Subscribe via Email

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

Windcliff by Daniel Hinkley and Uprooted by Page Dickey

Windcliff by Daniel J. Hinkley

Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens by Daniel J. Hickley

Two beautiful books have come across my desk. Apparently many gardeners are finding the need to leave their beautiful old gardens and move on to new gardens. I can speak to this urge myself, having left my gardens in Heath, to create a compact stroll garden filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and a place to sit in Greenfield. I also needed a garden that would not need so much work.

Windcliff: A  story of people, plants and gardens

Daniel J. Hinkley, plant hunter, nurseryman, and lecturer, had been living on the grounds of the Heronswood Plant Nursery in Kingston, Washington, which he created in 1987. With his husband, Robert Jones, they built a home, a great business, and a beautiful private garden. In 1999 they bought the property Windcliff located on a bluff above Puget Sound on the Kitsap Peninsula, but practically next door to Heronswood. Now they could build their own garden all over again.

Hinkley is an engaging author. In Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens (Timber Press $35) He tells stories of how they went about answering the question we all ask when facing the prospect of a new garden space – what type of garden do we want? He answered that question as he slowly planted and created amazing vistas. From his overlook he admired the Puget Sound basin and the Olympic Range beyond.

The book really gets going with Design Principles, and talks about the garden as play, the need to evaluate and edit, the impact of texture and foliage, height and movement and more. Later he gives special attention to the house and terrace and the potager. He said he never knew the meaning of the word potager, but from the very beginning of his career he was a vegetable gardener.

Hinkley was the gardener, but Jones was the architect. Hinkley explains that he nobly kept himself under control and watched as the house was re-imagined and rebuilt with three pavilions joined by glass enclosed connectors. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of a library pavilion. Hinkley and Jones agreed that the plan concentrated on the “communication with the views framed by existing trees along with a sense of privacy.”

There is no way our gardens in Massachusetts will look anything like the exotic plantings at Windcliff. Our climate is very different. Our soil is different. The space we have for our gardens is different.

Even so, Windcliff gives us lots of advice and lots of ideas, or we can just enjoy Hinkley’s charm. The photographs are fabulous and we can thank Claire Takacs for that.

Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again

Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again

Page Dickey has been a gardener and a writer for decades. Her house and famous garden, named Duck Hill, was located in North Salem, about 50 miles from Manhattan. For 34 years she lived at Duck Hill, but she realized the time had come to find a place where she could make a garden with fewer demands. She married her husband, Bosco in 2000 and he was about to turn 80. Their house 50 miles from New York City was expensive. In Uprooted (Timber Press $27.95) she tells her story.

But where? In the end they moved to Litchfield County in Massachusetts. New England might be colder than New York City, but they would have the beauty of the seasons, and the expanses of the countryside with its green hills. She had happy childhood memories of relatives and events in Massachusetts. Even Bosco, a teenage refugee from Hungary, had visited New Hampshire, and spent a summer waiting on tables. He also went on to college in the Berkshires. They both had familiarity and affection for those days and landscapes.

The building they found in Litchfield County was an old meetinghouse. They quickly called it Church House. This old house did need work and an addition was planned. As a wife myself I know that husbands and wives sometimes have different needs. Dickey’s old house was filled with books. Every room had books. Bosco firmly required that the new living room have no books. I have to say the bright and sunny living room is a delight. It has sun and flowers and really comfortable places to sit. But no books.

There were beautiful plantings around the house, but new gardens were just waiting to be installed.  The new gardens included the front borders around the house, an enclosure around the swimming pool, and a cutting garden.

Anyone who has left a long-tended garden will bring some of those ideas to the new garden. Dickey recreated an orchard, a small greenhouse for Bosco, and cold frames for forcing bulbs. Many of her plantings are very familiar to me including Virginia sweetspire, fothergilla with its spring blooms, Clethra with its amazing fragrance, and Viburnum opulous var.americanum, to feed the birds.

In one of her last chapters Dickey talks about putting different emphasis on the importance of the habitats of wild creatures, ecosystems and biodiversity. One unexpected joy was the number or birds that enjoyed their gardens, a horned owl, barred owls,  pileated woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles and others. There were new delights in this larger, wilder landscape.

Both of these books are very special and make wonderful gifts. Christmas is coming.

Between the Rows  September 22,2020

Good Berry – Bad Berry – Beautiful Berries in Autumn

Brilliant holly berries, Ilex aquifolium

Autumn is a berry season, although  those berries would end up on my dinner table. However, these berries are beautiful at this time of the year and into the winter. This column appeared in September 2011.  

When I walked through the garden the other day I realized how many red berries I have in the fall. Three years ago I noticed for the first time that my holly, ‘Blue Princess,’ and my cotoneasters had finally started producing berries. That berry production has gotten more prolific and beautiful each year.

