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Walter Cudnohufsky – Cultivating the Designer’s Mind

Cultivating the Designer's Mind

Walter Cudnohufsky’s book Cultivating the Designer’s Mind

Walter Cudnohufsky says “Design is Optimism Personified.” I saw Cudnohufsky’s design and optimism myself, one day about 11 years ago.

“Keep talking. Keep talking,” Cudnohufsky said as my Heath neighbors, Lynn Perry and Rol Hesselbart, brought out all their concerns about the landscape surrounding their new garage. I was invited to watch Cudnohufsky at work. It was a lively consultation and I was amazed at how patiently he listened, how carefully he observed the area.

Lynn visited me last week with all her notes of that afternoon, and the sketch Cudnohufsky created during the two hour consultation. “It made me so happy going through all those notes.” Lynn said. “That was a wonderful afternoon with Walt. And we did everything he suggested. There was nothing authoritative about him. And nothing was wasted that afternoon. He gave us what we needed and was gone,” she said.

Walter Cudnohufsky

Walter Cudnohufsky

I have seen Cudnohufsky at work since then, and become aware of what a good and encouraging teacher he is. Everyone who goes to him for a landscape design will get a lesson.

He has been teaching for over 40 years. During the first 20 years he founded the Conway School of Landscape Design in his renovated Ashfield barn. Fifteen students attended that first 10 month intensive program of learning and doing. Since he retired (mostly) from the Conway School he has continued his landscape practice. He is now sharing his expertise and teaching with a larger world.

Cultivating the Designer’s Mind: Principles and Process for Coherent Landscape Design, written by Cudnohufsky, with Molly Babize is a book that sets out to explain what design is. It also defines the many benefits of good design. Mollie Babize joined his practice about 35 years ago, and besides being a workmate and friend for all these years, she was at his side at the writing table. She was “striving to get my thoughts and make them coherent”. Cudnohufsky said.

The 313 page book is organized in ten chapters beginning with What is Design? One chapter talks about Understanding the Designer’s Role which is what Walt did when consulting with Lynn and Rol. He was listening and asking questions. He made a graphic rendering and continued talking and exploring more. This is an excellent chapter because it is not only for designers. It also provides information for the client about what to expect, what to think about, and what kinds of information the designer needs to make a good design.”

Cudnohufsky said that when he began more than 40 years ago he felt “a sustained and growing frustration with the general quality of design decisions. This was leading all too often towards fashion and decorating for dollars, rather than the higher order tasks of landscape design, first serving multiple environmental as well as human needs and desires, . . . as well as being aesthetically appealing. Good money is too often being spent unwisely when the same investment in landscape could often serve better ends.

“I have proven over decades that with a little elbow grease and focus, design is fun. A proportionally better designed result is possible. It is all within reach. I place a capital D on design because it is more than trivial.”

The book also includes case studies. One detailed case study illustrates how to build a basic map of a property, how to identify the views of adjoining properties, what plants are in good health, what are the impacts of trees on their surroundings and more. What are first impressions of the property? Cudnohufsky explains, “First begin with existing assets. Then look for constraints. Consider the topography, slopes and flatland.” There are sketches and drawings to show the various aspects of wind, light and shade, notes about electric lines and other important elements that are in place. Learning to see all this is as important for the client – or a house buyer who will come to see the need for a Design.

This book is intended for designers, young and experienced, as well as home owners. Understanding more about the needs of a site, as well as what they want from a sight will help them become better clients or self-designers. It is also hoped to be useful to the sister professionals in architecture, engineering, urban design, and planning.

I felt some of the exercises Cudnohufsky asked of his clients were useful to me as I work on creating my new urban garden. “I’m aware – I imagine.” In my garden I am aware of the movement of the sun – I imagine making a place that will provide shade for social space. There is also “I wish.” I wish I had more shelter in the garden. I wish there wasn’t so much water. Those wishes certainly tell me what I should be thinking about.

Cudnohufsky doesn’t seem capable of not designing and teaching. He said, “Beauty is not a luxury. It is a central human need and right – beauty leads predictably to reverie and sustaining human experience.” His book provides many lessons for all of us as we tend our domestic landscapes.

Between the Rows   March 23, 2019

Culinary Herb Garden – easy to grow for flavor and thrift


Parsley peeking up in the Culinary herb garden

A culinary herb garden is almost a necessity for gardeners, because so many of us enjoy cooking. Even if cooking is not our first love, it is hard to make meals without some basic herb for almost every dinner. It can be expensive if we have to buy our parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but a small culinary herb garden, preferably not too far from the kitchen door is a thrifty answer. Fortunately for me the area by my kitchen door is perfect for growing herbs. Herbs do not need much fussing. My soil is fertile, and there is plenty of sun.

