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Seed Starting Indoors For An Early Start Outdoors


Seedlings 8 days old  – Mesclun and sunflowers on the left

This is the time of year when we can’t wait to start planting seeds. Unfortunately it is not the time of year when we can put vegetable or flower seeds in the ground. Fortunately for those of us who want a jump on the season we can start seeds indoors without too much trouble or expense. It is helpful to know the date of the last frost in your area. It is also important to know the temperature of your garden soil. The soil temperature is even more important to your seedlings that the air temperature.

Seed Starting Equipment

A soil thermometer is a good investment. It will cost about $15. Different seeds need different soil temperatures to germinate energetically. Your seedlings will also need warm soil. One way to insure that your soil is warm is by covering your planting space with a clear plastic sheet or a tarp for a few sunny days.

Another way to protect seedlings when they go in the ground is to use row covers supported by wire hoops. These low tunnels will provide some heat, and they will also protect plants from hungry insects. I used row covers in my small vegetable garden in Heath and really appreciated the protection it gave early in the season. Greenfield Farmers Coop has all the items you will need for seed starting from trays and seed cells, soil thermometer, hoops and row covers. And seeds.

Having assembled your equipment and seeds it is time to plant. Fill the seed cells with moist seedling soil mix, but leave room for the seed and covering soil mix.

I started my seeds in my basement under a grow light. A grow light is the best way to germinate seeds, but people have been putting their seed trays on a sunny windowsill for years. If that is what you need to do, you will have to keep turning the seed trays. Seedlings are always bending towards the light and you want to keep them as upright as possible. Expect the seedlings to be a little leggier than they would be under grow lights.

Progression of Seedling Growth


April 11 – Mesclun has been hardening off, almost ready to plant in my new vegetable garden

Some seeds like mesclun lettuces germinate very quickly, others will take longer. I planted my seeds on March 18. Mesclun was the first to sprout.  As I write the seeds that have germinated are sunflower, zinnia, cosmos, calendula, and fennel. Other seeds have not yet germinated. I have to wonder whether they need more time, or if the seed is no longer viable. Some of these seeds have been in my stash for more than a couple of years. I will wait a little longer before I give up on them.

Some of my seedlings have begun to develop ‘true’ leaves. I expect them to be ready tor transplanting in four to six weeks. I checked my weather records for 2019. I won’t say I take perfect temperature records, but last April 7 was the last day I recorded frost. As April progressed temperatures did not go below 40 degrees. I expect to put my seedlings in the ground by the first full week of May.

Of course I will not take my seed flats outside and immediately plant them in the soil, no matter how warm the soil is. Seedlings raised indoors are delicate little things. I will harden off my seedlings first. That means gently getting them accustomed to the sun and breezes. The first day seedlings can go outside they need light shade for two hours and then bring them back indoors. For the next six days add more sunny hours gradually to their outdoor stay. Don’t forget to keep the seedlings watered. The soil will dry out faster outside than indoors.

4-11 Look at those sunflowers! Fennel also doing well.


The day before the seedlings are ready for transplanting I will water them with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer. This will give them a little extra strength when they come out of their cell. Now comes the trickiest part. Do not try to pull the seedling out of the seed cell by its fragile stem. The seedlings are very delicate and tender. I tear my little plastic cells to remove the moist soil and seedling carefully and pop it into the prepared bed. Some gardeners prefer using peat pots for growing seedlings. The planted peat pot can go right in the ground with no tearing or fussing. No worry about damaging the plant or its roots at all.

I have been told that starting seeds indoors can be done in the summer as well as in the spring. Some crops like broccoli and cauliflower can be started indoors the first August and be harvested in late October. My temperature record last year said all of October was very mild with no frost until November 1. It will be fun to see if I can get a fall harvest of broccoli and cauliflower.

At my age, an important aspect of gardening is having fun. It is fun to try out new flowers and vegetables. If they fail, finding out why can be quite intriguing.

