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The First Rose of Summer – Purington Pink

Purington Pink

Purington Pink is the first rose of summer this year. The blossoms are modest, pale pink, fading quickly to almost white. The thorns are anything but modest, spiny and prickery. Like all of four of the roses that the Purington family gave me, this one is a strong grower. Just what we need here on the hill.

Of similar prickliness is this rose, also from the Purington’s Woodslawn Farm. I think it is a Harrison’s Yellow, because it is a twin to a Harrison’s Yellow I planted some year’s back.

With two roses in bloom Rose Season has officially begun. I see buds swelling everywhere. As I went around doing more pruning this past weekend, and clipping grass I also see that many of the roses had a fantastic winter and have never looked better. The tangle of Rachel’s Rose, Celestial and Ispahan down at the end of the Rose Walk is truly magnificent. Ispahan has been known to suffer lots of winterkill yet always putting out strong growth in the spring. This year’s mild winter left it almost unharmed and it is at least eight feet fall.

Of course, there are always fatalities. I haven’t given up on all of them entirely so I will not catalog any of those just yet.

For the rest of the weekend, I weeded, and wept over the depredations of the rabbits.  They killed at least two of the newly planted helenium. Very unphotogenic. Henry finished the Great Fence around the vegetable/berry garden, and young Nate, mowed and mowed, and brought me more wood chips for the vegetable garden paths. Things are beginning to shape up!

Today I will plant my last hypertufa trough with succulents. For those of you who enjoy planting interesting containers, you have an opportunity to enter the container competition at the Old Deerfield Summer Arts and Crafts Festival held on June 16-17. By entering you’ll get two free tickets to the Festival, and if you win, you’ll get a prize. No losers in  the system.

I also want to let everyone know that Kathy Puckett who has one of the most beautiful gardens in our area is holding her Garden Open Today on June 10 from 10 am – 5 pm at 150 Skinner Road in Shelburne. Mark your calendars.

Weekend Chores – Removals, Renovations and Additions

The first mowing of the year

While my husband was busy with the first lawn mowing – and fence building – I was busy with removals, renovations and additions.

I have had a pink potentilla at this corner of the North Lawn bed for several years but never been happy. I was reluctant to remove it, but this spring it look nearly dead, so out it came. Removals can be difficult, but they are sometimes necessary. Neither the dead shrub nor its hole are very photogenic, but you can at least see that one of the problems was the way weeds crept under this ground hugging potentilla. I am not sure what to replace it with yet.

Alma Potchke renovation

My Alma Potchke aster, such a wonderful deep pink fall color in the garden, had become invaded by numerous weeds including Silver King artemesia. Beware of this artemesia! There was nothing to do but launch on a renovation of the whole area. You can see part of the clump of Alma, and some of the pieces I have started to replant. The whole area is nicely weeded.  More of the aster will be replanted, and a few weed free pieces will be potted up for the Bridge of Flowers plant sale on May 19.

Actually renovations, as in Serious Weeding, are needed all over the gardens this spring. I’m about two thirds of the way through weeding the Herb Bed which requires replanting the Ashfield black stem mint which has wandered all over the place, and a clump of scarlet bee balm which became infested with mint and various weeds. I have herb seedlings ready to go in, as well as dill seeds. The renovation was really necessary here.

Bleeding heart

My friend Judith in Greenfield invited me down to take away one of her extra bleeding hearts. I hesitated thinking I don’t have any shade. I am so used to saying I don’t have shade that I had come to believe it. And yet, I realized I do have some shade on either side of the Cottage Ornee and even extended a small bed last year. I planted the bleeding heart between the cimicifuga and native foxgloves. I was afraid I would have to cut off the blossoms, but it perked up substantially, so I am enjoying this blooming addition to the garden.

As I begin the week I am looking forward to planting roses, and more barren strawberry that I bought  at Nasami over the weekend. We are moving into high gear!

April Has Been the Cruelest Month – Almost Over

White daffs benealth white Miss Willmott lilac

April proved herself to be the cruelest month indeed this year alternating summer and winter temperatures. The past couple of nights we’ve had frost – and this after we had gotten quite used to balmy temperatures and tender zephyrs in mid-month. Now these lovely white daffodils might as well be snow cover – it is so cold. And windy. And dry.

