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Greenfield – It’s a Beautiful Town

John Zon Community Center

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

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

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

The Energy Park

All native plants in Energy Park

My plot in the Energy Park – All native plants

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

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

River Works Park

Brookie sculpture

Susan Worgaftik and Brookie

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

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

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

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

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

Greenfield Tree Committee

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine

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

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

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

Redbud

Redbud on Birch Street

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

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

Fiske Avenue Garden

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

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

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

Between the Rows  August 24, 2019

Garden Books – Gardens Around the World and in Our Imagination

Gardenlust

Gardenlust by Christopher Woods

Gardenlust by Christopher Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Posy Book by Teresa H. Sabankaya

The Posy Book

The Posy Book by Teresa Sabankaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Green Giant by Katie Cottle

The Green Giant book

The Green Giant by Katie Cottle

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

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

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

Between the Rows   August 17, 2019

 

Mysterious Mutant rudbeckia Blooms in Orange, Massachusetts

Mutation rudbeckia

Mutation rudbeckia

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

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

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

Peter and Elaine Guertin

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

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

Vaughns hybrid daylily

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

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

sembervivums

Sempervivums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the Rows   August 10, 2019

Christin Couture – Nearest Faraway Place Exhibit in Northampton

Christin Couture encaustic painting

Encaustic painting – Indigo Falls

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset encaustic painting

Sunset by Christin Couture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encaustic - Christin Couture

Expulsion – Encaustic painting by Christin Couture

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

Christin Couture and William Hosie

Christin Couture and William Hosie

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

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

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

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

Between the Rows  July 27, 2019

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

Canada lilies

Canada lilies in the Hawley Bog woodland  photo by Will Draxler

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

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

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

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

Hawley Bog orchid

Rose Pogonia – Hawley bog orchid  photo by Will Draxler

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

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

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

Witches broom

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

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

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

Yellow loosestrife

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

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

Meadow rue - photo taken by Will Draxler

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

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

Hawley bog Pitcher plant

Hawley Bog Pitcher Plant – Sarracenia purpuria   photo by Will Draxler

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

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

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

Between the Rows  July 20, 2019

Perennials and Annuals Make the Cutting Garden

peonies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annual cosmos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red zinnias

Red zinnias – and annual with long stems. Vibrant color

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

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

Yarrow or achillea

Yarrow – a strong, long stemmed achillea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the Rows  July 13, 2019

Cocktail Hour in the Garden with a Neighbor and Barbecue

Pat and Henry

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

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

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

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

C.L. Fornari

Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

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

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

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

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

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

Harvest by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there garden cocktail hours on your schedule this summer?

Here I am among the delpniniums, peonies and lilies

Between the Rows    July 6, 2019

Desirable Groundcovers Mean Less Weeding

Green and gold groundcover

Green and gold groundcover

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

tiarella

Tiarella – Foam Flower

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

Barren strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

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

Lady's mantle

Alchemilla mollis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fringed bleeding heart

Fringed bleeding heart – Dicentra eximia

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

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

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

Sedum spurium

Sedum spurium

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

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

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

Between the Rows  June 29, 2019round

A Rose is a Rose

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose blooms into October

Gertrude Stein said “A Rose is a rose is a rose,” suggesting that “it is what it is”, in modern parlance. However, there is evidence that the rose existed 32 million years ago. Clearly it has changed over those millions of years, first by Mother Nature, and later by explorers, horticulturists and gardeners who found new roses and the magic of hybridizing.

My own view of the rose has changed radically over the years. Early on I had very little experience with roses that were usually upright bushes that the owners were always pruning, and fussing with pesticides. I had no interest in fussing over an uptight bush with poisons in my hand.

When we were preparing to leave New York City for Heath in 1979 I read Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S. White, the wife of E.B. White, one of my favorite authors. Katherine was a great gardener and a wonderful writer as well. Onward and Upward begins with a chapter about the Roses of Yesterday and Today nursery, as well as other garden catalogs.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger, a disease resistant rose by Griffith Buck

I immediately sent for my own Roses of Yesterday and Today catalog. Thus began my fantasies of a rose garden on my Heath hill. I wanted these antique roses for their beauty and romance, but they are also practical because they are hardy and resistant to disease. I had no desire to have demanding roses – or any other flower for that matter.

