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Three Composting Techniques for Soil Improvement

Black compost bin

The familiar compost bins. If you look very carefully you might see the hole in the ground by the back bin – where a rat entered the bin

At our house we make use of three different composting techniques. We have two black bins for kitchen scraps and weeds, wire bins for leaves, and a compost pile for weeds and pruning trimmings. These three ways of making compost provide different ways of improving our soil.

Most of us are familiar with the black compost bins. I take a pot of vegetable scraps out every day. However it takes more than just those scraps and weeds. It is important to mix these, sometimes called ‘greens,’ with ‘browns’ which can be leaves, torn paper, coffee grounds and such. I even add a bit of soil once in while which aids the process. This mixture will provide the three essential elements of fertilizers, nitrogen, for leaf and stem development, phosphorus for roots and flowers, and fruit development, and potassium promotes healthy roots systems and helps the plants resist disease.

The mixtures in our bins also need to be aerated to help the composting process. I try to stir it up from time to time with a spade or heavy stick, but you can buy a metal aerator. The aerator plunges in and stirs up the mixings to get air. Aerating and mixing make the decomposition work more quickly.

There are a lot of scraps that go into the bin, and there are many things that should never go into the bin. Never throw in scraps of meat, dairy products, cat litter, doggie doings, or peelings of oranges and such. Don’t throw in diseased plants or strong perennial weeds like dandelions or thistle, or any plants with seed heads.

The thing that just amazes me about the compost that we harvest from the black bin is all the worms living in there. Our bin is a little mucky because I am not good at gauging how much moisture to provide, but the worms are really happy. I take batches of compost and worms and add them to my planting beds. That makes me and the worms very happy.

A final warning about the black bins. We have had rats visiting us this year. They dig under the bin, chewing through the heavy plastic. I assume they spit out the plastic, and then feast on the best of the scraps. Our solution is to put hardware cloth underneath the bin. We can do that now because we are just finishing all the compost. Our second bin will have to wait to be emptied and then get its hardware cloth barrier.

Leaf bin making leaf mold

One of two wire bins for leaves

In addition we have two homemade wire bins, about four feet by five feet. We fill these bins with leaves in the fall. Leaves start to break down somewhat right away which means we can keep adding leaves all season. We aerate the leaves by poking a stick into the leaves in various places on the sides.

These leaf bins make what the British call leaf mold. The value of leaf mold is that it will hold up to 500 percent of its own weight in water. This helps reduce evaporation, and can absorb rainwater and reduce runoff. Leaf mold also improves soil texture. I spread leaf mold on top of the soil sometimes, and sometimes I dig it in when I am adding plants, or loosing soil when doing heavy weeding. It is also useful for lightening the soil when you are planting in containers. I am not exacting or precise; I just do what I can with what I have and hope Mother Nature is kind.

My husband and my son will often mow over leaf piles in the fall, before throwing them in the bins. Some people also use an electric leaf shredder, but I always think they must take a lot of time to go through a big pile. It is an option, and will make the leaves decompose rapidly.

Our third technique is our compost pile. It requires a little more patience, but the result is wonderful.

When we bought our house in 2015 and started planting in the empty back yard we were always digging up weeds and sod, leaves that couldn’t fit in our bins, and finding sticks and branches that fell from the trees. We threw all this stuff in a back corner. It made quite a pile.

In the spring of 2018 we started mining the decomposed materials of this first pile. We had to pull the sticks and heavier branches off the top of the pile and threw them into the beginnings of Pile 2. We took the usable compost and spread it, and incorporated it into our soil.

Finished compost

Finished compost from Pile 2.

Now in 2020 we are mining Pile 2. I am slowly peeling off  the brush that covers  the top of  the pile and then I dig in  to the lovely compost. We are always adding new plants, and these new plants get a good helping of compost. Since we are mining Pile 2 we are also creating the beginnings of Pile 3.  I can tell you it is growing quickly.

I call our garden a strolling garden. There are grass paths, winding around shrubs, trees and perennials, but there is no lawn. Weeds, prunings and leaves from all those plantings go into what we call the compost pile. I need never fear running out of compost.

