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Random Acts of Kindness in the Garden – and Everywhere

Random Acts of Kindness in the Garden

Random Acts of Kindness at the John Zon Community Center by Dorothea Sotiros and others

There was a time when I didn’t know about random acts of kindness. Have you ever gone through a toll booth and been told your toll was already paid by the car ahead of you? Or had a dish of jello sent to your table at a highway diner by the smiling waitress who told you it was courtesy of the man who just left? I have.

My response was to laugh and immediately pay the toll for the car in back of me! As I drove on I wondered whether the smiling toll taker was taking all his tolls that day for the car just behind? Think of all the people who might have left smiling – not to mention the toll taker who had a story to bring home that day.

I haven’t had any opportunities to send anyone free dishes of jello because I don’t spend time in highway diners anymore.

Now that I think of these acts of kindness I am reminded of others. In 1966 I was just getting used to driving. I drove my then husband to Bradley airport and began to drive home to West Hartford. It was dark and I got lost on a narrow road. Suddenly a police car with its siren pulled me over to the side of the road. While the policeman took out his pad and was asking me for my driver’s license several cars drove past us. I had been holding up traffic. “Where are you coming from?” he asked.

“I had to drive my husband to the airport, but I got lost,” I explained. “I don’t know this area, at all.”

The policeman took out his pad. “Did you have anything to drink at the airport?”

It seemed an odd question to me. I never drank at all. I thought carefully. “Well, I did have a chocolate covered cherry cordial while I was driving,” I answered.

The policeman threw up his hands and laughed. “O.K. You should know that sometimes when people drive very slowly, it means they are intoxicated. Where do you need to go?” He gave me directions and sent me on my way.

Policemen must give acts of kindness often. One very early May 1st morning I was driving through Charlemont and was stopped by a policeman. He told me I was speeding and took out his pad to give me a ticket. I was very flustered and apologized. “I’m so sorry officer, but I was rushing to finish getting my May Baskets delivered before it got too light.” He peered at the baskets of pansies on the back seat, shook his head and put away his pad. “Go on – but go slower!”

There is a shared joy in these acts of kindness; they were unexpected gifts. And now I find out there is actually a Random Acts of Kindness holiday, celebrated annually on February 17. There is even a Random Acts of Kindness website, in case you can’t think of some small thing to pass on to a stranger – or a friend. The website offers lots and lots of ideas.

Random Acts of Kindness in the Garden

Tom Sullivan, Nancee Bershoff and Wisty Rorabacher

As gardeners we are performing random acts of kindness all the time. Gardeners just can’t help themselves. We are always sharing seeds, and divisions of plants that have gotten too big. We bring potted flowering plants to those who can’t garden the way they used to, and make bouquets to bring to our friends who are ill. We share our vegetable and fruit bounty.

Gardeners spread random acts of kindness around the community. My volunteer group planted the public garden at the John Zon Community Center, and then we watered it and kept it weeded. We wanted to make a beautiful garden for the public – and for the pollinators. Volunteers also plant and maintain the pollinator gardens at the Energy Park.

Random Acts of Kindness

Me in my favorite garden hat at the Zon Community Center. Lots of other volunteers too last spring

Gardeners donate plants and labor to plant sales that will beautify the community. I once spent a morning potting up plants for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale in May. I possibly potted a dozen plants, but when the plant sale was set up I saw the 1,300 plants potted up by volunteers.

We hold Garden Open Today tours to share our enthusiasm, our experiences and our knowledge. Garden clubs use their raised funds to encourage children to learn from their school gardens, or to support institutions like Forbes Library.

Not all random acts of kindness occur in the garden. There are scores of volunteers at our Franklin Medical Center. When we civilians enter the hospital we can use kindness – and volunteers cheerfully supply it. I speak from experience.

Our wonderful Greenfield Library has dozens of volunteers who help in many ways, including delivering books to those who can not longer get to the library. They bring the books and get to share  teatime and bookish conversations.

There are volunteers working in the schools in many capacities. Children know they are loved by their parents but then they go out to the wide world of School and find kindness there. First, their teachers love them, and then the volunteers do. I read to a first grade most Fridays, and I can tell you that I get more kindness than I give because I have 16 little people laughing and sitting at my feet.

