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Daniel Greene – My Good Bunch Farm At Last

Teri and Daniel Greene

Teri Rutherford and Daniel Greene

Good Bunch Farm didn’t grow overnight. Like many new students entering the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Daniel Greene did not know what he really wanted to do. This was a new environment, filled with new people, new freedoms, and new ideas. He did know he was concerned about climate change and other environmental issues. Academics and learning were important but he was eager to get to work, get his hands dirty. But his ultimate goal was not clear.

As he began his studies he realized he was surrounded by farms and a university with agricultural programs. In 2008 he graduated with a degree in Sustainable Agriculture.

After graduation he began his years of peripatetic farming. He moved to Shelburne Falls and worked on a Conway farm as manager and planted his first field of vegetables.

There were a few years of moving and farming in Colrain, Shelburne Center, and Ashfield. Four years ago he was renting fields in Conway again. Last fall Greene decided it was time to move to his own land permanently.

He bought an old house in need of a lot of work in Charlemont that came with eight acres. By this time he had a partner, Teri Rutherford. They met while they were both working at Gloriosa and Co. in Ashfield. One of the strings in Greene’s bow is carpentry. He was working on the old barn which was used for special events – like weddings. With Gloria Pacosa’s help, Rutherford was learning how to be a wedding organizer. I thought it was very romantic that they met where they were surrounded by beautiful plants – and love.

Greene and Rutherford spent a lot of time last fall working on the house. At the same time Greene was also working on the year-end harvests and field work on his rented two acres in Conway. Rutherford was now working at the Valley View Farm in Haydenville, coordinating and pre-planning weddings.

By the time the holidays were in sight, the couple had finished enough electrical and plumbing renovations to make the house livable. They moved in.

Greene has now had a full season of planting and harvesting in back of his house, as well as finishing up in Conway. He and Teri gave me the tour of plantings and necessary work spaces. Early in the spring he had planted a quick buckwheat cover crop before planting, very aware of how important soil improvement is on a new property.

The long hoop house was mostly filled with all kinds of tomatoes climbing up wires to supports. Another long hoop house will join this one next spring.

Right now another long bed filled with tomatoes, ground cherries and tomatillos is being harvested. One section was filled with Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana). I had never seen much less heard of goldenberry before. “I’m growing it more for fun than anything, but this is a trial plot for Rutgers University. Rutgers is testing this crop for small farms with CSA programs because many small farms don’t grow fruit,” Green said.

Goldenberries are a small, cherry sized fruit that tastes like a mix of pineapple, strawberry, and sour cherry. These little fruits can be eaten raw, dried or made into jam. They can be harvested over six weeks and be a financial benefit to a small farm.

Cucamelon

Cucamelon

Greene has other experiments. He showed me a section devoted to Mexican Cucamelon also known as Sour Gherkin Cucumber (Melothria scabra). This fruit shaped like a tiny watermelon ripens in75 days. I tasted one and it does taste a bit like a cucumber. They give a big harvest and they do look pretty on their vines.

There are fields that cannot be seen from the house because of an intervening woodland, but we walked up the hill and Greene pointed to plots planted with sorghum-sudangrass hybrids in preparation for planting next year. This hybrid is a soil builder, weed suppressor, and subsoil loosener..

“I’ll cut down the sorghum-sudangrass early in the spring, and chop it up and into the soil. I won’t be able to plant small vegetables in that plot, but squashes should be able to thrive,” he said.

Planting, growing and harvesting vegetables aren’t the end of a farmer’s work. Greene showed me a small production house where produce is washed and the leafy crops even get spin-dried in an old washing machine.

Then produce is stored in a chilled concrete room ready to be brought to the Friday Shelburne Falls Farmer’s Market and the Saturday, Ashfield Farmer’s Market. Greene also delivers vegetables to several restaurants including the Blue Rock Restaurant and Bar, Hearty Eats, Ashfield Lake House, and others.

Rutherford is responsible for keeping the Farm Stand supplied. The milkhouse part of the old dairy barn has been renovated to house a cooler, a table with a variety of vegetables  – and honor system payment.

After the tour we walked back to the house and sat on the porch. I felt the serenity of the spot, looking across the lawn at the magnificent old trees. We chatted about all the work that had been done, and work that waited. There was a silence then Greene smiled a small smile. “I think I have pretty much accomplished my ten year plan.”

I smiled. I think he  is ready  for  the next ten years to begin.

Between the Rows   September 7, 2019

Autumnal Flowers Provide Bloom Through October

Japanese anemone

Anemone ‘Robustissima’

Tomorrow it will be September. How did autumn creep up on us? There are only 22 days before we celebrate the autumnal Equinox on September 23. The real question is have we selected flowers that will bloom through the fall?

As I look around my garden I see a number of plants that have just begun to bloom. My ever larger clump of pale pink Japanese anemones, Anemone vitifolia ‘Robustissima’ has just begun to bloom. I love the way the dainty pink flowers dance on their delicate, but strong stems. I also love the way it has spread over the past four years, but in the spring I will need to do some thinning. I’ll have shoots for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale.

Dahlia

Dahlia with bee

The Bridge of Flowers can give interested gardeners a great lesson in the variety of form and color and the vitality of dahlias. Some dahlias begin blooming in late June, but more and more begin blooming as the season progresses. There are single dahlias that look like fat daisies, as well as pom pons that bloom early. Fancier dahlias include huge blossoms up to 10 inches across in colors from white to dark wine red.

Dahlias grow from tubers that are planted in the spring. At the end of the season the tuber, which now has additional tubers attached, needs to be dug up and stored for the winter. Next spring you will have three or four tubers to plant – or trade with a friend for a different dahlia style or color.

