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How to Create Winter Interest in the Garden

Red winterberries

Red native winterberries, Ilex verticillata, are the colorful stars in my winter garden

If we do not think winter gardens are very interesting, we need to change our view. We can choose trees and shrubs that will create winter interest. We can add color and texture and create an engaging view from our window.

When we planned our new Greenfield garden, I was thinking about low maintenance, plants for pollinators, and tolerance for spring floods. It was by pure luck that I now see some of those plants double their appeal by providing winter interest through color and texture. To begin, I have three dogwood shrub cultivars. These shrubs are very tolerant of the cold and of periods of flooding. They are sometimes suggested for rain gardens.

I think my osier dogwood may be Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ because it matches a catalog description. It is quite tall, about 8 feet, with twigs in surprising shades of orange, yellow and red. I also have the more familiar red twig dogwood. a deep wine red, but I have lost the name of this particular cultivar. Other cultivars like Arctic Fire and Siberica are brighter, clearer reds. I do know that my yellow twig dogwood is named Flaviramea and sings out its bright color in the winter sun.

Flaviramea has particularly pleased me, sited as it is in the middle of the garden where I can see it from my kitchen windows. The golden green glow in the sun is cheering. I do have to prune it to keep low branches from rooting in the soil and sending out new plants. In my wet garden this is a vigorous and happy plant. All the dogwoods have small flowers in the spring and white berries in late summer.

Equally happy in my wet garden are the winterberries. The winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a native holly. I have two red winterberry shrubs, and one with golden berries. These are not only bright and pretty, birds like the berries. It is important to remember that winterberries are dioecious. This means the male and female flowers are on separate plants. To get berries I need to have female and male plants. The male plant is virile, pollinating up to ten nearby female plants, but it is smaller and less showy.

English holly

A female English holly, Ilex aquifolium, thrives in front of our house

I also have two healthy English hollies, Ilex aquifolium, in front of the house, a male and a larger female loaded with berries. They came with the house so I don’t know their cultivar names, but some of these English holly hybrids come with names like Blue Princess and Blue Prince. I enjoy pruning the berry laden branches for Christmas decorations in the house.

Hawthorn Berries

“Berry” loaded hawthorn brance on one of the six hawthorns in the Energy Park

If I had room I would love to have a hawthorn tree, Crateagus, which will grow to about 25 to 35 feet with an equal spread.  Crateagus viridis is a native hawthorn with showy white flowers in the spring and red fruits called pomes in the fall and winter. Unlike many other hawthorns, C. viridis Winter King does not have large sharp spines, making them easier to prune and care for. This tree will attract butterflies in the spring and summer, and birds in the fall and winter. I think birds are an important element of winter interest. You can see six berried hawthorns at the Energy Park.

Flowering crabapples are a delightful sight in the spring and there are dozens of cultivars. Sugar Tyme is a good size for a small garden, reaching a height of about 18 feet with a 15 foot spread. It is highly disease resistant and has pale pink buds that open to white flowers. Its benefit to the winter garden is that it holds its little red crabapples well through the winter. Other small crabapples include Donald Wyman and Callaway which both have white spring blossoms. Adams has double pink blossoms. All have been praised for their hardiness and disease resistance, by horticulturists like Michael Dirr. They  are decorative, and provide food for wintering birds. I must point out that crabapples are not as amenable to flooding as the winterberries and river birches.

Tree bark, as well as berries can provide winter interest. We have planted two clumps of river birch, Betula nigra, which will grow to about 40 feet tall. They are known to thrive in wet, heavy clay soils, and don’t mind flooding which makes them perfect rain garden plants. There are flowers and catkins in the spring, but we planted them because of their beautiful exfoliating bark.  It is the texture and pale color of the bark that appeals to me.

