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Elsa Bakalar’s Garden

Horticulture Magazine January 1987

In 1985 (could it be that long ago?) Elsa Bakalar,  my Heath neighbor and friend, and I started writing an article about color in the garden for Horticulture magazine.  One summer day in 1986 the brilliant photographer, and gardener, Garry Mottau arrived in Elsa’s garden at dawn. That’s when I learned about the importance and desirability of that early morning light for photography. I even got to hold a piece of shiny Thermax to throw some gentle light on Elsa’s face, or the flowers she was  working with.  That was another photography lesson for me.  The article finally appeared in the January 1987 issue of Horticulture Magazine. Elsa was the cover girl!

At the end of the story you will see a note saying that Elsa and I were writing a book together. I bombed out, but Elsa not only wrote her book, with her beloved husband Mike’s editorial support and advice, she started criss-crossing the US,  in demand as a garden speaker, well known for her wit and humor as well as her knowledge.

Several years ago, after her husband’s death, Elsa sold her house and garden to noted artists  Scott Prior and his wife Nanny Vonnegut. Nanny confessed that she lets Scott handle the garden, which he maintains with the help of Jeff Farrell.  Jeff  worked with Elsa in her garden for a number of years. Among other things he is a now a member of the Trillium Workshops trio; they have arranged tours of this garden for those who want to enjoy a fabulous, riotous country garden that is also sophisticated and inspiring. The next tour is July 18, and the final tour is on Sept. 19.  It is best to sign up early.

Horticulture never forgot Elsa’s beautiful garden. The results of their revisit are in the new issue, with an interview with Scott and Nanny. More photos!  Horticulture has made it possible to download the original story by clicking on

You can see the new story by Jane Roy Brown with photos by Bill Regan by picking up the August/September issue. If you live close enough you can even visit with Jeff Farrell and see the garden ‘in the flesh’.

Elsa passed away this winter. I wish she could have seen her garden’s return to the pages of Horticulture magazine. She would have enjoyed it, and she would love knowing people still have the pleasure of visiting her garden and learning from it.

Elsa Bakalar, Gardener and Friend

Elsa at her 91st birthday with Marie

Last October I joined with friends, and family including Jake and Susan Bakalar, Elsa’s nephew and his wife, and ‘honorary daughter’ Marie Hershkowitz who had been a student of Elsa’s, to celebrate Elsa’s 91st birthday. It was a jolly affair with a buffet brought by Jake and Susan, cards, stories,  and tributes. And laughter. And champagne.

Two weeks ago my husband and I visited Elsa at the nursing home and again had a jolly time. The menu was more limited, but one of the two other guests who had shown up had brought chocolate cake.  More laughter. Who needs champagne?

For the past two days I have been conferring with Susan and Marie, and that other important ‘honorary daughter, Nicole Gordon, to prepare an obituary, because Elsa was failing. This morning I got the call I had been expecting, but dreading.  It was time to to send out the obituary.

Elsa  (Holtom) Bakalar,  of Ashfield and Heath, passed away peacefully at the age of 91 at Overlook Northampton in Leeds, Massachustts on  January 29, 2010.

Elsa was born in London in 1918 to Ernest Alfred Holtom and Rosalie Gilder Holtom. She attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls and Bishop Otter College, now part of the University of Chichester.

After graduation she began her teaching career at a school that was bombed, killing many students, while Elsa was out of the building.  She was lucky! She went on to teach at Penshurst Village School, often teaching 65 young children in a class. She married a German refugee artist, Erwin Wending.  After the war she came to the United States, working for British Information Services (BIS) in New York City lecturing and writing pamphlets, and several articles that appeared in Gourmet Magazine, introducing Americans to English traditions and recipes. There she and Wending divorced.  It was in New York that she met Michael Bakalar; it was love at first sight and they married in 1954.

After leaving BIS in the 1950’s, she worked for many years as a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture and Fieldston schools, now known as the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, first as a grade school teacher at Midtown (in Manhattan), then at the high school in Riverdale. As a much-loved teacher, she is remembered by her students for a demanding but highly engaging and inspiring teaching style and for her annual uniquely dramatic reading of the whole of  Dickens’ Great Expectations to her 6th grade class.

