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Earth Day – April 22, 2014

 

Sarah Hollister's potatoes

Sarah Hollister’s potatoes

How can we celebrate Earth Day every day? We can grow a garden. Forget the lawn; grow veggies and herbs and berries, trees and flowers. Gardens, ornamental and edible can feed lots of pollinators and other bugs that need different kinds of foliage to nibble on, so that they can be eaten by birds and other wild creatures. Plants are pretty low on the food chain so that makes them especially important.

Edible plants feed us healthy veggies that didn’t put migrant workers at risk, and don’t cost gallons of gas to make their way to us.

You don’t even need a yard to grow plants. Container gardening is all the rage. Lots of vegetable varieties are now made especially for containers. Renee’s Garden is just one company that offers a long list of veggies and herbs that will thrive in containers.

Sarah Hollister's cucumber trellis

Sarah Hollister’s cucumber trellis

Greenfield has its new Sustainable Master Plan and one of its goals is to encourage more home gardening. If you haven’t gardened before start small. What do you like to eat? Fresh mixed green salads, with vine ripened tomatoes? Plant a little salad garden.

Are you always buying bunches of parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme? Plant a small herb bed and save lots of money over the summer and fall.  Add a few shallots and save even more money.

The library has a wide assortment of books for the novice garden for some armchair how-to instruction. Rodale has a great list of practical gardening books from Lasagna Gardening: A new layering system for bountiful gardens, no digging, no tilling, no weeding by Patricia Lanza; Michelle Owen’s Grow the Good Life: Why a vegetable garden will make you healthy, wealthy and wise; and Rodale’ Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening which will be useful as long as you live.

Get out and play in the dirt. The whole family can have a good time.

Sarah Hollister's blueberries

Sarah Hollister’s blueberries

These photos and many more were taken at the Hollister place last summer. My garden is not so neat, but it is still a lot of fun. I am  going to have to make sure to get some photos of container gardens before next Earth Day.

Epimediums and Hellebores Thrive in Dry Shade

Epimedium ‘Rubrum’

Dry shade is a challenge in the garden, but epimediums and hellebores, two very different plants, both turn dry shade into an opportunity. For years I admired epimediums in other gardens, always asking the name of the beautiful low plant with heart shaped leaves. Sometimes I got no answer, but even when I did I was incapable of remembering the word epimedium. I finally saw a pot of this plant at the Blue Meadow nursery in Montague and, out of the several varieties there, each with a nice little name tag, I bought Epimedium ‘Rubrum.’ I chose this because it was listed as the most hardy. Even then I was afraid Heath was too cold, but a friend who was working there that day just shrugged and told me to give it a try.

“Give it a try,” is always good advice. A plant in a pot is not much of a financial investment, and we all must learn to endure disappointments and failed experiments if we are to have a happy life.

Epimedium ‘Rubrum’ has thrived in my garden, planted beneath a ginkgo tree which provides shade for part of the day. I love the heart-shaped green leaves with their reddish border. The tiny pink flowers were a bit of a surprise. I had never actually seen an epimedium in early spring when it blooms. The delicate little flowers are best seen at eye level which means not only down on hands and knees, but maybe even down on your stomach, chin in hands, to admire them at leisure.

I have given away bits of E. ‘Rubrum’ to friends, assuring them that this easy care plant will increase at a stately rate. It is not invasive. It is a native ofAsia, but adapted to a well behaved life in Zones 3 to 9, depending on the variety. I later learned that there are some very hardy varieties.

Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’

And there is variety. I bought my second epimedium, E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum,’ at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale a couple of years ago. The yellow flowers at the end of wiry stems are slightly larger so it is easier to see why epimediums are sometimes called bishop’s hats and fairy wings. It is less easy to see how anyone came to call it horny goat weed or rowdy lamb herb. Perhaps goats and lambs find it intoxicating, but I don’t know that for a fact.

