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December Holiday Celebrations – Lights, Feasts and Memory

Poinsettias

Poinsettias named for Joel Robert Poinsett, botanist and ambassador to Mexico

Our December holiday celebrations originated far away from North America. The days grow shorter, the nights  are long and dark. Understandably the great religions celebrate with lights.

Hanukkah

Two of these holiday celebrations are days-long commemorations of ancient events. The Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days. The Talmud tells the story of Judah Maccabee and other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a consecrated supply. This wondrous event inspired an annual eight-day festival.

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a movable celebration, depending on the lunar cycle, so sometimes it falls early in December, and sometimes it coincides with Christmas.

Christmas

Christians of every sect and flavor celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. For four Sundays before December 25 the Advent candles are lit. Advent is a time of waiting that is marked by the lighting of four candles, symbols of faith, hope, joy and peace. With the birth of the Christ Child on December 25, the twelve days of Christmas begin, and end on January 6, the feast of Epiphany, when tradition says the three wise men arrived to honor the Baby.

Kwanzaa

Much more recently there is Kwanzaa, a celebration of seven principles that was created 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture, begins on December 26 and ends on January 1. This African American and Pan African celebration includes the lighting of seven candles marking each of the seven principles beginning with Unity, Self Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. Each principle had its own candle lit in a given order.

All of these celebrations have lights to brighten the growing December dark, but they also celebrate with wonderful meals. The Jews have latkes and the Kwanzaa celebration includes foods from Africa but also foods from the south such as yams, squash and corn. I don’t know that Christmas has any special foods, although I’m sure each family has its own feasting traditions.

Feasting

My grandparents were Swedish and Italian. I can tell you there were lots of sweets from each side of the family that included chocolate, almonds, apples, and pomegranates. My Italian father loved telling stories of the Greek gods and goddesses. He told how Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of grain and fertility of the earth, was abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld. She refused to eat while in that dark place. Demeter searched for her child and was struck with a powerful grief that caused all plants to begin to die. Zeus finally sent word to Hades that he had to send Persephone home, and he acquiesced, if she had eaten nothing. However Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds, which meant she would have to return to Hades for a time every year. That is how we got winter my father said. A sad story, but the reason we add the jewel-like pomegranate seeds to our family Christmas feast.

As I was thinking of the many vegetables that would be served at a Christmas dinner I thought of some of those Kwanzaan items like sweet potatoes, regular potatoes and squash that show up on my table, but I might add guacamole made with avocados and tomatoes. Apple pie is always a staple.

We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful vegetables and fruits in our supermarkets in these modern days, but the Pilgrims had a much more modest feast at the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, apples, pears, oranges, almonds, ginger and many others were not native to Europe or to New England. Of course this is only a small list of foods that were not native to our country. Many originated in South America and even the apple originated in Central Asia.

At this time of the year you can also find colorful poinsettias in many shades almost every time you go into the supermarket. They make great festive gifts. Poinsettias originated in Mexico and were given the name poinsettia in honor of Joel Robert Poinsett who the 1800s was a botanist and the first ambassador to Mexico. Of course, these brilliant plants are substantial shrubs in Mexico.

English holly

English holly in full winter berries

Even the holly wreaths and swags are made of English holly, beautiful with its red berries.

I am amazed when I think of the fruits, vegetables and flowers from every corner of the globe to feed us every day – and on our great December celebrations. I think of the candle lights that bring us hope in the dark days of winter. I think of the stories that accompany the religious traditions that have arrived in our country. None of these things were here before 1492. But over the centuries amazing gifts of faith, of abundance, and beauty have immigrated to our country. Immigrants from around the world continue to arrive in the U.S. and we should treasure and celebrate each one for the hope, passion, skills and energy they bring to our county.

Between the Rows   December 22, 2018

More Christmas Books for the Gardener


Ground Rules by Kate Frey

Ground Rules by Kate Frey photo courtesy of Timber Press

More Christmas books. There is no end of books to delight and inform the gardener. Kate Frey’s new book, Ground Rules: 100 Easy Lessons for Growing a More Glorious Garden (Timber Press $19.95) has a sweet cover with painted flowers and birds. It would be easy to dismiss this book as something only of interest for the new gardener. However, it does not take a long browse through each bright page to realize that there is always something to learn – or to remember.

Frey is a consultant, educator designer, and freelance writer specializing in sustainable gardens and small farms that encourage biodiversity. She is a gardener whose experience has taught her how to break down all the aspects of gardening from thinking and planning through to your own Garden of Earthly Delights.

The first necessity is thinking about what you need in a garden and dreaming about what you love and would like to create. There are many questions to ask yourself. If you want vegetables where will you place it? What do you want to see out your window? I can tell you that when we moved to a small house in town we had to renovate the kitchen. A result of that new and much more efficient kitchen is a double window looking out into the garden. That view is the best view of the garden and I get to enjoy it every time I make toast, toss a salad, cut out cookies, or plate up our dinner. It gives me more pleasure every day observing the daily and seasonal changes. Thinking about what you will see from your window is an important aspect of planning your garden.

Each page with its informative text and bright photos is a delight. Frey takes us through the many aspects of creating a garden. The second chapter is about the Joy of Plants which provides great information about choosing the right plants and the right space that will pleasure in every season, including annuals, perennials, vines and bulbs. The Real Dirt is full of information about creating healthy soil. I think we are all more aware of how important the quality of our soil is to the success of our plantings, but are not sure of how to improve and maintain good soil. Especially if we are determined to cut down on, or eliminate herbicides and pesticides.

