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Most Viewed Posts 2010

As I review and renew in my garden, I thought I ought to look back at the year on the commonweeder.  The 5 most popular posts were not what I expected.

In February Mycotecture got many visitors – and continues to be visited.

In March the New York Times had an article about Femivores, women who love their chickens too much. Or something like that. I have chickens so I had to comment. Chickens – and their houses – are a popular topic on my blog – and elsewhere in the world.

In July I went to Buffalo to meet with 70 other bloggers and tour the many wonderful gardens in readiness for the Buffalo Garden Walk. My post Mirrors in the Garden – A Trend? continues to get visitors.

Carol Dukes at Flower Hill Farm

In September I visited Carol Dukes at Flower Hill Farm. We are almost neighbors. It is no surprise to me that this post was so popular. Carol and her magnificent photos have many devoted fans.

Walden Pond

My Muse Day post in December was about our trip to Walden Pond the day after Thanksgiving. As a devoted fan of Henry David Thoreau I was happy that so many others wanted to share our visit. I never cease to thank Carolyngail for hosting Muse Day.

One popular post did not surprise me. In January my dear friend and mentor Elsa Bakalar passed away. In July we celebrated her life in her garden – and that month her garden, now tended by artist Scott Prior and his wife, was featured in Horticulture Magazine – with a nod back to the article that Elsa and I had published in Horticulture in 1986. Elsa’s life touched many gardeners, locally and across the country through her book and lecture tours.

2010 was a happy year for me on the commonweeder, with increasing readership, and I look forward to 2011 and the pleasures of the garden and garden friends with great anticipation.

The Final Winner!

Rose at Ramble 0n Rose has won The Perennial Gardner’s Design Primer by Stephanie Cohen and Nancy Ondra. Congratulations!  I want to thank everyone who has helped me celebrate three years of blogging this month.  And thank you Storey Publications for being so generous in making this Giveaway possible.

Hen House #2 – Mine

Our henhouse 12-2

When we moved into our house I was thrilled that there was also a hen house in the back yard.  The building is about 30 feet long, divided into three sections. We store the feed, kept in metal garbage cans, as well as bales of shavings, in the first section. We also brood our chicks in that section when they arrive around the first of June. There is a chicken door that allows the chicks to go outdoors into a separate fenced yard when they get old enough.

Our henhouse, second section

The second section has egg boxes, waterers and feeders for the chickens. During the winter when the waterers freeze I rotate them through our house where they can thaw.

You can see that neither the exterior, nor the interior are objects of beauty.  However, the building is functional. We have used it ever since our first spring here in 1980.  You cannot really tell, but I do use the ‘deep litter’ technique.  I only clean the henhouse out once a year, in the spring. Over the summer and fall the bedding and the chicken manure build up and begin to compost. The manure and the composting  create some heat which helps keep the chickens warm in the winter. The manue and bedding also encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria that helps keep the chickens healthy, although their access to fresh air and sun are also important to their health. Everyone always comments on the rich yellow color of our eggs.

Our chickens in their yard

I throw cracked corn to the chickens outdoors every day. You can see we have a mixed flock. I have several Araucanas; they are not especially pretty, but they are great egg layers. Blue eggs!  They lay longer for us, into their second and third year.  I also have barred rocks, and New Hampshire Reds. I love having chickens because of the eggs, and because of knowing that our eggs come from happy and healthy chickens.

In case you were wondering about the third and longest section – that is not used. It is missing the end wall which was OK when we had pigs out there. Pigs only need housing for four or five months, but the space is not suitable for our hens.

I’ll be showing more hen houses built by some thoughtful people.  Don’t forget to leave comments on yesterday’s post to have a  chance at winning a copy of Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. today is my exact third blogoversary and I am celebrating the commenters who visit, and the other bloggers I have met over these past years. Please celebrate with me. This Giveaway ends Saturday at midnight, but two more books are coming through the generosity of Storey Publishing.

Where Am I?

Last week I spent the most delightful, and inspirational, afternoon in a sister blogger’s garden. Can you tell where I am?

