortunately for me the area by my kitchen door is perfect for growing herbs. Herbs do not need much fussing. My soil is fertile, and there is plenty of sun.

Perennial Herbs

Chives

The Culinary Herb Garden is beginning to show itself. Chives!

Some herbs are perennial. I have three clumps of chives next to each other. A single large sage plant lives nearby. I can pluck the leaves I need year round. Even though sage foliage curls up and does not look appetizing in the cold winter, it does not lose its savor.
Rosemary is also a perennial, but it is tender and its Mediterranean heart cannot endure our winters. There are different ways to manage this problem. Small rosemary plants are available every spring. Rosemary can be planted in the garden and for use all season, then potted up and brought into the house until spring when it can be planted in the ground again. This system worked for me when I had a cool sunny room and kept the plant well watered, in spite of directions to water lightly. Even in a cool room the atmosphere in a winter house is very dry. My new house is too warm and too dry to do this any more.

You can also simply get a new rosemary plant every spring, plant it in the garden, and use it as long as you can. I save some dried rosemary to use in winter.

Mint plants are among the easiest plants to grow. And they spread. I have a black stemmed mint that has made an arrangement with my lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, to share a space. The fragrant foliage of each of these plants is delicious in summer drinks. I don’t need a lot and I can just keep them trimmed so they don’t grow beyond their allotted space.

If you like different mints, orange mint, peppermint and spearmint and others which also have different foliage, you can pot up each kind and make a handsome array of pots and plants.

Thyme is a perennial, but I don’t have it in my herb garden. I use it as a ground cover, and then snip a bit whenever I need it in the kitchen. There are many thymes, but T. vulgaris is my standard.

Annual Herbs

Then there are the many annual herbs. It is difficult to call dill an annual because it self seeds with abandon. I love dill, as much for its childhood memories on a Vermont farm, as for its usage. I have a spot right by the kitchen door where the dill grows. In the fall I collect seed for my winter herb shelf. Inevitably some seed get sprinkled on the ground. Just to be sure, I save a few seeds, in case they are needed in the spring.

Other annual herbs that are frequently used in the kitchen begin with parsley. You can buy parsley starts which is what I usually do because seeds take so long to germinate. I use flat leaf parsley for most of my cooking, but I always buy a flat of curly parsley, too. Curly parsley can be used as a nice border plant, but an extra culinary benefit is that as winter ends curly parsley sends up new foliage. That early parsley really helps me in the kitchen while I wait for the new parsley plants to take hold.

A variety of basils

A variety of Basils

Basil comes in many forms: Genovese Italian; lemon; little leaf; Thai and many more. Basil is a basic herb for lots of summer cooking. A few leaves can be clipped as needed. Basil also freezes very well for use in other seasons. I make little bundles of Genovese basil leaves and wrap them in wax paper. I put those little bundles in a freezer bag so I can use them in pesto or other dishes all year long.

Cilantro and coriander are a little tricky. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to realize coriander is the seed of the leafy cilantro. Part of the trick is that cilantro loses its leaves after a short season, leaving the coriander seeds. This means it is wise to have succession plantings of cilantro so you can have it over a long season. You can also keep collecting those coriander seeds.

Tarragon is an ingredient of Fines Herbes, along with chervil, parsley and chives. I have found it easiest to buy a tarragon plant. It is not easy to grow from seed. A small plant can settle in for the summer, but it is not hardy in our climate, indoors or out.

Chervil is sometimes called French parsley. It is delicate looking and delicate, but worth a try.

A small culinary herb garden can perk up your cooking – and save money.

Common thyme

Common thyme

 

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 Walter Cudnohufsky, landscape designer, founder of The Conway School  (formerly known as The Conway School of Landscape Design) is now an author. The official launch of the book will take place at The Conway School on Village Hill Road in Northampton on Saturday, April 6. Open to the public, the book signing will begin at 9 am; the talk and discussion at 10-11:30 am.

Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium 2019

Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners

Western Mass Master Gardeners at the County Fair

There may be snow on the ground, but the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener’s Association knows it is time to get ready to garden. The WMMGA Garden Symposium at Frontier Regional High School is scheduled for Saturday, March 23, from 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. with a lunch available at noon. The symposium title this year is Healthy Gardens, Healthy Gardeners. If you want to learn about healthy soil, trees for the garden, butterfly gardening, ergonomics and injury prevention, and much more it is time to send in your registration form.

This year the Keynote speaker is Dr. Stephen Rich from the University of Massachusetts. He will talk about What Every Gardener Needs to Know About Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of a surge in tick-borne disease incidence in the United States,. It is no longer limited to Lyme disease anymore! This will be an important talk to help us get through the garden season in good health.