In 1958 she and Mike bought a small house in Heath where Elsa began making the garden that she would write and lecture about for many years. For several years she also ran a summer camp for girls, most of whom were her students at Ethical Culture and Fieldston.

In 1978 Elsa and Mike moved to West County full time. Mike founded the Shelburne Falls and West County News, and Elsa became Director of Community Services at Greenfield Community College. While there she instituted a series of Study and Travel Courses, leading groups through England and its great gardens. She also taught garden workshops in Heath and became well-known for her garden talks to local groups, encouraging new gardeners, and expanding the horizons of experienced gardeners. She was as well known for her charm, wit and turn of phrase as for her gardening expertise

When she retired from GCC she began a career of lecturing to garden groups all across the  United States and offered workshops under the auspices of Harvard University’s Arnold  Arboretum, the New England Wildflower Society, the New York Botanical Garden and many  professional organizations. In 1994 she published her book, A Garden of One’s Own: Making  and Keeping Your Flower Garden, made a garden video, and was interviewed on national TV.  In every endeavor her husband Mike was at her side, a perennial support: photographer,  mover of stones in the garden and slide projector operator on the lecture road until his death in 2000.

She is survived by her  cousin, with whom she was raised as a sister, Peter Kerry and his wife Iris of Almeria, Spain; stepson G. Michael Bakalar  and his wife Erika of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, granddaughters Dawn Byrd,  Amanda Eiras, Leigh Anne Jennings; and four great grandchildren as well as nephews, nieces, cousins and her beloved “honorary daughters” Marie Hershkowitz of Northampton and Nicole Gordon of New York City.

Interment is private. A memorial gathering is being planned for the spring. Memorial gifts can be sent to the Friends of the Heath Library, c/o Jane Deleeuw, Long Hill Rd, Heath, MA 01346, or the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 900 Washington Ave, Wellesley, MA 02482.

My Friend Elsa

Elsa Bakalar was my friend. This morning I got the call that I had been dreading. Elsa passed away peacefully on January 29.

We moved to Heath in December of 1979, but I did not meet Elsa, who also lived in Heath until I began writing a weekly garden column, Between the Rows, for The Recorder. I had heard about Elsa and her garden and finally got up my courage to ask her for an interview. It must be admitted that I was not an expert gardener, but got the job because I wrote a compelling letter saying I would interview all the expert gardeners in our region.

I  had seen Elsa’s initialed articles in Mike’s West County News launched not too long before we moved to Heath and I imagined a young couple sharing a romantic journalistic enterprise. When we met I was somewhat shocked to find that it was more in the nature of a romantic post retirement project. They taught me that it is never too late for new beginnings.

Elsa not only gave me an interview, about starting flower seeds in the dead of winter, she began my education. I had been concentrating on vegetables and had hardly planted a marigold. She also hired me to work alongside her at Greenfield Community College where she was the Director of Community Service.

All too soon I was trying to tend a 90 foot long perennial border, filled with divisions from Elsa’s garden. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is not what Elsa expected from her students. Although she had very definite opinions of her own, she always insisted that gardeners please themselves, and plant what they liked, in the way they liked.

Elsa became known for her garden designs, how she combined color and form, but in the end she said, all the colors of nature go together, and there was no point worrying excessively. .

I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the Study and Travel courses Elsa taught at GCC. After familiarizing ourselves with England and its gardens in class for a few weeks, 35 or so of us set off to tour the great and intimate gardens of England with Elsa, entertained by her wit and knowledge. It was  well known that where Elsa was, there was a party.

Right up to the end when she was frail Elsa made a party happen. My husband and I visited her for the last time in mid-January. As it happened, two other friends arrived as well. There was chocolate cake and candies. Laughter and talk. Another of Elsa’s parties.

If there is any word that defines Elsa it is teacher. She had taught elementary children in a village school in England, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in NYC,  and more locally, the Academy at Charlemont. She taught garden workshops in her own garden, and she went on the road lecturing, teaching, amusing, and delighting audiences all across the country. Sometimes she lectured to local garden clubs, and sometimes she gave workshops or lectures for august organizations like Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, the New York Botanical Garden, and even the Whitney Museum of Art.

