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Create a Habitat Garden for the Birds and the Bees

My habitat garden encourages me to leave the leaves under the roses and other shrubs

In the olden days we gardeners would take a deep breath and go out to clean up the fall garden. There were dead annuals, and dead perennials gone to seed. There were dead leaves everywhere. The garden is a mess in the fall.

That view of the fall garden has changed. Last month I attended Lorri Cochran’s talk, courtesy of Greening Greenfield, about how to create a habitat garden that will support birds, and bees and during the winter. Cochran is a Master Gardener, vice-president of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, and a member of the core team of Western Mass Pollinator Networks. Listening to her I realized I had not paid enough attention to the creatures that might live in my garden through the dark winter.

I was very surprised when Cochrane said was that we should not clean up our gardens in the fall. Birds, bees and even butterflies may need protection and help in our garden through the winter. Different creatures need different habitats.

Habitat for Birds

Not all birds fly south in the winter. Our gardens can help supply shelter and food. And I mean food beyond bird feeders. Some of the berry-bearing native shrubs that can provide food are the pretty winterberries (Ilex verticillata) red or gold; hollies with red berries; elderberries (Sambucus); golden Sumac ‘Tiger Eyes”; cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum); and the chokeberries (Aronia) small trees with red or black berries.

These are just a few of the shrubs that provide food, but you need to remember that the winterberries and other hollies need male and female plants, one male to five females. You also need to know how big certain plants will get. Chokeberries will be about six feet tall, but they will spread into large clumps. These plants also tolerate wet sites. Winterberries are actually swamp plants. As I have said before, I have learned a lot about water loving plants now that I live in Greenfield.

If your garden is big enough you might be able to have larger trees, including conifers. Blue spruce will get very tall. Its thick foliage provides good shelter for birds and the cones provide edible seeds. The attractive hawthorn trees provide lots of red berries for food. Crusader is a thornless hawthorn that will grow about 25 feet tall. Check these out at the Energy Park.

Many birds like woodpeckers, bluebirds, wrens, phoebes, chickadees and others eat insects, larvae and grubs on plants, or those that have burrowed into trees. Happily old trees mark the end of my backyard.

Brush Pile for Habitat garden

There is also a substantial brush/compost pile in my back corner. The brush pile provides protection for some birds. In addition the interior of the brush pile is where compost is being made.

Finally, many birds eat seeds of trees, grasses, and flowers like native coneflowers, asters, coreopsis, Joe Pye weed, sedums. All of these plants and many more should be left standing at the end of fall. Do not spray the garden with insect killer in any season. If we do not have insects we will not have birds and bees.

Don’t forget, if we are going to feed the birds, we should also provide them with daily water.

All Kinds of Bees

Honeybees live in a hive and spend the winter feeding on their stored nectar and pollen. When it is cold they keep the queen and her brood warm.

The bumblee bee queen with just a few other bees will hibernate underground, or even in a compost pile.

Solitary bees will spend the winter as adults, or as pupae. Garden centers sell wild bee houses with a variety of nesting holes, or they may find reeds or plant stems for winter protection. Don’t get rid of those places where solitary bees might find winter shelter.

Cold compost bin

Cold compost bin made with wire and stakes

Valuable Leaves

When we bought our Greenfield house we inherited a giant sycamore on our tree strip and a lilac tree. And yes, the lilac is a real tree in the syringa family, not an overgrown lilac bush. The spring flowers have a delicious lilac-like fragrance.  We planted two river birches, two arborvitaes, and just added a redbud. Our neighbors share their oak and maple leaves with us. We have a lot of leaves in the fall and put them to good use.

When we lived in Heath the winds blew all our leaves away. There is no way to avoid raking leaves here in the city. My son just gave our lawn paths, with leaves, a final mowing, but no raking. My husband does most of the raking in front of the house. His leaves go into tall wire bins behind our hugel to break down and make cold compost. Two black compost bins take kitchen refuse and leaves.

Our brush pile does include some dead annuals and perennials from right in front of the house, and leaves. Every couple of years that pile gets turned so we can collect compost deep in its heart. Then we start a new brush and dead plant pile.

I rake here and there but not in the planting beds. Leaves will happily live and die under shrubs and other plants turning into compost. And mulch.

There is a time to clean and weed the garden. There is also a time to remember what the habitat garden needs. ###

Between the Rows  November 9, 2019

Pumpkins of History – Pumpkins of Today


Pumpkins at Butynski Farm

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her

Put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well.

