Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Local Hellstrip-Curbside Garden Teaches a Lesson

Hellstrip Gardening

Hellstrip Gardening

I have been reading Evelyn Hadden’s book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and  the curb, with all its beautiful photographs of  the different ways a curbside garden can be created.  Hadden includes gardens from across the country from Oregon and California to Minnesota and New York. Different climates and different inspirations.  I was very happy that she also included Rain Gardens as one of her themes because many urban areas have a great problem with rain runoff. In these days some rains have become amazingly heavy, stressing storm sewer systems that then flood waste water sewers. It is ever more important that we all work to keep rainfall  where it falls. We can make sure we have many permeable surfaces – and raingardens. I know in Cambridge, Massachusetts where my son lives, there are rules about how much square footage in a house lot must be permeable. You cannot build or cover more.

While Heath is a rural town and I live where there is not a single sidewalk, there are local towns that have sidewalks and some of them even have hellstrips, an area between the street and the sidewalk. However, I have a friend with an absolutely fabulous curbside garden.

Curbside garden

Curbside garden

This photo gives an idea of how this curbside garden works in the streetscape.

Curbside garden

Curbside garden

With heucheras, hostas and creeping phlox in this area there is a  wonderful arrangement of foliage color and texture.

curbside garden

Curbside garden

A great use is made of everygreens which can supply a surprising range of color.


curbside garden

Curbside garden

Small trees, shrubs, ground cover – and flowers! This curbside garden has everything!  And something for every season.

If you would like to win a copy of Evelyn Hadden’s book, Hellstrip Gardening, leave a comment here before midnight July 6.

Water – An Essential Garden Feature

Stream and stone pond

Water – An Essential Garden Feature

Water is an essential garden feature. It can be elaborate like this shady stone stream that empties into a stone pond.

Water in Japanese basin

Water in Japanese basin

It can be in a Japanese plantscape with a fountain.

Water garden

Water garden

A large pot with a circulating pump can be transformed into a shady water garden.

water captured

Water captured

Sometimes water can just be captured in  the concavity of a stone.

Does your garden have water?  How can you create a water feature?

Bird Bath

Bird bath


Reading Comfort and Convenience


This chair provides reading comfort and convenience. The  Bibliochaise was designed in Milan and made in Italy. As a reader I am always looking for a comfortable reading chair. This chair might even control some of the book piles around the house. That would be a good thing.

If you are a reader as well as a gardener, you might like to check out this post on the Good website.


The Fishbol Bookseat is another take on a bookcase/chair combo. I’d love to have more of my current book close at hand like this, but I wish the back had more of a head rest.

Forbes Library Leads Off Garden Tour Season

Julie Abramson’s Garden

Julie Abramson’ s garden  is just one of six garden that will enchant garden lovers on the Forbes Library Garden Tour on Saturday, June 8, from 10 am til 3 pm. Julie’s is a collector’s garden that features some notable trees, clematis, and a colorful array of perennials and a rock garden. I was intrigued by the description of a rustic arbor covered with climbinbing hydrangea, PLUS two other arbors covered with roses, honeysuckle and clematis. Pure romance!

One garden combines formal and informal elements with wonderful and whimsical sculptures, and a tree house. Another garden is organically maintained with a focus on native plants. The terraced backyard features many beautiful trees and shrubs. One garden consists of six colorful garden rooms and a formal French vegetable garden. I cannot miss that. There is a lawn free garden! Perennials, shrubs, trees, vines and a grid of groundcovers, but no turf. The sixth garden surrounds a four unit condominium with a woodland in the front yard, and invidual private gardens. Clearly, there is  something for everyone. Gardens to inspire and teach.

The tickets are $15.00 ($20.00 on the day of the tour) and can be bought at Forbes Library, State St. Fruit in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence, Hadley Garden Center and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.  There are also tickets for wonderful raffle items for gardens on sale at the library; they include 2 yards of Bill Obear’s compost; gift items from Women’s Work; a garden consultation from Jim McSweeney, a planted container and gift certificate from Annie’s and gift certificates of $50.00 from Bay State Perennial Farm and $100.00 from Hadley Garden Center as well as other fun items.

What a wonderful way to start the garden tour season – and help the Forbes Library which is such an important library, serving many readers beyond the Northampton borders. Proceeds will benefit the Forbes Library

S is for Sustainability on Earth Day 2013

Tom Benjamin

S is for Sustainability this Earth Day. Yesterday I introduced Tom Benjamin who designs sustainable, low maintenace landscapes to an attentive audience at our local ‘Little e’ (not the Big Eastern Exposition in Springfield) where the theme was saving energy.  The topic was Reduce Your Lawn and Increase Your Leisure. Since I have been writing about low-mow landscapes I was interested to hear how Tom calculated the benefits.