Now I have two varieties of epimedium, but if you look at the Garden Vision  or Plant Delights catalogs you will see dozens of epimediums in many shades of lavender, purple, red, pink, white, orange and yellow. The flowers take many forms, including some that almost look like spiders, and the foliage varies as well. Not all the varieties have heart-shaped leaves, some are spiky and some are mottled.

Epimediums require very little care. The dying foliage should be cut down in the fall to clear the way for early spring growth.

Garden Vision nursery is located in Phillipston, Massachusetts. They open their nursery to viewing and sales the first two weekends in May.

Hellebores are another early bloomer that doesn’t mind dry shade. Right here I should say that any new plant should be kept adequately watered while it is settling in the first year, giving it time to let its roots grow enough to support the plant even when it is dry.

The term shade has many shades. Pun intended. There is dense shade like that under evergreens, there is high shade, a much weaker shade created by trees whose foliage begins up high, and dappled shade that dances dark and light. There is summer shade that is created when trees are fully leafed out, and the early spring sun can no longer shine through bare branches in the same way. But remember, some sun is usually needed for any flowering plant to actually bloom.

The BridgeofFlowershas a few hellebores, otherwise known as Christmas or Lenten roses because they bloom early in the spring. I always think of them as having blossoms in shades of green, but some bloom in shades of white, pink and deep red. On the Bridge they get a lot of sun which shows you how tolerant they are of differing conditions. They can survive in the shade, but they need some sun to bloom well.

Hellebores have deep roots and they do not need dividing the way most perennials do. This means they should be planted in a soil deeply dug and well enriched with compost and aged manure.

They are quite trouble free, and have a long bloom period. The dead flower stems should be cut back after blooming, and the dying foliage can be cut down in the late fall.

Last year I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museumfor the opening of the newly designed and planted Monk’s Garden. This small area is now a serene woodland underplanted with many hellebores as well as other groundcovers. Michael Van Valkenburg, the designer, said the place would be ‘crazy with hellebores” in the spring. I am planning to make another trip this spring and admire the craziness.

In the meantime I’m waiting for the snow to leave so I can see my epimedium shoots, and wonder where I might plant a hellebore.

Between the Rows   March 29, 2014

 

Peter Kukielski and the Sustainable Rose

Peter Kukielski

The April 2014 issue of Fine Gardening magazine has an article by Peter Kukielski, former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden titled Easy Picture Perfect Roses.  Peter knows all about ‘Easy’ roses because during his tenure at that garden he ripped out 200 or so of the roses in the garden that needed pesticides and fungicides to survive and then replaced them with 693 roses that did not need that kind of care and pampering.

I met Peter in early November 2009 when he gave me a tour of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. Even at that time of the year many roses were in bloom and a number of  volunteers were busy making evaluations of each rose to decide whether it was worthy of remaining in the garden. There is a great article in the NYTimes here that describes that process. I wrote about my visit with Peter Kukielski  here and here. He is not only a brilliant rosarian, he is the most charming and good humored of men.

Since we met Peter, along with Pat Shanley and Gene Waering edited a fascinating book The Sustainable Rose Garden which covers many aspects of rose growing by 40 contributors, including Peter himself, and Stephen Scanniello of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and president of the  Heritage Rose Society. He is now working on his own book Roses Without Chemicals. I can’t wait for it to become available.

‘Applejack’ a Griffith Buck hybrid

My Rose Walk  began with hardy roses which include the Griffith Buck hybrids. It also includes rugosas, albas, another roses that can tolerate the winds and winter of our Heath hill. Many of them also turn out to be disease and pest resistant.  ‘The Fairy,’ a polyantha, is on the Earth Kind rose list, which is something Peter taught me about. I have added other Earth Kind roses like ‘Belinda’s Dream’ and Double Knock Outs. In his Fine Gardening article Peter lists other easy care roses like the luscious ‘Cinderella Fairy Tale’ and the rich golden ‘Tequila.’ Do you think I will be able to resist adding a new rose to the garden this year?  I don’t think so either.

