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Just Roots Community Farm


Meryl LaTronica at Just Roots

Meryl LaTronica planting at Just Roots

Meryl LaTronica found her way to Just Roots Community Farm slowly. When she graduated from college and considered her future she realized that farming might be her calling. “Farming felt like such a great combination of outdoor physical work and working with land & nature, but also doing work that is about serving and connecting people.  The people plus plants life has always felt like the most amazing balance, getting to work every day under the beautiful sky, but side by side with other people and for people.”

For over fifteen years now she has worked as a production farmer and educator in the eastern part of the state, and then helped create and manage Powisset Farm in Dover for Trustees of Reservations. All her interests and skills are being put to work for the Just Roots Farm.

Some of us may remember that when the Davis Street School was demolished to make way for a new community center, the Pleasant Street Gardeners lost their garden plots. That was a heart-breaking consequence, but the gardeners were determined to get community garden space back. They petitioned the town for a new space; the ultimate decision was to site this new garden on farmland that had once held the Greenfield Poor Farm.

In 1849 the farm was owned by Justin Root who sold it to the town for the Poor Farm. The name Just Roots is a nod to the history of the land, but also a statement about what kind of farm it would be in the future as it planned to make good healthy food available to everyone, including those with low incomes.

Last week I met Meryl LaTronica, the official Director of Farm Operations, at the old red barn and saw the setup for the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Nowadays they have 240 CSA members who get to choose how they want to fill their order. One hundred and forty of those shares are for low income customers. “We are always looking for creative ways that people can pay. They can use SNAP. We like to give people options,” she said.

Bicycle operated root washer

Bicycle operated root washer at Just Roots Farm

I saw the equipment used for cleaning the vegetables. The most fascinating piece of equipment was the bicycle powered root washer that cleaned beets, daikon radishes and other roots.

Two small greenhouses and a 95 foot long hoop house filled with still ripening tomatoes stand near the 60 Community Gardens. Gardeners who don’t have garden space can get a 20 by 20 foot plot. The herbs, squash, beans and lots of flowers riotously fill their plots.

Reemay covered rows

Reemay covered rows in to foil flea beetles

Beyond these structures are the seven acres of production fields. I was amazed to see that there were new plantings. LaTronica said they want to get the most food they can from the land. “This is the last planting for the year. We like to get these seedlings in the ground by September 1, but all the rain this summer upset our schedule. Still, we keep planting greens, celery, lettuce, fall carrots and other vegetables that don’t need a long season. Maybe we’ll get a harvest, and maybe not, but we have to try. Right now we are harvesting about every other day,” she said.

We walked past leeks, potatoes and sweet potatoes. “I like growing sweet potatoes because it sends out such pretty flowering vines,” LaTronica said.

I wondered why so many rows were covered with white reemay, a very light row cover. She said this has been a terrible year for flea beetles on the brassicas and the reemay is the answer.

My tour led us to a large area planted with buckwheat, a good cover crop that that will be cut down. The virtue of buckwheat is that it very efficiently smothers weeds, and adds nutrients when tilled into the soil.

It was wonderful to see all this great production, but this farm is about more than the vegetables. It is about people. “We go out to people when we hold our Farmer’s Market in the alley next to Green Fields Market, and at the Saturday Farmer’s Market,” LaTronica said. “But we also want to bring people to the farm. They come here to put together their CSA shares.” For a small extra fee, CSA members can also make use of the pick-your-own garden. That garden includes a few vegetable varieties and enormous number of trellised cherry tomato plants, and flowers.  Gardeners do not live by vegetables alone. “

Just Roots sells produce at Green Fields Co-op, but they donate food to the Center for Self Reliance, and the Stone Soup Café. Last year LaTronica estimates that about 10,000 pounds of produce was donated to the community.

Some Community garden plots also made use of Reemay

I volunteer Four Corners Elementary School so I already knew about the School Snack Market. Every week Just Roots brings vegetables to the school and each class comes and the children taste what has been brought. Then they go to the research station where they can give their opinion of the different vegetables. I can just imagine the importance these children feel as they make their report. Then they move on to the Snack Station and choose a healthy snack to take back to their classroom.

I asked LaTronica if she ever thought about the farm’s history as a Poor Farm. “Oh yes, I do think about the people  who lived here,” she said. “I can hear them whispering to me.”

I like to think those whispering spirits are rejoicing that the farm is poor no more.

Between the Rows  September 15, 2018

Spring Blooming Bulbs Need Fall Planting

Spring blooming narcissus

Unnamed narcissus  was one of the spring blooming bulbs in my garden. All daffodils are in the Narcissus family

There is a world of spring blooming bulbs to plant in the fall. Daffodils immediately come to mind, but we don’t often think about the various forms and colors these flowers take. Think of the choices; you can plant large cup daffs in pale shades of lemon or pure white, but with frilled cups in shades of pink or orange. Precocious a particularly showy daffodil with icy white petals and a coral pink and very curly flat cup blooms mid spring.

If the large cup division is too flashy for your taste, you can first look at the small cup daffodils. They can surprise with a brilliant orange cup like Barrett Browning that blooms early to mid spring. Or you can choose Dallas and enjoy white serenity with a small frilly white cup that blooms late.

Double daffodils can go from the heirloom Albus Plenus Odoatus, so ruffly white that it  almost looks and smells like a gardenia and blooms in late spring. Another late bloomer is Delnashaugh, white with large overlapping petals surrounding apricot pink inner segments.

There is also a large family of miniature daffodils some of which are only three inches tall. Fragrant yellow Tiny Bubbles is four inches tall with recurved petals and blooms mid spring. Rip Van Winkle is almost out of  the miniature category because it can grow between five to eight inches. It looks like exploding yellow fireworks and blooms early-mid spring.