My Early Garden in front of the house is still adorned with row covers that blow and blow in  the wind. I think they are making the lettuces quite tough. And yet, with all the cold and wind plant growth is inching forward. Rhubarb leaves are up – and in need of serious weeding. Actually, almost every bed is in need of serious weeding.


Some of the daffodils are later bloomers. I am particularly fond of this one, and I will be sending off to Old House Gardens for more. The daffs are planted in the lawn and you can see the hawkweed in my ‘flowery mead’ is budding up nicely.

Grape hyacinths and daffs

Grape hyacinths are beginning to bloom – and some of them have scattered themselves in unlikely places. I am glad there are flowers that have the stamina to withstand heat and cold in our New England spring, but this year I am really ready for for the warmth and libelous displays of May.

Welcome Rain – Welcome Book by Charlie Nardozzi

A bright lull between showers

After a dry winter and an extremely dry spring we finally have rain – two and a half inches in the last 24 hours.  I’ve been reading away the rainy hours with Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening by Charlie Nardozzi.

Onions, kale, and broccoi seeded

It has been a perfect rain. Hours of rain have penetrated the thirsty earth without washing away newly dug and seeded beds. The seeds and seedlings I planted just before the rain are really happy. More rain is on its way, possibly only intermittent showers over the next couple of days, just what the garden needs. And the rain has sent me back indoors to spend more time with Charlie

Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

There are many books about vegetable gardening, and some are good books, but Nardozzi’s book, Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Eat the Best Edibles for Northeast Gardens, does focus on advice and information for those of us in the northeast which ranges from New Jersey to Maine and all the way west to Buffalo, New York. The first 90 pages give some of the most complete information and advice I have ever seen about zones, frost dates, soils, fertilizers, insects, insect control, animal pests like rabbits and deer (grrrrrrr!) and others, as well as that all important decision – where to locate the garden.

I have not often seen the point made that a new gardener should not only start small (advice I never took, alas) but also locate the garden where she will see it all the time. A garden located where you cannot avoid passing it every day will be better cared for, no matter whether you are a new or experienced gardener. You will see those new weeds sprouting, and the need to water. And you will probably have easy access to water. Of course if that convenient spot also drains well, you are halfway to success.

I have the main part of my vegetable and berry garden at the end of the Rose Walk where I wander every day. Now I also have the small Early Garden (also known as the Front Garden) right in front of the house. This southern garden is protected from the wind, very sunny, and has great drainage. I’ve been improving the soil. This is my third spring with the Early Garden that gives me those early greens and radishes. Yum.

The rest of Charlie Nardozzi’s book is devoted to encyclopedia-type entries for individual vegetables, herbs and fruits. He explains when, where and how to plant, maintain and harvest as well as possible problems and suggested suitable varieties. My Brussels sprouts were miserable last year. Even though I will rotate the Brussels sprouts, I’m working to enrich that section of garden of soil and I will keep Nardozzi’s advice in mind at the end of the summer. He says if the sprouts are not forming well, the top six inches of the plant can be removed to make more energy available to the rest of the plant.

Charlie Nardozzi (who lives in Vermont) is new to me, but he wrote Vegetable Gardening For Dummies and The Ultimate Gardener. He does radio, and TV, and works with organizations like Gardener’s Supply and Shelburne Farms on kid’s gardening projects. And we all know that Cool Springs Press has the best books about gardening and plants, books that are dependable and engaging. Cool Springs and Nardozzi, quite a combo.

Wishing for Warm April Showers


The weather remains cool and breezy or windy.  And dry. I wish we had some of that early warm weather, and rain.This morning there was spitting rain – and snow flurries. There is very little sense of seasonal progression in the garden. This is the single daffodil in bloom, besides the very early Van Sions, but you can see (if you look closely) that buds are showing some color.

Apple tree - radically pruned

Over the weekend my husband got all the little motors checked out and operational. The only one he put into use was the chain saw. He did a radical pruning of this semi dwarf apple tree to make room for a serious, high fence  we are building to keep out the deer. With some luck we’ll keep out the rabbits, too.

