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Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – A Failure in January- a Cold Month

View from the office

I don’t expect much Bloom Day color in January when I take a photo from the window, but this time my plans were a total failure.

Hydrangea and Roses

You an see the dried hydrangea blossoms in back  of the roses which have amazingly kept a lot of dried foliage, but this does not count and blooms. Obviously, you’ll say. You don’t expect blossoms in the snow!

Grape Hyacinths

Last fall I started pulling these green strands up, thinking they were weeds. Not so. Grape hyacinths bloom and disappear in the spring – only to send up foliage shoot late in the summer. And they spread all over! But certainly no blooms.

Rosemary and Amaryllis bulbs

The rosemary is doing fine on  our southern enclosed porch but the amaryllis bulbs are a bust and I do not know why. They grew in a garden bed last summer, then I cut back the foliage and brought them in, potted them up and put them in a rarely used closet. I thought this was the correct process so  that when I brought them out and put them on a windowsill in the fall they would be sending out shoots and then glamorous flowers. Didn’t happen. The bulbs seem healthy, very firm, but no action.

Begonia

I have never grown a begonia and you can see I have a lot to learn. This grew nicely and I did repot it once, but I think my problem is not studying up on proper pruning.  I even have Tovah Martin’s book, The Indestructible Houseplant which does have begonia information. I’ll have to read it more closely.

My Asparagus fern

My asparagus fern does not bloom, but it grows happily in the one plant-available south window.

Walking Iris

Now this walking iris was given to me by a good friend in the spring – after it had bloomed. She said that the iris blossom  would grow from a stem that was inside these graceful leaves. I planted the clump she gave me and it grew energetically. When it was time to lift it and pot it up so that it would bloom in the early spring the clump had increased substantially. Three  pots!  Sometimes I think I can see is the beginning of a stem in the center of some of the leaves, but nothing too definite. But surely this is promising. Will I have a bloom on February Bloom Day? Will there be a hint of a bloom? Wish me luck.

Beverly Duncan and Her Books – And Her Plants

Beverly Duncan in her studio with books and paints

“Ever since I officially retired from Mohawk Regional High School, I’ve just exploded with new ideas,” Beverly Duncan said as she gave me a tour of her studio in Ashfield. One wall was covered with framed botanical paintings that she had done in the past. Other paintings-in-progress were pinned to a bulletin board; other smaller paintings of flower blossoms were pinned to a different bulletin board. Surrounded by these works, finished and unfinished, she told me about recent events, and unfinished plans.

Since her arrival in western Massachusetts many years ago, she has focused on drawing plants. First intrigued by wild edibles, she enlarged her focus drawing and painting the local flora and fauna around her. She hardly had to go beyond her own gardens and the nearby woodlands. The attention she pays to what is sprouting, blooming, ripening, and going into dormancy, as well as the insects that arrive over the seasons, is transformed into delicate paintings. “As I observe, sketch and paint, I am always learning more about the interconnectedness of the natural world,” she said.

Her love of flowers and greenery are put to a different use during the summers. For some years she has worked with Gloria Pacosa, a dear friend and neighbor, who operates Gloriosa & Co, an event venue. Pacosa has large gardens to supply the flowers and plants for the weddings, bat and bar mitzvahs and all the other celebratory events that mark our lives. That means working in the gardens and gathering an abundance of flowers and greens to make unique bouquets for each occasion. She has the pleasure of adding to the joy of the celebratory occasions of our lives.

Early last spring Duncan and Pacosa decided to treat themselves to a trip to Belgium. They attended a workshop run by a commune-owned chateau, Fleuropean. “Every day for a week we made bouquets with flowers that showed off the new trends in design, and in flower color, which were in the dark range. Some of arrangements were very stylized, not looking like bridal bouquets or lush arrangements at all. We also got to work with silk ribbons that were dyed, and sometimes shredded. Everything was photographed at the end of the day.

“We also had time to travel around and explore, including a wonderful walk through a forest among the bluebells. It was inspiring. Luxurious learning.”

Refreshed and inspired Duncan returned home to continue her projects with new energy.