Poeticus daffodil

In the past I grew the poeticus daffodil which is a very old daff. I liked it because it was a heritage variety but also because it was just so simple, plain and elegant. At the same time I also love the Van Sion daff which was growing on our Heath property when we moved there. It was not plain or elegant, but I liked the wild explosion of golden petals that sometimes included many green petals. A friend thought it was the ugliest daffodil ever, but I disagreed.

A very different, and much less common spring blooming bulb is camassia, a member of the lily family. I have not grown camassia but the Brent and Becky catalog says it “tolerates damp meadows and pond edges as well as heavy clay soil.” I might have to give it a try.

Camassia florets

Camassia florets closeup

Camassia bloom late spring into early summer with three foot spikes of starry flowers in shades of white, blue and purple. Camassia attracts pollinators, but is deer and squirrel resistant. It likes sun but can take some shade.

One white variety, C. leichtlinii ‘Sacajewea’ is so named because Sacajewea helped feed Lewis and Clark this ‘quamash’ bulb which kept them alive when on the Weippe Prairie in Idaho. This was an important food for the Indians, but Lewis said it did his stomach little good.

When we look at large purple alliums it is hard to remember these grow from bulbs. The different varieties, from six inches tall to three feet or more bloom over a long season and help bridge the spring bloomers to the summer bloomers. They need sun and a well drained fertile soil.

Allium gigantium

Allium giganteum on Bridge of Flowers

The purple Globemaster allium always gets a lot of attention. The flower head has dense florets and can be a foot across on a three foot stem! Even though these alliums are large they should be planted in groups in order to make a real statement. Globemaster will bloom from late May into June. White Giant and A. christophii, also known as Stars of Persia, are of similar size but their blossoms consist of loosely arranged florets. A. christophii blooms in early summer. Its amethyst florets have a lovely metallic sheen on a two foot stem. White Giant blooms in late spring on a nearly four foot stem.

I have grown the unique A. siculum bugaricum with its numerous and graceful pendulous florets in shades of green, purple and white on 32 inch stems.

Petite Jeanine has airy and sunny yellow blossoms that bloom in early summer on 12 inch stems. Allim flavum has pendulous lemon yellow flowers on 10 inch stems. Allium oreophilum is only six inches tall but the loosely arranged pink florets work well, as do other small alliums, at the front of the border or in rock gardens.

Perhaps it is the tulip that can give us the widest range of color from icy white like the Clearwater early single tulip to the nearly black fringed Vincent van Gogh. In the past I rarely planted tulips because they are not dependable repeaters. However, in the limited  sunny (relatively speaking) and rich soil spot that is my tree strip garden I think a few tulips would brighten things up in May. I am willing to make a small investment.

Scarlet tulips

This spring blooming bulb is a brilliant, but unnamed tulip

For this experiment I want something bright and flashy like Flaming Parrot all red, yellow and white. Orca, a brilliant ruffled orange would really wake me up in early spring. Foxy Foxtrot with ruffled shades of apricot, yellow peach and orange is also tempting.

Bulbs give us the ability to enter spring with calm elegance or a brilliant splash. Our bulbs can surprise us all at once or they can amaze us with brilliance over a long season.

The options are endless and illustrated catalogs like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, John Scheepers, Old House Gardens, Odyssey Bulbs and others will offer you a world of spring color.

Spring blooming tulips

Spring blooming tulips

Between the Rows  September 8, 2018

Asters, Chrysanthemums, Dahlias – Autumn Glory

Autumn Glory

Autumn Glory – Chrysanthemums and dahlias on the Bridge of Flowers

Autumn glory begins to glow in September. I’m thinking about the ACDs of the autumnal garden – asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias. There is a lot of bloom left in the garden year. The wonderful thing about asters, chrysanthemums and dahlias is that they come in so many sizes, forms and colors. One hardly knows where to begin.

Autumn glory comes in many sizes. I have three asters in my garden. There is a tall New York (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii)  aster at the back of the South Border. It is now a large clump, over five feet tall, with sprays of tiny white flowers held high on wiry slim stems with narrow smooth leaves. If I ever had the name of this plant it is long gone. Bees and other pollinators love it. It began blooming a week or so ago, and will continue through September and beyond.

‘Alma Potschke’ is a New England aster (S.novae-angliae). It has more substantial foliage and grows between three and four feet. The rosy red flowers have bright yellow centers. It likes rich soils, but is water tolerant and would be happy in a rain garden. This is a delightfully cheerful and showy addition to the autumnal garden.

Autumn glory Blue woods aster

Blue Woods aster

My Woods Blue aster (S.cordifolium) grows low and spreads well making it a great ground cover. As its name indicates it is a shade of blue, but there are also purple and pink low growing asters.  It will be blooming soon.

All asters like a lot of sun and a rich soil. They will increase! They will also attract bees and butterflies. I rarely think to do it, but in the spring, before the end of June, you can pinch back the plant guaranteeing even more flowers. They are very hardy.

Chrysanthemums  are a major aspect of autumn glory. Mums are another large family with varied sizes and forms. At this time of the year you can find pots of nicely formed mum clumps at supermarkets as well as garden centers. You can pop these in the ground, keep them watered, and you will have color through the autumn.

If you want more than color you can turn to catalogs like King’s Mums and Bluestone Perennials. Both of these outfits provide images of the full range of color and forms. They are both an eye opening and inspiring resource, but you have to begin early in the growing season.

