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Useful Gifts for the Gardener


Full range of Felco pruners at Oesco in Conway

Full range of Felco pruners at OESCO in Conway

For me most holiday gifts for the gardener fall into two main categories, functional and informational.

Functional gifts include the necessary tools a gardener needs. We all start out with fairly inexpensive tools, partly because as a beginning gardener we don’t really know how hard a tool will have to work. As we grow as a gardener we come to recognize sturdiness and good quality and buy, or are given, better tools.

Trowels at Greenfield Farmers Coop

Trowels at Greenfield Farmers Coop

I was wandering through the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative on High Street a few days ago, looking at their large range of tools with long handles like spades and rakes. On the hand tool aisle there was an assortment of trowels. The new stainless steel trowels are one of the bargains on offer from Corona and Mint Craft at only $6. You can choose the size depending on your own need and the feel of the trowel in your hand. Some have inch markings in the steel to help you plant at the proper depths.

Also on the Coop’s rack were pruners and clippers of various sizes. The Corona by pass pruner is $30 and the smaller needle nose thinning shears is $24. The Dramm needle nose compact pruner is $15. Each pruner package lists the size of the wood that can be safely and effectively cut,

In addition to tools, the Coop has a large collection of equipment. I love my Gilmour hose and nozzle. I found various lengths of high quality Gilmour hoses from 25 to 100 feet (in blue which means they won’t get lost in the garden) ranging in price from $15 to $30.  High quality hoses with good nozzles are basic necessities and we can save money by buying quality that will last for years and years, rather than replacing worn out items every year or two.

Near the hoses and nozzles was a collection of Dramm watering wands. I acquired my Dramm rain wand after seeing it in action at a garden bloggers event. Through some kind of magic and 400 holes the rain wand allows a fast and high flow that will not beat down plants. The Coop’s Dramm Sunrise wand with its one touch control is 16 inches long and comes in beautiful shades of metallic red, blue, orange and green for $18. All Dramm products are manufactured in the U.S.

Hyacinth vase and bulb at Shelburne Farm and Garden

Hyacinth vase and bulb at Shelburne Farm and Garden

While checking out holiday gifts at the Shelburne Farm and Garden I ended up buying myself an early gift, a small iron plant stand ($40) with a mosaic top which is now holding my begonia plant in front of a window sill. If you wanted a plant stand you could furnish it with amaryllis bulbs in shades of red and white for $9, or a giant amaryllis for $25. Or you could choose a hyacinth vase, with hyacinth bulb for $8. The fragrance of blooming hyacinth in mid-winter is a happy reminder that spring will come again.

We ladies like to look our best even when covered with mud and grass stains, so striking foot ware like Sloggers at $33 are almost irresistible. I loved the Sloggers strewn with brilliant red poppies. When we wash off the mud we enjoy reviving with emollients like the Naked Bee Hand Repair, Facial Moisturizer, Body Lotion and Foot Balm made from organic plant oils. The prices range from $15-$4.

I am becoming notorious for leaving my pruners out in the garden and spending a lot of time searching for them. I drove off to OESCO in Conway to see if I could find a holster to wear on my belt. They not only had a collection of three Felco leather holsters, $10-13 they also had a sturdy bright red cloth holster for $4.

OESCO began as the Orchard Equipment and Supply Company, so it is no surprise that their products include many tools like pruners and saws for use in orchards. I was shown one item that is newly back on their sales rack, the Wheeler saw. This small, fine toothed saw was invented by Mr. Wheeler more than 40 years ago. He had an orchard but found using the kind of pruning saw that was available at the time, with its slippery handle and large teeth was uncomfortable and often not effective in the neat pruning cuts he wanted.

Wheeler saw at OESCO in Conway

wheeler Saw at OESCO in Conway

So it was that he designed a small push cut saw on the order of a bow saw, with fine teeth that was easier to handle. Indeed the instructions that come with the saw when sold at OESCO name the advantage of being able to wear warm gloves during winter pruning season, being able to slip the saw over the arm when shifting around and makes clean cuts. The saw blade is so fine that it is not worth while to sharpen, but the blade cane easily be changed without tools while working in the orchard.

