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Torrential Rainfall, Backyard Flood, Watery Paths

torrential rainfall

Rain gauge measures torrential rainfall

The torrential rainfall began late in the day. It was not constant, but when we woke up this morning the rain gauge very clearly said another 2 and 3/4 inches of rain had fallen. There has never been a summer quite like this with temperatures in the 90s and many heavy rainfalls.

Results of torrential rainfalls

Results of torrential rainfalls

This photo shows the ankle deep water in the widest path to the back of the garden and the shed. The very large shrub in  the middle of the photo is a red twig dogwood and it has thrived in the rains. The Lindera benzoil, planted to attract Swallowtail butterflies, does not appear to have minded the rain too much. Neither has the raspberry patch just beyond the dogwood, although I will say the crop has been limited, partly because the berries rot so quickly with all the wet.

Central watery path

Central watery path

I walked through this watery path in my bare feet. Blue jeans rolled up. Last weekend we took friends on a tour of the garden. Everyone had to wear boots, or go barefoot. We were walking in last week’s torrential rainfall that day.

Another watery path

Another watery path

Can you tell I am trying to show you the full force of the effect of rain in my garden?

Hose guards

Hose guards are partially submerged

My homemade wine bottle hose guards are well submerged.  Because we knew the back yard was wet when we bought the house, we did create raised beds with yards and yards of compost, compo-soil and compo-mulch from our wonderful nearby Martin’s Compost Farm. Now when we have torrential rains the planting beds look like islands in a lake.

Southwest corner of the garden

The southwest  corner of the garden is probably the wettest part of the garden. The winding gravel path was intended to help handle rainfall. It helps, but it does not eliminate standing water as you can see. The water on the left side of the photo continues past the swamp pinks, past the raspberry patch and the redtwig dogwood. Which you have already seen.

Path and shed

Garden shed and reflections

We love our little garden shed. Aren’t the reflections in the ‘lake’ pretty?

We knew we were getting a wet garden when we bought our house. We planned accordingly. Here is a list of water tolerant – and sometimes water-loving – plants we chose.

Water-loving: Red twig dogwood, yellow twig dogwood, osier dogwood, pagoda dogwood, summersweetwinterberry,  dappled willow, elderberry,  buttonbush, Japanese primroses, river birch

Water tolerant: Daylilies, turtlehead, Siberian irises, Culver’s root,  bog rosemary, cardinal flowermeadow rueobedient plant, Joe Pye weed.

It was fortunate we knew this was a wet site, with an underground river and heavy clay soil. Happily there are lots of beautiful water loving plants to fill a wet garden.

When I Got Home . . .

Our family tree

I found that terrific windstorms yesterday had knocked over one of our linden trees, Tilia cordata. In 1991 we invited our three daughters and three granddaughters to visit on Memorial Day to each plant a linden tree along the pasture fence to the west of the house. Tracy was almost 10, Tricia was 5 and Caitlin was only 13 months, but they all got their pencil sized linden trees in the ground.  However, time brings change, not all of it good.

Linden trunk

When I left for Norwalk on Sunday, three of those trees were still standing; the other three had come down at different times over the years. In fact the two trees that now remain, at the beginning and end of the row were both damaged, one by a plow and one by insect damage, but both have coppiced, which is to say that new shoots have grown out of the trunk.  They look more like bushes now than trees.

I checked the trunk  of the newly fallen tree which broke off right at ground level. The wood is splintered but it is not rotten.  The winds were described as ‘wind shear’ and ‘mezzo-cyclones’ .  Whatever they were, the winds  came from the north, as usual, and were strong enough to knock the tree down right at the soil level.

Lindens, also called basswood, or lime trees have interesting uses. Basswood is light and good for carving. For those who enjoy flowery or herb teas, ‘lime flower’ tea is really made with the blossoms of linden trees.

Caitlin's many trunked tree

Lindens are beautiful trees, with wondrously fragrant flowers. Unfortunately they seem not be be ideal trees for Heath.  Still, Caitlin’s tree, as well as her mother’s, are healthy in their shrubby shape for the moment.