Autumn Glory spoon chrysanthemums

Spoon Chrysanthemums

For a while in Heath I grew spoon and quilled chrysanthemums. Each petal of the spoon mum opened up into a spoon shape. Quilled petals are a more complete tube. There are more and more spoon mum forms. One of the most popular seems to be Matchsticks which has tubular yellow petals that open to a fiery red spoon at the end. Very dramatic. My own spoon mums did not provide drama, but they did provide enjoyable variety.

There are many chrysanthemum forms that are familiar from the airy spider mums, little pom pom mums and great big mums to wear as a corsage at college football games. I grow a mum that I am very fond of even though it looks like a daisy, and carries the nickname Sheffield daisy. It does indeed look like a daisy with pink petals and a golden center. The foliage is definitely mum foliage. This is a languid plant, lounging gracefully in its bed. While it increases amazingly every year it blooms late and keeps going until it is shut down by a heavy frost. If you live locally you’ll be able to see it among the Energy Park flower beds.

Sheffield daissies

Sheffield daisies are really in the chrysanthemum family

Chrysanthemums also offer special gardens an opportunity to show off. I am a regular attendee at the Smith College Chrysanthemum Show. This year the Show opens on November 3 and continues through November 18. On display will be many chrysanthemum forms, as well as arrangements like the traditional chrysanthemum cascade.  Hybrids created by the students will also be on display; you will have an opportunity to vote on your favorite.

Chrysanthemums are not quite as dependably hardy in our area as asters, but they should do well most of the time.

Like chrysanthemums, dahlias come in many forms from large dinner plate dahlias to tiny pom poms.  A six foot tall dahlia loaded with big red blossoms knows all about autumn glory. A walk across the Bridge of Flowers at this time of the year will show a large range of the dahlia family.

Unlike asters and mums, they grow from tubers that need to be dug up in the fall and stored in a cool dry spot until spring. If you have a suitable basement you will be able to store four or five new tubers, for the one you planted in the spring. Tubers can be planted early in the spring and get a head start on growing roots and foliage so that there is something substantial to plant when the weather is warm enough.

Tubers are available in the spring, but to get a sense of the range, browsing through the Swan Island or American Meadows catalogs will be a pleasant pastime. In our region it can help to start the dahlia tubers in a pot in April because they need warm soil and the new shoots shouldn’t be planted until the end of May when the soil is dependably warm. Whether you are choosing small dahlias that can spend their life in a pot or a tall garden dahlia they need rich, slightly acid soil. While they are just getting started they should not be over watered or the tubers will rot.

Pink dahlias

Pink dahlias on the Bridge of Flowers

There is a case to be made that now is the time to think about  mums and dahlias since 2019 early spring will the time to order and plant the more unusual varieties.

Between  the Rows   September 1, 2018

Rain Gardens Here and Everywhere

rain gardens

The John Zon Community Center boasts two rain gardens, one next to the other

Rain gardens are created to collect storm water runoff from house roofs, parking lots and other places. By catching this dirty runoff the garden can help protect streams and lakes from pollutants like lawn fertilizers and pesticides, fluids that leak from cars, and other harmful substances that wash off roofs and paved areas. Rain gardens also filter water and recharge the local aquifer while the plantings in a rain garden support pollinators, birds, butterflies and many useful insects.

By definition a rain garden is not a pond. Standing water will come and go. Chosen plants will tolerate a period of standing water, but they will also be happy when the garden is dry.

This summer I thought of my garden as a rain garden. Of course my garden gains that title by being flooded. Over 30 days we got 17 inches of rain. Because my garden has heavy clay soil that does not drain well, and a high water table the result is flooding. Even though I don’t have an official rain garden I began to wonder if there were any local rain gardens.

As I have been working with other volunteers to plant a meadow pollinator garden in front of the new John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street, I knew a rain garden had been planted in back of the building. The design of that garden gives it two halves, both similarly planted with plants that do not mind standing in water for a day or three.

The structure of a rain garden is quite simple. It is as wide and long as a site allows. The rules for the depth are fairly consistent. The University of Massachusetts Extension Service gives excellent instructions about creating a rain garden to catch runoff from your house roof.

“If the yard is fairly level, you can just dig out the bowl to the proper depth, which is 6 inches deep (other sites will suggest more depth and a gravel layer of a few inches on the bottom), or a couple of inches deeper if mulch will be used. If the yard is sloped, you may need to construct a small berm (mound) at the down-slope side of the garden to prevent the soil from washing away after a storm. Use the soil that was removed from the upslope side of the garden and add it to the down-slope side. The bottom of the garden should be fairly level to maintain the storage area inside the garden. Slope the edges of the garden, but do not make them too steep. Steep slopes tend to erode easily. Mulch or a ground cover will help to stabilize the soils.” For full information

rain garden with curb cuts

This rain garden extends across the width of the parking lot with curb cuts to allow runoff to reach the shallow bed

Another different sort of rain garden is at the foot of the parking lot between Chapman and School streets. That parking lot slants and rain water runs north, away from Main Street At the end of the parking lot is a curb, but cuts have been made so that water can run into a shallow ditch that acts as a rain garden. Water tolerant plants like joe pye weed, coneflowers and black eyed susans (weeds too) help absorb the runoff. A sign has been placed at the other end of the parking lot to explain the benefits of the tree strip and the trees, as well as the rain garden.

