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“Mast” The Fruit of the Forest Trees – Acorns, Beech Nuts and Even Raspberries

Greenfield Community College – oaks and mast.

Why mast years? This year a heavy crop of acorns is falling on the ground. Just look under any oak tree, or walk across the campus at Greenfield Community College. These acorns are the most visible crop of tree seeds which are also called ‘mast.’

Acorns and other ‘hard mast’ like hickory nuts and beech nuts are just a few of the crops that feed local wildlife. There is also ‘soft mast’ including blackberries, blueberries and apples. In addition to squirrels, pigeons, blue jays, owls and woodpeckers depend on mast to fatten up or prepare for migration. Rats and deer also come around for their share of acorns. Acorns are a big part of the deers’ winter diet. The larvae of some moths live and feed on young acorns as they develop.

Acorns are important to all these groups because they contain generous amounts of important nutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats, as well as calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Calcium and phosphorus are just as important to the bones of wildlife creatures as they are to us humans. Potassium and other vitamins are also important to wildlife.

In ancient times humans ate acorns, too, but not until after boiling them. Acorns are full of tannins which do no human digestive system any good until they are cooked. Acorn flour can be made and then needs to be stored carefully to prevent mold. Some Indigenous peoples still include acorns in their diet. Others will turn to acorns in times of famine.  Today some people are reconsidering the value of acorns in an environment that is changing.


Mast – acorns

All that food value makes it clear what acorns and other mast do for animals. What does it mean for the trees if wild creatures are going to eat all their seeds?

Actually, acorns and other nuts are not all eaten by wildlife in a mast year. Too many nuts are dropped. Some nuts will be eaten near the tree. Some will be carried away and cached for winter meals by the birds and animals. Some of those nuts will be lost or forgotten by the animals and the nuts will germinate and grow far from the parent tree. Trees need wildlife to disperse their seeds and take root.

Neither do mast years occur regularly. Depending on the tree species it may take up to five years before another mast year occurs. Science does not definitively know how or why it is so, but there are theories. Everyone agrees that it takes a lot of energy for a tree to produce a heavy crop. It is also true that some trees like red oaks take two years for their acorns to ripen.  It is not hard to believe that a tree will need time to recover before it can create another mast year.

One thing scientists do agree on is that a mast year is not a predictor of a coming bad winter. Neither is it caused by other weather fluctuations.

Then the question is how do the trees all know how to produce great volumes of seed at the same time?  It wouldn’t help if one tree was spreading lots of seeds, if all the other trees were still making very few seeds.

Is it that the weather is similar over large areas? Is it that the wind pollinates trees at the same time some years?

There is not a solid answer to those questions, but one thought is becoming more popular. Peter Wollheben, a German forester, cared for his forests for many years beginning in 1987. Over time he became convinced that techniques and technologies he was expected to use damaged the trees. He objected to plantation monocultures and the use of heavy machinery in the forests. He was more and more interested in the ecology involved with forest management.

Wohlleben also came to believe that the web of fungi that grows around tree roots, covering vast expanses, made it possible for trees to collect nutrients and water, and then share those resources with other trees. One experiment found that in a large grove of beeches, where not all the trees had the same soil, scientists discovered that they all had the same rate of photosynthesis. The leaves of every tree got the same amount of sugar in spite of the differences in soil.

The fungi also send chemical and electrical signals, although not in the same way that they work for plants. Dr. Suzanne Simard in Nature magazine coined the term Wood Wide Web; some scientists call these mycorrhizal networks.

It is Wohlleben’s wish that if we all come to think that trees have ‘emotional lives and needs’ as he does, that we will become aware of ways that forests can give us respite at the same time the trees are benefitting the environment.

Wollheben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, What They Communicate explains his thoughts. I believe this is the first book on the subject, but other scientists are supporting the idea that trees are communal and live cooperatively with interdependent relationships and are able to communicate with each other.

When I walk under oak trees, or any other trees that have covered the ground with nuts. I confess that I feel a mystery I cannot understand. I can only wonder and marvel at the mystery.

Between the Rows  November 30, 2019

My Twelfth Blogaversary – December 6, 2019.


On my 12th Blogaversay I am enjoying our first snowfall of 2019

I did not note my first Blogaversary in 2008 but we were rather caught up  with an amazing storm.

