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Annual Climbing Vines – Delight and Camouflage

 

Morning glories

Morning glories in Heath

Annual climbing vines add an important dimension to any garden. We have trees reaching for the sky and flowers and vegetables covering the ground. Climbing vines as simple as scarlet runner beans or morning glories and as elegant as clematis add something very special to our gardens.

I have a friend who made a small arbor for herself in the middle of her garden, where she put a chair to give herself someplace to rest between bouts of weeding. She planted scarlet runner beans all around it to provide shade and brilliant color. Scarlet runner beans need nothing more than sun and ordinary good garden soil. They can be planted indoors three weeks before the last frost, hardened off, and then set out in the garden when frost is no longer a threat. Although they make beautiful shade and attract bees, scarlet runner beans are also good to eat. Keep picking the beans and the flowers will keep blooming.

Trellis for scarlet runner beans

Trellis for scarlet runner beans

Sweet peas are another colorful and sometimes fragrant annual vine that, like other peas, welcomes the cool spring weather and soil. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Renee’s Garden seeds offer a large variety of sweet peas including varieties that are suitable for small containers or flower boxes. A trellis to hold these beauties up can be as simple as a wire fence or a handmade twig trellis, or a metal obelisk bought at the garden store.

Sweet Peas

Sweet peas

Morning glories remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I loved the traditional Heavenly Blue, but I usually plant Grandpa Ott, a deep purple morning glory with a wine-red star. This usually reseeds, so although an annual, I rarely have to replant. My Heath Grandpa Ott grew up an arbor post and would bloom well into the fall. One tip for planting morning glories in the ground is to soak the seeds overnight. Make sure no more frost is expected.

The descriptively named cup and saucer vine, Cobea scandens, is a fast growing tropical vine and is an annual in our climate. It will grow up to 20 feet in one season. It must be planted after threats of frost when the soil is a bit warmer. Like morning glory seeds they can benefit from been soaked overnight before planting. The two inch cup-like flowers in blue or white prefer full sun and will bloom all summer.

The lablab bean, sometimes called a hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus, another tropical fast growing vine, will also grow to 20 feet or more. Even the leaves have a slightly purple cast while the flowers are a rosy purple and the bean pods are an interesting shade of purple. The pods are actually edible, but because they contain high levels of cyanogenic glucosides they must be boiled twice before preparing for a meal. Or you can just enjoy the lush growth and flowers. This is a substantial vine and should be given an equally substantial support to hold it at maturity.

A familiar sight on Greenfield porches is the black-eyed susan vine, Thunbergia grandiflora. I have seen it used in hanging baskets where the vine goes down rather than up, but whether it is planted in a hanging basket or given a trellis in full sun, this is a bright floriferous vine that will bloom all summer long.

Strictly speaking the mandevilla vine is a Brazilian perennial vine, and some people do try to winter it over in the house. My own feeling about many tropical plants like amaryllis, poinsettias and such is that they can be a lot of work to carry over to a new season and I consider them annuals. I do not make any attempt to keep them through the winter. However, if you buy a potted mandevilla at a garden center and decide to try and carry it over the winter the easiest suggestion from the New YorkBotanical Garden is to cut it back hard, to about 12 inches, and put it in your 50 degree basement for the winter. Occasionally give it water. When spring sends out promises that it is coming, bring it out into the sun, water and fertilize it and see if it will start growing and come back for another season.

If you are looking for a really exotic vine for a season you might try the black coral pea, Kennedia nigricans. This exotic is native to Australia, but the mailorder nursery Annies Annuals and Perennials sells potted plants including the dramatic black coral pea. This has handsome green foliage and a true black flower, described as wasp-like, with a bit of gold or ivory at its base. It is not a tall vine, only about three feet and about that wide, but it is suitable for growing in a large pot and a real conversation starter. It does not need especially good soil and requires little watering. This is not a plant for a wet garden.

Vines have many uses in the garden: to make a tall focal point, to make big use of a small area, to provide a privacy screen or to hide some less than lovely area of the garden. Annual vines that grow quickly and lushly can come to the rescue with very little work or financial outlay.

