Subscribe via Email

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

The American Sycamore – Largest Deciduous Tree in the United States

The American Sycamore – on an autumnal day

The sycamore on the right, is in front of my  house, and the other younger sycamore is right across the street. They seem to be in a constant embrace. The Sycamore is also known as American plane tree, western plane, occidental plane, and buttonball. Whenever we give friends directions to our house we just direct them to the biggest tree in  the middle of the block.

I did not know very much about sycamores until we moved to this house in Greenfield. I love our sycamore which seems to bend slightly to the left, to embrace her sister. Sycamores are very tall, from between 75-100 feet tall. As you can imagine these trees are not often used as street trees, but our tree was planted in the 1920s when our street was being  laid out. Maybe the original tree people didn’t consider the size of this tree when it was grown. I know there are no other trees this size being planted in town anymore.

The American sycamore has very distinctive bark

The most striking feature of the tree is the bark that has a camouflage pattern comprised of gray-brown outer bark that peels off in patches to reveal the light gray or white wood beneath.

As beautiful as the tree is, there is a problem in  the fall. Remember I said one name for the sycamore is ‘buttonball”?  We are all familiar  with trees shedding their leaves. Buttonball trees shed seed balls, twigs and pieces of bark.  The tiny hairs on the seed balls not only irritate the skin, they can cause respiratory problems. My husband and our neighbor never go to out to rake and sweep up all the debris without used a special mask, goggles and gloves

I don’t do any of the dirtiest work, but I can tell you we spend the fall and winter picking up ‘twigs’ and branches. If we had a fireplace we would never be lost for kindling.

Evening autumn view of Sycamores

I always think of  these two sycamores as loving sisters in an embrace.

View of the Sycamore from the other end of  the street.

ROSA – the story of the rose by Peter E. Kukielski

ROSA – the story of the rose by Peter E. Kukielski

Peter E. Kukielski has been growing and working with roses for many years. I first met him when he was the curator of the New York Botanical Garden Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden 12 years ago. He gave me the full tour and told me about all the other roses that were scheduled to be added. I asked him how the garden could possibly hold any more roses. The garden was so full and so beautiful. He leaned towards me and whispered, “I plant them closer together.”Kukielski has taught us gardeners many things. I was quick to read Roses Without Chemicals, when it came out and act on his recommendations.

His newest book, ROSA – The story of the rose  (Yale University  Press $30.) is not about planting, pruning or fertilizing. ROSA begins with a list of the Botanical Nomenclature of the Rosaceae family. There are also photographs of each in the different family, but I was stunned to see that there are native rose families (note the plural!) in China, Europe, North America, and all regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Peter takes us back to the Oligocene and Miocene Epochs (33.9 to 5-3 million years ago) which provides us with fossil evidence of the presence of roses. Of course, I’ve known that roses have been around for a few hundred years, but I was stunned to see roses grown and used in the BCE eras.

Rose water, for beauty rituals, was being made and used in 3500 BCE. Confucius (551-479 BCE) wrote of the rose’s importance to Chinese culture. The rose was everywhere.

It is a reasonable question to ask – why were roses so important that they were used in those BCE days and right through to now when new roses are being created every year. As ROSA takes us through the eons we learn about the ways roses were used is almost every corner of our world. There are beautiful illustrations throughout the book showing the different ways roses were used through the eons.

Painting of Madonna of the Rose Bower by Stefan Lochner  (c.1440)

Roses were important to kings and the wealthy for eons. Confucius (551-479 BCE) wrote of the Royal Gardens in China where roses were planted for hundreds of years. China and Persia were growing fragrant roses, roses in different shades of pink and gold, roses that could be used for making rose water and other perfumes.

The fascinating and long story of the book is divided into short sections. Roses were important to the Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists the Mughals, and the Sufis. Wreaths of roses were used for Egyptian funerals, Greek coins were found marked with a rose.

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema  (1888)

Writers wrote about roses. The Greek Epicurus, Herodotus and Sappho wrote about roses. So did the Greeks including Virgil and Pliny the Younger. Nero, and other wealthy rulers held bacchanalian events where wine and roses were both essential.

Peter brings Religion and the Rose to us in the fifth major chapter. There are gardens, and roses adorning the Madonna and Christ Child. There are different rose symbols for the different religions. The rose is used in the Islamic hajj and Rumi, the Islamic poet often uses the rose as a motif in his work.