Children have learned this little rhyme for generations. Hard to know what we all made of it when we were small, but the rhythms are fun and so is the image of a little housewife in her pumpkin shell.

Boston can take some credit for this rhyme. It first appeared in 1825 in a little illustrated book titled “Mother Goose’s Quarto: or Melodies Complete.” Many nursery rhymes originated in England, but the Pumpkin Eater is strictly American; pumpkins are native to our part of the world. Pumpkins were growing in Mexico for about 7000 years before they made their way to Europe.

A terrifying pumpkin figures in the 1820 New England Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Superstitious Ichabod Crane leaves a party where he had hoped to woo his sweetheart. On the way home he is frightened by the headless horseman carrying a flaming pumpkin in his arms. In the morning Ichabod is missing and a smashed pumpkin is found in the road.

The most beautiful pumpkin in literature is Cinderella’s amazing carriage thanks to the magic of her fairy godmother. It was French Charles Perrault who added the pumpkin to the story in 1697. However, Tuan Cheng-shi wrote and published the first version, with most of the familiar elements, around 856 A.D.

At this time of the year in New England we are surrounded by pumpkins, at farmstands, and in front of all the supermarkets. But how did we come to make jack-o-lanterns on Halloween?

I found that in the sixth century Pope Boniface IV declared May 13 All Martyrs Day. Later Pope Gregory III moved the celebration and declared November 1 as All Saint’s Day. The celebration spread to Ireland where people still celebrated the ancient Irish festival Samhain which marked the end of summer and the creeping dark of winter. Traditionally bonfires were built in the fields, and costumes worn to ward off ghosts.

When the Irish potato famine struck in the middle of the 19th century and millions of Irish emigrated to the U.S. they brought their autumnal celebration with them. Halloween was already celebrated the night before in parts of our country. but it was the Irish who made this a holiday for all. It is quite fascinating to see how traditions are created and change over time. No more field bonfires. Now we carve the pumpkins that were a staple food of the first colonists to settle in our country and set fiery pumpkin faces on our porches.

By the time you read this the Halloween celebration will be over. Bowls of candy will still be on the counter, and scary costumes will be put away for next year. However pumpkins will remain on the scene. We celebrate Thanksgiving with pumpkin pie!

Not too many pumpkins are left in the fields, but pumpkins are on sale for decoration, and for eating.  Pumpkins and other squash were crucial to the survival of the first settlers in Massachusetts. It was the Wampanoags who would have taught them about pumpkins because this nutritious vegetable was unknown in Europe.

Paul Butynski

Paul Butynski

We are fortunate to live surrounded by small farms. We can get the very freshest vegetables and fruits. I often shop at the Butynski Farm Stand where there is always a big choice of fresh vegetables. Right now the farm stand is bright with rows of pumpkins in front and around the building.

This is a family farm that has been operating since the 1930s, first as a dairy farm, when Grandfather Butynski bought it. Even in the beginning vegetables were grown and a little tobacco. I got to talk to Michael and Paul Butynski about the history of the farm.

Both men grew up working on the farm. Michael said, “We sold the cows about 20 years ago. We couldn’t make money with cows any more. We already had a vegetable stand but it was more limited.  Now we have all kinds of vegetables, greens, cukes, squash, beets, tomatoes, melons, just about everything. We grow everything, but not berries or potatoes.  And we still sell hay.”

Paul acknowledged that the farm was a lot of work. “But it is a way of life. People don’t always understand that. It’s nice to have more leisure during the winter, but if you are just sitting around a lot that’s no fun. In December we start ordering our seeds. Lots of book work to do at the end of the year.”

Michael Butynski

Michael agreed that after working every day during vegetable season he was ready and glad to have some down time. Even so, “In the winter we have to start getting ready for summer. There is work to do. Planning. And always maintenance on the equipment, and the buildings.”

When I looked at the different pumpkins, both Michael and Paul agreed that small sugar pumpkins are the most edible pumpkins. I am going to experiment. I walked away with sugar pumpkins to use as a vegetable and in a pie. I also took home a larger pumpkin to cook. There are dozens of pumpkin soup recipes online. I’m wondering if Peter, the pumpkin eater, was fussy about which pumpkins he ate.

