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Hellebores – A Surprise in Very Early Spring

Hellebore – Maid of Honor series

Hellebores, Helleborus x hybridus (formerly Helleborus orientalis) strikes me as a very odd plant. I planted my first hellebores last spring after admiring  the hellebores in a friend’s beautiful early spring garden. She cleverly planted hers in a three foot high raised bed that made it more likely to be able to see the full blossom.I planted the potted hellebores I bought in front  of a wood fence, a site that provided some morning sun but was in shade the rest of the day. Last year I got to enjoy a bit of the flowers, but I also found the  foliage very attractive. Somewhere I read that  the foliage should NOT be cut back in the fall.

This early spring I didn’t see much of anything. The old, but still handsome foliage, was tangled in all the dead winter  leaves. But after a few days I brushed away the leaves and  saw that it was beginning to  bloom.

Hellebore – Lenten rose, Maid of Honor

It was time to clean out around the other hellebores.

Hellebore – Ivory Prince

These hellebores are also called  Lenten roses because they bloom at the same  time as Lent. The hybrids have been given different names. It is easier to see the blossom in the Ivory Prince. There are very few that are so  congenial.

Lenten Rose – First Dance in the Wedding Party series

The dead leaves are gone but it is past time to get rid of  the old foliage.

The First Dance is more willing to provide a good look at the  flowers, but  I still need  to  cutback foliage.

Mystery hellebore

I did see this plant at the edge of this bed last year and had no recollection of when I planted it. It was barely noticeable, even though there was any foliage from last year. I am determined now to bring it into stronger health. I will  soon have lots  of compost to to give a top dressing to all these hellebores – they love compost.

Aside from adding compost from time to time, remember that hellebores like neutral soil. They seem to be sturdy plants and I am looking forward to watching these increases.

Gardening Hacks – Time and Money Saving Hacks

Gardening Hacks: 300+Time and Money Saving Hacks

When you talk about the work of gardeners, you think about digging, planting, weeding, and making spur of the moment trips to the Farmers Coop, Home Depot or some such place. Those shopping trips can range from fertilizer, soil, tools – and more plants. Of course there is a price to pay at the check-our counter.

Or, you can take the suggestions of Gardening Hacks, a small book by Jon VanZile (Adams Media $15.99) with over 300 Time and Money Saving Hacks. It is useful for people who are not practiced gardeners, and for gardeners who would enjoy the simplicity of many of these hacks.

Starting last year the whole country has been running off to garden nurseries and stores to buy plants and proper tools. After shopping and driving home novices often find they need another tool or fertilizer or container. Instead of making frequent trips to the store, we can read up on all the Gardening Hacks and see what would be easy and practical – or satisfying fun.

The book is divided into five short and clear sections that covers the needs of seeds, seedlings and cuttings as well as tools, pests, and harvesting. Three of the sections are devoted to different kinds of gardening – outdoor, indoor and container gardening.

It is planting time right now. Want to mix up your own seed starter soil? Number #27 will give you all you need to know – peat moss, coconut coir, perlite and vermiculite is all you need. It’s fun and a money saver. We can turn milk jugs into plant covers (#45), propagate succulents from their own leaves (#50) and embrace air layering to propagate large plants (#63).

Many of us don’t have big yards to fill with  shrubs and flowers. Even in small spaces there are ways to have beautiful plant arrangements in containers. You can even create your  own pots, recycled culverts (#77) and terra-cotta chimney flue liners (#81). Transform your old sinks and tubs into amazing planters (#89) and you’ll have sturdy and inexpensive pots.

Create a water wick to keep  your plants watered while you are away (#106) and make your own fertilizer tea from compost (#111). There is a lot more to learn about container gardening.

Happily there is lots of gardening to do outside. Make a tomato trellis from string (#155). I wish I had known about this idea. Some ideas are familiar: water the garden early in the morning to conserve water (#168); mulch to grow better plants (#178) ; and  convert old wine bottles into planting bed edging (#186).  At our house  we call those wine bottles our hose-minder which keeps the hose away from the plants. An extra idea that pleases me is to keep a photo record of your plant labels in an album! (301).

Indoor gardens can take you into whimsy like fairy gardens (#229) or turning an aquarium into a water garden (#235).