Since moving to Greenfield I have not grown any vegetables. My wet garden is not suitable for vegetables. I do have a small spot where I can grow herbs, near the kitchen door, but that is not the same as being able to harvest my own carrots, zucchini, lettuce and tomatoes. This year I will have my own small plot in the Community Garden. The size of the plot will control extravagances. My sister/fellow gardeners will make working there especially pleasant. Expect more reports.

Between the Rows   April 4, 2020

Alphabet for Pollinators – D is for Dandelions


Dandelions – Cheer and nectar in early spring. Pollen too.

Dandelions are the first D pollinator plant I think of.  They bloom in the very early spring and my Heath lawn had lots of dandelions every spring. I  thought they very pretty and I also thought they were important for bees who needed nectar and pollen when the hives became active.

It seems there are differences of opinion,  although they are not totally worthless. The Guardian International thinks dandelions are very useful to pollinators in the early spring. The Daily Journal of Kankakee, Illinois takes a different view, although they do not say  the dandelions are completely worthless to pollinators.

The Pesticide Action Network UK says bees definitely need dandelions. Maybe Kankakee is just more particular about their lawns.

Double bird’s foot trefoil, Lotus plenus, is another lawn substitute. it has two inch dense dark green foliage with ruffled yellow flowers in  the summer.

There are other low growing plants that sometimes substitute for grass in a lawn. Many of us might be familiar with Dianthus gratianopolitanus under the title cheddar pinks. They are only about one or two inches tall and have sweet clove scented pink flowers in mid-spring. It does tolerate mild foot traffic.

Double bird’s foot trefoil, Lotus plenus, is another lawn substitute. it has two inch dense dark green foliage with ruffled yellow flowers in  the summer. It is often used as a ground cover, but it can be used on a lawn, or on a bank.

Queen Anne's Lace

Daucus carota Queen Anne’s Lace

Daucus carota, Queen Anne’s Lace, is one of my favorite flowers. This grows along the roadsides. I don’t know why I never see it in a garden.  Maybe I just haven’t seen enough gardens. I will have to work on that.

Daucus carota Queen Anne’s Lace

Gardening in the Time of Pandemic

 Crocus have no fear of the pandemic

Crocus have no fear of the Pandemic

The spring equinox, the first day of spring, arrived on March 19 this year, the earliest it has been since 1896! Clearly Madame Spring was not happy about being called to duty so early. She arrived with snow and rain and gloom. A pandemic also arrived.

Spring arrived just as people were beginning to really understand what the presence of Corvid-19 means. It means “sheltering in place,” and observing ‘social distancing,” which means staying home and keeping six feet away- from everyone.  None of this is easy in a time of pandemic.

So what can I do every day?

I can look for pleasure. I smile at my crocuses, purple and gold. I admire the daffodil shoots. I get my rake and feed the compost bins with wet leaves. I am amazed at all the other green shoots hiding under the leaves.

When I take my rake out of our shed I blush to see the disarray. This is the time of year to get really organized! Now I have no excuses. I have time to organize. I have time to give the tools a good cleaning, and sharpening when necessary. I have time to categorize the organic fertilizers. I have time to clean the flower pots and set them outside. I have time to consider which of those-too-many pots can be given away.

I have time to work with my husband setting up grow-lights in the basement. I have an array of seeds chosen at the Cabin Fever Seed Swap and they can be started now.

My husband and I both have time to move the delicious delivery of compo-soil from Martin’s Compost Farm that has just been delivered. Our wet garden always needs a topping off.

raspberry patch set up

Raspberry patch set-up. The leaves have been left as mulch

Over the past three years the raspberry patch became more and more difficult to harvest. How could I have forgotten the need for posts and wires to keep the canes in place. I knew how to do that in Heath! Oh, well. Onward!

My husband had put up stakes last year, and a couple of weeks ago he put wires around the stakes. This will keep my three raspberry rows in line. So to speak. This week I cut out the dead canes, and cut back the canes that will bear berries this year.

I’d like to tell you which raspberry varieties I grow, but the list is lost. I tend to like heirloom varieties like Latham and Heritage, so I might have at least one of those. Latham bears in mid-season, and Heritage in late summer into fall. I was picking well into fall last year so Heritage might be what I planted. Prelude is a variety that bears early which is always happy. And Boyne raspberries gets Excellent grades for flavor, freezing quality and winter hardiness! I might very well have chosen Boyne, but I don’t know for sure. I keep promising to keep better records, but . . .