Perennial Herbs


The Culinary Herb Garden is beginning to show itself. Chives!

Some herbs are perennial. I have three clumps of chives next to each other. A single large sage plant lives nearby. I can pluck the leaves I need year round. Even though sage foliage curls up and does not look appetizing in the cold winter, it does not lose its savor.
Rosemary is also a perennial, but it is tender and its Mediterranean heart cannot endure our winters. There are different ways to manage this problem. Small rosemary plants are available every spring. Rosemary can be planted in the garden and for use all season, then potted up and brought into the house until spring when it can be planted in the ground again. This system worked for me when I had a cool sunny room and kept the plant well watered, in spite of directions to water lightly. Even in a cool room the atmosphere in a winter house is very dry. My new house is too warm and too dry to do this any more.

You can also simply get a new rosemary plant every spring, plant it in the garden, and use it as long as you can. I save some dried rosemary to use in winter.

Mint plants are among the easiest plants to grow. And they spread. I have a black stemmed mint that has made an arrangement with my lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, to share a space. The fragrant foliage of each of these plants is delicious in summer drinks. I don’t need a lot and I can just keep them trimmed so they don’t grow beyond their allotted space.

If you like different mints, orange mint, peppermint and spearmint and others which also have different foliage, you can pot up each kind and make a handsome array of pots and plants.

Thyme is a perennial, but I don’t have it in my herb garden. I use it as a ground cover, and then snip a bit whenever I need it in the kitchen. There are many thymes, but T. vulgaris is my standard.

Annual Herbs

Then there are the many annual herbs. It is difficult to call dill an annual because it self seeds with abandon. I love dill, as much for its childhood memories on a Vermont farm, as for its usage. I have a spot right by the kitchen door where the dill grows. In the fall I collect seed for my winter herb shelf. Inevitably some seed get sprinkled on the ground. Just to be sure, I save a few seeds, in case they are needed in the spring.

Other annual herbs that are frequently used in the kitchen begin with parsley. You can buy parsley starts which is what I usually do because seeds take so long to germinate. I use flat leaf parsley for most of my cooking, but I always buy a flat of curly parsley, too. Curly parsley can be used as a nice border plant, but an extra culinary benefit is that as winter ends curly parsley sends up new foliage. That early parsley really helps me in the kitchen while I wait for the new parsley plants to take hold.

A variety of basils

A variety of Basils

Basil comes in many forms: Genovese Italian; lemon; little leaf; Thai and many more. Basil is a basic herb for lots of summer cooking. A few leaves can be clipped as needed. Basil also freezes very well for use in other seasons. I make little bundles of Genovese basil leaves and wrap them in wax paper. I put those little bundles in a freezer bag so I can use them in pesto or other dishes all year long.

Cilantro and coriander are a little tricky. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to realize coriander is the seed of the leafy cilantro. Part of the trick is that cilantro loses its leaves after a short season, leaving the coriander seeds. This means it is wise to have succession plantings of cilantro so you can have it over a long season. You can also keep collecting those coriander seeds.

Tarragon is an ingredient of Fines Herbes, along with chervil, parsley and chives. I have found it easiest to buy a tarragon plant. It is not easy to grow from seed. A small plant can settle in for the summer, but it is not hardy in our climate, indoors or out.

Chervil is sometimes called French parsley. It is delicate looking and delicate, but worth a try.

A small culinary herb garden can perk up your cooking – and save money.

Common thyme

Common thyme



 Walter Cudnohufsky, landscape designer, founder of The Conway School  (formerly known as The Conway School of Landscape Design) is now an author. The official launch of the book will take place at The Conway School on Village Hill Road in Northampton on Saturday, April 6. Open to the public, the book signing will begin at 9 am; the talk and discussion at 10-11:30 am.

Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium 2019

Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners

Western Mass Master Gardeners at the County Fair

There may be snow on the ground, but the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener’s Association knows it is time to get ready to garden. The WMMGA Garden Symposium at Frontier Regional High School is scheduled for Saturday, March 23, from 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. with a lunch available at noon. The symposium title this year is Healthy Gardens, Healthy Gardeners. If you want to learn about healthy soil, trees for the garden, butterfly gardening, ergonomics and injury prevention, and much more it is time to send in your registration form.

This year the Keynote speaker is Dr. Stephen Rich from the University of Massachusetts. He will talk about What Every Gardener Needs to Know About Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of a surge in tick-borne disease incidence in the United States,. It is no longer limited to Lyme disease anymore! This will be an important talk to help us get through the garden season in good health.