Between the Rows   April 16, 2016

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Seed starting supplies

Seed starting supplies

It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.

The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.

I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.

One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.

However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.

To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers.  I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.

For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.

If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.

You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.

Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.

You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.

Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings in front of a Heath window

Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.

You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.

Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.

You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.

If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.

Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.

Happy planting.

Between the Rows   March 19, 2016

 

 

 

Zinnias in Space

zinnia in Space

Zinnia in Space – photo from The Daily Telegraph newspaper UK

While browsing the web for information about plant hunter Augustine Henry I found a Daily Telegraph story about zinnias in space – space horticulture!  Major Tim Peake, the UK’s first astronaut has coaxed a zinnia into bloom in a micro-gravity environment. The seeds were planted by NASA’s Scott Kelly as part of VEG-O1 to see what plants might grow in this environment.  Lettuce was planted – harvested and eaten by the crew of the International Space Station earlier this year.

“Plants can indeed enhance long-duration missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments – environments that are artificial and deprived of nature,” Alexandra Whitmire, of the NASA Human Research Programme, said.

“While not all crew members may enjoy taking care of plants, for many, having this option is beneficial. . . . Studies from other isolated and confined environments, such as Antarctic stations, demonstrate the importance of plants in confinement, and how much more salient fresh food becomes psychologically, when there is little stimuli around.”

Hooray for appreciation of the different benefits of green and growing  things!

Autumnal Container Arrangements

 

White mums

White mums at 5 Acre Farm

The Heath Fair is over. Facebook is full of photos of kids going off to college and kindergarten for the first time. You can hardly get into the supermarkets for the ranks of rigidly potted containers of mums by the doors. It must be fall. Time for an autumnal arrangement.

Chrysanthemums are certainly the iconic autumnal plant, but other plants can also perk up our summer weary gardens or containers. I took a tour around the area looking at what is still available, or newly arrived for fall. I stopped at Home Depot and saw all the trays and racks of plants that looked pretty good. I pulled out an identification label and was surprised to see a clear statement that the plant had been treated with neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are systemic pesticides that kill a broad number of insects including bees and other pollinators. Systemic pesticides are taken up by every part of a plant so if an insect stops by for a bite or two or a sip of nectar it will be poisoned and die. Rob Nicholson, greenhouse manager at the Smith College Lyman Plant House, says they no longer use any neonics because wild pollinators come in and out of the greenhouse when the vents are open. Plant House staff do not want to poison insects that spend most of their time on important labors out in the world.

The Home Depot label says that neonics are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.  I cannot see that this is quite true. A visit to the EPA website shows all the work being done to evaluate pesticides like the neonicotinoids. I certainly choose not to buy plants that have been so treated. I very much appreciate that Home Depot does label its plants and warn us.

Five Acre Farm Greenhouse

Five Acre Farm Greenhouse

I finally made my way to Five Acre Farm in Northfield which has an array of perennials like coral bells and salvia, as well as an array of annuals to use in autumnal arrangements. There are mums, of course, in a rainbow of colors. There are also annual asters, hibiscus, marguerite daisies, ornamental peppers, verbena, zinnias and the daisy-like sanvitalia. All of these look fresh and with lots of bloom left in them, while some, like the asters, are just coming into bloom. I was particularly impressed by the fresh, healthy looking Bull’s Blood beets, Swiss chard and several varieties of ornamental kale that I would not have thought of for an autumnal arrangement.

It is hard to find fresh looking annuals at this time of the year but Five Acre Farm has made it a point to have them so that gardeners can create a bright look. Annuals that have seen better days in the garden can be pulled up and replaced with new vigorously blooming annuals.

Flowers are not necessary to have a handsome autumnal arrangement. Foliage plants can make their own statement. We might be able to find foliage plants in our own gardens. This is the time of year that we might be dividing up some of the perennials in our garden. Divisions of coral bells, Hakone grass, hostas, northern sea oats, blanket flower and others can find a happy place in a container arrangement. At the end of the container season they can be separated again, and put back in the garden to resume blooming next year.