OESCO bought the rights to the Wheeler saw and began manufacturing it in Conway. A number of years ago the metal bow part of the saw became unavailable locally and so production stopped. However, a new local source of this metal part is now available and the Wheeler saw is again being produced.

Next week I will talk about informational gifts, but there is actually another what-you-will category comprised of gift certificates. We all have loving relatives, or friends, who want to please us, but who, not being gardeners themselves, have no clue about plants or good quality tools. In their wisdom and love they give gift certificates which will give the gardener great pleasure. There is the pleasure of anticipating a longed for necessity or perhaps something that is more indulgent.

December 3, 2016

Gifts for the Gardener – still time to shop

Gifts for the Gardener begin at the garden center

Gifts for the Gardener begin at the garden center

I have never thought it very hard to find gifts for the gardener. After all, what does a gift say? I love you? I understand you? I want you to enjoy your days? I want your dreams to come true? I share your passion and I know just what you need?

No matter what your message there are garden centers and other kinds of shops that have just the gifts to convey these messages to the gardener in your life. I made the rounds of some of these stores and this is what I found. The Shelburne Farm and Garden Center has colorful Dramm long armed five liter watering cans ($30), and equally colorful one gallon Gardman watering cans ($18). A rolling Saucer Caddy ($40) holds more appeal for me as I get older. My potted plants get bigger every year and moving them a bigger chore. These gifts say ‘Lets have some fun in the garden, but let’s not strain ourselves. I want you in one piece at the end of a gardening day.”

SF&G also has a nice array of gloves. I used to pride myself on not using gloves, but after years of dirty nails and dry calluses I decided gloves are a Good Thing. Of course, gloves like Cool MUD gloves ($10) with water repellent nitrile have gotten lighter, more comfortable and breathable. One style of Women’s Work gloves is flowery and has nice long gauntlets ($20). When I got to the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative on High Street I found they had a whole aisle of gloves. And a lot more besides. Gloves are a consumable; they wear out and need to be replaced from time. A gift of gloves says “Don’t worry. Dig in. There is always another pair. Better the gloves get ugly than your lovely hands.”

There are fewer flowers in the winter, but SF&G has bags and bags of bird seed and a whole array of bird feeders. Attract the birds and you will be able to enjoy these flowers of the air. I met a neighbor there and she expressed her pleasure at finding that birds love safflower seeds, but squirrels don’t. Good information.

Blue Pots at the Greenfield Farmers Coop

Blue Pots at the Greenfield Farmers Coop

Greenfield Farmer’s Coop has a fabulous array of Burley Clay pots in sizes from about one cup ($7) to large handsome pots that can hold a striking flower arrangement that is a work of art or even a small tree ($60) These pots come in lovely blue, and subtle shades of green or brown. They also have an array of black metal trellises, perfect for supporting ornamental vines in the garden. Prices range from $25-$40. They say “Isn’t it fun to have plants grow up and add a new dimension to the garden?”

Grow Bags are another way to have fun and continue the vegetable garden indoors during the winter. The Farmers Coop has several Grow Bags ($7-$15) that include coconut coir instead of potting soil, but you will need your own seeds (any left from the summer?), a liquid fertilizer and good light. I think these are great for growing herbs and greens like lettuces. You know your beloved just can’t stop wanting really local food.

Christmas platter at Stillwater Porcelain

Christmas platter at Stillwater Porcelain

On the other hand, sometimes you want to stop thinking about tools and chores. Sometimes you just want to surround yourself with the images of flowers and nature while carrying on in your non-gardening life. I stopped in at Stillwater Porcelain in ShelburneFalls where Pat Pyott has a unique way of creating ornamental tiles, with realistic images of Queen Anne’s Lace, autumn leaves, herbs, an evergreen branch. There are functional pieces like a variety of plates to tiles that surround a mirror. Prices range from $15 for lovely tree ornaments to $218 for a platter that will hold the roasted holiday beast. “I know you want to be surrounded by nature in every room,” these gifts say.

J.H. Sherburne embroidered cases

J.H. Sherburne embroidered cases

Just a little further down State Street is J.H. Sherburne’s shop. Jo-Anne has garden ornaments, and lovely botanical jewelry. I could not resist the gold and silver bulb complete with leaf shoots and roots that provided a space for a sprig of leaf or flower. I am not really a jewelry person, but I found this absolutely irresistible. She also has a collection of brightly embroidered Guatemalan cases, from luggage ($187) to a change purse ($7). I don’t have a cellphone (no service in Heath) but if I did I would love a flowered cellphone case ($14). I like the juxtaposition of technology and a flower garden.