Together we wrote an article for Horticulture Magazine. I loved interviewing Elsa for that piece about Color in the Garden because we talked about so much more than the task at hand. I learned about her job teaching in the Penshurst Village school in England during WWII where her young students brought her jam jars filled with flowers. She lived in a cottage where she gave the goats free range, and entertained a number of servicemen who seemed to find their way to her door.

She told me about her days working for British Information Services in Rockefeller Center in NYC, and meeting Mike. When we heard that Benny Goodman had died she reminisced about the apartment she and Mike shared on West 13th Street, and how they wore out three Benny Goodman records – and the linoleum dancing in the kitchen.

Elsa edited and revised the article with me numerous times, and then the editor at Horticulture had a few things to suggest. It finally appeared in January 1987 with gorgeous photographs by Garry Mottau. Elsa, Gary and I all met in Elsa’s July garden at dawn to get the best light. I ran around holding a shiny sheet of thermax insulation to help gently direct sun onto Elsa’s face or particular flower. It was an amazing photography lesson for me, and lots of fun.

When she retired from GCC, she wrote a book, A Garden of One’s Own: Making and Keeping Your Flower Garden that was published in 1994. Mottau again did the photos. I remember the discussions about a title.  She would have no designing or creating. “Make and keep were good anglo-saxon words,” she said. That is what she chose.

Elsa was just a little older than my mother, but I never thought of her in those terms. Still I loved hearing about the girls, students from Fieldston where she taught, who spent summers with her in Heath for several years. Elsa once told me that they had all gone on an outing to Tanglewood and some music lover looked at this bevy of girls and asked what camp they belonged to. One girl drew herself up, . “We are not a camp. We are Mrs. Bakalar’s girls,” she said with great dignity.

I like to think maybe I became one of Mrs. Bakalar’s girls, too. ###

BETWEEN THE ROWS  February 6, 2010

Forty Years in the Garden – Chapter 3 – Book and Blogs

Flowery Seattle in 2011 was my second Garden Bloggers Fling. I felt like one of the gang.

Over the years I occasionally thought about all the columns I had written since 1980. I enjoyed writing all those columns, but columns are so ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. A friend suggested I write a book. After all, I had all that material.

Roses at the End of the Road

Roses at the End of the Road by Pat Leuchtman, Illustrations by Henry Leuchtman

Writing a book is different from writing a column, but the idea appealed more every day. And one day I sat down and began to write.

Every week I’d hand in my column, and every week I added more to my book. Roses were my theme, but some chapters touched on characters like Elsa Bakalar and Charlotte Thwing. There were chapters about the lightning strike that burned down our barn, daughter Kate’s wedding in the garden and our experiences in Beijing during the Tianenmen Square ‘turmoil.’ All had provided material for my  columns.

My husband provided humorous drawings, and son Chris did all the technical work to prepare the book for printing. I thought The Roses at the End of the Road looked beautiful, and then set about selling it. Writing and selling are two different skills, but the book did go out into the world. How could I get publicity?

The Blog is Born

One day my publisher and good friend B.J. Roche, writer and journalist teacher at UMass, said the answer was a blog. In 2008 I had no idea what a blog was. B.J. introduced me to the blogging world and my husband was always available to provide necessary tech help.

My blog, now carries my column a week after it appears in the Recorder. The blog includes other posts about gardens and gardening too. Surprisingly the most important thing the blog did was give me more material. Blogs are written by bloggers and I was invited into the garden bloggers world.

Floriferous alley way in Buffalo where a whole neighborhood is devoted to their tiny gardens

In 2010 I went to my first Garden Bloggers Fling in Buffalo, New York. There I met bloggers from all over the country, from New York to California. They had expertise, energy and lots of laughter. Buffalo was preparing for their Annual Garden Walk event and I got to see what you can really do with a tiny city garden.

There have been 12 Flings from the DC area to Toronto and Portland. I attended four Flings, Buffalo, Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin. Those travels have been documented first in my columns and later in my commonweeder blog.