Hollies are dioecious plants, which means they need separate male and female plants to cross pollinate and produce fruits. While there are many holly cultivars I chose Ilex x meservae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ because they are among the hardiest of the hollies and ‘Blue Princess’ is considered one of the heaviest berry producers.

Both of these hollies are hardy in Zone 5 which is winter temperatures down to minus 20 degrees. They like moist but well drained acid soil and sun, although they will tolerate some shade. Full sun will give the best berry production. ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘Blue Prince’ will both attain a mature size of about 12 feet or more with a spread of up to ten feet. Fortunately they grow slowly only about six inches a year. In six years my ‘Blue Princess’ grew to about four feet tall and three feet wide. The ‘Blue Prince’ is smaller.

I love being able to prune off a few berry-laden branches for Christmas decorations, but I planted the hollies because I wanted more shrubs in the Lawn Bed. I am not ready to give up perennials, but as I get older I am looking for ways to cut down on the labor of maintaining perennials, dividing and cutting back, and weeding. Shrubs are so various with countless foliage forms, textures and colors, and even colorful blooms and berries that I think they add great richness to the garden.

About the same time  the hollies I planted two cotoneasters as groundcovers to provide a foil for the conifers I had in the Lawn Bed. They don’t grow very tall, only one or two feet for most varieties and the leaves are small and dark green. They are hardy and very attractive in every season.  I couldn’t wait for these to cover the ground individually and planted them much too close together. They have now merged and I’d be hard put to say which is which. One of them produces large quince-like blossoms in the spring. I just learned that the name ‘cotoneaster’ comes from two Latin words meaning similar to quince.

Cotoneaster provides berries in the fall and lovely blossoms in the spring

All cotoneasters (cuh-TOE-knee-asters) produce small red berries in the fall which will attract birds, if they are very hungry. They will not attract deer which makes me very happy.

A third red berry that attracts birds in my garden the American highbush cranberry, the native Virburnum trilobum. This shrub is about 12 feet high in my garden and gives me no trouble at all. In the spring it produces flat airy blossoms that contain both fertile and infertile flowers. It is because of the flowers that I planted the highbush cranberry next to the Cottage Ornee. It also has very attractive palmate leaves.

Viburnam berries sometimes called highbush cranberries

The highbush cranberries turn red in September and they are really beautiful. The birds love them, but I recently learned that they are not only edible for humans, but that they will make a very nice jelly.The berries are easy to pick because they grow in thick clusters and there are no thorns.

The berries can be harvested as soon as they are red, even though they will be crunchy at first. Freezing them before preparing them for processing will soften them up. I have been told that they taste very much like the cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, that are so indispensable on the Thanksgiving table.

The birds are certainly thankful. Most of my berries, without any help from me, are gone by Thanksgiving.

While I welcome holly, cotoneaster, and viburnam berries in my garden I have other red berries that are a source of dismay and frustration. The first is autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, which we bought from the Conservation District many years ago. I planted three or four at the edge of the lawn, happy that they were fast growing and produced berries for the birds. They actually produce berries for me too, but I have never used them even though many people cook them up into a jam.

It did not take us long to see that the wind, or the birds, were seeding autumn olive in the field east of our planting. Over the years our planting died out except for one remaining bush. We are trying to eradicate the autumn olives in the east field.

The other dismaying berries are hips of the pasture rose which was here before we bought our house. We are constantly removing these briary, prickery roses and it is a never ending battle. They are very pretty and I have used sprays of their small red hips in holiday decorations, but mostly I arm myself with a heavy shirt and dungarees and leather gloves and try and cut them back at the root. Again and again.

Shrubs that produce beautiful berries give our gardens a long interesting season, and may attract our beloved birds, but if we are wise, we will be careful when we make our choices. We don’t want to invite trouble when we plant for color and for the birds.

John Bartram, Quaker, Farmer, Plant Hunter Right in Our Colonies

Franklinia alatamaha discovered by John Bartram

John Bartram farmed, and searched for native plants to send to England. On one of his trips he discovered the Franklinia Tree in southern Georgia. It is the parent of all Franklinia trees now in existence

There are many stories about plant hunters who travelled the world looking for new plants. Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson discovered the Lilium regale in China in 1910. Scot David Douglas discovered what is now called the Douglas fir at Hudson’s Bay in North America in 1825. However, there was a plant hunter who lived his life in the American colonies during the 18th century and sent American native plants across the ocean to England.

Quaker John Bartram ((March 23, 1699 – September 22, 1777), began as a farmer near Philadelphia, but a farmer fascinated by botany and the vast array of plants that he could not name. He was literate, but had very little schooling. Of course, he had food crops on his farm, but he had a separate plot where he grew special plants that interested him. Those plants and Bartram came to be of interest to others.

John Logan, secretary to William Penn, took an interest in Bartram, and encouraged him in his interests, and the way it might be profitable. Logan knew Peter Collinson, also a Quaker, and nurseryman in England. England had very few handsome native trees. There were only four native evergreens, Scots pine, holly, box and yew. The number of colorful flowers was limited as well.