Finally, we come to information about tools, tips and harvesting. I never knew one could put an apple in a bag with tomatoes – to make the tomatoes finish ripening (#278). I never considered to making my own pesticide by taking a garlic bulb, a small onion, cayenne and water and putting it all through a blender (#285). There is also a fascinating recipe for making Bokashi composting (#346).

Gardening Hacks is  the kind of book that is a lot of fun, and makes your garden a better and richer place. The gardens are already showing shoots of green. It’s time to get to work . Enjoy it!


It’s Spring! Garden Season Begins Blooming Right Now!

It is the first day of spring and gardening season begins. So far only brilliant gold  crocuses are blooming, but I know it is time to review the garden and check to make sure I will have some bloom from now into the fall.

Golden crocus – the first blossoms to bloom

My very first bloomers are these golden crocus that bloom on the bit of  ground next to the sidewalk and our parking space. It is not a large space,  but I am filling it up with crocuses that will please neighbors who walk their dogs or take a brisk walk during these pandemic days. More crocuses will come into bloom. I can see their green shoots.


Daffodil shoots are pushing up. Last year the daffs were blooming by mid- April. They grow in front of the house, along the sidewalk. They and have been increasing for four years. I have a variety of daffodils, small and tall, different shades of yellow and different shapes. I’d like to say that I chose all this variety , but I just just bought bags of different bulbs and prepared for a friendly assortment. Last fall I decided to plant 100 pale pink and white daffodils in front of my new rose bed. (It is a very narrow short rose bed.) I am looking forward to a long river of of pale daffodils that will increase, and be gone by rose season. In the meantime April will call for the beginnings of grape hyacinths.

Grape hyacinths

But they are not alone. Garden season is moving.  Double bloodroot will begin to bloom at the other side of the garden.

Double Bloodroot

Hellebores, Lenten rose in March

This year  hellebores will bloom in my garden. I planted them late last spring. This is my first full garden season with hellebores and I am excited. I put them on the shady side of a fence facing  the  sidewalk. It has been cold  but I will be able to  cut away last year’s foliage, and carefully reveal this year’s new blossom. I hope passers-by will enjoy them.


Ground covers like barren strawberries, tiarella and primroses are among the April bloomers. Troillus is brilliant in a perennial bed. Then comes a slew of May perennials, irises ,columbine, deutzia, and epimediums. The mountain laurels on  the hugel, at the back of  the garden are also blooming in May.Columbine

Columbine has many faces. To me they are delicate and ready for a dance, but they come back every year in early June. But roses are the star beginning in mid-June, and nowadays they last into July and August.

Oso Easy ‘Paprika’ low growing landscape rose

Tough and trouble free Buck Rose “Folk Singer

Purington Pink rose from a dear friend’s garden

‘Lion’s Fairy Tale’ Kordes rose

My skill with photographing large shrubs is poor and my shrubs are not lush with flowers, but the red and yellow twig dogwoods provide food for birds, although the drupes are not very visible. Viburnums and elderberry bushes clearly feed the birds as well. Food for bees, birds, and butterflies comes from pollen, but less visibly from caterpillars! Supporting these creatures is important to our environment and that means treasuring native trees. God bless the oaks which support over 500 creatures. Fortunately my next door neighbor has three! oak trees. Happily I have two river birches Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home. and Doug Tallamy (of Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home)    ranks birches in the Top 5 best woody plants for wildlife.

River birch at the end of a planting bed

I have two river birches growing at either end of this planting bed. It was the first tree we planted in 2015 and it has thrived in our wet garden, as has the river birch at the other end of the bed.

By midsummer the garden is in full bloom with Aesclepius tuberose, cardinal flowers, bee balm, Joe Pye weed, blazing star and more. Zinnias!

Spring is here and it is time to get to work.

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – March 15, 2021

Petite golden crocuses

Today is Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, but these  petite crocuses have been blooming for three days. Of course they sleep at night, but we have had golden sunny days to encourage these crocuses. Someday I am going to learn to keep a record of the actual names.

More golden crocus

I have four little clumps for these golden crocuses, but I can see scattered crocus shoots coming up. All the crocuses will be growing under our Lilac tree, right next to our sidewalk. I wanted to make a pretty walk way. Lots of people walk their dogs and babies on our quiet street.