It is easy to maintain friendships with garden bloggers, because we can always log on and see what they are doing and what’s new in the garden world. Kathy Purdy at Cold Climate Gardening helped me understand how to work with a blog, and all the Ranters over at Garden Rant opened up whole new worlds of garden and environmental issues. Gail Eichelburger at Clay and Limestone taught me about the value of native plants; Carol Michel’s garden invites fairies; and Beth Stetenfeld at PlantPostings took me on a private tour of the Olbrich Botanic Gardens in Wisconsin when we visited there. I could go on and on about columns that included my garden travels.

The point is one thing always leads to another. Moving to a new state and a new little town led to a need for a new job. That job, a weekly garden column, led to actually learning more about plants and meeting fascinating people.

The ephemeral life of garden columns led to writing a garden book. The Roses at the End of the Road led to a need for publicity and so my blog was born.

My commonweeder blog is a way to preserve all my columns. At least all the columns since 2008. It is also a way to keep a record of my garden. I usually add more photos to those posts. The column provides information about other gardens, techniques, book reviews, new plants, garden design, and anything else that is suggested by friends.

Happily, garden bloggers have instituted ‘memes’ which are days where we can all share information about our gardens, or plants, once a week or month. There is Bloom Day, created at May Dreams Gardens, on the 15th of every month, when we can show what is blooming in our gardens. There is Wildflower Wednesday created by Clay and Limestone. And many more. I can join in the fun and learn a lot. My own post for any meme is one way I keep a record of goings on in my garden.

I also use my blog to keep track of weather in the garden, bloom seasons, problems, and names of plants. I frequently forget the names of plants, but I can always (well, often) turn to the commonweeder and refresh my memory.

I have enjoyed writing Between the Rows and I am grateful to my readers for being such good friends, and good teachers over all these years. Thank you!

As part of my 40th Anniversary Celebration the World Eye Bookshop is selling copies of The Roses at the End of the Road at the discounted rate of $10. All funds are donated to the World Eye as a thank you for all the wonderful books it sold me over 40 years.  You can call 413-772-2186 and make arrangements to get the book.

You can also email me at to ask about book copies which would be $10.00 plus $2 shipping.###

Between the Rows  May 30, 2020

Forty Years in the Garden – Between the Rows

The photo is not good, but this is the house we were racing to after Thanksgiving 1979. We were fixing it up

The day after Thanksgiving in 1979 Henry and I packed a big U-Haul truck with all our New York belongings, and the three daughters, Diane, Betsy and Kate. The day was balmy and warm, the perfect day for moving. We stopped in Greenfield for supper and groceries, then onward to Heath.

It was no longer balmy. Temperatures had plummeted. It was dark and we had to unload the truck or we would have no place to sleep. The girls put their backs into the job. The truck needed to be emptied in order to go on the road the next morning.

We made two trips with the truck to my mother’s house in Mason, New Hampshire, while the girls continued organizing in Heath. We had stored some of our stuff there when we moved to NYC, and she said it was our turn to store her stuff while she moved to New Jersey.

As we finished unloading that third truck Henry said that was it! We were at the end of the road and were never moving again. Indeed, our old farmhouse was literally at the end of the road, hence our title, End of the Road Farm.

Our country life began. We had plans to grow our own food, raise chickens for eggs – and meat, and be part of the back-to-the-land movement of the ‘70s.  Of course, we needed regular jobs, too, but we were ready to grow vegetables and flowers.

We had only been living in Heath for five months when I drove into Greenfield, took a deep breath, and walked into the Recorder offices. I met with Bob Dolan and proposed writing a garden column. I got lucky because the Recorder was just then preparing to publish a weekly leisure magazine insert to cover topics including books, music, food, television – and gardening. In my interview with Mr. Dolan I confessed that I didn’t know a lot about gardening, but I knew who to interview for expert information.

I was lucky. The first issue of the magazine was on May 22, 1980. My first column Compost Piles Vital for Good Gardening appeared on page 15.

The column needed a title. I thought back to our year in Maine and our next door neighbor, Mr. Leslie.  He had a vegetable garden and was knowledgeable in many ways. He’d laugh at me and my running around scattering seed. He told me I needed to slow down and swap lies between the rows. That is what my column intended to do – at least talking to experts and beginners Between the Rows.