Logan told Peter Collinson about Bartram, who was already sending some seeds to England. An agreement was made between Bartram and Collinson. In 1734 the first delivery of plants arrived in London. Successfully sending plants across the ocean was very difficult. There was no guarantee that plants and seeds could be kept warm enough or dry enough on the ships, or safe from mice and rats. Others besides Bartram shipped plants, but they did not give thought to the stresses on the plants or the care that was necessary and were not very successful.

Bartram designed special wooden cases to hold and protect seeds and cuttings. When Collinson opened the first boxes from Bartram he was thrilled. Hundreds of seeds were neatly wrapped in paper, and there were a few living plants. Collinson was very excited to find two healthy kalmia, mountain laurel, cuttings.  Collinson had admired drawings of pink kalmia blossoms, but had never seen real ones. In fact no one in England been able to plant them because cuttings died before their ships reached London. And so began a 40 year collaboration.

I should also mention that Collinson, and some of  his friends often sent seeds and bulbs back to Bartram including  hyacinths, tulips, narcissi and lilies, as well as seeds of foxglove, and annual persicaria which came from China, through London. This made Bartram happy, but like Collinson, he sometimes had trouble keeping plants alive because they had come from different climates and soil. Greenhouses were one solution, or learning how to amend the soil.

Their letters covered every issue from help, and information about plants, including teachings from Carl Linneaus.  In 1736 Linneaus come to England to meet gardeners and botanists. He was not quite 30, but already an important man. He was also quite proud and called himself the ‘Prince of Botanists.’ When he arrived in London in late July he immediately looked for Collinson. They met and toured gardens. They would have seen goldenrod, and the tiny kalma which came from Bartram, as well as Iceland poppy, Sassafras albidum, and the first rhododendrons.

Collinson and Linneaus did not speak each others languages, and so had to communicate by pointing out aspects of the plants they visited. Linneaus departed for home in Sweden and the following year, 1735, he published his book Systema Naturae, a new system of classifying plants based on their reproductive systems. He thought it would change the world, but it was not accepted by all. Bartram acquired and used Systema Naturae. Linneaus later said Bartram was the “greatest natural botanist in the world.”

After working together for a few years, in 1737 Collinson urged Bartram to go to Virginia to meet John Custis to collect seeds. Custis had Eastern hemlock with small dangling cones. This tree was in great demand. He also collected seeds for maples, scarlet oaks, dogwoods, and rhododendrons.

Carolina silverbell

Visit the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls and see the Carolina silverbell.

Bartram brought back seeds of the Halesia Carolina, silverbell and purple-berried callicarpa – which you can see now on the Bridge of Flowers.

Franklinia alatamaha, was observed by John and son William Bartram in 1765 along the Altamaha River in southern Georgia, in Creek territory. William Bartram first brought seed back to their garden in 1777 and named the plant Franklinia in honor of his father’s close friend Benjamin Franklin. The plant had not been found in the wild since the early 19th century, but cultivation by the Bartrams saved it from extinction. All current Franklinia are descended from those grown by the Bartrams.

Bartam made many trips to the south. There were trials over the years. His horse was stolen, he cut his foot and was confined to bed for a month, he slept on moss and viewed the Appalachian mountains, the Delaware Water Gap and other landscapes few had seen.

But the business was prospering, as were the colonists. Now the colonists wanted beautiful gardens around their beautiful houses, expanding  the business. There was plenty to do right in the new United States.

The last heir closed Bartram’s Garden in 1850. Today tourists visit Bartrams Garden again. For full information search https://bartramsgarden.org/ ###

Between the Rows   September12, 2020

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – September 15, 2020

Firelight hydrangeaFirelight hydrangea slowly becoming fiery on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

This summer has been a very dry summer and Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day will tell of some of the difficulties.

Two hydrangeas kissing, the pink Angel’s Blush and still white Limelight

Dry summer or not, the hydrangeas are lush bloomers.

Black eyed Susans are amazingly long blooming. We do occasionally water the bed with our drip hose.

There is no stopping the TALL zinnias in my cutting garden.  They get occasional drip hose treatments, too.

I think this energetic foot tall aster is Wood’s aster. Whatever, it is a great bloomer on our hugel.

Alma Potchke aster is just beginning to bloom on the South Border near the hydrangeas with only  infrequent rainfall.

“The Fairy” rose is reaching toward the sun that shines at our neighbor’s house.

Japanese anemone “Robustissima” I love this plant.

The winterberries do not bloom, but the red winterberry is ripening.

The gold winterberry is also ripening and the  birds will be very happy this winter.