In 2009 I celebrated with a giveaway

In 2010 I visited Buffalo for their Garden Walk which was fabulous and chronicled here.  That tour was the first of others I was to take organized by the Garden Bloggers. However  I was  again too busy to note  my blogaversary

It doesn’t look like much, especially in December, but the chickens were happy, and so were we. Eggs! Even in December.

2011 was a floriferous year with garden tours and rose blooms every where. Here is a taste. But in December of 2011 it was the skies that held my attention.   

In 2012 I finally decided I had some real to celebrate, a Fifth Blogaversary. I spent a few paragraphs thinking about the past.  I regret to say the book giveaway no longer exists.  The big event of the summer is always the Heath Fair. Lots of vegetables and flowers. Books, too.

No more blogaversary celebrations in 2013, but my husband is painting again. This camellia is once of his gifts for me.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in June is always special. In December of 2014 we were very busy enjoying what we thought might be our last Christmas in Heath.

In December of 2015 we were newly ensconced in a new (to us) house in Greenfield that came with a completely barren backyard.  In this 8th Blogaversary I had books to give away.  Send me a note and you can still get a copy of The Roses as the End of the Road, the tale of my life in roses.

September 30, 2016 and the beds have been enlarged again. No more work this year.

We had another great Garden Bloggers Tour, this time in Minneapolis and environs. What a tour. What beauty we saw. What conversations we had!  On our 9th Blogaversary in 2016 we celebrated the work  of our first full year in Greenfield. The photo above shows all we had done during our first full year. Our children helped and we all had a good time. Don’t forget, the backyard was a blank slate.

In 2017 I looked back at 10 years of blogging, thinking of all the wonderful people I had met and learned from and all the fun Henry and I have had in the garden.  The photo is of  a Christmas snowfall in Heath, a reminder of all the joys we have shared in western Massachusetts since 1979.

My 11th blogaversary came at the end of a wet year. This photo is from early November 2017. I want to mention a highlight of 2018 – the Garden Bloggers Tour in Texas with lots of very different gardens. The post that goes with this photo and others is a stroll down the delights of having a blog.

I wonder at all the events and pleasures I will enjoy as I think of my 13th Blogaversary next year.  A big year. My garden is going to be on the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour in summer of 2020!

Who Were the First Immigrants? British Now Known as Americans!


Immigrant Cookbok

The Immigrant Cookbook

Squanto, of the Pautuxet tribe, was a part of my childhood Thanksgivings. Squanto (Tisquantum) was captured by English explorers in 1605 and spent a number of years in England and learned to speak English. He also found his way back to the Plymouth Bay area in 1619 and learned that his own tribe had all died from disease.

Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoags, and Samoset who had learned a bit of English from fishermen, decided that they needed Squanto to meet with the Pilgrims who had landed. This was a good thing for the Pilgrims who were grateful for this interpreter, who, among other things, could teach them about using fish as fertilizer in the poor soil. and about unfamiliar crops like corn, beans and squash.

There must have been a feeling of great satisfaction at the success of their first harvest. The Pilgrims gave thanks and praise to God, and joined the Wampanogs and Squanto in a feast in the fall of 1621.This gathering is what we now consider the first Thanksgiving.

There were wild turkeys in New England and that first Thanksgiving meal may have included turkey. Certainly by the time Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 turkey was well-established as the celebratory bird.

The Pilgrims were the first successful immigrants to New England. Over time other immigrants arrived bringing delicious foods and recipes with them.

Think of those who came to the colonies in the 1700s – Germans, Scotch-Irish, French, and prisoners from England who were transported for their crimes. In the 1800s the Potato Famine brought millions of Irish, as well as Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, Jews fleeing massacres taking place, and Italians. Those immigrants brought their skills and energy to build and expand our country. That changed in 1924.

Although the Chinese had been immigrating to the U.S. since the California gold rush the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act of 1924 prevented them from immigrating as well as greatly limiting Greeks, Jews, Italians, Poles and Slavs. It was not until President Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act into law that limits on nationality were ended.

Our country has benefited in many ways. I am the granddaughter of Italian and Swedish immigrants. They came and prospered, as did their children and grandchildren.

As we approach Thanksgiving I give thanks to those immigrants who came here sharing their skills and knowledge to make our country what it is today.