You might also find perennials on sale at garden centers. If they are in pretty good shape, or in a small pot, they might be happy in a container arrangement. Again, when the season is over, they can be put in the garden to grow and bloom next year.

My autumnal arrangement

My autumnal arrangement

Staff member Joan Turban gave me advice as I went through the greenhouse and gave her approval when I made my selections.  My central tall plant is Mahogany Splendor, a dark leafed annual hibiscus. Surrounding it is an ornamental pepper in shades of yellow and orange and a bit of purple. The Great Yellow sanvitalia has small yellow daisy-like flowers while the Zahara Sunburst zinnia is rich orange. At the last minute I bought a cream, green and pink coleus to add a little light to the arrangement. Finally I included two gold and orange lantana plants to droop prettily.

I loosened the roots of these plants as I placed them in my large container, especially of the hibiscus which was quite root bound. I watered all the root balls, just for good measure before I crowed the plants in together. For the first time I think I might have done a good job of jamming and cramming. I gave the container a good watering and set it in front of our new house where it can recuperate in the shade. In a few days I think I will give it a sunnier spot by the back door.

Since we had the Rose Viewing this year I haven’t paid much attention to other blooming plants in the garden so it felt very good to put together this autumnal bouquet.

Do you usually put together an autumnal arrangement in your container?

Between the Rows   August 29, 2015

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia Hot Lips

Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ seems to be a really hot plant this summer. Several of these flowers are in bloom on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, and I have a couple blooming on my hellstrip in Greenfield.

Visitors to  the Bridge have written and asked the name of this beautiful shrub. It took me a while to identify it because  I think of it as an annual and not a shrub. However, Monrovia Nursery calls it a shrub and in zones 8-10 it is a perennial.  It has a very airy habit and the two tone flowers are delightful. Under ideal circumstances it will reach three feet tall with an equal spread.

Monrovia calls this a  waterwise plant because it does not need much watering once it is established. It loves the sun and heat. I have planted this on my curbside garden which gets a lot of shade during the day so it is less floriferous right now, but on the Bridge of Flowers where it gets full sun it is still blooming energetically. I will find a sunnier spot for it next year.

The photo is from Monrovia by Richard Schiell.

 

Drought Tolerant Perennials

Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers and phlox
My drought tolerant perennials: Russian sage, cosmos, coneflowers, and phlox

I need water loving plants, but I have not forgotten that many need drought tolerant perennials. Some gardeners have soil that drains quickly, and we all fret about summer months when no rain falls, or have periods of very hot weather of the kind we’ve enjoyed recently. Fortunately there is a long list of plants that do not mind long periods of hot and dry weather. Some of them may surprise you.

One surprising family of drought resistant plants are the heucheras, coral bells. Coral bells will grow in full sun, but they also welcome some shade in our area. The coral bell flowers of their name are not always very notable, but it is the foliage that is the real draw. Heucheras now come in a myriad of colors from bright lime green to rich burgundy and even black. The cultivar names tell it all from Champagne and Electric Lime to Fire Chief and Grape Soda to Chocolate Ruffles and Black Taffeta. It is the foliage that makes heucheras so welcome all season long.

Fall, when temperatures are moderated, is a good planting season for heucheras as for many perennials that you might find on sale, or that you may be dividing in your own garden.

I was also surprised to see that Baptisia, false indigo, is also drought tolerant. Although I have it in my own garden, which I very rarely water, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the baptisia and most of my perennials don’t suffer noticeably from the dry summers we have had. Baptisia with its clover-like foliage and erect racemes of blue flowers blooms in the spring. There are white and yellow varieties as well. Full sun is about all they need to be happy. They develop long tap roots so once established they are not easy to transplant successfully.

Japanese anemones bloom in late summer and into the fall. I always think the white or pink blossoms look very fragile, but they have three to four foot strong wiry stems and have never minded our recent dry summers. They have been slow to take hold in my garden, but once they do they make generous clumps. I have seen waves of Japanese anemones shining in the autumnal sun at BerkshireBotanical Garden. It makes a stunning display.