‘The Fairy’ Earth Kind rose closeup

I will be talking about The Sustainable Rose at the little e at the Franklin County Fairgrounds on April 26 and 27. I’ll only be there one day – not sure which yet. Lots of rose photos. I hope to see you there. I’ll be channeling Peter Kukielski, my hero.

In the Pink at the Lyman Plant House, Smith College

In the Pink at Lyman Plant House

Banish the winter blues and get In the Pink at the Annual Bulb show at the Smith College Lyman Plant House. This annual show, always fabulous, is running from now until Sunday, March 16.

It is no surprise to me that the powers that be would choose In the Pink as the theme for this year’s show. I love pink, as anyone who strolls down the Rose Walk can attest.  But there is something spring-like about all shades of pink from the most delicate aqueous shell pink to vibrant pinks, all of which find their most perfect expression in flowers.

Walking into the Lyman Plant House rooms that are perfumed with the fragrance of an early spring, it is hard to imagine all the planning and work required on the part of the greenhouse staff. I once asked Rob Nicholson, Manager of the greenhouse what it took to open the Bulb Show on the assigned date. His reply was succinct, “Patience and careful monitoring of temperature.”  That almost sounds easy.

Of course, there is work to do in the greenhouse all year to keep this wide array of plants from the tropical jungle to the arid desert in good health. I asked if they had to use a lot of pesticides and things to keep the plants in good shape.

“Of course, we’d prefer never to use pesticides, but when a collection of rare and exotic plants is kept in an enclosed greenhouse it sets up a situation where the plants inevitably are infested since they are not in a complex ecosystem where there are checks and balances. When we need to use pesticides we tend to use very mild ones that break down very quickly as we have to be able to allow visitors in the next morning. Pesticides are rated with an REI (re-entry interval) that dictates how soon humans are allowed back into the space so we are limited to those with REIs of 4-12 hours. Then I try to use ‘biologicals’ which are geared to disrupt insect metabolism such as molting cycles, rather than the old style neurotoxin types. We also use insecticidal soaps . . . which suffocated the insect pest. I find the pesticide laws are pretty inconsistent as any consumer can go to any box store and buy materials more dangerous than what we use, and misuse them,” Nicholson said.

I asked if they used neonicotinoids, nicotine based chemicals that have become controversial and are in so many pesticides. He said “The neonics we used were systemic. Granular material is applied to the soil, dissolves and gets absorbed into the plants. They have a long term effect. They were very low toxicity to humans, easy to apply, and worked well to keep our mums clean of mealy bugs.”

However, he added, “There is a lot of concern about this class of pesticides contributing to collapse of beehives. The European Union banned them last year. . . .the pesticide gets into pollen, bees collect the pollen and bring it back to the hive and taint it. As our Chrysanthemum Show in November can attract a large number of bees if the weather conditions are right (and greenhouse vents are open) we felt we could no longer use these on flowering plants that could draw in outside bees.”

Nicholson expressed his concern about the importance of protecting bees which are so vital to our food system. “. . .our country needs to take a hard look at this class of pesticides, do the proper research and then act accordingly.”

Nicholson feels strongly that we all need to be informed consumers, buy as little of any pesticide as possible, and follow instructions to the letter. All pesticides should be stored under lock and key. “As a toddler I drank pesticide stored in a Planter’s Peanuts can in my neighbor’s garage. It almost killed me,” he said. Then he reiterated the necessity to educate ourselves about “a very complex subject and industry,” especially since there are so many pesticides available that are not dangerous to the bees or to our children.