Between the Rows   November 2, 2019


Franklin County CiderDays – November 1-3, 2019

CiderDays 2019

Franklin County CiderDays photo courtesy of Eric Lewandowski

Franklin County CiderDays will celebrate its 25th Anniversary with three days of cider tastings, apple recipes, apple history, holistic orchard management, and more as well as the crowning of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruiting trees and orchards. The party will begin on Friday, November 1 and end on Sunday, November 3 at 5 p.m. It is important to order tickets for some of the special talks as they always sell out, but there are many free events. Talks and tastings will be held at the apple orchards as well as at venues in Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, Ashfield, Deerfield, Northfield, Colrain, Hawley and Turners Falls.

There was no plan to organize an annual cider festival back in 1994. I spoke to Charlie Olchowski, one of the founders of CiderDays who said it all began when Paul Correnty’s book,

, with Olchowski’s photographs, was published.

Olchowski and Correnty decided that a regular book-signing launch would be too ordinary. They approached Terry and Judith Maloney of West County Cider and voilá, CiderDay began with Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Greenwood Farm, Pine Hill Orchards, and West County Cider as the venues for the day. The event culminated with a bring-your-own tasting at the Maloney’s sampling room in Colrain. CiderDay is now celebrated the first weekend every November.

Cider Days

Franklin County CiderDays photo courtesy of Eric Lewandowski

I’ve always thought of cider as a very New England sort of drink. Early apples under harsh growing conditions were not very palatable but were used to make cider. In the early days of our country clean water was not always available and cider was an important thirst quencher. We in Massachusetts still sing of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, who was born in Leominster in 1774.

Johnny Appleseed was an old man when William Harrison ran for president in 1841 and hard cider was still an important drink. Harrison sold himself as a candidate by saying he was a “log cabin and hard cider’ man. Unfortunately Harrison died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration. It was not the cider’s fault.

It was the Temperance movement followed by Prohibition that dealt a hard blow to cider makers and drinkers. By the time prohibition ended in 1933 German immigrants had started making beer which became the most popular drink. Not until a few decades ago has hard cider been making a slow resurgence.


Franklin County CiderDays photo courtesy of Eric Lewandowski

“Hard cider is much more popular than it was 25 years ago,” Olchowski said. “The fashion for cider has spread around the world. Ciders stylistically vary from country to country. That difference does not usually come from the various species of apples, but more so from various microorganisms that produce complex compounds and acetic and lactic acids giving the styles their distinctive character. There will be ciders from other regions in our country as well as foreign countries for tasting during the three cider days.”

Olchowski also said there are now other big cider events. CiderCon is a nine year old trade conference for the United States Association of Cider Makers with vendors from 44 states and from ten countries. It speaks to the growing popularity of cider, but it is nothing like Franklin County’s celebration for the community. “We want our CiderDays to remain local, to further the culture of cider, but also to educate what foods go well with cider.

“Every hall was filled last year and ticketed events completely sold out. There is no question that attendance has grown each year. This year there are 16 more talks and more diversity of topics,” Olchowski said.

Two of the talks, one about cyser and the other about ice cider, were particularly interesting to me. As a former beekeeper I knew about mead which is an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and water. And yeast. Cyser is a combination of mead and apple cider.

There will also be a talk about ice cider. My cousin used to make ice wine, from frozen grapes. Olchowski said “Ice cider works the same way with apples, concentrating the aromas, flavors, and sugars, thereby making an enticing complex drink with intense apple personality and a higher alchohol content.”

CiderDays was created to celebrate Paul Correnty’s book The Art of Cider Making. This year the program will include information about a new book. John Bunker, an expert orchardist of old heirloom apples in Maine will be interviewing Andy Brennan about his new book, Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider and the Complicated Art of Making a Living. Andy Brennan describes uncultivation as a process. “It involves exploring the wild; recognizing that much of nature is omitted from our conventional ways of seeing and doing things.”

Olchowski said that one of the final events will be Sunday morning at Apex Orchards with Bring Your Own; Tasting Homemade Ciders. The panel consisting of Paul Correnty, Steve Patt, Charlie Olchowski and Nathaniel Williams will assess and critique ciders that audience members made. Laughter and information are sure to ensue.

Lots to learn and lots to enjoy at this year’s CiderDays.

Between the Rows   October 26, 2019

Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Michael Van Valkenburgh

Designing a Garden by Michael Van Valkenburgh

In 2013 I attended the opening of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a sunny September day and Museum Director Anne Hawley and landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh were on hand to explain how the garden came to be.