Potted chrysanthemums are already showing up in front of supermarkets. These mums, as we call them, will only give you pleasure this year, but you can grow mums that will come back every year. Like dahlias chrysanthemums come in many sizes, color and forms. We are lucky that we can go to the annual Chrysanthemum Show at the Lyman Greenhouse at Smith College from November 2-17 and see those brilliant flowers.

Spoon chrysanthemums and asters

Spoon mums and asters

There are 13 classes of chrysanthemums from blossoms with incurved petals, reflex petals, through single and semi-double blossoms to spoon mums that have petals ending with a spoon shape.

I am not sure what category my Sheffield daisies fall into, but they are also classified as a chrysanthemum. Sheffies are great autumnal plants, cheerfully pink beginning in September and blooming well through October. They are a little floppy around the edges but they are wonderfully determined and dependable.

Sheffield daisies

Sheffield daisies in November

I recently found it fascinating to learn that mums are related to dahlias, sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias, and cosmos, all of which will bloom into the fall

The large family of asters are familiar and important autumnal flowers. I have Wood’s Blue with a yellow center, a wonderfully spreading low growing aster. It prefers full sun, but mine tolerate late afternoon shade.

Alma Potchke is a popular aster, in a cheerful shade of deep pink with yellow centers. She is about three feet tall and in my garden she thrives in a very sunny spot.

Boltonia Snowbank is also an aster, thriving in the sun and forming an upright tall snowy white mound up to five feet tall. It is one of the latest blooming asters. In fact, all these three asters bloom from early to late fall.

Boltonia

Boltonia

Aster Frikartii is a blue/lavender aster with a yellow center that has been a standard in the fall garden for many years. Given good rich soil and sun it will form a flowery mound three feet tall and wide. It will bloom earlier than the other three asters, and finish earlier.

What all these asters have in common is their benefits to pollinators until late in the season. They also attract butterflies, and are ideal for bouquets.

There are other perennials that will bloom into the fall including pink turtlehead, Joe Pye weed, black eyed susans, phlox, and large sedums like Autumn Joy.

Large shrubs like hydrangea have an important place in the fall garden. Hydrangea paniculata is also known as hardy hydrangea because it tolerates winters well. By annual pruning you can manage its size which can range from 8 to 15 feet. Paniculata blooms on new wood which means pruning back in very early spring.

'Firelight" hydrangea

Hydrangea “Firelight’

Hydrangeas don’t begin to make buds until summer begins. Those buds grow and open slowly through the summer and the fall. They prefer a rich soil and a sunny location.

Paniculatas are now available in colors other than white. Their colors change over the summer. This is just the way the color develops. Paniculata color is not altered by having more or less lime in the soil. In my garden there is Limelight, which slowly turns from white to a pale shade of green. So far it is about six or seven feet tall. If you prefer a dependably small green hydrangea Little Lime is waiting for you. Its size will range between three and five feet.

Angel’s Blush and Firelight are about the same size, the first will be a very pale shade of pink, and Firelight will become more and more red as the season progresses. These are now about seven feet tall and will get taller.

A little deadheading here and there will keep the rest of the garden looking neat and attractive through autumn days.

Between  the Rows  August 31, 2019

Greenfield – It’s a Beautiful Town

John Zon Community Center

John Zon Community Center Volunteers Ardie Kiem, Hope McCary, Nancee Bershoff, Wisty Rorabacher, Dorothea Soritiros, Tom Sullivan

To my eyes Greenfield becomes more beautiful every year. Many homes have less grass and more flower gardens that bring smiles to passers-by. There are flowering trees everywhere in the spring. Baystate Franklin Hospital, Greenfield Savings Bank and others have beautiful public plantings.

One new public garden is specifically designed to support pollinators, the birds and the bees. This Meadow Garden was planted and is being maintained by volunteers in front of the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street. Whether you walk on the Pleasant Street sidewalk, or want to stroll on a path through the middle of the garden, you are surrounded by blooming plants in every season. Nancee Bershoff spearheaded this project and Wisty Rorabacher made plant identification tags for the plants.

The Energy Park

All native plants in Energy Park

My plot in the Energy Park – All native plants

Many people walk through the Energy Park at the end of Miles Street. In 1997 an unused space began its transformation into a welcoming park with trees and native plants as well as a train caboose, a wooden train for young children, stone benches for everyone and a solar array to encourage our thinking about energy production.

Nancy Hazard is one of the people who organized a group to volunteer in refreshing and maintaining the Park plantings. Last year two tulip trees and a disease resistant elm were installed along with new plantings of native plants. It is native plants that satisfy the birds and bees in our area.

River Works Park

Brookie sculpture

Susan Worgaftik and Brookie

Recently I visited the River Works Park on Deerfield Street with Susan Worgaftik, a volunteer. Worgaftik helped make this attractive and comfortable park that could be enjoyed by the local community. In 2012 Mayor Martin stated his plan for that space and worked with Worgaftik and a dozen other volunteers.

Because this park is built on a site previously used by a gas station, the ground was contaminated and could not be used as a playground.

Worgaftik pointed to Brookie, the steel sculpture a stunning element of the garden. “Every year the Wormtown Festival makes a donation to the town and that year, it was given to the park. That donation funded a sculpture which the mayor wanted. About 10 designs were presented but John Sendelbach’s brook trout, Brookie, was chosen. Then the call went out for stainless steel cutlery to help make the sculpture.

“Brookie moves with the wind and sometimes confuses people because the movement is so gentle. Local cultural councils paid for the lighting which is connected to town street lights right next to the park. Brookie is a beauty, day and night.”

Worgaftik and I sat on memorial benches and enjoyed the shade of the afternoon. She explained that plants, including trees are all donated. The town keeps the lawn mowed, but volunteers clean and organize in the spring and in the fall. “It doesn’t take a lot of labor to make the park a pleasurable place,” she said.