Good things happened while I was away, too.  The white lilacs and the Sargent crab have begun to bloom. Sitka and Alchemyst roses were delivered as were 10 black raspberries and three new blueberries from Nourse Farm.  My husband heeled them in and tomorrow I will be in the  garden all day planting and watering. Probably weeding, too.

Dahlia Season – Blooming Friday

Katarina at Roses and Stuff invites us all to share what is in bloom on Blooming Fridays.  How many more will there be before the cold shuts down the outdoor show?

I’m  sure I have the name of this dahlia somewhere.  The cosmos are from Renee’s Garden seeds.

Foxy Lady has already made her way into bouquets.

Patty Cake has just begun blooming.

This nameless hydrangea has been blooming for over a month.

I love Red! Especially scarlet zinnias.

Crimson Stargazer lilies lean up against the burgundy cotinus. I never let the ‘smokes’ form.

The surprise rose bloom was this Purinton pink rambler. A sizeable root was given to me earlier this summer. It not only survived the transplanting, it is blooming!  I can’t wait until next summer.  Other roses are still blooming (in some measure) too: Double Red Knockouts; Meideland landscape roses in red, and white; Applejack; the new Pink Grootendorst; Corylus and Thomas Affleck.

Whither My Wisteria

My wisteria 2006

My wisteria 2006

My wisteria has gone wild. Tendrils are twisting everywhere. New shoots are coming up everywhere. The wisteria’s genetic vitality has never been so vigorous. I am blaming it all on the cool and rainy summer.

            My history with this wisteria is long and varied. 

            During our first year in China we saw many beautiful wisterias with their graceful pendant flowers blooming everywhere from the long gorgeous pergola in Purple Bamboo Park, to humble trellises in dusty alleys, to delicate watercolor scrolls. When we got home I insisted that we plant a wisteria.

            I ordered a wisteria sinensis in the spring of 1990. The particular variety name is long gone. We did not plant it immediately because although we had built a piazza or patio right in front of the house, the planned arbor was not yet in place.

            I planted the wisteria in a large flower pot and tended it lovingly but the arbor was not completed until August which meant the proper planting was long delayed..          

         Unfortunately I had gotten it into my head that wisteria did not need good rich soil, so I did nothing to improve the soil.  Over the years the wisteria survived, but it did not thrive. Finally my husband gave it an ultimatum. It had to reach the top of the arbor by 2000 – or it was going to be ripped out.  We not only wanted the romance of the flowers and a souvenir our Chinese sojourn, we wanted shade over the piazza and we were not getting it.

            So it was that I learned I should always check any ideas ‘that had gotten into my head.’  In fact wisteria likes good well drained soil.  I also learned that it is a heavy drinker.  Like roses, wisteria welcomes lots of water, especially in the spring.  I started adding heaps of compost every spring, and watering heavily.  By the year 2000 it just started spreading over the top of the arbor.

            Though it finally thrived and covered the arbor beautifully giving us cooling shade outside – and inside – the house, it did not bloom. This was a disappointment, but I had been questioned by so many people about their non-blooming wisterias, and had seen the non-blooming wisteria on the Bridge of Flowers that I had pretty much resigned myself to having a non-bloomer.

            I did what I could, root pruning, fertilizing and watering, but to no avail until 2006.

             It bloomed and bloomed and filled the air with subtle fragrance. I felt as though I were living in a Chinese watercolor. I’d wander outside several times a day just to sit under it, or walk away to admire at it.  I was in heaven.

            That winter was a killer, almost literally.

            When spring came a huge percentage of the wisteria was dead. We pruned out what we could but the recovery has been slow.  Even in 2008 there was little foliage over the top of the arbor. Our lovely shade was gone. I had enjoyed it outside, and even inside where the quality of light was softened.

            This year we have had odd sporadic bloom, but I am happy to report that more half the arbor is covered and the vigorous growth continues.

            Because I was not aware of many wisterias growing in our area, and so many people complained about it not blooming, I assumed it was almost too tender for our harsh climate. I was wrong.  Wisterias are strong growers.  In the south they can be dangerously vigorous.  Even in Heath I am constantly cutting back runners that are sent out from the roots. 

            Because our arbor is so high it is difficult to prune properly, but we do make an annual climb up to keep shoots from slipping underneath our metal roof. A proper annual pruning will encourage good bloom.