It was certainly not the Monk’s Garden that I had seen a few years earlier. The day I saw that space I could not understand why it was called any kind of garden. I admit it was a gray day, late in the fall, but all I could see was an empty enclosed space with a lawn and a magnificent katsura tree. Not much of a garden. It seems that Isabella Stewart Gardner herself could never achieve a garden that pleased her in that space.

Happily in 2013 there was a grove of trees, underplantings, paths, and places to sit alone or with companions. The katsura and a saucer magnolia remained and were joined by many paperbark maples, gray birches, Japanese stewartia and Hetz Wintergreen arborvitae. The low growing underplanting featured ajuga, ferns, hellebores, hostas, periwinkle as well as the promised foliage of lilies, daylilies, and daffodils. There was a quiet magic in the grove that made up the Monk’s Garden.

Before they started construction Anne Hawley told Van Valkenburgh about the new addition and entryway to the Museum, and the view of the garden space from new social space in the building, as well as the galleries. The view of the garden came from many directions. She wanted visitors to experience the garden from inside the museum as well as strolling through the garden.

On opening day Van Valkenburgh spoke to the assembled press about his approach. He concluded by saying that that he always remembers the advice given him by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner. “Make as many gardens as you can.” After we strolled in the dappled shade of the garden we saw that he truly understood the intimacy and solitude that a small garden can provide.

Now Van Valkenburgh has written Designing a Garden (Monacelli Press $40.) with many stunning photographs describing how this garden was created. The photographs capture the woodland with its textured underplantings in every season.

Monk's Garden

Ariel View of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Garnder Museum

But to begin, Van Valkenburgh looked at the space, 52 feet wide and 150 feet long and thought how he would create a space where people could wander. “I had a hunch that the answer might be found in the shape of the paths. By signaling where to go, the notion of a path drives the experience of the garden.”

If you have a path you must have pavers. I found myself fascinated by all the decisions regarding the paths, and every other element. After I wandered through the garden, feeling almost solitary, and felt the rise and fall of the path I could see the difficulties of laying it out. When reading the book I remembered Van Valkenburgh’s answer to a man in the audience. “Well, there was a lot of build and design going on.” I realized that phrase meant not everything was organized at the beginning.

Path at Monk's Garden

Construction of path at Monk;’s Garden

The book describes the creation of the swirling design of the path. Decisions had to be made about materials, and the pattern. Schist and black manganese pavers were chosen reflecting the sun and shade created.

In his book Van Valkenburgh describes his thoughts about building the path and said, “My design process requires a kind of creative optimism – I have to believe that a solution is out there while realizing that the way to a final goal is open ended.”

Once the paths were laid down it was time for the plants. “The first time I stood in the emptiness of the Monk’s Garden site, with its imposing walls and the katsura tree spreading overhead, I imagined a thicket of small trees filling the space with movement and a sense of mystery,” he said. I certainly felt the mystery when I walked the garden.

In addition to being a brilliant designer, knowledgeable about materials and effects, Van Valkenburgh is a brilliant writer, painting pictures of the garden, and hinting at the responses to this captivating space.

My friend Peter Beck was a student at Cornell University at the same time as Van Valkenburgh. They became friends because Peter was taking design classes that were not officially available to Van Valkenburgh. Peter said design was not much thought of in those days. It was all about materials, and plant names, not how to use either. “Michael bemoaned the lack of design history and theory in his program,” Peter said. “However simply by thinking about design and engaging (with architecture students) in long, late night discussions about design theory and history, Michael was clearly providing his own education while at Cornell.”

Peter’s words made clear to me that from the beginning Van Valkenburgh’s thoughts were always about the responses to the gardens and park spaces he would design.

Van Valkenburgh was successful in creating a garden that delights everyone  who enters. He also left us with thoughts about what we might consider in our own gardens. ###

Between the Rows   October 19, 2019

John Barry and His Own Arboretum

John Barry's path to his arboretum

John Barry left this avenue of conifers when his Christmas Tree farm ended

John Barry grew up in Boston, met and married his wife Pat in Boston, and worked in Boston, but he says he never saw foliage until he was 30 years old. It was not until he and Pat took a vacation in Gill that his love affair with trees began.

After the two of them came to Gill on vacation and found it to be beautiful and quiet, they bought and built on five acres of clear land in 1973. Then the came the day when the city seemed too noisy and dirty, and they moved to Gill full time.