Greenfield Tree Committee

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine

Mary Chicoine has always loved trees, no matter where her professional life took her. That love took her to the Conway School of Landscape Design, where she earned her Masters Degree in 2010. With a nudge from Nancy Hazard it also took her to volunteering with the Greenfield Tree Committee.

She was able to use her Conway School tools to benefit the town when she worked for the FRCOG. She was able to get a challenge grant from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). With that grant she did a town tree inventory. It showed that the town needed more trees.

Chicoine is now retired and is working with a U.S. Forest Service grant that is paying for the planting of 800 trees over three years. Gala neighborhood celebrations accompanied the tree plantings on Haywood, Washington, and Birch Streets, as well as Oak Courts. “We’ll be training tree stewards, too,’ she said.

Redbud

Redbud on Birch Street

Chicoine happily added that gas lines will no longer be put on the tree belt which is public property. Trees belong on the tree belt and gas lines belong under the road.

The DPW has also been busy. Chicoine said Mike Duclos and Paul Raskevitz have planted 200 trees this year.

Fiske Avenue Garden

Parks and trees have an important influence on a town’s personality, but small gardens are also important. A small group of volunteers are renovating the weedy slope along Fiske Avenue. Paul Labreque, a co-owner of the Root Cellar music-lounge bar under Mesa Verde, expressed his pleasure as weeds came out and plants went in. “I was so pleased to see these people working on the bank. It definitely brightens up that whole area. They were using beautiful plants, not just ordinary things. It’s pretty beautiful,” he said.

Volunteers are creating many beautifying projects. Main Street has shade trees. The parking lot behind Wilson’s has rain gardens with pollinator plants. Four Corners School has a curriculum that includes learning about plants and our environment.

The question is what can businesses do to make our town more beautiful? What can town committees do?  What can  organizations do? What can you do?

Between the Rows  August 24, 2019

Garden Books – Gardens Around the World and in Our Imagination

Gardenlust

Gardenlust by Christopher Woods

Gardenlust by Christopher Woods

The first of the garden books I’ve been reading is Gardenlust: A Botanical Tour of the World’s Best New Gardens by Christopher Woods (Timber Press $40).

Gardenlust is a beautiful book with stunning photographs of amazing gardens. Woods has very specifically chosen fifty gardens created in the past twenty years. There are gardens from North America, mostly the U.S., then on to the other Americas, Europe, Africa, India, Asia and Australia and New Zealand. Needless to say the approach and plants in each area are very different.

As it happens I visited the Chinese Garden of Flowing Fragrance at the Huntington Botanical Garden in San Marino, California a couple of years ago. The Huntington also has a Japanese garden but this classical Chinese garden is very new.

The lake of Reflected Fragrance is in the center of the Garden. In this shan shui landscape with its plants, eroded limestone boulders, and lake the visitor sees mountains, water, and balance.

Obviously this garden is not located in a Chinese climate. However, California plants like sago palms, California incense cedar and other plants have found their place is this peaceful garden.

The importance of trees are much discussed as we consider climate change. The Tree Museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland is a small garden. Its two and a half acres are owner Enzo Enea’s collection of rescued trees. When he found trees about to be bulldozed and discarded, he brought them to his garden. There is an allee of bald cypress, and plants like a fragrant azealea in large pots. Sinuous clipped shrubs balance the strict geometry of hedges.

The Aloe Farm in Hartsbeespoort, South Africa is something of a display garden, a nursery and botanical garden. I am never likely to walk among the 400-500 species of aloe that grow in South Africa, but it is a delight to see their color and many forms in this wonderful book.

One Central Park in Sydney, Australia (1000 square meters) is made of two buildings, 16 and 33 stories high. The buildings are draped with hydroponic gardens which are comprised of 35,000 plants. There are also bougainvillea, and many other vines, and many grasses are planted on the roof. This garden and art installation attracted so many visitors, that an artificial lawn had to be installed around the buildings.

I hope I have tempted you to pick up this extraordinary book and continue exploring other wonderful gardens.

The Posy Book by Teresa H. Sabankaya

The Posy Book

The Posy Book by Teresa Sabankaya

The Posy Book: Garden Inspired Bouquets That Tell a Story by Teresa H. Sabankaya (Countryman Press $24.95) is a delightful book about the messages you can send to friends and loved ones.  A ‘posy’ is a small bouquet, and the message is created by the language of flowers.

There are other garden books that translate the language of flowers like Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers and Mandy Kirkby’s Victorian Flower Dictionary, but Sabankaya gives us a much larger vocabulary, as well as suggestions for specific flowers for arrangements.

The book suggests the flowers for many messages, and gives specific instruction on how to create a posy. Clear photographs make the process easy to understand.

Beyond that, she also suggests creating pretty sentiment tags the recipient can keep, a reminder of the sentiments expressed.

The Posy Book is not just a how-to. There is a history of the way flowers were used as symbols from ancient times. It is certainly easy to understand the appeal flowers have had over the centuries. Today flowers remain an important part of funerals, as well as weddings and other important occasions.

The final third of the book includes a large floral dictionary. In addition there are suggestions of particular flowers for specific occasions like goldenrod (encouragement), freesias (trust and thoughtfulness), dock (patience) and elderberry for kindness and compassion to be sent to a mother-to-be.

Flowers, plant and tree foliage, herbs, all can be used in a posy with its tender message.

The Green Giant by Katie Cottle

The Green Giant book

The Green Giant by Katie Cottle

The Green Giant by Katie Cottle (Pavilion $16.95) is only  one of the garden books available for the young set. However, there is always something all of us can enjoy and learn. In this case, Bea and her dog are finding summer on grandpa’s farm boring until . . . Bea chases the dog who chases a cat. Bea finds herself at a greenhouse filled with plants. There she meets the Green Giant. At  first she is frightened, but the Green Giant is friendly and tells her how he grew up in a gray city, until he ran away to the country.

