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Tony Palumbo and the Gifts of Irene


Tony Palumbo

Two years ago Irene came rampaging through the area turning the rivers into torrents overleaping their banks, washing away roads and buildings, breaking hearts and pocketbooks.

Tony Palumbo, artist, owner of the Green Emporium and gardener, was at his easel watching the rain pour down. Neighbors came urging them to leave. Palumbo’s partner, chef Michael Collins, said they would wait it out. Their house had survived the storm’s of ’38 and ’87. It would survive this one too.

Soon Palumbo and Collins were watching fish swim past their kitchen windows in the swirling waters. Suddenly the door burst open and in came the flood. The two ran upstairs to wait out the storm. In the morning the water had all disappeared from the garden, although not the kitchen, leaving behind deep mud and sand. The secret garden with its trickling fountain was buried and the vegetable and flower gardens were washed away. Also washed away was the undergrowth in the woodland at the far end of the garden.

As with all those who suffered losses, at first there was just shock. But soon Tony Palumbo became weary of people commiserating with him on the loss of his beautiful garden. “Wait til you see the next one!” became his spirited response. “My palette was cleared by the storm, I had a whole new canvas to work with.” But the question was what to do and where to begin.

One day Palumbo’s Colrain neighbor Paul Forth, artist and stonemason, walked by and saw the destruction of Palumbo’s garden. “I knew Tony from the Green Emporium where I had eaten and chatted with him, but we didn’t really know each other. When I saw the garden I had to ask if I could help,” he said.

Palumbo replied that he needed so much help he didn’t know where to start. The starting place appeared when Palumbo woke up in the middle of the night and. in a frenzy, sketched out a very different kind of garden from that which had existed. “I didn’t want to recreate what had been lost. I wanted to create something new,” he said.

“He was great to collaborate with,” Forth said. “He had the idea, and then totally trusted me as I worked from his crazy sketch.”

The Palumbo-Collins house is located between the West Branch of the North River on one side, and a stream on the other, that ultimately makes its way to the river. The first project Palumbo and Forth worked on was a dam that turned the stream into a small pond with a stone spillway. The water cascades through the large stones Forth placed in the spillway into the old streambed where watercress grows once again.

Stone Wall built by Paul Forth

The second project was a curving stone wall holding up a steep flower filled bank. Forth said that when he is choosing stones for his projects he is looking for unique stones, stones that have different color veins, or quartz or some other feature.

Standing Stones constructed by Paul Forth

The final project was the small stonehenge, a circle, one hundred feet in diameter, of standing stones around a fire pit. In his business, Stone Creations, Forth is usually working with flat stones, building steps, walkways, walls and patios, sometimes adding metal railings because he is also a blacksmith. But for the circle of standing stones he was looking for stones that were tall enough and strong enough to stand, as well as be aesthetically interesting. All the stones he used are individually chosen, which means time spent walking through the Goshen Stone Company quarry or Hillman and Sons in Shelburne, quickly eliminating many stones and then making his distinctive choices.

“I design as I go,” Forth said. “One of the stones for the smaller arch was too short so I stacked three stones.” This is an element that adds interest as well as stability.

Beyond the standing stones in the woodland, where underbrush was washed away all sorts of metal and automotive debris was unearthed. Palumbo who enjoys turning found objects into art saw immense potential in those bits of rusty car doors and hoods. For the moment he has begun this new garden by planting a shitakke mushroom pyramid that is fruiting, and created an unusual array of old windows illumined with Palumbo’s trademark neon.

When Palumbo proudly gave me a tour of the new of the new garden he said, “These are the gifts of Irene.”


White lilies in Palumbo’s garden

As we come up to the 2nd anniversary of Irene’s rampage, Tony Palumbo and Michael Collins are opening their garden to the public on Saturday, August 24 from 10 AM to 5 PM to celebrate the gifts of Irene. The garden is located at the intersection of Adamsville and North Heath Roads in Colrain.  There is no charge. Visitors will be able to admire the arresting stone work, Palumbo’s latest neon work in the new woodland garden, as well as the Secret Garden that has been resurrected from its burial in sand and clay. The magnificent trees survived, and there is a hot sauce garden filled with tomatoes and hot peppers of every kind and color bordering the surviving peonies. Palumbo’s garden sculpture series of Garden Hands ( will be available for sale.