Petroula Balis, co-owner of the Village Pizza in Greenfield, MA

Petroula Balis, co-owner of the Village Pizza

In 1971 when I came to Greenfield the Village Pizza was the only restaurant owned by immigrants. The Balis brothers from Greece began their business more than 50 years ago. Now Chris, Betty and Petroula Balis are still in business on Bank Row making stunning Greek pizzas, and other delicious items on their menu.

The Korean restaurant Manna House is right across the street from Village Pizza, but Hyun Soon Lee has only owned this restaurant for 16 years. I have had wonderful soups there, as well as other dishes including a gratifying squash pancake.

Korean specialties, Noodle Soup and Squash Pancake

Noodle Soup and a Squash Pancake at Manna House – Korean specialties

Nowadays there are several other restaurants in Greenfield that were started by immigrants. Hattapon and Thai Blue Ginger have great Thai food, Namaste has spicy Indian food, and the China Gourmet has delicious Chinese food.

Without immigrants we wouldn’t have paella, kung pao chicken, perogis, enchiladas or hot dogs.

In addition to international restaurants we have to thank other immigrants for creating successful food businesses in the U.S. David Tran was born in Vietnam and was one of the over 3,000 refugees on the Taiwanese freighter Huey Fong leaving Vietnam in 1978. His family food business was named after that freighter. Siracha is the hot sauce  he created to please his own palate as well as that of other south Asian refugees. Now it is a staple for us all.

Baskin and Robbins ice cream was started by a Polish and Russian family; the owners of Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned company in the United States, emigrated from Spain, and Chobani yogurt was started by a Greek.

I found a cookbook on my doorstep the other day, The Immigrant Cookbook: Recipes that Make America Great. In this beautiful book professional cooks who were immigrants themselves or children of immigrants are sharing their recipes from soups to pickles and desserts.

Hari Nayak was born in India and is now a chef, a cookbook author and restaurant consultant. I was quite taken with his recipe for Lentil and Spinach soup.

Didem Hosgel grew up in Turkey but found her way to Boston in 2001 where she went to work at the Oleana Restaurant, but is now the chef de cuisine at the Sofra Bakery. She has a satisfying recipe for Kurus (a combination of potato and bulgur patties) with Spoon Salad. Beautiful.

This Thanksgiving I am giving special thanks for all those from every corner of the world who have given us the most delicious foods every day.###

Between the Rows   November 23, 2019

Half-Hour Allotments and The Artist’s Garden – Book Reviews

Half-Hour Allotment

The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz

With the gift giving season drawing near I want to spread the word about new books that would please gardeners of every sort. In my house books are the one gift we know will delight.

The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz

When The Half-Hour Allotment book showed up in my mailbox I was delighted to think of a system that would teach me to work an allotted half-hour at a time. How understanding such a system would be for those gardeners among us who might not be in our first youth any longer.

But then, as I sat down to read the book with its beautiful photographs of vegetables and gardens that included flowers for bouquets, and ways to prepare the  soil, I realized the book had a British publisher and the allotments being talked about were the garden spaces away from the house. After the original shock of wondering how this would translate for American gardeners, I knew that was not an issue. We can allot a part of our own yard for use as a vegetable garden. And like the author of this book we can also think of allotting ourselves a half hour schedule so that we do not overtax ourselves.

The British have ever more popular allotment gardens and here in the United States we have ever more popular community gardens, both sharing the same principles. Our climates may be different, and the gardening schedule more extended in England, but the basics of gardening thoughtfully and efficiently are the same. The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz (Francis Lincoln Limited $20) is useful to young, and not-so-young gardeners in the US and Britain.

Gardeners begin wisely when they begin by choosing their favorite vegetables and calculating how much space can be given to each. A small garden needs to make use of space on the ground, and space in the air for beans, peas and other crops that are happy to climb. There is a section that suggests the sufficient number of plants for each vegetable. For example, four courgette (squash) plants might be all you need, but 20 broccoli plants might be more sensible for the family. I thought this was wonderful advice.

Individual sheds are very common on British allotments. Leendertz gives suggestions on what necessities to put in your shed including a folding camping chair, a pair of old shoes, and an old hat and jacket as well as basic planting tools. I suspect American community gardeners also stop to chat and visit between the rows.

This engaging book provides excellent gardening instructions, but it also gives a delightful view of gardeners in a different clime and slightly different culture. Read, enjoy and learn.