Anne and Bruce Aune

Anne and Bruce Aune – Master Gardeners

Bruce and Anne Aune in their rock garden

This year I was particularly intrigued by the simply named talk Gardening with Rocks, which will be given by Bruce and Anne Aune.  Bruce and Anne have been gardening together for many years. From the large library windows of their house they have a view of their ever changing gardens and the hills and sky beyond. At this time of the year it is the kind of view that can easily lead to thoughts of “You know what we should do in the vegetable garden this year?’ Or “I wonder if that Pinus parviflora needs more serious pruning this year?”

This is also the time of year that the Aunes are happy to be able to share their experiences with gardeners at the Spring Symposium. Their talk, Gardening with Rocks, covers many of the ways that rocks can be used in gardens. Anne said that she has always loved geology, loved stones in their diversity and beauty. She said Bruce’s interest in rocks came as he kept digging them out of the soil. “Our property is loaded with rocks dropped by retreating glaciers.  Large, extra large, small and smaller.  Varied.  Rubbed round as beach pebbles.  Whenever we dig, we “liberate” rocks, so we use them to edge beds and as accents here and there.  This has led to our interest in Japanese gardens and rockeries.”

Stone bench and rockery garden

Aune’s stone bench and rockery garden

I made a visit to the Aunes late one fall and was fascinated by their Japanese rockery. The handsome, sculptural stone bench, created by Michael Mazur, stands in front of the rockery planted on a slope.  It was late enough in the season that most of the small spreading plants, like primulas, thymes, ferns, phlox and saxifrages had gone to sleep. The Aunes also planted conifers and shrubs in the rock garden. In a Japanese-style garden conifers are an important and handsome element. There are tall conifers like Japanese white pine, and low growing junipers like Blue Rug and Nana. Anne told me that regular pruning is also needed.

Certainly over the years they have used many kinds of rocks in different ways. Boulders have been used to edge planting beds, large flat stones have been used to make a ‘carpet’ for benches in the lawn, and gravel has been used to create good planting beds for alpines.

‘Liberated’ stone put to use as a rock border

The Aunes have also used troughs for their alpine plants. Years ago troughs used to be carved out of tufa, a porous limestone. Nowadays troughs are much less expensive and more easily found because they are made of hypertufa, a mixture of Portland cement, peat moss and perlite.

Spring Symposium Programs

Gardening with Rocks is just one of 17 talks. To register, you can go online to WMMGA.org and fill out the form listing the 17 programs, choosing one from the morning list and one from the afternoon. The cost is $35. You can also order a lunch for $9. Lunch must be pre-ordered. You can also go online to print out the program and registration form. The earlier you register, the more likely you are to get the talks you want. Before the keynote talk there is time to get a coffee, browse among the vendors with their local offerings and, and look at the book table. In case of impending  bad weather, call 413-665-2181 the  night before for a recorded message regarding possible rescheduling. Those who have attended before know the wisdom of car pooling. Parking is tight next to the school. However, parking is also available at the Deerfield Elementary School on Pleasant St. There are parking lots on both sides of the school.

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The University of Massachusetts has a series of agricultural workshops that are useful for the home gardener. Two that are coming up are:

March 16 – Grafting Fruit Trees at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown from 10 am – 2pm.  $100     March 30 – Pruning Blueberries at the Tougas Family Farm, Northboro from 10 am – noon.  $45.  Check online for UMass Aggie Seminars.

Between the Rows   March 8, 2019

 

Beverly Duncan and Her Books

Beverly Duncan Botanical artist

Beverly Duncan, Botanical artist in her studio

“Ever since I officially retired from Mohawk Regional High School, I’ve just exploded with new ideas,” Beverly Duncan said as she gave me a tour of her studio in Ashfield. One wall  is covered with framed botanical paintings that she had done in the past. Other paintings-in-progress were pinned to a bulletin board; other smaller paintings of flower blossoms were pinned to a different bulletin board. Surrounded by these works, finished and unfinished, she told me about recent events, and unfinished plans.

Since her arrival in western Massachusetts many years ago, she has focused on drawing plants. First intrigued by wild edibles she soon enlarged her focus to drawing and painting the flowers around her. She hardly had to go beyond her own gardens and the nearby woodlands. The attention she pays to what is sprouting, blooming, ripening, and going into dormancy, as well as the insects that arrive over the seasons, is transformed into delicate paintings. “As I observe, sketch and paint, I am always learning more about the interconnectedness of the natural world,” she said.

Her love of flowers and greenery are put to a different use during the summers. For some years she has worked with Gloria Pacosa, a dear friend and neighbor, who operates Gloriosa & Co, an event venue. Pacosa has large gardens to supply the flowers and plants for the weddings, bat and bar mitzvahs and all the other celebratory events that mark our lives. That means working in the gardens and gathering an abundance of flowers and greens to make unique bouquets for each occasion. She has the pleasure of adding to the joy of the celebratory occasions of our lives.