“I love working in small places,” Duncan told me. She brought out two tiny boxes of her paint-a-flower-every-day project. Each box was filled with 2×2 inch flower or foliage paintings, labeled on the reverse side.  Another box held tiny accordion books, each devoted to a single flower.

Then Duncan showed me the SEEDS project. These 5×5 inch books are each devoted to a single tree or shrub. She created a standard progression of the development of a plant and seed on the vertical pages. “I tell the story of my relationship with the tree. Then I paint the details of the tree from early spring budding. Everything is dated so the time of the progression is clear. Another page will show the summer leaf. That is the way most of us identify a tree, by its leaf. On other pages I show the fruit development, and change in color of the leaf. The winter painting shows identifying characteristics of the branch and bud.”

SEEDS Books

We looked through the SEEDS book about Staghorn Sumac. Duncan paints the parts of the plant in clear detail. She also identifies the parts of the sumac. I might call the slightly fuzzy red things on the end of an autumnal sumac branch a ‘flower,’ Duncan properly says these are the mature seeds, or fruits, of the sumac, which are called “bobs.”  She goes further to explain that ‘bobs’ are actually clusters of drupes. Then she explains, with another little image on the page, that a drupe is a closed fruit with exocarp and mesocarp and endocarp layers that enclose the ovary.

I had a little trouble understanding the anatomy of a sumac drupe. However, her drawing made me look up some additional information. I learned that apricots, cherries, and other stone fruits are drupes because they have a fleshy covering around the pit that can be opened to reveal the actual seed. Some nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are drupes, while other nuts like acorns and chestnuts are in the family of ‘true’ nuts.

Sumac

The goal is to reproduce these books, and have boxed sets holding five or six little books that can be sold. I am looking forward to that day.

The SEEDS project is very different from her earlier works, in the size of the paintings. These little books also allow her to express her reactions and feelings about plants. Her intent is very different from her approach to larger botanical works like the New England Winter Branches paintings which won an award 2014 Royal Horticultural Exhibit in London, or the Impressions of Woody Plants Exhibit at the Arnold Arboretum last summer.

Duncan has an agent in New York City who sells her paintings there, but she does occasionally hold Open Studio Days when her paintings are available for public view and sale. She also teaches botanical painting as the Hill Institute in Florence, Massachusetts.

This post first appeared a couple of years ago, but I  have had requests to show it again.

 

While Taking a Walk on Allen Street We Admire Rhododendrons

Rhododendron in full bud in the neighborhood

On these pandemic days we have been trying to take walks around the neighborhood and have noticed a lot of rhododendrons in front gardens. I also have a small rhododendron in from of my house, a part of the low growing conifers that make up the grass-less front yard. We also have two rhodies growing on the Hugel in the back yard. They are not doing well because the hugel, which is made of piles of logs as  well as soil, does not give them sufficient nurture. We are rethinking their location.

It is magical to walk past rhododendrons, large or small, and see the fat buds that will open in mid to late May. We have a Hawley friend, Jerry Sternstein, who has more than 400 rhododendrons on a sunny slope. He often has an Open Garden event on Memorial Day and it is quite an event!

‘Scintillation’ is one of the most popular and dependable rhododendrons

‘Scintillation’, a lovely pink rhodie is also very dependable. When I exclaim my admiration of his rhododendrons, Jerry sighs and says, “Ah, but they are nothing to Valigorsky’s rhodies.  Needless to say Jerry soon took me to John Valigorsky’s garden.

A portion of Valigorsky’s rhododendron walk

It is possible that this section of Valigorsky’s rhododendron walk includes Calsap (white), and the red flower on the right is Gigi Dexter hybrid.

I lost the name of this pink rhodie

Both Jerry and John reeled off the names of their rhododendrons, in so many shades, but I got lost in  the list. This is one of my favorites that day that beautiful spring day.

There was some discussion about whether or not bees will die from rhododendron pollen or nectar. It is not likely, according to the reading I have done, but Grayanotoxin  neurotoxin found in the nectar of rhododendrons. Some people worry about honey made from rhododendron flowers, but this is not a great problem either. Valigorsky told me bees did not like rhododendron nectar. I have never seen many bees buzzing around rhodies.