There are many. The first benefit, according to my husband, is less of his labor. But Tom pointed out that there are 40 million acres of lawn in the US. That is an area larger than the state of New York. Most of those lawns are fertilized, dosed with herbicides and irrigated. There are financial costs to all those aspects of growing a lawn, but there is also an environmental cost. Lawns use more fertilizers than farmers, and the run off from those fertilizers wash into our water systems. In addition, lawns do not support any wildlife, insects or birds.

In addition, an hour of power lawn mowing produces more air pollution than 5 automobiles driving for an hour. And, of course, there is the  gas and oil that it takes to run a power mower.

So, the question is, if we are looking for sustainability in our domestic landscape, how can we accomplish this. First there is hardscaping, patios and walkways, but make sure some of those use permeable paving materials.  We want to keep as much rain as possible on the land where it falls.

We can plant shrubs and trees and groundcovers that are drought tolerant and will not need irrigation. More money saved.  Using native shrubs, trees and groundcovers will also support the web of life. Sustainability means supporting biodiversity. This is a big topic and  fortunately there are a number of books that can help gardeners make sustainable decisions when they begin to reduce their lawn. After the  talk The audience spent a few minutes looking at the books I had written about. Energy Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden, by our own local Expert Sue Reed is a book that Tom uses as a text in his teaching. Beautiful N0-Mow Yard: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives by Evelyn J. Hadden and Lawn Gone: Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternaatives for your Yard by Pam Penick deliver tons of information and inspiration.  In her book The Edible Front Yard: the Mow-less, Grow More Plan for a Beautiful Bountiful Garden by Ivette Soler takes a delicious tack on reducing lawn. I also want to  mention Covering Ground: Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping with Colorful, Low Maintenace Ground Covers  by Barbara W. Ellis. All of these books will give you ideas about ways to increase the sustainability into your landscape and garden.

How much lawn do you need?

To see what else begins with S click here.


Jono Neiger – Mimic Nature in Your Garden


Jono Neiger of Regenerative Design Group

Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group which has its office in Greenfield, spoke to the Greenfield Garden Club a couple of weeks ago. His inspiring talk explained how gardeners could mimic nature, and require less work and inputs to create a garden that would give us what we desire out of our garden and what wildlife and pollinators require.

He gave some very specific advice beginning with the suggestion that vegetable gardens, and gardens that need substantial cultivating be sited near the house where their needs will not be forgotten. I can tell you how valuable this advice is from my own experience. The Herb Bed, the Front Garden, the Daylily and Rose Banks, all of which are right in front of the house get more attention because those south gardens warm up first in the spring and because it is easy to do a small job or two as I come and go, in and out of the house.

It is easy to remember to spread compost and other organic fertilizers on our vegetable and flower beds wherever they are, but remembering to weed or watch for problems is easier when the garden is right in front of us.

Water is becoming more of a concern as we often seem to have too much or too little. This has inspired many people to invest in rain barrels which collect rain off our roofs to use later in the garden when there is a dry spell. Those who have used 50 gallon barrels quickly learn that they don’t hold much of the roof run-off and add more barrels.

Neiger himself has arranged it so that the runoff from his roof runs into a small artificial pond that he has created below the house. The pond holds about 300 gallons of water. When the pond is full, there is an overflow pipe that takes water to a small bog garden that he planted when his son was young featuring pitcher plants. When that area is full water runs down to the vegetable garden. His goal is to get as much use out of all the water he can collect and keep it usefully on the site.

Those of us who don’t have enough room to move rainwater across our property could buy a larger water tank to collect more water off our roof. We can count on that tank costing about a dollar a gallon, so a 400 gallon tank would cost about $400. We can also plant a rain garden that will keep rain on our site and out of storm drains.

He also told us that gray water is now legal in Massachusetts. If we can separate out our sink and bath water that gray water can be drained into our gardens. We would have to pay attention to the type of soaps and detergents we use. His passion is to produce no waste and to recycle any waste elements of our house and garden as much as possible. Compost!

He is a proponent of permaculture, growing perennial plants for food, as well as for ornament. He explained the Edible Forest Garden in terms that I could finally understand. The idea is to mimic nature in the way the forest grows with tall trees, then understory shrubs and then groundcovers. An edible forest in my garden simply means to include a fruit tree or two, some berry bushes and then ground covers. Rhubarb and asparagus are familiar perennial edible ‘ground covers.’ How simple.

If you are interested in perennial crops Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardeners Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles will give you full information about familiar and unfamiliar crops, many of which are hardy in our area.

