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How Seeds of Solidarity Began and Three Forms of No-Till Farming

Seeds of Solidarity Farm

One of the Garlic Fields at Seeds of Solidarity Farm

In 1996 Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib got the biggest Christmas present they might ever receive. On December 28 they officially became the owners of a piece of rocky land in Orange. They were about to plant their own farm.

I first met Baruch and Habib in early May of 2009 when I visited Seeds of Solidarity farm. Even though they had been farming for 13 years the land still looked rough and rocky. However, they had built six greenhouses for a variety of greens that they sold, planted a field of garlic, and built a house. It was the field of garlic that especially amazed me. Garlic shoots were coming up through rotting cardboard and hay mulch.

Baruch and Habib have always been concerned about the environment and determined to live as lightly on the land as possible. Farming with cardboard is their answer. They do not plow or use other machinery to prepare the poor soil on their land. They get lots of large pieces of cardboard from a local furniture store, then cover the cardboard with six inches of rich compost from Diemand Farm. Garlic cloves are planted and covered with mulch hay in October.  Spring brings the beginnings of healthy growth.

Greenhouses use cardboard too

Greenhouses make early greens possible for sale

Cardboard was the beginning of their no-till farming. I had understood no-till farming to mean leaving the crop residues on a harvested field over the winter. In the spring that field would not be plowed. Seeds would be planted right in the soil covered with decaying plants. On my recent visit to Seeds of Solidarity Farm I stopped to admire sprouting garlic in the mulched field. But there were also field sections of what seemed to be a cover crop, another section was covered with a huge tarpaulin, and still another section was covered with mulch hay. I did not understand what I was looking at. I was about to get a lesson in no-till farming.

“There are three techniques for no-till gardening. There is the cardboard technique, the tarps technique, and the cover crop technique. They all build organic matter, promote beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi, reduce weeds, and conserve water and labor,” Baruch said. He went on to explain that one way he handled his cover crop was to ‘crimp’ the plants with a rake. This means he will kill the plants at the root. The plants just lie down and then he plants through the cover crop into the soil using a dibble, a little wooden tool for garlic seed planting.

Ricky Baruch

Ricky Baruch showing off the rich soil beneath hay mulch

He also explained that the large tarp covering a part of the field is a ‘silage tarp’ the name for a really heavy duty tarp that covers the cover crop or weeds. The tarp creates a warm moist environment that kills weeds in three or four weeks giving the farmer a clean planting bed. This technique is also called occultation because it makes use of the dark environment. While the tarp is killing weeds, the warmth it creates is making it possible for worms and other organisms to break down that organic matter.

Baruch explained that these no-till techniques cut down on cultivating chores. “This way we are working with nature, not fighting it. We have to think about what we are doing, and why we are doing it. This way we have a closer relationship with the earth, and that is what I want.”

Habib pointed out that what they want to do is make good food available to everyone whether they have land or containers. “The only tools Ricky has could pretty much fit in a five gallon bucket. Plus his wheelbarrow and shovel, of course,”

Seeds of Solidarity signs

Inspiring signs are everywhere

As the three of us walked down the hill to the greenhouses filled with salad greens we passed different shrines. These have been built by the Seeds of Leadership (SOL) program for teens, or interns, or others. Many colorfully painted signs quote great people of the past. The intention is always to teach and inspire,” Habib said.

Seeds of Solidarity Farm has become much more than a farm. They created the Seeds of Solidarity non-profit. Habib is the one who writes the grants to fund farm-to-school programs as well as other projects. The two of them work with Greenfield Community College and teach a one credit course in gardening at the Franklin County Jail several times a year. The amount of their community work is amazing. Happily they have just written an inspiring and delightful book, Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose which you can order on-line through Levellers Press( or you can buy a hard copy. Wonderful stories and photographs.

Making Love While Farming

Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose

On Saturday May 25 you can also visit Seeds for Solidarity Farm for a free tour from 10-11:30 am, and bring a lunch if you wish. In the afternoon there is a No-Till for Life Workshop. Ricky will teach regenerative, soil building techniques for low maintenance, highly productive gardens. “Treating the soil as sacred results in nourishing food, mitigates impacts of climate change, and inspires a deeper relationship with that which sustains life.” $35-$50 sliding scale fee. Please email to register.

A final note: Baruch and Habib are among the founders of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival which will be held on September 28 and 29 this year.

Between the Rows   May 18, 2019

MAY 25, 2019 is also the day of the Greenfield Garden Club Extravaganza Plant Sale at  the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street in Greenfield from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm. Plants Large and Small for every garden.