An exhibit of his paintings, Pets and Flowers, will be on display at the Leverett Arts and Crafts Center Barnes Gallery from August 15 to September 1. A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to benefit the Dakin Animal Shelter.

Palumbo’s Secret Garden

Between the Rows   August 17, 2013


Forbes Library Leads Off Garden Tour Season

Julie Abramson’s Garden

Julie Abramson’ s garden  is just one of six garden that will enchant garden lovers on the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 8, from 10 am til 3 pm. Julie’s is a collector’s garden that features some notable trees, clematis, and a colorful array of perennials and a rock garden. I was intrigued by the description of a rustic arbor covered with climbinbing hydrangea, PLUS two other arbors covered with roses, honeysuckle and clematis. Pure romance!

One garden combines formal and informal elements with wonderful and whimsical sculptures, and a tree house. Another garden is organically maintained with a focus on native plants. The terraced backyard features many beautiful trees and shrubs. One garden consists of six colorful garden rooms and a formal French vegetable garden. I cannot miss that. There is a lawn free garden! Perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and a grid of groundcovers, but no turf. The sixth garden surrounds a four unit condominium with a woodland in the front yard, and invidual private gardens. Clearly, there is  something for everyone. Gardens to inspire and teach.

The tickets are $15.00 ($20.00 on the day of the tour) and can be bought at Forbes Library, State St. Fruit in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence, Hadley Garden Center and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.  There are also tickets for wonderful raffle items for gardens on sale at the library; they include 2 yards of Bill Obear’s compost; gift items from Women’s Work; a garden consultation from Jim McSweeney, a planted container and gift certificate from Annie’s and gift certificates of $50.00 from Bay State Perennial Farm and $100.00 from Hadley Garden Center as well as other fun items.

What a wonderful way to start the garden tour season – and help the Forbes Library which is such an important library, serving many readers beyond the Northampton borders. Proceeds will benefit the Forbes Library

Life Under Our Feet – and Fruit Over Our Heads

There is life under our feet. I have talked about living soil from time to time, but in his New York Times essay yesterday  Jim Robbins says that “One-third of living organisims live in  soil. But we know littel about them.” Well, of course I know about worms and  bugs and the mycellium that I can see, and I know the soil is full of microbes, but to think that one-third of ALL living organisims live in the soil is mind boggling. Research is going on about all this life and some of it is going on in Central Park.

“A teaspoon of soil may have billions of microbes divided among 5,000 types, thousands of species of fungi  and protozoa, nematodes, mites and a couple of termite species. How these and other pieces fit together is still largely a mystery.” What a revelation! It makes it clearer to me that it is really important to garden organically, putting food, as in compost, into the soil to feed all those organisims., and helping to maintain a healthy system.

The Sunday New York Times  also included a story by Patricia Leigh Brown talked about ‘fruit activists’  who are “using fruit to reclaim public land and expand ideas of art.” It seem apprpropriate to me that both these articles appeared on Mother’s Day, when we should also celebrate Mother Earth and think about the riches she showers upon us, and what we owe to her in gratitude and responsibility to care for and share those gifts.

The life under our feet, and the fruit over our heads are all gifts! Celebrate every day.

G is for Gardening Projects for Kids on A to Z Challenge

Gardening Projects for Kids by Cohen and Fisher

G is for Garden Projects for Kids: 101 ways to get kids outside, dirty, and having fun by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher of LIfe Lab in Santa Cruz, California.

Surely, my regular readers would not expect me to get through a whole month of posts without including a book or two. And this book from Timber Press is a doozy.  Garden Project for Kids is not only about growing veggies, but about other designing the garden so that there is room for a fairy garden, a swing, birdhouses, a bed where they can just dig. The beautiful photos in this book suggest that it is for the parents of very young children, but it seems to me, that once you get children out into the garden, it will be hard to get them out of the garden as they gr ow. There is always something new to see in the garden, some thing to taste, something to wonder at, and something to turn into a science project at school. Young gardeners will never want for a science project. Have you discovered your Soil Horizons? Geology! Mathematics!