A sunny and sun-loving flower is heliopsis, the oxeye perennial sunflower. It will grow to three or four feet tall and bloom for a good part of the summer, especially if you deadhead spent blossoms. It’s a relative of helianthus, the true sunflower. It attracts butterflies and is useful as a cut flower.

Coreopsis, tickseed, is a family of golden yellow flowers ranging in size from three feet like Crème Brulee, but most range from 12-18 inches tall. Shades of yellow abound, but the new Sienna Sunset has shades of apricot and sienna. Coreopsis needs no special soil, attention or watering.

It is no real surprise that lavender which grows in the Mediterranean climate of Provence in France is drought tolerant. I remember Elsa Bakalar’s lavender hedge which sometimes gave her trouble because it was too wet in the spring. I could never keep straight the names, but my favorite was the classic Hidcote which has deep purple blossoms, but she also grew Munstead which was a paler shade. There are larger varieties. Provence grows to more than two feet tall in a generous clump. Of course, it is the unique fragrance of lavender that makes it such a popular plant. Flower stalks can be harvested and dried to make sachets or potpourri.

Achilleas, yarrow, come in many shades from white Snowsport to the deep red of Red Velvet. Moonshine, with blue-grey foliage and gentle yellow blossoms is an old favorite as is the tall Coronation Gold with its large flower heads that dry well and are wonderful in fall arrangements.

Coneflower
Coneflower

Happily there are many annuals that can keep a mixed border in bloom all season. Some like zinnias, marigolds, cleome and cosmos easily tolerate hot, dry summer days. Nasturtiums can crawl over dry soil and create a kind of living mulch without demanding regular watering.

There are drought tolerant vines. Sweet peas are beautiful annual vines that don’t mind dry soil once they are established.

Clematis is a perennial vine that comes in many shades and flower forms. The rich purple jackmanii that twines over so many mailboxes and lampposts is familiar and loved, but there is the new Red Star which produces double red blossoms in early summer and then in early fall.

The trick with growing clematis is to get the pruning schedule under control. There are three groups of clematis with three pruning schedules. Catalogs or nurseries will always mark which group a particular plant belongs to. I just read a mnemonic that says Group A means prune AFTER bloom; Group B means prune BEORE bloom in early spring and Group C means CUT back hard in early spring to 12-18 inches from the ground. There is a little more to it than that, but a good beginning.

There are many other suitable plants, salvias, catmints, penstemons, Russian sage, asters and coneflowers. We should remember that even drought tolerant plants need to be watered regularly after they are planted until they are established. It is good to know that whether we have a wet or a dry garden, we will always have many choices.

Zinnias
Drought Tolerant annual zinnias

Between the Rows   August 22, 2015

 

 

 

Greenfield Garden Club

 

Greenfield Garden Club members

Greenfield Garden Club members: Lynda Tyler

Who wouldn’t want friends who like to play in the dirt? Who are always learning new things? Who like to get out and about and see new beautiful places? Who everyday notice and appreciate the glorious world around them? Who are always thinking of ways to make their community more beautiful?

A group of people who all wanted friends like that decades ago and formed the Greenfield Garden Club and happily had their regular meetings in the afternoons. But we all know that time inevitably brings change. It was the change in women’s lives that brought about a re-formation of the Club in 1991. More and more women were working and afternoon meetings were no longer feasible. And more men wanted to join too.

So it was that in 1991 Richard Willard, Debran Brocklesby, Judge Alan McGuane, Margareta Athey and Jan (McGuane, as she was then) Adam, were among those who  reorganized the group. The first rule was the installation of evening meetings.

Jan Adam told me that the new Greenfield Garden Club got off to a slow start, but by the end of the first year it had over 100 members. “The mission of the club was to provide education for the gardeners, and to the community, and to work to improve and beautify community spaces.”

I can tell you that a lot of happy and friendly education takes place on field trips to nurseries and flower shows. Lots of comparing of notes and experiences, lots of new creative ideas are born at meetings and on trips.

The new Club has also seen changes over the past 24 years. A newsletter was born and mailed to members, with news of the club’s events, garden reminders, short garden features, and a list of vendors who give discounts to members. Nowadays that newsletter is emailed. There is also a Facebook page, and a website, www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org, that lists meeting dates with program information, and information about the School and Community Grant program including a list of this year’s awards.