Early last spring Duncan and Pacosa decided to treat themselves to a trip to Belgium. They attended a workshop run by a commune-owned chateau. “Every day for a week we made bouquets with flowers that showed off the new trends in design, and in flower color, which were in the dark range. Some of arrangements were very stylized, not looking like bridal bouquets or lush arrangements at all. We also got to work with silk ribbons that were dyed, and sometimes shredded. Everything was photographed at the end of the day.

“We also had time to travel around and explore, including a wonderful walk through the forest among the bluebells. It was inspiring. Luxurious learning.”

Refreshed and inspired Duncan returned home to continue her projects with new energy.

Flower a day project

Beverly Duncan – A tiny sample of the Flower-a-Day project

“I love working in small places,” Duncan told me. She brought out two tiny boxes of her paint-a-flower-every-day project. Each box was filled with 2×2 inch flower or foliage paintings, labeled on the reverse side.  Another box held tiny accordion books, each devoted to a single flower.

Grape Hyacinth book

Accordion book devoted to the Grape Hyacinth

Then Duncan showed me the SEEDS project. These 5×5 inch books are each devoted to a single tree or shrub. She created a standard progression of the development of a plant and seed on the vertical pages. “I tell the story of my relationship with the tree. Then I paint the details of the tree from early spring budding. Everything is dated so the time of the progression is clear. Another page will show the summer leaf. That is the way most of us identify a tree, by its leaf. On other pages I show the fruit development, and change in color of the leaf. The winter page painting shows identifying characteristics of the branch and bud.”

SEEDS project

SEEDS project

We looked through the SEEDS book about Staghorn Sumac. Duncan paints the parts of the plant in clear detail. She also names the part of the sumac. I might call the slightly fuzzy red things on the end of an autumnal sumac branch a ‘flower,’ Duncan properly calls them the mature seeds, or fruits, of the sumac, which are called “bobs.”  She goes further to explain that ‘bobs’ are actually clusters of drupes. Then she explains, with another little image on the page, that a drupe is a closed fruit with exocarp and mesocarp and endocarp layers that enclose the ovary.

I had a little trouble understanding the anatomy of a sumac drupe. However, her drawing made me look up some additional information. I learned that apricots, cherries, and other stone fruits are drupes because they have a fleshy covering around the pit that can be opened to reveal the actual seed. Some nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are drupes, while other nuts like acorns and chestnuts are in the family of ‘true’ nuts.

Staghorn Sumac SEEDS book

Staghorn Sumac SEEDS book

The goal is to reproduce these books, and have boxed sets holding five or six little books that can be sold. I am looking forward to that day.

The SEEDS project is very different from her earlier works, in the size of the paintings. These little books also allow her to express her reactions and feelings about plants. Her intent is very different from her approach to larger botanical works like the New England Winter Branches paintings which won an award 2014 Royal Horticultural Exhibit in London, or the Impressions of Woody Plants Exhibit at the Arnold Arboretum last summer.

Duncan has an agent in New York City who sells her paintings there, but she does occasionally hold Open Studio Days when her paintings are available for public view and sale. She also teaches botanical painting as the Hill Institute in Florence, Massachusetts.

Between the Rows   March 2, 2019

Views of Winter From the Office Window

Snow and water on January 4, 2016

The idea of taking photos of the view from my ‘office’, the only room in the house that gives a full view of the backyard garden,  is intended as a record of  the vagaries of the weather.  My dates sometimes are a bit off, but this is the first photo taken in 2016. This is the beginning of the first full year in our Greenfield  house.

The second of February  2016 and it looks like spring. Almost

Surely, this isn’t the end of snow season.  Alas, no photo of 3-1-16.

January 12, 2017

I said my dates wouldn’t be exact. This is the first January photo in 2017. Snowy and wet but you can see the planting beds have gotten larger, The first plantings went in in June 2015, and continued through 2016.

January 31, 2017

By the end of January 2017, almost the First of February,  there was more snow – and wet.

February 28, 2017

Almost March  2017, and the snow is nearly gone, leaving wet spots. The planting beds are nearly complete.

January 17, 2018

I certainly didn’t get started  taking photos early in 2018. This is a view from the ground because the office window was frozen shut.

March 1, 2018

So much for recording February in 2018!

February 12, 2019

I knew I was falling down on my recordkeeping. This is the first view from the office in 2019. The window was still frozen.

March 1, 2019

To make up for missed opportunities in January and February,  and after several February snowfalls, here is the backyard from the ground.

March 1, 2019

And here is the view from the office window.  We have had bitter cold weather, with high winds last week, but today the sun is shining, and the snow is melting.

March 4, 2019

Lest I begin to think the ever brighter sun means that spring is almost here, I woke this morning to the results of a heavy wet snowfall all night.