What with people talking about a ‘nature deficit’ among our children, and the prescence of so many screens in our life, parents and friends sometimes wonder who we are going to get kids back into the outdoors. Garden Projects for Kids will inspire and support the parents of young children about all the ways the garden leads to healthy playtimes. Of course, there is just plain playing in the dirt, which can lead to planting in the dirt, which can lead to harvesting and eating good treats, but it can also lead to looking at bugs, looking at all the life to be found in a square foot of ground, how to make birdhouses out of plants you have grown, and how to pound flowers into art. Lots more too.

To see what else begins with G today, click here.


Puccini’s Opera La Villi and Forget Me Nots

Forget Me Nots May 9, 2012

Yesterday I listened to bits of  Puccin’s operas at our local Senior Symposium put on by Greenfield Community College. This is an engaging and enlightening  series of programs featuring wonderful scholars and speakers like William Fregosi, who was for many years the technical coordinator for Theater Arts at M.I.T. He talked about Giacomo Puccini’s life and times. Work! Scandal! Fame! Passion! Incredible success! His estate is still collecting royalty payments for three of his operas including Turandot.

Two fascinating facts – Today about 25% of all opera performances are one of Puccini’s works. In his day he was the wealthiest classical composers ever. At the time of his death in 1924 his estate was worth (adjusted for modern times) 175 million dollars – possibly even 250 million dollars. That is success. Rightfully due to the composer of  La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly, Turandot, and more.

Le Villi was a very early work and Fregosi included in his handout the words to Anna’s Aria in Act I. I will only give the English translation.

If I were tiny like you/ Pretty flowers, then I could/ always stay close to my love. /Then I should say to him: / I think ever of you! /Then I could say to him: /Forget Me Not! / Now you, luckier than I /You will follow him, my flowers, /Over hill and dale /You will follow my love. /Ah, if onlly the name you bear /be not false, /Then say to my love: /Forget Me Not?

Alas, we were told the lover did forget Anna, but we  have this beautiful song we will not forget. And I have Forget Me Nots in my garden to remind me of all my happy memories. This was a wonderful afternoon. And part II, a discussion of Puccini’s later works is scheduled for next Thursday.

Industry Produceth Wealth – The Farmer’s Arms


Farmer’s Arms Sampler

Farmers Arms

I don’t know what prompted my mother to make this Farmer’s Arms sampler. It is true that her brother, my Uncle Wally, had a farm on the shores of Lake Champlain that our whole extended family considered Our Farm, and we kids/cousins were shipped up there for part of the summer. However,  my father tried farming but quit suddenly one frigid winter day in 1948. Of all the 20 cousins, including my five farm cousins, I may be the one now leading the most rural life. We do have lawns and bowers,  fruits and flowers and even raised pigs and chickens.. How do these things happen?

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Mr and Mrs Vegetable – Garlic Heads?

Mr and Mrs Vegetable

When we finished the remodel of our kitchen a few months ago I took Mr and Mrs Vegetable out  of the drawer where they have been living for the past two decades. I remember these from my childhood when  they hung on the kitchen wall in  New York when I was about five (1945) and then in the farm kitchen in Charlotte, Vermont. My brothers and I found them in a big storage closet  along with our childhood Christmas ornaments after my mother died in  1990. We split up the ornaments, but neither of my brothers wanted Mr and Mrs Vegetable so there was no bickering when I happily took them away.

However I never put them up on the wall until now. Now my kitchen wall is worthy of these wonderful ‘sculptures.’  My husband and I have taken to greeting each other with open arms when he arrives home at night. Somehow, after some months, this still makes us laugh. Two silly people. What can we do?

Mrs Vegetable up close

This morning as my husband prepared his morning coffee he gazed at Mrs Vegetable and said her head, and Mr Vegetable’s head, and declard they were garlic bulbs. Garlic bulbs? I don’t know if any American housewife c. 1945 even knew what a garlic bulb looked like.

Garlic Bulb from our garden

All the other vegetables that make up their bodies are easily recognizeable: potatoes, tomato, carrots, lettuce, peas, green pepper and beans. I never gave it much thought but always assumed the heads were some kind of turnip. We disagreed, but by the time he left for  work I was coming around to his way of thinking, and he was coming around to my way. What do we do now?