Portrait by J.H. Sherburne

Portrait by J.H. Sherburne

Jo-Anne is also a fine artist and just think what a gift a portrait of the beloved would be, set among the colors of the garden. Full information about how that process works is on her website.

Gift certificates carry all sorts of messages. They can say, “I know you, and I love you and your garden, and while I have no idea what you want or need, I want you to have it.” This message is often sent to experienced gardeners who can be very particular and opinionated about tools or plants. A gift certificate is a gift of anticipation, of time for thought and the delight in picking out just the item you have been longing for. There are times when a gift certificate is the perfect gift. What about a gift certificate to OESCO where fine tools are found in Ashfield? The Greenfield Farmers Coop, the Shelburne Farm and GardenCenter, JH Sherburne and Stillwater Porcelain also have perfect gift certificates.

Between  the Rows   December 13, 2014

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer and Other Gifts


Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer

It’s a truism that every garden is different. Gardeners don’t begin by asking “how can I make my garden unique” they begin by looking for ways to bring their passions and preferences into the garden. This search will include choosing plants and planning pathways, but it will also include finding chairs and a table for conviviality, a birdbath for attracting the birds, possibly even a protecting summerhouse. In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality ($35. Timber Press), Rochelle Greayer provides inspiring ideas and information about different garden designs and accessories.

Nearly encyclopedic this is not a book that requires beginning at page one and marching on to page 304. The bright illustrations inspired me to browse through the book first, trying to find myself within a category or two. Is my garden Cottage Au Courant with its controlled chaos? Possibly. But what about Sacred Meadow? I am surrounded by meadows. Definitely not Wabi Sabi Industrial, but still, I do long to be able to recycle odd and rusty junk into useful and beautiful garden details.

Greayer herself does not worry about purity of style. Though she lives in eastern Massachusetts now, she was born in Colorado, and describes her garden as “Handsome Prairie, with healthy dashes of Sacred Meadow, ForestTemple, and Homegrown Rock’n’Roll thrown in.” Clearly unique gardens are not created by locking yourself into a theme, even if it is your own.

Cultivating Garden Style - Wabi Sabi Industrial

Cultivating Garden Style – Wabi Sabi Industrial

The various themes are beautifully photographed and provide that initial inspiration, but the sections on Learning, Doing, Growing give you practical information about how to achieve the garden in your mind. These sections cross over the various themes. You will need advice about deck essentials, buying plants, choosing a tree, understanding and using microclimates, making paths, or creating visual illusions no matter what kind of garden you are creating. She also provides directions for a number of DIY projects like making planter sconces, oilcloth placemats, a fountain, and lighting fixtures.

Pith & Vigor garden newspaper

Pith & Vigor garden newspaper

Greayer’s prose style is chatty and informative. She loves talking to gardeners, learning from them and teaching them. For years she has written a garden blog, which is currently taking a new form but remains a pleasure to read. She is also the editor of a new quarterly garden newspaper, Pith&Vigor, of which I am a charter subscriber. The first issue includes an interview with Ken Marten and his directions for making an exquisite terrarium, how to make a mushroom garden, a bouquet gathered on the Massachusetts coast in mid-September, an autumnal container arrangement and an article on how to grow giant pumpkins – and compete! Lots more in this issue and to come. Subscribe for $32 a year, for a paper and online subscription by ordering at A subscription to Pith&Vigor would make a great gift for gardeners on your list.

There are other subscriptions that will feed a gardener’s interests in more specific ways. Recently I was given a subscription to the quarterly Heirloom Gardener, published by Rare Seeds Publishing, an arm of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The lushly illustrated current issue contains articles about poisonous plants, indoor gardening with herbs and bulb forcing, crops and seeds of the Incas, and rare fruits. And more. $15 for one year (four issues). Call 417-924-8917 or order online at

For many years I have been a member of the American Horticultural Society. One of the perks of membership is the bi-monthly magazine The American Gardener with regular articles about plants from ornamentals to poison ivy. Did I know there was anything good to say about poison ivy? No. But it seems it seems that it has the “potential for use in a variety of commercial applications, including an environmentally smart replacement for the petrochemicals used to make paints and industrial coatings.” There are also interviews with fascinating gardeners, book reviews, news about AHS programs  – and more. You can join online. The basic membership at $35 will get you The American Gardener, free or discounted entry into many gardens and arboreta and plant shows around the country as well as the member seed exchange.