John Zon

John Zon

That was the beginning. Besides my own limited gardening experience I turned to Tom Luck about planting potatoes in sawdust, John Zon, our next door neighbor about managing and caring for a garden, especially raspberries. I was off and running.

The joy of writing a garden column was, and is the pleasure of meeting other gardeners, all of whom have more skill and knowledge than I did. Unlike cooks who guard their recipes, gardeners are delightfully willing to share their knowledge, show off their gardens and tell stories.

Elsa Bakalar and me in 1980 – ohoto by Mike Bakalar for column

Elsa Bakalar, known for her beautiful flower gardens, lived on the other side of Heath. She was a great teacher and a great story teller. Over the years she taught me about perennials from garden phlox, achillea, delphiniums, Russian sage, cone flowers, boltonia and all manner of other flowers. She and I shopped for wonderful plants at Blue Meadow Farm in Montague. She planted hers, and I wrote about them.

Elsa Bakalar

Cover girl – Elsa Bakalar

Larry Lightner who had taught for years at Northfield-Mt.Hermon taught me about collecting fall leaves to make cold compost. I have used his technique in many ways. The idea is to make a wire bin, of the desired height and width and collect leaves and continue over time, because the leaves break down, slowly creating compost without the heat of kitchen leftovers. I have two tall cold compost bins full of leaves right now. This is such a great technique that I write about it from time to time.

People often ask me how I can write a column every week. The truth is a columnist is always looking for material, and material is found because everyone likes talking about their gardens. Some columns can be written about specific kinds of gardens like flower gardens, rain gardens, shade gardens, herb gardens and more.  I look through my lists and I see repeating topics like New Year Resolutions, Plant of the Year, small trees, color in the garden, fall planting, succulents, new perennials, poinsettias. After I created my Rose Walk I always had new roses to write about.

Special events often make it to my column. There are garden tours, and plant sales. This year the Greenfield Garden Club will still hold its annual Extravaganza plant sale at the John Zon Community Center at the corner of Davis and Pleasant Streets on Saturday, May 23, 2020, from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Of course there will be special requirements. All must wear masks and abide by social distancing. This is a great opportunity to get some great plants at good prices for your gardens while you support Garden Club school gardens.

Next week my anniversary celebration continues.###

Between  the Rows  May 16, 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

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day July 15, 2019

Hellstrip with plants

Hellstrip, Tree belt
Coneflowers, daylilies, centaurea, yarrow


The climate is much on my mind as I celebrate Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day here in western Massachusetts. Last summer was very wet, and the wet continued this spring. I lost many plants and I am in the process of re-designing (and I use the term loosely) and replanting. The last three weeks have been very hot (high 80’s and 90) and very dry.  Is this a promise that we will have hotter drier summers? I have had to water the hellstrip which was beginning to get crispy.  Even so, I think it looks lush and wonderful, with lots of flowers yet to bloom.

Daylily border

Daylily border section on the south bed

The daylilies are doing well. I love daylilies because they tolerate wet sites, and they are doing well this hot summer.

Elsa's Mystery Daylily

Elsa’s Mystery Daylily

Last summer I went up to the  Stone Meadow Gardens in Ashfield daylily farm determined to add some interesting colors to my collection. I was successful. In addition, the owners Phil Pless and Linda Taylor gave me a piece of this  tall yellow small daylily named Elsa’s Mystery. They knew I was a good friend of Elsa Bakalar, as they were. They said Elsa named this daylily because she had lost its real name. I am delighted their collection gave me the richness of color that I was looking for, and a memento of a dear friend.

rich color daylily

A cheerful daylily from Stone Meadow Gardens

Blue Paradise Phlox

Blue Paradise phlox

This phlox is slowly taking hold. I think it might need a little more sun.

Kordes Polar Express

Kordes Polar Express

The roses are taking a little rest. There are few blooms, but I am hoping that with some deadheading there will be a second flush.

button bush


It is hard to remember that those spiky balls are buttonbush flowers. The buttonbush has thrived with all the rain, but you can see that the flowers are getting brown in their centers. I think they will not last long.