Volunteers cook up great lunches at the Stone Soup Café every Saturday. Those lunches are free to those in need and others are pay-what-you-can. Those meals are delicious!

Clearly, kindness is not limited to a single day in the year. Kindness is all around us, waiting to be shared.###

Between the Rows   February 16, 2019

Who are the Pollinators and Why Are Pollinators Important

Honeybees on coneflowers

Honey bees on coneflowers

Who are the pollinators and why are they important? We all know that many plants need to be pollinated to make seed, and the fruits and vegetables that protect the seeds inside. Pollen is the powdery stuff inside a flower blossom. Sometimes it is not very noticeable. On the other hand flowers like lilies and sunflowers are so laden with pollen that a bouquet of those flowers will shed golden pollen all over the table.

Pollen grains are produced by the male part of a flower, the stamen.  The pollen will either fall on the female parts, the stigma, on self pollinating plants like tomatoes and sunflowers, or it will be carried away to other plants. Pollen can be carried by the wind, or it can be carried by bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, wasps, and even small mammals.

Bees are particularly important pollinators. They are fascinating creatures. Here in Massachusetts we have over three hundred species of bee. They are vital to the pollination of nearly 50% of our agricultural crops. They need to be supported with more flowers that will feed them. Many are familiar: coneflowers, yarrow, coreopsis, asters, columbine, phlox, black eyed susans, and of course, bee balm. This is just to name a few.

Bumble bees are very easy to see because of their size. They often live in small groups near or in the ground. The queen comes out of winter hibernation and lays her eggs. Workers and drones soon hatch and the colony grows as they collect nectar and pollen to feed themselves. Late in the season the queen will start laying queen eggs as well as worker eggs. At the end of the season the old queen will die and the new queens will find their own hibernation spots to begin new colonies.

I have never been very good at identifying any of the other native bees who also take on the work of pollination. Many of them lead solitary lives – until they need to reproduce – and are very small. There are digger bees, sweat bees, mason bees, leaf cutter bees, carpenter bees and more.

Wasps like yellow jackets are not interested in pollen, but they do carry pollen from one plant to another as they sip the nectar that they are so fond of.  Though incidental, pollination by wasps is important to agricultural crops. Yellow jackets are aggressive and often mistaken for bees when they sting. They often live in the ground. I once stepped barefoot on a yellow jacket nest and got bad stings, but I did not blame the bees.

I have been a beekeeper and was rarely stung. I had to give up beekeeping when I developed an allergy to bee stings, but I have taken it upon myself to remind people that bees are not really interested in people. We offer them no pollen or nectar. The thing to remember is that bees cannot see slow movements. If a fearful person starts wildly waving and shooing away a bee, that person will attract the attention of the bee that will be frightened and angry. That bee is much more likely to sting.

Whenever I am talking to children about bees I always stress that if a honeybee is flying around they should remain calm and still. However, if they do get stung they need to know that it will not hurt very much UNLESS they try to pull out the stinger. It is the poison in the pouch that people pinch to pull out the stinger that will push the poison and the pain into wherever you have been stung. My lesson to the children and everyone is to scrape the stinger out of your skin with a stiff piece of cardboard, or credit card or something of the sort. Whatever you might have at hand. Other sites tell you to remove the stinger and quickly as possible. They do not tell you  to scrape it off. Never pull it out.


Echinacea purpureum – coneflower with butterfly

Butterflies also pass pollen from one plant to another. Butterflies are so beautiful that many gardeners are planting butterfly gardens that will attract butterflies. Many of the flowers that attract bees also attract butterflies. However, butterflies are more particular about the nectar that they prefer, and they also need plants that will feed their larvae. Milkweed is the most familiar host plant for the easily identified Monarch butterfly, but other butterflies need other plants. I haven’t seen a beautiful spicebush swallowtail butterfly in my garden, but along with milkweed to attract Monarchs, I have planted the Lindera benzoin spicebush because it will feed that beautiful butterfly.

We have bats in our attic, but we are grateful that they will also offer pollinating services.

Pollinator populations have been declining, especially in urban areas. We town gardeners are already in action to attract and feed bees, butterflies, and even bats. My backyard garden is filled with pollinator plants in a relatively small area. That density of plants with desirable nectar and pollen is what will attract pollinators. Some of my neighbors also have desirable densities of nectar and pollen plants.