Rain Garden or Retention pond

Rains Garden or Retention Pond – take your pick

Those who pass the Franklin County Jail will have noticed what I used to call the swamp with cattails and other water loving plants in the area below the jail buildings. That area has changed since the new jail with its big parking lot was built. Now the swamp is confined behind a fence and piping has been installed. I spoke to Joe Fagan, Head of Maintenance, at the jail about the changes. He explained that there are catchment areas for runoff in the parking lot that allows sediment to settle. The water then continues through piping to the retention pond. Periodically that sediment is power vacuumed because eventually sediment sent to the pond would fill it, making it useless. There are also pipes that carry runoff from the jail roof to the retention pond.

In addition large pipes at the south end of the pond allow for overflow if there is really heavy rain. Preventing erosion is an important part of the water management system.

Last week I went to UMass to visit the new prize-winning John W. Olver Design Building for Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. The building was designed by the Boston architectural firm Leers Weinzapfel.

rain gardens

Rain gardens surround the Olver Design Building at UMass. This section is a catchment area.

The landscaping around the building was designed by Stimson Studio. Do not look for a neat lawn. A lush arrangement of trees, shrubs, and grasses surround the building to such an extent that it is just about impossible to see the shaping of the land in ways that manage rainfall and runoff.

rain gardens

Rain gardens on the other side of the building move runoff from the roof

The building has parking lots on two sides and sits on a slope. There is a catch basin at the low corner of the parking lot to the north of the building that pipes water into a shallow basin to the west of the building. Rainwater is collected on the roof of the Design Building and channeled off of the east side of the building into two sloped, linear channels called bioswales. The bioswales collect, cleanse, and infiltrate storm water naturally onsite, as opposed to conventional underground sewer systems. The sides and bottom of the bioswales are lined with native vegetation, soil, and rock to filter stormwater and remove harmful pollutants from surface runoff. For more information about this garden

We cannot always count on having adequate rainfall. Rain gardens provide a water conservation technique that recharges our local aquifer, helps protect the quality of our streams and rivers, and beautifies an area of our domestic landscape.

Between the Rows  August 25, 2018

Celebrating Local Farms – Farmer’s Markets

Just Roots Farmers Market

Just Roots includes a community farm growing food for sale as well as garden plots for local gardenter

By the time I learned about National Farmer’s Market Week it was too late to celebrate with the rest of the nation, but it reminded me of the changes in the ways farmers now market their crops, and affect the economy of our communities.

Agriculture has been important to our part of Massachusetts for decades. There were many dairy farms, but they were starting to close down when we moved to Heath in 1979. When we moved to Greenfield in 2015, there were no longer any dairy farms in Heath at all. While there are many fewer dairy farms, there are now more and larger vegetable farms, egg farms, meat farms, fruit farms and other farms that feed us fresh local food.

This transformation has been helped in multitudes of ways in our area by various organizations, as well as by new young farmers. One important event was the creation of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation in 1979, FCCDC. It offers business development education, access to capital, commercial office and manufacturing space. It is also home of the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, which has grown over the years  and allows farmers to freeze a portion of their crops to sell during the winter. They can also create and cook up salsas, sauces, and other products. This value added capability is a benefit to the farm economy.

Some entrepreneurs who aren’t farmers have made use of local crops by creating products like pickles. Dan Rosenberg made his first batch of pickles for sale in 2001; in 2002 he began working with the FCCDC. By 2009 he moved the ever growing business to its own building right across the street from the FCCDC.

farmer's market

Sage Farm offers meat at the farmer’s market

Fourteen years after the FCCDC began CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, was formed. It celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Whether you know very much about CISA or not, I am sure everyone in our area is familiar with their Be A Local Hero posters and labels. CISA provides promotional and advertising material and technical and business training to farmers. This year 265 farms and landscape/garden centers, 64 restaurants, 43 retailers, 24 institutions, and 16 specialty producers joined together to raise awareness and sales of locally grown farm products. They also work with ten local farms to provide vegetable shares to low income seniors. This year they are serving 420 seniors.

Our communities have shown amazing growth in the development of local farms. Ryan Voiland started farming in Montague when he was in middle school. He sold his produce at a farmstand at his family’s house. In addition to acreage in Montague, Voiland and his workers now tend 50 acres of farmland in Granby. Some of their produce is sold in Boston and Worcester as well as locally.

Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox started their one acre Kitchen Garden Farm in 2006, but now they work 50 acres in Sunderland and sell their vegetables to restaurants and retail stores like Green Fields Coop.

farmers market

Small farm, Big Farmers Market stand

Maria Topitzer farms the Lyonsville Farm in Colrain. Her farm is quite small at this point but she sells about 250 varieties of vegetables at the Greenfield Farmers Market, and those who buy a CSA share can assemble their own choices. I think she will gain more acreage over time, as others have.

The invention of CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture, has helped new young farmers get started. Customers buy their Share of the harvest early in the spring. This helps farmers with their expenses at the beginning of the season. Once crops begin to ripen customers come and pick up their share once a week throughout the season.

Green Fields Co-Operative Market, has provided a local market for organic food from many of our local farms.

Many farms have set up farm stands right on site. Hager’s Farm Stand on Route 2 in Shelburne is quite an extravagant example of what a farm stand can be. The Hager family has been farming for seven generations and they now sell maple syrup, grass-fed beef, lunches and soups. Ice cream too. And they sometimes have great events that appeal to children.

Some farms stands have a few tables in the barn, and some have a single table by the road side. All those farm stands are a part of the agricultural economy. No one is going to be a millionaire, but we all have access to good fresh food.

Finally we get to our Farmers’ Markets. Greenfield’s Saturday Farmer’s Market brings many vendors together from Clarkdale Fruit Farm, to the small Lyonsville Farm, to the Just Roots Farm that includes food for sale, CSA shares at a discount for seniors and 60 community garden plots for individuals and organizations. I’ll have more information about Just Roots Farm soon.