I have served on the grant committee and it is wonderful to see the great projects that teachers are creating to teach their students about botany (at an appropriate level) growing food, the deliciousness of fresh vegetables, and the ways plants affect the environment including pollinators. The goal of these grants is to engage the children in gardening, and eating fresh vegetables, and give them a better awareness of the natural world in the small space of a garden. When I read those grant applications I cannot help harking back to my days at UMass where there was emphasis on teaching skills like math, reading and writing through projects like gardening, cooking, wood working and other kinds of practical projects. It is a joy to see it happening.

Adam explained that while the Club did have its own town beautification program for a time, it involved so much work that now the club partners with other organizations to make and keep the town a beautiful place.

Because gardening is so closely allied to cooking, members volunteer at the August community meal at the First Congregational Church. “The club has so many good cooks, and we always bring bouquets of flowers which people really enjoy,” Adam said.

In order to pay for these programs the club has two fundraising events every year, the Extravaganza Plant Sale will be held Saturday, May 23 from 8 am to 1pm. “There are big changes this year because the sale will be held at St. James Episcopal Church on Federal Street which will make it much easier for people to find parking. In addition to all manner of plants, perennials, annuals, herbs and houseplants, there will be baked goodies, and a tag and book sale. For the first time we will also have vendors selling garden related products,” Adam said.

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club  tour

Fabulous garden on the 2014 Greenfield Garden Club garden tour

The second big fundraiser is the Annual Garden Tour which gives gardeners the opportunity to visit some really stunning, and very different private gardens in the area, not only Greenfield. This year that tour will be on Saturday, June 27 from 9 am – 4 pm. Tickets ($12) to this self-guided tour will be on sale at the Trap Plain garden at the intersection of Silver and Federal Streets. Tickets will be on sale all morning. It is best to leave pets at home.

The gardens on the tour are always a surprise. Some are small and amaze me by their artful use of so many common plants, and so many unusual plants that are as stunning as a piece of art. The tour is a place to learn about plants, but also about how to arrange a landscape. Sometimes, a farm makes it into the tour. There is always something for everyone.

Even though it is the GreenfieldGarden Club, membership is open to anyone who wants to join the fun. I have been a member for years.

Between the Rows   May 16, 2015

Bridge of Flowers – Blooming for 85 years

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, MA

Bridge of Flowers

This year is the 85th anniversary of the Bridge of Flowers. There have been many changes since the trolley was discontinued and Antoinette Burnham declared that if an abandoned bridge could grow weeds it could grow flowers. It was with community effort that the Bridge of Flowers first bloomed in 1930. It blooms exuberantly today, from April and well into October.

Anyone who has ever owned a house and dealt with necessary ongoing maintenance will understand the changes that have been put in place on the Bridge of Flowers (BOF) over the past few years. Fences and buildings deteriorate, while conditions of use change. Plants get too big and need to be removed and sometimes they just die. They need to be replaced.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, MA

Bridge of Flowers

Each year more and more people cross the Bridge, and more and more of those people are tourists, from around the state, but also from around the world. The volunteer BOF committee gets requests for information from touring companies in countries as different as Ireland and Japan. This is a very good thing for the businesses in town, and a spur to keep the Bridge looking at its very best all season long.

When repairs and improvements have been needed the BOF committee has tried to make even the most functional elements beautiful. For example, the colorful painted sign on the Shelburne side is embraced by a graceful metal support. It will soon be joined by a similar, but smaller sign on the Buckland side.

A protected and handsome kiosk was installed on the Buckland side to provide information about the Bridge, a guest book and a donation box. A smaller charming sign- in stand, and a donation box are on the Shelburne side. Contributions made through those donation boxes are very important to supporting the plantings on Bridge.

The Friends of the Bridge of Flowers, formed about six years ago, are also vital to the ability of the BOF committee to handle maintenance costs of the Bridge. A wooden fence separated the Bridge property from the VFW and the adjacent cottage for decades. However, wood rots, and the old fence was finally replaced by an elegant new fence. This spring a section of that fence is being repositioned to accommodate the new Garden House, and the drainage issues that affect the VFW and the cottage as well as the Bridge. The names of all these Friends, individuals and businesses, are listed on the Friends Tree which is another example of functional art on the Bridge.