All summer Bea, her dog and the Giant play among all the plants on the farm. When it is time to leave the Green Giant gives her seeds to bring back to the city. She spreads those seeds and the city becomes greener and greener.

All three books can inspire us about ways we can find to make our back yards, our home towns, and cities greener in every sense, and more beautiful.

Between the Rows   August 17, 2019

 

Mysterious Mutant rudbeckia Blooms in Orange, Massachusetts

Mutation rudbeckia

Mutation rudbeckia

In mid-July I received an email from Peter Guertin in Orange who told me about the mutant rudbeckias he had growing in his garden. He included several photos of those mutant rudbeckias. One looked like a smile in the middle of the flower. One looked like a fat caterpillar growing across the center of the blossom. One blossom had two black eyes, almost back to back creating two attached blossoms. They were very odd flowers indeed. I was delighted to be invited to come and see them for myself.

Guertin’s email also passed on information from Dr. Kevin C. Vaughn about these mutant rudbeckias. “From what Dr. Kevin Vaughn has told me, they are called cristate or fastigate mutants.  The normal plant meristem (growing point) is shaped like a dome.  In the cristate type, the meristem converts to a linear structure”. That at least explained to me that mutant plants do exist, and they take different forms. But who was the Dr. Kevin Vaughn giving this information?

I should have known because right on the shelf near my desk is a beautifully illustrated book, Beardless Irises: A Plant for Every Garden Situation by Kevin C. Vaughn. It turns out Dr. Vaughn has many strings to his bow. Almost literally.

Peter and Elaine Guertin

Guertin grew up with Elaine McCobb who he ultimately married, and Vaughn. As a nine year old, Vaughn had already begun growing a collection of Siberian Iris, but he and Guertin and Elaine became friends through the music classes in their school. Elaine has now retired from teaching, but continues to play clarinet with many local bands, and Vaughn, who now lives in Oregon, plays a multiplicity of woodwinds with many orchestras, as well as carrying on in  the plant world.

The Guertins remain dear friends of Vaughn and they showed me all the daylily hybrids he had sent them. Many of these were rejects from his daylily hybridizing efforts. But they were still beautiful.

Vaughns hybrid daylily

Vaughn hybrid daylily with Guertin’s hand to give a sense of size

Vaughn also hybridizes succulents and has a new book titled Sempervivum: A Gardener’s Perspective of the Not-So-Humble Hens-and-Chicks. I am amazed that there are now seven thousand varieties of sempervivum available to gardeners. Guertin gave me a tour of some of the ‘hens and chicks’ that Vaughn had sent to him. I can hardly comprehend how many forms a particular kind of plant can take.

sembervivums

Sempervivums

When I got home  I went and looked at the black-eyed susans in my garden. No mutants there. But right next to them was a clump of a similar plants. The leaves were much finer and the brown eye was small and looked a little like a blunt ice cream cone. There were not as many petals and they were also very fine. I did find 43 rudbeckia varieties listed and pictured online, but none seemed exactly like mine. I think it is Ratibida pinnata, sometimes known as Missouri coneflower. It is not a mutant.

Between Guertin’s mutant black rudbeckias,  Vaughn’s hybrids and my ratibida I realized there are many ways that plants have changed over the ages. I am sure many of you have visited Smith College’s Lyman Plant house for the spectacular Spring Bulb Show or the  autumnal Chrysanthemum show. I hope you have also visited the fascinating 60 foot mural telling the story of plants through the ages. 3,500 million years ago there was only bacteria and that lived in the water.

In the early Devonian period, 400 million years ago, the first tiny vascular plants, plants with food and water conducting tissue, began to evolve. Then came the Devonian Explosion which “resulted in plants becoming more complex, evolving roots, leaves, and more complex reproductive structures.” In the late Devonian period trees evolved.

The late carboniferous period was a time when trees in tropical swamps lived and died, ultimately transformed into coal.

It was not until the Cretaceous periods, 130-60 million years ago, that flowering plants of all sorts arose along with animal pollinators.

We are now in the Holocene era, from the birth of agriculture, breeding plants, and moving plants around the world.

More specifically but amazingly in just the last 200 years or so, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) were at work discovering ways that plants could be manipulated.

Now we gardeners wait for the arrival of plant catalogs to tell us about the latest hybrids available for our gardens. The very first farmers attended to the strongest, biggest, most delicious or other beneficial attributes, and took the seed from those plants to have stronger, better plants the following year. Then came cross pollinating.

The reason for creating  hybrids is to give us bigger, or smaller plants, different colors, different flower forms, more dependability, or more tolerance of heat or cold.

Nowadays hybrids can also be created by genetic engineering/gene modification.  There is a lot of debate over the wisdom of GMOs, which is a story for another day, but it certainly is a technique  that is being used today.

For myself I enjoy native plants, cross pollinated plants, and surprising mutated plants.  I am glad I got to visit the beauties and surprises of the Guertin garden.

Between the Rows   August 10, 2019

Christin Couture – Nearest Faraway Place Exhibit in Northampton

Christin Couture encaustic painting

Encaustic painting – Indigo Falls

The title of Christin Couture’s Nearest Faraway Place exhibit might sound confusing to many people. For Christin Couture that Place is about more than a shadowy woodland, and rushing river water. “The view is like a theater. A theater is always changing. This view I have is of the changing seasons and weather.  I never tire of this scene. The location is the anchor of all the paintings. Everything else is changeable,” she said.