Other towns have their Farmer’s Markets as well. We are all fortunate in our area to have local food available from so many outlets, including the big supermarkets that have seen the value of local food to their bottom line.

I may have missed the national celebration for Farmer’s Markets, but I am happy to celebrate the availability of delicious and nutritious local food, and the ways a portion of it is made available to those with low incomes every day. Bon Appétit to all. ###

Between the Rows  August 18, 2018


Planting Trees, Planting Love at Energy Park

Planting trees at the Energy Park

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard and Mary Chicoine planting trees at the Energy Park

Planting trees is always a significant project. A couple of weeks ago I went over to the Energy Park at 7 a.m. for what I thought was a celebratory tree planting. I was surprised that there was no crowd; however Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine and John Bottomley, all of the Greenfield Tree Committee, were hard at work planting two tulip poplars and a disease resistant elm. It did not take a crowd to make this a celebratory occasion.

Tulip poplars, Liriodendron tulipifera, are not related to tulips or poplars; they are related to magnolias and are very large trees. They can grow to a height of over 100 feet, have a wide spread, produce cupped, fragrant flowers in the spring, and striking golden foliage in the fall. The Committee planted one of the tulip poplars, and the elm to the side of the stage because their large canopies will make afternoon shade for both the performers, and audiences at Energy Park Performances.

Dutch elm disease wiped out nearly all the elms in the country, but a few have survived and hybridizers have created some elms that are resistant to the disease. Elms are also large trees, and particularly notable for their graceful vase shape. The Energy Park is a wonderful location for these trees, because there is enough room to accommodate trees of this size.

The second tulip poplar has been planted in the shady woodland. sharing space with spring ephemerals and native plants that are attractive to pollinators.Tr

Tree roots need to be untangled, even cut, before planting

When planting trees it is vital to untangle the roots

These three trees were paid for in part by a donation by the Greenfield Garden Club which wished to memorialize three of their beloved members who recently passed away. Carol Doerpholz was a long time member of the Greenfield Garden Club. She supported the garden at Trap Plain, organized the Garden Club crafters at the club’s Fall Festival at Trap Plain, helped prepare Franklin County Fair exhibits and often opened her garden for the Garden Tours. Carol was always a hard worker and great friend!

Nancy Stone was a long time member and the Club’s support at the Chamber of Commerce.  She often donated original art for the Fall Festival raffles and opened her garden for the Garden Tours. She was a great supporter of the club.

Dolly Gagnon, was a member of the club and served as Vice President for many years. She assisted with publicity through her “Talk of the Town” column for the Recorder.

The Greenfield Tree Committee is a 501c3 under the umbrella of the Connecticut River Conservancy. Two weeks ago I would have wondered why the Committee is connected to the River Conservancy but the other night we were watching the TV program 10 That Changed America and saw the episode about 10 parks. Philadelphia is located between two rivers but it had no good drinking water in the 19th century. Robert Morris Copland designed a system that raised water to an underground reservoir that then gravity-fed water to the city. Fairmount Park was sited below that reservoir. Then, with Olmsted andVaux, Copland extended the park. More parkland was created by planting trees, more forests up river to protect the water. The relationship between trees and clean water was made clearer.

Of course, trees have other functions. They play a part in combating climate change including breathing in and storing CO2 and breathing out oxygen, as well as cooling our cities. They provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife including birds, provide wood for fuel and for furniture, help prevent soil erosion, and mask unpleasant views and mufflle sounds in the city as well as many more benefits.

Watering halfway through the tree planting is important

The Greenfield Tree Committee has a social side as well. When they go into  their planting trees mode they create parties. Earlier this spring, working with Boy Scouts and neighbors on Orchard Street, Crescent Street and Spring Terrace, they planted 25 trees, oaks, maples and tulip poplars.

The Tree Committee’s new and on-going project is working with Greenfield, Montague and the Franklin County Technical School, using a grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to create a tree nursery at the Tech School. This will give students new knowledge and professional skills about planting trees, caring for trees, and will provide towns with affordable trees beginning five years from now.

The tulip poplar has been planted watered, and mulched. A water bag will come soon.

Massachusetts poet, teacher and author Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) wrote a poem that captures the gifts a tree bestows beyond ameliorating climate change and helping keep our water clean. The title is basic and clear – Plant a Tree. I am giving the first two lines of four stanzas.

“He who plants a tree – He plants a hope.

He who plants a tree – He plants a joy;

He who plants a tree – He plants peace.

He who plants a tree – He plants love.“

I think we can all understand that hope for future pleasures and joy follow the planting of a tree, just as we have all experienced peace beneath summer shade. When we plant a tree we know that benefits will come to those who follow us, those who are beloved. Hope, joy, peace and love are the gifts that the Greenfield Tree Committee intends for all who spend time at the Energy Park, as along every newly tree lined street.

Between the Rows   August 11, 2018

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Entry to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Gardeners plant flower gardens in their backyards, but Mother Nature loves to plant flower gardens along the highways and by-ways. I am often surprised by how many flowers thrive in sandy soil and survive the salting of roads in winter. I drive around town and I see familiar flowers in Mother Nature’s gardens like orange daylilies, blue chicory and Queen Anne ’s lace.

While I enjoy roadside gardens, it was Lady Bird Johnson who took the appeal and usefulness of these gardens to a whole new level. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson promoted the passing of the Highway Beautification Act, but this legislation, more informally known as Lady Bird’s Bill because of her promoting the idea of beautiful highways, changed the landscape as new national highways were being established in every direction in those years. As far as I can tell that bill and all its many subsequent amendments mostly had to do with placement of advertising billboards and junk yards.