The North Planting Bed

The is the most northerly of the three raised planting beds. This section of the bed suffered from the flooding of  the garden. No more perennials or pagoda dogwood. The Aesclpias and not-yet-blooming cardinal flowers and that amazing golden mat of sedum are all that was left of this area. New plants include a quince bush, obedient plants, yarrow and helenium.



I don’t know if it is cheating, but these delphiniums were knocked down in  the wind  yesterday. I had to let you see them. The color is extraordinary!

View from the office

I’m adding this View from the Office so you can get some idea of most of the garden, including the Center and North Beds.  I’m thinking maybe I will make that area of the Center Bed a cutting garden next year.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for making it possible to share our gardens and see what is blooming all across our great land. Go on over to see it all!

More pix – just for fun

Daylily on the hellstrip

Lavender daylilies on south hellstrip

Double orange daylily

Deep red and gold daylily – which the camera does not really catch

I seem to have several doubles, and frilled daylilies

Bloom Day – September 2017



At the moment I am celebrating Garden Bloggers Bloom Day with a burst of heat – after rain storms and night temperatures that went down to 35 degrees. But many plants are hitting their stride, like this coreopsis – one of several.

Cardinal flowers

Cardinal flowers

It turns out the cardinal flowers I planted last year – are a different color than the cardinal flowers I planted this year. But no matter. My mentor, Elsa Bakalar, assured me all shades of red go together.

Perennial aageratum and veronica

Perennial ageratum and veronica

The perennial ageratum and veronica are carrying on an autumnal love affair with lots of hugs.

Firelight hydrangea

Firelight hydrangea

The Firelight hydrangea is also being embraced by a nameless white aster and the bright pink Alma Potchke aster who just started to bloom.



The honeysuckle clasps the fence in a tight hold while its bloom are entwined with  a few Grandpa Ott morning glories.

Japanese anemone

Japanese anemone

The Japanese anemone is less robust, but next year I think she’ll be more enthusiastic.

Neon sedum

Neon sedum

This “Neon” sedum attracts bees by the dozen.



These rudbeckias were given me by a neighbor in the spring. Next spring I am going to be looking for another neighbor who needs rudbeckia, loved by pollinators

Marigolds and nasturtiums

Marigolds and nasturtiums

This pot by my back door is a riot of color. Makes me so happy in my coming and going.

Click on over to May Dreams Gardens where Carol gives us a chance share our seasonal bloom. Thank you, Carol!

Commonweeder – My Ninth Blogaversary

View from the window in Heath, MA, where the Commonweeder was born in 2007

View from the window in Heath, MA, where the Commonweeder was born in 2007

It  was on a snowy December 6 in 2007, the feast of St. Nicholas, that I inaugurated my Commonweeder blog. On this anniversary I’m taking a  look at the last nine years, on the blog, in the garden, and in my life. That first post gave a hint that I was not only a gardener but a reader. I mentioned Eleanor Perenyi’s wonderful book Green Thoughts, and a chapter that talked about the house and garden that was owned by Henry James and E.F. Benson at different times. James and Benson were both writers whose works were very different. And so were their gardens. It is the differences in all our gardens that I have especially come to appreciate and love.

December 15, 2008 Heath Ice Storm

December 15, 2008 Heath Ice Storm

My First Blogaversary was quiet and uneventful but on the December 12, there was a terrific and very beautiful ice storm that left the town encased in ice for more than three days – brilliant sun but near zero temperatures. I wrote about that excitement here. There were meals prepared at the Community Hall because so many didn’t have power or heat. The National Guard came to help clear the roads and they slept on the floor in the Community Hall.

Henry and our freshly cut Christmas tree in 2009

Henry and our freshly cut Christmas tree in 2009

This 2009 photo became an iconic view of Christmas at our house, Henry tramping through the snow with a tree cut from our snowbreak. I was following  with the camera and the tree cutting tools. We are now in a new in-town house and this is my favorite photo of the Heath house. Three years of blogging have passed with thoughts about gardens, gardeners, garden books, Bloom Day, and all t he directions down the garden path that all gardeners travel, history, myth,and art.