A portion of Jerry Sternstein’s hill

Jerry and John are both devoted to their rhododendrons, but they have very different sites. Jerry’s garden happily blooms in full sun, enjoying the naturally acidic soil of Hawley. John’s garden in the Pittsfield area enjoys some shade but blooms in defiance of the alkaline soil. There are fertilizers like Holly-Tone that help acidify soil. Both men say the important thing in planting a rhododendron is to remember the motto “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” No $5 holes for these rhodies. All they need is a slight depression in the soil, with soil then being brought up around but not touching the trunk.

There are so many beautiful rhododendrons it is hard to make a choice. I am looking at the varieties of rhododendron while I think about adding one to a spot in front of our front porch. I love pieris Japonica which currently grows there but it is more scraggly every year. Time to replace it. With a rhodie.

Janet Blair Rhodie in Valigorsky’s Garden

For wonderful information about rhodies, including the best performers in your region check out the American Rhododendron Society’s website.

2021 – A New Year With New Opportunities and Favorite Seed Companies

The new year has begun with new opportunities, new hopes, new ideas, and new projects for our gardens.  The vegetable garden we planned during the pandemic is very tiny. Very very tiny. I planted beans, peas, lettuce, radishes, zucchini, beets and chard. Too many varieties. This was a mistake. I have to rethink the best way to get a usable harvest in a tiny garden.

The beans and the peas worked well, but I did learn that putting six lines on a bean teepee isn’t a good idea. Too much foliage made it hard to find the beans. Sugar snap peas grew up on a mesh fence and that worked well. Tomatoes grew in pots and I got all the tomatoes I needed. As for everything else I am in thinking mode. Wish me luck.

In the meantime I am looking at seed covers of some of my favorite farms.

Johnny’s Selected Seed Catalog

As you can see from Johnny’s Selected Seed Catalog  cover, they offer flowers! Vegetables! And they also offer herbs, tools, and supplies. Oh, how I loved their row covers. I also appreciate that they offer crop supports and kitchen supplies. I have a tender spot in my heart for Johnny’s. We moved to Maine in 1975 when Johnny’s Selected Seeds was a very  young company, founded in 1973. Of course we wanted to  support this new project and even after moving from Maine we like to buy seeds from Johnny’s. Johnny’s Selected Seeds  955 Benton Ave, Winslow, ME 04901.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

High Mowing Seeds is one of the few fully organic and Non-GMO Project Verified seed companies in the world. They provide the highest quality seed to growers and do so without the use of environmentally harmful synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  I love Vermont as much as I love Maine because I spent several years of my young life in Charlotte. Relatives still live on there, and I am looking forward to the postponed Family Reunion on Lake Champlain shores. I like to use High Mowing Organic Seeds  76 Quarry Rd, Wolcott, VT  05680 and they are very available here in town.

Burpee Seeds

Burpee Seeds have been around for a long time and are familiar and dependable. I really like this cover because those are my favorite cherry tomatoes. But there is also a full array of vegetables, flowers, herbs, berries, apples and other fruits.  Burpee Seeds and Plants  300 Park Ave, Warminster, PA 18974

Nourse Berry Farm

This is last year’s catalog, but that strawberry is gorgeous! We  turned to Nourse Berry Farm which now is maybe 15 minutes away from our town home. But when we moved to Heath 40 years ago, we went right to Nourse Farm for blueberries.  When we moved to town we bought more blueberries but they did not thrive in the wet garden. However, our elderberries and raspberries have no objections to wet plots. I can freeze the raspberries from my small plot, but the birds get all the elderberries. We have to support our animal life. Nourse Farms   41 River Rd, Whately, MA 01093

I hope you all are looking through the catalogs, from the mail, or by computer. Is is winter, but the days are getting longer, time to think about what to plant.

Is There Any Point to Making New Year’s Resolutions During a Pandemic?