The Christmas Tree Farm Came First

Barry worked in insurance but for 20 years he also had a Christmas tree farm. Remnants of those Christmas trees still stand.  Then the Barry children grew up, went to college and moved away. “I sold the last of the Christmas trees at a church sale.  I loved growing and shearing the Christmas trees, but I hated cutting them down,” he said.

He had enjoyed the visitors who came to cut down their own trees, like the man who arrived with four sled dogs, and a sled, to experience the way they did things in the old days.

With new room on his acreage Barry began planting many other kinds of trees, creating his own arboretum, his own museum of trees. He took me on a tour beginning with the Seven Son Flower. One of these grows on the Bridge of Flowers, but I never seemed to be on the Bridge when it was blooming.  That is understandable when Barry explained that this tree blooms after Labor Day, “no matter when Labor day falls.” he said. “The blossoms are white and the Monarch butterflies love them. Then the white petals fall off and the calyx turns crimson. Many people then think that the tree blooms twice.”

We walked past a large Norway spruce, and a concolor fir. Concolor means two colors, a name that suits this fir because it is not true green and seems to have a white dusting. “It grows very slowly,” Barry said.

Chestnut Trees

Chestnuts on back-bred tree

These chestnuts grow on a back-bred tree, which should be immune from blight

Then we arrived at three chestnut trees that were not affected by the blight that has decimated American chestnut trees. Barry explained that until about 1900 eastern United States had billions of beautiful chestnut trees. It was the predominant tree of our forests. The nuts fed wildlife and farm animals during the winter. The beautiful wood was used for everything from fence posts to fine furniture. It was an essential tree.

Then Chinese chestnut trees were imported. Chinese trees carried the blight Cryphonectria parasitica but were immune. Ultimately  almost all American chestnut trees died.

Nowadays chestnut trees are being back-bred to create trees that are immune. Many people are working on this problem. The hope is to get the trees to be 98 percent American and only 2 percent Chinese. Barry’s trees are looking healthy and he has hopes that they will stay that way.


Metaseqoia was discovered growing in China in 1941

The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia, was thought to be extinct

We continued walking and came to a Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. This tree was thought to be extinct until it was discovered growing in a spot in the Szechwan province of China in 1941 by a Chinese forester. Seeds made their way to the United States in 1947 after the war. This tree is not known to grow naturally in any other place but now it grows in arboreteums and personal gardens in zones 4-8 in slightly acid soil. It also likes wet sites.

Barry planted his tree about 15 years and it has grown rapidly. Like the larch tree, the Dawn Redwood’s needles turn yellow in the autumn and then fall off.

Nearby is a young gingko tree. This tree is also native to China and grows in zones 4-9 here. The gingko is interesting for its fan shaped leaves that turn gold in the fall. And then one night, when it has been cold, all the leaves will drop at once. We had gingko trees in Heath. We enjoyed waking up one morning to see our ginkgos in the center of a golden circles

Barry and I continued our walk, past large hydrangeas and a beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. Beautyberry has small pink/purple flowers in the spring and very unusual, and beautiful violet berries in the fall.

Shrubs have a place in Barry’s arboretum. He is also a man who likes to experiment. He took me to two rows of small hydrangeas which he said are becoming very popular. They are more suitable for small gardens and urban neighborhoods.

He has planted eight small paniculata hydrangeas including the Diamond Rouge which will grow to 4-5 feet tall. The flowers will begin in shades of white, but become pink and finally a rosy red. Paniculata hydrangeas bloom on new wood and can be pruned in winter or early spring.

There is always work to do in the arboreteum but he does sometimes sit out among the trees, resting and enjoying them. He told me that one day he was sitting down “when just six or eight feet from me a bobcat popped out. He moved right beside me, and then left. Another time a bobcat walked only four feet away. He didn’t see me at first, but then he did the Michael Jackson moonwalk, and walked away. I did notice that there was no sign of chipmunks or squirrels in that area.”

John and Pat Barry in t heir arboretum

John and Pat Barry in their arboretum

As we finished our walk I could not help thinking of  the British gardener and landscape architect, Russell Page. In his memoir, Education of a Gardener, he said, “To plant trees is to give body and life to one’s dreams of a better world.”  I think he is right and I thank John Barry for his arboretum.