I am also a member of the New England Wildflower Society where a year’s membership at the $55 level gives me free access to the famous Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and a discount at Nasami Farm in Whately where the NEWFS propagates many thousands of native plants. I am a regular shopper at Nasami Farm. There are many workshops available at a discount. Membership will also give you a subscription to their newly overhauled magazine, reciprocal admission to 270 public gardens, and borrowing privileges at their 4500 volume library. You can join online at You don’t even need to be a member of NEWFS to read their blog about native plants, or use their great Go Botany database to help you identify plants. All this is yours for free.

Gardeners are always learning; and a gift of books or memberships in a horticultural society are good ways to keep feeding their hunger for new information, and new pleasure.  Happy shopping.

Between the Rows   December 6, 2013

Timber Press and Rochelle Greayer are helping me celebrate 7 years of blogging here at the You still have another day to leave a comment here by midnight Saturday, December 13, and have a chance to win a copy of Cultivating Garden Style AND a copy of my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 14.

Good Reading Roundup for 2013 – Part One

This is my first Reading Roundup. Over the year I have ‘reviewed’ a number of books, any of which would make an excellent holiday gift. Good reading is one of my favorites gifts to give, and to receive.  Over the next couple of days I’ll be giving a note about each of them again, with a link to the original post. All but one of the books were sent to me by the publisher and you may note a very positive note in all of them. This is because I only ‘review’ books that I think are useful and engaging, and in most cases beautiful. I have neither the time, nor space, nor inclination to spend time writing about books that I cannot recommend. Not every book is for everyone, but each of these worthy books will have a substantial audience. Click on the link for each to get the full review.

Taste, Memory

I did buy Taste, Memory: Lost Foods, Forgotten Flavors and Why They Matter by David Buchanan after I heard him speak at the Conway School of Landscape Design. David is a graduate of the CSLD, and his book about his growing passion for  heritage apples is a joy. “This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness, and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected, and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.” This idea is also behind the Slow Food movement and The Ark of Taste which catalogs endangered foods

Taste, Memory also introduced me to John Bunker, David’s apple mentor and a great Maine character who has his own book, Not Far From the Tree about the old apples of Maine. You will never look at an apple in quite the same way again

No Mow Yards

Beautiful No Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives byEvelyn Hadden. Evelyn Hadden is a founder of Lawn Reform Coalition which aims to teach people about sustainable, healthier lawns. In Beautiful No-Mow Yards she proposes 50 alternatives to mowed grass lawns, offering solutions to cutting down on grass cutting in ways that are likely to appeal to every kind of gardener: new gardeners who are more interested in flowers or vegetables, experienced gardeners who are looking for new ways to garden, and environmentally concerned gardeners who want to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, herbicides and their own energy.



 Lawn Gone: Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yardby Pam Penick (Ten Speed Press)

Some of Penick’s chapter titles will tempt you to imagine a new yard of your own. For example: Ponds, pavilions, playspaces and other fun features and Designing and installing your hardscape, immediately set my mind buzzing. Other chapters indicate the sticky issues that gardeners may have to deal with like working with skeptical neighbors or homeowner’s association regulations or city codes.She also explains ways to eradicate lawn, and gives you the names of grass substitutes in the sedge and carex families.


Bringing Nature Home

Bringing Nature Home by Dr. Douglas Tallamy is a book I write about regularly. His argument for the use of native plants in our domestic landscape is ever more important and we think about land development. “Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.”


Latin for Gardeners

Latin for Gardeners: Over 3000 Plant Names Explained and Explored  by Lorraine Harrison is a beautifully illustrated book that is great fun to read even if you never took Latin in high school  and never got beyond Shakespeare’s “Et tu, Brute?” in English class. Beyond explaining the Latin words that make up proper botanical names, there are special sections of Plant Profiles, information about Plant Hunters like Sir Joseph Banks and Jane Colden and Marianne North, and Plant Themes like The Qualities of Plants. The book is also generously illustrated with colored botanical drawings of plants and their parts. This is definitely a book for browsing.