I am glad to claim these three techniques because our garden space in not only wet, it is very dense and clay-like. A neighbor told me that our street is on the edge of the historic Pray Brickworks. I am doing my best to change that clay.###

Between the Rows  June 13, 2020

My Roses on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – June 15, 2020

Bloom Day

On Bloom Day I applaud my Sage plant. You can see Zaide and Knock Out red roses in the background

On this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, most of my bloomers are roses, but this sage plant is right outside the back door and I love it! I’ll never use that much sage, but it is beautiful.

Zaide, Kordes

Zaide, a Kordes rose

Zaide is one of my favorite roses. I appreciate that it was more than 30 years ago that the German Kordes hybridizers were making sturdy disease resistant roses that  would not need insecticides. They were way ahead of the US in creating plants that did not harm our environment.

Lion's Fairy Tale

Lion’s Fairy Tale, a Kordes floribunda

Lion’s Fairy Tale is just about to bloom. I moved this rose last spring to make room for a redbud. Then this winter and early spring the spot I chose  turned out to be wetter than I expected. We all know roses do not like to have wet feet. It did not look promising in March, but now I have great hopes  for a continuing life in this spot. I am looking forward to fragrance and big blooms.

Folksinger rose

Folksinger, a Buck rose

Dr. Griffith Buck, at Iowa University, was ahead of  his time in the 50’s hybridizing strong disease-resistant roses. Many of his roses are labelled Earth Kind. I had many of Buck’s roses when we lived in Heath. My space is very limited in Greenfield.

Knock Out red rose

Knock Out red rose

I think Knock Out red roses look better from a distance, I like this photo.  Knock Out roses also claim disease resistance.

Brother Cadfael rose

Brother Cadfael is a David Austin Rose

David Austin has many beautiful roses in many lush colors. I could not resist Brother Cadfael  late last summer. He is beginning to bloom, just in time for Bloom Day.

Coral Drift rose

Coral Drift rose

When we were just starting our new Greenfield garden I had a small space, and while wandering through a plant nursery I saw two cheerful ‘landscape roses.’  Drift is one company with roses in many shades.

Paprika rose

Paprika rose from Oso Easy

Paprika and Coral live prettily and happily in my small space, perfect for landscape roses.

I thank Carol of May Dreams Gardens who created Garden Bloggers Bloom Day so we could all share and admire each other’s gardens.

Flowers in Every Season for Pollinators and Happy Gardener

Grape hyacinths

The grape hyacinths were the big surprise this year. Riotous they were.

It is not difficult to find flowers for every season.  Many spring flowers have decided it is time to take a nap until next April. If it weren’t for the fact that summer bloomers were beginning to show their colors I’d be very depressed. Like many of us my spring garden began with bulb flowers like scillas, crocuses, daffodils and tulips of every sort. In my May garden fringed bleeding hearts and a goldheart bleeding heart showed their colors. I had epimediums, hellebores, bistort, troillus, Jacob’s ladder, fothergilla, quince, geum, primroses, fairy bells, forget-me-nots, tiarella, snow drops and summer snowflakes. There is more! Centaurea montana was blooming along with solomon’s seal, primulas, wood poppies, barren strawberry, and creeping phlox. Viburnams are blooming along with lilacs and red and yellow twig dogwoods. Most of these are native plants which I chose because I want to benefit local birds, bees and butterflies.

Strolling through the garden is a delight in the spring. Now that it is June my roses are just beginning to blossom. Roses used to have a short blooming season, but nowadays hybridizers are giving us roses with a longer season, or a second flush.

SUMMER BLOOMERS

Huskers Red

Husker’s Red penstemon

Some people actually have no interest in roses, but there is no shortage of a variety of summer bloomers. June is a great month for irises which are available in different sizes, forms, and colors. Beautiful shrubs like mountain laurel, rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom. Honeysuckle, astilbe, columbine, coreopsis, campanula, agastache, and Husker’s Red penstemon will also bloom.

Many annuals that attract the birds and the bees bloom all summer and into the fall including zinnias, marigolds, calendula, cosmos, nasturtiums, and cleome (spider flower).