Another tree noted for its exfoliating bark is the paperbark maple, Acer griseum. The foliage gives good red fall color in the northeast but it is the color and shagginess of its reddish-brown exfoliating bark that is stunning in the snowy landscape. The bark ranges in color from a rich coppery shade to darker cinnamon that peels away in large curls that remain on the tree. I saw a number of these trees planted in the beautiful Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Museum in Boston. They are small upright trees that will reach a height of 20 to 30 feet.

The sun is shining today, and the air is mild but snow will come and I will find loveliness in my garden.

Between the Rows  January 5, 2019

Review of 2018 – Here and There

Golden winterberries

Golden winterberries in January of 2018

Today, January 1, 2019 is mild and cloudy, but our year of 2018 began with a snowstorm. Fortunately I  have winter interest in the garden with my winterberries and beautiful exfoliating bark on the river  birches.

George Washington Carver

February was a month for reading and learning. George Washington Carver helped farmers turn to peanuts, and the world benefits today with Plumpy’nut.

It was also a month of learning about trees, caterpillars and butterflies and their importance to our environment.

It has always struck me that February  is a great month for reading. I wrote about Houseplants.

Stonehurst, Waltham, MA

The Greenfield Garden Club planned a great trip  to the Lyman Plant House and Stonehurst is snowy, icy mid-March. Spring is in our minds.

 

Epimediums

Epimediums

In April spring is making herself known. Primroses, crocuses and my favorite epimediums.

 

Garden Blogger Fling-ers cooling off in Austin

 

In May the Garden Bloggers went on their Annual Fling, this year in Austin. We saw lots of gardens and at Tanglewild we got to rest in the shade and cool our feet.

In June we visited the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, and then it was on to the Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wisconsin where Beth Stetenfeld and I caught our breath.

Olbrich Botanical Garden

Pat and Beth in the Olbrich Botanical Garden

Daylilies

Daylilies

In July I spent a lot of time in floriferous local gardens.  I bought more daylilies from the Stone Meadow Gardens in Ashfield. You can never have too many daylilies.

Thyme at Pickety Place

Thyme at Pickety Place

July – Time to get together with a family expedition to Pickity Place in New Hampshire. Not that far away.

Ankle deep in rainwater

August started off the rainy season. The backyard flooded many times. By the time  the waters had receded there was another rainstorm and more flooding. The weeping cherry died, and so did the pagoda dogwood.  These rains persisted for the rest of the year.

Tulip tree newly planted and mulched at the Energy Park

In September, Nancy Hazard, passionate about the importance of trees, planted three trees including this tulip trees at the Energy Park. I do my part by tending a small garden at the East entrance to the Energy Park.

Entry to newly designed back garden in Amherst

In October I was invited by Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber and Mike Davidsohn of Umass  to learn about landscape design that was beautiful for  the owners and beneficial to the environment.

Clarkdale apples for eating, pies AND Cider

November is for Cider Days! A weekend of delicious apples and education.

Our Christmas tree

December is for the anniversary of  this blog on The Feast of St. Nicholas in 2008, and the joyous season of Christmas with family and friends.

I wish you all a Happy New Year in your gardens and everywhere.

 

UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2019

UMass Extension Garden Calendar

Umass Extension Garden Calendar

Every year the UMass Extension creates a beautiful and useful calendar to teach, advise and remind us of our duties and opportunities all year long.

COST: $14bulk pricing is available on orders of 10 copies or more.
Shipping is FREE on orders of 9 or fewer calendars – FREE SHIPPING ENDS NOV 1!

FOR IMAGES IN THE CALENDAR, details, and ordering info, go to umassgardencalendar.org.

The 2019 UMass Garden Calendar features the use of tomography to identify internal decay in trees.
Many people also love the daily tips and find the daily sunrise/sunset times highly useful!

These calendars always make a great gift for the gardeners in our circle. They will be available until Christmas – but after Nov 1, there will be a shipping charge.  You might one for yourself, too.

Strings for Kids and Music on the Common

strings for kids ensemble

Strings for Kids ensemble

This ensemble of Strings for Kids played  for shoppers at the Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago. They are serious and talented musicians.