My Sheffield daisies have not begun to bloom yet, so I am holding on to the thought that I will have something in bloom in October.  I

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for giving us all a chance to see gardens across our great land, and indeed, gardens around the world,  Most of the plants in my garden have been  chosen to attract all kinds of pollinators – for the first time in Greenfield we have Monarchs – and the birds.

Spring Bulbs Need Fall Planting – Time to go shopping

Scillas blooming in the April lawn

The tiny spring bulbs of Scillas don’t look like much but in the spring they reflect the blue skies.

Fall is the season for planting – bulbs! Gardeners always have to think ahead if they want springtime flowers and it is bulbs that produce that brilliance.

I love bulbs because they give us color and hope early in the spring. Since we moved to Greenfield I have planted some spring bulbs. Purple and golden crocuses bloom in March under the lilac tree. I think I should add at least a few more. My snowdrops also bloom in March. Many daffodil varieties bloom along the sidewalk in April. Grape hyacinths bloom in mid March well through April under the river birch.

Grape hyacinth foliage in the early spring

Grape Hyacinths, muscari, foliage in the early spring

I love the grape hyacinths, but I have learned a lot about them that gardeners have to think about. After the first year my grape hyacinths bloomed, the foliage died after the blossoms did. The following spring the grape hyacinths bloomed, and again the flowers and foliage died and left an empty spot. However, in the fall I noticed some greenery growing up in that space. I was too busy to weed it at the time, but soon there was too much of that greenery and I started to pull it up – and found little bulbs attached to the foliage. Grape hyacinth  bulbs were growing all over the place including into the nearby daylilies. This could not continue!

Grape hyacinths Muscari

Grape Hyacinths, Muscari, in full bloom in mid-May

I dug up some of those bulbs and foliage and gave them away. I did learn that I should not have been surprised. Information in the catalogs does give information about them naturalizing and sending up foliage in the fall. My lesson – pay attention to all the information in the catalogs.

There are many other springbulb plants that bloom in the spring including tulips, which many people consider annual flowers because they often die out after a year or two. Alliums, ornamental onions, range from giant globes to pendulous explosions of bloom in late spring and into summer. Fritillaries can be dwarf with delicate nodding blossoms or two foot tall large dramatic flowers that bloom in late spring.

daffodils

Nameless Daffodils in mid-April growing along our sidewalk

For myself this year, I am thinking about planting more daffodils. Instead of the patches of different varieties growing next to the sidewalk, I am thinking about a single variety that will form a ribbon of bloom in front of the new rose bed. I want to choose an early bloomer that will be finished before the roses begin to bloom in mid-June.

I am considering the 10 inch tall Wisley with slightly reflexed white petals and frilly yellow cups that blooms in early to mid-spring. Having chosen this daff, I think I will add some Eranthus, winter aconite. This buttercup relative produces three to four inch lemony yellow blossoms above flat green foliage. The name winter aconite does give an idea of when it might bloom.

Choosing spring bulbs is one thing. The next thing is calculating when and how to plant the bulbs when they arrive – and it is time right now to order.

I looked back at dated photos I took of daffodils, grape hyacinths and crocuses. Crocus bloom in March, and daffodils and grape hyacinths bloom in April and well into May depending on the variety.

The advice is to plant six weeks before a hard frost. We have had snowy Thanksgiving celebrations, so I am calculating six weeks back from November 26 this year. I plan to put my bulbs in the ground around October 17.

Spring bulbs are best planted in groups. I dig a hole that can hold several bulbs. I make the hole bigger and deeper than necessary because I take the opportunity to enrich the soil with compost, and maybe a bit of 10-10-10 fertilizer, before it goes back into the hole.

Daffodil bulbs, and other bulbs of the two or three inch size, should be planted so that two inches of soil will be over the bulb. For instance, a 2 inch long bulb should be planted 4 inches deep, and a 3 inch long bulb should be planted 5 inches deep. Daffodils should be planted 5or 6 inches apart. Remember the pointy tip is the top of the bulb.

The circular grape hyacinth bulbs are similar in size and should all be planted three inches deep and three inches apart.

Crocus should be planted two inches deep and three inches apart.

I mix the soil that I took out of the hole mixed with compost and cover the bulbs. Watering the planted bulbs immediately is very important. Watering will wake up the bulbs and start them growing. Keep watering them until there is rain. In the spring you will have warming color and encouragement as spring begins.

An assortment of spring blooming bulbs will be available at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative. Online companies including: Brent and Becky’s, https://www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com; John Scheepers  https://www.johnscheepers.com; and Old House Gardens that specializes in heirloom bulbs https://oldhousegardens.com are also ready to be perused with bulbs for sale

Between the Rows  September 5, 2020

Michelle Parrish, Growing Dye Plants

Linen, cotton and silk textile panels dyed by Michelle Parrish

Linen, wool and silk textile panels dyed by Michelle Parrish at Smith College Church Exhibition Gallery

Early this spring Smith College was ready to present its glorious annual Spring Bulb Show. However, as we now know, that show never opened. Like so many events the Bulb Show was shut-down because of the newly blossoming Covid-19 pandemic.