The Artist’s Garden by Jackie Bennett

Artist's Garden

The Artist’s Garden by Jackie Bennett

The Artist’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Greatest Painters by Jackie Bennett (White Lion Publishing $40.00) is also a British book. It is lushly illustrated with paintings of gardens and people in their gardens, with photographs of acclaimed artists’ houses and their gardens. The first section of the book is titled The Artist at Home and at Work with a list of artists beginning with Leonardo daVinci and moving on to Peter Paul Rubens, Paul Cezanne, Henri Le Sidanier and others concluding with Salvador Dali. The stories of their careers are fascinating. Cezanne’s father bankrolled him for many years. Every year he was turned down by the jury of the Paris Salon. Though other artists admired his work, he never had his own one man show until he was 56. In 1938 eighteen of Max Liebermann’s paintings were sent to London for an exhibit supporting Germany’s so-called ‘degenerate art.’

I confess I was not familiar with every artist. Fortunately, generous biographical information is included with every display of artist, gardens, and paintings.

The second section is given over to The Artist’s Community, about the work and lives of artists like Monet with his friends from Berthe Morrisot and the Seine artists; William Morris and his circle; the Skagen painters of Denmark; the New England Impressionists; the German Expressionists; and the Charlston artists that included Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and the rest of the Bloomsbury Group.

The color illustrations give us examples of many painting styles. Renoir’s Impressionist paintings included the exciting streets of Paris and the leisures of the countryside. Kahlo blended the styles of Mexico and Europe with her own symbolisms. William Morris found designs in nature. Each artist found a unique way of seeing the world.

Sketched maps of each garden help the reader get a better understanding of the layout of the gardens. Some are very carefully and neatly laid out, while others take a more riotous approach. If the artist is lucky there can be wild, flowery spaces, as well as carefully designed layouts of trees, water and architectural elements. There is also a timeline for each artist, or group of artists, biographical information, and information about the gardens today. It does not seem that any of the artists captured in this book led solitary lives in a north-facing atelier.

I felt the richness of the book which gave such expansive views of the artists’ work, their lives and friendships. Many of the painters inspired each other. Readers like me will feel inspired when we look at our own gardens, finding some detail we can copy or play with, just like the painters did. ###

Between the Rows   November 16, 2019

Create a Habitat Garden for the Birds and the Bees

My habitat garden encourages me to leave the leaves under the roses and other shrubs

In the olden days we gardeners would take a deep breath and go out to clean up the fall garden. There were dead annuals, and dead perennials gone to seed. There were dead leaves everywhere. The garden is a mess in the fall.

That view of the fall garden has changed. Last month I attended Lorri Cochran’s talk, courtesy of Greening Greenfield, about how to create a habitat garden that will support birds, and bees and during the winter. Cochran is a Master Gardener, vice-president of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, and a member of the core team of Western Mass Pollinator Networks. Listening to her I realized I had not paid enough attention to the creatures that might live in my garden through the dark winter.

I was very surprised when Cochrane said was that we should not clean up our gardens in the fall. Birds, bees and even butterflies may need protection and help in our garden through the winter. Different creatures need different habitats.

Habitat for Birds

Not all birds fly south in the winter. Our gardens can help supply shelter and food. And I mean food beyond bird feeders. Some of the berry-bearing native shrubs that can provide food are the pretty winterberries (Ilex verticillata) red or gold; hollies with red berries; elderberries (Sambucus); golden Sumac ‘Tiger Eyes”; cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum); and the chokeberries (Aronia) small trees with red or black berries.

These are just a few of the shrubs that provide food, but you need to remember that the winterberries and other hollies need male and female plants, one male to five females. You also need to know how big certain plants will get. Chokeberries will be about six feet tall, but they will spread into large clumps. These plants also tolerate wet sites. Winterberries are actually swamp plants. As I have said before, I have learned a lot about water loving plants now that I live in Greenfield.

If your garden is big enough you might be able to have larger trees, including conifers. Blue spruce will get very tall. Its thick foliage provides good shelter for birds and the cones provide edible seeds. The attractive hawthorn trees provide lots of red berries for food. Crusader is a thornless hawthorn that will grow about 25 feet tall. Check these out at the Energy Park.

Many birds like woodpeckers, bluebirds, wrens, phoebes, chickadees and others eat insects, larvae and grubs on plants, or those that have burrowed into trees. Happily old trees mark the end of my backyard.