Grape hyacinths

There are no blooms here yet, but I am hoping I get credit for the foliage that that overwintered. I never knew that grape hyacinth foliage dies back in the summer after the flowers die. But then it sends up fresh shoots in the fall that remain green through the fall – and the winter, no matter how much snowfall.  Very mysterious. So many mysteries in the garden.

Low growing rhododendron

There  are no other real blooms  outside but the plants in front of our house, mostly very low evergreens, are showing shoots of daffodils and daylilies. Spring really is coming.Walking iris

Late last spring Cathy, a Heath neighbor, gave me a walking iris. It was no longer blooming, but Cathy said to put it in the ground. She explained that this spring it would bloom. And now it is blooming! I was so surprised!  A few days ago we were talking on the phone and I said nothing was happening. Cathy was surprised because her plants were blooming, but she told me to be patient.  A few days later I saw that there were buds.  I had not recognized them. Walking iris do not have regular stems; the stems grow inside  the leaves!  This walking iris is rather leggy because I have no good sunny windows, but the flowers are  coming.

Walking Iris

When I planted it outside last spring it was a clump about this size. When I dug it up for the winter, I used three big pots! This is an energetic and surprising plant!

Thank you Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens. You always encourage me.

Feeding the Birds in the Garden – Welcoming the Bugs

Coneflowers and Bees – and the birds will welcome the seeds in the center

I love watching the birds in my garden. Which is not to say that I know them by name or type. When I look at the birds outside my window I see big birds and little birds. I see blue jays and robins, just about the only birds I can identify. I can also identify hummingbirds because the only hummingbird I am likely to see is the ruby throated hummingbird. I can hear the woodpeckers. I enjoy having all these birds in my garden.

Even so, I do not provide bird feeders, not even during the winter. I am not ready to battle the many squirrels that live in my garden. I did make a try. I bought a Plexiglas feeder that would stick to my window. This is the way I thought I could finally see the shapes of beaks and the feather markings clearly enough to name a bird, with the help of a guide book.

And what happened? We stuck the feeder to the window, added lovely black oil sunflower seed and sat by the window to see who would come.

A squirrel came and within minutes it had managed to get from the feeding platform to inside the seed space. That was the beginning and end of our bird feeder experiment.


I do provide plants that will go to seed and will feed the birds as well as berries. Winterberries attract some specific birds. There are other berries that will attract birds in all seasons.

The list of seed bearing flowers begins with dandelions in the spring and goes through the summer and fall with cosmos, zinnias, black-eyed susans, asters, coreopsis, blanket flowers, sunflowers, sedums and many others. All of these flowers will also make the bees happy. Bees come to these flowers to sip the nectar and collect the pollen. They leave the seeds to the birds.

Waxwing eats berries  –  Yuri Timofeyev/Flickr Creative Commons

In addition to flowers that produce seeds for the birds, I also plant berries. I have elderberries and winterberries. I can tell you those elderberries disappear really fast in the summer. I have two tall American cranberry viburnums; they only look like cranberries but the birds still enjoy them.  I also grow raspberries. Oddly, birds are not very interested in raspberries. Blueberries are another story.

Since I have two river birches, a willow, a huge Norway spruce and neighboring maple and oak trees, I know there are many insects that live in those trees. Birds eat lots of insects, especially in the spring when they need to feed their hatchlings. Entomology Professor Doug Tallamy said “Insects are extraordinarily high in protein: They have up to twice as much protein, pound for pound, as does beef.” That seems amazing, but it explains how birds survive even though they expend so much energy flying.

Even though I do provide for the birds, including a little birdbath that I clean and fill throughout good weather, I have felt a bit guilty in the winter because I don’t put out bird feeders. Then, the other day I received my Native Plant News from the Native Plant Trust with an article on Feeding Birds: An Eco-Gardener’s Approach by Christopher Leahy. He worked at Massachusetts Audubon for 45 years and knows his birds. He said that guilt was not necessary and neither were the birdfeeders. He did acknowledge that having a bird feeder will attract birds, and will provide pleasure to those who like watching the birds.

Leahy went on to say that feeding the birds, and creating a whole industry, did not exist before the 1930s. “Birds are extraordinarily well-adapted for finding the kind of food they require and are vastly better equipped than our species for living outdoors in abominable weather, due to the highly effective insulation system called plumage and an exquisitely sensitive metabolism.”