I was fortunate to visit the Lyman Plant House just before the word covid was heard everywhere. I got to visit the space used for the Bulb Show, but preparations had been called to a stop. Fortunately, a magical and colorful textile exhibit, The Art and Science of Dyeing, was in place in the Church Exhibition Gallery.

Michelle Parrish

Michell Parrish

Michelle Parrish, who made those beautiful textile panels, worked with Sarah Loomis, the director of education at the Botanic Garden. Parrish told me that Loomis was the mastermind behind the design and installation. She also wrote all the interpretive information about plants and dyes on the wall panels. Theirs was a close collaboration making Parrish responsible for choosing the dye plants that would be used and then cutting, washing, mordanting and dyeing all the cloth.

Parrish has been dyeing textiles and growing dye plants in her garden for twenty years.  She set up the nine foot panels of linen, silk and wool in shades of blue, red, and yellow, orange and green that showed the reaction of dyes on different textiles.

Michelle Parrish is a woman who has been playing with different crafts ever since she was a child. When she was 16 she tried making a plant dye, but failed and put that idea away. She made pottery for several years, and then learned to weave. In 1999 she became very serious about learning to weave and spin. At the same time she began “to grow dye plants so that she could make textiles from garden to finish.”

Because of the pandemic, Michelle Parrish, the creator of this exhibit, and I met on the telephone, with some help from her Localcolordyes.com blog.

Along with the textile panels there were informational panels on the wall with information about the plants that dyers use. Centuries ago weavers had had to make their own dyes out of plants, or else all textiles would be the basic color of the cotton, wool or linen. In many cases, dyeing was its own specialized craft, separate from weaving. It is hard to think about a world where all textile dyes were derived from plants, minerals or insects. However, before 1860 this was true.

Parrish's woad planting

Parrish’s woad planting

The wall panels explained that plant dyes were used centuries ago. It took me a while to understand that these names, madder and weld and woad are plants, and that the plants date back to ancient Egypt and earlier. Madder alone makes red and orange dyes. Madder and weld are plants that make shades of red and yellow dyes.

Weld and woad plants make shades of green dyes. The green leaves of the woad plant contain the same source of blue as other indigo-bearing plants

An essential process of dyeing textiles is to begin with a mordant. Without a mordant dyed textiles will fade over time because of washings. However Parrish explained that, “woad and indigo do not require a mordant as the vat-making process involves unique chemical processes that allow physical bonding with the fibers.”

As an example of the dyeing process Parrish gave me the instructions for making a yellow dye from marigold petals. Unfortunately the process is too long for my column. I will describe the process of dying briefly, and using woad from her garden. I recommend a visit to her blog https://localcolordyes.com/ for fuller didrections .

Equipment including a stainless steel two gallon pot that will never be used for cooking, along with a thermometer, measuring spoons, a scale and a washtub is essential.

Fiber must be washed or “scoured’ to prepare it for mordanting. It needs to be washed and dried. It can be put into the mordant while wet, or after it is dried. The mordant for wool fiber is aluminum sulfate (usually referred to as alum). The type of mordant depends on the fiber. The fiber needs to be weighed when dry.

Fleece hits the air, transforming yellow into blue

The mordanting process will begin with measuring the weight of fiber to determine measurement of mordant in hot water. The fiber may soak overnight in the mordant .

Now time to dye. The weight of fresh marigold flowers needs to be at least 3 or 4   times the weight of the fiber. For example 2 ounces of fiber will need 6 or 8 ounces of marigolds. Dried marigolds will need a 1:1 ratio.   Put the marigolds in a pot of water and bring to a temperature of 180 degrees.

Fiber should be completely wet when put in dye. Bring temperature back to 180 degrees and maintain it for an hour. Then allow fiber to cool in dyebath.

The woad has been neutralized and rinsed to make blue yarn

Remove the fiber from the dyebath, hang it carefully out to dry.   When dry wash it with biodegradable detergent and rinse repeatedly until rinse water is clear. Hang fiber out to dry. Done!

Parrish will be teaching a workshop as Snow Farm in Williamsburg, MA on September 19-20 called Roots, Shoots, Leaves and Flowers: Local Plants to Dye For. If you would like to learn more about growing and using dyeplants to dye woolen and linen yarns, registration is still open. Snow Farm has made careful arrangements that will enable students to maintain distance while they work. Much of the workshop will take place outdoors.###

Between the Rows  August 29, 2020

Gardening While Older – History of My Gardening Career

Applejack rose

I did not garden with roses until we moved to Heath in 1979. Applejack rose was one of the first

For the past 40 years I have gardened. Which is not to say that I was a skilled gardener. Even so, it was my excitement about my new garden on a hill in Heath that led me to the Greenfield Recorder. I did not present myself as an expert but Bob Dolan took me on.