Strings For Kids is a free music program run by Artspace in collaboration with Greenfield Public Schools. Students who enroll in Strings For Kids are offered a choice of learning to play violin or cello, and receive the following benefits at no charge:

  • Instrument loan for the duration of enrollment
  • Weekly in-school group instruction led by Artspace faculty
  • Guidance on self-directed daily practice
  • Weeklong summer intensives for both incoming and returning students
  • Opportunities to perform at school meetings, Artspace recitals, and occasionally at other venues

Many of  these young people also play in the Youth Orchestra. There are also students longing to play but there are not enough cellos. Hence the informal concert – and the open violin case.

Strings for Kids Violins and Cellos

Strings for Kids – Violins and Cellos

After they have learned to play their instruments and proved a measure of skill and dedication they can audition for the Youth Orchestra which is operated by the Pioneer Valley Symphony and Chorus.

Artspace is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and relies on donors to provide free musical education in the Greenfield Public Schools and to keep our community vibrant through promotion of and instruction in the arts.  Artspace’s address is located at 15 Mill Street, Greenfield, MA 01301. Mark your check to Strings for Kids. They really need those extra cellos.

April National Poetry Month – The Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers poems

Bridge of Flowers poems by Carol Purington

April is National Poetry Month and Carol Purington, Colrain’s noted haiku poet has donated a matted set of poems describing the Bridge of Flowers through its seasons. It is available by writing to bridgeofflowersmass@gmail.com.

Carol has written several books  of haiku describing life on a family farm, the essence of the seasons, the love of family, joy and  sorrow. Carol, and her friend Susan Todd also put together an anthology of poems, Morning Song: Poems for New Parents.

The matted sheet is $15 including postage, and the plain cream heavy paper sheet is $10 including postage. All sales go to benefit the Bridge of Flowers. This is a lovely souvenir of a visit to the Bridge, or gift to someone who loves the Bridge.

Bridge of Flowers

Arching
the Indian-old river
bridge of blossoms

From  the concrete
of a decades-dead trolley way
fragrance of violets

Azure above
the flowers above
the river-reflected bridge

Arc of geese</em
under frosted flowers
the river runs south

Star-still flakes
fall from the flower-less bridge
to the ice-still river

Double lane of daffodils
crossing  the flower way
into spring

Summer-green
floats out from under the arches
flower-bridge blooms

I am adding information about Carol written by Susan Todd, co-editor of Morning Song.

Carol Purington and Susan Todd

Carol Purington and Susan Todd

Before taking her 6th grade students to visit Carol for some Christmas Carol sing  “I told my students Carol’s story, trying for simplicity and clarity. She contracted polio when she was six years old, as she was starting first grade. The illness began at school with a severe headache and high fever. Within days she was left needing help to breathe, and paralyzed except for limited movement in her left arm and hand. She spent a couple of years in Boston area hospitals where her most memorable accomplishment was learning to read. Eventually she moved back to the big farmhouse where she had been born, the third of eleven children. She lives there still, surrounded by a large and caring family.

When I asked Carol how I should relate her disability for this account, she said I should think about how I had prepared my students for our visit. And this exchange is perhaps the perfect window into the mind and influence of this woman – her ability to soar beyond limitations with wisdom and perspective. When I have taken older visitors to meet her, I also add that her body is small, but you will quickly get used to that. And what you’ll really notice is how sophisticated and brilliant and scholarly and witty she is.

That day in January, coming into Carol’s room from the storm outside, I had such a sense of peace. This front parlor, with views looking to the hills and garden and an oversized bird feeder up against the window, has been her world for over fifty years. A mirror which can be tilted to different angles lets Carol see the changing landscape and the family in the next room. Standing in the room’s center was a massive iron lung (now replaced with a smaller fiberglass lung), for sleeping at night, with “J. H. Emerson “printed on the side. “H. Emerson!” I said when I first saw it. “I knew him.” My best friend from childhood moved to Andover, Massachusetts in 1953 so her father could work with Haven Emerson on the distribution of iron lungs. We all had a crush on Haven Emerson Jr. I told Carol the story and she said, “All these years I have wondered what the H. stands for. Now I know.”