A New Year’s Resolution to try some new recipes

New Year’s Resolutions have been around for a long time. Four thousand years ago the Babylonians made this day a time to pay off all debts. The ancient Romans celebrated their god Janus, who looked both back and forward, the past and the future. He was charge of doors and the transitions between the stages of life and the shifts of eras.

When I was young I tried to make new year’s resolutions, but I had children, and then I had children and a job. I was busy. Eventually the children grew up, got married and have children – and jobs. Everyone is busy!

But now we are locked-down. That’s the new description of our life. I’m too old to have a job, so what do I do?

  1. I’m combing through my substantial collection of cookbooks and making new treats.
  2. Every month or so I vacuum the floors.
  3. We’re watching old TV shows. Midsommer Murders and All Creatures Great and Small (the old series.)
  4. We take naps.

    The Whole Seed Catalog from Agastache to Zinnias – vegetables, too

  5. I’m combing through the 500 pages of The Whole Seed Catalog. It’s tough to choose which seeds I’ll want for spring planting.
  6. I have a walking regime with my husband. Thousands of steps!
  7. I’m watching the birds in the garden. I’ve never paid  attention to the birds.
  8. We’re zooming with all the children and their children and their children! 3 great-granddaughters! And we get to visit No. 1 son on the porch.

    Prayer Shawl in process for the Charlemont Federated Church

  9. I’m knitting a Prayer Shawl. And praying ‘we’ll all muddle through some how.”
  10. I’m having a good time. Most of the time.

Do you have any new year’s resolutions? Or are you just looking for things to do?

As the Year Draws to a Close – Snow and Flood

Snow on December 20, 2020

We rejoiced when the weather man promised us a white Christmas. We had at least 16 fluffy beautiful inches of snow. We thrilled to the winter beauty.

Christmas Day flood

But wait! On Christmas morning we woke to torrential rains. The windows are frozen shut. I couldn’t get my window open.

December 26 in the morning – greater flood

It was still raining in the morning of Boxing Day. Never have my planting beds been so deluged.

In the evening the flood withdraws December 26

Guess what?  More rain is predicted!  I’m counting on a prediction error.

Those who live in Greenfield would not be surprised or alarmed about these floods. When we bought our house in the early spring 2015 there was a frozen puddle where our lawn chairs live (we have finally taken them inside). In fact, a passing neighbor told us that  that spot was used as a skating rink by neighborhood kids. We were told that the flooding was due to the loss of a giant willow tree.

We immediately saw the need for raised planting beds, but we missed two other reasons for flooding.  First,we learned that a river runs under it. All the houses on our side of the street have flooded basements. In fact the basement ceilings are very low – or another way of looking at it is that the floors are too high in order to be higher than the river below.

Secondly, we much more recently learned from David Sund that our street is right at the edge of the old Pray Brickworks. That explained the heavy soil that looked more like cement than  garden soil.

But there is always a silver lining.  We couldn’t raise  the whole back yard, but we could buy yards and yards of compo-soil from Martin’s Compost Farm to raise the planting beds that created strolling paths between the beds. I could want no more.

A City Christmas as told by Betsy Reilley and Pat Leuchtman

A City Christmas was written 43 years ago when my husband, 5 children and and I were living in  the ancestral apartment in Manhattan.

A CITY CHRISTMAS

Macy’s Department Store and the Con Ed Tower – created by Diane

It was Christmas Eve in the City.

Shoppers filled Herald Square and hurried along Fifth Avenue as it grew late.  The streets emptied. Shop windows glowed like rich jewels and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree sparkled in silent and solitary splendor.

At home parents wrapped the last of the Christmas presents and cursed over unbalanced and empty checking accounts.

Teenagers gathered at parties – and you know what that means.

Only eight year old Teddy lay awake in the dark. He watched the shifting shadows in his room and the patchwork of lighted windows across the courtyard. He heard his parents’ voices in the next room.

Stub-cat, a stray cat Teddy had adopted and named because of his leathery, half-missing tale, strolled into the bedroom and drummed a tattoo on the radiator before he settled down to nap.