Previous gardens were very small. My first garden as a young mother in my first house was a little bed of zinnias. There was a small narrow patio outside the kitchen door and a grassy bank that was the full extent of our house lot. That bank was my rock-garden-in-progress for the five years we lived there. The flowers came from neighbors, snow-in-summer, pink lamiums, coral bells and velvety lamb’s ears.

A move then took us to West Hartford and another house that had even less planting room. I mostly remember spending a lot of time ripping morning glory vines out of the shrubs around the house. Actually I was busy, now with five children, and a return to college.

Then there was a hard time that resulted in a divorce and a move to a big old house on Grinnell Street in Greenfield. I had a business that closed and finished my college degree. I met Henry, who was to become my husband.  In that house I subscribed to the Rodale Organic Farming magazine and planted a vegetable garden that was possibly 100 square feet.

College degree in hand, Henry, my children, the cat, and I moved to North Berwick in Maine. There my career as a sixth grade teacher began and ended. But I had a vegetable garden, pigs and chickens. I was learning about gardens, bit by bit, but our next move took us to New York City and Henry’s ancestral apartment building. There was a yard, but to call it a garden would have been a stretch.

Those were happy years in New York, and it gave the children, three of whom were in high school, a new view of the world which was a good thing. But I longed for a garden.

Home Sweet Home in 1980

We had made friends in Greenfield and they let us know about houses in Heath. We bought a run down house on 60 acres at the end of the road and moved with our three daughters on the day after Thanksgiving 1979.

Over the winter we made plans for pigs and chickens and made up a list of vegetable seeds for the spring. A Heath neighbor brought over his tractor and plow. We were in business! On about a quarter acre we were ready to plant potatoes, beans, squash, tomatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, every vegetable we could eat fresh or freeze. Would it surprise you to know that over the years that garden got smaller and smaller?

Potager in Heath

Post-hip replacement potager to control amount of garden labor

By the turn of the century I was having trouble with my back. The garden was going to have to change. Because I had to try and limit my gardening we tilled and planted a 12 x 12 foot veggie garden before I had my hip operation in 2003. I was going to have to limit (try to limit) my garden activities. After my successful hip replacement I added a red raspberry patch right next to the veggies. Then when there was so much excitement about lasagna gardening and sheet composting in those days I added another ten foot section of vegetables at the end of the raspberry patch. This gave me the room needed to maneuver because even after my hip replacement I was not as agile as I had been.

My hip replacement at age 63 put me in good shape, but even so, I was no longer 23 or even 53. My life was changing.

First garden plantings in July 2015

We hadn’t moved in to the Greenfield house, but planting began. The emphasis was on trees, river birch and weeping cherry, and shrubs, yellow twig dogwood, buttonbush, clethra and winterberries. Notice lasagna technique.

To manage those changes we moved to Greenfield five years ago with plans to embrace a smaller, less demanding garden. My strategy was big plants. A short list of shrubs that we chose includes yellow twig and red twig dogwoods, elderberries and winterberries, buttonbush ,Virginia sweetspire, paniculata hydrangeas and clethra because they support birds, pollinators and provide larval food for caterpillars.

August garden in 2020

Five years on from the 2015 photo of the garden. We can stroll through four paths, past many plants

I work fewer hours in the garden these days choosing early morning and afternoon shade.

I do a lot of my gardening standing up. These big shrubs need pruning, roses need deadheading. I also actually enjoy kneeling and weeding. I use a foam kneeler right on the ground and really like that stretch into the bed. I also use a garden kneeler that can be used right side up – or down. I can sit on it or kneel and use the frame to pull myself up.

Pat and her kneeler

Me and my kneeler

The tools I use most often are a trowel, a sturdy pruner, a small snips, a weeding sickle, and a cultivator. Of course, I also have rakes and a spade.  These are all of a size and weight that I can handle. My loving husband is always at hand for heavy work. Other gardeners should remember there are gardeners who  can be hired and help.

I have the benefit of a small backyard. Gardeners who have graduated from yards like mine can still garden in pots, or beds raised to a height that do not require bending. You may have seen beds like this at the John Zon Community Center or at the Just Roots Community Garden.

There are always adjustments that need to be made in our gardens. So keep your hats, your kneeler and hand tools in working order and continue gardening. Gardening is  good for your health, and your spirits.

Between the Rows August 22, 2020

Mushrooms Growing With My Begonia

Mushrooms in my begonia pot

Mushrooms discovered in my begonia pot

It has been so hot and dry in these past weeks that I have been particularly devoted to watering the begonia on my porch. I have been worried that the pot is now too big for the pot and thought at least I could keep it well watered.  It has thrived on the porch where it get a little sun, mostly enjoys the shade.

