Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Gardener’s and Their Books – Gifts All Year Long

Windcliff by Daniel J. Hinkley

Apparently many gardeners are finding the need to leave their beautiful old gardens and move on to new gardens, and finding books to find a new way. I can speak to this urge myself, having left my gardens in Heath, to create a compact stroll garden filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and a place to sit in Greenfield. I also needed a garden that would not need so much work.

Windcliff: A  story of people, plants and gardens

Daniel J. Hinkley, plant hunter, nurseryman, and lecturer, had been living on the grounds of the Heronswood Plant Nursery in Kingston, Washington, which he created in 1987. With his husband, Robert Jones, they built a home, a great business, and a beautiful private garden. In 1999 they bought the property Windcliff located on a bluff above Puget Sound on the Kitsap Peninsula, but practically next door to Heronswood. Now they could build their own garden all over again.

Hinkley is an engaging author. In Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens (Timber Press $35) He tells stories of how they went about answering the question we all ask when facing the prospect of a new garden space – what type of garden do we want? He answered that question as he slowly planted and created amazing vistas. From his overlook he admired the Puget Sound basin and the Olympic Range beyond.

The book really gets going with Design Principles, and talks about the garden as play, the need to evaluate and edit, the impact of texture and foliage, height and movement and more. Later he gives special attention to the house and terrace and the potager. He said he never knew the meaning of the word potager, but from the very beginning of his career he was a vegetable gardener.

Hinkley was the gardener, but Jones was the architect. Hinkley explains that he nobly kept himself under control and watched as the house was re-imagined and rebuilt with three pavilions joined by glass enclosed connectors. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of a library pavilion. Hinkley and Jones agreed that the plan concentrated on the “communication with the views framed by existing trees along with a sense of privacy.”

There is no way our gardens in Massachusetts will look anything like the exotic plantings at Windcliff. Our climate is very different. Our soil is different. The space we have for our gardens is different.

Even so, Windcliff gives us lots of advice and lots of ideas, or we can just enjoy Hinkley’s charm. The photographs are fabulous and we can thank Claire Takacs for that.

Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again

Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again

Page Dickey has been a gardener and a writer for decades. Her house and famous garden, named Duck Hill, was located in North Salem, about 50 miles from Manhattan. For 34 years she lived at Duck Hill, but she realized the time had come to find a place where she could make a garden with fewer demands. She married her husband, Bosco in 2000 and he was about to turn 80. Their house 50 miles from New York City was expensive. In Uprooted (Timber Press $27.95) she tells her story.

But where? In the end they moved to Litchfield County in Massachusetts. New England might be colder than New York City, but they would have the beauty of the seasons, and the expanses of the countryside with its green hills. She had happy childhood memories of relatives and events in Massachusetts. Even Bosco, a teenage refugee from Hungary, had visited New Hampshire, and spent a summer waiting on tables. He also went on to college in the Berkshires. They both had familiarity and affection for those days and landscapes.

The building they found in Litchfield County was an old meetinghouse. They quickly called it Church House. This old house did need work and an addition was planned. As a wife myself I know that husbands and wives sometimes have different needs. Dickey’s old house was filled with books. Every room had books. Bosco firmly required that the new living room have no books. I have to say the bright and sunny living room is a delight. It has sun and flowers and really comfortable places to sit. But no books.

There were beautiful plantings around the house, but new gardens were just waiting to be installed.  The new gardens included the front borders around the house, an enclosure around the swimming pool, and a cutting garden.

Anyone who has left a long-tended garden will bring some of those ideas to the new garden. Dickey recreated an orchard, a small greenhouse for Bosco, and cold frames for forcing bulbs. Many of her plantings are very familiar to me including Virginia sweetspire, fothergilla with its spring blooms, Clethra with its amazing fragrance, and Viburnum opulous var.americanum, to feed the birds.

In one of her last chapters Dickey talks about putting different emphasis on the importance of the habitats of wild creatures, ecosystems and biodiversity. One unexpected joy was the number or birds that enjoyed their gardens, a horned owl, barred owls,  pileated woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles and others. There were new delights in this larger, wilder landscape.

Spirit of Place: The Making of a New England Garden by Bill Noble

Spirit of Place also allows for dreaming. In his book, Spirit of Place: The making of a New England garden, (Timber Press $35.) Bill Noble describes looking for a new home and finding an “early Greek Revival cape set close to the road” in Norwich, Vermont. This property had been a farm ever since 1767, but by the 1950s it was no longer being farmed. Noble found the property in 1991.