Brush Pile for Habitat garden

There is also a substantial brush/compost pile in my back corner. The brush pile provides protection for some birds. In addition the interior of the brush pile is where compost is being made.

Finally, many birds eat seeds of trees, grasses, and flowers like native coneflowers, asters, coreopsis, Joe Pye weed, sedums. All of these plants and many more should be left standing at the end of fall. Do not spray the garden with insect killer in any season. If we do not have insects we will not have birds and bees.

Don’t forget, if we are going to feed the birds, we should also provide them with daily water.

All Kinds of Bees

Honeybees live in a hive and spend the winter feeding on their stored nectar and pollen. When it is cold they keep the queen and her brood warm.

The bumblee bee queen with just a few other bees will hibernate underground, or even in a compost pile.

Solitary bees will spend the winter as adults, or as pupae. Garden centers sell wild bee houses with a variety of nesting holes, or they may find reeds or plant stems for winter protection. Don’t get rid of those places where solitary bees might find winter shelter.

Cold compost bin

Cold compost bin made with wire and stakes

Valuable Leaves

When we bought our Greenfield house we inherited a giant sycamore on our tree strip and a lilac tree. And yes, the lilac is a real tree in the syringa family, not an overgrown lilac bush. The spring flowers have a delicious lilac-like fragrance.  We planted two river birches, two arborvitaes, and just added a redbud. Our neighbors share their oak and maple leaves with us. We have a lot of leaves in the fall and put them to good use.

When we lived in Heath the winds blew all our leaves away. There is no way to avoid raking leaves here in the city. My son just gave our lawn paths, with leaves, a final mowing, but no raking. My husband does most of the raking in front of the house. His leaves go into tall wire bins behind our hugel to break down and make cold compost. Two black compost bins take kitchen refuse and leaves.

Our brush pile does include some dead annuals and perennials from right in front of the house, and leaves. Every couple of years that pile gets turned so we can collect compost deep in its heart. Then we start a new brush and dead plant pile.

I rake here and there but not in the planting beds. Leaves will happily live and die under shrubs and other plants turning into compost. And mulch.

There is a time to clean and weed the garden. There is also a time to remember what the habitat garden needs. ###

Between the Rows  November 9, 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – November 15, 2019

Yellow twig dogwood

Yellow Twig Dogwood – doesn’t need to bloom

On this Bloom Day I don’t have any blooms, but I do have color. For the past week we have looked out at a hard frost. Beautiful in its own way. However we do have color. Somehow the yellow twig dogwood never photographs as accurately as my eyes when I look out my kitchen window and see the sun shining on what is a more chartreuse dogwood than its name suggests. It is because of its brilliant color that I planted it where I could  admire it all winter long.

Golden winterberry

Golden winterberry

The golden winterberry, a native ilex (holly) does not photograph well either. Why doesn’t my camera see what I see?

Red winterberry

Red winterberry

The red winterberry is willing to be quite a showoff when the camera comes out.  I have a second red winterberry as well. The single male winterberry in the garden very quietly goes about his business making sure  the ladies of every color look their best at this time of the year. The birds are happy as well.

English holly

English holly

The English holly in front of the house was bequeathed to us by the former residents. She produces plenty of foliage and color to harvest for Christmas decorations. The male quietly sits on the other side of the porch. He is small and very shy.

Perhaps I will have blooms in December, but I doubt it. The Christmas cacti do not look promising.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Garden for giving us a chance to share the blooms and color in our gardens, no matter where we live in  this great country

Pumpkins of History – Pumpkins of Today


Pumpkins at Butynski Farm

Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her

Put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well.

Children have learned this little rhyme for generations. Hard to know what we all made of it when we were small, but the rhythms are fun and so is the image of a little housewife in her pumpkin shell.

Boston can take some credit for this rhyme. It first appeared in 1825 in a little illustrated book titled “Mother Goose’s Quarto: or Melodies Complete.” Many nursery rhymes originated in England, but the Pumpkin Eater is strictly American; pumpkins are native to our part of the world. Pumpkins were growing in Mexico for about 7000 years before they made their way to Europe.

A terrifying pumpkin figures in the 1820 New England Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Superstitious Ichabod Crane leaves a party where he had hoped to woo his sweetheart. On the way home he is frightened by the headless horseman carrying a flaming pumpkin in his arms. In the morning Ichabod is missing and a smashed pumpkin is found in the road.