Do you have vegetable sculpture in your kitchen or dining room?


Welcoming Spaces in Wendell

Diane Kurinsky and Cheryl Browning

Thirty years ago Diane Kurinsky and her husband Steve Gross built a house on a plot of land in Wendell that included fields and woodland. The land was a blank slate where they have managed to create a domestic landscape that welcomes and invites the visitor, luring her on to one delight after another.

Diane Kurinsky's Heather Garden

When I drove up I parked my car in the circular drive that curves around a large ‘bed’ that Kurinsky calls the heather garden. The space is wild looking with large boulders, a couple of old trees, and the heathers she has planted where they show off well against the stones. There are also plants that enjoy the shade like hostas and ground covers, as well as young chamaecyparis

This bed is also the place where a visitor gets the first taste of the stunning metal sculptures made by Herb Gross, Steve’s father. Others are placed around the property.

Kurinsky met me on the drive accompanied by Cheryl Browning who owns the Scottish Highland cattle who enjoy Kurinsky’s pasture and who helps with the garden. Kurinsky said she and her husband come up with design together, but she and Browning provide most of the garden labor.

Browning set off for other Wendell chores, while Kurinsky and I strolled over toward the house. To the right of the house is a large curving lawn bordered by a series of garden rooms. A stroll along the edge of the lawn allows entrance into different worlds.

The Japanese Garden

Closest to the drive is the Japanese garden nestled into a wall of evergreens at its back with a small musical waterfall that originates out of the dim shadiness. “My husband Steve is the designer and the one who has to have everything just so. I’m always ready to say, oh well, its all right. He designed the Japanese garden where a weeping larch is one of the unusual trees. We tuned the waterfall, changing the rocks and level of drop until we got a sound we liked, ” Kurinsky said. She later showed me the water reservoir with its filtering and recirculating system that her husband built and hid in the woods just behind the garden.

To the left of the Japanese garden is a small and well mulched fruit orchard with four or five young trees. The left side of this space is fenced to support two espaliered pear trees. Kurinsky said their pear trees have done especially well. Between the espaliered pear trees is a simple arch leading into the Herb Garden.

The Herb Garden can also be entered more elegantly from the lawn through an ornamental archway set into a low boxwood hedge that continues along the curve of the lawn. Opposite the arch is a trellis which forms the back ‘wall’. In the center is a sundial in a bed of thyme encircled by a brick path and then curving quadrants of herbs and flowers. A bench sits in front of the trellis, suggesting that someone, if not the gardener might actually sit to enjoy this scene.

Kurinsky said they have been inspired by their travels, and other gardens they have visited. Certainly the idea of garden rooms is a result of their trips to English gardens. The low hedge continues past a caged blueberry patch and then a large raised bed for asparagus. Kurinsky explained that Wendell is famous for being wet and for sitting on ledge. Raised beds have helped keep the soil from being soggy.

Finally the hedge borders a vegetable garden which was mostly planted to flowers this year. “Our daughter was married here this summer. We grew all the flowers for her wedding including flowers for the bouquets, boutonierres and the table decorations. The wedding colors were blue and white. I just happened to have a lot of blue pots and blue garden chairs, they weren’t bought for the occasion. I was dubious about having a limited palette, but it worked so well I am thinking about other color themes for the future,” Kurinsky said.

Wedding blue and white on the patio

Many of those blue and white wedding flowers are still blooming on the brick patio laid by Gross, which is well furnished with comfortable chairs and a table where Kurinsky and Gross can enjoy outdoor meals. Other potted plants are also set out in groups on the patio, and along the brick walk that leads under a trellised arch and to a small courtyard and a little screened summerhouse. It then jogs alongside the back of the added on garage and workshop for Gross, then down a slope and onto the Sculpture Garden lawn.

Trellises are used imaginatively to delineate new spaces and the brick path is always tempting you on, just a little further to new pleasure.

What is clear from a tour of this beautiful garden is that Kurinsky and Gross are a sociable couple who have designed their domestic landscape to provide welcoming and unique spaces for friends to enjoy, and that they can routinely use themselves.