Recently there has been research that suggests acetamiprid and imidacloprid, the two most dangerous chemicals in the neonicotinoids, may cause damage to young children’s brain development. Because I have young children on my lawns from time to time I would never knowingly use products that contain neonicotinoids. That means I wouldn’t dare use common pesticides like Ortho Flower Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer or Knockout Ready to Use Grub Killer which are only two of the many products that contain acetamiprid or imidacloprid. Further information about which products contain these chemicals are on the Xerces Society website,

The purpose of the Xerces Society is to protect invertebrates like bees, butterflies and many other creatures including mussels and crabs. I take Rob Nicholson’s advice to do my research seriously. Education is key, for all of us, and the Xerces Society is one place to start. Of course, I believe that using pesticides on the lawn is totally unnecessary, and agree with Nicholson that there are many safer products to use on plants.

To feel In the Pink, (March 1-16) the Lyman Plant House is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The suggested donation is $2. You still have a week to get there.  Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke College is also hosting a spring bulb show for the next week, through March 16.  Hours 10am – 4 pm.

Between the Rows  March 1, 2014

 

Greenfield Community Farm on Blog Action Day

Greenfield Community Farm – New Shed

Accessible healthy food is a basic human right. The Greenfield Community Farm helps insure this right to the Greenfield Community.

The Greenfield Community Farm out on Glenbrook Road is actually comprised of four gardens. First, there is a production market garden, operated by grant-funded David Paysnick and his assistant Daniel Berry, that grows produce for sale through the Just Roots CSA, at the Farmers Market, and Green Fields Coop. This garden includes a greenhouse where seeds are started in the spring, and a high-tunnel greenhouse that extends the season for tomatoes, and exotic crops like ginger. Extra vegetable starts, and seeds, are given to the Food for All Garden.

The market garden makes use of interns, from high school and college students to older people who sign up for a season. There are spring chores including working in the greenhouse and soil prep, summer chores including weeding, succession planting, and preparing produce for sale, and fall chores include marketing, farm upkeep, and mentoring a younger person. A full description of these internships is on the justroots.org website.

A second garden, unpoetically named The Education Site, is a currently colorful demonstration garden created by students, parents and educators where students from 8-18 can engage in meaningful and creative work on the land.

Community Garden

Shelly Beck

Shelly Beck, Community Garden Coordinator, oversees the final two gardens. These are the community garden plots tended by their gardeners, and the Food For All Garden that grows produce for the Stone Soup Café and the Center for Self Reliance food pantry. I visited with Beck to see how the first growing season and harvest went.

“Pretty well!” she said with joyful enthusiasm. I could see that the better part of the harvest had been gathered in, but cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale were still growing as were a few squash plants. Bright nasturtiums and marigolds bloomed here and there. Even hard core vegetable gardeners can’t resist a few brilliant flowers. It looked like a productive season to me.

The 50 community garden plots come in two sizes, 20×20 feet, and 20×10 feet. These plots were cultivated by experienced gardeners, novices, people who were interested in vegetables, some who only wanted flowers, and some who were particularly passionate about herbs. A Daisy troop took possession of one plot and inmates from the Kimball House, the Franklin County Jail’s Re-entry program cultivated another.

Volunteers built a handsome garden shed to hold tools (they can use more tools and wheelbarrows), and there is a drilled well to supply that all important garden element – water. Soil amendments are also available for plot holders. For those with the need there are also high raised beds to plant. More raised beds are in the planning.

Raised bed

Food For All Garden

“The Food for All plot has really been my plot this year,” Beck said, “but I’ve had lots of volunteers helping. Kimball House guys spend two mornings a week here, and community groups call and come. We even had a ‘weed-dating’ session!”

For those who are not part of the dating scene, speed-dating is an event where attendees spend a very few minutes talking to each other, exchanging cards, and then moving on to the next. “It’s more fun to chat over the weeds,” Beck said. “We’ll probably do it again, and we’d like more men to come.”

Beck had to explain to me that the Stone Soup Café is the pay-what-you-can café that is held every Saturday at noon at All Soul’s Church. Volunteers cook and serve up a great delicious and nutritious lunch. Those who can leave a donation. Even those who cannot attend, can send a donation to help cover costs.