I only grow red raspberries but Nourse Farms also offers black raspberries, yellow raspberries, and Double Gold with “a deep blush, golden champagne color” and very sweet.

The raspberries are just showing swelling buds, but what I call the herb garden, is getting down to business. I have a large sage plant right outside the kitchen door. It does not shed all its foliage during the winter. Unless it is covered with snow, I can harvest a few leaves if my fall harvest has been used up. I love that sage plant.

The wind had deposited lots of leaves on the herb garden. When I raked them off I revealed clumps of chives, ready to be put to use. I also have a clump of alliums.


Chives and allium. The wind keep blowing the wind around and it loves this spot against the house. We are working on collecting the leaves!

Chives, of course, are also an allium. The chives are for using in the kitchen, but this other allium is mostly decorative. The foliage is heavier, and the white blooms wait until mid-summer to appear. I do not use them in the kitchen.

Thyme grows near the chives. Both are ready for use in the kitchen right now.


Oregano – and leaves

The surprise was the oregano. I forgot how large the oregano plot was last fall. That patch had been covered with leaves all winter. After clearing the leaves the cheerful sunny green foliage was revealed. It too is ready for use.

Removing leaves revealed another green surprise – mountain mint. I actually have two varieties of mountain mint which attract many pollinators including flies, beetles, wasps and bees. They are such good pollinators that the Garden Club of America chose it as the Plant of the Year in 2018. The particular mountain mint that I uncovered is Pycnanthemum muticum which has ‘short toothed’ foliage. It is green and growing.

Mountain mint

Mountain mint – Bees love mountain mint

I do also have narrow leaf mountain mint, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, but it is still sleeping.

The excitement in the garden did not end with the delightful uncovering of green, but with a quiet, beautiful snowfall. Always a surprise in the garden.

This is how we are gardening in the time of pandemic.


This past week I learned about the 1001 Pollinator Gardens project. Amy of the Wing and a Prayer nursery in Cummington told me how to join the crowd.  I sent in my application that included a plant list.  Amy wrote back and told me that she was happy  that I had trees and shrubs in our garden. She was especially happy that we had planted two river birch trees. She said that river birches can host nearly 400! Species of caterpillars. I had no idea.

Check out and think about joining this great project.###

Between the Rows  March 28, 2020

April Fool’s Day and the Flowers Are Joining the Fun

purple crocus

Purple crocus

It’s April Fool’s Day and the bulbs and flowers think it is time to join the fun. These purple crocuses have been blooming for a couple of weeks. Even the six inch snowfall didn’t daunt them. They came to bloom in the sun, and were still blooming when the snow melted. They needed a god drink.

Snow drop

Snow drop

This single snowdrop got tired of waiting like the rest of her indolent family. I could almost hear her shout “I am ready to bloom, slowpokes!”  They other snowdrop will soon join her.

Tiny daffodils

Tiny daffodils

I’ve never been able to decide whether these are diminutive daffodils or if they are just stunted because the soil is bad. Behind them you see foliage of the fringed bleeding hearts. They do bloom early in the spring, but not yet. Then they will bloom for months. They like this spot in front of the house foundation and southern sun.

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses

These Japanese primroses are not blooming quite yet, but they are enjoying the good swim. Unfortunately the photo does not make it clear that they are growing in standing water, and it will be swampy all spring. The beautiful tall flowers are a gift from a friend who had them growing in her swampy garden.

At first I thought there were the violets that often come up in a lawn. But then I remembered. I planted these scillas.  I might have to move them. As this part of the garden takes a new shape, they might not stand our footsteps. I think  they are April Fools – teasing me.

Daylily shoots

Daylily shoots

I have quite a few daylilies, and some of them are  shooting up bigger than this. Plant foliage on the right is the beginnings of the black eyed susan. And a couple of weeds.