Greenfield Garden Club – Lots to Love and Work For

Greenfield Garden Club

Greenfield Garden Club reinvigorated and taking on new tasks

When asked what they loved about the Greenfield Garden Club, the gardeners who attended the Annual Meeting at the John Zon Community Center last month had a lot of answers. They called out that they loved meeting other gardeners, learning from other gardeners, sharing plants, socializing and going on trips together. Club members liked learning more about the environment and how our gardens benefit the environment. They also loved giving gardening grants to local schools, and making the community more beautiful. They loved the wreath making workshop in November and the December holiday party.

It was clear that there is a lot to love about the Greenfield Garden Club in this iteration. They did not want the club to disband. We thanked Phyllis Labanowski for helping us remember what we love about the garden club and what we want to keep.

At the meeting last month we acknowledged that it is impossible for a very few club members to handle and organize all the business of the club. At the Annual Meeting on March 17 we were ready to sign up and spread responsibilities. Although change cannot be brought about with one meeting, everyone acknowledges that it is important for members to share responsibilities, and ideas.

Last week Laura Schlaikjer and I met to talk about upcoming plans. Schlaikjer, past and newly re-elected president, said she vividly remembers the first annual meeting she attended because she won the table centerpiece. That was the first time she had received such a treat. Somehow that joy transformed her from a simple member to being the treasurer. Eventually, following in the footsteps of Margareta Athey, Jan McGuane (as she was then), Richard Willard, McGuane again, and Deb Brocklesby, Schlaikjer accepted the presidency.

At the Annual Meeting we once again chose Schlaikjer as president, but this year we are going to be more helpful. Our first big event, in our newly reinvigorated club is the Extravaganza which will be held on May 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. at the John Zon Community Center. This is always a great event that gives us all a chance to share plant divisions and make some money for the club.

Those who are not members of the club may not be aware that most of the money raised each year goes to fund the grants we give to schools for their school gardens. Members know the garden is a wonderful place to learn about science and beauty. We want to encourage children to learn how to observe the growth of plants, and the delicious flavors of fresh vegetables.

I have served on the grant committee and learned how carefully the members consider the educational and health benefits of the items that teachers request for their students and gardens. It is always an enjoyable meeting, held in Taylor’s Tavern with a nice dinner (we all pay for our own meal) and talk about gardens and plants – as well as deliberating over the grant requests.

It has always been a goal of the Greenfield Garden Club to do what it can to beautify the community. This year, once again, the Garden Club will plant several barrels with colorful plants to place on Main Street where store owners will take responsibility to care for them.airy

Greenfield Garden Club Fairy House Exhibit

Fairy House Display at the FC Fair – appealed to the judges and to the children

The Franklin County Fair has welcomed the exhibits the Garden Club creates at the back door of the Roundhouse. Recently, the Fairy Houses display won First Prize, Best in Show and the Cushman award. “We always have so much fun putting these exhibits together, and are always thinking of ways to interest children,” Schlaikjer said.

I think it is easy to see a thousand enjoyable ways to work with club members on a project without feeling overburdened.

Members and potential new members can turn to the Garden Club website to see dates of meetings and other upcoming events. On May 16, in lieu of a regular meeting, club members will visit the Bridge of Flowers and talk to Bridge volunteers about the flowers and how the Bridge is managed. In June club members will take a tour of Just Roots, its fields and community gardens. This non-profit organization, beginning its seventh year, is devoted to making healthy food available to all.

The July meeting will be a pot-luck dinner at the home of Marsha Stone and Norm Hirschfeld. Besides sharing good food and fun, the club will vote on our new by-laws. New members, and others interested in joining the Garden Club are welcome to come to a meeting and sign up. Check out the website.

We may also start talking about a 2020 garden tour. You do not have to be a member to have your garden included on the tour. I know I am already thinking about how I can perk up my garden this year and make it neater, as well as more colorful or more peaceful or more productive or more . . . I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I am hoping I might be chosen for the tour. The Club’s garden tours are always enjoyable, instructive, and encouraging. Wouldn’t you like to show your garden?

The reinvigorated Greenfield Garden Club is ready for the Extravaganza Plant sale May 25 at the John Zon Community Center at the corner of Pleasant and Davis Streets at 8:30 am – 12:30 pm. Hope to see you there.

Between the Rows    May 11, 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – May 15, 2019



I am celebrating Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day with special pleasure because the blooms have been reluctant to open because of rain, floods and the cold.  Above is Dicentra eximia or fringed leaf bleeding heart. This grows against the house foundation right by the side door and is one of the first to bloom. I am  sure this is because the foundation on the south side of the house creates a heat sink.  It is very cheering this cold wet spring.

Grape hyacinths

Grape hyacinths in front of European ginger and Goldheart Bleeding Heart

The grape hyacinths had me all confused when the lush greenery arrived through the snow. The grape hyacinths were a wonderful surprise. I bought the Goldheart Bleeding Heart behind them at last year’s Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale and I hope to find a white bleeding heart at the BOF sale this Saturday, May 18, up in Shelburne Falls. My husband is coming with me and he will be stationed at a white bleeding heart, if there should be one, when the bell opening the sale rings.

Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s seal

I bought Solomon’s seal at the Bridge of Flowers sale too, but I had to move it early this spring and it is not looking as  fine as it did – but it will.


Doronicum or Leopard’s Bane

This Doronicum or Leopard’s Bane was left over when the BOF sale closed a couple of years ago and it continues, but it might need more sun.  Not the little forget-me-nots near-by. Also from the sale. It  could use more sun too. I always have Bloom Day in mind at Plant Sale time.


Some of the Daffodils in front of the house are still blooming


The epimediums still have some flowers, but the rains have hidden them under the leaves.

Barren Strawberry

But the blooms on the barren strawberry, Waldsteinia, were blasted by the cold.


The Fothergilla is the only shrub blooming right now,

Korean Spice bush

however, the Korean Spice bush blossoms will open and perfume the air if we get a little sun.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder survived last summer’s and this spring’s flood,. I did relocate it to a better spot.


This geum also suffered the floods, but endured.

Foam Flower

Tiarella here and there

wood poppies

Wood poppies are happy on the Hugel. They don’t mind some shade. They are ‘strong spreaders.’

These tiny irises were a gift. Any ideas what kind?

I remember planting this ground cover last summer, but the flowers this spring surprised me. Andy ideas what it is?

That is a very full Bloom Day report. I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for creating this event and letting us see what is blooming all over our great land.

Bridge of Flowers – 90th Anniversary and Plant Sale

Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Fall, Massachusetts

In 1908 a new trolley bridge started bringing milk, cotton products and passengers from Colrain to Shelburne Falls. In 1929 the trolley was no longer needed and the bridge became the Bridge of Flowers. The transformation began when Antoinette Burnham looked at the neglected bridge and thought that surely a bridge that could grow so many weeds, could grow flowers instead. That was the beginning of the conversion from industry to garden.

Julius Blassberg bought the bridge and then gave the newly formed Shelburne Falls Women’s Club a five year lease. Ultimately the Bridge was sold to the Shelburne Falls Fire District because of the water main that is located below what had been the trolley tracks. The Women’s Club set up a committee, and the community joined in the amazing transformation. Businesses and individuals donated money, skills and labor. It takes a village to create a treasure!

Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers entrance on Shelburne Side. The Bridge didn’t always look like this.

Thirty-six years ago the Bridge needed a major restoration. The community created Bridge of Flowers Preservation, Inc. Do you know what happens when there is such an undertaking? Money needs to be raised, and every single plant on the Bridge needs to be removed.

The women and men of the town raised that money, then dug up all the plants and tended them for a year in their gardens until they could be replanted. This is a special kind of devotion. In the spring of 1984 they were replanted along with new plants. There are new plants every year, of course, because you cannot have never-ending bloom without annuals.

There have been disasters to endure. Remember Hurricane Irene that did so much damage throughout our area in August of 2011? Shelburne Falls had flooding, and I know of one building that was pulled off its moorings and floated down the street. The raging Deerfield River slammed into the Bridge of Flowers and splashed over the flower beds for hours. (This video does not show the splashing, but you get the idea When the storm quieted and the sun came out the Blossom Brigade and many friends were on hand with shovels to clear as much silt off the plants and pathway as possible. New plants were added to fill empty spots. The Bridge of Flowers was not to be vanquished!

goldheart bleeding heart

A goldheart bleeding heart – glowing in the spring

As the Bridge of Flowers committee looks back on 90 years of care they can take satisfaction in the growing beauty of the Bridge and the growing number of tourists who come to celebrate its glory. It is hard to count the number of visitors to the Bridge but a look through the Visitor’s Pages at both ends of the Bridge suggest that in recent years more than 40,000 people visit every year. Some visitors are from Massachusetts, others come on tour buses from far away places. In addition to admiring the Bridge they might enjoy a meal at Hearty Eats or the West End Pub. They might buy some sweets at Mo’s delicious Fudge Factor, or a painting or pair of earrings at the Shelburne Arts Cooperative. There are many ways to buy a memento of a day at the Bridge of Flowers.

Needless to say, it takes a lot of work to care for a garden, especially a garden that needs to be at its best from April 1 to October 30. Carol DeLorenzo is the current Head Gardener. She has designed and organized the plantings for the past 20 years, making sure that the pathway is always lined, one might say crowded, with blooming plants. Each year it is a little different. She is assisted by Elliston Bingham. Both are assisted by the Blossom Brigade, the women who volunteer at the Bridge twice a week, on Wednesday evenings, and Friday mornings.

At this time of the year the Blossom Bridge is especially busy preparing for the Annual Plant sale. It is the nature of healthy plants to grow bigger and bigger. Many plants on the Bridge need to be divided every year, just as we gardeners need to divide our flowers every year or two.