Engleman Daisy at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Engleman daisy at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I can well imagine Mrs. Johnson being happy to have those eyesores removed, but it is also clear to me from my own memories of those days that she thought beauty in the form of flowers, along the highways, and everywhere else, could make the world better and people happier. She once wrote in her diary,”The subject of Beautification is like a tangled skein of wool, the threads are interwoven—recreation and pollution and mental health and the crime rate and rapid transit and highway beautification and the war on poverty and parks … everything leads to something else.”

Because of her belief in the power of beauty in 1982 Mrs. Johnson and the actress Helen Hayes created a wildflower center in East Austin with the goal of restoring the beauties of the landscape and preserving all the native wildflowers of that area and throughout our whole country.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Blanket Flower at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I am very happy to say that Lady Bird Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford in 1977. The citation for her medal read: “One of America’s great First Ladies, she claimed her own place in the hearts and history of the American people. In councils of power or in homes of the poor, she made government human with her unique compassion and her grace, warmth and wisdom. Her leadership transformed the American landscape and preserved its natural beauty as a national treasure.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has grown over the years and is now operated by the University of Texas at Austin. I got to visit the Wildflower Center during my Texas trip early this spring. I visited my daughter and her family, and then toured gardens with 94 other garden bloggers. I spent about half an hour among the Wildflower Center gardens snapping photos of native Texas area flowers as fast as possible because the weather was threatening and it did not take long for the skies to open. Torrential rains fell. Along with my sister garden bloggers I ran to the Wildflower Center gift shop where we spent the next hour looking at books about Texas wildflowers, earrings in the shape of honeybees or butterflies, jars of honey (would we have to give them up at the airport as possible bomb material?), beflowered socks and hats and scarves, dishes with flower designs, flowered umbrellas and just about every other flower item you can imagine.

During my brief time in the gardens I was happy to see that the flower beds included lots of labels. While many of the plants would not grow in New England, many of them would be perfectly happy in Massachusetts: bee balm, coreopsis, gaillardia (blanket flower), gayfeather (liatris), fleabane and others.

Our tour bus drove us through the continuing rain to our next garden. We all paid particular attention to the medians and verges along the highway this time as we looked at the native plants growing among the grasses in these unmown spaces. This is the kind of beauty that Lady Bird Johnson was hoping for as highway beautification. At least that is my memory.

Lady Bird Johnson thought highways could have flowery meadows on the verges and median

I am disappointed that we don’t have that kind of beautification along our Massachusetts highways. I understand that we don’t want invasive plants like knotweed pulling down our sound barriers, or tall plants dangerously interfering with sight lines. However, many perennial native plants and grasses are not very tall. Neither are they invasive, although they will return again the following year. In addition, I would think money could be saved by having an annual autumn mowing, instead of multiple mowings that certainly keep the I-91 median very neat.

Even without highway “gardens” we are fortunate in our rural area to enjoy Mother Nature’s gardens as we drive along our lesser highways. Great banks of Queen Anne’s Lace grow along the roads providing a really great show. At this time of year they are often joined by drifts of goldenrod, both of them attracting hoards of bees and other insects who are collecting pollen and nectar. We don’t have to drive far to see and enjoy these gardens, especially in summer and fall.###

Between the Rows   August 4, 2018

My Life With Hydrangeas

Angel's Blush Hydrangea

Angel’s Blush Hydrangea blossooms in 2017

As long ago as 1945 I had an opinion about hydrangeas. In 1945 I was five years old and living with my parents, and my two younger brothers, in the Bronx. When the weekend weather was fine my parents often took all of us on a stroll through the neighborhood. We lived in an apartment building surrounded by cement, but there were many houses on our street that had tiny front yards that often showed off one or two hydrangeas with fat balls of blue flowers. I took against those blue hydrangea blossoms, but I can give you no reason for my dislike.

I don’t recall many occasions when hydrangeas played any part in my life after that until 1971 when I moved to Greenfield. Three straggly white hydrangeas held up their weary heads in front of my new front porch. I immediately pulled them out.

In subsequent wanderings, to Maine and Manhattan I began to feel more friendly towards hydrangeas. There was no more reason for my growing affection than there had been for my disaffection. We moved to Heath in 1979 and I began to plant gardens. Most of my attention and energy went to vegetables and what was to become our Rose Walk. Not a hydrangea in site. Years passed.

One day, I was looking at the plants at a small nursery (soon to be the New England Wildflower Nasami Farm) in Whately owned by Bob and Nancy August. Mrs. August was minding the plants that day. I wandered and kept coming back to a small young hydrangea with airy white blossoms named Mothlight. These blossoms were nothing like heavy mopheads. I considered it for quite a long time, and finally decided to buy. As Mrs. August and I were chatting, she commented on my odd limping gait and suggested that I do something about my hip. That was a bit of a wake up call. And I did do something about my hip. I got a new one. She made me realize I didn’t really have to hobble about any more. I was grateful to her for her advice and for the Mothlight.

Mothlight Hydrangea

Mothlight Hydrangea in Heath 2015

The Mothlight hydrangea grew very large in Heath which surprised me, but the white blossoms retained their delicate airy-ness.  I later added a Limelight hydrangea which has pale chartreuse blossoms, and Pinky Winky which begins white and turns pink over the season. I also planted the white flowered native oak leaf hydrangea. It was my intention to have these three large shrubs form a kind of long flowering hedge at the eastern edge of my lawn. There it got morning shade and plenty of sun the rest of the day.