Yes spring is here and slowly beginning of show off. Garden raking continues and new shoots are showing up everywhere.  Happy April Fools Day.  Only a fool would stay indoors today – so I am off and back to the garden.


Books: Women in Gardens; Flower Gardening; and a Reluctant Seedling

Garden books always inspire and teach me. It was once a dream of mine to have a cutting garden. This would be a garden with lots of flowers from early spring to late fall. I would stroll amid these beauties every morning and pick a little bouquet, snowdrops or narcissus for my bedroom. I would wake every morning to the beauties of spring. In the summer and fall the house would be filled with my beautiful bouquets of roses, peonies, Mexican sunflowers and zinnias and endless other delicate and sturdy flowers. Need I tell you I never made such a cutting garden? However, at one point in my life I was quite pleased with my big bouquets of autumnal foliage and my favorite late blooming chrysanthemum called the Sheffield daisy.

Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening

Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening by Matt Mattus

Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening

I was just sent a beautiful garden book that has rekindled my desire to bring flowers into the house.  Matt Mattus has written Mastering the Art of Flower Gardening: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Flowers from Today’s Favorites to Unusual Varieties (Cool Springs Press $30.)

In his introduction Mattus tells us “Within these pages I touch on many of the lost 19th century horticultural crafts gardeners practiced, such as forcing lily of the valley pip into bloom or raising tuberoses and mignonette in the home garden.” I have no trouble with lily of the valley, but my attempt at growing a tuberose last summer was a total failure. And I’m not even sure I know what mignonette is. But this beautifully illustrated book gives me hope.

There is a brief beginning with basic information about Getting Started. Then we are on to gorgeous portraits of some spring bloomers like primulas and irises, but that is just a teaser. It is followed by page spreads of several flowers with very specific information about that one flower.

Certain flowers like primroses, Primula, which come in many forms, earn even more special attention. I have two types of primrose in my garden. Japanese primroses which are more than a foot tall love a swampy site that even has shade were given to me by a friend. My other old fashioned polyanthus is very small and sweet and makes me feel like I might bump into Shaskespeare any minute.

Then Mattus moves us into spring and information about 57 summer bloomers. Many of these will be familiar like lavender, petunias and zinnias. Some I never heard of like Bird’s Eye Gilia grown in cottage gardens in 1700, and Mignonette, also grown in the 1700s, and loved for its fragrance. It is just wonderful to find new plants that might feel like a necessary addition to your garden.

Mattus also has a wonderful blog. Gardening With Plants, has useful information about the world of plants, and how to combine plants  in the garden and in a bouquet.

Earth in her Hands

The Earth in Her Hands by Jennifer Jewell


The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working the World of Plants by Jennifer Jewell (Timber Press $35) takes us on a tour of the work done by women in many fields, botany, environmental science, landscape design, agriculture, garden writing and photography and public garden administration and public police. And more.

Some of the women profiled will be familiar. There is Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life and more. July Moir Messervy is a garden designer with several excellent and useful books to her name. I have been reading Amy Stewart’s books for 15 years for their information and charm.

But there are other fascinating women I have never been introduced to. British Tessa Traeger is an amazing photographer; Hemlata Pradhan a Botanical artist in India; Mia Lehrer, a landscape architect at Studio-MLA in California whose concern is making cities more livable; Fionnulal Fallon  writes a garden column for the Irish Tines and is also a flower farmer and florist in Ireland; and Cynthia Ann Brown is the Manager of Horticulture Collections and Education at the Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C. There are many ways to go  to work in the garden. All these women have included a note about other women who have inspired them. This is the kind of book that will lead you to finding other books and ‘gardeners.’

For the past three years I have been invited by a friend to read to her first grade every Friday afternoon. These first graders want to learn about everything, history, art, bad days, and learning about jobs they might do some day.

The Seedling

The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow by Britta Teckentrup

The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow

Garden books are for children too. The Seedling That Didn’t Want to Grow by Britta Teckentrup (Prestel $14.95) gives us a delightful story of how a seed was slow in sending up its first shoots, but accompanied and encouraged by a lady bird and an ant, did begin to grow among the forest trees. This unique seed grows and changes until finally its branches reach the sun. But that is not the end. There will be a lovely surprise in the spring.