Frey’s chapters move on  through Be Wise With Water, How to Be a Good Garden Parent about the care of plants, Birds, Bees and Butterflies and their importance, and finally the Garden of Earthly Delights. Frey gives us an abundance of knowledge and pleasure in this little book.

The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Your Small Garden

The less is more garden

The Less is More Garden by Susan Morrison
cover image courtesy of Timber Press

The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard (Timber Press $29.95) understandably hits on many of the same issues as Common Rules. The difference is that Susan Morrison provides many examples of ways to organize a small garden for your individual preferences and needs. Morrison is not only a landscape designer, she is an authority on small-space garden design. She is a good teacher and has shared her strategies on the PBS series Growing a Greener World and in publications such as Fine Gardening.

More and more of us are living in more urban areas, or who in our later years, need and want smaller gardens. Morrison reminds us right at the start that a small space can result in less effort, less maintenance and therefore more enjoyment, beauty and relaxation. She begins by stating that designing a new garden demands a consideration of how and when you will use that space. Do you grill and have frequent meals outside? Do you sit in the garden in the middle of the day, or in the cooler hours? Will your pets enjoy the garden?

I found The Less is More Garden to be wonderfully inspiring. She provides design templates to give the novice someplace to start and provides information about plants for different situations. She knows how to create illusions of space, and the value of focal points. She stresses the importance of water in the garden even if it is only a bird bath. As a person who is timid about choosing colors, I appreciated the different ways she suggested for thinking about color.

What makes a house a home? It takes more than four walls and a roof. It takes time living in the house, making it comfortable for everyone in the family and creating memories. It takes time to make a garden. Over time the garden can take form based on the pleasures everyone finds in the garden, and building memories of a place that is loved.

The many excellent photographs and Morrison’s lists of particular kinds of plants make this book useful and practical as well as inspirational.

Good books, informational and beautiful, make great gifts, but there is another way of giving information and beauty. You could give the gift of membership in the American Horticultural Society. Membership includes a subscription to the American Gardener with six issues of information each year with great photos. Log onto  www.ahsgardening.org. to learn about the benefits of a $35 membership which includes special admission privileges and discounts at 320 public gardens throughout the U.S., an invitation to participate in our seed program, and access to members only online gardening resources, and you enjoy knowing you are supporting the AHS and gardening is the USA.

Between the Rows  December 15, 2018

Christmas Gifts for the Gardener

Christmas cyclamen at Greenfield Farmers Coop

Christmas gifts for  the gardener range over such a large world of possibilities. Even though we’ve shopped at Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, we may not have finished our holiday shopping. Fortunately there are many places where we can buy everything a gardener, novice or expert, might need in our own neighborhood.

Infiniflo hose and versatile sprinkler

Infiniflo hose and versatile sprinkler

I began shopping at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative on High Street. I didn’t even have to go inside to see wonderful greenery waiting to be hung on welcoming doors. Swags and wreaths made of a variety of greens with berries and ribbons range in price from $7 on up. Inside the building are tools, gloves, boots and fertilizers. I looked at hoses and saw there seems to be revolutionary new hose designs. The soaker hoses are made of sturdier materials than the ones I used years ago, hoses that deteriorated in a year or two. A couple of years ago I saw that Dramm made sprinklers that could be set up to cover a half circle, or a long rectangle or about any other configuration your garden might need. Now other companies like Infiniflo are also making these versatile hose/sprinklers. Costs range from about $20 to $60.

The Coop is a veritable emporium of everything a gardener might need from brightly colored little ceramic vases on a single base that allows for an impromptu bouquet, elegant white pots for houseplants, or, if you wish, brilliantly colored pots in shades of orange, green, and blue. Pots range in price from $7 to $20. And of course, there is a full range of houseplants that make wonderful holiday gifts as well as amaryllis sets for $10. And there is more to see.

The Outlet on Chapman Street for Garden Togs

I made a stop at The Outlet, a men’s shop on Chapman Street. Skip White welcomed me but reminded me it wasn’t gardening season. Even so, he showed me pale beige Carhart pants that some gardeners, as well as others, have been buying because it is easier to find ticks on the pale fabric. He also showed me classic blue chambray shirts, to save you from sunburn when you are in the garden all day as well as Dri-release T-shirts that provide the wicking that many of us welcome. White even showed me a few hats he brought up from the basement ranging from a big classic straw hat, to a hat with a flap to protect necks from sunburn, and a light weight floppy hat that would be comfortable and protective.  All these items range in price from $20-$40. And there is more to see.

Hilltown Growers Supply – Hydroponics and more

Dutch Bucket System - Hydroponic

Dutch Bucket System – Hydroponic

Then I started up Route 2 and stopped at the Hilltown Growers Supply at the top of Greenfield Mountain. In the spring I met Wilder Sparks when I bought a new plant light set up so I could start lots of zinnias. Wilder has equipment and supplies including fertilizers that go well beyond the necessaries for growing cannabis. On this trip I was amazed by the Dutch Bucket System he had set up. This is a hydroponic system that Wilder is experimenting with and his chosen crop is peppers. And there is more to see.

The Shelburne Farm and Garden Shop

The Shelburne Farm and Garden shop also has lots of wreaths and swags, plain and fancy with different greens and berries. They also had practical plant stands of different heights including a stand with arms for four small plants. Prices range from $25-$60. Most of the lightweight garden gloves were put away but the pale MUD suede gauntlets ($29) would be a wonderful gift for the gardener who has prickery plants like roses! The Shelburne Farm and Garden is famous for its love of birds, and its supply of bird seed, and some unusual bird feeders. Nicole Crossman showed me some plexiglass bird feeders with suction cups that allow you to attach the feeder to your window so that you can get a close-up view of the birds, making it very easy to identify them. And there is more to see.