            Wisterias can also be trained as standards by supporting a main vine to the desired height and then pruning it to keep that height.  Side shoots also need to be pruned away.  The vine will eventually be self-supporting and should bloom heavily.

            Specialty nurseries like Bloom River  (, Greer Gardens ( , and Rare Find Nursery  (, offer a wide range of wisteria varieties, all of which need full sun and fertile, well drained soil.

            Wisteria macrostachya ‘Blue Moon’ is very hardy (to –40 degrees) and is said to bloom two or even three times a year. It is a vigorous grower.

            For those who might prefer something less vigorous there is W. frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ which grows much more slowly than Chinese and Japanese wisterias. It will bloom on new wood which means it will also bloom sporadically throughout the summer as well as in April and May. The controlled vigor makes it a good choice for smaller spaces.

            While my wisteria has occasionally fulfilled my fantasies, I am very aware that for some people a full belly is a fantasy.  I can help, and so can you. The Belly Bus food drive, sponsored by the Franklin County Hunger Task Force, through the joint efforts of the Franklin Area Survival Center, the Greenfield Salvation Army Chapel, the Franklin County Community Meals Program and Community Action’s Center for Self Reliance Food Pantry, will be collecting non-perishable food at the Greenfield town Common on Friday, August 14 from 3-5 pm.  The goal is to collect 6,000 pounds of food – and some cash too.  Bring your food contribution or a check ( or both) to the Common and help our neighbors who are struggling in these hard times.


August 8, 2009   Between the Rows

Eyes to See

Creating good plant combinations and beautiful color pairings is not my forte.  Obviously I don’t even note such things in my garden because today, I suddenly realized that I had this great combo, a clump of crimson bee balm next to a clump of Black Dragon lilies.  They are perfect together and I wasn’t even trying.

Bee Balm – ABC Wednesday

B is for Bee Balm, otherwise known as Bergamot and Oswego Tea is more properly known as Mondarda didyma. It has been used  as a tea for centuries and is still found in herbal tea blends, and other flowery tea blends such as Earl Grey.

The Shakers grew bee balm commercially because of its many uses as a tea and culinary herb. It also was used medicinally for colds and sore throats. It is the leaves that are used. A good pruning after bloom will usually generate a second autumnal bloom.

The leaves can be used fresh for tea, or harvested and dried for two or three days, out of the sun, and then stored.

Early in my friendship with Elsa Bakalar who lived and gardened in Heath, we collaborated on an article for Horticulture Magazine about color in the garden.  Shades of color are always difficult todescribe and define. Elsa expressed her frustration with catalog descriptions and complained that using the word red was not useful. “I need to know what kind of red a flower will be if I am going to make a useful garden plan. To me, scarlet is the color of a gurardsman’s tunic and crimson is the color of Victorian draperies. Bee balm gives a perfect example.

Crimson bee balm

Crimson bee balm

This is my crimson bee balm, a rich royal red with a touch of blue.

Scarlet bee balm

Scarlet bee balm

I cannot say that my other bee balm is ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ or ‘Colrain Red’ but it is a light bright red. “Just think of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, tall dashing men in their brilliant tunics.”

Elsa is no longer gardening, although she is still willing to give some pretty sharp opinions. My bee balm continutes to remind me of beautiful days in the garden with Elsa and being inspired to grow flowers for the first time.

Logon for more Bs in this the 5th round of ABC Wednesday.  Thank you Mrs. Nesbitt.

History of the Rose Walk



We moved from Manhattan to the End of the Road with our three daughters the day after Thanksgiving in 1979. Winter arrived in Heath that night.

            It was a long cold Heath winter in our uninsulated house. We spent a lot of time dreaming and planning for the spring when we could be warm – and make a garden. After having just read  Katherine White’s book, Onward and Upward in the Garden I was determined to have hardy, romantic old fashioned roses as well as vegetables.

            I began on May  8 by planting Passionate Nymph’s Thigh next to the front door. She blooms there still in spite of the ice falling off the roof and right onto her for nearly 30 years. Two other roses died so quickly I’m not sure where they were planted, but the Comtesse de Murinais bloomed in pale splendor in what was the beginning of the Rose Walk before she succumbed.