Between the Rows  October 12, 2019

Late Season Flowers – Color and Butterflies in My Garden

Boltonia and Zinnias

Late Season Flowers  –  Boltonia and zinnias – view from my window

How many late season flowers are there? We gardeners are always happy in the spring when our first snowdrops or daffodils open their blossoms. The year of bloom has begun! Many of us wonder how long we can keep the garden blooming through September and October. I have found there are many possibilities.

Zinnias are an amazing annual blooming through  the fall season. They come in many forms from singles, with just one row of petals, then semi-double with two rows of petals with a visible center. I think the beautiful Profusion zinnias fall into that class. These zinnias give bees a good landing space as they fly in to collect pollen and honey. There is also the double flowered zinnia where the center is not visible, and the cactus variety with petals that curl toward the underside.

Butterflies and bees love all zinnias. Zinnias will bloom until hard frost, providing pollen and honey for bees and other insects as well as butterflies for a long period. They also provide a long season of bouquets for the gardener.


Helenium autumnale

Helenium autumnale, also known as sneezeweed, is a perennial and late season flower. I have a clump of sunny yellow helenium which should bloom well into October. There are many varieties like bright yellow Mariachi, red and yellow Mardi Gras, and deep red Salsa. Helenium likes full sun, and happily for me it also likes rich damp soils. I can provide good compost, and our garden site is definitely classed as damp.

Sheffield daisies are members of the chrysanthemum family. They have pink petals around a golden center. They bloom until hard frost. Sheffies are about 18-24 inches high, but they are languid and tend to sprawl. They are vigorous, need full sun, tolerate drought, and bring absolute delight. I love my sheffies. And so do the butterflies. These are the latest bloomers in my garden.

Alma Potchke

Alma Potchke aster – knocked over a bit in the rain

Boltonia is the opposite of the languid sheffies. Boltonia, also known as false aster, has small daisy-like white petals around a yellow center. One of its great advantages is that this five foot plant is very sturdy and does not blow over easily. It needs full sun. If its location is too shady or the soil is too rich and damp, it will get a little floppy.

Asters will bloom well into October. Tall lavender aster Frikartii and rosy Alma Potchke are two familiar asters that will grow about three feet tall. Stokes aster Peachie’s Pick has a blossom like a large blue cornflower on shorter strong stems.  It likes sun, but not damp or dense soil.

If you have a good sunny spot physostogia, otherwise known as obedient plant, will continue blooming well into October. Obedient plant has spikes of flowers in pink or white that can reach two feet tall.

All of these perennials (and others) benefit from being pinched back in early June.  Pinching off a main stem early in t he season will encourage the plant to make new stems. Plants will have a fuller shape and more flowers.

Very different kinds of late bloomer are the sedums. Autumn Joy with its ever-darkening red velvet flower heads started the trend some years ago. Autumn Joy is just under two feet tall, with nearly as wide a spread. Nowadays there are many more varieties including the 18 inch purple-pink Neon, 12 inch pink Crystal Pink, and tall 30 inch Thunderhead with deep rose red flowers and dark foliage.

There are other ways of putting color in the autumnal garden. I have a red winterberry and a golden winterberry that are just brilliant under the sunny skies of autumn. They don’t need full sun, but these swamp plants do like a damp or wet spot.

In the sunniest parts of my garden I still have coreopsis, turtlehead, black eyed susans, and a deep red yarrow still blooming. I treasure every one.

Monarch and zinnia

Monarch butterfly on Zinnia. One of many Monarchs on many zinnias

We cheer our spring crocus blossoms, but some of us cheer on our autumn crocuses. American Meadows and Brent and Becky Bulbs are two companies that sell  autumn blooming crocus and colchicum. These have to be planted in the summer. There have been many autumns when I suddenly look at my fall garden and realize that once again I gave it no thought in the summer. No mid-summer thought, no autumn crocus. Again. However, I did finally plant several autumn crocus bulbs in my Heath garden.

Once you have planted autumn crocus bulbs in early August, you will never have to give them another thought. The autumn crocus produces foliage during the summer, and then disappears. I was always shocked when I walked out to the border next to my house in Heath and saw large crocuses thrusting their heads through my poorly weeded garden. I had forgotten all about them. Year after year.