I know many of you are familiar with this talented woman with a quick camera finger, and her varied gardens through her popular blog. I will only say this for now. We were both surprised to find how close we live to each other.  We will reveal all on Thursday.

Could You Blog Here?

Designed by Michael Devine of Michael Devine Home

This Garden Blogger’s Retreat, designed by Michael Devine, is one of the sheds in the Living Stylishly in Nature: Re-Imagining the Humble Garden Shed special exhibit at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. in Stockbridge.  Wouldn’t you love to walk out your door and through your garden to this ‘shed’ to begin your post for the day?

Blogger's Antique Desk with Natural Linen Top

Can you tell that two thirds of the back wall is covered with tall mirrors? Swagged with handprinted fabric?  However, I noticed that there is no chic, slim laptop on the writing table. Can it be there is no wi-fi? Neither is there the least sophisticated point and shoot camera.

Oh well, if I have no laptop, or camera (surely there really is wi-fi if only I had the computer) I guess I’ll have to lounge on my comfy sofa and leaf through the books on my faux bois bookcase and think.  Thinking is a very important part of writing and blogging, you know.

These sheds are for sale. Well, not this one. It already sold for $5000. The accoutrements cost extra.

This exhibit at the Berkshire Botanical Garden will run through September as will Sitting Pretty: The Garden Bench as Sculpture. The Benches are for sale, too.  I have to tell you, the gardens are looking their best this year. It is worth the trip.

Michael Shadrack and His Hostas

Potted hostas at Mike Shadrack

The ‘long bus’ turned so sharply off the paved road and onto a dirt track that all 40 of us garden bloggers collectively held our breath. Fortunately our driver was a real pro and soon we were driving through the woods where Kathy and Michael Shadrack, hosta experts, awaited us.

When the bus stopped Mike Shadrack leaped on to welcome us to his home and gardens.  With a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright Mike calls his house Fallingwater North because it is literally set over a stream. Its broad decks provide a deliciously dangerous view of the stream plunging into a deep wooded ravine.

In front of the house a marquee (that’s British for tent) had been set out with a proper cream tea. China cups, tea pots, milk, lemon and British scones (not the big dry kind you get in upscale bakeries) with clotted cream and strawberries were ready to help us restore our tissues before we set out to explore the shade beds planted with Mike’s hostas, and the sunny hill planted with scores of his wife’s daylilies.

Everywhere we looked were hostas of every size and hue, hostas in the woods, in beds and in pots. Shadrack explained that putting hostas in pots was one way to cut down on slug and snail damage. He also said that putting copper tape tied around the pots would act as a further deterrent. He also puts whole arrangements of min-hostas in a single pot.

I looked at the hostas growing in the dappled light of the woods and  wondered if there were no deer in New York state. In his ebullient and charming manner Shadrack told us all to be careful because we might bump into his “unique, patented deer fence.” He described this as a kind of web of monofilament fishing line that went from tree to tree.  I had heard that a single strand of  fishing line could be run around a garden at chest height to deter deer. The idea is that the deer cannot see the fishing line, but they will feel it. The touch of this invisible thing will confuse or frighten the deer and they will advance no farther and leave.  I haven’t tried this, but the idea fishing line going up and down and across from fence post to fence post, or from tree to tree sounds more dependable.

I certainly do know that hostas are deer candy. I have a few common plants growing by the Cottage Ornee and they are nibbled at all season long.

Michael Shadrack

Since most of the Buffalo gardens we had been visiting were small urban gardens, they had a fair amount of shade. And where gardeners have shade they will have hostas. In the small Timber Press Pocket Guide to Hostas ($19.95) by Diana Grenfell and Michael Shadrack, there are descriptions of 800 hostas  from mini to giant, and in every shade of green, yellow green, gold, and blue greens. Some are variegated and some are crinkled and some have fragrant flowers. There are hostas to please every taste.

In this book Shadrack and Grenfell  point out that  hostas can be a “foil early in the season to strap-shaped hemerocallis . . . later on, sun-tolerant hostas . . .  can accentuate the spikiness of yuccas.”