Anne and Bruce Aune

Anne and Bruce Aune – Master Gardeners

Bruce and Anne Aune in their rock garden

This year I was particularly intrigued by the simply named talk Gardening with Rocks, which will be given by Bruce and Anne Aune.  Bruce and Anne have been gardening together for many years. From the large library windows of their house they have a view of their ever changing gardens and the hills and sky beyond. At this time of the year it is the kind of view that can easily lead to thoughts of “You know what we should do in the vegetable garden this year?’ Or “I wonder if that Pinus parviflora needs more serious pruning this year?”

This is also the time of year that the Aunes are happy to be able to share their experiences with gardeners at the Spring Symposium. Their talk, Gardening with Rocks, covers many of the ways that rocks can be used in gardens. Anne said that she has always loved geology, loved stones in their diversity and beauty. She said Bruce’s interest in rocks came as he kept digging them out of the soil. “Our property is loaded with rocks dropped by retreating glaciers.  Large, extra large, small and smaller.  Varied.  Rubbed round as beach pebbles.  Whenever we dig, we “liberate” rocks, so we use them to edge beds and as accents here and there.  This has led to our interest in Japanese gardens and rockeries.”

Stone bench and rockery garden

Aune’s stone bench and rockery garden

I made a visit to the Aunes late one fall and was fascinated by their Japanese rockery. The handsome, sculptural stone bench, created by Michael Mazur, stands in front of the rockery planted on a slope.  It was late enough in the season that most of the small spreading plants, like primulas, thymes, ferns, phlox and saxifrages had gone to sleep. The Aunes also planted conifers and shrubs in the rock garden. In a Japanese-style garden conifers are an important and handsome element. There are tall conifers like Japanese white pine, and low growing junipers like Blue Rug and Nana. Anne told me that regular pruning is also needed.

Certainly over the years they have used many kinds of rocks in different ways. Boulders have been used to edge planting beds, large flat stones have been used to make a ‘carpet’ for benches in the lawn, and gravel has been used to create good planting beds for alpines.

‘Liberated’ stone put to use as a rock border

The Aunes have also used troughs for their alpine plants. Years ago troughs used to be carved out of tufa, a porous limestone. Nowadays troughs are much less expensive and more easily found because they are made of hypertufa, a mixture of Portland cement, peat moss and perlite.

Spring Symposium Programs

Gardening with Rocks is just one of 17 talks. To register, you can go online to and fill out the form listing the 17 programs, choosing one from the morning list and one from the afternoon. The cost is $35. You can also order a lunch for $9. Lunch must be pre-ordered. You can also go online to print out the program and registration form. The earlier you register, the more likely you are to get the talks you want. Before the keynote talk there is time to get a coffee, browse among the vendors with their local offerings and, and look at the book table. In case of impending  bad weather, call 413-665-2181 the  night before for a recorded message regarding possible rescheduling. Those who have attended before know the wisdom of car pooling. Parking is tight next to the school. However, parking is also available at the Deerfield Elementary School on Pleasant St. There are parking lots on both sides of the school.


The University of Massachusetts has a series of agricultural workshops that are useful for the home gardener. Two that are coming up are:

March 16 – Grafting Fruit Trees at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown from 10 am – 2pm.  $100     March 30 – Pruning Blueberries at the Tougas Family Farm, Northboro from 10 am – noon.  $45.  Check online for UMass Aggie Seminars.

Between the Rows   March 8, 2019


Beverly Duncan and Her Books

Beverly Duncan Botanical artist

Beverly Duncan, Botanical artist in her studio

“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  is 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 soon enlarged her focus to drawing and painting the flowers 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. “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 the forest among the bluebells. It was inspiring. Luxurious learning.”

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

Flower a day project

Beverly Duncan – A tiny sample of the Flower-a-Day project

“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.

Grape Hyacinth book

Accordion book devoted to the Grape Hyacinth

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 page painting shows identifying characteristics of the branch and bud.”

SEEDS project

SEEDS project

We looked through the SEEDS book about Staghorn Sumac. Duncan paints the parts of the plant in clear detail. She also names the part of the sumac. I might call the slightly fuzzy red things on the end of an autumnal sumac branch a ‘flower,’ Duncan properly calls them 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.

Staghorn Sumac SEEDS book

Staghorn Sumac SEEDS book

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.

Between the Rows   March 2, 2019

Views of Winter From the Office Window

Snow and water on January 4, 2016

The idea of taking photos of the view from my ‘office’, the only room in the house that gives a full view of the backyard garden,  is intended as a record of  the vagaries of the weather.  My dates sometimes are a bit off, but this is the first photo taken in 2016. This is the beginning of the first full year in our Greenfield  house.