I have put a marker on my new 2020 calendar from the Umass Extension Service. This beautiful and helpful calendar gives daily gardening tips and leaves room for my own notes like “Order autumn crocus bulbs on July 15.” The cost of the calendar is $14 and there is free shipping if you order before November 1. Log on to and give yourself an early Christmas present.###


Seed Library at Greenfield Community College – Seeds and Garden Book

Tony Reiber and Hope Schneider

Tony Reiber and Hope Schneider

What is a Seed Library? We all know what a library is. A place where we can find and take away non-fiction books about the world, fiction books about worlds we imagine and picture books to delight our eyes. But I never heard of a seed library and could not imagine where one would find such a thing.

But recently I went to the Greenfield Community College Nahman-Watson Library, and there, right near an entry door, I saw shelves filled with garden books, a small cabinet and a sign that said SEED LIBRARY. I looked closely and saw that there were little labeled seed packets in each drawer of the cabinet. A sign said the seeds were free, but you had to check them out at the circulation desk.

Curioser and curioser!

Fortunately, not long after my first introduction to the Seed Library I met Hope Schneider, newly retired, after being a GCC librarian for many years. Schneider was happy to tell me about the birth of the GCC Seed Library.

In 2015, Library Director Deb Chown heard about this idea and thought it would be a great connection to the nearby Science department. Creating a seed library is not as easy as it sounds.

First you have to get a little money. Chown and Tony Reiber, who runs the greenhouse and is the Soil Instructor, wrote a grant for $500 to get some ‘seed’ money. Schneider did enjoy the little play on words. Money was needed to buy seed envelopes, the cabinet to hold them, write instruction sheets, and some publicity.

Chown worked with CWMars to add all the seeds to the system inventory. Since there is no way that those particular seeds can be returned CWMars automatically checks all seeds back in on October 1. All seed libraries hope that when the plants, flowers or vegetables, have gone to seed, the seed library members will harvest those new seeds, and return some to the seed library.

“The biggest problem is getting people to bring seeds back. “We’d also love to get heirloom seeds, seeds that came from someone in the family or have a story, and the seeds of native plants,” Schneider said.

I suspect the problem with having people return the seeds is because their crop failed and they don’t have seeds, or because they forgot, or because they are not confident they can prepare and store seeds properly.

People have been saving seeds and passing them on for centuries but seed stores did not exist. Not until the Watervliet, New York Shakers started to package seeds and sell them.

Map of the Outdoor Learning Lab

The map of the Outdoor Learning Lab

After admiring the shelves of garden and plant books, Schneider and I then met up with Tony Reiber. Over the past few years he has been working with students to plant an array of gardens. Planting and learning about plants and what they need is part of that project. Another aspect is that plantings have been designed to attract pollinators that are important part to our ecosystem.

We walked along the long wildflower garden which was planted in June of 2017. With help from students plugs of 21 varieties of wildflowers were planted. Many plugs were from Nasami Farm. I couldn’t identify all 21 varieties.

We were there to look at the seeds ripening on those plants. Some will find their way into the Seed Library Cabinet.

At this time of the year many plants are making seeds. Many of us, like me, don’t usually pay that much attention to seeds, and we are really missing something.

GCC Wildflower meadow

27 wildflower to serve pollinators

Some seeds are large. Think of sunflowers, flowering sweet peas, nasturtiums, zinnias and marigolds. Others are very tiny like cardinal flowers, and jewel weed. I have to tell you that Schneider and I were having a grand time pinching the jewel weed seed case making it pop open and shoot out the seed as the case curls up.

Whether the seeds are big or small, the important thing to know about saving seeds is knowing that they are non-GMO or hybrid seeds. Plants that have been genetically modified, or are created by crossing one variety with another. Seeds from those seeds will not come true the second year. A seed saver should save open pollinated seed. Any heirloom seed, one that has been grown for generations, will be an open pollinated seed.

It is now possible to start by buying open-pollinated seed all neatly packaged up and sold in many stores. More and more seed companies are specializing in open-pollinated varieties including Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Fedco Seeds. The Seed Savers Exchange grows seeds in Decorah, Iowa and sells them. They also have a a large catalog for members that include heirloom seeds from other members.

We can save many seeds from our own gardens, but they do need to be cared for to live through the winter and be viable in the spring. Reiber said there were some general things to remember. Some seeds need to be kept dry and cold, kept in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator. Other seeds need moisture and can be stored in a plastic bag with damp vermiculite.

A book like The Seed Garden: Art and Practice of Seed Saving published by the Seed Savers Exchange gives very specific directions.  You can check out the book at the GCC Seed Library. Anyone can get a GCC library card, and take out seeds and informational books.