Shadrack reminded us that hostas are shade tolerant, not shade loving, meaning that high or dappled shade is best. Hostas need protection from the strongest sun of the day.  They need fertile soil that is moist but well drained, and a site that is protected from strong wind.

With Diana Grenfell, Shadrack has put all his knowledge and advice about hostas in the big New Encyclopedia of Hostas (Timber Press 49.95) and in November Timber Press will release The Book of Little Hostas: 200 Mini and Very Small Varieties. Just in time for holiday giving. Shadrack said he once took a photo of 100 potted mini hostas on one of his deck benches to show that every one of us has room for a substantial collection of different hostas.

Mini-hosta collection

The Shadrack garden was the final stop of the third day of touring Buffalo’s gardens for 70 garden bloggers from across the country, and from Canada. The only thing you can say about all garden bloggers, who write about their gardens online, is that they are passionate gardeners. We are also journalists, garden designers, garden coaches, garden magazine editors, and garden lecturers. If you would like to ‘meet’ some of the gardeners I met in Buffalo and see their posts and photographs of Buffalo’s gardens, logon to I love the idea that Buffalo’s gardens have become an important tourist attraction.

Of  course when I returned home from Buffalo I found my own garden had undergone a growth spurt. Why is it that weeds don’t mind drought, and grow twice as fast as anything else?

I also saw that the Community Harvest has begun at Ev Hatch’s Field for the Hungry on Plain Road. If you would like to help with this harvest call Mark Maloni at Community Action 413-376-1181.,    If you cannot help with the harvest there because your own harvest is keeping you so busy, remember you can bring any extra produce to the Salvation Army or Center For Self-Reliance, or the Survival Center or any other food pantry near you.  Log on to for more information about the Plant a Row program. ###

Between the Rows   July 24, 2010

New Friends and Their Blogs

Here is part of the crowd of 70 garden bloggers  at the Buffalo Botanical Garden. I was familiar with the blogs of some of these gardeners like Frances (lower left) of Fairegarden, and Susan (center in blue with hat) of Sustainable Gardening Blog, and Helen (in white under the camera) of Toronto Gardens.  Susan is one of the Garden Ranters; she and I worked briefly for an Australian organic gardening website Organic Gardener which made us virtual colleagues! Frances has beautifully photographed gardens in Tennesee, and Helen knows what it is like to garden in a harsh climate.

So I knew some of the garden blogs written by those who showed up for the third annual garden bloggers meet-up in Buffalo at the beginning of the month, but it is a whole other thing to actually meet and get to know those gardeners – and then read their blogs. I may not have been to their gardens (yet) but I do have a richer sense of their personalities and their tastes and passions.

I met lots of bloggers whose blogs I did not know – but I do know now. I have added several of these to my own blogroll, the list of inks to blogs in the right column.  There was a professional discussion at one point about the purpose or desirability of having a blogroll. Most of us thought they were helpful and necessary. I use my own blogroll as an easy way to visit my favorite blogs when I am putting up my post, and I use other people’s blogs as a recommendation. If I like a blog, I figure I will like their favorite blogs as well. I’ve added several new blogs to my blogroll.

I spent a day on the bus with Mary of My Northern Garden. She is the editor of Northern Garden Magazine, and freelance writer. I was interested in how Minnessota gardens differ in challenges from New England gardens. She was generous with information about gardening, and about blogging. She gave out copies of the magazine (beautiful!) which is a publication of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.

Jean gardens in Louisiana, but her blog, Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog has useful information for all of us. Also it turns out her brother lives in the same area near Houston, Sienna Plantation, as my daughter!  Jean is also a garden coach and she gave me advice about that skill.

Cindy, one energetic lady, is   also from Texas. Her Corner of Katy is also near my daughter. When we visited we went to the immense Katy Mall and shopped. My husband got ‘cowboy shirts’ and a hat to wear in our field. I’m very interested in Texas gardens these days, but no matter where a person gardens, there is some advice that is good for all of us. Besides, our blogs are also about community and family – which are of interest to us all.