Christmas wreath at Shelburne Farm and Garden

OESCO for Garden Tools, and Books

Then I was off to OESCO in Conway. They have just about every garden tool you will ever have to use. I’ve always found it difficult to buy garden tools as a gift for a friend because I never know for sure what they already own. I was talking to Jemma Vanderheld and asked if there was there was any tool that people had to replace often.  She thought long and hard. She said “A lot of people have to replace their pruners because they lose them.” That statement hit home and I have a pruner with ragged grips after it spent the winter in the grass and then got chopped by the lawn mower in the spring.

Tool Sharpeners at OESCO

Tool sharpeners at OESCO

Then I asked if there was any tool that people tended not to buy even though it was useful. She didn’t hesitate this time. “Sharpeners.  People bring their tools for sharpening to us because they think they are not capable of sharpening. But all our sharpeners list a website where you can get a sharpening lesson. And they can watch it as many times as they want.” The sharpeners with different sizes and grits range in price from $8 to $50.

Vanderheld also mentioned that gardeners can have the springs and ‘bumpers’ on pruners replaced.

OESCO now carries a large range of garden books, for children and on special topics like vineyards, mushrooms, hops – and cookbooks.

Surely you don’t believe I came home empty handed from my explorations. I bought a beautiful cast iron apple corer/peeler. I am happy.

Between the Rows December 8,

 

Classic Garden Books for Delight and Gifts

Kapek felt the human body was not built efficiently enough to suit the gardener. "Those who have had no experience cannot imagine how one's legs are in the way when there is nothing to stand on; how stupidly long they are if one has to fold them underneath to poke with the finger in the ground; how impossibly short they are if one has to reach the other side of the bed without treading on a clump of pyrethrum or roots of columbine."

Kapek felt the human body was not built efficiently enough to suit the gardener. “Those who have had no experience cannot imagine how one’s legs are in the way when there is nothing to stand on; how stupidly long they are if one has to fold them underneath to poke with the finger in the ground; how impossibly short they are if one has to reach the other side of the bed without treading on a clump of pyrethrum or roots of columbine.”

There are always wonderful new garden books with fabulous photographs, and written by skilled gardeners. However, I cannot help reminding people of some wonderful classic books about gardening. The two books I recommend today are not how-to books. The authors I have chosen were not ‘garden writers” who devoted their talents to writing about how to garden. They were writers who gardened and saw the humor, wonder and amusement to be found in the garden.

Karel Capek and his brother Josef Capek found frustration and humor in the garden

First there is The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek, born in 1890. He wrote with his brother Josef Capek who provided the humorous line drawings that add a delicious reality to Karel’s garden adventures. Karel Capek was born in what is now the Czech Republic and was known as a playwright, essayist, publisher, literary reviewer and art critic. He was best knows for his science fiction including the 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) and gave Josef the credit for coining the word robot.  Capek was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times, but alas, he never won.

Karel complains about weather predictions and accuses the paper of ‘lies and bluff” and curses that ‘complaints, swearing, snuffling, saying brrrrr and other incantations have no influence on the weather.” In the spring he struggles to find a place in the flower bed where the campanulas have run loose, then the monk’s hood and tradescantias before he finds a spot for his tender seedling. ‘I will make your bed. So, there you are, and now grow in peace.’ But two days later realizes he had planted it on top of the evening primrose.

'Look'' said the proud owner to his guest. 'Isn't it a queer campanula? . . . I am really anxious to see what the flower will be like.'

‘Look” said the proud owner to his guest. ‘Isn’t it a queer campanula? . . . I am really anxious to see what the flower will be like.’

All through the gardener’s year there are challenges, arguing over the proper names of the flowers in the garden and insisting that a Latin name raises the plant to a state of dignity. There are prayers for rain, or for sun, or just on certain plants, that there will be dew, no little wind, no snails and that once a week liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven. Like all really good gardeners Karel talks frequently about the soil, leaf mold, humus, and all the kinds of soil, ‘light as feathers, blond or black  . . . and other diverse and noble kinds of beauty.’

Karel suffered from spinal disease most of his life, and died at the age of 48. It is not hard to think of him musing about his eventual death. ‘A rose in flower is, so to speak, only for dilettanti; the gardener’s pleasure is deeper rooted, right in the womb of the soil. After his death the gardener does not become a butterfly, intoxicated by the perfumes of flowers, but a garden worm tasting all the dark nitrogenous and spicy delights of the soil.’

Beverley Nichols and his garden paths

The witty Beverley Nichols, born in England in 1898, spent his life writing plays, novels, non-fiction, columns for the newspaper and books for children. His prolific writings included the books about his gardens that I have always loved. Down the Garden Path, his first book about life in his first garden was published in 1932. His Forward explains that he ‘believes in doing things ‘too soon’ as did Columbus and Beethoven and Shelley who all created “new born beauty, all flights of the spirit’ that had never existed before. In his book he wants to capture the ecstasy of being in the garden and the humorous memories of all the follies of his beginning.

Like Karel Capek, Nichols felt the pleasure and power of ‘digging one’s own spade into one’s own earth! Has life anything better to offer than this?’ One of his great projects was making a rock garden ‘without any plan, without even an adequate preparation of the soil….When you are making a rock garden. . .  you must be bloody, bold and resolute,’ he writes.