ScillasUnderneath that apple tree I noticed that the scillas are starting to bloom. They seem to have scattered themselves rather widely this year.  A few Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) are also beginning to bloom down here in what we used to consider the orchard. Now only two trees are left, the nameless tree just pruned, and Liberty, disease resistant apple that gave us a good crop last year. Over the past few years we have gradually taken down the other trees that limped along after being severely damaged by horses the year we rented our house while we were in Beijing.


Yesterday it dawned on me that instead of moving my little flats of greens in and out of the house every day, I could move them into my makeshift coldframe. It is not very lovely, but it is functional. I checked the plants this morning and they came through the night in good shape. Then I closed them up again. Lots of wind this morning.

Monday Record – Leafing Out All Over

Van Sion Daffs

Shoots are up, plants are leafing out. It is time to start keeping the Monday Record. The only bloom in the garden are these Van Sion daffodils that are growing against a stone wall – in back of the Buckland Rose. I thought I had dug out all the bulbs before I planted the rose here, but I was wrong. I wrote about how I identified this daffodil here. One reader said these were the ugliest daff he knew. I think they are a little unusual and I love how early they are on our hill.

Daffodil shoots

All the other daffodils are coming up in the lawn, but no flower buds are visible.

'Miss Willmott' lilac budding

Amazingly, my white ‘Miss Willmott’ lilac is not only leafing out, the flower buds are visible. None of the other lilacs are this advanced.

'Boule de Neige' rhododendron buds

The only other buds I can find are on the rhodies. I better go out and spray with Deer Off or the deer will have a nice snack and I will have no bloom.

Pussy willow catkins

There is no foliage on the pussy willow, only fat yellow catkins forming.


Various herbs are coming up in the Herb Bed in front of the house, but only the chives are of harvestable size.

'The Fairy' foliage

Many of the roses are leafing out. They show up best, photographically, on ‘The Fairy’.

Tree peony foliage

The three tree peonies show a lot of damage, but they have not given up. I will take extra care after I prune out all the dead wood.

Daylily foliage

I have lots of daylilies and they can always be counted on for early leafing out.

Lady's Mantle

Finally, there is alchemilla, Lady’s Mantle, in all their dewy glory. After a brief taste of summer, we are back to a slow cool spring. For the moment.

Resolutions for a New Spring

Van Sion Daffodils March 25, 2012

Yesterday my earliest daffodils began to bloom – just in time for temperatures to plunge from their unseasonable summer highs.  Nothing is certain in a garden. How many times do we have to relearn this lesson?  The following takes me back a couple of weeks  – before we were all boldly planting seeds.

Beginning tomorrow days will be brighter longer. The sun will not set until 6:46 pm. It will seem like spring has arrived – even though we have another ten days before the official announcement. For me this seems like the beginning of a new year and my brain is buzzing with new plans and new projects all of which have a more than a passing resemblance to New Year’s Resolutions.

High-Impact Low-Carbon Gardening

Spurring me on to these resolutions are two new books. The first, High-Impact Low-Carbon Gardening, 1001 Ways to Garden Sustainably by Alice Bowe (Timber Press $24.95) has about the longest subtitle I have ever seen Garden Strategies for the preservation of the planet; The most fuel efficient garden practices; Plants for the changing climate; Design for disassembly; New ways to compost; The safest pest control. The book hardly needs an index, but in fact, an excellent index makes it easy to look up specific plants, techniques and best practices. A full glossary with information and many resources is included.

Bowe’s book is packed with information, but it is all readable and most of it seems eminently doable although not many of us will launch ourselves into the Jean Pain method of turning compost into a methane energy supply. The ideas and techniques in High-Impact, Low-Carbon Gardening will capture carbon emissions, moderate the urban climate, promote health and reduce energy consumption. That all ‘translates into less work and expense for us,” Bowe writes.

There is no way to summarize the 1001 ideas so I will tell you a couple of the new things I learned. I had never heard of the Japanese method of Bokashi composting, which is a fermentation process that requires a small bin and bokashi bran which is available online, if not locally. In two to four weeks the bin of bokashi is ready to use.

I also learned about bimodal plants. These are plants that can take flood or drought – although they might prefer one or the other. Storm and drought tolerant plants include sugar maples, amelanchier, oakleaf hydrangeas, rugosa roses, primroses, baptisia, and columbine, but there are many others. It seems that these days we barely know what season we are in, or whether it is flood or drought that we need to be preparing for.