The most beautiful pumpkin in literature is Cinderella’s amazing carriage thanks to the magic of her fairy godmother. It was French Charles Perrault who added the pumpkin to the story in 1697. However, Tuan Cheng-shi wrote and published the first version, with most of the familiar elements, around 856 A.D.

At this time of the year in New England we are surrounded by pumpkins, at farmstands, and in front of all the supermarkets. But how did we come to make jack-o-lanterns on Halloween?

I found that in the sixth century Pope Boniface IV declared May 13 All Martyrs Day. Later Pope Gregory III moved the celebration and declared November 1 as All Saint’s Day. The celebration spread to Ireland where people still celebrated the ancient Irish festival Samhain which marked the end of summer and the creeping dark of winter. Traditionally bonfires were built in the fields, and costumes worn to ward off ghosts.

When the Irish potato famine struck in the middle of the 19th century and millions of Irish emigrated to the U.S. they brought their autumnal celebration with them. Halloween was already celebrated the night before in parts of our country. but it was the Irish who made this a holiday for all. It is quite fascinating to see how traditions are created and change over time. No more field bonfires. Now we carve the pumpkins that were a staple food of the first colonists to settle in our country and set fiery pumpkin faces on our porches.

By the time you read this the Halloween celebration will be over. Bowls of candy will still be on the counter, and scary costumes will be put away for next year. However pumpkins will remain on the scene. We celebrate Thanksgiving with pumpkin pie!

Not too many pumpkins are left in the fields, but pumpkins are on sale for decoration, and for eating.  Pumpkins and other squash were crucial to the survival of the first settlers in Massachusetts. It was the Wampanoags who would have taught them about pumpkins because this nutritious vegetable was unknown in Europe.

Paul Butynski

Paul Butynski

We are fortunate to live surrounded by small farms. We can get the very freshest vegetables and fruits. I often shop at the Butynski Farm Stand where there is always a big choice of fresh vegetables. Right now the farm stand is bright with rows of pumpkins in front and around the building.

This is a family farm that has been operating since the 1930s, first as a dairy farm, when Grandfather Butynski bought it. Even in the beginning vegetables were grown and a little tobacco. I got to talk to Michael and Paul Butynski about the history of the farm.

Both men grew up working on the farm. Michael said, “We sold the cows about 20 years ago. We couldn’t make money with cows any more. We already had a vegetable stand but it was more limited.  Now we have all kinds of vegetables, greens, cukes, squash, beets, tomatoes, melons, just about everything. We grow everything, but not berries or potatoes.  And we still sell hay.”

Paul acknowledged that the farm was a lot of work. “But it is a way of life. People don’t always understand that. It’s nice to have more leisure during the winter, but if you are just sitting around a lot that’s no fun. In December we start ordering our seeds. Lots of book work to do at the end of the year.”

Michael Butynski

Michael agreed that after working every day during vegetable season he was ready and glad to have some down time. Even so, “In the winter we have to start getting ready for summer. There is work to do. Planning. And always maintenance on the equipment, and the buildings.”

When I looked at the different pumpkins, both Michael and Paul agreed that small sugar pumpkins are the most edible pumpkins. I am going to experiment. I walked away with sugar pumpkins to use as a vegetable and in a pie. I also took home a larger pumpkin to cook. There are dozens of pumpkin soup recipes online. I’m wondering if Peter, the pumpkin eater, was fussy about which pumpkins he ate.

Between the Rows   November 2, 2019


Franklin County CiderDays – November 1-3, 2019

CiderDays 2019

Franklin County CiderDays photo courtesy of Eric Lewandowski

Franklin County CiderDays will celebrate its 25th Anniversary with three days of cider tastings, apple recipes, apple history, holistic orchard management, and more as well as the crowning of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruiting trees and orchards. The party will begin on Friday, November 1 and end on Sunday, November 3 at 5 p.m. It is important to order tickets for some of the special talks as they always sell out, but there are many free events. Talks and tastings will be held at the apple orchards as well as at venues in Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, Ashfield, Deerfield, Northfield, Colrain, Hawley and Turners Falls.

There was no plan to organize an annual cider festival back in 1994. I spoke to Charlie Olchowski, one of the founders of CiderDays who said it all began when Paul Correnty’s book,

, with Olchowski’s photographs, was published.

