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Our Christmas Tree and Ornament Stories

Christmas Tree

Our 2019 Christmas Tree

I cannot imagine Christmas without a Christmas Tree to decorate and enjoy. So many ornaments carry memories.

 Monkey King and Pigsy

Monkey King with the soldier and Pigsy on the Journey to the West

During our 2 years in Beijing, China as ‘Foreign Experts’ we learned about some  of the historic stories and tales. Monkey King is the main character in the book Journey to the West. This is a Chinese novel published in the 16th century during the Ming dynasty. It is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. We met another Foreign Expert family with a 6 year old son who was entranced with the story and could recite whole portions of Monkey King’s adventures.

Ornaments from different times

We have collected ornaments over the years. Many of them have a story or memory. My brothers and I discovered he red, white and blue ball in a box of old ornaments in my mother’s house after she died. We were all surprised at the old ornaments she had kept – they we had no memory of. We think  this ball dates back to the WWII.  The Heart and Hand ornament is a favorite of mine and is a Shaker symbol of Hands to work and Hearts to God. I also have a who flock of birds of all sizes and materials.  Birds belong in trees!

We can no longer use all our boxes if ornaments, but we still enjoy thinking of their histories.


We wish everyone a happy holiday season – and joy in 2020


Garden Books I Treasure

Onward and Upward in the Garden

Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S White

I am a reader but garden books never had a big place in my life until our family was preparing to leave New York City for the wilds of Heath. By happenstance I was given Onward and Upward in the Garden (1979) by Katharine S. White with an introduction by her husband E.B. White.

I had tended vegetable gardens, but never gave a thought to flower gardens. However, that is where Mrs. White’s heart lay. The very first essay in the book is A Romp in the Catalogues with an image of the Roses of Yesterday and Today catalogue. It promised Old-Fashioned – Rare – Unusual  as well as  Selected Modern Roses. That book changed my life. I sent for the catalogue and began planning a hardy old-fashioned rose garden before we even arrived in Heath in December 1979.

Mrs. White was an elegant woman – and an elegant writer. She had help in her Maine garden but she made decisions about plants and arrangements. Her descriptions of her reactions to the catalogues, of flowers and vegetables are deliciously opinionated. When talking about Park’s Book she said “Your head will swim, your mind boggle at the cataloguer’s task but soon you’ll realize that if you do your homework conscientiously, it will not be Park’s fault if you do not grow its seeds successfully.”

Just a list of the chapters gives you a sense of her personality and humor from The Changing Rose, the Enduring Cabbage; An Idea Which We Have Called Nature; Floricordially Yours; and Winter Reading, Winter Dreams which is where I find myself right now.

Beverley Nichols

The well-known British author of novels, mysteries, children’s books and plays, Beverley Nichols, also wrote a numerous books about his houses and gardens. I discovered his book, Garden Open Today (1965). I have to credit British born Elsa Bakalar, my Heath neighbor on for introducing me to any number of  British gardeners and their gardens. She shared a sense of humor with gardener/writers like Beverley Nichols and I was happy to join the fun.

The thing to remember is that if the garden is open the gardener is sure to meet visitors who have different opinions. Nichols has acknowledged them and gone on to be very firm with his own views and findings. In the chapter Mysteries he declaims about his experiences with the Climbing Flaming Nasturtium (Tropaeolum speciosum). He concludes that chapter with “I hope I have written enough to dispel any illusion that mine is a garden where nothing ever goes wrong.”

None of us gardeners can ever make such a claim, but it is because of this book that I became entranced with the idea of a Garden Open Today, when visitors would come and admire my gardens, or where I would overhear a whisper to a companion “She doesn’t weed, does she?” In spite of such visitors my annual June Rose Walk was my joy, and joy for many others. I think.

Elsa Bakalar

A Garden of One's Own by Elsa Bakalar

A Garden of One’s Own by Elsa Bakalar

Having mentioned Elsa Bakalar, I cannot tell you how much she taught me. I who had never planted a perennial found her stuffed perennial borders breathtaking. She taught me about color. “(Garden catalogs) would describe both of these colors as red, and that is so imprecise. One is scarlet and one is crimson. . . . To me, scarlet is the color of a guardsman’s tunic, and crimson is the color of Victorian draperies,” she told me.