As he started cleaning the collapsed barns Noble began uncovering the history of the farm. That was the beginning of restoring plantings, and designing new gardens.

He describes his various gardens, each one named, with details and plant names. There is the flower garden, the front border, the barn garden, the rock garden, the long border, and the fruit and vegetable garden. I was glad to see his interest in wildlife, providing shelter and food for birds in all seasons, and all other creatures that wander in the fields and forests of farmland.

On his property and over the years, Noble has created many gardens on the property. He began slowly, but made an amazing list of his guiding principles when he began. He says they changed over the years but I found the principles thought- provoking and useful to all of us. What are the goals of any garden? Consider the views. The garden should be maintained according to ecological principles. Vegetable gardens should be organic. Garden management should be manageable. Native plants should be considered and used. Noble also wanted his garden to have an emotional impact.

I think we all look for many of these ideas and plants in our gardens even though we might never put them in words. It is helpful that Noble can be so clear about what he wants. Many of his plans clarify our own plans.

Spirit of Place is a beautiful book. The many excellent photos almost bring us right into his gardens.

Noble’s stunning home gardens are included in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Gardens. He is also the former director of preservation for the Garden Conservancy. He has worked with individual garden owners as well as public and private organizations. His beautiful website is billnoblegardens.com.

All of these books are very special and make wonderful gifts. Christmas is here!

Feast of Saint Nicholas and My 13th Blogaversary

Saint Nicholas, made by my mother and made its first appearance in Beijing in 1989

Christmas Ornaments saved over the years

The Feast of Saint Nicholas is the beginning of our Christmas. December 6, 2007 is also the beginning of my commonweeder blog which I celebrate with great pleasure. Every year on this date I have thought about the many  wonderful gardeners and others who have shared their skills and talents with me.  I have learned and laughed and given thanks for my good fortune. This year as I celebrate my 80th birthday all these happy days of the past shine brightly and I thank all those who have made it so.

This afternoon we got our ornaments out of the attic. There are so many memories attached to these ornaments. I have used the wooden star for 50 years at the top of my tree. Over the years I have collected many little birds, some made of wood, and some more feathered, but all treasured. The ornament of hens, The rooster crows but the hen delivers, was given to me by Bob Keir, who was my boss for a number of years at Greenfield Community College.The little felt children were handmade one year when  the children were young. My mother gave me Heart-in-Hand which is a symbol of Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers. The phrase “Put your hands to work and your hearts to God” is a good thought to carry all year.

Monkey King and his companions

I have other boxes of lights and shiny balls, of garlands and other simpler ornaments that remind me of the blessings of each year. In 1989 my husband left for a year in Beijing, China. I left my job at GCC and Henry took a sabbatical that would bring him back to UMass when we returned.

We arrived in Beijing in the middle of  the night, met by my soon-to-be co-workers. They took us to  The Friendship Hotel where we would spend the next 12 months. When we got to the hotel we could hear  strange chanting. My new boss explained that it  was the students chanting  in Tianenmen Square, the beginning of the Tianenmen Massacre that changed the atmosphere of our year.

We learned many things about China, the government, and its history. I liked to hear the old stories of gods and magical characters. Monkey King is a mischievous hero, getting into as much trouble as doing good. He can jump into the clouds and he has a magic wand. The book of his adventures, Journey to the West is one of the Four Great Classics, and describes Monkey King accompanying the Monk on his white horse, Sandy who was also there to protect the Monk and Pigsy. We met another American family with a six year old who had memorized great sections of the story – in a child’s version. Very exciting.

Double Ginger Shortbread

Of course, since this is the Feast of Saint Nicholas I always bake cookies in honor of the treats that Saint Nicholas leaves in the shoes of good little children.

This year it is not easy to arrange this. The pandemic keeps all of us in our own houses, celebrating as best we can Zoom-ing, and bringing cookies to neighbors – who have to wait to eat them until they are are not touched my Covid-19.  Below is my recipe for a holiday treat.