For nearly 15 years she has been painting the same view from her house with its innumerable changes through the hours of the day and seasons of the year. The 25 paintings on view at the Oresman Gallery at the Brown Fine Arts Center are small. The wood panels measure only 10×8, 6×8, and 9×12 inches, though some are doubled. These paintings use the technique called encaustic. The paintings are mixed mediums using beeswax, candelilla wax, oil pigment, acrylics, and colored pencils.

“In 2005 I did the first painting. I was just experimenting, and I put the painting away in a drawer. Later, Bill, my husband, happened to find it and said they were great.  So I started to do some more.

“I went to Peter Curtis of Mole Hollow Candles and he gave me a thick sheet of bees wax. I put it in the freezer because then I could break off a piece when I needed it.  I was going to try it with various pigments.  This was not at all planned.  I was just doing, not thinking about an exhibit.  I just got wrapped up in the image and in the colors,” Couture said.

“Encaustic painting is very physical, you can move it around. Its malleable, you can scrape off the wax if you make mistakes.  You don’t have that benefit when you are working with other media. You can’t correct watercolor mistakes or acrylics. With oils you have to wait until they are dry. In addition, there is a beautiful translucence.  That is the beauty of wax.”

Sunset encaustic painting

Sunset by Christin Couture

Couture told me about the pleasure she feels working with beeswax. “Beeswax just smells wonderful when it is melting and you are working with it. I also use candelilla wax which comes from a Mexican plant. It is harder that beeswax. You can mix them. The beeswax can get a little harder or the candelilla a little softer. Sometimes I do an underpainting with acrylics and then I’d smooch around with the wax. It was all about experimenting. I felt it was a challenge.

“Bill is responsible for the view, Couture said. “Originally there was just a dense woodland running along a chasm near the house.  For a while there were terrible storms and Bill had to remove the fallen trees. He began to be concerned about the view. He wanted to protect the whole length of the woodland beyond his slice. That didn’t happen, but he was able to work in the woods, pleasing his own eye. Actually I couldn’t look at the mess so I began to join him in the clean up.

“Bill is a landscape designer. He is also a sculptor. He does three dimensional art – thinking about spacing, incorporating a lot of elements, making them move. He makes them alive.”

Hosie told me about learning and working as a gardener when he was in high school. He is now in charge of all the landscaping around the Couture/Hosie house. There are flowers and greenery, and the artful woodland. I was particularly taken by his extraordinary moss garden, glowing like an emerald next to the house.

When I first met Couture she was doing many other kinds of painting. I remember paintings of enormous icebergs in a dark sea, and of children that seemed a bit Gorey-esque. Apparently, Edward Gorey thought so, too, because he invited her to visit and talk over a cup of tea – or absinthe.

I remember her beautiful colorful children’s book, A Walk in the Woods. Now I have to wonder whether it was the same woodland that inspired that earlier book, and these new paintings.

Encaustic - Christin Couture

Expulsion – Encaustic painting by Christin Couture

The first encaustic paintings did not include figures, but recently she did add small figures like Adam and Eve being expelled from the paradise made of her woodland. She said it was easy to concentrate while working on these small paintings.  There was also a special intimacy working on a small scale.

Christin Couture and William Hosie

Christin Couture and William Hosie

I have often said that a walk down the garden path leads into many other paths from science to art. Monet had his water lilies, and shimmering haystacks. Georgia O’Keefe had her magnificent flowers with amazing color. Like artists, we all see and experience gardens and flowers differently.

Artists are a gift to us gardeners, because our gardens sleep for part of the year. We turn to paintings and our memories of the seasons past.

The Nearest Faraway Place will be on exhibit at the Oresman Gallery at the Brown Fine Arts Center on the Smith College campus.  Oresman Gallery Hours: Mon – Friday 8:30am – 4pm,  Friday, August 9, 5-8pm during 2nd Friday Arts Night Out. Exhibit will close August 29, 2019.

Couture has also exhibited her work at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center; DeCordova Museum & Sculpture Park; Monique Knowlton Gallery, NYC; Museo Leon Trotsky, and Galeria Arvil, Mexico City. If you are interested in purchasing any of her paintings you can reach her through her website, www.christincouture.com or email her at christincouture@icloud.com.

Between the Rows  July 27, 2019

Exploring the Hawley Bog: Lilies, Orchids, and Pitcher Plants

Canada lilies

Canada lilies in the Hawley Bog woodland  photo by Will Draxler

Years ago I tried visiting the Hawley bog, but gave up when the walkway gave out.  I had to wait to really see the bog until Sue Draxler offered to be my guide.

Sue Draxler was my neighbor when we lived in Heath. She was a very special neighbor because she loved the natural world and generously shared her knowledge of the world around us. Her love of nature showed itself in many ways, in her art works, and in exhibits of wood or insects created by her sons, Will and Alex, for display at the Heath Fair. Not only were those exhibits informative, they were beautifully arranged and labeled. This was a reflection of Draxler’s 20 years of working as a naturalist for an environmental center in New Jersey, and volunteering with other groups.

Draxler told me “Even as a child I enjoyed exploring the natural world. I would try to identify and make lists of the birds, bugs, and plants that I found. I think I told you that it was in the New Jersey Pinelands that I became enamored of bogs so I was delighted to discover the Hawley bog so nearby when we moved to Heath.”

Last week Draxler invited me to walk through the Hawley Bog with her, and her son. Will is 16 and a student at the Academy at Charlemont where he has been gaining greater and greater skills with a camera. Draxler said this was a good time to visit the Bog because the orchids would be in bloom.

Hawley Bog orchid

Rose Pogonia – Hawley bog orchid  photo by Will Draxler

I didn’t know much about bogs beyond the fact that they were perpetually wet places. I certainly didn’t know I could find orchids in a bog.