The beautiful illustrations invite children to think about plants, other creatures and the environment. And we are all reminded that growth does not happen on a tight schedule. It has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as “delicate, complex, extravagant, beautiful and strong,”

Happy Reading!

Between the Rows  March 21, 2020

Alphabet for Pollinators – C is for Clethra, Cosmos and Calendula

Sweet pepperbush

Clethra alnifolia, summrsweet or sweet pepperbush

We have seen A and B. Now we are up to C – Clethra alnifolia, commonly called summersweet, is a deciduous shrub that is native to swampy woodlands, wet marshes, stream banks and seashores. Because of my wet garden, this fragrant shrub thrives.  It is about four feet high. It gets lots of sun

The sweetly fragrant white flowers  appear in narrow, upright panicles. It will bloom for a long season in mid to late summer. It attracts birds as well as butterflies.


Cosmos, an annual

The simple cosmos flowers provide easy access to nectar and pollen. They not only attract the familiar bees, cosmos attract other beneficial insects we rarely think about like lacewings, parasitic wasps, tachinid flies and hoverflies that feed on many pest insects.

I like them because they are easy to grow, and bloom late in summer and continue until late in  the fall. How wonderful to be able to put together a bouquet so late in the year.

Like cosmos calendula flowers will attract benefiical insects like lacewings, hoverflies and ladybugs. They also attract the bees and butterflies that are so welcome in our garden.



Calendula comes in various golden shades, sometimes daisy-like and sometimes like these lush calendulas. The flowers provide nectar and pollen that attract  bees and butterflies. The nectar attracts other beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings.

While calendula attracts pollinators it is is also known to have medicinal powers. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties, and is often used to soothe a long list of skin ailments including—but not limited to—cuts, scrapes, bruises, bee stings, insect bites. It is nice to have a little calendula oil or salve around to sooth a minor cut or insect bite.

When I started to really think about it, I realized had a number of other C flowers in my garden: Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), chrysanthemum, columbine, coneflower (Echinacea), coreopsis, and crocosmia (Montbretia). Columbine blooms in the spring, while the others bloom in the summer, and even into the fall.

How many C flowers do  you have in your garden?

Seeds Are Meant For Swapping at the Cabin Fever Seed Swap

Melinda McCreven

Melinda McCreven – founder of the Cabin Fever Seed Swap with her sunflower seeds

Have you ever attended a seed swap? Thirteen years ago Melinda McCreven wanted to attend a seed swap. When she could not find one she put out the word that she was holding a seed swap. One of the responders said a seed swap was a great antidote to cabin fever. And so the Cabin Fever Seed Swap was launched.

All kinds of seeds for swapping are brought to this  jolly event every year. Some seed swappers are also seed savers. They collect ripened seeds from some of the plants in the garden whether vegetables or flowers. Gardeners collect those seeds and put them in small labeled envelopes.

Dan Botkin and seeds

Danny Botkin had lots of vegetable and bean seeds

Some seed savers bring bowls of large saved seeds, like different beans and squashes.

Some gardeners have leftover seeds still in their packets that they did not plant. Some even bring old seed packets, full of unused seeds.

McCreven brought a tin of big sunflower seeds to the swap. When we talked about the swap she reminded me that I, in my person as a Recorder columnist, awarded her a First Prize Blue Ribbon for her Sunflower in the first Sunflower Contest held in the Energy Park many years ago. She also won second prize for her sunflower the following year. The sunflower contest only went on for one more year, and I no longer remember any of the winners but they taught me about the pride gardeners had in their beautiful sunflowers, on tall stems or in charming bouquets.

McCreven is a Horticultural Therapist. When not arranging the seed swap she works with children and flowers in many ways. Last year she made a sunflower house at Just Roots for children to play in. She also gets calls from nursing homes who want her to plant and arrange flowers for residents.