I’ll continue the roundup tomorrow. These books make great gifts for any holiday – or birthday.


Look At My Loot

Seven Years Gold Compost

As Christmas drew near a  friend asked if I his Christmas gift had been delivered. I said no deliveries and then waited every day for my treat to arrive. I did get a Package Too Big notice from the Post Office and picked up this bag of compost that had a mailing label right on the bag. I assumed it was some sort of sample from the Seven Years Gold company, although it did seem an odd time of year to be sending compost samples to Massachusetts.  But when my friend arrived for dinner after Christmas he said he couldn’t wait any longer to tell me what was on its way to me – horse manure!  Seven Years Gold wasn’t a sample it was my friend who paid attention when I said one of the best gifts I had gotten for my first vegetable garden 40 years ago was a load of rotted horse manure. Friends like this are not easy to come by.

Christmas Books

Of course all my friends and family know I love books – and that high cooking and baking season lasts all winter. The stove helps keep the house warm. I was familiar with Nigel Slater (British) from his many inspiring and useful cookbooks, but Yotam Ottolenghi was new to me. Nigel Slater was prompted to write Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch this latest book by his new(ish) passion for gardening. Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, takes a vegetarian approach. I have already made his flavorful Mushroom and herb polenta. Delicious and easy.  Although I had never heard of Ginette Mathiot or her cookbooks that are considered  the Joy of Cooking of France, I am ready to delve into The Art of French Baking (The definitive guide to home baking by Frances favorite cook book author). I must say the recipes look very easy. We shall see.

Finally, there is a book for bedtime reading. Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers is not the anthology of selections I first thought. There are snippets from each of the authors mentioned from Thomas Jefferson and Gertrude Jekyll to humorists like Karel Capek and artists like Robert Dash, but Rogers gives us a sense of the life and personalities of each. I am savoring each section.

Now here is a question. Although not apparent from a photo, two of the cookbooks, Plenty and The Art of French Baking have padded covers. Is this a new trend? A new style in books? Does it make the books more wipe-able?  Any ideas?

Christmas Trees at Kringle Candle Company

This Christmas may be over, but all these gifts, including a candle from the Kringle Candle Company, will keep the memory alive for many years.

ADDENDUM – One way or another I have gotten comments and questions about horse manure – and I found interesting information and comparisons here.

Gifts for the Gardener


In the ‘olden days’ garden catalogs did not arrive until after the new year, the first sign that spring will eventually return. Now my mailbox is already full of garden catalogs describing all kinds of plants, books and tools, every company hoping for some of those holiday dollars that are so important to business in these difficult days. The catalogs are really tempting because many gardeners are like me, greedy for a new plant, or a new book and new information. The trick is to find the right plant, book or information.

Sometimes you know a gardener has a particular passion. I have one friend who always welcomes a handsome pot for her container plantings. However, unless you know that a gardener has a particular enthusiasm a gift certificate is a great way to make sure the gardener in your life gets exactly what she, or he, really wants. Over the years I have gotten a few lovely plants as gifts, and enjoyed them for a while, but chosen as they were by non-gardeners, they were not as hardy as they needed to be for the gardens at the end of the road. I have gotten tools as gifts, but again, non-gardeners are not always able to assess the quality or utility of a given tool. In the case of plants and tools, gift certificates make the perfect gift. And think of the pleasure the recipient will have considering the possibilities before it is actually time to acquire the item itself.

New information can come in a variety of ways. Books, of course. Our local book shops have a good supply of dependable and beautiful garden books. I have written in this column over the past year about many excellent books I have found from “Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind” by Gene Logsdon and “50 Beautiful Deer Resistant Plants: The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs and Shrubs that Deer Don’t Eat” by Ruth Rogers Clausen to the “Encyclopedia of Container Plants: 500 Outstanding Choices for Gardeners” by Ray Rogers. I might even mention my own book, “The Roses at the End of the Road.”