Neither did I know that the Hawley Bog is considered one of the best examples of a natural New England Bog. It covers an area of 65 acres; 25 of those acres are cared for by the Nature Conservancy and the Five Colleges, Inc. The colleges use the bog as a living classroom and laboratory for research. This fragile wetland includes a mat of peat moss 30 feet thick that floats on the open water of a glacial lake. A 700 foot walkway through the Bog was renovated a few years ago to make it available to students and to interested nature lovers.

Draxler, son Will, and I met early in the morning to drive to the Bog. We parked at the well marked entrance to the woods and began to walk. Within very few minutes we stopped admire bright and dainty Canada lilies, and to sign in at a weather proof box nailed to a tree. The Nature Conservancy likes to keep a tally of visitors and where they come from. We had not far to go through the woods to step on the walkway.

Witches broom

Witches broom is a fungus that can grow on trees and shrubs

Draxler explained that this first section was really a wet meadow. As we walked we could see that the land beneath the walkway getting wetter and wetter. It all looked very green. I did recognize the mountain laurels, but Draxler had to point out the odd collection of brown and green sticks growing on a branch. “Do you know about witches’ brooms?” she asked. No, I did not. She had to explain that this deformity was caused by fungus or viruses and it could attack trees or shrubs. I noticed many more witches’ brooms on trees and shrubs as we walked.

Then Draxler pointed out a pink orchid. This is when I learned about how to look carefully. These pink orchids were no bigger than my thumbnail. That day we only saw Rose Pogonia with its pink crest and fringed lip. Later I learned that there are about 30,000 species of orchids around the world. Large and small. As we walked we saw more and more of these tiny pink orchids. It was very exciting. Draxler said there had not been so many in bloom the previous week.

Yellow loosestrife

Yellow loosestrife, only 8-10 inches tall  photo by Will Draxler

I did recognize meadowsweet with its dainty white panicles, but Draxler patiently pointed out the Royal fern and Ostrich fern by name, as well as the delicate little yellow loosestrife, and the heart-shaped leaf of water arum. I pointed out the odd grass with little fluffy tips but it was Draxler who provided the name – cotton grass. We also saw a small meadow rue which was actually a tall meadow rue, Thalictrum polygamum,  which has no petals, but starry bursts of while threadlike stamens.

Meadow rue - photo taken by Will Draxler

Meadow rue – photo taken by Will Draxler  Very different from the meadow rue in my own garden.

As we walked there were fewer trees and shrubs, Will silently following, stopping to take photographs of the varied plants. We had to look very carefully to see the tiny sundews that were sending up tiny flowers. The pitcher plants were bigger and more familiar. Bogs don’t grow many plants because the bog soil is very acidic and has little nutrition. Carnivorous plants can happily grow in a bog because they get nutrition from their prey.

Hawley bog Pitcher plant

Hawley Bog Pitcher Plant – Sarracenia purpuria   photo by Will Draxler

We came to the end of the walkway, where it turns around and returns. From here the view is of a vast expanse of some low greenery. It was hard not to think about the thousands of years that it took to make this bog. Layer after layer of sphagnum moss grows and dies, but it does not completely decay.

We began to walk back. There was lots of greenery, grass-like plants that we did not name. However, Draxler did give me a rhyme that might help me identify the species. “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have knees that bend to the ground” referring to their jointed nodes.  I loved the rhyme in all its versions, but alas, we did not classify any of the ‘grasses’ we found.

It was two hours later that we returned to the car with a plan to return in August and in the fall, so we can both see the progression of the seasons. I cannot have a more congenial guide and teacher than Sue Draxler. Eventually, I will share those visits and  lessons some time in the future. ###

Between the Rows  July 20, 2019

Perennials and Annuals Make the Cutting Garden

peonies

Peonies have long stems and have a variety of colors and forms, perfect for a cutting garden

The rains started last August. The rains continued during our long cold spring. The effect on my garden was that a number of plants drowned including my beautiful double weeping cherry. The view from my kitchen window was now bleak and empty.

To remedy the situation now and for the future we first needed to raise our already raised planting beds. Spring rains kept us from beginning this project.  To raise the height of the beds we needed more soil and our beloved Martin’s Compost Farm could not supply that soil because the rains put a stop to their operations.

Finally, Martin’s Farm was able to deliver four more yards of compo-soil and we moved load after load to the two planting beds. Once again we had barren beds. What to do?

We began by planting a water-tolerant quince bush surrounded by water tolerant sedums, yarrow and silvery Artemisia in the most northerly bed. The water tolerant Aesclepius tuberosa, the ornamental native orange flowered milkweed, and cardinal flowers were thriving. Even so, we did add more soil to the area around these plants.

I took a different approach with the second bed, which is right in front of my kitchen windows. We hadn’t decided on a planting scheme and decided that for this year we would plant annuals on this small area while we devised a plan. In went seedlings and starts of cosmos, snapdragons, zinnias, marigolds, and two clumps of dianthus. Needless to say it doesn’t look like much right now.

Annual cosmos

Annual cosmos comes in a variety of colors. Long stems, lacy foliage

Then, one day I looked at the second bed, about eleven by eight feet, with its little flowers and thought I might turn it into a permanent cutting garden bed. The flowers in a cutting garden are chosen because they easily make pretty bouquets. Snapdragons, cosmos, and zinnias are certainly good bouquet flowers. It would be lovely to be able to share my garden by giving friends and family an occasional bouquet.

A cutting garden can make use of perennials, annuals and even herbs in a bouquet. Most gardens have perennials suitable for a bouquet. The question is will there be enough for bouquets and the flower garden. A big question.