DeLorenzo digs and organizes all the plants to be divided. The volunteers then pott them up. Gardeners like me can dig up our own large clumps and bring them to the Bridge for the volunteers skillfully pot them up in good soil. The potted plants are then taken to Lynda Leitner’s house where she waters and cares for them until the afternoon before the sale. That afternoon many volunteers and vehicles bring the potted plants to the Baptist Lot to be organized and arranged. It is a sight to see!

Bridge of Flowers

BOF Plant Sale – Plants and goodies

This year the plant sale is scheduled for Saturday, May 18 and will begin promptly at 9 a.m. Buyers may look and make their own decisions about what they want most, but no touching until the bell rings and the sale begins!

The plant sale is a festive event. In addition to all the beautiful plants to buy, coffee and sweets will help keep your energy up. The Buckland Board of Health will have information about ticks, and the Master Gardeners will offer soil tests. Garden related art, gardening aprons, and plant and herb starts will also be available.

There will be another big event this year. In September the Bridge of Flowers will celebrate its 90th anniversary. Ninety years of creating beauty, building community, and spreading joy to visitors from near and far is something to celebrate!


Do you need to clean or sharpen your garden tools? You are invited to a workshop to benefit the Erving Public Library Building Fund on Saturday, May 18 at Dry Brook Garden, 105 Old State Road, Erving. The cost is $20. Bring up to five garden hand tools (no power tools). Coffee, refreshments and a bucket of gardening goodies included.

Registration required by May 15. Register by calling the library at 413-423-3348. Space is limited.

Between the Rows   May 4, 2019

Invasive Plants – Beauty and Destruction

Invasive plants can be beautiful but they are also destructive. Gardeners are becoming more aware of the dangers of invasive plants, as well as the benefits of pollinator plants. We are now realizing there is more to designing our gardens than aesthetics. We have to consider our environment, how plants and wildlife interact.

One of the most common and often used invasive shrubs is Burning bush, Euonymus alatas. It is popular for its beautiful red foliage in the fall. As pretty as these shrubs are, they set so much seed that they quickly force out other plants.  At the same time there are a number of other shrubs that can provide similar color and benefit.


Fothergilla on the Bridge of Flowers

The large Fothergilla major can grow as tall as six feet with an even wider spread. A dwarf version, F. gardenia, will grow about two to four feet tall with a three to four foot spread. Fothergillas have attractive bottle-brush flowers in the spring, and foliage that turns shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall. The Fothergilla on the Bridge of Flowers always attracts a lot of attention for its unusual flowers. It is a hardy, trouble free shrub.

Other substitutes for burning bush are chokeberry, enkianthus, highbush blueberry, Virginia sweetspire, and American cranberry bush viburnam.

We don’t often think of trees being invasive, but the Norway maple outcompetes sugar maples in woodland. It also has such a dense canopy that its shades out and reduces wildflower diversity. There are alternatives. The red maple and sugar maple have similar golden foliage in the fall. The red oak has deep red foliage in the fall. There is no need ever to plant a Norway maple.

Some Norway maples have deep purple foliage, but substitutes include crabapples; be sure to look for disease resistant cultivars. European beech and redbuds, also have deep red autumnal foliage.

Virginia sweetspire

Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica in the autumn

Japanese barberry, Berberis thunbergii, is used as hedging, but I have never understood why it is popular. All those thorns! It is another invasive plant that has a number of alternatives to its color, its berries and form.  Some weigela and ninebark cultivars provide purple foliage while others provide yellow autumnal leaves. Virginia sweetspire and highbush blueberries provide red autumnal color. Deutzia gracilis and Potentilla fruticosa are small rounded shrubs that bloom, respectively, in spring and summer.

European barberry is also an invasive shrub, often used as hedging. Weigela, ninebark, bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), inkberry and Virginia sweetspire are all possible alternatives.

I have a Rhus aromatica in my garden. This is a very low-growing sumac that can spread to six or eight feet across. The foliage turns yellow and red in the fall. It has very few problems and tolerates my wet garden even though it is said to prefer well-drained soil. I like it because it provides quiet interest for my garden which has so many larger shrubs.

Rusty willow (Salix atrocinerea) grows to about 40 feet and Gray willow (S. cinerea) only grows to a shrubby 15-20 feet, but both are vigorously taking over wetlands in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Their seeds are distributed by the wind, and they easily hybridize with other willows. This means they can make our native willows extinct.

The invasive trees and shrubs I have mentioned are all forbidden in Massachusetts, and there are alternatives for all of them. It is pretty easy to cut down these trees or dig up and get rid of these invasive shrubs.  Other invasives are not so easily removed, but efforts must and are being employed.

Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife – photo courtesy of Neponset River Watershed Association

Purple loosestrife is a lovely plant that was accidentally brought to the U.S. from Europe. It is often seen along roadsides where it is damp or swampy. The damage of this plant, and others, is that it overcomes native plants and reduces needed food, shelter, and nesting sites for birds and other wildlife.

When I see a few purple loosestrife plants growing along a damp roadside it is easy to stop and pull them out. A large stand along a highway wetland is a different story. In the 1980s researchers went to Europe to look for insects that might prey on this plant. Out of the 120 species they studied they found three that fed on purple loosestrife. They did not feed on other plants.

Galerucella calmariensis and Galerucella pusilla  are two of the species that have been imported and used to eradicate purple loosestrife in Rhode Island and Connecticut with good results, especially in sunny areas. The number of these insects is increasing and the research is continuing.

I mention this Integrated Pest Management Technique to remind us all that there are many ways to eliminate invasive species other than hitting them with strong pesticides.

Massachusetts has a long list of invasive and soon to be invasive plants which you can find listed at Some of these plants will be familiar like yellow iris, and phragmites which grow in wet locations and oriental bittersweet that drapes itself over trees. Others like Euphorbia esula L. (Leafy spurge) are not familiar but equally dangerous. ###

Between the Rows   April 27, 2019

Earth Day 2019 – Pollinator Pathways & PV Squared

Pollinator flowers

Many pollinator flowers attract bees and butterflies

Forty-nine years ago Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, looked at the disastrous 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, and thought that more attention needed to be paid to environmental problems. Thus he planned an Earth Day ‘national teach-in on the environment. He chose Pete McCloskey, a Republican Congressman, and Denis Hayes from Harvard to work with him creating this event. To make use of the energy of the young the date of April 22, during college vacations, was chosen.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans, young and old, took to the streets and auditoriums to speak about the environmental problems they faced. I was at a rally in West Hartford that day. Where were you?

By the end of that year the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been created and the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts had been passed by Congress.

In 1990 Earth Day went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated. Today more than one billion people celebrate Earth Day and look for ways to protect our environment.

Locally, we have Nancy Hazard who has worked with many others to create Greening Greenfield ( working for a more resilient and sustainable community. In 2010 Greenfield was among the first Massachusetts communities to be awarded the Green Community designation.

The Greening Greenfield website lists many ways that we can lower our energy costs, and the programs that will help us make use of solar energy on our homes.


One environmental problem is the loss of many species of birds, animals and other creatures. Greening Greenfield has invited Tom Sullivan, the owner of Pollinators, to talk about a Pollinator Corridor. On his recent trip to Ireland he was inspired by their countrywide pollinator plan which supports pollinators that are vital to food production. He now has a vision of creating a pollinator corridor  in Greenfield. It  would begin at the pollinator garden he and Nancee Bershoff designed in front of the Zon Center and planted with the help of many volunteers to the Energy Park. To celebrate Earth Day h will speak at the John Zon Community Center on Saturday, April 20, from 1-4 p.m.


Another Greening Greenfield Earth Day event is a discussion of Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming edited by Paul Hawken to be held on Monday, June 3, 2019 at the Greenfield Library. This is an amazing book that devotes two pages to each of the 100 challenges that would reduce global warming.

Some of those challenges quickly come to mind: composting, heat pumps, mass transit, green roofs and more. Some are surprising. Think of Managed Grazing that by 2050 could result in 16.34 gigatons of reduced CO2, at the net cost of $50.5 billion and with $735.3 billion in net savings! I saw this system used on the Sidehill Farm some years ago and I saw the value to the cows, and to the improved  soil and forage, but did not recognize the benefit to the environment.

Readers can choose the fields they are most interested in so the book is not intimidating. Hazard said “This is an opportunity for collective learning. We learn what is sustainable together.” She added that the book is available through our library system.


PV Squared

Owner-workers and workers at PV Squared

I called PV Squared to find out the impact of their work. The company was founded in 2002 by four owner-workers; today they have 44 workers, with 29 owner-workers. There are many ways to define sustainability. PV Square has always created sustainable, living wage jobs and worked to strengthen the local economy.

I spoke to Anna Manello who said “Since 2002, the electricity generated from all of the solar systems we’ve installed is 54,812,000 kW hours of electricity, which is equivalent to an estimated 38,760 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide!”  Another way of thinking about it is 4,361,467 gallons of gasoline used or 4,942,423,440 smart phones recharged.

Manello also told me that they have worked with Habitat for Humanity, installing solar systems on eight local projects including houses on Deerfield Street. Four more projects are in the offing. Their work with Habitat not only sequesters CO2, it provides a sustainable home for a family.

There are other organizations that make our area more sustainable. Just Roots supplies organically grown food that provides food security for many families. They just installed a 9.1 kW array of solar panels for sustainability.