Beck has taken an interesting road to bring her to the Greenfield Community Farm. She grew up in Massachusetts, but it was at Evergreen College in Washington State that she began taking eco-agricultural courses. “Evergreen immersed me in the world of growing things and sustainability. I never dreamed that organic would one day be so much of our culture so that you can buy organic produce at the Stop and Shop.”

In 1996 she moved back to Massachusetts and found a real home in Greenfield. She was a single mother with a child but she found housing at Leyden Woods where she started her first community garden. She began working Green Fields Market and said she really felt the community taking care of her.  She worked as a science teacher at the middle school, and  at Enterprise Farm. “It was a great place to see what farmers are doing on a big scale.” While she was there she helped put together the Mobile Market that brought fresh produce food deserts from Somerville to Northampton, senior centers, a YMCA and housing projects.

Nowadays, Beck’s day job is as Pantry coordinator at the Amherst Survival Center which offers free health care, and a free store in addition to a free lunch and regular pantry food distribution. She worked with local farmers and made sure that the food pantry offered fresh produce as well as the regular non-perishable foods.

Fall Festival at the Greenfield Community Farm

If you have a garden you must celebrate the harvest. This is doubly true if you have a big garden, with many gardeners big and small. Sunday, October 27 the Greenfield Community Farm is hosting a Fall Festival with workshops, a farm tour, garlic planting and a pot luck meal. All are invited to come and learn more about the gardens, and celebrate this first of many harvests. The website www.justroots.org. has full information about the Fall Festival and all the gardens. ###

Between the Rows   October 12, 2013

Beaver Lodge on NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour

Marie Stella

“I’m a designer. I’ve always been absorbed by fashion, interior and landscape design,” Marie Stella said when she began my tour of Beaver Lodge in Ashfield. Her current and ongoing design project is the landscape surrounding her beautiful house which has been give a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. This is very unusual for a residence.

LEED designations require that materials be as local as possible, that recycled materials be used when possible. For example, at Beaver Lodge floors are made with wood from trees removed from the site. Stella touched on many other examples as we walked.

Since her house has been designed with energy efficiency and environmental concerns in mind, it is no surprise that the limited domestic landscape shares these design constraints. The garden is designed on permaculture principles with a large emphasis on edibles.

Front view of Beaver Lodge

The first notable aspect of the garden that stretches to the south, in front of the house is the absence of lawn. In the center are large raised vegetable beds, with perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries and dwarf fruit trees along the eastern border. A small new collection of shitake mushroom logs rests in the shade of the woods.

The western border includes a grapevine covered arbor furnished with a rustic table and benches to provide a shady resting space,. Closer to the house a wild garden filled with native pollinator plants nestles against the broad Ashfield stone terrace that is the transition between the garden and the house. Instead of grass, woodchips carpet the ground. This relatively small cultivated space is held in the embrace of a mixed woodland.

To the north of the house is an old beaver pond which gives its name to Stella’s model house and landscape. In addition to being a designer, Stella is a teacher, and she has designed Beaver Lodge as a teaching tool,. She gives classes at the Landscape Institute at Boston Architecture College, and online.

She did not begin her career as a teacher, and gardening was only an avocation.  However, 25 years or so ago, when her children were young, she took a couple of Elsa Bakalar’s garden classes at her house here in Heath. She found those so inspiring she was led to a course in plant materials at the Radcliff Institute in Boston. That was so engaging that she went on to complete the certification program, and then another one.

During those Radcliff classes she realized a new future was waiting for her. She could combine her earlier background as a historian with her interest in the landscape. She liked writing. Soon she was writing and lecturing about landscape history. She organized and led garden tours to Japan and Italy.

As fascinated as she has been with the history of the landscape, she began to look towards the future, and so came about the construction of Beaver Lodge which will be part of the free NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour.