Rosa Damascena ‘Celsiana

By 1350 roses were important in the secular world. Roses of red and white declared the players in the War of the Roses. Elizabeth I, Queen of England never married and the white rose was hers. Roses were important in the arts, in paintings of fruits and flowers, and in paintings of miracles. We continue right on to roses in modern art and modern movies.

I am inclined to go on an on, but I pass on those pleasures to you. I am a devotee of Peter E.Kukielski and his gardens.  Three years ago he designed a beautiful garden for the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario that included 3,000 roses and 18,000 perennials chosen as insect-attracting companions. He is not only devoted to avoiding poisons, he understands the importance that insects are not only important to our gardens, but to our environment.

ROSA – The story of the rose  (with its 140 beautiful illustrations) by Peter E. Kukielski is a gem. I love roses and Kukielski has given me an even greater understanding of their history and beauty.

Peter’s Joy Rose in honor of Peter E. Kukielski




Fashion in Art: Mirrors of Humanity – Edward Maeder at Senior Symposia

Fashion in Art: Mirrors of Humanity

Tuesday, February 23— 2:00–3:00pm

Vintage Dress

Fashion, considered by some to be frivolous, elite, and/or inaccessible, in fact mirrors the complexities of who we are.  Edward Maeder’s insights capture how we perceive what we wear and why through artworks that record idiosyncratic, personal, and socio-political structures.  “Maeder’s book celebrates the extraordinary nature of ordinary lives, and the power of clothing to bring history to life” (Hamish Bowles, International Editor, Vogue).

Edward Maeder, from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, of Bernese ancestry, graduated from the University of Wisconsin and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.  From 1979 to 1993 he was Curator of Costumes and Textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  He left to become founding director of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.  His books include Walk This Way (2018), which catalogues the Stuart Weitzman historic footwear collection, and American Style and Spirit: The Fashions (2016).

This workshop will be delivered via Zoom. Registration is required, but  there is no charge. Go to and go through the registration process.

I have attended all of Edward Maeder’s Symposia and they are so informative – and great fun.  Come and join us.

Edward Maeder spent several years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in charge of caring for movie costumes and arranging exhibits.

Catalog book of Stuart Weitzman’s Shoe Collection and the New York City History Museum – prepared by Edward Maeder



The Value of Annuals in the Garden

Grandpa Ott Morning Glory – a  long season annual

Annuals play an important part in the garden. They bloom for a long season, and can cover the ground or reach high like the morning glories that cover the garden fence. Morning glories come in all manner of colors from the familiar Heavenly Blue to my favorite, Grandpa Ott with its deep blue and rich winey center.

Zinnias – Happy colors in all shades

Zinnias come  is all colors, all sizes and all shapes.  They also attract bees. All  of us are paying more attention to the importance of bees and other pollinators making our world a healthier place. These zinnias are no more that a foot  tall, but you have choices between these and zinnias that are as tall as I am. I love them because they make such easy and bright bouquets for the dining table. I think they are among the most cheerful of annuals that require very  little care. It is easy to plant them from seed yourself if you have potting supplies.

Potting Supplies

My potting corner looks a little grim because it is in the basement. Our house has no windows that are suitable  for this operation, but my supplies make early seed planting work. My ancient card table is in the corner and it holds an electric heating pad, a lighting stand with very bright bulbs, a bag of seedling mix, and finally the seed trays. The seed trays come in a variety of sizes and it is up to you to choose the appropriate/most suitable size.


Whether you buy potted pansies, or grow your own they are marvelous early in the spring. They are low growing and cover the ground very nicely, or you can use them in pots that will sit on the ground, or plant them in hanging flower pots on your porch.

I am already dreaming of visits to the farmers coop where so many annuals and herbs area already potted up and begging to be  bought. Store bought potted annuals can be planted around the garden in an afternoon and feel like it is almost summer.


Time to Buy Seeds, Time to Order Plants

Backyard Garden in the Snow and Ice

The backyard garden is full of snow and ice, but great balls o’ fire  — days awaistin’. I already have friends who say the seeds they ordered were told it was too late. It’s no fun to see a page of a seed catalog and learn that half the seeds are no longer available.

Last year, on March 22 I attended the Cabin Fever Seed Swap. Gardeners gathered to share their seeds, extra bought seeds and seeds from plants they had grown. The Covid pandemic had not made clear the dangers that were beginning around the world. This year we know all too well how dangerous Covid 19 is,  and how important it is to quarantine ourselves. There will be no Seed Swap this year.