The second of February  2016 and it looks like spring. Almost

Surely, this isn’t the end of snow season.  Alas, no photo of 3-1-16.

January 12, 2017

I said my dates wouldn’t be exact. This is the first January photo in 2017. Snowy and wet but you can see the planting beds have gotten larger, The first plantings went in in June 2015, and continued through 2016.

January 31, 2017

By the end of January 2017, almost the First of February,  there was more snow – and wet.

February 28, 2017

Almost March  2017, and the snow is nearly gone, leaving wet spots. The planting beds are nearly complete.

January 17, 2018

I certainly didn’t get started  taking photos early in 2018. This is a view from the ground because the office window was frozen shut.

March 1, 2018

So much for recording February in 2018!

February 12, 2019

I knew I was falling down on my recordkeeping. This is the first view from the office in 2019. The window was still frozen.

March 1, 2019

To make up for missed opportunities in January and February,  and after several February snowfalls, here is the backyard from the ground.

March 1, 2019

And here is the view from the office window.  We have had bitter cold weather, with high winds last week, but today the sun is shining, and the snow is melting.

March 4, 2019

Lest I begin to think the ever brighter sun means that spring is almost here, I woke this morning to the results of a heavy wet snowfall all night.

I hope the arrival of April 1 will bring no foolish scenes.

Fragrant Flowers for the Garden

Lilac tree blossoms

Lilac TREE blossoms in Spring, exceedingly fragrant

My new low maintenance, pollinator garden is full of fragrant flowers that bloom over the course of the season. I confess I did not choose these flowers on purpose. However I am really happy that so many fragrant plants have additional benefits. My fragrant flowers require little care and welcome pollinators.

Some fragrances, like lilac, take me back to my early childhood on a Vermont farm. When we moved to Heath in 1979 there were already old fragrant lilacs in place, but I added the gorgeous fragrant Beauty of Moscow lilac with it double white flowers touched with pink. I also added the deep purple lilac, Yankee Doodle, so I could have some range of color. Lilacs are not only beautiful and fragrant, they are dependable. Think of all those lilacs still growing on abandoned farmsteads.

Beauty of Moscow double lilac

Beauty of Moscow, double pink to white lilacs

All my shrub lilacs are Syringa vulgaris. There are a number of other species including the small Miss Kim, S. pubescens subsp. patula, as well as the Chinese lilac, S. chinensis, with pinky-purple blossoms and the small Boomerang lilac, S. x ‘Penda’ which blooms twice a year.

When we bought our Greenfield house, we found a very different and unexpected lilac. We have a lilac tree. It is a syringa tree, not an overgrown lilac bush. The tree is covered with large lacy white flowers and a fragrance that surprises and mystifies the people who walk by in June. People tend not to look up at the trees when the air is perfumed. The fragrant air remains a mystery to many. Still, I have noticed that there are other lilac trees in the area, and an apartment building near us has planted several lilac trees on the grounds.  The fragrance is not exactly like the lilac bush, but it is wonderful.

In the shade of our lilac tree we also got a Pieris japonica, sometimes called Lily of the Valley shrub. It is evergreen and produces cascades of small white flowers in May. It is not very fussy. I prune away the spent blossoms and any straggly branches in the late spring. That is the limit of my care. In our yard I do not need to worry about having sufficiently acid soil.

Pieris japonica

Fragrant Pieris japonica

In a slightly sunnier part of our front yard I planted Deutzia, a small shrub that I’m hoping will not grow more than two feet tall, but will give me the promised four foot spread. In the spring there are sprays of tiny white fragrant flowers which last two or three weeks.

Last fall I planted a daffodil border in front of the low growing evergreens. I was late in my planning so I didn’t have many choices of daffodil. For those who think ahead there are some especially fragrant daffodils. Narcissus “Actaea” is a white daff with a golden cup trimmed with red. This is a simple old variety that I love and always have in my garden. Narcissus “Carlton” is a big golden daff with a large fringed cup and great fragrance. It is also a good spreader, if you want to have more and more gold. Narcissus “Replete” is a glamorous and fragrant double daff with pinky-coral ruffles in the center and double white petals behind.

In my sunny South Border, I did specifically plant Korean spice viburnam. Anyone who has spent any time at Greenfield Community College in late spring will be familiar with the fragrance that perfumes the air at that season. The point is made that if you can plant several of a fragrant plant, you will not have to stick your nose in the blossoms to revel in its perfume.