Two of the public gardens in town were designed to attract pollinators. There is the Energy Park right in the center of town, and the new flowery garden at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street.

As you think about choosing seeds for spring, think about flowers that will make your garden beautiful – and support pollinators.

Between the Rows  February 9, 2019

Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables by Catherine Reid

Landscapes of Green Gables

Landscapes of Green Gables by Catherine Reid

I did not read Anne of Green Gables until I saw the recent TV production. I knew nothing of the red haired girl with freckles who talked a mile a minute. I didn’t know about her trip from an awful asylum to “the Island, the bloomiest place. . . .I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?” The TV program turned out to be the teaser for me to the delights of being a friend of this imaginative girl who listened to the trees talking in their sleep, and set to naming the landscapes around her, the Lake of Shining Waters, the Birch Path, the Haunted Wood, and Lovers Lane.

Like Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, Anne was a character who loved the natural world, who found her joy and solace in the fields, the flowers and woodlands, the winds and the beaming sun. Anne is a character who has been loved by children, and inevitably adults, ever since it was published in 1908. Maud Montgomery, as she preferred to be called, was encouraged to write several more Anne books like Anne of Avonlea and Anne’s House of Dreams about her marriage and life as a wife. But it is her later books, including Emily of the New Moon, that she thought were her best works.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables: The Enchanting Island that Inspired L. M. Montgomery by Catherine Reid (Timber Press $24.95) is a beautiful introduction to Anne, the life of L.M. Montgomery and the landscapes of Prince Edward Island, PEI. It is liberally sprinkled with quotations from her books and from her journals. The pages are also filled with beautiful photographs of the beflowered and forested areas of Prince Edward Island, and the waters that surrounded the island.

The book is divided into seven sections beginning with an Introduction to L.M. Montgomery’s life and Anne’s. The Kindred Orphans section compares the similarities and differences between Montgomery who had many relatives and Anne who had none. Though their circumstances were different, they suffered, and rejoiced in similar ways.

The Loveliest Spot on Earth is about Prince Edward Island then and now; Emerald Screens takes us on a visit to Maud’s and Anne’s favorite gardens on PEI; and A World with Octobers is a beautiful description of all the seasons on the Island. These sections are especially useful to someone who is planning to visit PEI, but they will gladden and delight all those who love Anne.

Something More Poetical: the Scope of Two Imaginations and That Great and Solemn Wood: A Writer’s Life will carry today’s reader into Anne and Montgomery’s hopes and trials. Early on Montgomery knew she wanted to be a writer. She even published a poem, On Cape LeForce, in a PEI newspaper when she was only 16. It is wonderful to discover the many other books she wrote. She also kept journals that looked very much like scrapbooks, with her own thoughts written down along with pictures cut from magazines and other writings. These are now preserved in different museums, including the Green Gables Heritage Place where Montgomery spent so much of her childhood.

Montgomery, like Anne, found solace in the beauties of the natural world. Solace was needed. No one’s life is without difficulties. We hear about Anne’s brief sorrows, and in the last pages we learn about Montgomery’s sorrows and trials. Her husband suffered from a mental illness, and her scoundrel of a publisher cheated her on her royalties. There were several exhausting law suits against him; there were also disappointments in her adult son, Chester. She died in her sleep in 1942. Anne continues to live on for readers young and old.

I did not know before this post was published in the Greenfield Recorder, but now I know that author Catherine Reid is a Greenfield native.  So many talented and skilled people in this part of the world. We are all lucky!


Cluck: A book of happiness for chicken lovers

Cluck: A book of happiness for chicken lovers is edited by Freya Haanen. ( Exisle Publishing  $19.99 US) This is a cheerful book with bright photos of chickens living their chicken lives, in their dust baths, with nests of eggs, crowing in the dawn, visiting with the rabbits and much more. The photos are on the left hand page, with a proverb on the opposite page. I thought several of the proverbs were quite apropos of our political world right now.

Think of these.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I dream of a better tomorrow, where chickens can cross the road and not be questioned about their motives.

One of the Nigerian proverbs in the book states “A bird does not change its feathers because the weather is bad.” I particularly like this as we look to our legislators to keep our government on an even keel.