Many of these plants show themselves in many colors. To attract pollinators we should think about the way bees see. The colors most appealing to bees are white, yellow and blue – in their various shades. I will think of that as I choose from the colors of  my zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, and nasturtiums.

The plants in an herb garden, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, borage and mint bloom in blue, attract bees and keep cooks happy.

AUTUMN

Sheffield daisy

Sheffies – Sheffield daisy

Summer is a longer garden season than spring. Plants that bloom in the fall may begin their term in August, and keep us happy until frost. Chrysanthemums might head the list. Football games and mums on lapels. Not this year, of course. No games. Even so, other types of mums can delight. There are spoon and quill mums that have unusual petals, little button mums, and cushion mums which are the mounding mums that appear at supermarket doors in the fall.

My favorite chrysanthemum is the so called Sheffield daisy. The daisy-like petals are a lovely pink with a yellow center. They are a little sprawly and low, but they start their glorious bloom in September and continue until a hard frost. I love this plant which blooms when almost everything else is giving up. It is a good spreader and I usually have divisions to give away.

Boltonia is an amazing plant, growing tall and stately. It brings a profusion of small white daisy blossoms on sturdy four to five foot stems well through October.

Culver’s root is even taller than boltonia. It is at least five feet tall with candelabra-like spikes of white flowers.

Of course there are asters that also bloom through the fall. There are tall asters like the white wood aster with tiny white daisy-like blossoms, the three foot brilliant pink Alma Potchke, and Wood’s Blue which is only a foot tall, but can carpet an area, or be kept in check. There are many asters to take us through the fall.

Douglas W. Tallamy

There was no garden when we moved to Greenfield five years ago. But I had read and was inspired by Bringing Nature Home written by Douglas W. Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware. He has been teaching for years how insects interact with plants and how those interactions affect the world around us. He has given us statistics about the losses of insects, birds and what it means for us.

Right now I have been reading that if 70 percent of our garden plants, from trees to annuals, were native plants our birds, bees and butterflies would be supported. We would get to understand the interconnectedness of all creatures.

Tallamy has written two other fascinating books: The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Landscape with Rick Darke, and his new book Nature’s Best Hope: a New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. I want beautiful flowers in my garden, and I also want to be a conservationist.

Tallamy has a website, www.bringingnaturehome.net with information about the native plants that are suitable to our part of the world.###

Between the Rows   June 6, 2020

Alphabet for Pollinators – E is for Echinacea

Echinacea or coneflower

Echinacea with butterfly sipping nectar and gathering pollen

Echinacea otherwise known as coneflower is a wonderful perennial. It is a sturdy plant. Echinacea purpurea is ideal for bees because they see those landing strips (petals) and right on to the nectar and pollen. There are many many new Echinacea varieties, but if you want to attract and feed the bees, simpler flowers are more beneficial.

Behind the Echinacea in the photo above you can see a blossom of the Eryngium, sea holly, which looks spiky but it too is a pollinator magnet. It attracts butterflies and bumblebees. Eryngium blooms for more than a month and is a great cut flower.

Epimedium

Epimedium

Epimediums are one of my favorite plants. It is tough and hardy, blooming in early spring. It is no more than a foot high. The sprays of tiny flowers, also called bishop’s hat or fairy wings, look delicate but they are very tough. There are variations in foliage and blossom forms, but I have found all of mine to be very hardy and thriving in the shade for a good part of the day. I am always torn between cutting them back in the spring, or leaving them alone. I think it depends on my mood as much as anything, but it doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other. I don’t think there are many pollinators around when this is in bloom so early in the season, but it is still one of my favorite native plants.

Joe Pye Weed

Eupatorium or Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is a great late  summer-autumn plant. Most of us rarely refer to it as Eupatorium – could be Eupatorium maculatum, E. fistulosum (tall ) or E. purpureum(sweet). I am not sure what mine is. It is very tall and very unusual  in that it has variegated foliage. I bought it at a roadside nursery and it was the only Joe Pye Weed there, and I had to have a Joe Pye Weed that very day. It is a beautiful plants and attracts many pollinators.

Do you have any E plants in your pollinator garden?

Forty Years in the Garden – Chapter 3 – Book and Blogs

Flowery Seattle in 2011 was my second Garden Bloggers Fling. I felt like one of the gang.