Mushroom closeup

Mushroom closeup

I was quite amazed yesterday when I was watering the begonia to see beautiful yellow mushrooms joining the plant. What was I to make of this? Were the mushrooms a sign of trouble? The plant looks fine.

I read that fungi in healthy soil are a help to plants out in the wild. Can I believe that the organisms in my pot are taking care of my begonia? Or am I just overwatering?

mushrooms collapsing

The mushrooms are starting to collapse

This morning I went out to check the begonia and the mushrooms. The mushrooms seem to be starting to collapse. Should I be taking some kind of action? Or should I let it continue and see what happens?

This is an interesting experiment. I will watch it, its process, and the results. More later.

Mushrooms continue to collapse

On August 26 the mushrooms are collapsing further

mushrooms

August 27 and the mushrooms have almost completely dried up

Inspired by these mushrooms I looked through my archive and found another couple of posts about mycelium, starting with my grandson’s surprises.  https://www.commonweeder.com/what-do-you-know-about-mushrooms/

Ten years ago I wrote about mycotecture, myceleium, turned into bricks for building. There are many wonders in this world.

https://www.commonweeder.com/?s=mycotecture

David Sund, Designer and Gardener Gives a Lesson

David Sund on his patio

David Sund’s elegant and productive garden was on the Greenfield Garden Club’s Tour earlier this summer. On the tour map he described his garden as having undergone changes and updating over recent years. Last weekend we visited and talked about the lives of gardens.

When he was just a lad in 1973, Sund’s father took the family to Tennessee to live, but it did not take long to find out Tennessee was not the place for them. Instead they moved to Greenfield where grandparents and other family members lived.

Sund still lives in the family house which was a wreck when they moved. “The four layers of wallpaper was all that held the walls together,” he said. And so began years of rebuilding, and renewing.

There was also work to do outside. In those days there were a number of glass houses that ran across several backyards including  theirs. In the spring plants were replanted in outdoor beds and put up for sale. There was a history of gardens and plants on Vernon Street. Sund said his grandmothers had wonderful flower gardens and his father was one of the first taking to organic gardening.

“I grew up gardening,” Sund said. “My father used composting to improve the soil and leaves were used as mulch. Once work on the house was completed, I wanted to do more than raise vegetables. I made two rectangular beds for other plants in the back yard.” His interest in design and the many types of plants for a garden began at an early age.

As we talked Sund said that his current garden is all about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This holds true for the plants that have come into his garden from friends who had multiplying and divided plants, for patio furniture that needed a new home and other treasures. David also regularly shares his plants, but, alas, not this pandemic year.

Before he was a professional gardener he worked at a small local private school as both headmaster and kindergarten teacher. Of course he had a garden to care for as well. He said his day began with work at school, then work in his garden followed by supper, and finishing the day’s school homework. But he was always helping others in their gardens when he could. In 2003 his sabbatical from the school led him to a full time professional life as garden designer as well as gardener.

While surveying Sund’s garden many of us tour gardeners were particularly attracted to the hardscaping and brick edgings on his beds. They were beautiful and neat, with no encroaching weeds. This was amazing to all of us. Fortunately, Sund is happy to share this technique with all of us. It takes very few tools and materials

  1. Drive stakes to string a taut line along the ground, or lay out curved lines with a garden hose.
  2. Using a half moon edger, cut an edge along the line or hose.

    With a flat bladed shovel, scoop out a trench the thickness of a brick on it’s side.

  3. If cutting and lifting turf, use a spading fork to lift the sod, shaking out the soil into a wheelbarrow (to be added to raised beds. Add the remaining mat of grasses to the compost pile.
  4. With a flat bladed shovel, careful not to disturb the lower soil, scoop out a shallow trench to the depth of the width of a brick.

    Slide a brick across the bottom the trench, smoothing the bottom, and check for depth.

  5. Using a brick, sliding/scraping it along the base of the trench, smooth its base making sure that the brick isn’t lower than the base of the turf, or standing too proud of the soil level (or your mower blade will resent your efforts).
  6. Cut a 20 inch strip off of the roll of plastic. It’s folded before it’s rolled onto a tube. Now unfold the cut section which yields a long strip. Fold that strip in half, length-wise, creasing it as you fold, between your finger nails.
  7. Place the double thickness of plastic in the trench, with the fold against the top of the cut edge of the trench, keeping the fold just below the top of edge. It won’t be visible after the bricks are placed, and will serve as a weed barrier, keeping the grass from migrating into the cracks between the bricks.

    The folded edge of the plastic in the trench.

  8. Place the brick firmly against the plastic lined, front edge of the trench, and tightly together. If you are using recycled or reclaimed brick, they may be different in length and/or width. Adjustments can be made with a small trowel (adding or removing a bit of soil, preferably under the plastic).
  9. Using a heavy hammer and scrape of 3×3 lumber, you can tamp down the brick, for a smooth top, along which you can run the wheels of your mower. Don’t try using the hammer directly on the bricks, or they will break.
  10. Backfill the bed side of the edging with some of the garden soil.