There are unexpected rewards and joys. ’It was not til I experimented with seeds plucked straight from a growing plant that I had my first success – the first thrill of creation – the first taste of blood. This surely must be akin to the pride of paternity.’

One never gardens alone. There are always neighbors and friends who want to tour and weigh in. There is the Professor who thinks beauty makes him sad – and a savage. Mrs. M. has only a tiny garden but it ‘bustles with flowers.’ She also has a greenhouse and tries to explain all his mistakes when Nichols puts up his little greenhouse. The Princess also has many opinions about his gardens but he concedes, ‘ . . .one forgives, because she commits her crimes with such charm and élan. Other women cannot be let off so lightly.’

Nichols first book was followed by A Thatched Roof, A Village in a Valley and How Does Your Garden Grow? A garden must always be shared, and Nichols books always include his life among his neighbors.

I confess to being an anglophile. I read British mysteries, British novels of the 19th century and I began learning about gardening from British garden books, which of course, were not very helpful for a New England garden. Still, I am delighted by the ‘very long and elaborate explanations of very minor events’ that Nichols sets before me.

The gardener in Spring

In these books I see my own garden’s new born beauties and my own failures and follies. And laughter.

Between the Rows   December 1, 2018

Vertical Vegetables and Houseplant Care

Vertical Vegetables

Vertical Vegetables: Simple Projects that Deliver More Yield in Less Space by AmyAndrychowicz

Vertical Vegetables: Simple Projects that Deliver More Yield in Less Space by Amy Andrychowicz ($24.95 Cool Springs Press) is a new book that will be valuable for all vegetable gardeners who never have enough room. As I read the book I saw ways space could be saved at the same time that creative techniques would also add new beauty to the garden. This book would be a great holiday gift for those who garden in limited space.

Most of us have some experience with the various supports that are used in the garden. What are the ways to support vertical vegetables? Trellises are great for vining plants and staking is used for vegetables that don’t twine. Nowadays there are also cages that circle and support a plant like tomatoes. Andrychowicz also talks about the ways plants can be trained on vertical supports. She goes beyond and describes the ways that the many varieties of container gardening can be used vertically.

The list continues with vertical vegetable plantings on teepees, pergolas, arches, obelisks, A-frames and lean-tos, words not always used for supporting floppy plants. One of the latest ideas in limited space gardening is the hanging garden. The kind of vertical supports you need will depend on the plants you want to grow with regard to strength, height, and access to the harvest. Happily, vertical supports can be made of many materials, wood, wire, and pipes, depending on the strength needed and your budget.

The next section of the book expands on the kind of supports that specific vegetables need from peas and beans, to grapes and hardy kiwis, to melons and then non-climbing plants like lettuce! I was surprised to see that strawberries could be grown in a hanging garden.

Of course, gardeners must always consider how to fertilize, control weeds, disease and insects and Andychowicz has advice on those issues as well.

Amy Andrychowicz has been busy at her desk as well as in her garden. She created the Get Busy Gardening website where she has been blogging for nearly10 years. The website is full of information about plant propagation, houseplant care, projects for the garden and more.

Complete Houseplant Survival Manual

Complete Houseplant Survival Manual by Barbara Pleasant

While some gardeners struggle with limited space, some gardeners, and some of our friends who have never gardened, have no outdoor space at all. The gift of a flowering plant is especially delightful and welcome at this time of the year when the days are so short. The problem is that while welcoming a blooming orchid, or cyclamen or poinsettia the recipient might enjoy it, and then weep when it shrivels up and dies. I have always thought that a book about houseplants should accompany the gift of a plant.

There are many reasons that a houseplant might wilt and fail. Perhaps the amount of light was wrong, too much or too little. Perhaps the plant received too much or too little water. Perhaps the temperature was too high or too low. These are all problems that can be easily corrected if the plant recipient is given some basic information.

In fact, I think giving plants to a relative or friend you should to take into consideration the type of living space, how much heat there is at night and during the day. Also think about window alignment; will there be south or north light, or east or west.

There are many books that could accompany the gift of a plant. I like the encyclopedic Complete Houseplant Survival Manual: Essential Know-how for Keeping (Not Killing!) more than 160 Indoor Plants by Barbara Pleasant (Storey $24.95.) Not all houseplants bloom, even part of the year, but a bit of grape ivy, a fern, or a variegated creeping fig can also bring a whiff of the natural world into the house.

In addition to a photo and a page of specific information about the needs of a plant, Pleasant has a section on general houseplant care. She gives great information about containers, pruning, repotting and dealing with specific pests that are likely to make a try at your beautiful plant.

Pleasant has written other books for the novice and is an experienced gardener. Check out The Home Grown Pantry.  

Indestructible Houseplant

The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin

          If a big book like Pleasant’s is Too Much, for the recipient Tovah Martin’s The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow (Timber Press $22.95) might be the perfect alternative. Martin takes us on a tour of tough plants from African violets to the ZZ (Zamioculocas zamiifolia) plant.

This book has wonderful photographs of plants and containers. Martin’s advice about care includes light needs, temperature tolerations and growth rate. She also gives good advice about creative and beautiful ways to pot up a plant.

Tovah Martin has written other prize winning books about houseplants including The Unexpected Houseplant

I don’t know about you, but I have to confess that when I am buying gifts for my nearest and dearest, I often have trouble keeping my own desires under control. Perhaps you’ll find a houseplant for yourself while choosing one for a friend or relative. Perhaps you’ll want to splurge on a little book for yourself, too.  Happy holidays!