Double Ginger Shortbread

2 c flour

1 t ground ginger

¼ t salt

½ lb butter

2/3 c confectionary sugar

½ c crystallized ginger, cut into little pieces

 

*Cream  butter and sugar

*Add flour mixed with ginger and salt

*Add minced ginger

 

*Make 2  balls of dough and chill 1 hour

*Roll our dough to ½ inch and cut with cookie cutter

*Put on ungreased sheet (I use Silpat)

*Bake about12-15 minutes in 350 degree oven

*Let cool til firm and enjoy. You can store for two weeks.

Pat with brandied fruit

The most recent treat is a large jar of brandied fruits, raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried apricots, zest of orange peel, then orange flesh and juice, lemon juice and one cup of brandy. The jar must be turned a couple of times a day.This will be ready to use with other pastries in another week.

So on this Feast of Saint Nicholas and my 13th Blogoversary I wish you all well, and happy holidays and good health.

View From The Office Window – December Flood

The Center of the Garden has the first December flood

Photos of my garden from the view from my office window is one way I keep track of weather and changes in the garden over all the seasons. After the drought this summer I did not expect three days of rain, sometimes very hard raid. Our garden sits on clay and a high water table. There are many floods but to have such a drenching at this time of the year is very unusual.  You can see we have left out our old summer chairs so that we can still visit family and neighbors at social distance.

Eastern planting bed and center bed

Such flood are not unusual, and when we began our garden here we knew we would need to create raised beds, and to choose water loving plants. Examples here are of the river birches, yellow twig dogwood, and winterberries which do no show up well from this distance. Winterberries, Ilex verticillata, is an American native holly and it loves living in a swamp, even a part-time swamp. Other water loving plants that thrive in our wet garden include buttonbush, viburnams, summersweet and daylilies.

Unexpected water movement

I was surprised that the flood waters came so far east. The red twig dogwood and the viburnam don’t mind the water, we though this area was safe for  the roses. The water left this section within a day and a half, so I have hope the roses will continue to thrive.

This morning on December 4 the garden has dried , but the weather report suggests more rain coming. Maybe snow. But the snow is only  for the hills. I hope.

Here You Can Find Lots of Things to Lighten Pandemic Days

Aurora borealis     unsplash.com

In these pandemic days we can get  depressed, or lonely, but I found a website Unsplash to remind you, and cheer you that happy days will come again. Unsplash has thousands of beautiful photographs for us all to use in our work or to amuse ourselves. Unsplash is “the internet’s source of freely-usable images. Powered by creators everywhere.”

Here is the mystery and beauty of the aurora borealis. I am reminded of the night in Heath when our hilltop house was surrounded by a red aurora. It seemed impossible.  It was magic. I was alone that night and I could not find one person to share this magic. No one  was home. No phones were answered. But I saw the aurora and was thrilled.  I know magic still exists in these pandemic days.

Hearts for Love

Hearts for love are everywhere   https://unsplash.com/

I know there is love all around us.

Photo by Priscilla du Preez  https://unsplash.com/

I know the men in our life are still fooling around with their computers.

Bluebird – photo by Kaleb Becker  Unsplash

I know the bluebirds have never stopped singing.

Soon again we’ll all join  the crowds at funny festivals!   Unsplash.com

I’ve got cookies to bake, books to read, online exercise class, walks to take in my friendly neighborhood where we can chat  as we pass, a porch to sit on a visit with friends – maintaining social distancing. What do you have to do during these pandemic days?

Thanksgiving Across Pandemic Days and Miles

Pandemic Thanksgiving begins with Smoked Trout Spread

A Pandemic Thanksgiving calls for all manner of celebratory tricks. Of course, I had spent all Wednesday afternoon, and Thanksgiving morning (beginning at 6 am) doing more cooking to prepare the feast scheduled  for 3 p.m. It seems it doesn’t seem to matter if the holiday meal is for three people or  the more routine crowd of 25. There is a lot to do. Once we got the turkey in the oven Henry and I stopped for a snack of Smoked Trout Spread, a delicious pick-me-up for which I thank my good friend, B.J. Roche.

Daughter Kate

Daughter Kate, down in Texas, was the first to call asking if we thought their  turkey would be spoiled if they cut off the legs and wings before putting the turkey in the oven. They wanted to save those parts for a sous vide meal later. Quite a bit of discussion, and we  gave our opinion that the turkey  for the table would be delicious as usual, with happy expectation of the sous vide  turkey legs later.