Seed packets

New seed packets and some that are slightly outdated

In addition to saving seeds, and creating art with sunflowers, she works with six varieties of willow to make sculptures. I am looking forward to a tour of those willow sculptures in her back yard once the season has progressed a bit more.

Andrea O’Brien has been a part of the Cabin Fever Seed Swap for three years now. She is a farmer and a wife to farmer Ed O’Brien. Their farm in Orange has 100 cows, but only 40 are milking at any one time. Andrea is up at four in the morning to help with the cows, but she also cares for her own two acres of mixed vegetables. “I sell butternut squash by the bushel,” she said. She also sells fresh eggs and offers 20 week CSA shares to her customers.

O’Brien offers a seed swap at the farm on September 20 this year. There is a Tomato Tasting and a tomato seed swap. That is another occasion that sounds like a lot of fun, and a chance to try out some interesting heirloom tomatoes.

This year she brought Frederick, one year old, to the swap along with bean and squash seeds. “I bring the seeds of large vegetables, because that is most of what I sell,” she said.

Danny Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm in Gill brought lots of unfamiliar heirloom bean seeds. Danny likes sharing his seeds, and his knowledge. For nearly 20 years Botkin has been teaching others about growing food. He sometimes works with WWOOFers, those who make use World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming. He works with WWOOFers, but also occasionally holds work shops; he is always teaching others about gardening/farming techniques for the health of gardeners and the land.

Some people brought seeds in their own envelops

I was thrilled with my selection of unusual and familiar-to-me seeds. I have packets of lettuce, radishes, Ronde de Nice Zucchini, Captain Kopeykin tomato, scarlet runner beans, Sugar Magnolia peas with a purple pod, Blue Lake pole beans (it seems very hard to find pole beans these days) zinnias, fragrant sweet peas, calendula and cosmos!

This year I have chosen a garden space for companionable perennials and annuals that will attract pollinators. I am also counting on this arrangement to provide me with flowers for bouquets.

Two summers ago my husband and I visited the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. This organization, created in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, was to preserve heirloom seeds that would be available to everyone. Nowadays we see seed packets and plants that have been patented. All well and good, but we need to protect heirloom seeds. In fact, the Seed Savers Exchange has stored some seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which is the ultimate protection of seeds in case of disaster.

I like to think positively about the future, but it is not a bad idea to hedge our bets and save seeds, have fun, and a beautiful and delicious gardens in the future.

Between the Rows   March 14 2020

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – March 15, 2020

Bloom Day

Bloom Day begins with crocus

Bloom Day here in western Massachusetts has been creeping in. The temperature this morning, as many mornings was 40 degrees with temperatures sometimes rising into the 50s.

These tiny yellow crocuses have been in bloom for over a month. Some days are sunny, some are cloudy. Some days are cold and some are unexpectedly warm. These little flowers surprise all the dog walkers who regularly walk past our house. I wish I knew their name. I should explain all that gravel in the lawn. That is what happens when shovelling snow when the muddy driveway is embellished with nice pea stone.

Purple crocus tommies

Purple crocus

These tiny purple crocus, tommasinianus, took longer to bloom, but they are beginning to wake up. My neighbor who has a sunnier yard has a large blanket of purple crocuses. I think I planted other crocus varieties, but no sign of them yet.

Fringed bleeding hearts

Fringed bleeding hearts

No other blooms on this Bloom Day, but these fringed bleeding hearts are making themselves known. They grow in a sunny spot up against our house foundation.

The temperature this morning, as many mornings, was 40 degrees with bright sun. It is time to finally start cleaning up the garden. I raked the leaves in front of the house and saw stalwart daffodil shoots. Underneath those leaves I found a few green leaves on the epimediums.  I am celebrating Bloom Day with new energy, and thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Shrubs & Hedges and The Complete Book of Ferns – Reviews

Shrubs & Hedges for homeowners and landscapers and everyone

Shrubs & Hedges by
Eva Monheim

Two books came to me recently; the first Shrubs & Hedges and the other The Complete Book of Ferns. Good timing for me because all this mild weather (so far) has sent me daydreaming and planning spring projects. A garden is never-done. There are always changes to be made because of mistakes or because we just really need something different.