He suggested getting familiar with 50 of the birds most likely to visit your garden. Then become familiar with their favorite foods and nesting sites. He also suggested that we should encourage the presence of insects and such things as spiders, centipedes and creatures of leaf litter. Don’t use pesticides and don’t let the garden get too tidy.

As you will have noticed I have not mentioned the New England Wildflower Society. That is what I called this organization for many years. However the organization had four names before it chose Native Plant Trust, a name very true to Society for the Protection of Native Plants chosen by its founders in 1900.

The Native Plant Trust’s website provides wonderful information about native plants. Its Go Botany project makes it possible for gardeners, or people who just like hiking through wild areas, to identify and learn about unfamiliar plants.

There are tip sheets about available plants sold by the Native Plant Trust as well caring for various kinds of plants. There are also workshops and seminars during the year.

For more information about the Native Plant Trust check out their comprehensive website ###

International Women’s Day in Beijing – and Greenfield

Teacher Hu Yaobang, beloved by students who mourn his death in Tianenmen Square

When we arrived in Beijing on April 18, 1989 we knew nothing about  International Women’s Day. Actually, we knew just about nothing about living and  working in Beijing, but we were ready to learn.

International Women’s Day, I learned much later was first held on March 19, 1911, drawing more than 1 million people to rallies worldwide. With the outbreak of WW I in 1914 most attempts at social reform ground to a halt, but women continued to march and demonstrate on International Woman’s Day. I do not believe that the Chinese held International Women’s Day that early. China didn’t allow much celebration of women until Chairman Mao Zedong announced the New China in 1949.

Young women training to be tour guides – I am in the back

Our year in Beijing began with tumult. We left our plane in the middle of the night and my new compatriots drove us to the Friendship Hotel. They signed us in and walked us to our building where we would live in an apartment. We stood by the door saying good-bye when I asked about the odd music I was hearing. Zhao Hu, my new boss, said it was the students chanting in Tianenmen, mourning the death of  Hu Yaobang a beloved man who loved  the students.

One of the women touring with us to keep us out of the way of big events in Tiananmen Square

That mourning is what ultimately led to the Tianenmen Square Massacre. We were safe, but like most of the Foreign Experts who were working at that time, we left for Hong Kong. I don’t know where everyone went then, but we left Hong Kong for Kenya where our daughter was finishing her Peace Corps stint. When it was time to leave Betsy we called our American friend in Beijing and she said it was perfectly safe to return. All was quiet.

Over the next months we met other Foreign Experts who returned. We rode our bicycles and toured around the city. We had meals and talk with our compatriots. We went to simultaneously translated movies – in several languages. There was fun, and there was substantial learning, for which we were very grateful.

Spring comes early in March (compared to New England) and Beijing prepared to  celebrate International Women’s Day. Henry was invited to my office where Zhao Hu declared him an Honorary Woman and they gave him a little pin to let everyone know.  Many Foreign Experts were invited to the big  International Women’s Day celebration. Henry and I were there and he wore his Honorary Woman button. There were speeches, dinner, drinks, Ganbei! (cheers, essentially) and then it was time to go. Chinese events  always closed very quickly.

Henry and I at International Women’s Day in 1990 at the Great Hall of the People

The International Women’s Day celebration on March 8, was also a marker that we were about to leave Beijing. There was a farewell gathering before we left. We never thought about returning to China BUT we did return in 1995 when Beijing was hosting the UN Women’s Conference. But that is another unexpected story!

These Fevered Days with Martha Ackmann at GCC Senior Symposium

These Fevered Days – Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson

On Tuesday, March 9, 2-3 pm the Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium program is bringing you discussion about Martha Ackmann’s new book These Fevered Days: The  Pivotal Moments in  the Making of Emily Dickinson. There is no cost.

Martha Ackmann will discuss and read from her new book, THESE FEVERED DAYS: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson (Norton) . The new biography unravels the mystery of Dickinson’s life through ten decisive episodes that distills her evolution as a poet. Utilizing thousands of archival letters and poems as well as never-before-seen photos, the book constructs a remarkable map of Emily Dickinson’s inner life. Kirkus Review hailed THESE FEVERED DAYS for its “radiant prose, palpable descriptions, and deep empathy for the poet,” Ackmann writes with “panache,” the Boston Globe declared, “in a lucid narrative grounded in solid research colored by appreciative warmth.”