Richard Wilbur – National Poetry Month

Morning Song: Poems edited by Susan Todd and Carol Purington

Morning Song: Poems for New Parents

Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) winner of Pulitzer Prizes for Things of This World (1956) and New and Collected Poems (1988),was named the second Poet Laureate of our country and won many awards and prizes. I knew Richard Wilbur had long lived in our corner of western Massachusetts, but I never expected to get a letter from him.  And for that I thank Carol Purington and Susan Todd who were longtime friends of his.

Carol and Susan were putting together Morning Song, an anthology of poems for new parents with section headings like Waiting, Newest Child, Green and Carefree, Lessons and more. Several of Wilbur’s poems were included in different sections. The poems chosen ranged from Sappho to contemporary poets like Wilbur. As I read the poems I can see the memories and hopes that we parents feel as we look in our children’s eyes as they grow.

One of Wilbur’s poems in Morning Song is The Writer.

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
from her shut door a commotion of typewriter keys
Like chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thoughts and its easy figure
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking.
And then she is at it again, with a bunched clamor
Of stokes, and again is silent.

——————-  and ends with

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

As the mother of three daughters (and two sons) I cannot think help thinking of the stronger wishes that arrive as they grow older. And older.

As for my letter from Wilbur, since I was now friends with his friends, I wrote and asked permission to use one poem that spoke of an experience we shared in my Commonweeder blog. He responded generously. You can read April 5, 1974 here.

Richard Wilbur is also known for his wit. I particularly enjoy the lyrics he wrote for Leonard Berstein’s operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s 1758 novella that satirized the philosophies of the day. As the story comes to a close Candide and his love Cunegonde imagine a happy married life. Oh, Happy We

CANDIDE  –  Soon, when we feel we can afford it
We’ll build a modest little farm
CUNEGONDE  –  We’ll buy a yacht and live aboard it
Rolling in luxury and stylish charm
CANDIDE – Cows and chickens
CUNEGONDE – Social whirls
CANDIDE – Peas and cabbage
CUNEGONDE – Ropes of pearls
CANDIDE – Soon there’ll be little ones beside us;
We’ll have a sweet Westphalian home
CUNEGONDE – Somehow we’ll grow as rich as Midas;
We’ll live in Paris when we’re not in Rome

************************

CUNEGONDE – We’ll round the world enjoying high life
All bubbly pink champagne and gold
CANDIDE – We’ll lead a rustic and a shy life
Feeding the pigs and sweetly growing old

CUNEGONDE – Breast of peacock
CANDIDE – Apple pie
CUNEGONDE – I love marriage
CANDIDE – So do I

CUNEGONDE & CANDIDE
Oh, happy pair!
Oh, happy we!
It’s very rare
How we agree

Married life and children. Wilbur expressed the challenges and blessings of all.

National Poetry Month and the Culture Hour

Penny Candy by Jean Kerr

Penny Candy by Jean Kerr contains an essay, The Poet and the Peasants, the Peasants being Jean’s five sons and their forced introduction into the world of poetry.

All through April people will be celebrating National Poetry Month, giving gift books of poetry and attending poetry readings. However, I think National Poetry Month (instituted in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets) was created as a response to the lack of attention to poetry and its joys. Actually, we are surrounded by poetry in advertising jingles, popular songs (at least that used to be true) even when we are not aware.