Between the Rows  November 24, 2018

Living Walls for Sustainability at Harvard University

Living Walls Harvard University

Living walls frame the Arcade at the new Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center features. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

During our most recent trip to Harvard Square we admired the living walls at the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center. There we were introduced to Harvard’s Sustainability Plan which includes buildings and open areas for a healthier and more sustainable campus community. We saw this plan in stunning action. This building was formerly known as the Holyoke Center, but the first three stories of the domineering ten story building has been redesigned to open up the space to the city outside, to bring light inside, and to make those spaces welcoming for groups, for socializing, and for study. Apparently it is now necessary for Harvard itself to provide socializing and organizing space for students because venues around Harvard Square have become so expensive.

The open angles and stairways, and the outdoor balcony with greenery are beautiful and welcoming, but we marveled at the living walls. When you walk into the building you find yourself surrounded on both sides by two-story high walls of greenery. It’s all very well to think fondly of the halls of ivy of our great learning institutions, but one expects those ivy covered walls to be outside the building. A team from Plant Wall Design created a felt and soil medium to hold over 12,000 plants. The 19 plant species were carefully chosen because of their hardiness in these circumstances and include several philodendron species, creeping fig, rabbit foot fern, maidenhair fern, peperomia and others. They are fed hydroponically with nutrients, and water coming from the Campus Center’s roof.  Lighting is provided by special LED lights. The array of shades of green and varied textures is really wonderful.

The plants serve the function of cleaning the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. They also provide some humidity. Beyond the benefits of clean air for the students, the designers at Plant Wall Design must have considered the benefits of biophilia. Some scientists have concluded that gazing at an image of a natural scene will relax the brain. Some have said that being in nature lightens your mood and makes you more productive. Some say we have an inborn need to maintain connections with nature. To this end Michael Van Valkenburg Associates (Van Valkenburg also designed the wonderful wooded Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum) created an ‘open air vitrine’ forest in the middle of the building. A vitrine is a glass display case; the Campus Center’s vitrine puts a green forest on display.

Forest in a glass vitrine

A vitrine filled with trees frames the Arcade at the new Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center features. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

I commend Harvard for their Sustainability Plan which is about more than the living walls. They have made greater use of their open spaces. We were delighted to walk through Harvard Yard in the gloaming, to see all kinds of groups on cheerfully painted chairs visiting under the shade trees, and picnicking on the lawn. We bought supper from the food trucks on a plaza complete with a large fountain that resembled a rocky splash pad – where children were frolicking. Our connections to each other are surely as important as our connections to nature.

living wall plants

My son Chris and I on elevated walkway to see living wall plants closeup

Harvard’s living walls are not unique. We learned that the Boston Science Museum also has interior green walls designed by Ambius. When we visited Quebec City a number of years ago we saw one exterior wall of a large building covered with greenery, much like Harvard’s interior walls. The goal again was to provide clean air and to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Many people with small gardens can also include more greenery by using one wall hung system or another. I’ve seen home made drainpipe plantings for home gardens, but a few clicks through Amazon will reveal a world of felt systems for indoors or outdoor gardens, as well and wood and plastic systems. You may also find some systems at your local garden center.

The growing interest in providing plants to purify the air and lower carbon dioxide shows me that people are reacting to climate change and thinking about the benefits of plants to us individually, and to our planet. The importance of street trees in our towns and cities is appreciated and valued more every day. Early this month Greenfield and Montague announced that they had received a gift of 1,000 trees to be planted over the next three years. The grant from the U.S. Forest Service will allow the Franklin Land Trust to work with the Greenfield’s Tree Committee and Montague’s Tree Advisory Committee, and with their departments of public works to plant trees where they are needed, on public land, along streets, and where residents want trees, including replacing dead or dying trees. Planting will begin in the spring of 2019.

Planting a tree will mean cleaner air, cooling shade in the summer, and control over storm water runoff. If you would like to have a tree, call the Greenfield DPW at 413-772-1528, if you live in Montague call the Montague DPW at 413-863 2054. ###

Between the Rows  November 17, 2018

Cider Days and Biodynamic agriculture

Mike Biltonen Cider Days

During Cider DaysMike Biltonen explained to an eager audience the basics of biodynamic agriculture

The 24th Annual Franklin County Cider Days came with splashes and torrents of rain, but those who love hard cider, and sweet cider and apples too, drew visitors from far and wide. I spoke to a young man who explained he and his friends who own an apple orchard in Pennyslvania came to see what is happening in the cider world. He said Cider Days is the epicenter of all the latest news about cider and apple orchards.

I started with a stop at the Peckville Orchard store to buy apples. The first Cider Days program I attended was up on Peckville Road at the West County Cidery. Mike Biltonen, who has bachelor and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech and Cornell, spoke about The Promise of Biodynamics: The Reality and Spirit of Nature. I knew nothing about biodynamics in agriculture except for stories about the giant vegetables grown at Findhorn in Scotland decades ago, although those stories are now more accepted as myth.

Biltonen did not tell us Findhorn stories, he began with Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) an Austrian philosopher and social reformer, who sought to find a synthesis between spirituality and science. Among his projects was the founding of the Waldorf Schools and biodynamic agriculture. Biltonen admitted that biodynamic practices can sound a little ‘woo-woo’ but when you considered the efficacy of herbal medicine it was easier to think that herbal remedies could also be used on plants with good results.

The woo-woo comes from Steiner’s belief in the effect of the energies of the cosmos and the astral space beyond the planets, as well as energies around us. “Now we are moving into a biointensive era out of necessity. Over the decades since WWII agricultural systems have become more mechanical and non-organic. There is more use of chemical spraying and fertilizers. . .  It can take five to seven years of biodynamic practices to re-energize the land and make it fertile again,” Biltonen said.