There are engaging chapters about landscape design, for beauty in every season, and for function, gardens that will attract pollinators and other wildlife to the garden. Bowe adds that the sustainable garden includes food for the gardener. Even a tiny garden can include a few food plants that offer pleasure and nutrition in equal measure.

Year Round Vegetable Gardener

My second inspirer of resolution is Nikki Jabbour’s book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year No Matter Where You Live (Storey Publishing $19.95). Jabbour lives in Nova Scotia and the cover photo shows her collecting a generous harvest of lettuces, scallions and carrots from a cold frame in the snow.

Gardening year round means beginning very early in the spring by using low hoop tunnels and coldframes. Early and late gardening also means becoming familiar with cold hardy vegetables, most of which I have heard of, but some I have never tried. This year I resolve to plant some mache. About half the book is given over to an A (arugula) to W (winter squash) listing of hardy vegetables, how to plant and handle them.

Mache, also known as corn salad, can be planted as soon as you can work the soil. It needs cool soil and moisture to germinate which it will do in about 2 weeks. Spring planting will give you early salad. It can also be planted again in August through October for delicious winter salads.

Mache is familiar and popular in Europe. If I want to choose a North American early salad green I can plant claytonia, otherwise known as miner’s lettuce – even though the flavor is not lettucy. California gold rush miners found it very nutritious because it is a good  source of vitamin C.

Claytonia rosettes can be picked whole when the plants are young, or as they mature, you can just pick off the leaves you want and the plant will continue to grow. It also produces edible flowers.

Both of these greens need consistent watering. While we all want to conserve water there is no way around the fact that vegetable gardens need regular watering, especially when they are just beginning to grow. Having a water source near a vegetable garden is vital.

Jabbour gives vital information about siting and building the cold frames, low hoop tunnels and high hoop tunnels as well as using floating row covers that will extend your garden season in spring and fall. I like this new angle on intensive gardening getting more produce out of limited space and for a longer season.

There seems to be more and more interest in growing at least a few vegetables. Possibly because of the economy, or because of concerns about good health, or concern about the cost of food miles, or because freshly picked produce just tastes so good. No matter. Both of these books will get you resolving to eat more of your own vegetables over a long season in efficient ways that require less work and less money.

I will let you know how well I keep my resolutions.

Between the Rows   March 10, 2012


Henhouse #6

There was nothing photogenic about our chores this glorious autumn weekend – mowing, weeding, cutting back – so I’ll concentrate on an exploration of another Heath henhouse.  Joey built, overbuilt he said, this 10×12 foot henhouse for his ten hens. You can see he has a lot of help! He read a lot and looked at a lot of henhouses, and talked to a lot of people before he built his. The forethought shows. His luck shows too. He found the little stairway at the town dump. He said it is attached to the henhouse with only three or  four screws.  The building itself is built on skids, much like Bob’s, which I wrote about here. Joey said he built it on skids because he wasn’t sure where he wanted to put it permanently.

Joey wanted the children to be able to collect the eggs without going into the chicken space so he set aside this part of the chicken house for storage and copied Sheila’s system which I wrote about here.

The front of the egg boxes looks like a cabinet with a slanted top that keeps the chickens from roosting on it. The chickens enter this space from the opening on the left.

The flat part of the cabinet can be lifted and hooked up to make it easy to clean the egg boxes. The row of boxes is not nailed down. The row can be removed entirely making it very easy to shake out and clean. This is a great idea.

Joey thought a lot about the cleaning out process. This clean out door with a latch near the floor on the inside opens  to a door on the outside.

The reason for the second door is too keep out critters who have been known to open latches.  When this door opens all any critter will see is a blank wall.  On clean out day, Joey is outside with the cart and the kids sweep out all the bedding. They do a terrific job, Joey said. He then vacuums out all the cobwebs and they all put down more shavings.