The first rose I planted was Cuisse de Nymph, translated as Nymph’s Thigh, later expanded to Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, although some gardeners were too modest and called her Maiden’s Blush. The Passionate Nymph survived 35 years by our front door, right under the roof where she suffered icy winters with icicles falling on her. I gave her a very fond farewell when we left for Greenfield.

Zaide - Kordes rose

Zaide – a Kordes Rose, disease resistant, long blooming

The Rose Walk began with roses like Rosa glauca, a truly ancient rose with reddish foliage and very small single pink flowers. Even though I eventually had many glamorous roses, most visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing were particularly struck by this tall and unusual rose.

From the Roses of Yesterday and Today I ordered roses that existed before 1799 including the candy striped Camaieux, Belle de Crecy which can take on a mauve tone,  pink Celsiana, and the tall indestructible pink Ispahan.

Later I planted more modern, but still old roses including some that came from China like Madame Isaac Perriere, a bourbon rose that did not bloom quite as extravagantly in Heath as it might have in a gentler climate. It is the China roses that gave hybridists longer blooming roses.

Roses are always being created by hybridization, to bend to fashion, but also to create hardiness. Griffith Buck, who became a professor at Iowa Sate University after WWII, created a family of hardy roses that were also disease resistant. Several of these roses are sold under the heading Earth Kind. One of my favorite Buck roses is Applejack. It bloomed and welcomed us all at the head of our driveway.

Lion's Fairy Tale - Kordes rose

Lion’s Fairy Tale – a Kordes rose

At least 30 years ago Germany forbid the use of poisons in the rose garden. Kordes began to hybridize disease resistant roses like the lush and creamy Polar Express, and pale apricot Lion’s Fairy Tale, which are thriving in my Greenfield garden.

Fashion continues to change what we want in a rose. Nowadays garden nurseries carry hardy Knockout shrub roses in many shades, as well as the new ‘landscape’ roses. These low growing roses have a long bloom season. Sometimes they are called groundcover roses, which gives a clearer idea of the intent of the hybridizer.

Lush David Austin roses are understandably in favor. I enjoyed my years in Heath with the sturdy pink Mary Rose.

Coral Drift rose

Drift Coral rose, a low growing ‘landscape rose.’

In my new garden I have a tough red Knockout, and two low landscape roses, Oso Easy Paprika and a Peach Drift rose.

I only took one rose with me from Heath to Greenfield. This rose was a gift from the Purington family in Colrain. They had given me other roses from their old farm, but the rose I called Purington Pink was always sending out babies. It was easy to dig up and transplant some of those babies in Greenfield, and leave the mother bush to the new owners of our house. Purington Pink is a rose of friendship and could not be left behind.

I did not bring The Fairy with me to Greenfield, but I did buy and plant a new one. This pink polyantha is loaded with sprays of little frilly pink flowers, and she loves Greenfield.

I cannot grow many other roses now because roses do not like wet feet. Our yard is very wet, and floods in winter and spring. The roses I have are planted in the limited dry area.

Local nurseries understandably have a limited selection of roses. I have bought most of my roses from nurseries like Chamblee’s Rose Nursery, Antique Rose Emporium, and Roses of Yesterday and Today.

For those who are interested in roses and want to find hardy disease resistant varieties I want to recommend the book Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski. I met Kukielski a number of years ago when he was the curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. He knows about lush, gorgeous roses!

Between the Rows  June 22, 2019

Garden Conservancy and Open Days for Gardeners

Garden Conservancy Open Days in Petersham

“The mission of the Garden Conservancy is to save and share outstanding American gardens for the education and inspiration of the public.” That is the simple mission of the Garden Conservancy. In practice, it means providing financial support to protect selected American gardens chosen for their beauty and significance.