Calycanths, Carolina summersweet

Calycanthus, Carolina summersweet

In the backyard garden I have planted Clethra, also known as summersweet and Calycanthus, called Carolina allspice.  Clethra is probably more familiar with its upright, white or pink panicles of fragrant white flowers. In my garden it is very happy to get some shade and a moist, heavy soil. Calycanthus has very unusual deep wine red, or even brown blossoms, that last from April to June. When the flowers finish they are replaced with brownish seed capsules that will last all winter.

There are fragrant annuals like heliotrope and flowering tobacco. I am planning to try planting stocks, Matthiola Incana, in my garden this summer. Stocks are about two and a half feet tall and bloom in a large range of color from white to yellow and shades of pink and red. Their scented flowers bloom in the evening. They are very tender and sensitive to frost. They can be seeded when frost is no longer a danger, or started indoors to be transplanted outdoors when it is reliably warm.

I am not very good with houseplants, especially in the summer when I prefer my flowers outside. However, I’d love to have a blooming gardenia in the house, or in a carefully chosen spot outdoors when the weather is fine. Scent is so evocative. I remember the days when I was about 15 and could take the train into New York City by myself to see a Broadway show. Back then you could buy a gardenia corsage on the street corner for fifty cents. Those fragrant gardenias on my shoulder were a great way to make me feel adult and sophisticated. Now, when I smell gardenias, I am carried back to my walk from Grand Central up to 42nd Street, finding my theater for Teahouse of the August Moon or Auntie Mame. I can still feel sophisticated and ready for a show.


Between the Rows  February 23, 2019


Random Acts of Kindness in the Garden – and Everywhere

Random Acts of Kindness in the Garden

Random Acts of Kindness at the John Zon Community Center by Dorothea Sotiros and others

There was a time when I didn’t know about random acts of kindness. Have you ever gone through a toll booth and been told your toll was already paid by the car ahead of you? Or had a dish of jello sent to your table at a highway diner by the smiling waitress who told you it was courtesy of the man who just left? I have.

My response was to laugh and immediately pay the toll for the car in back of me! As I drove on I wondered whether the smiling toll taker was taking all his tolls that day for the car just behind? Think of all the people who might have left smiling – not to mention the toll taker who had a story to bring home that day.

I haven’t had any opportunities to send anyone free dishes of jello because I don’t spend time in highway diners anymore.

Now that I think of these acts of kindness I am reminded of others. In 1966 I was just getting used to driving. I drove my then husband to Bradley airport and began to drive home to West Hartford. It was dark and I got lost on a narrow road. Suddenly a police car with its siren pulled me over to the side of the road. While the policeman took out his pad and was asking me for my driver’s license several cars drove past us. I had been holding up traffic. “Where are you coming from?” he asked.

“I had to drive my husband to the airport, but I got lost,” I explained. “I don’t know this area, at all.”

The policeman took out his pad. “Did you have anything to drink at the airport?”

It seemed an odd question to me. I never drank at all. I thought carefully. “Well, I did have a chocolate covered cherry cordial while I was driving,” I answered.

The policeman threw up his hands and laughed. “O.K. You should know that sometimes when people drive very slowly, it means they are intoxicated. Where do you need to go?” He gave me directions and sent me on my way.

Policemen must give acts of kindness often. One very early May 1st morning I was driving through Charlemont and was stopped by a policeman. He told me I was speeding and took out his pad to give me a ticket. I was very flustered and apologized. “I’m so sorry officer, but I was rushing to finish getting my May Baskets delivered before it got too light.” He peered at the baskets of pansies on the back seat, shook his head and put away his pad. “Go on – but go slower!”

There is a shared joy in these acts of kindness; they were unexpected gifts. And now I find out there is actually a Random Acts of Kindness holiday, celebrated annually on February 17. There is even a Random Acts of Kindness website, in case you can’t think of some small thing to pass on to a stranger – or a friend. The website offers lots and lots of ideas.

Random Acts of Kindness in the Garden

Tom Sullivan, Nancee Bershoff and Wisty Rorabacher

As gardeners we are performing random acts of kindness all the time. Gardeners just can’t help themselves. We are always sharing seeds, and divisions of plants that have gotten too big. We bring potted flowering plants to those who can’t garden the way they used to, and make bouquets to bring to our friends who are ill. We share our vegetable and fruit bounty.

Gardeners spread random acts of kindness around the community. My volunteer group planted the public garden at the John Zon Community Center, and then we watered it and kept it weeded. We wanted to make a beautiful garden for the public – and for the pollinators. Volunteers also plant and maintain the pollinator gardens at the Energy Park.

Random Acts of Kindness

Me in my favorite garden hat at the Zon Community Center. Lots of other volunteers too last spring

Gardeners donate plants and labor to plant sales that will beautify the community. I once spent a morning potting up plants for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale in May. I possibly potted a dozen plants, but when the plant sale was set up I saw the 1,300 plants potted up by volunteers.