Though she was very particular about the use of color, and all the other elements of the garden, she was also devoted to the right of every gardener to do exactly what she -or he – wanted.

Her beloved husband, Mike, encouraged her to put all her wit and wisdom into a book. Happily A Garden of One’s Own, with its glorious photos by Gary Mottau, generously teaches all of us how to make perennial gardens filled with all our own passions.

Karel  and Josef Capek and Amy Stewart

There are other books I treasure, not all of them by British authors. Czech brothers, Karel and Josef Capek, wrote and delightfully illustrated The Gardener’s Year (1931). This amusing book about the trials and tribulations of being a gardener takes us through the year from frost flowers on the January windowpane to the trials of flower catalogs in December. I would not have expected that the author of a book like this would also be the Czech author of science fiction who invented the word Robot. But, as others have said, there are many mysteries in the garden.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart has written several fascinating garden books, but I was particularly intrigued by Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities (2009). Stewart is a great researcher and writer. She found a stunning number of poisonous plants. I will not leave you on tenterhooks; the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother was white snakeroot, Eupatrium rugosum. This plant was sometimes found in Indiana pastures where cattle grazed. Their milk, made the  cow very sick, and the milk could kill those who drank it, including Nancy Hanks, age 34, leaving her son 9 year old Abraham Lincoln an orphan. Later Thomas Lincoln remarried.

I will have to end here, but all these books are available for sale, or at your local library  through the magic of the CWMars interlibrary system. Happy reading!

Between the Rows  December 14, 2019

Historic Deerfield Christmas Wreath Workshop – Annual Winter Celebration


Christmas Wreath by Ruth Odom – Balsam fir, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, pine  cones, boxwood, holly

Last week the Historic Deerfield Annual Christmas Wreath Workshop was held at the Deerfield Community Center. The room was alive with energy, Christmas carols and cookies. The air was filled with the scent of evergreen trees. Piles of holly berries, kumquats, teasels, pine cones were everywhere.

For years volunteers of every age have descended on the Community Center to make merry and create beautiful Christmas wreaths.

Tinka Lunt

Tinka Lunt – one of the founders of the Christmas Wreath Workshop

Tinka Lunt told me that twenty years ago Scott Creelman, a member of the Historic Deerfield Board of Trustees, came home from a meeting in frustration. He told his wife they should be doing something special for Christmas, but he didn’t know what.  His wife, Joanna, and Tinka Lunt quickly put their heads together and invented the idea of making wreaths for some of the historic houses. Since then an annual workshop is held so everyone can work together.

Lunt told me it was Joanna’s idea, and together they refined the plan. “What made it work was everything had to be natural. After all, Christmas wasn’t a big thing in the 18th century. They certainly didn’t have tinsel or shiny balls or anything like that.  What they did have was plant material, shells and other things. Joanna and I decided everything had to be natural.

“For the workshop we provide wire frames and greenery to share. We can teach people how to make the wreaths if they are novices. We are happy when people bring their own tools, but we also have clippers, wire, florist sticks, glue and glue guns.

“Some people bring their own decorations like lady apples, guinea hen feathers, corn husks and rose hips. We have ornaments from past years as well, so there are always plenty of embellishments to use.

“Experienced volunteers show others how to gather a bunch of greens the size of their hand and wire it to the frame and keep doing that until the wreath is made.  Some people liked to add the embellishments as they attach the greenery, but others add the embellishments afterwards. Either way it works.  And there is never ever an ugly wreath.”

Sara and Campbell Ardery

Daughter and mother (L-R)Campbell and Sara Ardery making a Christmas wreath

There is a special satisfaction for the volunteers. When they finish each wreath gets a label with their name and a list of all the greens and embellishments they have added.

There have been changes in the workshop over the years. Originally they got trees from Nims Tree Farm. The trees were delivered and then volunteers had to cut off the branches themselves as they were needed. When the Nims Farm closed they turned to Kingsbury’s Christmas Trees. They do not bring trees over; their delivery is of all-ready- cut branches from different evergreens including balsam fir, Scotch pine, white spruce, Douglas fir and many others.

Sheila Kelley

Sheila Kelley   It takes practice to make a big Christmas wreath!