And in this land of #Metoo there is Margaret Thatcher’s proverb: The cocks may crow but it’s the hen that lays the egg”  I have used these words in the past but never knew I was quoting Prime Minister Thatcher.

Cluck is a cheerful and thoughtful gift book for anyone with chickens, or longing for chickens. There are other books of happiness for dog and horse lovers, Woof and Spirit with equally appropriate quotations in various flavors of philosophy and light-heartedness. ###

Between the Rows   February 2, 2019

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Daffodils at the supermarket

These forced bulbs were at the supermarket

There are three ways to achieve flowering plants in your house during the winter.

First, you can think ahead and order bulbs for forcing. Paperwhites are the old standby, but you can force other daffodils, and there are many cultivars to provide you with a variety of form and color. In the early fall you will find a host of different daffodil bulbs at your local garden center or you can go online. By the same token you can easily find snowdrops, lilies of the valley, scillas also known as squills, and grape hyacinths more properly known as muscari. These can all be planted in the garden, or you can save some for forcing.

You will need a container with holes for drainage, and that will give you room for about three or four inches of potting soil. Forced bulbs are usually not used for planting in the garden after blooming, so they can be placed closely together. Water the planted bulbs lightly and put them in a cool, dark space for about two weeks. Then move the pot into a warmer, sunny location.

There is another easy way to force paperwhites. In the dim past I forced paperwhites in water. Paperwhites do not need planting soil. I had a square vase about eight inches tall. As directed, I put in three inches or so of white gravel, placed three or four paperwhite bulbs on the gravel, and then sprinkled in a few extra pebbles. I added just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Since the vase was clear glass I could keep that water level to prevent the bulbs from rotting. The bulbs sent out roots and shoots and then blooms, all nicely supported by the walls of the vase. You can see why it was important to have a clear glass vase. The vase also helped support the stalks so they wouldn’t flop over.

I did not think ahead  this year because I have three Christmas cactus and four amaryllis. I thought they would give me plenty of holiday bloom.

However, things did not go as imagined. Only one of my three Christmas cactuses bloomed.

None of last year’s four forced amaryllis were blooming as Christmas drew near. The amaryllis gave me a great show last year and I decided to try and get them to bloom again. When the season moved on to spring warmth I cut back the foliage and planted them in the garden, with the top of the bulb showing, just as I plant them in their pots. I harvested them from the backyard garden in September, cut off the foliage and let them rest in the dark. Then in mid-November I planted them in pots, just as they looked when I received them last year. Now one amaryllis has sent out four large leaves, but there is no sign of a plant stalk. One has sent out two smaller leaves. One has just started sending out a single leaf shoot. However the fourth bulb is sending up a vigorous flower bud and two young leaves are emerging from the bulb! All have gotten the same treatment, same planting soil, the same careful watering, and the same climate outdoors and in. You just never know for sure how plants will react.

The amaryllis are now on a table in my so-called office where they get southern and western sun. I am still watering them lightly. It looks like I will get at least one flower stalk and I will be very pleased and grateful.

Since the holiday and pre-spring flowery color I hoped for did not appear I punted. The second way to get color at this time of the year is to go to the Farmer’s Coop to buy some bulbs and make another try.

At the Coop I bought three sprouting paperwhite daffodil bulbs. I used potting soil and crowded the bulbs in a pretty bowl with drainage holes. They are now sitting in front of a window in the guest room where they will get bright light and some sun.

I also bought a bag of sunny yellow crocus bulbs. They were also sending out shoots. I planted these in a fairly shallow pot with more room for all 14 bulbs. With all those little shoots the plants look raring to go, so I am not following any of the usual instructions about cooling the bulbs and keeping them in the dark for a few weeks. We’ll just wait and see if these new bulbs are happy to be in a nutritious planting medium, with gentle waterings and bright light.

I have never been an expert houseplant gardener. This is at least partly because somehow the houses I have lived in have never provided me with appropriate spaces for potted flowers. Even, so I like having a few green potted plants in front of a window or two, and add color when I can.

The third way to get color immediately is to buy a pot of flowers in bloom.

Whether we are successful with a bulb forcing project or not, we can always add blooms to the winter months by stopping by Sigda Florists  for flowers, potted or bouquet, or even run to the supermarket for potted flowers that will bring you color and beauty. The winter outdoors has a more limited palette, but cheerful color can be yours indoors.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2019