GCC Geology Walk

One way to get up to the Learning Lab is to stroll up the Geology Walk

Between the Rows   September 29, 2019

John Zon Community Center Community Garden

Martin Anderton at the John Zon Community Center Community Garden

Martin Anderton and Princess at the John Zon Community Center Community Garden

The Pleasant Street Community Garden provided garden plots for over 20 people until that whole site was razed a few years ago. Davis Street School, the surrounding paving and the gardens all disappeared. There was great mourning, but last year the John Zon Community Center was completed. Hedges and trees were planted, and a Meadow Garden was planted by volunteers, but there were no Community Gardens.

One could imagine that the Community Garden was just sleeping, because there was a Working Group of gardeners at work preparing the garden space. I spoke to Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kliener who had joined the remnants of the community gardeners who were thinking about how the it would return to life. “It was an unhappy time for the community gardeners. We had to be patient,” she said.

Rabbi Andrea told me that she came to this project to do her rabbi work and find her place in the regional food system. “To reach out to the broader community and the ‘old’ community gardeners we held a community walk. We visited neighborhood gardens to see how people could garden in small spaces,” she said.

I was on that walk and we not only saw small gardens, we saw new gardeners who were finding their way with seeds and weeds and bugs.

Rabbi Andrea and the Working Group of gardeners kept things moving last year. The garden plot is approximately 180 feet long and 40 feet wide. The soil in back of the Zon Center was very poor, and not ready to be gardened. Instead, soil amendments were added.

This year the soil improvement work continued. “With advice from the UMass Extension Service and NOFA (Northern Organic Farmers Association) we planted rye, but had to cut it down before it went to seed. We also planted clover, vetch, peas, oats, and sorghum,” Rabbi Andrea said.

Interior of Chicken coop

Interior of the coop Anderton built of recycled materials

Now those special crops have to be incorporated into the soil to improve it. Martin Anderton replied to a notice in the Zon Center about the need for a wheelchair accessible flower bed. Building the raised bed was his first contact with the Zon Center and he did build a beautiful raised bed. When he heard about the Community Garden he spoke to Rabbi Andrea. He explained that he rented out chickens and ducks that could help with soil improvement.

This was certainly a unique project. Anderton built a moveable coop from salvaged materials. When I spoke to him the coop with its electrified fencing had been in place for a week. By the time you read this the coop will have been settled in the next section for a week. It is amazing how much scratching and eating of clover and other plants five ducks and four chickens can do. Not to mention the amount of manure the birds can produce.

“Fresh animal manure introduces beneficial microbes and bacteria directly into the soil,” Anderton said. “Manure can also be composted with other materials, of course, but having both is very good.”

Anderton explained that he does have a business named Homestead Habitats. He rents ducks and chickens to people for a variety of reasons. Some people are testing whether they really want to raise fowl. Some people don’t want to keep fowl through the winter. He also sells fowl, sometimes as chicks, and sometimes as pullets because people find it difficult to care for tiny chicks. He will also build a shelter or coop for the birds.

Dorothea Sotiros is the Treasurer of the Working Group that meets and makes decisions about what happens next. There is a shed and tools next to the garden space. Most of the items in the shed were used by the earlier community gardeners.

Sotiros said that about five people have signed up for garden plots. There is room for more. “We are also welcoming community groups to claim a plot,” she said. “You could garden in a plot with a friend, or an organization like the Recover Project might like to take advantage of this opportunity. Inmates of the County Jail used to work at the earlier garden.”

Ducks at the John Zon Community Garden

Ducks have an extra advantage over chickens, digging into the soil with their beaks

Now a workshop is being planned, possibly for mid-October. There will be a talk, but there will also be a practical element. The plan is to cover the whole community garden space with cardboard and then cover the cardboard with mulch. In the spring the garden will be ready for planting.

The cardboard-mulch system is sometimes called Lasagna Gardening. I have used it myself in my new Greenfield garden. This method will kill the weeds. In the spring gardeners will move aside the mulch and find the cardboard has disintegrated and disappeared. What is left is wonderful soil, and worms, ready for planting. It seems like magic. I can attest to the reliability of this system. And I will tell you that worms love cardboard.

Watch for an announcement about the date of this workshop. I will be sure to include it in my column.###

Between the Row   September 21, 2019

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.



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 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.



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