Water retention pond

Of course, Stella realizes that if you have a vegetable garden it must be watered. I was very impressed with the systems she has in place to supply adequate water to the edible gardens. At one end of the house the rain gutters bring water to a large stone retention pond that serves an important function, but is also beautiful since it is constructed of stone blasted from construction of the house. A pump brings water up to the vegetable garden when it is needed. She has added a bit of whimsy as well. She has created a small fountain that uses water from the retention pond, and then brings it back to the pond down a created stream bed.

Bubbling fountain

Marie Stella’s greenhouse

Since I visited last in 2009, Stella has added a small greenhouse that incorporates a cold frame and makes use of recycled windows. The greenhouse will give her a chance to get seedlings started early. Inside the greenhouse is a 550 gallon food grade plastic cistern that collects rain from the gutters at the end of then, and then pipes it into the garden.

She also has a root cellar where she can overwinter bulbs and tubers. The constraint for other uses is that snow build up in often prevents access during the winter.

Shakespeare once penned the line “Sermons in stones and good in everything . . .” Those who study and visit Beaver Lodge will find encyclopedias of  good knowledge in this living lesson book.

For information on visiting Beaver Lodge and all the sites on the Green Buildings Open House Tour on Saturday, October 5 you can go to the NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association) website, www.NESEA.org, and click on the Green Buildings Open House button. There you will be able to put in your own zip code and the distance you are willing to drive. Over 200 houses are on the tour in the whole northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania, but 37 house are within 30 miles of Greenfield. Several are in Greenfield itself with others in Montague, Colrain, Northfield, and South Deerfield, in addition to Beaver Lodge. The website will give you information about each house and it’s green elements, along with cost, benefits, and suppliers. The tour is free, but you should sign up.

Just browsing the Open House website will give you a lot of information and ideas. The owner of an historic house in Montague will be giving a talk from 10am-noon “about how we successfully survived a Deep Energy Retrofit with our marriage AND our historic windows intact!”

Between the Rows   September 28k 2013

The Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last week I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to meet the noted landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg and hear him speak about how he approached the challenge of redesigning the Monks Garden. He said that Isabella Stewart Gardener herself acknowledged that she was never satisfied with the small walled garden she called the Monks Garden. “That gave me the confidence and courage . . . to make a garden for the future of the Museum.”

Certainly the Monks Garden has been transformed. The last time I visited, a year or two ago, it seemed very bare and brown. In fairness, it was a gray early spring day and my mood may not have been the best. Now the Monks Garden was a sun dappled woodland, with groundcovers of hellebores and ferns. It was a surprise to enter this enchanted space that is so different from the structured geometry of the interior Courtyard.

Van Valkenburg said, “I wasn’t trying to channel Isabella Stewart Gardner . . . but her museum is not a practical place. The garden doesn’t have to be a practical place. The paths are not practical. They don’t have to take you from point A to point B. They don’t have to take you anyplace.” He wanted the garden to be a place where you could get lost.

Anne Hawley, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum said, “Michael responded to the spirit of the museum which is totally mad. It is just a romp.”

Hawley later explained that the final decision to choose  Van Valkenburg came after she visited his own garden on Martha’s Vineyard. She said it was ‘beguiling.” I was certainly beguiled, gladdened and delighted as I wandered through this magical woodland. The 7500 square foot garden feels spacious even though it is hemmed in on one side by the Palace, and by a curving high brick wall on the other two.

The undulating dark brick paths, subtly brightened by shist blocks, often wind close to each other and sometimes actually kiss, and yet you can rarely see across the planting bed to the opposite path. As I walked the paths I soon began to notice that there are subtle changes in grade. This garden is not flat. The dark brick paths narrow and swell, but they also rise and fall. I think this is another one of the elements that make this garden seem so march larger than it is.

Hellebores

There are many kinds of groundcover plants from the hellebores that will bloom, to evergreens like Christmas fern and European ginger with it shiny leathery leaves. Van Valkenberg said the garden “will be crazy  with hellebores in the spring.” When they have settled in and put out their own new growth visitors to the garden will have an even greater sense of privacy.