The summer perennials that come to my mind are peonies, yarrow, phlox, helenium, gaillardia, dahlias, asters, and black eyed susans who each have their own blooming season. There are also perennials like Lady’s mantle that has gray-green ruffled leaves that make a pretty collar around a bouquet.

I think many of us are familiar with the practice of judiciously cutting back perennials early in the season to create more lush blooms later in the summer. When you prune those perennials cut them carefully and remove most leaves.

Annuals with long stems are best for many bouquets. I am always careful to choose long legged zinnias. To keep annuals blooming through the season I’ve been told that blooming annuals should be cut back once, or even twice a week. This practice will keep new flowers coming.

This regular cutting of flowers to use in bouquets means learning where to make the cut. When you are beginning to harvest annual flowers, the first cut should be made above three or four side shoots. This will generate more strong flowering shoots which will be cut back in their own time. Be careful to cut back stems that are growing towards the center of the plant to keep stems from being overcrowded.

red zinnias

Red zinnias – and annual with long stems. Vibrant color

There are many annuals that can be started by seeds, or seedlings bought at the garden center. Just a few of the annuals for a cutting garden include gomphrena,  phlox, love-lies-bleeding, Mexican sunflower, china asters, nigella, the red flanders poppy, China asters, Shasta daisies and other ‘daisy’ flowers like osteospurmums.

Herbs like rosemary, dill, sage and oregano can also have a place in a bouquet.  Herbs provide pleasant scents and attractive foliage.

Yarrow or achillea

Yarrow – a strong, long stemmed achillea

I’m known for running out to pick a few flowers to stick in a vase and calling it a day. This kind of bouquet will be pretty for a day or two. However, making a bouquet that will last for a few days takes some preparation.

The best time for cutting flowers is early in the morning or in early evening when the flower stems will be full of water.  Use a very clean pail or container with clean lukewarm water. Use a sharp snips or garden clippers to cut flower stems at about the same length so they will not crush each other in the pail.

If a plant has floppy stems I have heard that some gardeners roll the stems in newspaper to hold them erect.  Don’t crowd the flowers in your bucket.  Maybe you’ll need two buckets if you are making a large bouquet.  Also think about whether it is necessary to have a separate container for each flower you are gathering.

The bucket of flowers should be left in a cool place for at least three hours, or overnight.

I have never been very successful using floral foam, but many people swear by the help foam provides. Others like to use a bit of balled up chicken wire to hold the flowers in place.

My cutting garden has not been carefully thought out this year, but it has given me food for thought for next year.

Between the Rows  July 13, 2019

Cocktail Hour in the Garden with a Neighbor and Barbecue

Pat and Henry

My husband Henry and me, toasting our neighbor Wendy and her lush garden.

Gardening in the summer can be hot and dirty. But a reprieve is the reward. It’s time to put away our tools and wash up. It’s time for a tranquil cocktail hour in the garden. Time to sit with a spouse, and time to sit with a friend in the midst of your garden beauty. The ideal place for the cocktail hour is in the shade with birds chirping, and floral fragrances carried by the breeze.

When I was browsing my bookshelves the other day I noticed that I had three books that inspired me to think more about the delights of a cocktail hour.

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

C.L. Fornari

Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

The first book, C.L. Fornari’s book The Cocktail Hour Garden covers just about every aspect of making that hour delicious. She suggests ways of creating evening landscapes for relaxation and entertaining. She describes the way the late afternoon sun provides backlighting through her foliage. That same sun can throw artistic shadows of well placed perennials.

Like all of us she welcomes the birds and butterflies into her garden with feeding and watering places. She also suggests the kinds of flowers that can provide food for them and beauty for you at the same time. Fornari provides great information about the birds and the bees with generous lists and descriptions of appropriate plants like asters, coreopsis, liatris, joe pye weed and more.

She also reminds us that the sound of moving water is soothing and calming. It also attracts the birds. This is perfect music for the end of the day.

If your cocktail hour begins or extends into the night she touches on the white flowers like phlox David, white zinnias, and Star Cluster coreopsis that will add a soft glimmer.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The second book is by Amy Stewart who has written fascinating books about plants. These include Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Perhaps to provide a balance, she also wrote The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. There are recipes for fermented and distilled drinks from margaritas to Moscow Mule, to Blushing Mary.

There are recipes for syrups, infusions and garnishes from prickly pear syrup to limoncello. She even gives a template with suggestions on making up your own cocktails.

Stewart’s book is a delight because she is not just a knowledgeable bar tender. She also knows a lot about botany, the plants that are used in these libations. For example, her recipe for Royal Tannenbaum gets its name because of the pine liqueur that is added to London dry gin with a sprig of rosemary. Did you know there are eight distinct gins, or that there is a liqueur made from the arola stone pine resin? Nor did I.

Stewart is a great researcher.  She talks about many of the plants most commonly used in alcoholic drinks. In addition, she adds historical and medical notes. She includes fascinating bits of information about physicians and scientists who 400 years ago and more discovered and used birch sap in making medicines – and a good addition to ale.

After reading a few pages of The Drunken Botanist you’ll be able to regale your cocktail hour companions with intriguing stories from agave to wormwood.

Harvest by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Finally, the third inspiring book on my shelf  is Harvest: Unexpected projects using 47 extraordinary garden plants by Stefani Bittner and Althea Harampolis. The book, with its beautiful photographs, is arranged by season, spring, summer and fall.

I always have rhubarb in my garden. It has beautiful foliage, and I will need it for my rhubarb-strawberry pie filling. Bittner and Harampolis begin their book with a recipe for rhubarb quick pickles. The pickling liquid includes peppercorns, chilies and apple cider vinegar. It takes only 48 hours to pickle. The ladies suggest it as an addition to a cheese plate. You can also use a piece of rhubarb as a swizzle stick for your drink.