The number of volunteers has grown, as has the number of wreaths made. In 2017 the 43 volunteers made 59 wreaths that went on 51 buildings. This year Lunt expects  that there may be 60 buildings, including the Fire House, the Indian House and the Post Office that get a wreath. Some of the houses have double doors. Lunt said wreaths for the double doors were particularly difficult to make because they have to match in size. Sarah Hollister of Colrain, a descendant of the Sheldon family, is often assigned those double doors because she is especially skilled.

Girl Scouts – Sara and Teagan – working together to make their Christmas wreath

Not all of the volunteers are experts. Children are an important part of the festivities and labor. Children in the first, second and third grades get lots of help making simple projects. By the time they get into the fourth, fifth and sixth grades they can take on their own projects Lunt said.

A crew of Girl Scouts comes every year. Girl Scout leader Katie Josephs has been bringing her Scouts ever since 2013. That means some of them will age out this year. But a second group started coming to the workshop in 2017; they are in the 8th grade this year. The Scouts work in teams set up by the leaders.

Meredith Bedell and Maddy Battisti – older Girl Scouts with their Christmas wreaths

The wreaths are now all in place and this year the Guide to the Wreaths of Deerfield will be a little different. The back page of the Guide will include a map of all the houses and buildings that will be given a wreath. This will make it easier for all the visitors to know they have seen all the wreaths, or at least all the wreaths on their favorite houses.

My own Christmas wreath, made at the Chapley Nursery in Deerfield with members of the Greenfield Garden Club a few weeks ago, is definitely not as lush and gorgeous as Deerfield’s wreaths. Even so I think my small wreath is very pretty. I want you to know that the only adornments are red and gold winterberries from my own garden. When I stand back to admire my own wreath I have to agree with Lunt when she says there is never an ugly wreath.

For a copy of the Deerfield Wreath Walk Guide click here

Between the Rows  December 7, 2019

Deerfield wreath

Christmas Wreath by Sarah Hollister


“Mast” The Fruit of the Forest Trees – Acorns, Beech Nuts and Even Raspberries

Greenfield Community College – oaks and mast.

Why mast years? This year a heavy crop of acorns is falling on the ground. Just look under any oak tree, or walk across the campus at Greenfield Community College. These acorns are the most visible crop of tree seeds which are also called ‘mast.’

Acorns and other ‘hard mast’ like hickory nuts and beech nuts are just a few of the crops that feed local wildlife. There is also ‘soft mast’ including blackberries, blueberries and apples. In addition to squirrels, pigeons, blue jays, owls and woodpeckers depend on mast to fatten up or prepare for migration. Rats and deer also come around for their share of acorns. Acorns are a big part of the deers’ winter diet. The larvae of some moths live and feed on young acorns as they develop.

Acorns are important to all these groups because they contain generous amounts of important nutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats, as well as calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Calcium and phosphorus are just as important to the bones of wildlife creatures as they are to us humans. Potassium and other vitamins are also important to wildlife.

In ancient times humans ate acorns, too, but not until after boiling them. Acorns are full of tannins which do no human digestive system any good until they are cooked. Acorn flour can be made and then needs to be stored carefully to prevent mold. Some Indigenous peoples still include acorns in their diet. Others will turn to acorns in times of famine.  Today some people are reconsidering the value of acorns in an environment that is changing.


Mast – acorns

All that food value makes it clear what acorns and other mast do for animals. What does it mean for the trees if wild creatures are going to eat all their seeds?

Actually, acorns and other nuts are not all eaten by wildlife in a mast year. Too many nuts are dropped. Some nuts will be eaten near the tree. Some will be carried away and cached for winter meals by the birds and animals. Some of those nuts will be lost or forgotten by the animals and the nuts will germinate and grow far from the parent tree. Trees need wildlife to disperse their seeds and take root.

Neither do mast years occur regularly. Depending on the tree species it may take up to five years before another mast year occurs. Science does not definitively know how or why it is so, but there are theories. Everyone agrees that it takes a lot of energy for a tree to produce a heavy crop. It is also true that some trees like red oaks take two years for their acorns to ripen.  It is not hard to believe that a tree will need time to recover before it can create another mast year.

One thing scientists do agree on is that a mast year is not a predictor of a coming bad winter. Neither is it caused by other weather fluctuations.