Amazingly the Monks Garden was installed just this year. It is a very new garden.  Van Valkenburg talked about the ephemerality of a garden. We gardeners know that a garden is never the same from week to week. Certainly when early spring arrives next year and the bulbs, hepaticas and hellebores come into bloom, no one will remember this fall’s sheen of newness.

Van Valkenburg said one of the goals of the plan was to stretch the seasons. Although there was only one brave hellebore blossom last week, there will be flowers rising through the groundcovers over a long season. Four varieties of camellia, in shades of white and pink will bloom spring and fall. Several stewartia trees will come into bloom in July with their camellia-like flowers. Species daylilies and tall cimicifuga will follow. Several climbing hydrangeas have been planted against the brick wall, another rich variation that will grow over the years.

The small slow growing trees will bring their own color that will carry even into winter. The foliage of the paperbark maples and stewartias provide good autumn color. In the winter the paperbark maple has beautiful exfoliating bark in shades of cinnamon and reddish brown, the gray birch has chalky white bark, while the stewartia has a subtly mottled bark providing substantial interest..

The one large tree in the garden is an ancient katsura with rough gray bark growing against the brick wall lending an air of majesty to this very informal garden.

Van Valkenburg has designed large parks and urban sites. He has won prizes and awards for his work, including the 2003 National Design Award in Environmental Design awarded by the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects Design Medal. Still he says he always remembers the advice given him when he was beginning his own business by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner and designer, to make as many gardens as you can. Along with large projects like the 85 acre Brooklyn Bridge Park which is still under construction, he has always maintained a consistent focus on small scale gardens.

Monks Garden at the ISG Museum

And that brought him to the end of his talk with a beaming smile as he invited us into the Monks Garden saying, “I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun making a garden.”

Between the Rows    September 21, 2013

Water – Utility and Beauty

Water retention pond

Water is vital to a healthy productive garden. A friend, Marie Stella, has put gutters on her house that feed rainwater into this retention pond below the house which sits on a rise. Other gutters feed into a 550 gallon food grade plastic cistern in the little greenhouse she has added to the end of her house. The retention pond is not only utilitarian. She has turned it into a beautiful element, and introduction to her sustainable landscape when visitors drive up to the house.

Food grade plastic 550 gallon cistern

The cistern is not very beautiful, but it is utilitarian. The  rainfall pattern has been very difficult this summer with lots of rain in June, almost none in July and very little since the beginning of August. We cannot count on rain if we are going to harvest a reasonable crop. Watering is absolutely necessary.

Fountain

Marie has also built this cheerful fountain at the edge of her terrace.  Gutters bring water into the retention pond, and a recirculating pump brings the water up to this naturalistic fountain that brings the water down a tiny constructed stream and back into the pond. That pump will also bring water up to the gardens in front of the house for irrigation.

 

Lazy frog – dreaming

Of course, if you have a pond, you will have frogs. This one looks like he is just dreaming in the water.

Water. Essential. Beautiful.

Geese on Their Way to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Geese hurrying to Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

These geese were crossing the street, against the light, in their hurry to look at the newly redesigned and planted Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum‘s Monks Garden. No luck yesterday. The Museum was closed, but the Monks garden is officially open today – a magical woodland stroll garden. Michael Van Valkenburgh, and his associates, are geniuses.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Walk on the Wildside with Sue Bridge

Wildside Cottage

How would you plan your retirement if you had already received a degree from Wellesley College, earned a further degree in Russian and Middle Eastern Studies, hitchhiked to Morocco, lived in Paris, worked for the United Nations, as well as in the cable TV world, and for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper?