Greenfield Community College teaches an array of classes that include concepts and principles in ecology including ecosystems, population, food production, energy, pollution, technology, and resource depletion.

Community Involved with Sustaining Agriculture  (CISA)  helps farmers with the business of farming. It also partners with others like the University of Massachusetts Extension Service to teach sustainable agricultural practices.

Earth Day is a day to recognize the challenges to our environment, and to encourage the ways we can each work every day to protect our environment.

Between the Rows   April 20, 2019

Rebirth of a Community Garden – John Zon Community Garden

Pleasant Street Community gardener

Eveline Macdougall with some of the lively Pleasant Street Community Gardeners

In 1997 Eveline Macdougall visited the Great Falls Community Garden in Turners Falls. She looked at that garden, and thought of all the gardens her family had grown. She thought about her own frustrations trying to ‘squeeze plants into tiny outdoor spaces while longing for a real garden.’ Then inspired by the Great Falls garden she turned to her friend Suzette Snow-Cobb who helped start the Great Falls garden for advice.

Macdougall then began creating a community garden by talking to people, and finding the right people to talk to. There were talks and more talks with the DPW about a site for the garden. None were found.

Then used as an administrative building the Davis Street School lot had space and Macdougall noticed. She talked to the school department. Macdougall told me she was “getting an interesting political lesson on how to approach people.” Months passed of talks with the school board and the selectmen.

Finally she got permission, but not before she kneeled down before them at a meeting. ‘You are wearing me down. Look at me. Look at my hands in prayer. I’m a really good community organizer.” With laughter, permission was granted.

The selectmen approved the garden but she had to check in with all the abutters which she did. Approvals were finally given and after two years the Pleasant Street Community Garden was about to be born.

Pleasant Street Community Garden is born

In the spring of 1999 Rick Pascale brought his Gravely machine (they don’t make these anymore) to Pleasant Street and spent eight long hours breaking ground. Thirteen plots were marked off and immediately found gardeners to use them. When Dorothea Sotiros came along to help Macdougall as the garden grew, thirty-plots were in use. There was always a waiting list.

There had been struggles and frustrations to get the garden and to maintain the garden, but Macdougall told me she wouldn’t trade a minute of her time in those first 15 years for anything. The gardeners who gathered there were refugees, immigrants, youngsters, elders, apartment dwellers like herself, and even prisoners from the jail. All were grateful and happy to have dirt for planting. Macdougall’s stories of trials and joy and thanks would take more than this column to tell.

Then, as we know, the brick building came down, the gardens were removed and there was gnashing of teeth. Macdougall reminded the gardeners and everyone else that the town had been very generous in giving the land, for free, for all those years. Now the garden is coming back.

John Zon Community Center – Community Garden is Reborn

Rabbi Andrea

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener on the site of the new Community Garden

The John Zon Community Center is sitting on that Pleasant Street lot. So far, there are lawns, shrubberies, and a large pollinator garden in front of the building. Behind the building is a rain garden, and the beginnings of a new Community Garden. Dorothea Sotiros is once again one of the organizers, along with Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener and others who have met for the past few months as a Working Group. On April 22, Earth Day, there will be a celebration from 5 to 7 pm, to mark the beginnings of a new Community Garden. There will be music and snacks and conversation about What Next. Attendees will be invited to participate in one way or another.

I met with Rabbi Andrea and we both looked at the 180 by 35 foot planting bed full of promise. It is not ready to be planted. Rabbi Andrea explained that the soil needs to be prepared this year before it is fertile and healthy. A healthy soil will prepare the garden for successful healthy crops next year. The Working Group has been grateful to NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) which has given them best practices advice about improving the soil.

The Working Group is happy about the educational impact of the location of the garden. Those who come to the Community Center, and even those who walk by will have an opportunity to see the skills needed and used as the garden takes form. There will be a best practices workshop in composting for those who are interested. There will demonstrations of the different ways to garden. There is talk about vertical gardening. The Working Group is welcoming the thoughts, dreams and desires of those who will be interested in getting a plot in the garden.

The soil will be worked this year with tools that had been used in the original Pleasant Street Garden, then patiently and hopefully stored while waiting for this renewal. Those tools will now be stored in a new shed due in part to the generosity of the New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund, and the Greenfield Common Good, both of which have given grants to the Community Garden. The town has absorbed the installation of the shed.

Join the Community Garden party on Earth Day, April 22, 2019 from 5 to 7pm at the John Zon Community Center.


An extra note. Eveline Macdougall has written a book about the Amandala Chorus which she founded. It is titled Fiery Hope and will soon be for sale. I am looking forward to her book, still to be written, about her adventures in the Pleasant Street Community Garden.