Shrubs & Hedges: Discover, Grow and Care for the World’s Most Popular Plants by Eva Monheim (Cool Springs Press paper $30) is a great book. My appreciation is easy to understand. Now that I am in my more mature years I welcome plants that take less work.  In addition, when we moved to town my husband swore he would never mow a lawn ever again. In the spring and summer of 2015 we planted our first trees and shrubs and began our new grassless (mostly) garden. We have been blissfully happy every since.

Shrubs & Hedges is a comprehensive book, with advice about every aspect of designing, planting, pruning, rejuvenating, and propagation. There are many color photographs of different shrubs and ways they can be used. In addition there are plant lists complete with information about names, cold tolerance, size, season interest, sun or shade, color and bloom form. The chapter on classic and rising star shrubs provides more information about both familiar and new plants.

The chapter on pruning was particularly helpful to me because I am always timid about pruning. Drawings of different plants and the pruning techniques they require are very helpful. As are the drawings overlaid on real trees to illustrate common problems about where to trim and prune. Some pruning techniques will create an espalier.

Photographs and drawings are excellent and will make different tasks easier to act on.

Eve Monheim has thought of every aspect of working with shrubs, choosing shrubs for hedges, attracting wildlife into the garden including pollinators, and choosing shrubs for rain gardens, hillsides, and riversides.

Monheim has been teaching horticulture for over thirty years with numerous specialties. Currently she teaches at Longwood Gardens for the Professional Horticulture Program. I am a gardener with a wet garden, desirous of making it welcoming to all creatures and this book has really fired me up to do more and better – with her advice.

The Complete Book of Ferns

The Complete Book of Ferns by Mobee Weinstein

We gardeners tend to have specialties. Which is not to say we don’t have variety in our gardens, but we might have a lot of hydrangeas, or a lot of roses, or a lot of tomatoes. The Complete Book of Ferns by Mobee Weinstein will encourage any gardener to add some of the many varieties of ferns to their gardens, or even indoors.

Weinstein begins with the different types of fern from terrestrial ferns, those living in the ground; aquatic, those living in water; epiphytic, those living on tree branches; and epipetric and lithophytice which grow on the surfaces of rocks.  Ferns on rocks! Amazing. That is just the beginning of information about the evolution of ferns, a fascinating section on fern botany that includes how to work with ferns.

Then there are three chapters on growing ferns indoors, growing ferns outdoors, and finally, do-it-yourself crafting with ferns. Weinstein is clear and articulate in every section.

I did plant some ferns in my new garden. I lost my plant list but I am pretty sure the ferns I planted in one of the wettest parts of my garden are Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina). According to the book Lady ferns are very adaptable and can tolerate a very wet spot and full shade. My ferns have survived, and thrived, in my very wet and shady garden. I bought a couple of Maidenhair ferns at Nasami but they did not survive winter in my wet garden. I will remember that the various Maidenhair ferns are more delicate.

This book includes beautiful photographs of ferns I have never seen. I’m surprised at how different some of the fern foliage is. The tropical Tongue fern has long single-strap fronds, Japanese Painted fern has silvery fronds and deep red stems, and the Southern Maidenhair fern has delicate leaflets on black stems. Some of the fern names are descriptive. There is Japanese Bird’s Nest Fern, Squirrel Foot Fern, Caterpillar Fern and many others.

One fern I know by name is the Equisetum hyemale. Equisetum grew by our roadside in Heath; I knew it as horsetail. Another name is scouring rush because of it high silica content. I did not use it for scouring, but I liked knowing it was a living fossil that originated about 350 million years ago!

Weinstein’s final section on crafting with ferns is inspiring. There are many ways to make fern terrariums; planting ferns in a vertical garden; building dish gardens, tabletop gardens and many other ways of using ferns in the house. For those who are artistic there are directions for making and framing fern prints.

Mobee Weinstein knows her stuff. She is the Foreman of Gardeners for Outdoor Gardens at the New York Botanical Garden, as well as a frequent lecturer.###

Between the Rows  February 22, 2020

Smith College Annual Bulb Show Cancelled

Orange trees - Lyman house

Orange trees arranged as preparations for the Bulb Show begin

Extra! Extra! Bulb Show Cancelled!