Greg, sous vide master, at their Thanksgiving dinner

Betsy’s warming oven filled

Daughter Betsy called to show off. She and husband Mike, are serious cooks. The creme brulee was the piece de resistance. And Turkey was out of the question. Duck was the treat. They called us several times to show the progress of a really wonderful meal. Son Rory looks stunned, but maybe he was giving thanks for a wonderful meal  with family.

Rory, ready to begin

Philip, our oldest son lives around the corner

Philip took a trip to Lunenberg in the morning to visit his daughter Tracy, her husband  and two beautiful granddaughters. Then back home to pick up his Thanksgiving feast, which he would be eating alone, but there were ball games to watch.

Henry at the groaning board

Knowing that everyone was sitting at their tables, just as we were, all giving thanks for good health and good food. We are fortunate and we are happy that our family, including an array of cousins who are scattered over the  country are equally fortunate and giving thanks.

My friend Tinky Weisblat made our Thanksgiving perfect. In addition to providing a recipe for corn casserole in Wednesday’s Recorder, she included words of President Abraham Lincoln uttered in 1863 during the Civil War when he declared the last Thursday of November to be a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.

Tinky said ” (Lincoln’s) official proclamation setting aside the fourth Thursday in November  as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise” was written by Secretary of State William Seward. It urged Americans not just to give thanks but also to use the day to ask God to “heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

These are words to encourage us. Our pandemic days will end harmony will return.

Cleaning Up the Garden and Writing Up Lists

Cleaning up the leaves

Slowly, slowly, the leaves and fallen and now it is time to get serious about cleaning up the leaves.  We have two river birches and many large shrubs, but they are not the only ones responsible for all  the leaves in our garden. The garden to the south sends us many leaves from three large oaks.

Clearing more leaves – these are on the north side of our garden.

The house to the north has an enormous maple and we have not really begun to clean up these leaves. Now is the time  to get serious. We have been putting leaves in our three leaf bins including a Smart Pot compost sak till they are full. We have put leaves under some of the shrubs. We have also brought bags and bags of leaves to the town dump where leaves can be left for mulching later. I have heard that Martin’s Compost Farm also accepts bags of leaves and will use them to make their compost. Leaves are a rich product for gardeners.

Leaf bins and regular compost bins that also hold some leaves

Blighted Chinese chestnut tree leaves

The large Chinese chestnut to the west, separating our western neighbors has been shedding their  leaves since early in the fall. All the Chinese chestnuts in our neighborhood have been suffering from a blight. By collecting these leaves and having them picked up in trash bags we think the tree is getting a little healthier. We hope so.

The strolling paths have been raked and the planting beds will benefit.

We leave many leaves to rest on the planting beds. Why get rid of leaves if they can benefit the soil? I think they are especially beneficial underneath large shrubs, and where groundcovers will simply come up through the rotten leaves in the spring.

Marker for Coral peony

This is the  time of year when many plants can be moved. Two of my peonies were too close together; moving the Coral peony was given  a clear space in front of the redbud tree.

Crocosmia fronds are no longer visible

This photo will remind me this is where the crocosmia grow in the spring. Their shoots are modest and I inevitably forget what it is that I planted here.

Clethra, Boltonia and Russian Sage

There isn’t much to see here, which is the problem. The Clethra, also known as summersweet is a visible shrub all winter, but the tall Boltonia and beautiful Russian sage disappear. Will I remember what is in these spaces, or do I have to find memory aids?  This post in one of my aide-memoires, but I have also made maps.

These maps  are helpful for locating plants in the spring. They are especially helpful in  the spring when I am trying to remember which plants are big enough, or too big for their location, and that I should consider digging up for the Greenfield Garden Club Plant Sale in the spring.

To go along with the maps, I make a list of suggestions about plants to move, or plants  to remove altogether.

I wonder how YOU keep track of your garden plantings, and what you need to remember about ideas for spring. Please leave comments and suggestions.

The Fame of Hard Cider Making in Western Massachusetts

An array of West County Ciders

The brilliant colors we have enjoyed this fall have been glorious, but with all the rain and wind, snow and frost, the landscape is quieter. Field Maloney was out in the orchard on October 30, picking the last of the apples for West County Cider.  Maloney is of the school that requires cider be made from fully ripe apples.

Field Maloney is the son of Terry and Judith Maloney who arrived in Franklin County from California back in 1972. They cleared land on their Colrain property for apple trees. As Californians they drank different California wines, and sometimes made their own wine. There were no grapes that made good wine here in this corner of Massachusetts, but they knew about the tradition of making apple cider. People made cider for themselves, and “some old timers made hard cider,” Field said.