Then the Con Ed clock began to chime. It was midnight. Stub’s ears pricked up and his whiskers twitched.

He heaved himself up. He was very fat. Teddy turned on the night light and watched four mice creep out of a tiny hole in the wall. Tiny cucarachas (cockroaches to you) joined them.

Teddy sees the city animals join Stub – created by Betsy

A black squirrel leapt onto the window ledge and joined a pigeon that had flown down from the mulberry tree. (Even in the dead of winter, Teddy’s mother made him open the window at night.)  The sound of their squeeks, purrs and coos filled the room  – and all of a sudden Teddy realized he could understand what they said.

“Christmas greetings,” said Stub to his assembled friends.  (At Christmas all enmities are forgotten.)

“Joyeux Noel,” said the papa mouse, for he was a very cosmopolitan mouse.

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!” squeaked all the young mice, eager to share their gifts.

Cucarachas dancing – created by Henry

“Merry Christmas!” sang the cucarachas as they did a little dance.

Stub turned to Teddy who was sitting up in his bed amazed with wonderment. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas, Stub.” Teddy was so amazed he could barely get the words out, but he was a polite child and did not forget his manners.

“How can you all be talking?” The words burst from him when he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer.

“On Christmas Eve all the animals can talk,” said the black squirrel.

“Yes,” continued Stub. “that is our gift because animals were the first to greet the Christ Child. No matter how small or insignificant, none of us was forgotten.”

The little mice chimed in. “And every year we celebrate together.”

“Buon natale,” cooed the pigeon. “We are honored to celebrate this night in good company.”

The animals settled into a sedate circle and the little mice and cucarachas distributed the gifts while their elders discussed the blessings of the year past with Teddy. There were hazelnuts and almonds gathered from where they had dropped behind the Christmas tree, as well as splinters of candy cane and slivers of cheese. The black squirrel had salvaged a nearly full tin of truffle pate from the cocktail party next door.

All the animals sing – created by Kate

Then all the animals danced solemnly in a circle and sang.

“O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him,

Christ the lord.”

The mice and the squirrel’s voices were high and piping while Stub and the pigeon sang the base line.

But then the Con Ed clock struck one!   The animals’ song hung on the air for a moment and then faded.   The animals bowed to each other and then scampered off. Only Stub-cat remained.

Teddy and his parents  – created by Chris

Teddy jumped out of bed and ran to his parents in the living room.

“Mummy, daddy, come quick.  The animals are talking. On Christmas Eve even the mice and pigeons can talk.  Hurry and wish Stub a merry Christmas!”  He tried to pull them into his room, but they were busy.

“Teddy, it’s late. Back to bed or Santa will never come,” said his mother.

“I think you’re very tired, Ted,” said his father.  “You’ve been dreaming, but now you have to go back to sleep.”

No!  It wasn’t a dream.  The city animals celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, too.”

“That’s enough, Teddy.  Now back to bed. I have a lot left to do,” said his mother, and she turn to take pies out of the oven.  She sounded impatient.

His father was stacking the newspapers, and gathering up the teacups.  “Run along, now, Ted.”

Teddy slowly turned and went back to his room. He climbed into bed and turned out the light.  Through the window the stars seemed to dance around the Con Ed Tower; he felt the vibration of music in the air.

The clamor of church bells woke him in the morning and though his eyes flew open he lay quite still and tried to remember.  Was it a dream?

Stub-cat speaks – created by Pat

There at the foot of his bed lay Stub. Teddy whispered to him, “Stub, Stub, it’s merry Christmas.”

Stub opened his eyes slowly and purred.  “Felizzzze navidad.”

“You said it again! I knew it wasn’t a dream, but they didn’t believe me.  Merry Christmas, Stub.  Merry Christmas.”

After suffering many hugs, Stub returned to the foot of the bed and gave Teddy a long look.  And Teddy was sure that before he closed his eyes , Stub gave him a slow wink.

Merry Christmas to All!