I visited the Lyman Plant House before the Covid-19-driven cancellation was announced. Now we will look forward to next year. In the meantime, you can still learn a bit about what it takes to put on the show.  Keep Safe!

For more information from the Lyman Plant House at Smith College click here.

No matter the weather the Smith College Annual Bulb show sings out that Spring is here. For 100 years staff and students at Smith College have worked to present a blooming array of familiar daffodils, tulips, crocuses and more exotic plants from around the world.

I visited the Lyman Plant House on a sunny day last week and saw the bones of the show with golden orange trees in place. The corners were stuffed with silky pussy willows and cherry blossoms in bud. Ranks of tulips, not yet blooming, marched down one side of the room and some very mysterious plants were growing on the other side. The Chinese witch hazel with its twirly red flowers is stunning. The budded freesias promise delicious fragrance.

Plants from around the world including Chinese Witch hazel

Chinese Witch Hazel

Jimmy Grogan, Conservatory Curator, met me and introduced me to Dan Babineau, and Steve Sojowski the current staff members who care for the Plant House all year. I was ready for a tour to learn what it takes to create the glorious Bulb Show.

My tour began with the Bunker, a controlled refrigerated room with ranks of shelves to hold and fool at least 5000 bulbs that it is winter. Potting up those bulbs is a lot of work, especially when you consider that different bulbs will need different soil mixtures.

Fortunately more than 30  horticulture students help pot up and store the bulbs in the Bunker in November. The temperature there is 42 degrees to begin. Temperatures are moderated as the winter wanes, and in January bulbs leave the Bunker. The bulbs then go to live in two cool rooms that are never open to the public. These rooms provide space and appropriate temperatures for the different tasks and plants that need care during the year.


Daffodils and more in Lyman House cool room

It is the ever warming temperatures and increasing sunlight that make the bulbs begin to grow. And grow. Every room in the greenhouse has sensors to keep temperatures and humidity at the proper level. All this care and work brings the plants into bloom exactly in time for the opening of the Bulb Show on the first Saturday in March. The Show is open every day until the third Sunday.

While I was being shown the Bunker, Babineau, who has worked in the green house for six years now, said “I enjoy working in the greenhouse. We’re laid back but we keep everything clean and there is no downtime. I also like getting to learn new things.”

Blue aanemones

Anemones in the cool room of Lyman Plant House

This is Sojowski’s 29th year of the 34 that he has been working in the Smith Gardens and greenhouse. “This will be the third show the two of us have worked on together. We keep learning more about the bulb seasons every year.”

Sojowski pointed to the potted narcissus and other blooming plants on the cement floor and explained that this is an additional way of keeping them cool.

Babineau and Sojowski are pretty cool about their work, but surrounded by beautiful and fragrant plants like the camellia corridor, it is clear there is no down time.

Neither are they the only people at work in the greenhouse. They showed me the classrooms for horticulture students, and the very sunny and green student greenhouse.  I thought about the Long Green Line of Smith students who have been studying horticulture, experimenting and hybridizing plants in those rooms forbidden the public, for more than 100 years.

When Sojowski and Babineau said their good-byes and went back to work, I had time to wander through the rest of the greenhouse. I love to sit in the cool temperate house by the waterfall. It is a peaceful spot and while sitting there it is hard to remember that you are on a busy campus in a busy town.

There are other special rooms heated or cooled to the specific needs of ferns, palms, or succulents. There is a lot of beauty to take in.

Linen, wool and silk textiles dyed by plants

There is more to the greenhouse than plants. The entryway provides exhibition space. This year the exhibit is The Art and Science of Dyeing: A Collaboration between the Botanic Garden of Smith College and Textile Artist Michelle Parrish. Long dyed panels of silk, wool and linen are hung to show off a range of dye colors created by using plants like madder, marigolds, woad, and even parts of shellfish. You are invited to touch. Gently.

Between the Rows March 7, 2020