Some of us will think of magazine subscriptions that bring us loads of new information and inspiration every month. I have long been a subscriber to Organic Gardening, Horticulture Magazine and Fine Gardening. Over the years it has been nice to see how mainstream magazines have been paying more attention to organic methods. I have a new subscription myself to Green Prints: The Weeder’s Digest, a quarterly magazine that is a family operation with Pat Stone at the helm and wife Becky handling circulation. You can log on to for sample articles, and the monthly electronic newsletter.

Another way to gain new information, support important garden and educational activities, and gain a variety of benefits is by giving a membership to a horticultural or plant society. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society ( membership will give a free ticket to the Blooms! Garden show in Boston in March, free or discounted tickets to many botanic gardens across the country, free subscriptions to magazines, discounted workshops and programs at the Elm Bank Gardens in Wellesley.  They also have a research and circulating library at Elm Bank which is a wonderful resource.

Right in our own backyard we have Nasami Farm which belongs to the New England Wildflower Society ( Nasami’s many greenhouses propagate thousands of native plants for sale in spring and fall. NEWFS members get discounts on plants, programs and free admission to the beautiful Garden in the Woods and a subscription to the Society’s publications.

I also belong to the American Horticultural Society ( because it means I get their excellent magazine The American Gardener, but there are other benefits like discounted admission fees to many botanic and public gardens across the country, seed swap, and discounted publications and programs. Their extensive website contains information for members only, but even non-members will find a great deal of useful advice on this site. All these organizations provide education for children and adult gardeners, helping us all to be better stewards of our land.

There are also special plant societies from the African Violet Society of America to the American Hosta Society and American Rhododendron Society. There are even more specialized groups like the Historic Iris Preservation Society. What plant is your gardener passionate about? There is bound to be an appropriate plant society.

Consumables make great gifts. We gardeners can use up fertilizers and potting soil at a great pace. I think my container loving friend would be thrilled to find a pot filled with potting soil, perlite, organic fertilizers like Neptune’s Harvest or Espoma Rose Tone under her Christmas tree. So would I. This may not seem glamorous, but it is such a useful gift, acknowledging all the gardener’s needs and desires.

One of the best garden gifts I ever received was a load of rotted horse manure for my first garden. I was so grateful. Nowadays we don’t need to count on a friend with a farm. We can order, or get a gift certificate for a load of rich compost from Bear Path Farm or Martin’s Farm. The need for compost never ends.

This bag of gifts may not contain much glamour but it sure contains the promise of many pleasures all year long.###

Between the Rows  December 10, 2011

Succulent Container Gardens

Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin

Houseplants have never been my strong suit. I rarely get cyclamens or amaryllis to rebloom, and I even gave up my everblooming abutilon this summer. I simply could not get rid of scale. I had to put it out of its misery.

And yet I have kept succulents alive and in good shape for decades. My jade tree is over 20 years old. It survived being moved to my daughters’ houses while we were in China, and it survived a winter in our unheated Great Room which caused severe frostbite. However, with a little spring warmth, radical pruning and gentle watering it revived and remains beautiful and indomitable.

I also have an orchid cactus and Christmas cactus that are probably about 15 years old. Still alive and healthy, and blooming on schedule with very little help from me. So you can imagine my pleasure when I opened “Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching Displays with Easy-Care Plants” by Debra Lee Baldwin ($29.95) published by Timber Press.

Who among us is not familiar with the sempervivium hen and chicks? This common succulent is only one of the 100 genera, 275 species, and 90 varieties of succulents that Baldwin presents, alone and in combination, in containers plain and fancy, large and small, indoors and out, in a book that will inspire everyone who has ever put aside the idea of keeping houseplants alive for more than a year or two.

Baldwin gives advice about how to choose attractive pots for various succulents, looking at form and color. It is the varied forms of all these succulent species that fascinates me. I may not have been familiar with the terms graptovenerias or pachyforms or aeoniums, but now I love the graptoveria rosettes, the amazing exposed root of the pachyforms, and the graceful string of pearls, a senecio. And we haven’t even begun talking about spiky cactuses or agaves or trailing sedums.

There are over three hundred photographs of succulents potted in every style from traditional, classical, whimsical and moderne. They can make a sculptural statement planted alone, or arranged in a miniature landscape.

I have always looked at group plantings of succulents and wondered about how to arrange them. Baldwin gives advice about planting mixtures, and most importantly for me, advised that any planting should be full. These plants grow slowly so to keep a container from looking kind of pathetic, enough plants, or a big enough plant should be put in at the very beginning.