We hold Garden Open Today tours to share our enthusiasm, our experiences and our knowledge. Garden clubs use their raised funds to encourage children to learn from their school gardens, or to support institutions like Forbes Library.

Not all random acts of kindness occur in the garden. There are scores of volunteers at our Franklin Medical Center. When we civilians enter the hospital we can use kindness – and volunteers cheerfully supply it. I speak from experience.

Our wonderful Greenfield Library has dozens of volunteers who help in many ways, including delivering books to those who can not longer get to the library. They bring the books and get to share  teatime and bookish conversations.

There are volunteers working in the schools in many capacities. Children know they are loved by their parents but then they go out to the wide world of School and find kindness there. First, their teachers love them, and then the volunteers do. I read to a first grade most Fridays, and I can tell you that I get more kindness than I give because I have 16 little people laughing and sitting at my feet.

Volunteers cook up great lunches at the Stone Soup Café every Saturday. Those lunches are free to those in need and others are pay-what-you-can. Those meals are delicious!

Clearly, kindness is not limited to a single day in the year. Kindness is all around us, waiting to be shared.###

Between the Rows   February 16, 2019

Who are the Pollinators and Why Are Pollinators Important

Honeybees on coneflowers

Honey bees on coneflowers

Who are the pollinators and why are they important? We all know that many plants need to be pollinated to make seed, and the fruits and vegetables that protect the seeds inside. Pollen is the powdery stuff inside a flower blossom. Sometimes it is not very noticeable. On the other hand flowers like lilies and sunflowers are so laden with pollen that a bouquet of those flowers will shed golden pollen all over the table.

Pollen grains are produced by the male part of a flower, the stamen.  The pollen will either fall on the female parts, the stigma, on self pollinating plants like tomatoes and sunflowers, or it will be carried away to other plants. Pollen can be carried by the wind, or it can be carried by bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, wasps, and even small mammals.

Bees are particularly important pollinators. They are fascinating creatures. Here in Massachusetts we have over three hundred species of bee. They are vital to the pollination of nearly 50% of our agricultural crops. They need to be supported with more flowers that will feed them. Many are familiar: coneflowers, yarrow, coreopsis, asters, columbine, phlox, black eyed susans, and of course, bee balm. This is just to name a few.

Bumble bees are very easy to see because of their size. They often live in small groups near or in the ground. The queen comes out of winter hibernation and lays her eggs. Workers and drones soon hatch and the colony grows as they collect nectar and pollen to feed themselves. Late in the season the queen will start laying queen eggs as well as worker eggs. At the end of the season the old queen will die and the new queens will find their own hibernation spots to begin new colonies.

I have never been very good at identifying any of the other native bees who also take on the work of pollination. Many of them lead solitary lives – until they need to reproduce – and are very small. There are digger bees, sweat bees, mason bees, leaf cutter bees, carpenter bees and more.

Wasps like yellow jackets are not interested in pollen, but they do carry pollen from one plant to another as they sip the nectar that they are so fond of.  Though incidental, pollination by wasps is important to agricultural crops. Yellow jackets are aggressive and often mistaken for bees when they sting. They often live in the ground. I once stepped barefoot on a yellow jacket nest and got bad stings, but I did not blame the bees.

I have been a beekeeper and was rarely stung. I had to give up beekeeping when I developed an allergy to bee stings, but I have taken it upon myself to remind people that bees are not really interested in people. We offer them no pollen or nectar. The thing to remember is that bees cannot see slow movements. If a fearful person starts wildly waving and shooing away a bee, that person will attract the attention of the bee that will be frightened and angry. That bee is much more likely to sting.

Whenever I am talking to children about bees I always stress that if a honeybee is flying around they should remain calm and still. However, if they do get stung they need to know that it will not hurt very much UNLESS they try to pull out the stinger. It is the poison in the pouch that people pinch to pull out the stinger that will push the poison and the pain into wherever you have been stung. My lesson to the children and everyone is to scrape the stinger out of your skin with a stiff piece of cardboard, or credit card or something of the sort. Whatever you might have at hand. Other sites tell you to remove the stinger and quickly as possible. They do not tell you  to scrape it off. Never pull it out.


Echinacea purpureum – coneflower with butterfly

Butterflies also pass pollen from one plant to another. Butterflies are so beautiful that many gardeners are planting butterfly gardens that will attract butterflies. Many of the flowers that attract bees also attract butterflies. However, butterflies are more particular about the nectar that they prefer, and they also need plants that will feed their larvae. Milkweed is the most familiar host plant for the easily identified Monarch butterfly, but other butterflies need other plants. I haven’t seen a beautiful spicebush swallowtail butterfly in my garden, but along with milkweed to attract Monarchs, I have planted the Lindera benzoin spicebush because it will feed that beautiful butterfly.