Some recipes use familiar ingredients like poppy seeds, feverfew, oregano, and lemon balm for eating and drinking. Others are for tinctures or other medicines. For instance yarrow flowers and leaves can be transformed, with the help of brandy, into a tincture to be taken by mouth, or on your skin. Tinctures are very strong so only a bit is used at a time.

I thought the recipe for pomegranate margarita would be a good suggestion for the cocktail hour. The pomegranate margarita is a beautiful pink drink that requires tequila and triple sec as well as pomegranate juice. Maybe even some pomegranate seeds.

Of course some of us may have a few aches at the end of a day in the garden. Bittner and Harampolis have the recipe for a colorful calendula infused essential oil for a massage, or for dry skin.

Last week my neighbor Wendy Sibbison invited my husband and me to join her for a cocktail, at the end of the day. She followed up with grilled chicken, homemade bread, and, as it happened, a delicious mango sorbet.  All I had to do was bring the salad. We sipped her special gin and tonic, ate everything on the table, and enjoyed the cooling breeze as we admired her climbing roses and clematis.

Are there garden cocktail hours on your schedule this summer?

Here I am among the delpniniums, peonies and lilies

Between the Rows    July 6, 2019

Desirable Groundcovers Mean Less Weeding

Green and gold groundcover

Green and gold groundcover

We all know that groundcovers cover the ground.  However,the problem is that there are good groundcovers and bad groundcovers. If you are like me you spend a bit of time cursing the weedy plants sneaking over our ground. I have two responses to the problem. Sometimes I weed casually, then put down paper or cardboard topped with bark mulch. Sometimes I cover the ground with good low growing plants that do a good job of holding weeds at bay.

tiarella

Tiarella – Foam Flower

Actually, there are many blooming ground covers. I have long used foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) that spreads by runners. The flowers are airy racemes on wiry stems and will bloom for about six weeks in the spring.

Barren strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

In addition, I use barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) which is definitely not a strawberry plant. However its shiny dark green foliage is strawberry-like as are the little yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. I’m told they can be up to eight inches high, but the dense mats of foliage in my garden never get that tall. You can use this around walkways because it can tolerate light foot traffic.

Lady's mantle

Alchemilla mollis

However, all sorts of plants can be called ground covers. I use lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) around some of my roses. Lady’s mantle is a lusty low growing perennial with soft frilly light green leaves that can be six inches across. It can reach a height of about 12 inches with flower stalks holding chartreuse blossoms that last most of the summer. It spreads and grows thickly enough to keep out most weeds. And it is very pretty.

Tiarella, Waldsteinia and Alchemilla thrive in full sun or part shade and spread energetically in rich soil.

Primroses (Primulla) produce their pretty flowers in the spring, but their dense foliage does not allow weeds to take hold. Primroses prefer at least some shade, and a moist area. This means they are absolutely perfect for my wet garden.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) covers dry ground happily. It is very attractive in rock gardens. The silver-gray flowers on foot tall stems are thought to look like cat’s feet, but the velvety foliage is dense and flat. It is not only pretty, and good for dry sunny areas, it is poisonous to deer and rabbits. And they know it and avoid it.

Epimediums (sometimes called bishop’s hat) are wonderful groundcovers. They have green and reddish foliage on wiry stems and reach a height of eight to twelve inches. The appeal is their dense growth and the miniature flowers that come in an array of colors and forms in the spring. They welcome sun and shade and prefer a moist site with rich soil. Given good soil they will spread nicely. They should be cut back in the fall.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful epimedium nursery in Phillipston, Massachusetts https://epimediums.com with hundreds of beautiful varieties.

Chrysogonum virginianum, much better known as green-and-gold, is new to me. The name is self descriptive. There are low green leaves with golden flowers in the spring. They prefer some shade and moisture. Not a problem in Greenfield these last months. I became acquainted with this lovely little plant when it was included in the meadow garden plantings at the John Zon Community Center. It is beautiful right now.

I never thought of Coral bells (Heucheras) as ground covers because of their height. The foliage is often about 10” high, but the flower stalks can be two feet high. Each clump will gain in width, but they do not spread by runners. Groupings of several plants do serve well as ground covers.

Violets are always found in lists of ground covers. Many call them weeds, but there certainly are areas in many gardens where it is easy to give up the fight and let the violets have their way. With strict limits, of course. Violets grow densely and keep out other weeds. In addition violets are the only food to nourish frittilary butterfly larvae.

The list of blooming ground covers is long and includes familiar lamb’s ears, ajuga, , mazus, creeping baby’s breath, hostas, fringed bleeding heart, wintergreen and partridgeberry.

Fringed bleeding heart

Fringed bleeding heart – Dicentra eximia

Obviously, groundcovers come in many forms including shrubs and vines which I will not touch on today. However, I’d like to mention the family of sedums, or stonecrops. I have some edging areas where I have grown sedums. Unfortunately, I have lost their names, if I ever knew them

Many of us are familiar with low growing hen-and-chicks and the taller, more substantial Autumn Joy that blooms in the fall. Those are common sedums but there are countless unique sedums available in nurseries.  Of course, we often have neighbors who are willing to share their ever increasing  sedums. Or we can  buy them at plant sales.

In my own garden I have several sedum varieties, including two low creeping sedums.

Sedum spurium

Sedum spurium

Sedum reflexum has bright golden needle-like leaves that outshines any other sedum in its brilliance. It grows vigorously and the color is an eye-stopper.

Sedum spurium is comprised of creeping succulent florets. My nameless variety is green with a touch of red, but the Dragon’s Blood variety turns rich shades of red in the summer and is popular because of its dramatic presence.

Do you curse the weeds? You might want to add some groundcovers to your plantings.

Between the Rows  June 29, 2019round