Lyanee Merchant and her mother

Layanee Merchant and her mother

In 2010 Layanee Merchant of Ledge and Gardens fame, and her mother visited my garden, Elsa Bakalar’s garden (although it no longer had her hand at the helm) the Bridge of Flowers and The Glacial Potholes. They said the trip to  the Bridge of Flowers alone was  worth  the trip. Their visit was a highlight of my year. Blogging brought me so many new friends and widened my world.

The daylily bank

The Daylily Bank looking good

It’s 2011 and I  think this is the fourth year of the Daylily Bank and it is finally looking pretty good. I don’t know why it took us decades to  find this solution to the steep bank right in front of  the house. No mowing and beautiful color.

Winterfare, a winter  farmer's market

Winterfare, a winter farmer’s market

In 2012 I attended my first Winterfare, a winter Farmers Market. We are fortunate to live where there are so many small farms bringing us wonderful fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and even meat. It has been exciting to see this renaissance of farming. Gone is the tobacco and here is the goodness of fresh, organic foods from potatoes to the honey wine called mead and an array of ciders, sweet and hard.

Great granddaughters,  Bella and Lola

Great granddaughters, Bella and Lola

In 2013 our great-granddaughters, Bella and Lola came to live in Massachusetts, not far from us. We put them right to work cleaning out the shed and then helping prepare for the Annual Rose Viewing. A garden grows and so do families.

Purinton Pink rose at the Annual Rose Viewing 2014

Purinton Pink rose at the Annual Rose Viewing 2014

The Rose Walk grew and grew including the Queen of Denmark  and Madame Hardy, but I also had a collection of Farm Girls, roses from local farms that had often been tended for many decades. There was Rachel’s Rose and more recently this sturdy, dainty and sweet Purinton Rose, given to me by those at Woodslawn Farm in Colrain.  If you want you take a Virtual Tour of the Rose Walk.  In 2014 we held the penultimate Rose Viewing. We were thinking about leaving Heath for life in the town of Greenfield.

A load of Heath plants for the Greenfield garden

A load of Heath plants for the Greenfield garden

In early spring of 2015 we bought a house in Greenfield and started our new garden with plants  from the Heath gardens. The Greenfield house had no gardens at all and we were eager get to get started right away. A gardener’s blank canvas cannot be left blank for long. We began with the South Border which was drier than the backyard which we knew was wet from the moment we saw the house.

February 2016 flood

February 2016 flood

In 2016 this February flood showed us just how wet our garden could get.  You can also see the fence we put up, a mate to  the fence in  our neighbors garden. I was dubious about the fence, but it gave the garden definition.

Button bush

Button bush can grow in the water

In 2016, having sold the Heath house, and begun settling in at the Greenfield house we learned that our new garden was not only wet, it could become a pond. But we were undaunted and chose our plants, shrubs, trees, and perennials that tolerated, or even loved, water.

Now that I have arrived at my 9th year of blogging I am thinking of all the benefits the Commonweeder has brought me, visits to many gardens across the country, new friendships, and the most delightful ways to learn about plants. Now I am moving into a new stage in my life and on my blog. Here a few photos of my summer 2016 new garden.

My daughter Betsy and her man Mike, throwing 8 yards of soil on the Hugel.

My daughter Betsy and her man Mike, throwing 8 yards of soil on the Hugel. Henry, too.

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

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


Kordes Lions Fairy Tale Rose

Kordes Lion’s Fairy Tale rose

Only a few roses can be planted in the new garden, but the Greenfield climate allows for more tender roses like this Lions Fairy Tale disease resistant rose which began blooming in late May and continued through October. Now we are on to a new season in the garden.

Farewell to the End of the Road


House at the end of the Road

House at the End of the Road

The time has come to say farewell to the End of the Road. You will notice I am not saying farewell to Heath, because our presence in Heath will not end. When it was clear that it was time to make a move and be closer to our children we realized we did not want to move away from old friends. We expect to make new friends in Greenfield, but we will keep our old friends in Heath and the surrounding towns.