            In 1981 I planted Applejack at the top of the drive and it still greets visitors to the End of the Road.  Alchemist didn’t make it through the winter.

That’s the way it has gone over the years. If I compare all the roses I have ever planted with the roses that are blooming this year, I have to admit to losing almost half.  I would also estimate that half those fatalities are due to poor planting. I think I did not plant the failures deeply enough.  The other fatalities are caused by the tenderness of the rose, or a mystery. I don’t know why I cannot keep the beautiful Roserie de l’Hay rugosa alive. It is tough, but not in my garden.

            In 1987, on Midsummer’s Eve, we held our first Annual Rose Viewing. Of the roses blooming that day Camaieux, Constance Spry, Common moss rose, Amiga Mia, Maytime, Hawkeye Belle, and Prairie Star are all the haziest memory. However, daughter Kate walked the Rose Walk with me, sighed, and said ‘This is where I want to be married.’ Kate was only 23 at the time, with no serious romance on hand so I paid little attention.

            We added three or four roses each year, including what I have come to call my Farmgirls, roses that I have been given by neighbors in town. Terri Pettingill even brought me roses from Maine from her mother’s house.

            In 1990, when we had just returned from a year in Beijing, we worked to put the Rose Walk in order after a year of neglect. Visitors to the Rose Viewing had to be even more forgiving of weeds than usual.

            Then on the Fourth of July, after an incredibly hot and humid day, Henry and I were awakened at 2 in the morning by three house-shaking  claps of thunder. Henry said, “Do you smell ozone?” 

            I sniffed and said, “No, I smell smoke.”

            Henry dashed to the window and saw that the old barn across from the house had been hit by lightning and was on fire.

            The phone line was also knocked out by the lightning so Henry drove down to our neighbor’s house blaring the horn all the way to call the volunteer fire department. The first truck was there in only 10 minutes and kept our house from burning down.

            Fortunately we had no livestock in the barn, and nothing of major importance was lost. However several of the roses were so damaged by the heat of the fire that they did not recover.

 What we gained was the beginning of the Sunken Garden, built inside the barn’s three stone foundation walls.

            By 1994 Kate announced that I better start special preparations on the Rose Walk. Instead of a Rose Viewing she wanted a Rose wedding.

            The whole family worked to make the gardens and the house look their best. We planted David Austin roses in Sunken Garden thinking they would be protected from the wind. They looked promising on the wedding day; all but Felicite Parmentier and Fantin Latour, non-Austins, are gone.

            Kate was confident that an outdoor wedding would be safe because it had never rained on the Rose Viewing. We did think a tent was the better part of valor, but the week before the wedding was so rainy that the tent couldn’t be put up until Thursday, and even then it was misting.

            On Saturday morning the sky was black and threatening. But no rain, Until the bride stepped inside the tent. The skies opened.

            Then a miracle. As Kate and Greg prepared to say their vows the rain stopped and a brilliant sun came out, spangling the flowery but dripping wedding arch with diamonds. Along with the minister they stepped out into the sunshine to promise love and honor.

            Breezes blew mist across our hill and although people got a bit damp admiring the roses, it was as romantic a landscape as any bride could have wished.

            The following day, the last Sunday in June when the Rose Viewing would have been held, was beautiful. Sunny, dry, warm and breezy.  Our neighbors came over to help us eat the wedding leftovers and enjoy a private viewing. No rain. As usual.

            There are more stories and you are invited to join us in stopping to smell the roses at the 2009 Annual Rose Viewing on June 28 from 1-4 pm.  Cookies and lemonade will be served in the Cottage Ornee.

            Come up 8A North from Charlemont for about 4.7 miles. When you get just past the Berkshire Gold Maple syrup stand look for a sign on the left pointing towards the roses. The weather man predicts sun.   ###



             June 27, 2009

Monday Bloom Day

Happily for me my Monday Report coincides with Bloom Day hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens Be sure and visit there.  This is an exciting time because the roses are just starting to bloom in my garden. They loved all the rain last week.