Over the years I occasionally thought about all the columns I had written since 1980. I enjoyed writing all those columns, but columns are so ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. A friend suggested I write a book. After all, I had all that material.

Roses at the End of the Road

Roses at the End of the Road by Pat Leuchtman, Illustrations by Henry Leuchtman

Writing a book is different from writing a column, but the idea appealed more every day. And one day I sat down and began to write.

Every week I’d hand in my column, and every week I added more to my book. Roses were my theme, but some chapters touched on characters like Elsa Bakalar and Charlotte Thwing. There were chapters about the lightning strike that burned down our barn, daughter Kate’s wedding in the garden and our experiences in Beijing during the Tianenmen Square ‘turmoil.’ All had provided material for my  columns.

My husband provided humorous drawings, and son Chris did all the technical work to prepare the book for printing. I thought The Roses at the End of the Road looked beautiful, and then set about selling it. Writing and selling are two different skills, but the book did go out into the world. How could I get publicity?

The www.commonweeder.com Blog is Born

One day my publisher and good friend B.J. Roche, writer and journalist teacher at UMass, said the answer was a blog. In 2008 I had no idea what a blog was. B.J. introduced me to the blogging world and my husband was always available to provide necessary tech help.

My blog, www.commonweeder.com now carries my column a week after it appears in the Recorder. The blog includes other posts about gardens and gardening too. Surprisingly the most important thing the blog did was give me more material. Blogs are written by bloggers and I was invited into the garden bloggers world.

Floriferous alley way in Buffalo where a whole neighborhood is devoted to their tiny gardens

In 2010 I went to my first Garden Bloggers Fling in Buffalo, New York. There I met bloggers from all over the country, from New York to California. They had expertise, energy and lots of laughter. Buffalo was preparing for their Annual Garden Walk event and I got to see what you can really do with a tiny city garden.

There have been 12 Flings from the DC area to Toronto and Portland. I attended four Flings, Buffalo, Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin. Those travels have been documented first in my columns and later in my commonweeder blog.

It is easy to maintain friendships with garden bloggers, because we can always log on and see what they are doing and what’s new in the garden world. Kathy Purdy at Cold Climate Gardening helped me understand how to work with a blog, and all the Ranters over at Garden Rant opened up whole new worlds of garden and environmental issues. Gail Eichelburger at Clay and Limestone taught me about the value of native plants; Carol Michel’s garden invites fairies; and Beth Stetenfeld at PlantPostings took me on a private tour of the Olbrich Botanic Gardens in Wisconsin when we visited there. I could go on and on about columns that included my garden travels.

The point is one thing always leads to another. Moving to a new state and a new little town led to a need for a new job. That job, a weekly garden column, led to actually learning more about plants and meeting fascinating people.

The ephemeral life of garden columns led to writing a garden book. The Roses at the End of the Road led to a need for publicity and so my commonweeder.com blog was born.

My commonweeder blog is a way to preserve all my columns. At least all the columns since 2008. It is also a way to keep a record of my garden. I usually add more photos to those posts. The column provides information about other gardens, techniques, book reviews, new plants, garden design, and anything else that is suggested by friends.

Happily, garden bloggers have instituted ‘memes’ which are days where we can all share information about our gardens, or plants, once a week or month. There is Bloom Day, created at May Dreams Gardens, on the 15th of every month, when we can show what is blooming in our gardens. There is Wildflower Wednesday created by Clay and Limestone. And many more. I can join in the fun and learn a lot. My own post for any meme is one way I keep a record of goings on in my garden.

I also use my blog to keep track of weather in the garden, bloom seasons, problems, and names of plants. I frequently forget the names of plants, but I can always (well, often) turn to the commonweeder and refresh my memory.

I have enjoyed writing Between the Rows and I am grateful to my readers for being such good friends, and good teachers over all these years. Thank you!

As part of my 40th Anniversary Celebration the World Eye Bookshop is selling copies of The Roses at the End of the Road at the discounted rate of $10. All funds are donated to the World Eye as a thank you for all the wonderful books it sold me over 40 years.  You can call 413-772-2186 and make arrangements to get the book.