Biodynamic agriculture uses specific cures. Cow manure is packed into cow horns and buried for about 18 months to compost. Yarrow, German chamomile, stinging nettles and other herbs are used in potions that will cure particular problems with insects or disease. I did not understand how you can have enough cow horns or enough herb harvests to make this system work, but Biltonen said that it was better to think of the use of biodynamic preparations is like effectively using the small doses of homeopathic medicines.

An hour talk about a subject like biodynamic agriculture gives one just a taste of a big subject. Biltonen said there were very few biodynamic orchards, but he is working to increase their healthy number. For more information about Biltonen and his work as a technical agriculture advisor check out www.usaappleleaf.com.

Cider Days

Cider Days Talks at Shelburne-Buckland Community Center

Of course, there were many other events. I stopped in Shelburne Buckland Community Center where Claude Jolicoeur gave a talk about Central Asia – Travels to the Birthplace of Apples.  And you thought apples were the original all American fruit! A bunch of cider makers gave tastings there. Sue Chadwick, who taught me how to make a really good apple pie, was selling apple pies, and John Bunker of Maine who wrote a great book Not Far From the Tree about antique apples in his town of Palermo was giving a talk at the Bear Swamp Orchard and Cidery.

Clarkdale Cider Days

Taste testing pears and apples on Cider Days at Clarkdale

Tasting events, of ciders alone, and of ciders with other delectable items sold out fast. There were workshops on making cider, cider vinegar, caring for backyard apple trees and much more. I went down to Clarkdale to taste their apples and pears. I had already bought a big bag of Clarkdale’s Pie Mix, and after tasting a few new apples, I bought a bag of crispy Gold Rush apples and was thrilled to find that it was now pear cider season. Last year I learned that I can freeze pear – or apple – cider as long as I pour out some so the container won’t burst.

Amy Traverso, senior food editor at Yankee magazine and author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, which I have found very useful in all seasons, was on hand to share some apple cooking hacks at Clarkdale, too.

Oesco demonstration at Cider Days

Andy Dulude and Sukie Kindwall demonstrating OESCO fruit masher

While at Clarkdale I got to see the demonstration of OESCO’s commercial cider press. There are two parts to making cider. First you have to smash up the apples, or whatever fruit you are using, and then you have to press the juice out of the mash. OESCO manufactures the fruit masher, but the fruit press, of different sizes, is imported from France. Sukie Kindwall and Andy Dulude were on duty making cider right before our eyes, giving credit to Ben Clark for making up boxes of carefully chosen cider apple varieties.

Cider Days

Sukie and Andy enjoyed Cider Days – the rain meant nothing

Of course, coming and going to Shelburne Falls I had to go past all the excitements at Hager’s Farm Store and the annual pumpkin smash. Actually there is almost always something exciting going on at Hager’s. The Farm Store is a great example of a big farm family moving on with the times – and enjoying great success!

I am already marking my calendar for Cider Days 2019 – November 2-3!

Between the Rows  November 10, 2018

UMass and Landscape Design

schreiber, Thurber and Davidsohn

Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber and Mike Davidsohn (L-R)

Professor Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber, Lecturer, and Michael Davidsohn, Senior Lecturer, from the University of Massachusetts Architecture and Landscape Design Programs gave me a lesson in design. All three continue their practice as well as teaching. To teach me they invited me to a house in Amherst where Schreiber had designed and overseen completion of an addition to an 1890s house, and Thurber and Davidsohn built a new sustainable landscape.

Schreiber’s handsome design connected spaces in the original house with the addition, resulting in interior spaces that look larger, and that allow a wider view. “The goal is to live compactly, and yet expansively,” Schreiber said.

The exterior of Schreiber’s addition took into account of the slope of the property, and the need to manage rainfall from the roof.

UMass design before

Umass design – Amherst driveway before work gegan

The Town of Amherst has rules about how much impervious paving a house lot can have. Permeable surfaces are vital as we think about the environment, the need to refresh the aquifer, and to moderate heat. This house had a long wide paved driveway that ran from the street to the garage in back of the house and set in the middle of the lawn. Thurber and Davidsohn knew their first task was to remove about half of the driveway, including the paving that continued along one side of the garage.

Thurber and Davidsohn also used this site to hold a design studio for a dozen Umass students who came to view,  to measure and come up with their own designs and models of the space, keeping in mind the attributes of the space, and requirements of the design. Such on-site projects are an important part of a student’s learning.

UMass design

UMass design for shortened driveway with stone path and plantings

I understood the need to remove paving and admired the new entry to the backyard, a laid stone path, bordered by wide planting beds. More plants will be added to the bearberry ground cover. The young amelanchier trees (serviceberry) on the left side lead to a simple wood and wire fence designed and built by Davidsohn and Kevin Hartzel. Raised beds for blueberries and vegetables now run alongside the garage replacing the paving. A stone path was built to the garage door. Careful grading in front of the garage now keeps out rainwater.

A raised bed contained by a stone wall and planted with grasses hides the concrete foundation of the addition. A long stone path runs the width of the 60 foot yard with an expanded space for a patio.

UMass design

UMass design – swales to capture and manage water – soon to be planted with water loving plants

A drainpipe from the roof of the addition has been designed to capture most of the rainfall from the roof. The drainpipe goes under the stonewall and stone path; water is released into a swale along this side of the garage. At the other end of the garage is a drainpipe that releases water into a continuation of the swale that goes across the yard where it meets a swale that handles water from a basement sump pump. Standing on the patio, looking over the lawn, there is little sense of a swale, just of interesting water loving plants that mark three edges of the grass lawn.