Olchowski and Correnty decided that a regular book-signing launch would be too ordinary. They approached Terry and Judith Maloney of West County Cider and voilá, CiderDay began with Clarkdale Fruit Farms, Greenwood Farm, Pine Hill Orchards, and West County Cider as the venues for the day. The event culminated with a bring-your-own tasting at the Maloney’s sampling room in Colrain. CiderDay is now celebrated the first weekend every November.

Cider Days

Franklin County CiderDays photo courtesy of Eric Lewandowski

I’ve always thought of cider as a very New England sort of drink. Early apples under harsh growing conditions were not very palatable but were used to make cider. In the early days of our country clean water was not always available and cider was an important thirst quencher. We in Massachusetts still sing of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, who was born in Leominster in 1774.

Johnny Appleseed was an old man when William Harrison ran for president in 1841 and hard cider was still an important drink. Harrison sold himself as a candidate by saying he was a “log cabin and hard cider’ man. Unfortunately Harrison died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration. It was not the cider’s fault.

It was the Temperance movement followed by Prohibition that dealt a hard blow to cider makers and drinkers. By the time prohibition ended in 1933 German immigrants had started making beer which became the most popular drink. Not until a few decades ago has hard cider been making a slow resurgence.


Franklin County CiderDays photo courtesy of Eric Lewandowski

“Hard cider is much more popular than it was 25 years ago,” Olchowski said. “The fashion for cider has spread around the world. Ciders stylistically vary from country to country. That difference does not usually come from the various species of apples, but more so from various microorganisms that produce complex compounds and acetic and lactic acids giving the styles their distinctive character. There will be ciders from other regions in our country as well as foreign countries for tasting during the three cider days.”

Olchowski also said there are now other big cider events. CiderCon is a nine year old trade conference for the United States Association of Cider Makers with vendors from 44 states and from ten countries. It speaks to the growing popularity of cider, but it is nothing like Franklin County’s celebration for the community. “We want our CiderDays to remain local, to further the culture of cider, but also to educate what foods go well with cider.

“Every hall was filled last year and ticketed events completely sold out. There is no question that attendance has grown each year. This year there are 16 more talks and more diversity of topics,” Olchowski said.

Two of the talks, one about cyser and the other about ice cider, were particularly interesting to me. As a former beekeeper I knew about mead which is an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and water. And yeast. Cyser is a combination of mead and apple cider.

There will also be a talk about ice cider. My cousin used to make ice wine, from frozen grapes. Olchowski said “Ice cider works the same way with apples, concentrating the aromas, flavors, and sugars, thereby making an enticing complex drink with intense apple personality and a higher alchohol content.”

CiderDays was created to celebrate Paul Correnty’s book The Art of Cider Making. This year the program will include information about a new book. John Bunker, an expert orchardist of old heirloom apples in Maine will be interviewing Andy Brennan about his new book, Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider and the Complicated Art of Making a Living. Andy Brennan describes uncultivation as a process. “It involves exploring the wild; recognizing that much of nature is omitted from our conventional ways of seeing and doing things.”

Olchowski said that one of the final events will be Sunday morning at Apex Orchards with Bring Your Own; Tasting Homemade Ciders. The panel consisting of Paul Correnty, Steve Patt, Charlie Olchowski and Nathaniel Williams will assess and critique ciders that audience members made. Laughter and information are sure to ensue.

Lots to learn and lots to enjoy at this year’s CiderDays.

Between the Rows   October 26, 2019

View from the Window October 30, 2019

Colors remain

The view from the window is slightly skewed today so I (we) can see the full garden, fence to fence. The river birches have lost most of their leaves but neighboring oaks and maples, along with our chestnut tree have lots of leaves left to keep us raking.

The northern view of the garden

There is sufficient overlap you can even see the pails. It is so hard to be cleaning and storing equipment this time of the year. The golden shrub in the middle of the photo is Clethra alnifolia. Sometimes it is called summersweet for its flowers and fragrance. It is one of the many waterloving plants in the garden.

Zinnias and more

The zinnias are still giving us a lot  of bloom, but there are a few snapdragons and tiny marigolds  blooming as well. The ground cover is still a bright fresh green.The weather has been quite mild with only an occasional nippy day.  No frost. Today’s temperature was 60 degrees, and last night there was another shower. Makes raking a bit easier.