Then the question is how do the trees all know how to produce great volumes of seed at the same time?  It wouldn’t help if one tree was spreading lots of seeds, if all the other trees were still making very few seeds.

Is it that the weather is similar over large areas? Is it that the wind pollinates trees at the same time some years?

There is not a solid answer to those questions, but one thought is becoming more popular. Peter Wollheben, a German forester, cared for his forests for many years beginning in 1987. Over time he became convinced that techniques and technologies he was expected to use damaged the trees. He objected to plantation monocultures and the use of heavy machinery in the forests. He was more and more interested in the ecology involved with forest management.

Wohlleben also came to believe that the web of fungi that grows around tree roots, covering vast expanses, made it possible for trees to collect nutrients and water, and then share those resources with other trees. One experiment found that in a large grove of beeches, where not all the trees had the same soil, scientists discovered that they all had the same rate of photosynthesis. The leaves of every tree got the same amount of sugar in spite of the differences in soil.

The fungi also send chemical and electrical signals, although not in the same way that they work for plants. Dr. Suzanne Simard in Nature magazine coined the term Wood Wide Web; some scientists call these mycorrhizal networks.

It is Wohlleben’s wish that if we all come to think that trees have ‘emotional lives and needs’ as he does, that we will become aware of ways that forests can give us respite at the same time the trees are benefitting the environment.

Wollheben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, What They Communicate explains his thoughts. I believe this is the first book on the subject, but other scientists are supporting the idea that trees are communal and live cooperatively with interdependent relationships and are able to communicate with each other.

When I walk under oak trees, or any other trees that have covered the ground with nuts. I confess that I feel a mystery I cannot understand. I can only wonder and marvel at the mystery.

Between the Rows  November 30, 2019

My Twelfth Blogaversary – December 6, 2019.


On my 12th Blogaversay I am enjoying our first snowfall of 2019

I did not note my first Blogaversary in 2008 but we were rather caught up  with an amazing storm.

In 2009 I celebrated with a giveaway

In 2010 I visited Buffalo for their Garden Walk which was fabulous and chronicled here.  That tour was the first of others I was to take organized by the Garden Bloggers. However  I was  again too busy to note  my blogaversary

It doesn’t look like much, especially in December, but the chickens were happy, and so were we. Eggs! Even in December.

2011 was a floriferous year with garden tours and rose blooms every where. Here is a taste. But in December of 2011 it was the skies that held my attention.   

In 2012 I finally decided I had some real to celebrate, a Fifth Blogaversary. I spent a few paragraphs thinking about the past.  I regret to say the book giveaway no longer exists.  The big event of the summer is always the Heath Fair. Lots of vegetables and flowers. Books, too.

No more blogaversary celebrations in 2013, but my husband is painting again. This camellia is once of his gifts for me.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in June is always special. In December of 2014 we were very busy enjoying what we thought might be our last Christmas in Heath.

In December of 2015 we were newly ensconced in a new (to us) house in Greenfield that came with a completely barren backyard.  In this 8th Blogaversary I had books to give away.  Send me a note and you can still get a copy of The Roses as the End of the Road, the tale of my life in roses.

September 30, 2016 and the beds have been enlarged again. No more work this year.

We had another great Garden Bloggers Tour, this time in Minneapolis and environs. What a tour. What beauty we saw. What conversations we had!  On our 9th Blogaversary in 2016 we celebrated the work  of our first full year in Greenfield. The photo above shows all we had done during our first full year. Our children helped and we all had a good time. Don’t forget, the backyard was a blank slate.

In 2017 I looked back at 10 years of blogging, thinking of all the wonderful people I had met and learned from and all the fun Henry and I have had in the garden.  The photo is of  a Christmas snowfall in Heath, a reminder of all the joys we have shared in western Massachusetts since 1979.

My 11th blogaversary came at the end of a wet year. This photo is from early November 2017. I want to mention a highlight of 2018 – the Garden Bloggers Tour in Texas with lots of very different gardens. The post that goes with this photo and others is a stroll down the delights of having a blog.

I wonder at all the events and pleasures I will enjoy as I think of my 13th Blogaversary next year.  A big year. My garden is going to be on the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour in summer of 2020!