Thurber and I stood on the larger rectangle of the two strategically planted lawns and she explained, “We don’t talk about filling up space. We want to have edges.”

UMass design

UMass design – green lawns seen from entry into backyard

Davidsohn followed up saying, “There is always mass and void. We have to figure out where the spaces are. That’s important. We wanted to give the residents a sense of space.”

From the lawn we looked up towards the house. I could see that the intensity of the design was around the house. The aim was to make the garage in the lawn as invisible as possible.

I was trying to keep up with words like mass and void used in a new ways. I asked Davidsohn what he meant when he talked about the things he built. “What do you mean built,” I asked. “Do you mean you chose the stones and laid them out?”

UMass design

UMass design – stone patio in process

He replied that was exactly what he meant. “Kevin Hartzel and I built the landscape. Kevin is a landscape contractor, with a two year certificate from Stockbridge. That’s how I started my career. As a landscape contractor. For this job I chose the stones, flat and round, and the two of us laid the stones, planted the plants, and dug the swales.”

UMass design

UMass design – patio completed

I was fascinated to learn that Stockbridge began with two year programs 200 years ago, and continues to have a few certificate programs today.

Finally we went to the front of the house to see what was created there this past summer. Originally there was a narrow cement walkway to the street. You had to walk across the lawn when you parked in the driveway. Now there is a graceful three part stone path from the driveway to a large anchor stone in front of the porch steps and on to the other side of the house. The cement path was replaced by a continuation of the stone path.  Jane Thurber and I looked at the path from the street. “It claims the house from the street, but it is also welcoming,” she said.

Umass design

UMass design – Tripart stone path

I was grateful for the chance to spend a morning with Schreiber, Thurber and Davidsohn, gaining insight into what it takes to create a design that is sustainable, practical and lovely.###

Between the Rows  November 3, 2018

Who Chose the Names for Flowers in My Garden?

Passionate Nymphs Thigh

Passionate Nymphs’s Thigh named by the Empress Josephine

Who chose the names of flowers in my garden? I have found they often have an old and interesting history.  The names of the roses I have grown remind us of the person who did the naming – or at least of memorable people. In my Heath rose garden I grew Madame Hardy, a rose bred in 1832 by Alexandre Hardy who named it for his wife.

The first rose I planted in Heath was named Passionate Nymphs Thigh. I could not resist that name. This rose was named by the Empress Josephine whose country house, Chateau de la Malmaison, had the perfect acreage for the large gardens she was to plant. Roses were her favorite of all the usual and exotic plants in her garden. Apparently she enjoyed giving imaginative names to her plants. She chose Cuisse de Nymph Emue, which translated literally means Thigh of an Aroused Nymph and proved scandalous enough in some quarters that it also came to be called Maiden’s Blush. During Napoleon’s wars there was always an order to allow packages from the English nurseryman, Kennedy, to come through the blockades. Napoleon himself often sent Josephine roses from his campaigns. Her garden ultimately included 200 different roses.

Fantin Latour painting

One of Fantin-Latour’s paintings of roses

It is the great British rose breeder David Austin who named a rose for the celebrated Constance Spry (1886-1960) the British florist and educator who changed the way we all arrange our bouquets. Austin honored many other ladies – and gentlemen – of the horticultural world, including Gertrude Jekyll, and Graham Thomas, and characters from literature like Sweet Juliet and Brother Cadfael. Clearly it pays to be a plant breeder, and have the right to commemorate friends or famous people of history.

Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958) was American born but after attending the University of Cambridge in England he became a naturalized British citizen. He joined the British military and fought in the Second Boer War and later World War 1. His mother bought a 300 acre estate named Hidcote Manor. Johnston joined his widowed mother after the war and spent the next forty years collecting plants, hunting for plants in such places as the alps and the Andes, and designing gardens with wonderful plant combinations. After 1930 the gardens became more and more well known for their individualistic beauty and plants. He named a number of the flowers in his garden for Hidcote including Hidcote lavender, Hidcote Gold rose, Hidcote Beauty fuchsia and others.

Griffith Buck Folksinger rose

Griffith Buck Folksinger rose

We in the U.S. had our own wonderful rose breeder Dr. Griffith Buck (1915-1991) who fought in WWII and then enrolled at the University of Iowa. He stayed on there as a professor for the rest of his professional life. He hybridized 80 roses and his goal was to make them cold hardy to -20 degrees and strong enough that they would not need pesticides or fungicides.

Applejack rose

Griffith Buck Applejack rose

Several Buck roses are among the Earth-Kind collection of trouble free hardy roses. Living in Heath I needed hardy roses and the large pink Applejack rose greeted our guests as they made the turn to the front of our house. It was one of the first roses planted, and was still going strong with little attention 35 years later when we moved to Greenfield where I am now growing the beautiful fragrant pale peach Folksinger Buck rose. Buck chose many names that reflected  the Midwest, from Prairie Star, Winter Sunset, Hawkeye Belle and Earth Song.

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck Rose

Breeders at the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas bred an amazing cerise red rose that blooms into November! They chose to name it after Thomas Affleck, a 19th century nurseryman who had a nursery just down the road from their operation. I grew this rose in Heath where its vigor amazed us, and I am growing another Thomas Affleck here in Greenfield because it is so beautiful, so carefree and still blooming in late October.