You can also email me at commonweeder@gmail.com to ask about book copies which would be $10.00 plus $2 shipping.###

Between the Rows  May 30, 2020

Forty-years in the Garden – Chapter 2

Garden Tour inspiration

This Greenfield garden that I visited on a tour, inspired my own strolling Greenfield garden

Over the years I have been honored to be invited into many gardens. Sometimes gardeners are organizing a garden tour and want publicity. This is always a great opportunity for a columnist. Tour gardeners are always articulate and knowledgeable about their gardens. They are willing to share plant names, advice about care and design thoughts.

It was not long before I created my own annual garden tour. Over the years it gave me substantial material. It was named the Annual Rose Walk. The first rose I planted was right next to the Heath front door. I could not resist the bawdy name Cuisse de Nymph, or Passionate Nymph’s Thigh. This is an old rose and some catalogs list it as Maiden’s Blush.  Soon I started to plant roses along a path that led across the lawn to our so-called orchard. The year that I planted my sixth rose on the path I invited friends for a tea party, and a walk to the roses. One enthusiastic guest said we had to do this every year. And so the Annual Rose Walk became a ritual event, and more and more roses were added. The roses always supplied ideas for columns.

Leda, David Austin Rose

Leda, as in Leda and the swan, with her red tipped petals. A David Austin Rose

One year our garden with its Rose Walk was on a Heath Garden Tour. That tour was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday with a buffet lunch served in a neighbor’s Party Barn. Garden touring builds up an appetite and almost all of the Moroccan Chicken Salad and other goodies were eaten on Saturday. That evening the buffet staff had to drive to Greenfield to buy more chickens, then cook them to have a full buffet on Sunday. The lesson learned: only serve packed lunches.

Rachel's Rose

Rachel’s Rose

My Rose Walk did gain some local fame. One day I got a call from Rachel Burrington Sumner, a Heath grande dame. She was not in her first youth and invited me to her house to dig up her rose if I was interested. Of course I was. We had time to chat and she explained that the rose she was offering was very hardy. Indeed, when her husband covered it with a mountain of soil when he was excavating for a new garage, Rachel thought it was gone forever. Not so. It grew right up through that soil, and Rachel was leaving it to me to tend on the Rose Walk.

Our life on a Heathan hill provided lots of material for columns. One summer on the fifth of July after a sultry Fourth, we were awakened by a terrific thunderstorm at 2 in the morning. The house shook with the thunder. I looked out the window and said I didn’t see anything. My husband Henry sniffed and said he smelled ozone. I said I smelled smoke. Lightning had struck the old barn across the driveway from our house.

He dashed off to see if our neighbor’s phone worked (ours didn’t) and called the fire department.  I wandered around the house in my nightgown and wondered what to serve the firemen when they were done.

When the first fire trucks arrived our house was the first consideration as it was already beginning to smoke. The barn collapsed burned and smoldered. One young man passed me on his way to check the pump that was getting water from our Frog Pond. He stopped and asked if we had any cows. I said no, and he nodded at our good fortune.

I did get dressed, but as dawn arrived a couple of the firemen’s wives showed up with coffee and cake.

Daughter Kate

Daughter Kate with her best friend Karen

There were other happier topics for columns about family events. Our youngest daughter was married in the garden in front of the Sunken Garden, a space created by the destruction of the barn. It rained on and off all week before the wedding and the sky was black early in the morning of the wedding day. The guests had barely arranged themselves in the wedding tent when the sky opened and dropped torrents. Everyone laughed. Then, just before the bride and groom were to say their vows, the rain stopped, a brilliant sun appeared and gentle mist came and went as the garden began to dry. A perfect wedding day.

The final chapter in my 40th anniversary celebration will appear next week. Until then I want to tell you about a tutorial the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District is offering on line at Facebook. I’ve gotten many columns out of the lasagna garden techniques I used when we moved to Greenfield in 2015 and the  tutorial is wonderful.