Those of us who live in town will not be able to, or need to, include the food, fuel, fiber, fodder, farmeceuticals, fertilizer and fun that make up Neiger’s productive landscape, but all of us can include several of these elements. In the acre surrounding my house I have food in my vegetable gardens, some fodder for my chickens who then supply some fertilizer, compost for fertilizer, an herb garden for farmeceuticals and fun in the Lawn Beds that include small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and even some groundcovers. I want to point out bee balm, mint, yarrow and other pollinator magnets are among the perennials in the herb and flower gardens.

How many of these elements do you have in your garden. Begin with fun.

Achillea, yarrow, attracts pollinators


While Jono Neiger gave us some new ecological ways to think about managing our domestic landscapes, Emily Monosson, PhD, teacher and environmental toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts will be leading a discussion at the Greenfield Library with those who have read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on Saturday, February 2. This talk, The Relevance of Silent Spring after 50 Years, is scheduled from 11 am – 1 pm and is sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this book which could be said to have started the whole environmental movement and new ways of. “No book since then has had the impact of Silent Spring. Carson saw an acute toxic change . . . and synthesized an immense amount of research. The changes in our environment today are more insidious,” Monosson said.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2013

Lessons from the Conway School of Landscape Design

Conway School of Landscape Design 40th reunion

I am not a graduate of the Conway School of Landscape Design (alas) but I am an admirer of the school, its teachers, principles and curriculum, and of the work its 600 grads have done around the country, and the world. As part of the celebratory 40th Reunion weekend I attended a program of Lighning Talks. A number of alums from different years were given six (6!) minutes to describe their recent work.

Ginny Sullivan

Ginny Sullivan is an alum who lives in Conway. I wrote about her and her book, Lens on Outdoor Learning,  last year here.  With her co-author Wendy Banning, Ginny is aware of the growing concern about how little time children spend out of doors. In her work Ginny explains that time out in nature is not only health giving, or even only about learning about nature, but about the pleasures of learning in general, and of gaining confidence. In her practice she designs schoolyards that are”devoted to habitat and problem-solving [that] becomes an engaging and language-rich environment for children and teachers alike. It serves all aspects of curriculum, conveys the message of caring for nature and children, restores attention, and allows for play, inquiry, and reflection.” Of course, the book also gives all of us with children and domestic landscapes, or access to parks new ways of looking at nature with our children, having creative fun, and appreciating the valuable informal ways our children learn about the world.

Peter Monro

Peter Monro now lives and practices in Maine. His 6 minute presentation focused on his interest in “the planning and design of walkways and their role in urban and regional economic development.” On is website Walking by Design he includes a photo gallery of different kinds of paths, from a path across a field, to the High Line Park in New York City which is a marvelous ‘path’ through the urban air on what was an abandoned rail line that brought goods to the businesses in lower Manhattan. The site even lays out a multiplicity of the ways a path exists and the variety of issues that we will consider intuitively, or deliberately when we design and build a path for our own use.


Unfortunately I do not have a good photo of Tim Taylor who has taken path-making to an entirely different scale. He has been working for the past five years in Abu Dhabi where a spectacular new city for 60,000, Al Raha Beach is being designed and built.  Tim is the project director for all the public spaces working with a large team who are designing walkways, promenades, parks, marinas, a light rail system, bus lines, street scapes, all the ways that people will walk or move from one place to another. This is an extraordinary project.

I will be writing more about the work of other graduates of the Conway School of Landscape Design from time to time. Some are doing important work right here in our own neighborhood, while others are working in foreign climes. Stay tuned.


Gail Callahan’s Color Grid

Gail Callahan's Color Grid

Gail Callahan, quilter, weaver, and dyer, said she never ‘got’ the color wheel with its confusing array of colors. After working with textiles and fiber for years she eventually found a way to make color theory less confusing; she turned the color wheel into a grid.

My photos don’t do this interesting tool very clear, but Gail wanted to find a way to eliminate some of the confusion she and others feel. The black template blocks out many colors and reveals related colors and the complimentary colors.

She originally thought this would be useful for people who worked with textiles and fiber but were not confident about their color choices. As people have seen the color grid they have seen its use for anyone who works with color – florists and gardeners.

There are a number of ways to use the Grid and Gail gives clear and simple directions. Here is a garden tool that won’t go in the trug, but will find a happy spot in the garden journal where planning happens.

The Color Grid is available in some local yarn and quilting shops, as well as garden shops, or by writing to Gail at The Kangaroo Dyer, 81 Franklin Street, Greenfield, MA 01301.  The cost is $7.95. Massachusetts residents pay a .50 tax. Shipping and Handling is $3.50.

The Color Grid is not Gail’s first foray into publishing. Her book Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece was published in 2010 by Storey Publishing.