Fats (also known as Stub-cat) purrs  – created by Henry

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas with A Christmas Carol

Even Charles Dickens, who wrote many books , 20 to be precise, can have periods  when he cannot think of a plot and when his recent books are not getting the attention he got after writing The Pickwick Papers in serial form.

Nowadays Dicken’s book A Christmas Carol is everywhere, as it was after its immediate publication shortly before Christmas in 1843. But it was rough,  going.  The Man Who Invented Christmas, “based on the inspiring true story.” as noted in the publicity of the 2017 movie, gives us a view of a young man who was desperate to meet a deadline for his book, come to terms with his father who was so profligate  with money that a very young Charles was sent off to slave in a grim blacking  factory when his family was sent off to debtors prison. He and wrote a novel that continues to enchant us – and maybe teach us about the important things that give us love and joy.

When we turned on our television a few days ago we did not know what we were getting, but I  recommend this movie as a Christmas treat as we endure the pandemic. And maybe some of us will read the book aloud. Maybe some of us will read more books by Dickens. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In was written earlier, but after he wrote A Christmas Carol he wrote other Christmas stories. The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairytale of Home was published shortly before Christmas in 1845. The Battle of Life: A Love Story, published in 1846, did not gain the same popularity. The The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time is the final Christmas book, and is not as much about the Christmas activities as about the spirit of the holiday.

So ended his run of Christmas books, but it was The Christmas Carol that changed Christmas for us all. Now, as Tiny Tim said, I wish us all “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

Dreaming of a White Christmas – Mission Accomplished

A White Christmas is beautiful and quiet

A white Christmas is a sure thing. When we woke up on December  18, one week before Christmas, we received 16 inches of  lovely snow – not too heavy. It took a good part of the day to clear streets and sidewalks. I think we were all glad to return to  our houses where we could sit near our brilliant Christmas trees and enjoy a hot toddy – or a cup of hot cocoa. We watched the old musical “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye  and enjoyed a perfect evening of delight.

Garden in the winter snow

On December 19 we are enjoying  some sun but chilly temperatures. There is no traipsing out  to  the shed or any tools. When we celebrate white Christmas weather we hope it lasts for days.

Social Distancing seating

We have been sitting out on the gravel ‘patio’  where we could visit in proper social distance seating. The table is now covered with 16 inches of snow. A friend donated a metal cradle to hold a campfire, but our wood was wet and we never got it working properly, but we have hopes, after we dig out some. I don’t think the watchful Krishna has ever seen anything quite like this.

I wonder about other landscapes and will be watching.

Our Christmas tree with treasures old

Snow in Massachusetts north

Daughter Betsy sent us photos of snowfall in the northern part of the state, shown deep on the patio furniture. In just a few hours it  will officially be winter.

Daughter Kate has a very different readiness for Christmas In Texas.

Merry Christmas to All!

University of Massachusetts Famous Garden Calendar – 2021

University of Massachusetts Garden Calendar 2021

The Annual Garden Calendar means you don’t need to have been a University of Massachusetts student to benefit on their studies which is shared generously with all of us.

UMass Garden Calendar with General Information

This is just the beginning of information about vegetables and flowers – and weeds.

Information about planting. pruning and dealing with bugs.

The gardening year is very long – happily for us who love working in the garden – and strolling through our garden to admire our  work, and  the work of Mother Nature.

The Garden Calendar makes a great gift and there is time to get your own Garden Calendar but it may not come before Christmas. Believe me, it is worth the wait.  I love the beautiful images, room for my own notes AND its easy to write on the paper

For many years, UMass Extension has worked with the citizens of Massachusetts to help them make sound choices about growing, planting and maintaining plants in their landscapes, including vegetables, backyard fruits, and ornamental plants. Our 2021 calendar continues UMass Extension’s tradition of providing gardeners with useful information. This year’s calendar offers tips on getting started with a vegetable garden with an emphasis on the basics, raised beds, and growing in containers.

Go to umassgardencalendar.org to see images from this year’s calendar and to order online, for a printable order form to order by mail, and the chart for bulk discounts, or call (413) 545-0895 (info only, we can’t take orders over the phone).

May – blueberry flowers and honey bees!