Program Director Amy Donovan wrote
“Lasagna Gardening is about utilizing “waste” materials to create and maintain garden areas without tilling the soil. What’s wrong with tilling? Rototilling uses fossil fuels, harms soil microorganisms and earthworms, destroys fungal activity, and can contribute to erosion and poor water absorption. Lasagna gardens contribute to healthy soil, suppress weeds, and absorb water. These layered gardens can be used for new or existing flower gardens, vegetable gardens, or as an alternative to raised beds. Tap/click on the right hand arrow of each photo to see all the pictures. There is a written explanation of each step.” The link is https://www.facebook.com/FranklinCountySolidWasteDistrict/photos/pcb.1000058650390298/1000054313724065/?type=3&theater

Between the Rows  May 23, 2020

Color, Water, Mirrors, Shade – and a Dining Table for Pleasure

Blooming garden

Mid- May and the garden is beginning to bloom

On the 15th of May the garden is blooming with creeping blue phlox, Troillus, grape hyacinths, tiarella, barren strawberry and a single rhododendron blossom.

We love flowers but other elements can make a welcoming garden. There are useful items that can also be decorative and colorful.

Purple in the garden

Purple! A comfortable bench for catching one’s breath and a tiny fountain.

Water has long been known to be an important element in the garden. We only have a blue birdbath, but the birds make good use of it.

Water in the garden

This is a grand fountain, but there are other ways to have water in the garden.

This fountain has three splashing parts. Very simple

In my travels I have been fascinated to find mirrors in the garden.

In the shadowy depths of this garden an amphora is doubled.

Mirror giving a different view

A lovely garden begs for a place where one can sit and visit, or share a meal.

This Texas garden planted four trees, and brought out the table and chairs. Very simple.

Our new cafe umbrella invites us when we are alone, and when we want to  – and are able to in this pandemic year – to have a guest for a glass of wine.

What extra touches do you have in your garden?

Forty Years in the Garden – Between the Rows

The photo is not good, but this is the house we were racing to after Thanksgiving 1979. We were fixing it up

The day after Thanksgiving in 1979 Henry and I packed a big U-Haul truck with all our New York belongings, and the three daughters, Diane, Betsy and Kate. The day was balmy and warm, the perfect day for moving. We stopped in Greenfield for supper and groceries, then onward to Heath.

It was no longer balmy. Temperatures had plummeted. It was dark and we had to unload the truck or we would have no place to sleep. The girls put their backs into the job. The truck needed to be emptied in order to go on the road the next morning.

We made two trips with the truck to my mother’s house in Mason, New Hampshire, while the girls continued organizing in Heath. We had stored some of our stuff there when we moved to NYC, and she said it was our turn to store her stuff while she moved to New Jersey.

As we finished unloading that third truck Henry said that was it! We were at the end of the road and were never moving again. Indeed, our old farmhouse was literally at the end of the road, hence our title, End of the Road Farm.

Our country life began. We had plans to grow our own food, raise chickens for eggs – and meat, and be part of the back-to-the-land movement of the ‘70s.  Of course, we needed regular jobs, too, but we were ready to grow vegetables and flowers.

We had only been living in Heath for five months when I drove into Greenfield, took a deep breath, and walked into the Recorder offices. I met with Bob Dolan and proposed writing a garden column. I got lucky because the Recorder was just then preparing to publish a weekly leisure magazine insert to cover topics including books, music, food, television – and gardening. In my interview with Mr. Dolan I confessed that I didn’t know a lot about gardening, but I knew who to interview for expert information.

I was lucky. The first issue of the magazine was on May 22, 1980. My first column Compost Piles Vital for Good Gardening appeared on page 15.

The column needed a title. I thought back to our year in Maine and our next door neighbor, Mr. Leslie.  He had a vegetable garden and was knowledgeable in many ways. He’d laugh at me and my running around scattering seed. He told me I needed to slow down and swap lies between the rows. That is what my column intended to do – at least talking to experts and beginners Between the Rows.

John Zon

John Zon

That was the beginning. Besides my own limited gardening experience I turned to Tom Luck about planting potatoes in sawdust, John Zon, our next door neighbor about managing and caring for a garden, especially raspberries. I was off and running.