One of the most unique elements of Joey’s henhouse, and one I am  going to add to mine, is this oystershell dispenser. It is made of two lengths of PVC pipe with a cut back PVC elbow on the end and fastened to the wall with ordinary brackets. He just pours crushed oyster shell into the pipe and the chickens take it as they wish. And Joey says they really like it and it goes very fast. He uses these in the winter when the chickens do not get the necessary grit from pecking around in the  soil. The oystershell provides grit all winter long, in addition to providing calcium for strong eggshells.

Fortunately Joey has a good crew of chicken wranglers. Only one more henhouse in my series. Keep watching.

Festival of the Hills – A Crop of Authors

The Authors Tent

The Conway Festival of the Hills is a grand autumnal event in our region. This year I got to share tent space with other authors like Marie Betts Bartlett (left in blue) who brought her book The (true) Story of The Little Yellow Trolley Car and Heidi Stemple (right oogling the baby. Heidi is the daughter of and co-author with Jane Yolen of many books, true, mysterious and delicious.  In the center is Jessica, owner of The World Eye Bookstore who was running the cash register.

David Costello, author and illustrator

David Costello was at the table too, with his new book Little Pig, and his ink and brush. Because of the constant rain we did have a few quieter moments which gave David time to make special drawings, in consultation with some younger readers. This area is so rich in fine authors and illustrators that a whole new roster took the afternoon signing session: Holly Hobbie, John Crowley, Peter Jeswald, and editor of Morning Song, Susan Todd.

Holly Hobbie is well known for her Toot and Puddle series of books, but I love her new books about Fanny. John and Peter write for adults. Crowley takes us to worlds fantastic and real in his novels, while Jeswald is a good man to have a round the house and garden with non-fiction books from Taunton Press and Storey Publishing.

Susan Todd, along with Carol Purington, edited the poetry anthology Morning Song: Poems for New Parents that I wrote about here.

The Little Yellow Trolley Car

I’ve even given a copy of this to my great-granddaughter Bella so she’ll know a little piece of our local history. The book is a delight.

I Can Help

I bought this for my younger great granddaughter, Lola, because even at two she must be learning that there are ways she can help.

Barefoot Book of Dance Stories

I got this signed for Bella but I might wait a year or two before giving it to her. She is always twirling and dancing, but the stories of other cultures and their dances might be even more entrancing for a slightly older girl.

Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep

This is a charming bedtime book with whimsical illustrations of all kinds of animals that hibernate in winter.

I was thrilled that so many people came to have books signed for their children, making sure we knew that they were already reading to them, every day, even if they were only three months old. That is the perfect time to begin, and contemplate years of happy Reading Aloud.

Crops of writers help us grow crops of readers. Very important.

Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

In yesterday’s NY Times Mark Bittman asked the question, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? Can you really feed a family for less at McDonalds than at your own table filled with home cooked food.  In spite of the protestations that a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli and other such, the answer is NO!  A meal for a family of four at McDonald’s will come to between $23 and $28.  How many groceries can you buy for that amount? Bittman lays out his plan, and his answer to all the objections about the difficulty of cooking a healthy meal at home. One important point he makes is that the alternative to a McDonald’s meal is not an organic farmer’s market meal. It is simply a trip to the supermarket. I”d like to add that supermarkets often have good sales.

I was happy to be a part of the Food Fest at the Charlemont Federated Church this summer. Various cooks chose a topic, beans, eggs, chicken, and set up a table with assorted dishes.  I chose the chicken table and talked about taking a chicken from the roasting pan, and then then through other iterations in my famous chicken salad with Moroccan spices to chicken with pasta and peanut sauce and even chicken soup.  Recipes complete with nutritional information were available, as well as conversations with excellent cooks. Although we couldn’t eat the samples on the tables (health rules) samples from the church kitchen were passed around all day.

There were cooking demonstrations. I filled in at the last minute to make corn chowder – and ruined it when the top fell off the salt shaker and over over salted the chowder. People got the idea though. Jason Velasquez of Pen and Plow Farm demonstrated making potato pancakes, a great dish in many cuisines.

His potato pancakes were perfect and delicious. We all got a taste.

The goal of the program was to remind us all that a good, economical, nutritious home cooked meal does not need to take hours and certainly doesn’t take more money that a trip to McDonald’s. We are all of a mind with Mark Bittman, and our program proved unequivocally that Junk Food is Not Really Cheaper.