Between the Rows  April 13 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – April 15, 2019

purple crocus

Purples crocus on Bloom Day

Bloom Day! The purple, and gold crocus I planted last year have bloomed!  The gold crocus is just about done, and the purple crocus no longer seem to be attracting the honey bees. I think the bees drank them both dry. This photo has a second purpose – besides showing off the blooms – I wanted a record of where they were coming up so I could plant more this fall.



I love scillas – in large swaths. I am finding it hard to think why I planted three little clumps where they are easily stepped on.  I think I will dig them up and replant them when they are done blooming.

I have nothing else to celebrate this Bloom Day – except buds on the hydrangeas (newly pruned), on the lilac, viburnams, willow, Korean spice bush, and raspberries. Oh, yes, and startling green shoots of daylilies, asters, waldsteinia, and foam flower. Spring is coming. Slowly here in Massachusetts. The thermometer went up to 70 degrees this gray  day, and heavy rains are scheduled for tomorrow. Once again my garden will be flooded, but not where these bulbs are blooming.

Thank you Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens for inviting us all to show our gardens on Bloom Day! This is the third spring for our new gardens in the valley.

Thomas Jefferson – Lover of Liberty and Monticello

Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743-July 4, 1826) was a man of many parts. We all know he had a plantation, but I never knew he inherited it from his father along with a lot of debts. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, but I didn’t know he practiced law. Briefly. He represented his county in the Virginia House of Burgesses, but I didn’t know he served as the second Governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. I know he attended the Second Continental Congress and is considered the main author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He did not attend the Constitutional Congress in 1787 that gave us our Constitution because he was in Paris. He kept in touch with letters and during the ratification process he was instrumental in the addition of the Bill of Rights. We all know he became our third President in 1801 but I didn’t know (no blame to my history teachers I am sure) that he served as Minister to France, then Secretary of State to George Washington, and Vice-president to John Adams.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams take a tour

There are a lot of other things I didn’t know about Jefferson including a garden tour he took in 1786. That April Jefferson was living in France as the American Minister to France, at the same time that John Adams was living in London as the American Minister to the court at St. James Palace. Adams was having difficulties with trade negotiations that stalled. He invited Jefferson to come to Britain for a week or so and tour some of the gardens. A respite. At that time British gardens were considered the ultimate in garden fashion. Jefferson agreed to come. In spite of difficulties with Britain, he did feel that the English had the most magnificent landscapes.

Jefferson's vegetable garden, 1000 feet long

Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello

On April 3, the second day of their tour, they visited the famous Woodburn Farm. At that time such estates were open to the public. Woodburn was considered a “ferme ornee’ which combined the beauties of a pleasure garden with the elements of a working farm. Jefferson had been fascinated by the idea of the simple delights of a country life which included elegant landscapes. He admired the groves of trees and shrubberies that bordered paths and wound around the Woodburn’s fields and meadows. Though it was too early in the season to really see the foliage and flowers of the shrubs, the sight of the blooming crabapples, and the yellow pendant catkins of the alders was enough to feed his imagination about the kind of gardens he wanted to design and plant at Monticello.


Jefferson was a learned man who knew about science and horticulture. Today visitors can see and enjoy the fruit (pun intended) of his passions and interests. There had been large gardens but in 1806 the 1000 foot long vegetable garden we see today was hewed and terraced out of the side of a mountain by slaves. There he grew 330 varieties of 70 vegetables. The garden mainly served the functional needs of the plantation, but Jefferson built a beautiful pavilion where he and guests could admire the magnificent view of the mountains beyond. That Pavilion was destroyed during a storm in the 1820’s. It was replaced in 1984 so that today’s visitors can imagine Jefferson sitting in solitude, or possibly showing off the view to visiting friends.

For many years Jefferson kept a Garden Kalendar. He experimented with seeds from Italy, Britain, France and Mexico. He wanted to find the best of the varieties that he planted. He loved the English pea, but he also appreciated figs and asparagus. Jefferson enjoyed planting those ‘new ‘vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower.

One of the biggest, and earliest things Jefferson did while President was make the Louisiana Purchase. The size of our country was doubled when he signed this agreement with France. He sent Lewis and Clark off to explore and map the area. In addition to the maps and information about the land and the Indian tribes, he had them send back plants for his gardens.

South Orchard at Monticello

South Orchard at Monticello today

Man cannot live by vegetable alone. Jefferson also planted an eight acre ‘fruitery.” Over time the South Orchard was planted with over 1000 fruit trees including many varieties of apples, peaches, cherries, pears, plums, nectarines, almonds, and apricots. It is said that Spitzenberg was Jefferson’s favorite apple. I am happy to say it is easy to come by in our area in season. Many of the apple trees were grown for cider. Over the years some of those trees did not thrive and died. The orchards were restored in 1981, so visitors today will see the orchard as it might have looked at its best period.

Of course, there were berries, and his grape vineyards today thrive as they could not when Jefferson made his attempts.