My Garden, The City and Me

Baldwin’s book makes me want to run right out and buy a big potful of succulents, but Helen Babbs’ charming little book of essays, “My Garden, The City, and Me: Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London” ($18.95 Timber Press) sends me to the armchair in front of the fire with a cup of tea to imagine her life in London where she lives in a gritty neighborhood and builds a garden in the three square meters outside her bedroom door.

Babbs is a young woman who is very aware of the ways that nature inhabits even the busy metropolis. Her London is set firmly within the greater natural world of plants and wildlife. She plants a garden in the hope that it will provide encouragement and sustenance for the birds and butterflies, for bees and other pollinators that are so important to her life, the life of the city, and the life of the planet.

Her book begins with a seed swap while winter is still ruling, then takes us through the seasons, through the days when, all unaware, she steps on her new seedlings and to full summer when she writes, “The roof has looked at its prettiest florally over the last few weeks. The flowering tobacco has been joined by yellow evening primroses, prongs of purple lavender and deep orange nasturtiums. I recently inherited a courgette plant that has five fluorescent flowers now.”

Her descriptions of the Thames and London’s historic parks and the wildlife she finds there are equally poetic. She writes about a damp autumnal ramble on the famed Hampstead Heath. “A sudden downpour left the leaf fall slick and gleaming, and the lichen on the tree trunks fluorescing lime green. Glossy droplets balled on fat, pink berries. When the rain returned, tree canopies made protective umbrellas over our heads.”

You don’t have to be a lover of English novels as well as gardens to enjoy this book, but it won’t hurt.

As her first year as a gardener closes she cannot help thinking of the coming spring  and growing carrots growing in a pair of leaky red wellies and potatoes in a hessian sack. I can absolutely identify with that kind of dreamy planning.

Babb ends with a short list of Things to Read and a list of Places to Go. I, for one, would not mind following in her London footsteps.


Between the Rows  –  December 3, 2011

All’s Quiet

Life looks quiet here at the End of the Road, but looks are deceptive.  Yesterday I read and signed my book, The Roses at the End of the Road, at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls. On my way home I stopped at a friend’s open house – and sold more books there! Tomorrow I will be signing books at Tower Square in Springfield, right outside the fabulous Festival of Trees exhibit. Expect some photos.

And inside the house work continues on my kitchen renovation. Fortunately, I can use the sink and the stove again! This is baking season.

It is also Giveaway Season. Tomorrow I celebrate four years of blogging, of learning, of meeting other skilled and helpful bloggers by giving away a copy of Debra Lee Baldwin’s inspiring and useful book, Succulent Container Gardens, and a copy of my own book.  Click here and leave a comment. You still have today and all day tomorrow to have a chance to win these two books. I will announce the winner, chosen at random on Wednesday, December 7.  Good luck.

Mary McClintock’s Gift

Many of us know Mary McClintock as a writer who delights in good local food, celebrates the farmers who raise it, and brings us advice from the cooks who really know what to do with it. I know I have enjoyed her Wednesday food column, Savoring the Seasons, ever since it began  nearly four years ago. I’ve learned a lot about vegetables unknown to me including the gilfeather turnip.

During her California youth McClintock probably didn’t spend any more time thinking about vegetables than any other child in her neighborhood, although she enjoyed working with her mother in their garden and attending farmer’s markets where they could buy fresh local food – before that was a catch phrase. Her mother also taught her about preserving food. Together the two of them would pick apricots and peaches and then turn them into golden apricot jam and peach chutney.

Playing on the Hawaiian beach where the family lived for a couple of years, and learning the names of plants in the California woods from her mother instilled a deep love of the outdoors in McClintock.

McClintock’s life has been filled with many jobs and many academic adventures. “Important people in my life showed up at the right moment to steer me into my next educational institution or path. . . .  Two high school teachers spent two years talking to me about the wonders of Mt. Holyoke, including that I could ride horses, canoe and be part of the Outing Club. I thank them every day of my life for getting me to Mt. Holyoke,” she said.

Joan Rising, a teacher at Greenfield Community College “steered me to GCC’s Outdoor Leadership Program when I was wanting to pursue work as an outdoor leader and didn’t know how to get there.”