Last week I started thinking about Great Moments of Poetry in my life. In high school, several eons ago, Miss Pierce made us memorize Wordsworth’s The World is Too Much With Us.  I still seem to be able to recite parts of this sonnet, but not quite all of it together. However, you should hear me crying out, “Great God! I’d rather be a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn. . . .have sight of Proteus rising from the seas; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn!”  I was in the dramatic society and remain a bit dramatic to this day. We had to memorize several poems of our own choosing but this was the only required poem. Even as a student I thought it was notable that as students living in a very wealthy town (Greenwich, Connecticut) our teacher might worry about the possibility of our laying  waste to our powers and always looking only at the bottom line.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
 When my children were young  I read an essay by Jean Kerr, wife of NYT drama critic Walter Kerr, titled The Poet and the Peasants. The Kerrs had six children, Christopher, twins Colin and John, Gilbert, Gregory, and Kitty who came along a bit later. One night Jean came into the den and turned on a light which went out. She turned on another light, which went out. In exasperation she muttered, “When I consider how my light is spent. . . .” and her husband wanted to know what poem that was from (Milton’s Sonnet on His Blindness).  Spousal horror and argument followed which ended as they thought about their five boys. Would they be able to identify a snippet of a famous poem when they heard it?

Thus was born weekly Culture Night which went through an evolving series of forms until it settled on requiring each boy to memorize a poem and recite it at Culture Night. The boys began with limericks. Not really what Jean had in mind. There was mumbling and dum-de-dumming rhythms. You can imagine the kind of encouragements Mom and Dad offered to achieve their goal. I give them high marks for not giving up the whole idea.

Culture Night, really Poetry Night, continued for years and the boys did get into it, even elucidating for their parents the meaning of a poem. Jean gives bits of poems that the boys recited with passion, roaring or weeping. She said you have not lived until a flamboyant 12 year old has leapt onto the coffee table and declaimed Alfred Noyes poem The Highwayman:

The Wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding –

   Riding – riding –

The highwayman came riding up to the old inn door.

And this flamboyant boy was also able to give tenderness to his reading of the love story of the highwayman and the innkeeper’s daughter. Alas, the story does not have a happy ending.

I remember reading and memorizing part of The Highwayman in high school, but not the whole. The Kerr boys recited many poems I knew and read like bits of  A. E. Houseman’s “When I was young and twenty . .   .”  and  Robert Browning’s That’s my last Duchess on the wall,/Looking as if she were alive. . . which was a poem that chilled me as the Duke “… gave commands;/Then all smiles stopped together.”

I can never finish this essay without weeping. What can a mother do when two of her sons see into her heart when referring to and making connections to two poems,  Robert Burns’ John Anderson my jo, John, and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall, “Margaret, are you grieving over goldengrove unleaving . . .

This essay appears with several others in Penny Candy (1966) by Jean Kerr. Several copies of the book are available through the CWMARS Library catalog, along with other books by Jean Kerr, My copy is worn but I will not do without it.

Trees – For Beauty and Benefit

Trees in Central Park NYC

Trees in Central Park – an urban forest

Here in New England we can take trees for granted. Trees line our streets, our roads, and our highways. We do not have to work hard to find a woodland that invites us to stroll and enjoy a period of cool tranquility. The Japanese even have a word, Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing,’ for the practice of taking a walk in the woods for the health benefits it brings.

And yet, many of us are not familiar with the names of many trees, or the particular benefits any of them might give. When I lived in Heath I was surrounded by trees, but beyond being able to identify a maple, oak or beech tree, I was at a loss. Now that I live in town, and am thinking about what trees could be added to my street I have been paying attention to the specific forms of tree and leaf, and the benefits and needs of any particular tree species.

Central Park Trees and Lake

Central Park Woodland at edge of the Lake

Over the Thanksgiving holiday my husband and I visited friends in New York City. That Sunday in NY was sunny and breezy and the crowds that we joined in Olmstead’s Central Park were taking full advantage. People were strolling through this veritable forest and I am sure we were all gaining health benefits as we took pictures, took rides in horse drawn or bicycle cabs, or queued up for a rowboat to paddle around the tranquil lake. We did pay attention to the trees along the paths, many of which were helpfully labeled. I took particular note of an ancient beech tree with unique leaves.