The joy of writing a garden column was, and is the pleasure of meeting other gardeners, all of whom have more skill and knowledge than I did. Unlike cooks who guard their recipes, gardeners are delightfully willing to share their knowledge, show off their gardens and tell stories.

Elsa Bakalar and me in 1980 – ohoto by Mike Bakalar for column

Elsa Bakalar, known for her beautiful flower gardens, lived on the other side of Heath. She was a great teacher and a great story teller. Over the years she taught me about perennials from garden phlox, achillea, delphiniums, Russian sage, cone flowers, boltonia and all manner of other flowers. She and I shopped for wonderful plants at Blue Meadow Farm in Montague. She planted hers, and I wrote about them.

Elsa Bakalar

Cover girl – Elsa Bakalar

Larry Lightner who had taught for years at Northfield-Mt.Hermon taught me about collecting fall leaves to make cold compost. I have used his technique in many ways. The idea is to make a wire bin, of the desired height and width and collect leaves and continue over time, because the leaves break down, slowly creating compost without the heat of kitchen leftovers. I have two tall cold compost bins full of leaves right now. This is such a great technique that I write about it from time to time.

People often ask me how I can write a column every week. The truth is a columnist is always looking for material, and material is found because everyone likes talking about their gardens. Some columns can be written about specific kinds of gardens like flower gardens, rain gardens, shade gardens, herb gardens and more.  I look through my lists and I see repeating topics like New Year Resolutions, Plant of the Year, small trees, color in the garden, fall planting, succulents, new perennials, poinsettias. After I created my Rose Walk I always had new roses to write about.

Special events often make it to my column. There are garden tours, and plant sales. This year the Greenfield Garden Club will still hold its annual Extravaganza plant sale at the John Zon Community Center at the corner of Davis and Pleasant Streets on Saturday, May 23, 2020, from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Of course there will be special requirements. All must wear masks and abide by social distancing. This is a great opportunity to get some great plants at good prices for your gardens while you support Garden Club school gardens.

Next week my anniversary celebration continues.###

Between  the Rows  May 16, 2020

New York Times and My Pandemic Garden

New York Times At Home section

New York Tines At Home section

The pandemic has demanded many changes in our life. If we can’t go to work or to school we have to stay at home. The New York Times has read the zeitgeist and created a new section for their Sunday edition titled At Home. The large front page image has a child playing on the floor with his toys, while mom sits at a table thoughtfully putting together a jigsaw puzzle while another member of the household is lounging with a book.

The NYTimes mentions a new phrase “quarantine fatigue,’ caused by the pandemic. Their new section is to help us handle quarantine fatigue. There are instructions for games like the Paperback Game for the family, suggestions about great movies now available on TV, ways to spruce up your home office, and if you didn’t have a home office before, you probably do now. There is a list of short books so you can lounge and read all day and come to the dénouement before supper when someone in the family has provided a simple supper via suggested simple recipes.

I am thinking one of the most popular suggestions will be How to Stock Your Own Bar. Three recipes complete the column and I am wondering whether curbside delivery at our local liquor stores will include even more recipes.

This At Home section with graphics showed people relaxing. How do people pull that off?

Pandemic exercise

Pandemic exercise in front of the TV – Balance and Stretch  with Ann

Here’s what’s going on at our house. Zoom meetings. Community projects need new ways of continuing. Emails from dear friends near and far are checking in. We love those and return our love and news. On-line exercise class continues from the Y. Thank you, Ann! You’ll notice I’ve not even mentioned the routine tasks, housecleaning, cooking three meals a day, and the laundry.

New roses

New roses, old roses, never mind the weeds.

But at this time of the year we are spending a lot of our time out in the garden. Somehow there are always new plants to buy. This year we ordered new shrub roses from Antique Rose Emporium, online, to create a short Rose Walk that will remind us of the Heath Rose Walk. I can’t wait to see Imogen, creamy yellow, and the Lady of Shallot, striking apricot-yellow, in bloom. Besides planting new roses, I’ve been pruning and weeding everywhere.

I spent a lot of time going around looking at the swelling clumps of greenery and wondering what they are. Fortunately some readers have been knowledgeable and helpful. This year I will make a really good list of plant names and locations.