The farewell is to our house where we have poured love and effort. The house holds strong memories beginning with the first night we spent there in November 1979 with our three daughters, Diane, Betsy and (then) Kathy, now all grown up Kate. Though moving day in NYC began very warm, by the time we got to Heath that evening the temperature had gone down to 10 degrees and the wind was blowing. We were late arriving so the plumber who was to meet us there gave up and left. That left us with no heat or water. Nothing to do but laugh and say we were on the frontier now. We built a fire in the stone fireplace with punky wood left in the shed, and pulled up water from the old well.

The house changed over the years as we made improvements but it is the memory of people and events that sheltered in that house that will remain with us. There were graduation parties for Chris from RPI, Betsy and Kate from Mohawk, GCC and later from Clark and Bentley. Henry graduated twice from UMass, first with his BS and then his Masters. The weather provided the drama and entertainment when Kate married Greg amid the roses.

With our first granddaughter Tracy, age 5 at our side, it was in that house that we greeted our second granddaughter Tricia at age one month for her first Heath Fair. Nine years ago we welcomed Tracy’s daughter Bella age three months. We celebrated Boy’s Weeks, and Girl’s Weeks when grandchildren came to visit in the summer.

There were riotous and educational Heath Fairs. At our first Heath Fair I learned that my china bowl of blackberries was disqualified because they needed to be in a standard cardboard container. Agricultural fairs had a mission of teaching farmers how to market their produce. Since then the grandchildren and I have won many prize ribbons.

Of course there were the gardens that changed over time. The first spring in Heath we got Luis Pazmino to come and plow up half an acre. How foolish I was! And determined, never listening to good advice. Needless to say the vegetable garden got smaller and smaller until a bad hip demanded a 12 by 12 foot plot.  Hip repair made the garden grow again until it was again too big.

My only interest in gardens in 1979 was for vegetable gardens and a few romantic antique roses like Passionate Nymph’s Thigh. My original planting of the Passionate Nymph by the front door, and Griffith Buck’s hardy Applejack at the head of our drive ultimately inspired The Rose Walk. And it was our neighbor Sheila who inspired The Annual Rose Viewing. We had invited the Heath Gourmet Club to a summer tea party and to enjoy my half dozen roses. As she polished off her second or third piece of cake Sheila said “You should do this every year.”  And so we did! We held more than 25 Rose Viewings, inviting everyone to our Garden Open Today.

My interests changed when I met our neighbor Elsa Bakalar who introduced me to perennials. I then launched a 90 by 8 foot perennial border. Twice foolish I was. That particular project did not last long. The border was a total loss when we returned from our first year in China in 1990.

It was in 1990 that we planted the first Family Trees, linden trees, for Diane, Betsy, Kate, and granddaughters Tricia and Caitlin. Weather takes a toll and only Diane and Caitlin’s trees remain.

In 1996 our first two grandsons were born, joined by three more boys in 1998. They all, Rory, Anthony, Tynan, Ryan and Drew,  got their trees, ginkgos as a reminder of our second year in Beijing, when we planted the Lawn Beds.

A family grows and changes. A garden grows and changes. Everything changes.

Now we are in the process of changing again. We bought a smaller more manageable house in Greenfield. We changed the colors of some rooms and found new ways of arranging our furnishings.

View from the Heath window

View from the Heath window

Instead of 60 acres with panoramic sunny views and a Rose Walk, Rose Shed Bed, Daylily Bank, Rose Bank, vegetable garden, berry patches, a peony border and two Lawn Beds we have a 66 by 170 foot lot with a more limited view in the shade. We are changing that limited grassy view. I am old enough for shrubs! Many shrubs like hydrangeas, viburnams, winterberries, a dappled willow, clethera, buttonbush, mountain laurel, elderberry, yellow twig dogwood, lilacs, and fothergilla are just the beginnings of this new garden.

View from the Greenfield window

View from the Greenfield

I added garden memories and moved a Purington pink rose, a Rangoon  rhododendron, and a nearly dead red tree peony, as well as a few pieces of daylily, aster, Siberian iris and lady’s mantle to the new Greenfield garden.

We are settling into our new life. A new neighbor has already brought me a few small iris divisions, the beginning of a new FriendshipGarden.

We are now full time residents of Greenfield. There will be changes in our routines, enjoyment in new urban pleasures like the Garden Theater and winter dreams of adding to our new garden in the spring.

Purington pink rose

Purington Pink rose