We have bats in our attic, but we are grateful that they will also offer pollinating services.

Pollinator populations have been declining, especially in urban areas. We town gardeners are already in action to attract and feed bees, butterflies, and even bats. My backyard garden is filled with pollinator plants in a relatively small area. That density of plants with desirable nectar and pollen is what will attract pollinators. Some of my neighbors also have desirable densities of nectar and pollen plants.

Two of the public gardens in town were designed to attract pollinators. There is the Energy Park right in the center of town, and the new flowery garden at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street.

As you think about choosing seeds for spring, think about flowers that will make your garden beautiful – and support pollinators.

Between the Rows  February 9, 2019

Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables by Catherine Reid

Landscapes of Green Gables

Landscapes of Green Gables by Catherine Reid

I did not read Anne of Green Gables until I saw the recent TV production. I knew nothing of the red haired girl with freckles who talked a mile a minute. I didn’t know about her trip from an awful asylum to “the Island, the bloomiest place. . . .I used to imagine I was living here, but I never really expected I would. It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?” The TV program turned out to be the teaser for me to the delights of being a friend of this imaginative girl who listened to the trees talking in their sleep, and set to naming the landscapes around her, the Lake of Shining Waters, the Birch Path, the Haunted Wood, and Lovers Lane.

Like Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, Anne was a character who loved the natural world, who found her joy and solace in the fields, the flowers and woodlands, the winds and the beaming sun. Anne is a character who has been loved by children, and inevitably adults, ever since it was published in 1908. Maud Montgomery, as she preferred to be called, was encouraged to write several more Anne books like Anne of Avonlea and Anne’s House of Dreams about her marriage and life as a wife. But it is her later books, including Emily of the New Moon, that she thought were her best works.

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables: The Enchanting Island that Inspired L. M. Montgomery by Catherine Reid (Timber Press $24.95) is a beautiful introduction to Anne, the life of L.M. Montgomery and the landscapes of Prince Edward Island, PEI. It is liberally sprinkled with quotations from her books and from her journals. The pages are also filled with beautiful photographs of the beflowered and forested areas of Prince Edward Island, and the waters that surrounded the island.

The book is divided into seven sections beginning with an Introduction to L.M. Montgomery’s life and Anne’s. The Kindred Orphans section compares the similarities and differences between Montgomery who had many relatives and Anne who had none. Though their circumstances were different, they suffered, and rejoiced in similar ways.

The Loveliest Spot on Earth is about Prince Edward Island then and now; Emerald Screens takes us on a visit to Maud’s and Anne’s favorite gardens on PEI; and A World with Octobers is a beautiful description of all the seasons on the Island. These sections are especially useful to someone who is planning to visit PEI, but they will gladden and delight all those who love Anne.

Something More Poetical: the Scope of Two Imaginations and That Great and Solemn Wood: A Writer’s Life will carry today’s reader into Anne and Montgomery’s hopes and trials. Early on Montgomery knew she wanted to be a writer. She even published a poem, On Cape LeForce, in a PEI newspaper when she was only 16. It is wonderful to discover the many other books she wrote. She also kept journals that looked very much like scrapbooks, with her own thoughts written down along with pictures cut from magazines and other writings. These are now preserved in different museums, including the Green Gables Heritage Place where Montgomery spent so much of her childhood.

Montgomery, like Anne, found solace in the beauties of the natural world. Solace was needed. No one’s life is without difficulties. We hear about Anne’s brief sorrows, and in the last pages we learn about Montgomery’s sorrows and trials. Her husband suffered from a mental illness, and her scoundrel of a publisher cheated her on her royalties. There were several exhausting law suits against him; there were also disappointments in her adult son, Chester. She died in her sleep in 1942. Anne continues to live on for readers young and old.

I did not know before this post was published in the Greenfield Recorder, but now I know that author Catherine Reid is a Greenfield native.  So many talented and skilled people in this part of the world. We are all lucky!


Cluck: A book of happiness for chicken lovers

Cluck: A book of happiness for chicken lovers is edited by Freya Haanen. ( Exisle Publishing  $19.99 US) This is a cheerful book with bright photos of chickens living their chicken lives, in their dust baths, with nests of eggs, crowing in the dawn, visiting with the rabbits and much more. The photos are on the left hand page, with a proverb on the opposite page. I thought several of the proverbs were quite apropos of our political world right now.