I hope the arrival of April 1 will bring no foolish scenes.

Fragrant Flowers for the Garden

Lilac tree blossoms

Lilac TREE blossoms in Spring, exceedingly fragrant

My new low maintenance, pollinator garden is full of fragrant flowers that bloom over the course of the season. I confess I did not choose these flowers on purpose. However I am really happy that so many fragrant plants have additional benefits. My fragrant flowers require little care and welcome pollinators.

Some fragrances, like lilac, take me back to my early childhood on a Vermont farm. When we moved to Heath in 1979 there were already old fragrant lilacs in place, but I added the gorgeous fragrant Beauty of Moscow lilac with it double white flowers touched with pink. I also added the deep purple lilac, Yankee Doodle, so I could have some range of color. Lilacs are not only beautiful and fragrant, they are dependable. Think of all those lilacs still growing on abandoned farmsteads.

Beauty of Moscow double lilac

Beauty of Moscow, double pink to white lilacs

All my shrub lilacs are Syringa vulgaris. There are a number of other species including the small Miss Kim, S. pubescens subsp. patula, as well as the Chinese lilac, S. chinensis, with pinky-purple blossoms and the small Boomerang lilac, S. x ‘Penda’ which blooms twice a year.

When we bought our Greenfield house, we found a very different and unexpected lilac. We have a lilac tree. It is a syringa tree, not an overgrown lilac bush. The tree is covered with large lacy white flowers and a fragrance that surprises and mystifies the people who walk by in June. People tend not to look up at the trees when the air is perfumed. The fragrant air remains a mystery to many. Still, I have noticed that there are other lilac trees in the area, and an apartment building near us has planted several lilac trees on the grounds.  The fragrance is not exactly like the lilac bush, but it is wonderful.

In the shade of our lilac tree we also got a Pieris japonica, sometimes called Lily of the Valley shrub. It is evergreen and produces cascades of small white flowers in May. It is not very fussy. I prune away the spent blossoms and any straggly branches in the late spring. That is the limit of my care. In our yard I do not need to worry about having sufficiently acid soil.

Pieris japonica

Fragrant Pieris japonica

In a slightly sunnier part of our front yard I planted Deutzia, a small shrub that I’m hoping will not grow more than two feet tall, but will give me the promised four foot spread. In the spring there are sprays of tiny white fragrant flowers which last two or three weeks.

Last fall I planted a daffodil border in front of the low growing evergreens. I was late in my planning so I didn’t have many choices of daffodil. For those who think ahead there are some especially fragrant daffodils. Narcissus “Actaea” is a white daff with a golden cup trimmed with red. This is a simple old variety that I love and always have in my garden. Narcissus “Carlton” is a big golden daff with a large fringed cup and great fragrance. It is also a good spreader, if you want to have more and more gold. Narcissus “Replete” is a glamorous and fragrant double daff with pinky-coral ruffles in the center and double white petals behind.

In my sunny South Border, I did specifically plant Korean spice viburnam. Anyone who has spent any time at Greenfield Community College in late spring will be familiar with the fragrance that perfumes the air at that season. The point is made that if you can plant several of a fragrant plant, you will not have to stick your nose in the blossoms to revel in its perfume.

Calycanths, Carolina summersweet

Calycanthus, Carolina summersweet

In the backyard garden I have planted Clethra, also known as summersweet and Calycanthus, called Carolina allspice.  Clethra is probably more familiar with its upright, white or pink panicles of fragrant white flowers. In my garden it is very happy to get some shade and a moist, heavy soil. Calycanthus has very unusual deep wine red, or even brown blossoms, that last from April to June. When the flowers finish they are replaced with brownish seed capsules that will last all winter.

There are fragrant annuals like heliotrope and flowering tobacco. I am planning to try planting stocks, Matthiola Incana, in my garden this summer. Stocks are about two and a half feet tall and bloom in a large range of color from white to yellow and shades of pink and red. Their scented flowers bloom in the evening. They are very tender and sensitive to frost. They can be seeded when frost is no longer a danger, or started indoors to be transplanted outdoors when it is reliably warm.

I am not very good with houseplants, especially in the summer when I prefer my flowers outside. However, I’d love to have a blooming gardenia in the house, or in a carefully chosen spot outdoors when the weather is fine. Scent is so evocative. I remember the days when I was about 15 and could take the train into New York City by myself to see a Broadway show. Back then you could buy a gardenia corsage on the street corner for fifty cents. Those fragrant gardenias on my shoulder were a great way to make me feel adult and sophisticated. Now, when I smell gardenias, I am carried back to my walk from Grand Central up to 42nd Street, finding my theater for Teahouse of the August Moon or Auntie Mame. I can still feel sophisticated and ready for a show.

 

Between the Rows  February 23, 2019