When we left Heath I realized that hydrangeas would be perfect for the low maintenance garden I was planning in Greenfield. The land next to my neighbor’s driveway is about the driest spot on our property. Hydrangeas, like roses, do not like ‘wet feet.’ I chose Limelight once again, and I also chose Angel’s Blush which is white but becomes rosy in the fall. Firelight was my final choice which becomes a dark pinky-red in the fall.

Except for the native oak leaf hydrangea, all the hydrangeas I’ve ever planted are paniculatas. This was really by chance, but I chose them because they are hardy and very dependable. They can all become quite tall and have conical flowers. Paniculatas and H. arborescens like Annabelle bloom on new wood, which means they should be pruned in the late winter or very early spring. Since they bloom on new wood, it won’t matter to them if the winter has been harsh causing winterkill. Prune them back and the new growth will provide new flowers.

Annabelle has been a popular hydrangea. It is native to North America and very dependable. It will grow about three to five feet tall  with a similar spread and the large white flowers resemble mopheads. When one of my young relatives married in August a few years ago the wedding was held at an estate where ranks of Annabelles blossomed on a severely terraced hill. Interspersed with the hydrangeas were clumps of airy white obedient plant. It was an elegant arrangement, and certainly perfect for a wedding celebration.

The big blue hydrangea blossoms I found so distasteful in my childhood were mopheads. Perhaps I intuitively knew that they were trouble. Hydrangea macrophylla blooms on old wood which means if there is a bad winter the buds will be killed and there will be no bloom. They can then be pruned but there will be no flowers for another year when the new growth counts as old wood. If there is winterkill there is no help except pruning out deadwood and cultivating patience. For regular maintenance you can prune out a few branches each year which will encourage a steady renewal.

Climbing hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea on Bridge of Flowers

I love H. quercifolia, the climbing hydrangea.  They can climb trees, or walls and are beautiful and really stunning. They take a while to get going, but the patience it takes is worth it.

All hydrangeas like sun but can take some shade. They need regular watering, but definitely do not like waterlogged soil.

There is a hydrangea for every garden, in every color and size, including small varieties that can be grown in a container.  What’s your pleasure?

Between the Rows   July 28, 2018

Tall Perennials, Statuesque and Beautiful

Actea racemosa

Cimicifuga or Actea racemosa, a very tall perennial, on the Bridge of Flowers, blooming as happily in sun as shade

Using shrubs is one way to take up room in a garden, but it is also possible to have tall perennials serve the same function. I have several tall perennials in my garden that I realize are not well placed, partly because they are overcrowding each other. I will be reorganizing them in the fall. In the meantime I want to suggest some tall, dare I say statuesque, perennials that can make quite a statement in a flower border.

Right now Filipendula rubra, queen of the prairie, is producing delicate pink astilbe-like flowers on which can reach six to eight feet. The deeply cut bright green leaves are as fragrant as the flowers.  It is easy to grow and tolerant of wet sites and clay soil. Even though it can become very tall it does not need staking making it ideal for back of the garden border. It likes the sun, but can tolerate some shade. Tall plants like this make a really dramatic clump.

If you have a shady spot Actaea racemosa, formerly known as Cimicifuga, and always also known as black cohosh, can reach a height of six feet. If the site is particularly fertile and damp, the one to two foot white spires rising from the dark foliage can reach a height of eight feet. Depending on the site and weather, it can begin blooming in July, August or September. It stays in bloom for at least three weeks. This stunning plant also serves as a host plant and nectar source for the Spring Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon).  I had this growing in my Heath garden and it was a real attention grabber glowing as it did in the shade of an ancient apple tree. Cimicifuga seems to enjoy the sun just as much blooming as it does on the Bridge of Flowers.

Culver's root

Tall Culver’s root

Another tall native plant is Culver’s root, Veronicastrum virginicum which will reach a height of seven feet including the nine inch spikes of small white flowers. It needs damp to wet soil and will bloom in July and August. To extend the bloom season, cut back the spent flower. You can even cut it back to the basal leaves and possibly get a second flush. Like the queen of the prairie, Culver’s root, is a good choice for a rain garden. It also attracts butterflies.

Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum, is known to many people as a roadside weed, but there are different species in the Eutrochium genus. That explains why one Joe Pye weed in my garden looks nothing like the roadside variety, and the second Joe Pye weed looks nothing like either one because it has variegated foliage. What they all have in common is their size, up to six or seven feet, and mauve dome-like flowers that appeal to many butterflies and bees. There is a dwarf Baby Joe that will not grow taller than three feet and has blooms in a deeper shade of purple. Joe Pye weed is another plant that will thrive in a rain garden.


Boltonia will stand on its own – lounge on a fence

Boltonia is another wonderful plant that can reach a height of six feet and will need little or no staking. Having said that I have to say that the boltonia on the Bridge of Flowers is very happy to be able to lean on the wire fence behind it. From August through September Boltonia is covered with tiny white daisy like flowers. Once in a while those white petals will have a pink or mauve tint. For a slightly more sturdy and compact plant  Boltonia asteroides var. latisquama‘Snowbank’ (3-4’ tall) might be a good choice if you are not necessarily looking for a statuesque beauty, but are looking for lush autumnal blom.

I have two very tall perennials in my garden. Right now my giant meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebrunianum) with its cloud of tiny lavender blossoms is about eight feet tall. This is an unusual height; six feet is more common. It is a hardier plant than you might imagine looking at the delicacy of its flowers and its foliage which looks very similar to the foliage of the spring columbine. I planted it a couple of feet into the garden bed, but this spring the few stems I had last year sent out about a million babies.  I pulled out a lot of those babies, but it was hard to get rid of them all, even when I tried. Right now the meadow rue and the variegated Joe Pye weed look like passionate kissin’ cousins right at the edge of the bed. They will bloom into September.