Think of these.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I dream of a better tomorrow, where chickens can cross the road and not be questioned about their motives.

One of the Nigerian proverbs in the book states “A bird does not change its feathers because the weather is bad.” I particularly like this as we look to our legislators to keep our government on an even keel.

And in this land of #Metoo there is Margaret Thatcher’s proverb: The cocks may crow but it’s the hen that lays the egg”  I have used these words in the past but never knew I was quoting Prime Minister Thatcher.

Cluck is a cheerful and thoughtful gift book for anyone with chickens, or longing for chickens. There are other books of happiness for dog and horse lovers, Woof and Spirit with equally appropriate quotations in various flavors of philosophy and light-heartedness. ###

Between the Rows   February 2, 2019

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Daffodils at the supermarket

These forced bulbs were at the supermarket

There are three ways to achieve flowering plants in your house during the winter.

First, you can think ahead and order bulbs for forcing. Paperwhites are the old standby, but you can force other daffodils, and there are many cultivars to provide you with a variety of form and color. In the early fall you will find a host of different daffodil bulbs at your local garden center or you can go online. By the same token you can easily find snowdrops, lilies of the valley, scillas also known as squills, and grape hyacinths more properly known as muscari. These can all be planted in the garden, or you can save some for forcing.

You will need a container with holes for drainage, and that will give you room for about three or four inches of potting soil. Forced bulbs are usually not used for planting in the garden after blooming, so they can be placed closely together. Water the planted bulbs lightly and put them in a cool, dark space for about two weeks. Then move the pot into a warmer, sunny location.

There is another easy way to force paperwhites. In the dim past I forced paperwhites in water. Paperwhites do not need planting soil. I had a square vase about eight inches tall. As directed, I put in three inches or so of white gravel, placed three or four paperwhite bulbs on the gravel, and then sprinkled in a few extra pebbles. I added just enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Since the vase was clear glass I could keep that water level to prevent the bulbs from rotting. The bulbs sent out roots and shoots and then blooms, all nicely supported by the walls of the vase. You can see why it was important to have a clear glass vase. The vase also helped support the stalks so they wouldn’t flop over.

I did not think ahead  this year because I have three Christmas cactus and four amaryllis. I thought they would give me plenty of holiday bloom.

However, things did not go as imagined. Only one of my three Christmas cactuses bloomed.

None of last year’s four forced amaryllis were blooming as Christmas drew near. The amaryllis gave me a great show last year and I decided to try and get them to bloom again. When the season moved on to spring warmth I cut back the foliage and planted them in the garden, with the top of the bulb showing, just as I plant them in their pots. I harvested them from the backyard garden in September, cut off the foliage and let them rest in the dark. Then in mid-November I planted them in pots, just as they looked when I received them last year. Now one amaryllis has sent out four large leaves, but there is no sign of a plant stalk. One has sent out two smaller leaves. One has just started sending out a single leaf shoot. However the fourth bulb is sending up a vigorous flower bud and two young leaves are emerging from the bulb! All have gotten the same treatment, same planting soil, the same careful watering, and the same climate outdoors and in. You just never know for sure how plants will react.

The amaryllis are now on a table in my so-called office where they get southern and western sun. I am still watering them lightly. It looks like I will get at least one flower stalk and I will be very pleased and grateful.

Since the holiday and pre-spring flowery color I hoped for did not appear I punted. The second way to get color at this time of the year is to go to the Farmer’s Coop to buy some bulbs and make another try.

At the Coop I bought three sprouting paperwhite daffodil bulbs. I used potting soil and crowded the bulbs in a pretty bowl with drainage holes. They are now sitting in front of a window in the guest room where they will get bright light and some sun.

I also bought a bag of sunny yellow crocus bulbs. They were also sending out shoots. I planted these in a fairly shallow pot with more room for all 14 bulbs. With all those little shoots the plants look raring to go, so I am not following any of the usual instructions about cooling the bulbs and keeping them in the dark for a few weeks. We’ll just wait and see if these new bulbs are happy to be in a nutritious planting medium, with gentle waterings and bright light.

I have never been an expert houseplant gardener. This is at least partly because somehow the houses I have lived in have never provided me with appropriate spaces for potted flowers. Even, so I like having a few green potted plants in front of a window or two, and add color when I can.

The third way to get color immediately is to buy a pot of flowers in bloom.

Whether we are successful with a bulb forcing project or not, we can always add blooms to the winter months by stopping by Sigda Florists  for flowers, potted or bouquet, or even run to the supermarket for potted flowers that will bring you color and beauty. The winter outdoors has a more limited palette, but cheerful color can be yours indoors.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2019