Field said this area is perfect for making cider. Unlike the apple trees on the west coast that need lots of irrigation “the apple trees that grow on the hillsides here do more work, which makes them more flavorful. It builds character.” The Maloneys saw that they could resurrect old traditions, and use some of the techniques of making wine apply to the techniques of making cider. They made cider for themselves and their friends for a number of years.

Field said that the family was always trying to make the land sustainable. He remembered the years when his mother sold Catamount Carrots. They continued looking for a way to make the land self-supporting. In 1984 they decided to make a cidery at their home on Catamount hill. They planted more land into apples; they were going into business.

Field said “When we were making wine in our cellar my father had a big microscope that he could use to watch and monitor the process of fermentation. Add yeast to fresh juice and the yeast gets a sugar feeding frenzy, reproducing until a critical mass reached, sugars are transformed into alcohol, CO2. The alcohol is a preservative and prevents other biological competitors. Father was always learning about fermentation. Smell will tell he’d say. A happy yeast is what you want.

“We don’t add sugars into our fermentations, only the sugars in the apple. My father was punching above his weight.  He said we were a niche market without a niche. Liquor stores were not selling ciders in those early days.

“When we started trying to sell cider my mother went around Boston’s liquor stores getting them to try the ciders.” And the cider business did begin to change. Field said they were making cider in the cellar; his father said “Cider grew up and left the house.”

Field has been involved with cider making right from the start. There were school vacations, and he took a year off from college to clear a field and plant an orchard. After his father died in 2010, Field returned to Catamount Hill to help his mother run the business. “Before my father died he saw the cider boom. He could see that his dream was coming true.”

In 2014 Judith and Field bought more land for planting apples and an old apple storage building on Peckville Road with space for a tasting room. Their ciders can be bought there seasonally, but they can also be found at many local liquor stores. The array of different varieties gives a hint of the different apples used. Judith explained, “Redfield is a special apple. It has a red flesh and lots of tannins. About 20 years ago we gave 1000 Redfield whips to Pine Hill and Apex so we could use those apples for cider.”

Now Judith has retired although she often helps in the tasting room. In addition, Elijah Rottenberg, Field’s childhood friend and neighbor on Catamount Hill is now a partner. “He is a quiet backbone,” Field said.

In 1994 Paul Correnty had written a book entitled The Art of Cidermaking with Greenfield native Charlie Olchowski’s images. They wanted to give the book some splash so they turned to Terry and Judith Maloney. Judith said Olchowski was and is central to the group that they helped organize creating special events around cider. Each year there are many volunteers ready to help on the weekend. There is also a committee who plan out the classes and events such as the Cider Salon. That was the beginning of Cider Days which then involved other cider makers and orchards, offering cider and apple tastings, lectures, workshops and lots of time for cider makers to talk and share information. Nowadays cider makers come from all over the country to attend the talks, and talk to each other. There is always information, as well as stories to tell. Field said that there is a story that when George Washington was in Massachusetts he declared Massachusetts cider the best he had ever tasted.  Olchowski said these events are not only about how-to, they are about building community.

Franklin Cider Days events will be very different this year, but 16 cider venues will be open every weekend through November.

The Maloney tap room and bottle shop at 208 Peckville Road in Shelburne will be open every Thursday through Sunday in November. The Covid rules forbid cider tastings if food is not served, but on the traditional weekend of November 7-8 ciders, and pretzels from Rise Above will be ready for tasting. In addition, visitors can enjoy the new hiking trails and picnic grounds that provide a glorious three state view.

Greenfield Recorder  Saturday, November 7, 2020

Colors of Autumn – Shifting Over the Garden

Yellow twig dogwood in golden glory

The autumn colors of the yellow twig dogwood are very different from summer colors. Now the foliage is golden yellow, brilliant when the sun is shining on it. Though it is named “yellow TWIG” I have  always found the yellow twigs to me are more chartreuse or lime when the winter sun is shining on it, but now the autumn colors of the foliage are definitely yellow and gold. We love this shrub because the shrub loves water and doesn’t mind the seasonal flood.