Martha Ackmann, author of Curveball and The Mercury 13, writes about women who have changed America.  The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, she taught a popular seminar on Dickinson at Mount Holyoke College. Ackmann’s essays and columns have appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. The play, Toni Stone, based on her book Curveball, opened to wide acclaim in New York City, and is now playing in regional theatres across the country,

There is no charge for this talk, but you must sign up at the Senior Symposium Greenfield Community College

The program will run for two weeks after the initial Senior Symposium presentation There is no  charge for watching it during the two weeks. If you’re watching this presentation in real time—that is, as it is first being presented at the designated Senior Symposium Zoomcast, you’ll be able to use CHAT for questions,  but if you’re watching the replay in the two weeks designated for program access when we will not be “live,” the CHAT feature will not be active because you’ll be actually watching a “rerun.” Which will include today’s Q&A.

Native Plants for the Garden – Seeds and Young Plants

Native Plant – Mountain Mint and Monarch Butterfly

The Native Plant Trust, founded in 1900 as the Society for the Protection of Native Plants, and long known as the New England Wildflower Society, is the nation’s first plant conservation organization. The society is dedicated to the preservation of native plants and operates the Garden in  the Woods (a native plant botanical garden) at its headquarters in Framingham, Massachusetts. It also offers courses on topics of conservation and horticulture of native plants. In addition it organizes  volunteers throughout New England. Happily it offers us nursery-propagated native plants for sale at its two nurseries.

Native Plants – Coneflowers with Bees

It is important to understand why native plants are important. Native plants evolved in and define particular locations, where they provide the habitats—food and shelter—that specific insects, birds, mammals, and other animals need. Together, native plants and animals form a web of mutually beneficial interactions that is greater than the sum of its parts – an ecosystem.

By conserving native plants in the wild and using them in designed spaces, we protect and enhance the integrity, resilience, diversity, and beauty of our planet.

You will notice that the shape of plants I’ve  shown are relatively flat so that bees  and other creatures can land and reach the pollen and nectar. This is something to keep in mind.

There are several nurseries locally that offer native plants.  Nasami Farm in Whately, MA offers many native shrubs and plants. Other native plant nurseries include A Wing and a Prayer in Cummington, and Adam Kohl’s nursery in Wendell.


Wishing – Hoping – For Outdoor Book Reading Very Soon.

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith – a favorite book of mine.

l Iove plants and books and as the days are longer and warmer I am thinking a lot about plants and books. This book Planting the Wild Garden, is by my dear friend Kathryn O. Galbraith with beautiful illustrations by Wendy Anderson Halperin. I’ll bet you think you need seed packets to plant plants. But you don’t. You’ll have to read to know how to plant the wild garden.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama with illustrations by Loren Long

President Barack Obama  wrote a book that asks his daughters if he has told them about many things. He asks if her told them that they are smart?  And then he tells them about Albert Einstein “who turned the pictures in his mind into giant advances in science.” He tells them about Jackie Robinson and Neil Armstong and Georgia O’Keefe! There are short bios (really short) of each person at the end of the book. Very useful.

What is Your Favorite Bug? by Eric Carle

Everybody knows that Eric Carle invented The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Then Eric must have thought his caterpillar might be very lonely and he asked all his friends to name their favorite bugs. I think he has a lot of buggy friends because they didn’t hesitate to describe their Katydids, or Peacock Spiders, or Walking Sticks – and lots more. I personally know of children who have nibbled while reading.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris

Dave Eggers is one of my favorite authors, but this book is my very favorite, and I might even be weeping when I finish. And I dare you all to read The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus which ends the book without weeping. Dave asks if we know that the Statue of Liberty comes from France. And then states “This is true. This is a factual book.” It is full of facts about the building of the Statue of  Liberty and he will finally tell you why her Right Foot is important.

I’ve only given you 4 books that I love and that children love – but there are many many more. The reason I have all these books is because I have several children (all grown up now) and grandchildren, and even great-granddaughters. I also have a dear friend who is a first grade teacher who lets me come and read to  her class every Friday. Of course, now when I read  to them, I’m looking at them through  the computer.

I will be so happy when we can read outdoors and look at the pictures closely and find surprises in some of those pictures.  Let us all visualize Reading Outdoors.