Rosa glauca
Rosa glauca

Even though the roses on Rosa glauca (formerly known as Rosa rubrifolia) are tiny and inconsequential, this is the rose that gets the WOWs at the Annual Rose Viewing.  The bush is a graceful vase shape, at least 9 feet tall and the foliage, bluish-reddish, is a stunning show stopper. It is one of the first roses I planted in 1984 and never fails to survive, thrive and delight.

Belle Poitvine

Belle Poitvine

The rugosas are the first roses to bloom. Belle Poitvine is not only double she is sweetly fragrant.  I visited a garden yesterday with two Belle Poitvines, much larger than mine, and not as old.  My usual excuse is that I live in Heath where it is cold!  But it probably doesn’t help that this rose is growing in a fair amount of shade of a linden tree.
Apart rugosa

Apart rugosa

Apart is probably my favorite rugosa. It is so double and so fragrant. The bush took a real beating this winter. Lots of winter kill, but new shoots are coming.


Leda is another rugosa with a surprising flower. The tiny buds seem to promise a brilliant red flower, but the small tightly furled blossoms are white, edged with red.  I was assured in one of my early Bloom Day posts (when not much was happening) that Buds Count. Hence this photo.  Very few blossoms will be around to celebrate July’s Bloom Day.
Other rugosas in my collection that have open flowers today are: Dash’s Dart, Mrs. Doreen Pike, Mount Blanc, Blanc Double de Coubert, Scabrosa, and the low Corylus. By the time we have our Annual Rose Viewing on the last Sunday in June I’ll have a special page up for a virtual tour.
The Fairy

The Fairy

The polyantha The Fairy is a dependable rose. She begins blooming early and is one of the few roses in my garden who will be in bloom all summer.
Harrison's Yellow


The first Harrison’s Yellow I planted died. So did the second, I thought.  By the time I planted the third, the second sent up new shoots. I now have two of these spiny yellow bloomers that I hope will become lush clumps.
Other roses starting to bloom are the ancient Apothecary Rose, and the new Double Red Knockout.
The last of my lilacs is the pink Miss Canada, blooming behind a large clump of the blue flags that every garden in Heath enjoys.  Once I was thinning a clump and threw the extras onto the side of the road, where they  continue to bloom.  I must have done the same with another thinned clump because they are blooming in the field near our brush pile.
A white iris was also blooming here at the End of the Road when we  bought our house. This clump lives around an amazing 30 foot deep stone lined dug well behind our house, sharing blooming space with large clumps of comfrey, and the weedy bladder campion and galium.  All here before we were.
The early peonies start to bloom at the same time as the rugosas. Many of the peonies will still be in full bloom at the Annual Rose Viewing.
I love this old pink heuchera which I am encouraging as a ground cover.  I also have a dark foliaged heuchera with white flowers, but it is not a favorite. It will bloom later.
Other bloomers this June 15: a viburnam, highbush cranberry; Joan Elliot campanula; geraniums; cheddar pinks; an undistinguished salvia;  purple columbine; anemone canadensis; and alchemilla, lady’s mantle.  My pots are filled with pelargoniums, verbena and Million Bells. Nothing exotic, but appropriate for an old farmhouse I think.
Of course, at this time of year the surrounding fields, and even the lawn are filled with wild flowers: daisies, buttercups, red and yellow hawkweeds, clover, summer asters, bladder campion and wild sweet william. The whole world seems in bloom.

All Kinds of Peonies

Guan Yin Mian

Guan Yin Mian


            I walked through the garden with my Sunday morning coffee amazed and delighted to see that the fat pink buds of my Guan Yin Mian tree peony had opened.

            Guan Yin is the name of the Bodhisattva (or goddess) of Compassion.  The term bodhisattva is not much used in the west. It means those who have chosen to remain in the world even though they have enough merit to reach nirvana. Guan Yin is almost always shown with a little bottle containing the dew of compassion, sprinkling it upon those in need – which is all of us at one time or another. She has other magic tools as well including a brush to brush away all our mental distractions and a pill that will cure just about anything.

I planted Guan Yin Mian, Guan Yin’s Face, about five years ago. The journal that contains the date is currently misplaced. It seems perfectly apt that this flower with its silken pink petals surrounding a golden crown protecting a crimson heart should be seen to resemble the face of the bodhisattva of compassion.