Itea virginica “Henry’s Garnet”

If your husband’s name is Henry it is required that your garden include Itea virginica “Henry’s Garnet.” Fortunately “Henry’s Garnet” is a beautiful shrub, green in spring and summer with tiny fragrant white flowers borne in cylindrical, drooping racemes (3-6″ long) which cover the shrub with bloom in late spring to early summer. The autumn colors of the foliage turn to shades of plummy red and purple.

Itea virginica “Henry’s Garnet” closeup

The autumnal sun shining on this shrub is subtle but beautiful.  I have to say  that in addition to the pleasure of having “Henry” in the garden, there is also the pleasure in knowing that this shrub loves water and is listed as a good rain garden plant. It certainly thrives happily in our very wet garden.

Fothergilla “Mount Airy”

Fothergilla is named after Dr. John Fothergill (1712-1780), English physician and botanist, and “Mount Airy” is named after the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio where Michael Dirr discovered the hybrid form. My “Mount Airy” has grown to almost five feet tall. White bottlebrush flowers (2-3 inches long) have  a honey scented fragrance when the flowers bloom April to May.

Fothergilla “Mount Airy” closeup

The foliage turns tender shades of yellow, orange and red-purple in fall. This is a wonderful shrub in every season.

I sigh when I think of the coming of Winter, a season of grays and white. But I just realized that with the arrival of hellebores and crocuses in early March I can rejoice in nine seasons of color in the garden.

Trees, Leaves, Water and Magic – Compost

Autumn leaves of every sort on the lawn and into the South Border

If you have trees you will have leaves in the fall. When you start raking it can look like an endless job, with very little payback.  Not  true. The truth is that if you have a garden and trees you can have soil enriching compost. I harvest lots of leaves every fall.

Maple tree on the north side of our garden

We have lovely neighbors  on both sides of our garden and  they both have trees. Our Northern neighbor has a beautiful giant maple right next to our property line. Lovely shade in the summer. Our Southern neighbor has three giant oak trees her husband planted more than 40 years ago. All these trees give us leaves and seeds that have spent the season supplying birds, and all manner of pollinators. We have  our own trees from the river birches that we planted in 2015, and a Chinese chestnut tree on the west border of our garden. We also have many shrubs that shed their leaves as well.

Sycamore on the tree strip and a Lilac Tree on our lawn opposite the sycamore

In front of the house we have a Sycamore tree that is 51 inches in diameter and about 90 feet tall, statistics just given to us by the town Tree Committee. The sycamore not only sheds its leaves, it also drops spiky balls that hold the seeds. The tiny hairs on the seed balls can irritate skin and can cause some respiratory distress. My husband always wears a special  mask when he is raking around the sycamore.

The Lilac Tree, is  a real tree, Syringa reticulata. It does have  unique white blossoms that give us a delicious fragrance  perfuming the air in early June. Unless you are a neighbor you will not know where that perfume is  coming from.

Horse chestnut tree leaves

I’m not sure who owns the  horse chestnut tree, but were certainly do get a lot of its leaves, as well as chestnuts that keep the squirrels very busy and happy. Unfortunately, there is some kind of blight that discolors and dries the leaves long before shedding season. That blight can continue to harm the tree if the leaves area  composted. We rake up as many leaves as we can. We are not done yet this fall. We put those leaves in garbage bags and leave them out with our trash to be burned or destroyed. They do not go into  our compost bin.

Compost bins

This little collection of compost bins has different purposes. The two plastic bins handle our kitchen scraps with leaves added. One bin is always being filled while the other bin has usable compost. Both bins get stirred up periodically  to make the composting process move along.

That big black bag is a Smart Pots product and we load it with  leaves every year or  two. That Compost Sak and the handmade wire compost bin do cold composting.  The leaves in the wire bins break down more quickly  than  you might imagine. We can keep adding leaves for quite a while. Usually we can use the composted leaves from the wire bin  the following fall, if you stir  them us periodically.  In fact an aerater tool does exist and it would really move the process along.

Leaves behind the hugel, filling a trench created by the hugel

We also  dump leaves in back of  the hugel. https://mgsoc.info/2019/01/hugelkultur-what/.  Our yard is very wet. We created the hugel to raise the wettest part to make  it usable for plants but we (unfortunately) left a kind of trench behind  the hugel. Our new project if filling that trench  with leaves and small branches.

Large compost pile

This is the large compost pile which began very early this year. There are some branches underneath the dead plants and leaves. I have the hope that there will be some aeration  that will help the pile turn into compost a little more quickly. This pile will take at least two years before be can spread the compost.