Here in Franklin County we are not far from the Olallie Daylily Gardens in South Newfane. Many of the daylilies there were hybridized by Dr. George Darrow (1889-1983) whose long career for the USDA was as a geneticist. He concentrated on small fruits and berries. At least one of the plants he worked with was the blueberry. He was not only honored by having a blueberry named after him, Darrow (which can be purchased at Nourse Farm), he also helped start the Pick Your Own berry movement.

Olallie Lass daylily

Olallie Lass – Darrow hybrid

In his retirement Darrow began hybridizing daylilies. The names he chose for his successes all began with “Olallie” which was the name of a west coast native American tribe. Loosely translated it was Place Where Berries Are Found. He thought Olallie would be the perfect name for his farm. Maryland Olallie Farm came into being first with berries, but the daylilies he created bore names like Olallie Lass, Ollalie Harvest and Ollalie Light Hearted. Some of the Olallie daylilies are named after family and friends. Now it is grandson Christopher Darrow who owns the amazing Olallie Daylily Farm, and has hybridized 125 new Olallie daylilies.

Christopher Darrow always has new hybrids coming along, and he has suggested that some of us might like to name a day lily ourselves.  Check out the website. Wouldn’t your sweetheart like a unique daylily with her/his name?

Between the Rows  October 27, 2018

Autumn Assessment – Failures and Hopes

Autumn assessment - deluges of rain

The most obvious autumn assessment was the amount of damage done by heavy summer rainfalls

This is the season when we begin the autumn assessment of our garden season – the weather, our schedules, our successes, the failures and the not-quite-what-I- expecteds. I went into spring chores with joy and high expectations, but there was a disaster – the weather.

Spring took a long time coming but by April 1 there were primroses budding. There were occasional snowfalls, but we did not have as wet a garden as we had had the past two years. We were full of anticipation as we planted some vegetables at the edge of the (usually) driest flower beds, and enjoyed pruning bushes that had grown so lushly. Remember, we were just going into our fourth year of gardening in Greenfield.

I had been sent a book to write about in this column titled Strawbale Solutions by Joel Karsten. I had tried to grow some vegetables in a couple of straw bales some years ago with no more knowledge than that it took a straw bale and a plant start. That experiment was not a success.

Strawbale Solutions gave very specific directions in preparing straw bales for planting so I thought I could not go wrong. I bought three beautiful straw bales from the Farmer’s Coop on High Street, and was assured that these bales were herbicide free. I also bought high nitrogen lawn fertilizer, as directed.

On May 9th I began conditioning the bales, which mean spreading the proper amount of fertilizer on top of the bales and watering it in. I followed the schedule in the book for 12 days, and then I was ready to spread some soil over the top of the bales and planted green bean seeds and kept them watered as directed.

The idea is that the conditioned straw bales will start decomposing on the inside, making compost that will provide the seeds and plant starts with nutrition to grow and flourish. The bales will need to be kept watered because they are porous and need to be kept damp.

Failed straw bales

Assessment? Failed strawbales

Long story short – the straw bales were a brilliant failure. I certainly cannot lay that failure on Joel Karsten. I have to confess that while I did keep the bales watered, I did not always do this with warm water which was a strong recommendation. Karsten explained that cold water right out of the hose did not encourage the growth of the bacteria that needed warmth to provide nourishment for the seeds or plants.

It is also possible that the bales simply did not get enough sun. I knew they would not get morning sun, but I thought the afternoon summer sun would be more than adequate. Maybe not.

The upshot was that I never harvested any beans, although there were a few sad looking specimens on the wire fence support. And it is just now that a little cherry tomato plant I put in has started producing ripe tomatoes.

I take full responsibility for the failure of the strawbales. I do not take responsibility for the death of the beautiful weeping cherry, the pagoda dogwood, and the suffering of the calycanthus and lindera benzoin shrubs.

Lindera benzoin

Lindera benzoin might have a chance at life in 2019

The trees drowned and the shrubs struggle to survive. Heavy rains in July and into August were the culprit. The cherry and the dogwood have already been removed. We’ll wait and see if there is any spark of life in the Lindera benzoin and calycanthus for next spring.

Not all of the plants that seemed happy have bloomed. No striking red crocosmia. Still no bloom on the Sheffield daisies which are usually such cheerful late bloomers. (Since I wrote this the Sheffies and happily blooming ignoring the frigid nights.)

winterberries

Winterberries are swamp plants and love the rain

Still, not everything was a failure. That is the joy of a richly diverse garden. The primroses loved the swampy summer as did the dappled willow, the elderberries, the winterberries, the button bush, the yellow twig dogwood and the river birches. Scaveola, a lovely low blue annual next to the yellow twig dogwood spent a blooming summer singing out, “Look at me! I’m swimming!”

All the rain which was such a problem in my garden which has serious known drainage problems, was just what other gardens needed. There are two public gardens in town which thrived during the rainy summer.

The renovation of the Energy Park gardens by a group of volunteers, Wisty Rorbacher, Judy Draper, Nancy Hazard, Linda Smith and Nancy Patteson continued this summer. The soil there is sandy, and there is no easy way to provide regular watering, so the many and heavy rains were a real benefit to the plantings there. This garden is designed to focus on native plants that will support pollinators in every season.

The second public garden located on Pleasant Street is a new garden, a part of the landscaping around the new John Zon Community Center. Again, it is a group of volunteers that created this garden under the direction of Nancee Bershof and Tom Sullivan who also promote the planting of pollinator gardens. That garden began with generous loads of soil and compost from Martin’s Farm.

A beautiful and productive garden depends on good soil, rain and sun. If only we could order up the proper amounts of each every year.  How did your garden grow this year?

Between The Rows  October 20, 2018