The view from the window is one way I keep a record of the weather and the length of bloom.


The weather has been so mild that everyday I go out and pick a few raspberries. On this day I collected half a pint. I will have to search my records to find out the name of this very long and late blooming berry.

Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Michael Van Valkenburgh

Designing a Garden by Michael Van Valkenburgh

In 2013 I attended the opening of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a sunny September day and Museum Director Anne Hawley and landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh were on hand to explain how the garden came to be.

It was certainly not the Monk’s Garden that I had seen a few years earlier. The day I saw that space I could not understand why it was called any kind of garden. I admit it was a gray day, late in the fall, but all I could see was an empty enclosed space with a lawn and a magnificent katsura tree. Not much of a garden. It seems that Isabella Stewart Gardner herself could never achieve a garden that pleased her in that space.

Happily in 2013 there was a grove of trees, underplantings, paths, and places to sit alone or with companions. The katsura and a saucer magnolia remained and were joined by many paperbark maples, gray birches, Japanese stewartia and Hetz Wintergreen arborvitae. The low growing underplanting featured ajuga, ferns, hellebores, hostas, periwinkle as well as the promised foliage of lilies, daylilies, and daffodils. There was a quiet magic in the grove that made up the Monk’s Garden.

Before they started construction Anne Hawley told Van Valkenburgh about the new addition and entryway to the Museum, and the view of the garden space from new social space in the building, as well as the galleries. The view of the garden came from many directions. She wanted visitors to experience the garden from inside the museum as well as strolling through the garden.

On opening day Van Valkenburgh spoke to the assembled press about his approach. He concluded by saying that that he always remembers the advice given him by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner. “Make as many gardens as you can.” After we strolled in the dappled shade of the garden we saw that he truly understood the intimacy and solitude that a small garden can provide.

Now Van Valkenburgh has written Designing a Garden (Monacelli Press $40.) with many stunning photographs describing how this garden was created. The photographs capture the woodland with its textured underplantings in every season.

Monk's Garden

Ariel View of the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Garnder Museum

But to begin, Van Valkenburgh looked at the space, 52 feet wide and 150 feet long and thought how he would create a space where people could wander. “I had a hunch that the answer might be found in the shape of the paths. By signaling where to go, the notion of a path drives the experience of the garden.”

If you have a path you must have pavers. I found myself fascinated by all the decisions regarding the paths, and every other element. After I wandered through the garden, feeling almost solitary, and felt the rise and fall of the path I could see the difficulties of laying it out. When reading the book I remembered Van Valkenburgh’s answer to a man in the audience. “Well, there was a lot of build and design going on.” I realized that phrase meant not everything was organized at the beginning.

Path at Monk's Garden

Construction of path at Monk;’s Garden

The book describes the creation of the swirling design of the path. Decisions had to be made about materials, and the pattern. Schist and black manganese pavers were chosen reflecting the sun and shade created.

In his book Van Valkenburgh describes his thoughts about building the path and said, “My design process requires a kind of creative optimism – I have to believe that a solution is out there while realizing that the way to a final goal is open ended.”

Once the paths were laid down it was time for the plants. “The first time I stood in the emptiness of the Monk’s Garden site, with its imposing walls and the katsura tree spreading overhead, I imagined a thicket of small trees filling the space with movement and a sense of mystery,” he said. I certainly felt the mystery when I walked the garden.

In addition to being a brilliant designer, knowledgeable about materials and effects, Van Valkenburgh is a brilliant writer, painting pictures of the garden, and hinting at the responses to this captivating space.

My friend Peter Beck was a student at Cornell University at the same time as Van Valkenburgh. They became friends because Peter was taking design classes that were not officially available to Van Valkenburgh. Peter said design was not much thought of in those days. It was all about materials, and plant names, not how to use either. “Michael bemoaned the lack of design history and theory in his program,” Peter said. “However simply by thinking about design and engaging (with architecture students) in long, late night discussions about design theory and history, Michael was clearly providing his own education while at Cornell.”

Peter’s words made clear to me that from the beginning Van Valkenburgh’s thoughts were always about the responses to the gardens and park spaces he would design.

Van Valkenburgh was successful in creating a garden that delights everyone  who enters. He also left us with thoughts about what we might consider in our own gardens. ###

Between the Rows   October 19, 2019