Between the Rows  September 22, 2012

A Creative Community Shows Off at the Heath Fair

Heath Fair Exhibit Hall

Our creative community got to display its imagination and skill at the 95th Annual Heath Fair from August 17-19. The Hall exhibits range from flowers, flower arrangements, vegetables and fruits on a plate or in jars, cookies, bread, maple confections, eggs, ciders, honey, quilts, knitted or crocheted hats, sweater and scarves, lego constructions, photography, art of every sort – and all categories are organized by age. Ribbons and money can be won by everyone!

Friends of the Library Book Sale Tent

I spent a lot of time working at the Friends of the Heath Library Book Sale – as I do every year. Donors of books know this is the best way to recycle books, and the pleasure they have already harvested from them while helping the library fund children’s programming and – more books. We love books in Heath!

Peter Brown - Photographer and Author

This year there were even more books than usual at the Fair. Betsy Kovacs and Jack Estes of Pleasure Boat Studio, a Literary Press, are now spending much of their time living in Heath. They organized a Local Authors tent to add to the Fair’s offerings and festivities. They collected the works of an amazing number of very local authors, and the authors themselves to read, sign and sell their books. Their list included me! I was there to read chapters from my book, The Roses at the End of the Road.  Peter Brown, pictured above, has been a part-time resident of Heath since before he was born. In a manner of speaking. His parents met in Heath when they were very young and although Robert McAfee Brown and Sydney Brown went on to notable careers far away from Heath they drove here every summer. Those trips across the Plains from California to Heath and back made a big impression on Peter who now has two beautiful books of magnificent photographs published by Norton: On the Plains, and West of Last Chance. Peter has had a stunning career both as an artist and teacher which you can read about briefly here. We Heathans are proud to claim him as one of our own.

Others who read at the Author’s Tent were Tinky Weisblat, author of the Pudding Hollow Cookbook (which includes a recipe of mine!) and of the What’s A Girl to Do Blog. I do not have any other good friends who are such good cooks and good writers. Tinky spoke with the illustrious Alice Parker (they both live in Hawley and have known each other for eons) who brought her books on music and recordings. Susan Todd was there reading Carol Purington’s poetry. I have written about Carol and her work, and her family’s roses in earlier posts. Susan’s husband Dick Todd also read from his latest book, The Thing Itself.  Laura Rodley, Jody Cothey, Dave Howland, Michael Hoberman, Susie Chang, Alfred Alcorn, Deborah McCutchen, Saloma Furlong,  and Jim Carse all read from their books. Talk about local creativity and skill!

Drew, Mother Earth, and Anthony

While I was very interested in all the literary activity at the Heath Fair, and I did come home with a BIG box of books, there were many other delights that other members of my family enjoyed. The gymkhana, the Fireman’s barbecue with their own homemade root beer, the ox draw, the skillet toss, the blueberry/whipped cream eating contest, Mr. Flynn’s wagon rides, fabulous music including the Sweetback Sisters, and of course, the Heath Fair parade. I didn’t get a photo of the parade this year, but I did get a photo of my Texas grandsons standing with Mother Earth created by Larry Sampson with Lyra Johnson and the Summer Children’s Reading Program and dressed by Kara Leistyna who is know for her talent with a needle.  We love books; we love nature; we love children – and all our loves meet at the Heath Fair.

More Wonders at Mass MoCA on Wordless Wednesday

God's Eyes

I did not notice these wonders at Mass MoCA until about the fourth time through All Utopia’s Fell by Michael Oatman. This exhibit is an Airstream trailer rigged up like a space capsule that has crashlanded and is hung up in the air on an old factory building, crammed with all the equipment for necessary for spacemen to live and work. Finally I noticed that  this craft has God’s eyes everywhere.

God's eyes

God's eyes

God's eyes

God's eyes

Short wave radio and star charts

Was Michael Oatman suggesting that God’s eyes were on these space travelers as they voyaged among the galaxies?

Diane Landry's Knight of Infinite Resignation

Diane Landry‘s dark room kinetic sculpture has nothing to do with All Utopias Fell, but we almost felt we had left Mass MoCa and were among the falling stars of the Perseids.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.