The other equally tall perennial is Hemerocallis ‘Altissima.’ It has not yet reached its full height, but this daylily will be at least six feet tall. Like all daylilies, it has increased each year and in the fall I will have to divide it.

I have certainly not named every tall perennial available for the backyard garden. I visited a friend some years ago who used perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) to create a hedge on one side of his corner garden. Another friend lined a walkway with a profusion of lacy white fleece flowers (Persicaria polymorpha) reaching six feet tall. Delphiniums can be tall, from four to six feet, but there are smaller varieties as well. They come in a range of blues, and white as well.

A striking tall annual flower is the deep red Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranth, that can reach five feet and is useful in fresh or dried flower arrangements.

Tall or small, there is always great variety for the flower garden.

Between the Rows  July 21, 2018

Daylilies – Beautiful and Trouble Free


The name of these daylilies is gone, but not its appeal

Daylilies seem like a quintessential American flower, its orange blossoms blazing as they do along the edges of summer byways. And yet daylilies have an ancient history beginning in China about 5000 year ago. Chi Pai wrote a materia medica for Emperor Huang Ti dating back to 2697 B.C. when the flowers were more used medically than for ornament.

By 1500 C.E. the daylily had travelled to Europe. In 1793 Linneaus, who introduced the binomial system of nomenclature, placed daylilies in the genus Hemerocallis in the Liliaceae family. Perhaps it was as this flower passed through Greece that it was given the name Hemerocallis. The Greek word hemera means a day and kallos means beauty, hence beautiful for a day. It was a sad day for me when I learned about beautiful for a day. I picked a bouquet of daylilies for a dinner party (many many years ago) and found the blossoms all closed and wilting by the time my guests arrived.

Siloam Double Classic daylily

I think this daylily is Siloam Double Classic

Their history clearly shows that daylilies are tough plants that do not need a lot of fussing. They like a sunny spot and a fertile well-drained soil, but it is interesting to note that they are listed among the plants suitable for a rain garden. Still, while rain gardens are designed to collect a lot of rain water, they are also designed to allow that water to sink deep into the ground within a day or two.

Lemon Madeleine daylily

Lemon Madeleine daylily has a different form

Whether your daylilies are in a rain garden or not keep them well watered in the spring when they are setting buds.

Fertilizing in the spring is a good idea. My friend and sister garden blogger Dee Nash grows lots of daylilies. She suggests using fertilizers high in nitrogen. This will help with bloom, but also encourage an increase in the size of the clump. I noticed that the Farmer’s Cooperative Exchange sells organic Espoma Urea fertilizer which would fill the bill. Actually, if you have good soil you might only need to fertilize every two years. It is also a good idea to have your soil tested periodically to make sure it is not getting out of balance.



Ann Varner daylily

Mulching after planting, or doing any necessary weeding or fertilizing, is a good idea. You can mulch with compost, or with commercial mulch. I am so glad we live in Greenfield where it is easy to get excellent compost and mulch from Martin’s Compost Farm. Our garden would not be thriving if it were not for Martin’s compost and compo-mulch.

Dee Nash suggests deadheading the spent blossoms, and cutting down the scapes (stems) when the plant is done blooming. I was given a small Corona Mini Snips this spring and I find it perfect for deadheading and any other fine snipping required in the garden.

Daylilies are best planted in spring or the fall. Autumn is a perfect time to divide your daylilies if the clump has increased well.

To divide your daylilies begin by cutting down the foliage to five or six inches. When you do this it is easy to see how daylilies grow in ‘fans.’ Dig up the whole clump, shake off as much soil as possible, and then gently wash off the rest of the soil. Instead of using a hose, you could simply soak them for an hour or so in a pail of water. You will be able to pull the clump apart once it is cleaned.

Dig a generous hole a foot deep and at least 18 inches wide. Mound a pile of soil in the middle and arrange the roots of two or three daylily fans over that mound, Gauge this so that the crown of your plant will be no more than an inch below the soil. Half bury your roots, water thoroughly; finish adding soil, until the roots are covered by no more than an inch of soil. Water again.

I have been out checking the daylilies I planted in 2015. In the fall I will divide some of the larger clumps. They have increased in size and I don’t want them to get overcrowded. I also want to make a fuller daylily border along the pebble path at the back of the garden.

Of course you will also want to buy daylilies from time to time. Today, July 14,  is the Daylily and Arts Festival at Silver Gardens at 23 Pickett Lane in Greenfield from 9 to 4 p.m. There will be hundreds of daylilies to choose from.

Olallie Lass daylily

Olallie Lass daylily

If a ride to Vermont appeals, you might stop at the Olallie Daylily Farm in South Newfane which is open Thursday through Sunday from 10-5 pm. I first went to Olallie with a friend over 30 years ago. She told me this place was unusual because it was so hard to get the gardener there to sell you anything, We met young Christopher Darrow who was taking over the farm that had begun with hybrids created by his grandfather Dr. George Darrow. I did find a daylily I liked, but Chris said, not for sale. I chose another and another, but no go. Finally I asked Chris what I could buy and he allowed the purchase of Olallie Lass which is a Darrow hybrid in a sunny yellow. It blooms still.  Nowadays, Chris will sell you any plant of your choice – and nowadays you can even buy blueberries at the farm.

I just learned that there is a wonderful daylily farm in Ashfield, not far from me. Stone Meadow Gardens grows 500 beautiful daylilies. You can visit the farm on open days in July, or you can order from their online catalog. I’m planning a trip there myself.

Between the Rows  July 14, 2018