We have friends in Sacramento so I was happy to meet Leslie who is Growing a Garden in Davis.  Now I can keep an eye on what Leslie is doing –  and what my garden friends in Sacramento are likely to be doing.   I’ve added these and a few others to my blogroll, but if you’d like to check out blogs of others I met in Buffalo you can logon to the Buffa10 website which has links to them all, and links to recent posts – with great photos – about our garden tours in Buffalo. You will meet some great people.

Reluctantly leaving Mike Shadrack's hosta and daylily gardens

Mirrors in the Garden – a Trend?

The first mirror in the garden I saw this past weekend was in one of the first gardens. I had already seen gardens with high brick walls that had ‘windows’ cut into them. When I glimpsed shining light in the wall in this garden I thought it was another windowed wall, which I thought was a charming idea.  When I scrunched down to get a better idea, and a photo I realized I was looking at a mirror. The photo is a little crooked because I had to bend down and under the dripping foliage to see the mirror clearly.  There were other mirrors in this garden. These urban Buffalo gardens all have walls, perfect for vines – and mirrors.

The second  mirror in the garden I saw was in Gordon’s rain drenched paradise. You have to look close to see the mirror because it is reflecting the variegated hostas.  There were other mirrors in this garden as well.

This is one of a series of three mirrors against a vine covered wall in Jim Charlier’s garden.  He said the mirrors are inexpensive so he doesn’t mind that they will rot away in the rain.  He has also built a kind of soffit out from the wall, which not only holds some of the vines, it hides a rope light (light rope?) which makes for a delightful effect at night – as do the three tiki lights reflecting in each mirror.  We garden bloggers were invited to lunch at Jim’s and we couldn’t see this effect, but everyone who has a copy of the current issue of Fine Gardening can see it in the Spice up the Night feature.

There is a saying that if you see three unusual things, or hear about the same odd thing three times in a row you are seeing the birth of a trend. I like this trend and I am going to look for a suitable wall.

Of course, if you happen to take a trip to the famous Buffalo Garden Walk, the country’s largest free garden tour, the last week in July, you might be able to notice other trends.  Have you noticed any new trends in your neighborhood gardens?

Looking – and Buying in Buffalo

'Mystic Desire' dahlia

We started off at the Erie Basin Trial Gardens for the All America Selections (AAS).  The AAS helps gardeners by rating seed varieties so they can find some of  the best flowers and vegetables to plant from seed.  We all loved this brilliant red dahlia.

Yellow orchids at the Buffalo & Erie Cty Botanical Gardens

Then it was off to the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens which has a fabulous glass conservatory, modeled after the one in Kew Gardens in England.  This building opened in 1900. The Orchid House is only one of several specialty areas including an eipiphyte pavillion, a fern house and a desert  house.

Cyndy from Gardening Asylum

Then we had to shop!  Off to Lockwood’s Greenhouse. Cyndy of Gardening Asylum was glassy eyed and wilting by the time she finished. I bought a solar lantern for the garden.

Mary Ann who writes the Gardens of the Wild West, Boise to be precise, has a lot to say about how we have been spending our days. Check her out!

Rain Didn’t Stop the Tour

Front Yard Garden Contest

We not only didn’t reduce the plans for today’s itinerary for the garden  tours, we  added a drive through the rain to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park (designed long ago by Frederick Law Olmsted) to see who we would vote for in the Front Yard Garden Contest.  The contest was set up by the National Buffalo Garden Festival and with support from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. For more information about these totally renovated front yards and how YOU can vote online, visit Jim Charlier at The Art of Gardening.

Bird Street Garden

The rain didn’t stop us ‘from restoring the tissues’ at the Bird Street Garden, so packed with plants and ponds and fish that the vegetable garden had to move out onto the driveway to grow in pots.

This is one of two ponds in the Bird Street Garden. I don’t know if you can tell but that is watercress growing above the little waterfall.  The water was falling everywhere, but it didn’t dampen our spirits.

The sun is shining today and the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (and more) await.

Don’t forget, you can see all this (and more) when you visit Buffalo for the Garden Walk – or almost anytime. Did I mention there is great architecture here, too. Everywhere!