Tree peonies are native to China where they have grown for three thousand years. Unlike herbaceous or garden peonies which most of us are familiar with, tree peonies do not die down to the ground each year. They are more like a small shrub and can grow to five feet tall with a wide spread and carry dozens of gorgeous fragile looking blooms while herbaceous peonies are still in tight bud.

Although they look fragile, tree peonies, and other peonies, are very tough and survive our Massachusetts winters with little trouble.

It was after our time in China that I became aware of tree peonies, but because they are more expensive it took me a while to acquire four. I have lost the names of two, but there is Guan Yin Mian and her neighboring pink Japanese sister, Shou Hong, a red, and a white. Nowadays tree peonies will often cost between $50 to $100.

Aside from blooming earlier and so much more extravagantly when they are mature, an important difference between tree peonies and other garden peonies is that they need to be planted more deeply. The roots should be four inches below the soil surface.  The main reason people complain about non-blooming peonies is because they are planted too deeply.  Garden peonies must be planted no more than an inch or so below the surface if they are to bloom.

Many of my garden peonies are the type I remember from my grandmother’s garden in Vermont. Raspberry Sundae is typical of the big fragrant double pink blooms that reminded me of ballerina tutus when I was a child.

One drawback of those old varieties is that the blossoms are very heavy, especially in the rain, and the stems are not terribly strong. There are now new hybrids that don’t bloom as heavily, but the stems are stronger so they don’t need staking.

Coral Charm is the name of one of these new hybrids. It has a beautiful sunny coral color which would never have been possible in the 1940s. It received the American Peony Society Gold Medal in 1986. The only thing it lacks is fragrance.

Nowadays these garden peonies come in a wide range of colors from creamy whites, to pinks, reds, and even a few yellow like Prairie Moon which has soft yellow petals surrounding a circle of golden petaloides.

A more recent development in peonies is the crossing of a garden peony with a tree peony by Mr. Toichi Itoh in 1948.  These Intersectional peonies, often called Itoh peonies, die back like garden peonies but they have the attractive leaf form of the tree peony and have a wider range of colors like shades of yellow, peach and coral. They are also shorter than tree peonies. Bartzella, a popular Itoh peony, is between three and four feet tall with fragrant semi-double yellow flowers.  Bartzella costs about $100 because this type of peony is still in such short supply. Others can cost more.

In the olden days (25 years ago when I planted my first peony) it was extremely rare to see peonies of any sort offered for sale in the spring. Fall is the traditional time for dividing and planting peonies.

Now I see potted peonies for sale at most nurseries, but they are not always marked with much information beyond color.  A quick trip through a peony nursery catalog or website will show you how inadequate this is.

The peony family is large, with a variety of size, small and tall, of form from the elegant singles to lush bombs, and color from creamy whites, luminous pale pinks to rich reds, and blooming seasons from May into July. There are varieties like tall white Festiva Maxima that has been around for 150 years costing $16  and Hillary, a new semi-double pink Intersectional for $150.

 I have a peony bed with about 30 garden peonies, many of which will still be in bloom at the Annual Rose Viewing on June 28, but I have begun a wish list of other peonies. Where will I plant them? I’m not sure, but I know by fall planting season I will have figured it out.


For online information about all peony varieties logon to Specialty nurseries:;; 


As a former librarian and plant lover I want to remind everyone about the plant sale at the Tilton Library in South Deerfield today, May 30 from 9am to noon. Help your garden; help the library.


May 30, 2009

Ahead of Schedule

I measure the march toward spring by the arrival of the first dandelion in my ‘flowery mead’ which some call The Lawn. Yesterday, the first dandelion showed up, at least a week earlier than usual. This morning it has been joined by a host of sunny compatriots. I hope the five days of 80 plus temperatures haven’t lulled us into a fatal spring.

Along with the dandelions, these violets seemed to pop up and bloom over night in the sand next to the house where we are planning to put more pavers. And witch grass. Of course. Who could call such beauty a weed? There are more violets, white and purple in the flowery mead. They indicate that my soil is acid. I knew that.