The pandemic vegetable garden begins with digging

The big excitement is a vegetable garden. We did grow a few vegetables in Heath along with our blueberry and raspberry patches, but we have never considered our Greenfield garden, otherwise known as The Swamp, as suitable for growing vegetables. The pandemic pushed our imaginations and we now have a fenced in plot, 10 by 8 feet. It is small, but I also have fabric Smart Pots and large garden pots.

This spring we again ordered four yards of compo-soil from Martin’s Farm. We have needed these many, many yards of good soil to create raised beds for our plantings. I talk about water-loving plants, but we suspected there is a limit to how much and how long they can live in water. Every year we raise the beds a little higher which also makes the plantings more attractive.

We used some of the compo-soil for the vegetable garden. We also added our own finished compost swarming with worms. The narrow path is covered with wood chips that we no longer needed.

We were lucky to have various sizes of chicken wire in our shed. Some was used for climbing peas and some was used as a low fence, with our hopes of keep the squirrels and occasional rabbits out of the garden.

pandemic garden is completed

Hallelujah! The garden is completed.

Limited by space, I had to choose my vegetables closely. I planted mesclun, a mixture of young lettuces, rainbow chard, Ronde zucchini, peas, French breakfast radishes, and two types of small beets in red and gold. I’ll plant pole beans soon. I will also buy tomato starts that can grow in the Smart Pots, and lettuce in the planter pots. I am already dreaming of picking my own lunch salads, and my own chard for summer tian lunches.

I am so glad we can buy plant starts at the Farmer’s Market. We walked the walk on Saturday and washed our hands properly before visiting the different farmers. I bought one cherry tomato plant, and two flats of flat and curly parsley. We cannot live without parsley and have a small herb garden right by the side door. My tiny patches of permanent herbs are thyme, chives, lemon balm, sage, mint and oregano. I still need to get some basil.

I hope the NYTimes steps out into the garden and suggests ways we can find interesting ways there to amuse and educate ourselves during these pandemic days.

At the same time I do thank the NYTimes for their At Home section and the new Puzzle section. The 48 puzzles and brainteasers will help us keep our brains operational in these days of pandemic. I confess that housework has never had that much appeal, and if it slips a little more than usual, my husband and I will never notice. We’ll be out in the garden.

Between the Rows  May 8, 2020

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – May 15, 2020

Fringed bleeding hearts

Fringed Bleeding Hearts

On this beautiful sunny, but cool Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day in Massachusetts, I’ll take you along on my morning walk. The fringed bleeding heart has been blooming for a month against our house foundation.

Doronicom

Doronicum, forget-me-nots and an epimedium near the front corner of the house.

daffodils

Nameless Daffodils are scattered among the low growing conifers in front of the house

Hellebore

Hellebore, in front of our new fence

Off to the back garden past dandelions, violets and gill over the ground

grape hyacinths

The grape hyacinths are going wild. Two friends have helped themselves.

Bistort

Bistort is an energetic plant with pink wands waving

Fothergilla

Fothergilla is just beyond the grape hyacinths and bistort

Phlox stolonifera

Phlox stolonifera, a lovely creeping phlox, a great ground cover.

Bleeding heart 'Goldheart'

‘Goldheart’ Bleeding Heart is just on the other side of the Southern Planting bed

Jacob's ladder

Jacob’s ladder is the only plant in bloom on the middle planting bed

Poppy

A new poppy blooming near the quince on the third planting bed

Quince

This quince planted last year is fully 6″ tall. I think it will grow.

Troillus

Troillus at the back of the third planting bed.

Geum

Geum grows opposite the troillus. I love geum, and more is on its way.

Primoses

Primroses are fading at the back of the planting bed

Fairy bells

Fairy Bells are right near the the troillus. I don’t know a proper name. I bought them at the Bridge of Flowers plant sale, years ago

Summer snowflake

Leucojum aestivum or Summer Snowflake – but I don’t feel any summer yet.

Solomon's seal

Solomon’s Seal tucked in its own corner. Spreading slowlyl

At the very back of the garden, on the Hugel, wood poppies, and barren strawberries are still blooming

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens, for giving us Bloom Day, giving us all a chance to see what is blooming all over our great land.