Jefferson continued with his many interests after his terms as President. His notable accomplishment during those years was the founding of the University of Virginia.

Nowadays Jefferson has lost some luster because he was a slave owner, as were George Washington and James Madison. Still we cannot deny the energy and wisdom that these men devoted to the creation of our country. I am as happy to celebrate his April 13 birthday as I do Washington’s.

Between the Rows   April 6, 2019

Flowering Shrubs All Season Long

Witch hazel

Hamamelis – witch hazel in mid-March

Many of us gardeners eventually come to embrace shrubs because we need a low maintenance garden. I believe that in my new town garden, I have gotten a shrub garden that requires less work, and works with the limitations of my soil and space.

I have concentrated on water loving shrubs like button bush, elderberry, and willow, but the shrub list is long.

The earliest shrub to bloom in our neighborhood is Hammamelis or witch hazel. My neighbor’s witch hazel grows in front of her house and those twirly golden flowers are brilliant in a landscape where there is so little color. They began blooming at the beginning of March.

Witch hazels can grow to about 15 feet with a pretty wide spread. They like well drained, loamy soil and lots of sun. They are natives, but there are cultivars in addition to the native bright yellow. Arnold’s Promise was introduced by the Arnold Arboretum about 40 years ago. It has the large fragrant flowers

Hamamelis x intermedia “Diane” blooms at the end of winter and has deep red flowers that will age to a copper tone. There is very little fragrance. This cultivar will be about 10 feet, wide and tall. “Jelena” is a coppery orange and also blooms in March.

Depending on what you read the size of these witch hazels seems to fluctuate.  I think we can count on between 10 to 15 feet. Pruning should be done after the blooms are done in the spring.

Pearl bush

Pearl bush

The common Pearl bush, (Exochorda racemosa) can grow to six feet or more, and is covered with white flowers in early May in zones 4-8. Cultivars like ‘Snow Day Surprise’, and ‘Snow Day Blizzard’, are easy to find in garden centers. These will grow to about three or four feet and will bloom profusely and beautifully in May. There is a lovely pearl bush on the Bridge of Flowers but I cannot be sure of the cultivar. It is a stunning spring bloomer.

Pearl bush will need pruning when the flowers fall off because it is a shrub that blooms on ‘old wood.’ That means the wood that will grow after pruning and will be ‘old’ the following spring when buds will set and bloom. If you prune a pearl bush in the spring, you will be throwing away all the spring buds.

The issue of old wood and new wood has confused many gardeners. I just attended the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium and attended a talk by John Barry. Barry is a hydrangea lover and told us of the aggravation gardeners give themselves if they don’t understand old wood and new wood.

Mothlight hydrangea

Mothlight hydrangea

I have known these terms for a long time, but they confused me. In Heath my first hydrangea was MothLight. In my timidity I did not prune it much, I just cut out dead branches, or branches that crossed each other. Mothlight did not seem to care very much. It just grew and grew to a height of ten feet or more with a wide spread.

Barry said that was understandable. Mothlight is a hydrangea in the paniculata family. It blooms on new wood, and if you are not pruning it at all, it will keep growing and making that new wood to bloom every year.

The thrust of Barry’s talk was really about the new smaller hydrangeas that are so useful for people with smaller gardens. He gave suggestions.

One list was of new small hydrangeas in the Arborescens family which can tolerate some shade. These all bloom on new wood and should be pruned back to one or two feet in the very early spring, which is to say, now. They are hardy in our zone. Some gardeners may be familiar with Annabelle, a very popular ‘mophead’ with its large round flower. There are now two new similar cultivars. Invinciball has the biggest flowers and the sturdiest stems. Spirit II is the deliciously pink flowered Annabelle.

Hydrangea paniculata is also called Hardy Hydrangea. All the hydrangeas I have grown have been paniculatas. Limelight, Firelight and Angel’s Blush are all doing well in my South Border. Barry said that Arborescens and Paniculatas are just about fool proof in our area.

While I have full sized hydrangeas there are small paniculatas which have airier blossoms than arborescens.  Little Lime, with green flowers, will only grow to four feet. Little Quickfire has flowers that turn from white to pink over the summer on a four foot shrub. BoBo has the largest white flowers in this group.

Hydrangeas bloom all summer and into the fall.

Beauty bush - callicarpa

Callicarpa – Beauty bush

Callicarpa or American beauty bush is a relatively small shrub. It is said to grow to a height of three to six feet with an equal spread in zone 5 or 6 – 10. However, in our valley climate it will probably not grow much taller than three or four feet. A callicarpa has grown on the Bridge of Flowers for a number of years. I don’t know if the river provides some modifying warmth.

Beauty bush prefers a lot of sun and a well draining soil.

This small native shrub has insignificant white flowers in June. The real attraction in is the small purple fruits that appear in late August and last until hard frost.

Between the Rows   March 30, 2019