Because of the pandemic we  have all changed our schedules. There is much less visiting and joining in group events. What to do?  Many have found  the pleasures of gardening – and the run on seeds, flower seeds and vegetable seeds, began. Fortunately we can look at all kinds of seed catalogs on-line.

Tip Top Rosa Nasturtium

I begin with the AAS, All American Seed Winners, every year. AAS is a non-profit trialing organization. Their goal is to promote new garden varieties and to test new untried varieties. I was particularly taken by Nasturtium Tip Top Rose (which is a beautiful nasturtium, NOT a rose) which I think would look great in containers.

I have been getting seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for years. Johnny’s was beginning its life at the same time in 1973 that I was planting my first vegetable garden. In addition to vegetable and flower seeds Johnny’s  offers gardening equipment.

Other favorites of mine are Renee’s Garden which is famous for its gorgeous and fragrant sweet peas like Zinfandel, a rich wine color. I like to use High Mowing Organic Seeds because they are an organic GMO operation.



Blue Lake pole beans. I’ve got the poles already

I planted a very (very!) small vegetable garden this past year. My garden is extremely wet, but I was determined to plant a few vegetables. Here’s what I learned. Such a small space can only have very! few favorite favorite vegetables. So far I have determined that I can have sugar snap peas and Pole beans. Tomatoes, of course! There might be room for a little more, but I am still working on that.

I know time is short. Have you got your seeds?

Now I have to think about whether there are any potted plants I want.  They might be hard to get too.

A is for Aesclepias and Achillea – Attracting Bees and Butterflies

Aesclepias tuberosa has brilliant flowers that attract a variety of butterflies and bees

I am aware that  our world needs the plants and insects that have been obliterated because of the lack of plants that will feed them. That is why I, and many other gardeners, are choosing pollinator plants for their gardens.

I planted a sunny bed of the brilliant Aesclepias tuberose, butterfly weed, in my garden  because I want to attract butterflies, especially Monarch butterflies which need the pollen and nectar. The female Monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of  the leaves. This is the only food the hatching caterpillars can eat.

Happily, besides Monarchs, frequent visitors include native bees, honey bees, hummingbirds, and many other types of butterflies.

A. tuberose will grow fine in ordinary soil. And in full sun. You can plant the seeds, or possibly buy plants, or get plants at a garden plant sale. These plants do increase – as you might imagine when the little seed pod splits open and sends the seeds and floss off to find a new place to grow. I have let my own plants increase, but I do give away and, alas, throwaway, many of the seed pods because I do not want to  have only a milkweed garden.

Achillea millifolia ‘Terra Cotta’ attracts many pollinators

Achillea, also known as yarrow, attracts many pollinators, bees of every sort, wasps, and butterflies. These and other insects  will sit on the blossoms and sip from many tiny yarrow florets and collect pollen at the same time. It has a long summer blooming season.

Achillea does not require rich soil, but it will grow taller with better soil. No matter the soil, Achillea will increase every year. Depending on the space in your garden it will be necessary to dig out some of the plants. Maybe there is a plant sale or swap in your neighborhood that will give you an opportunity to share important plants.

Soil Science Society of America – Root Nodules and More

I am not a member of the Soil Science Society of America, but I want to pass along the kinds of information it gives that can be of interest and help to all of us in our gardens.

Root nodules

February 1, 2021 – Plant roots modify soil in different ways – depending on the root’s architecture. This Soil Science Society of America’s (SSSA) February 1st Soils Matter Blog explores plant roots and how plants modify soil in substantive ways.

Blogger Jake Mowrer explains, “Plants modify soil. That is a fact. They spend a lot of energy doing it, and they do it to their own advantage. Organisms (which, of course, include plants) are even one of the five soil formation factors, along with climate, relief/topography, parent material, and time.”

The term “root architecture” can include physical arrangement of roots, number, thickness, length, depth, angles of branching, and distribution of root orders. The primary root is called the seminal root, and roots that branch off the seminal root are called the first order laterals. Roots that branch off from first order laterals are called second order laterals.

The portion of the soil most explored, the depth, and the lateral reach of a plant’s root system all affect how different plants physically modify soil in different ways. To learn more, read the entire blog:

Photo: Nodules formed on the roots of a Fava Bean plant. These structures are necessary to protect the anaerobic activity of nitrogen fixing bacteria, which form a mutualistic symbiosis with the plant. Credit: Jake Mowrer

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

Follow SSSA on Facebook at SSSA.soils, and Twitter at SSSA_Soils. SSSA has soils information on, for teachers at, and for students through 12th grade,