There are other parks throughout the New York boroughs and it seems the essential element of any park is always a grove of trees. We can see that ourselves in the small Energy Park right in the center of town or the larger woodland of Highland Park.

On Monday, my brother and his wife took us for a tour of Princeton University where Beatrix Farrand created the landscaping plan beginning in 1912 and did not leave the job to others until 1934. It was a park-like aspect that she wanted to create because she said, “We all know that education is by no means a mere matter of books, and the aesthetic environment contributes as much to growth as facts assembled from a printed page.”

Trees at Princeton U.

Trees at Princeton University, a park-like effect

Farrand may have had a special soft spot for Princeton because it was there in January of 1913 that she met her husband, the distinguished visiting professor of history Max Farrand. I heard no stories of any romances she might have had until she met Farrand, but when Max’s sister-in-law heard rumors of a romance she took herself to the campus and watched the ‘bush woman’ directing her workers. Having made her observations she declared that “If that woman really wants Max, she’ll get him!” Readers, she married him before December was done.

Farrand was devoted to landscape gardening beginning in 1872 when she was only 20. She did study under the tutelage of Charles Sprague Sargent, founder of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, and was the sole female among the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects formed in 1899.

She might not have called herself a feminist, but when she was interviewed by a reporter from the New York Daily Tribune in 1900, her response to what must have been an obnoxious question about her work rates was “I have put myself through the same training and I look for the same rewards.”  We women are still fighting that particular battle, but Farrand was there before us.

Sycamore

Sycamore in front of my house

Over the course of her career Farrand designed more than 100 gardens including estate gardens like Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, which I visited earlier this year, as well as the White House, Yale University and many estate gardens in Maine. More locally, she designed the tree lined approach to The Mount which was built by her aunt, the novelist Edith Wharton, in 1901.

I will never plan a landscape or planting of trees on such a large scale, but on our urban plot of land I have new appreciation of the shade of a giant sycamore that was probably planted when the house was built around 1925. Later someone planted the deliciously fragrant Japanese lilac tree and I have the borrowed shade from my neighbor’s maple and oak trees. I have added two clumps of river birch and a small weeping cherry tree, and an assortment of native shrubs like viburnams because they please my eye, but I have been particularly mindful of their benefits to the insects and birds that come to my garden.

Now when I think about what beneficial trees could be added to our street I think about redbuds that bloom so beautifully in the spring, or a stately red maple, or maybe a hawthorn with its bright red berries in the fall.

When I drive by the beautiful new John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street I wonder what trees will be planted there. Right now the Center grounds look austere. Like any building it needs trees and other plants to create a welcoming and comfortable presence. Will there be an oak that will support 500 species of insects and birds and provide shady grandeur? Will there be majestic tulip poplars? Will there be red maples?

Until spring I’ll be dreaming of the new kinds of trees that may come into my neighborhood and the pleasure they will bring

Between the Rows   December 9, 2017

Merry Christmas and a Year of Happy Days

Our Christmas Tree 2015

We officially moved into our Greenfield house on October 24, 2015, just in time to stock up on bags of candy for the 100+ children – mostly very young children – who showed up in princess and ninja attire on Halloween. The celebrations had begun.

No longer could we go out into the field to cut  our own tree, but we were happy to shop at the open air market on Main Street and buy a beauty. This tree would take its place in our family history and be the first 21st century Greenfield tree. The ornaments were already filled with memories.

We send our best wishes for a happy holiday season to all – no matter when you are.

First Snowfall of the Year

First snowfall

First Snowfall of the year?

After a very mild autumn I woke up this morning to the first snowfall of the year. Or am I just jumping ahead into winter prematurely?  I have a whole month before Winter officially arrives.  We never know what the future will hold, weatherwise – or any other -wise.