Our raspberry patch

We have three short rows of raspberries that got totally  out of hand because of poor pruning. I just performed  the proper pruning – and the raspberry harvest in 2021 should be more easily harvested. These bushes were planted two years ago in  this spot because they were more tolerant of wet soil. The blueberries we had originally planted did not thrive there at all.

Pruned raspberries

The raspberries are now pruned for a happier harvest in 2021. Some of the leaves and old canes are left on the ground. We make compost wherever we can, and the plantings seem  to approved.

We are not done raking all our leaves yet, but we are already looking forward to the rains, and snow that will feed the composting process. Next fall there will be new compost.

 

Farewell from the Columnist of Between the Rows Corner

Pat at the computer

As I write this morning (Saturday, October 17) I am in my so-called office enjoying the view of my garden from the western window, and the lush asparagus fern hanging in the sunny southern window. In this part of the week I am usually trying to make sense of any notes I have written, or finding a whole new topic. Time is running out and I have a deadline.

However, today I have a topic but having trouble imagining how I will express it. Today I am writing my Farewell column. In May I wrote a column, actually three columns, giving some form to the 40 years I had been writing for the Recorder. Even as I celebrated my 40th anniversary, I was thinking that it was getting more difficult to find a topic and get it written before the weekly deadline. Even so, it was spring and there was so much to do in my garden, so many people who invited me to their gardens, so many pleasures to enjoy that I put the idea of retirement away.

Now it is fall. Gardens are being put to sleep. Trees are getting tired and leaves are falling, more energetically every day. It is time for me to retire from this column, but I want to say few words of thank you – and tell you what comes next for me.

The Recorder did have a garden column before I made my proposal to Bob Dolan. It was written by the wonderful Henry Mitchell who wrote delightful garden columns, and did substantial news reporting, for the Washington Post. I should tell you that I have and treasure Mitchell’s wonderful book The Essential Earthman, a collection of his columns. The problem I saw was that Washington, D.C. had a very different climate and it would be helpful to have a local column that could give local advice.

So I begin my thank yous with Bob Dolan. I confessed that I didn’t know a lot about gardening, but I would turn to people who did have skills. Dolan gave me that chance. Over these forty and a half years I have had several editors from Denny Wilkins who started teaching me the newspaper business with his big red pen, Rob Riggan, Adam Orth and now the multi-talented Andy Castillo. A special thank you to Paul Franz who took the beautiful face shot of me.

Pat among the hydrangias

Although I may complain about what will I write next, the truth is that many suggestions fly right into my lap. I thank all the readers who have sent me happy notes and made suggestions for new columns. I thank the readers who stopped me on the street, to say they enjoyed my latest column, asked questions and made suggestions. I thank all those who have invited me to their gardens and shared their ideas, their mistakes, and their innovations. There are a lot of mistakes in the garden, which means there is also a lot of laughter in the garden.

I have been a longtime member of the Greenfield Garden Club, and for some years a member of the Bridge of Flowers committee. Working with the other members of these organizations has been an education I have treasured. It is very stimulating and exciting to work with people who really know what they are doing. I thank them all.

Having talked about ideas, and the people who gave me those ideas, we get down to the job of actually writing. First I liked to read. I was an early and enthusiastic reader, and then I started liking to write. I liked writing reports and essays from elementary school through college. I wrote letters. My Between the Rows column gave me a way to continue doing something I enjoyed, made me pay attention to grammar, spelling, form, and allowed me to be myself. It also gave me a Personna. Sometimes people would be talking to me and then they would ask, are you the person who writes that garden column? What pleasure!

Newspapers are important. We need the news, and the thoughts and insights that others give us. Columns are important. They keep us up on what is new, and what needs to be attended to. It is an honor to have been a part of the columnist tradition, but it is time to retire.

However you are not done with me yet. After talking to Joan Livingston and my editor Andy Castillo about retiring, they invited me to continue at the Recorder as a freelancer. I am looking forward to this position which will allow me to write articles from time to time when I have an interesting topic. Watch for me.

In the meantime, I invite you to visit my commonweeder garden blog. It contains more than ten years of Recorder columns and other adventures in the garden. Just go to www.commonweeder.com and you’ll find columns and other writings.###

Between the Rows  October 27, 2020