Sue Bridge, with the urging of a Northampton friend, bought eight acres of hilly land in Conway. For the past seven years her retirement project has been to create a sustainable, self-sufficient home and landscape where she can live off the grid. The house she designed is energy efficient, well insulated with electricity and hot water provided by solar panels. It is also beautiful, inside and out. The sunny main living space is comprised of a kitchen, dining and living areas. French doors form the south wall of the living area which opens out onto a stone terrace with low stone walls overlooking terraced gardens and across to the hills beyond. The house is small but there is no sense of being cramped, only of spacious comfort.

For help in creating a sustainable landscape she turned to Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group. Neiger and his group are proponents of permaculture systems. Bridge confesses she didn’t really understand what that meant when she began. Neiger came several times to visit; he’d walk around, make notes and walk around some more. Finally, after he had walked the land for several months and not a single spade of soil had been moved, she asked him if his crews were very busy. Did he have any idea when work would begin?

Then Neiger had to explain that work was well-begun. He had been building a scientific portrait of the land, how the sun, wind and water moved across the hill, and over the season.

It was not until Neiger invited Bridge to his own garden that she began to understand what permaculture is. On the appointed day she arrived at his house and garden before he did and was very confused. “Where’s the garden,” she asked when he drove up. The truth is that permaculture gardens do not look like the beautifully arranged flower gardens or orderly vegetable gardens that most of us are familiar with.

I was in the same position she had been with Neiger. I could see why she had named her place Wildside. I needed to have the garden explained. “This is not traditional farmland, but it is incredibly productive,” she said as we walked across the broad terraces  carved into the hillside. “Terraces are a permaculture trademark.”

The terraces help keep the soil from eroding, even in severe storms. “We had 17 inches of rain during Irene, but there was no erosion,” Bridge said.

To the east the living room terrace is an herb garden. One of Bridge’s specialties is five-herb tea. The terraces on the south hillside are first planted to vegetables that are harvested during the summer, the next terrace on the slope is for perennial vegetables like sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes, and the third is for pollinators, bee balm, garlic chives and other plants that attract pollinators.

Productive sweet potato vines in greenhouse

At the bottom of the slope is a small greenhouse where she grows sweet potatoes in the ground, harvesting more than 100 pounds of nutritious sweet potatoes, as well as ginger, and turmeric plants good for the digestion, and pain relief. The garden outside the greenhouse is mostly storage vegetables, beets, carrots, potatoes and squash. Of course, if you raise enough of this kind of vegetable you need a root cellar and Bridge has built a small one behind her house. Other edible crops are canned or dried.

Wildside rice

We walked past the path to the orchard with apple, peach, pear and plum trees and to the rice paddy in the Wet Meadow. It took heavy digging, but Bridge is growing rice!

The land rises slightly beyond the Wet Meadow. We walked through a stand of overgrown Christmas trees, planted by the former owners, then came into a sunny meadow where nut trees, including chestnut have been planted. The surrounding evergreens help protect them from high winter winds.

Mountain mint with Monarch butterfly

Bridge said she learned that eastern slopes are ideal for fruit trees and berries. On her eastern slope she grows persimmons, pawpaws, quince, Asian pears, shadbush, blueberries, elderberries, and black chokeberries. http://www.millernurseries.com/ sell chokeberriess. Chokeberries are not very sweet, but they are extremely nutritious and do make good jelly. Bridge has also tucked mountain mint and other plants for pollinators everywhere on this east slope.

I was fascinated by the “fertility bed” a long row of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass which Bridge cuts down twice a year and uses as mulch or compost.

Bridge has come to love Conway where she has found a great community with lots of grass roots action. “This is a friendly environment for me,” she said.

A broad community has found Sue Bridge to be very friendly, and inspirational. Her gardens have become a model of sustainable food production. Students from Wellesley and Smith Colleges, the Conway School of Landscape Design, Greenfield Community College and others come to see what she is doing and learn about the science behind what she is doing.

When I asked if she had intended to launch such an educational project in her retirement she said no. “I did not intend, but I do not resist.”    

Between the Rows   August 24, 2013