There are a number of these beautiful historic gardens not too far from us. Ashintully in Tyringham is the only one in Massachusetts. It is the creation of John McLennan, Jr., a classical musician and composer. He and his wife Katherine spent 30 years designing a garden that includes fountains and bridges, stone stairways, forests and flowers, places to admire panoramic views, and places to sit in the shade of great trees and enjoy the breeze. McLennan gave the Garden Conservancy a large part of the estate before his death in 1996. The gardens are open only Wednesday and Saturday 1-5 PM.

Since I spent part of my young life in Vermont I am very glad that the Garden Conservancy has chosen to support Justin Morrill’s garden in Stafford, Vermont. He served in Congress as a Representative and then as a Senator. He wrote the Morrill Land Grant Acts that were signed by Abraham Lincoln. These acts established federal funding for public colleges in every state. As a graduate of the University of Massachusetts I am very grateful for this gift. There are now 105 other institutions of every flavor including state universities and agricultural colleges.

Morrill (1810-1898) designed his own gardens with serpentine pathways, graceful flower beds and beautiful trees including an orchard.

The historic house is open for tours from May 25 through October 13, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Tours are conducted on the hour. Admission is $6.00. Self guided tours of the garden are free to everyone during open hours.

Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel Reserve – the Japanese Garden

One of the most beautiful landscape gardens I have ever visited, the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is supported by the Garden Conservancy. On 150 acres there are natural woodlands as well as beautifully pruned trees in the Japanese Gardens. Of course, there are also brilliant flower gardens, a quiet reflecting pool and green vistas.  My whole experience was of serenity, beauty, mist and rain.

Of course with a substantial list of beautiful gardens financially supported by the Garden Conservancy the question is how do they do it?

Hellebores

Garden Conservancy Open Days – Hellebores

The answer is finding skilled and congenial gardeners, asking them to open their gardens for one day. The Garden Conservancy website includes information about all of this year’s Open Days gardens organized by state and month. Usually several gardens in a single area will be listed together. You can enjoy a whole day of visiting a variety of unique gardens.

Rorer and Buell Gardens

Garden Conservancy

Buell Rock Garden and Greenhouse for succulents

Last weekend I visited two Open Days gardens in Petersham. I went to the Rorer and Buell Garden first. It has a welcoming garden in front of the house. Here are shades of green  hostas, primroses, epimediums, and even a climbing  hydrangea scrambling up a majestic tree.

Around the house were rock gardens, and stone troughs. The family makes good use of all our New England stone. In addition there were flower beds, lots of peonies, and vegetable beds. Blueberry bushes, too. No one at the Buell house is going to go hungry.

A wide path was mown across and around the meadow. The invitation is to a hill crowned with large stones and a tranquil view. There was a stone bench that allowed you to ponder the woodlands in one direction, or take in the serenity of the mown fields in the other direction.

When I strolled back to the house, I stopped to peek into the attached substantial low greenhouse. It was filled with all manner of succulents.

The Lockhart and O’Donnell Garden

Koi Pond

Koi Pond in the Lockhart Garden

The Bruce Lockhart and Helen O’Donnell garden is only about five minutes away. The approach is through the woods. I knew I had arrived when I saw the lush hedge of hobblebush viburnam at the edge of the road. These viburnams were the backdrop of the shady, graceful Woodland Walk . Here blooms columbine, hellebores, bloodroot, hostas, foam flowers and peonies.

In comparison, other flower beds were planted in geometric squares. One of those squares was a comfortable gazebo that looked over a koi pond. There are fields and woodlands beyond as  well as an orchard complete with bee hives.

We are always learning when we visit other gardens. The Lockhart garden tour included a Digging Deeper talk. Lockhart explained that after a new septic field was installed he was left with a little hill. His response was to plant that hill with all manner of pollinator plants and grasses to create a Meadow Garden with mown paths for strolling through it. Not everything on his planting list was in bloom. We saw camassia, alliums, and grasses. The goldenrod, liatris, perovskia, veronicas, salvias, and coneflowers will come into bloom later.

Log on to www.gardenconservancy.org for information about Open Days which continue into the fall.

Between the Rows   June 15, 2019