The work McClintock did in Springfield with very difficult teenage boys in an outdoor program made her realize she didn’t have the knowledge of education and psychology that would make her more effective. One of her colleagues in that program was a student at the University of Massachusetts School of Education and led McClintock to attend and study Organizational Development for a Master’s Degree.  She said the important thing about this program for her was that it could be applied to any field, not only outdoor leadership, but to the issues of social justice that were so important to her.

Over the years, but especially during and since her years at UMass she has worked both as a professional and as a volunteer on issues elated to women, disability rights, and lesbian/gay/bi rights.

McClintock explained that these two professional threads in her life are vitally connected. “The oppression of people is completely and totally parallel to and comes from the same impulse as the oppression of the natural world/earth/environment. Reading a book called Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin in the late 70s or early 80s was the first time I understood the connection between the oppression of people and the oppression of the earth. It has been a foundation of my understanding of the world and my activism ever since. All of my social justice work relates to my environmental work and vice versa, “ she said.

Always interested in good food, she became really involved with local food. in 2001. She was inspired by Gary Paul Nabhan’s book, Coming Home to Eat, about the wisdom and pleasure of eating local food, and a workshop led by John Hoffman who farms at the Wilder Brook Farm CSA. Soon she started a local food group who enjoyed potlucks together. As word spread she joined the group organizing the first Free Harvest Supper in 2005.

When Juanita Nelson came up with the idea of a winter farmers market, “we all thought she was crazy,” McClintock said. To promote this crazy project Nelson and McClintock decided to write monthly articles for the Recorder. “Along the way I thought there were so many topics to write about that I could probably write something every week,” she said.  That was the birth of Savoring the Season which debuted in the Recorder in July 2007.

Through all the changes in her life whether she was sea kayaking in New Zealand or Alaska, editing and indexing books, or running an editorial and research business called BetterYou Than Me, McClintock’s mother enjoyed hearing about her adventures, “although she really liked it when I had work she could actually describe to her friends,” she said. “I sent her my own writings and she was always a great fan.”

When Elizabeth Welsh passed away last year McClintock wanted to find a way to honor her. That was not hard to do. McClintock had worked part time at the World Eye and when Welsh came to visit a lot of time was spent with McClintock’s World Eye family.

“My mother loved libraries and reading,” McClintock said. She also thought about the books that had inspired her over the years. The perfect memorial would be books purchased at the World Eye, and donated in her mother’s name to the Greenfield and Conway libraries. The books have to do with gardening, food preservation and sustainable living, topics important to mother and daughter. The books were carefully chosen with the help of the librarians to avoid duplication, and enhance their collections.

The books are on library shelves and ready to be checked out, ready to inspire and teach.

Books Donated to the Greenfield Public Library

by Mary McClintock in memory of her mother, Elizabeth Welsh

Berry Grower’s Companion by Barbara L. Bowling

Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking of Meat, Fish & Game by Eastman

Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Peterson

How To Make and Use Compost:  The Ultimate Guide by Nicky Scott

Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Pruning Made Easy by Lewis Hill

Putting Food By (5th ed) by Greene, Hertzberg, & Vaughn

Secrets of Plant Propagation by Lewis Hill

Stalking The Healthful Herb by Euell Gibbons

Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins

Wilderness Medicine, Beyond First Aid by Forgey

Compost, Vermicompost and Compost Tea, by Grace Gershuny will be published in April, 2011:

Another Chance to Win – Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer

I remember when I first learned about perennials and thought – what a great idea, I’ll never have to replant again. LOL.  Even if pernnials didn’t have to be divided, or die, most of us still have to move plants, add plants or remove plants in our attempts to have a garden that pleases the eye and the heart.  For my full review you can click here, but I can tell you briefly that The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer: The Essential Guide to Creating Simply Sensational Gardens delivers design instruction and advice that will be useful to every gardener, novice or experienced. The authors, Stephanie Cohen and Nancy J. Ondra will be familiar to some of you, and will immediately indicate the value of this useful book.

I like Stephanie and Nan giving us a peek at their own garden designs.

Through Storey’s generosity I am Giving Away a copy of this book next Sunday, December 19. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post if you want to participate in the Giveaway. Maybe you can tell me about the thing you find most difficult about design, a success or a disaster.