    Bricks before filling, soon to add sand to lock them in place.

  11. Sweep play sand into the cracks between the bricks, helping to lock them into place and ward off weed growth.

To keep the edge looking crisp and clean, after mowing David uses a string trimmer with the trimmer head perpendicular to the brick edge.

The finished edge!

Edging planting beds with bricks certainly makes for an elegant and finished look. Thank you David Sund!

Between the Rows  August 15, 2020

Shrubs and Hedges and Spirit of Place Book Reviews

Shrubs and Hedges book

Shrubs and Hedges by Eva Monheim

The days have been hot and muggy. It’s time to stay inside after 10 a.m. and turn to new books. It’s time to think about what fall chores will need to be done.

The first book is useful to me now that our shrubs have matured. When we designed our Greenfield garden we wanted to make it easy to care for.We knew that meant choosing easy care plants – like shrubs. A trio of hydrangeas promising generous size was our first purchase.

Shrubs change over time and I am still learning about working with my shrubs. In her new book, Shrubs & Hedges: Discover, Grow and Care for the World’s Most Popular Plants, (Cool Springs Press $30.) Eva Monheim has provided a lot of practical information. The truth about shrubs, as with all plants, is that they do not reach a perfect beautiful form and then never change.

The book includes a short history of shrubs and their benefits, then moves on to how shrubs are named. We are talking taxonomy here – and it is valuable information even though I confess I am endlessly looking up the information more than once before I am confident.

Chapter 4 provides Profiles of Dependable Classics and Rising Stars. Classics include roses, slender deutzia, and the large family of hydrangeas. Chapter 5 is about Designing with Shrubs, with suggestions for arranging different shrubs together.

Chapter 6 gave me Pruning for Structure, Shape, Form and Profit. It is especially valuable to confused and nervous pruners like me, and to all gardeners. I have been timid about pruning, but Monheim has given me confidence to selectively thin my shrubs, to cut out terminal branches in order to encourage side branching, and to cut back older branches on shrubs for rejuvenation. None of my shrubs are older than five years, but this year I have needed to practice all of these methods. I appreciate the drawings and photographs that give me the confidence to cut – and things are looking more attractive. I also appreciated the section on when to prune, fall, winter or spring.

Chapter 8 explains the difference between hedges and hedgerows, giving a fascinating explanation about the history of the differences.

I was happy that Chapter 9, Attracting Pollinators and Other Desirable Wildlife provided information about the interconnectivity of all things. These creatures are vital to giving us a healthy environment.

Shrubs&Hedges is a practical and useful book with information about the plants, and clear directions about working with your shrubs and hedges. The photographs clearly show plants and their structures. Photos of important tools and how they should be used are also included.

Eva Monheim is currently teaching at Longwood Gardens for the Professional Horticulture Program, and is a faculty member at the Barnes Arboretum of St. Joseph’s University. Her website is evamonheim.com.

Spirit of Place: Making of a New England Garden by Bill Noble

Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden by Bill Noble

The second book allows for dreaming. In his book, Spirit of Place: The making of a New England garden, (Timber Press $35.) Bill Noble describes looking for a new home and finding an “early Greek Revival cape set close to the road” in Norwich, Vermont. This property had been a farm ever since 1767, but by the 1950s it was no longer being farmed. Noble found the property in 1991.

As he started cleaning the collapsed barns Noble began uncovering the history of the farm. That was the beginning of restoring plantings, and designing new gardens.

He describes his various gardens, each one named, with details and plant names. There is the flower garden, the front border, the barn garden, the rock garden, the long border, and the fruit and vegetable garden. I was glad to see his interest in wildlife, providing shelter and food for birds in all seasons, and all other creatures that wander in the fields and forests of farmland.

On his property and over the years, Noble has created many gardens on the property. He began slowly, but made an amazing list of his guiding principles when he began. He says they changed over the years but I found the principles thought- provoking and useful to all of us. What are the goals of any garden? Consider the views. The garden should be maintained according to ecological principles. Vegetable gardens should be organic. Garden management should be manageable. Native plants should be considered and used. Noble also wanted his garden to have an emotional impact.

I think we all look for many of these ideas and plants in our gardens even though we might never put them in words. It is helpful that Noble can be so clear about what he wants. Many of his plans clarify our own plans.

Spirit of Place is a beautiful book. The many excellent photos almost bring us right into his gardens.

Noble’s stunning home gardens are included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Gardens. He is also the former director of preservation for the Garden Conservancy. He has worked with individual garden owners as well as public and private organizations. His beautiful website is billnoblegardens.com.

An apology. Last week I mis-identified the brilliant array of flowers on Annette Kilminster’s deck. Annette was the colorful arranger of flowers and I thank her again for inviting me to visit.###

Between the Rows  August 8, 2020