Stone Spring on Bridge of Flowers

Stone Spring on Bridge of Flowers with new fence

In 2012, after years of searching for the right stones, the Stone Spring was installed, along with a simple stone bench. The quiet beauty of the fountain draws many people to sit and reflect in the loveliness of this shady spot.

River Bench

River Bench

Last spring the sculptural and very sturdy River Bench was installed on the Shelburne side.  Note the flowing design, and the river stones.

old shed on Bridge of Flowers

Old shed (you can’t see the rot, or ice inside)

This spring the 40 year old shed where Head Gardener Carol Delorenzo and the volunteer Flower Brigade keep their tools and equipment is being replaced by a Garden House. No longer will opening garden preparations be put off because the rotting shed doors, and wheelbarrows and other equipment are encased in ice.

The carefully designed Garden House will be slightly larger than the original shed, built to last longer than 40 years, and to be another element of very functional art.

Garden House site prepared

Garden House site prepared

Every gardener knows that a garden is never the same from year to year. Elaine Parmett, longtime committee member and occasional chairperson, said, “It’s been fun to watch how the plantings changed as different Head Gardeners came and left. Each one had a very different style. In those early years the Head Gardener was paid a small stipend, but there was no tracking of hours. There was no sense that she had a professional position. Of course, it was just a much simpler time,” Parmett said.

Nan Fischlein, current co-chair, and Elaine Parmett were on the BOF committee in the 1980s and both remember how simple an operation it was, much more informal and run on a shoestring. Back then the main funding came from small donations from the towns, and from the annual plant sale.

Parmett said she joined the committee and wanted to learn more about flowers. After 40 years she feels her own gardens have been enhanced and that the Bridge has grown more beautiful every year. “Nowadays there is more awareness that the Bridge is a community effort and needs community support.”

Fischlein agreed with Parmett that there have been great changes over the years. “I found a seachange in the way the board operates now, including the energy spent on keeping the Bridge in the public eye with a website and Facebook page. It is quite a new way of thinking about the public image of the Bridge. I think there is no way to understand how much the Bridge is involved in the local community. We have an educational program with the elementary schools, and are now giving tours to garden groups. We appreciate the growing support given to the Bridge. I’ve learned this time around that there is a lot of administrative effort behind the scenes to make the Bridge successful year after year!”

Like Parmett and Fischlein, I am also a member of the BOF committee, working harder than I expected. When people ask me why I do it, I echo the feeling of all the committee members and say, “For the pure joy of it.”

 

Mountain laurel

Mountain laurel

 

Is Your Poinsettia an Annual or Perennial?

Poinsettia

Poinsettia

Do you treat your Christmas Poinsettia as an annual, and throw it way when it finally loses all those beautiful bracts, or do you care for it, baby it, and suffer its dormancy in order to bring it back into glorious bloom next December?

Can you guess which approach I take with a Christmas poinsettia?

I’ll give you a hint. This is my second poinsettia, a gift from my husband. I left my first one in the car. Overnight. Temperatures down to 10 degrees.

 

What’s New for 2015

Grafted TomTato from Terratorial Seeds

Grafted TomTato from Terratorial Seeds

What’s new for 2015? In just five days we’ll have entered a new year where unimagined things may happen. How much of 2014 did you forsee on January 1, 2014? I’ll bet lots of the unimagined entered your life, and I hope that much was positive and joyful.

You know that there will be many banners of NEW in the nursery and seed catalogs that are starting to fill our mailboxes. Perhaps the most unimagined new plant I have seen – so far – is the Ketchup ‘n Fries TomTato being offered by the Territorial Seed Company. I had just gotten used to the idea of grafted tomatoes that promise to give us delicious tomatoes earlier in the season, but now there is a grafted TomTato. Territorial says, “Extensive trials and careful selection of both the tomato scion and potato rootstock cultivars were required to achieve properly staggered maturity. This enables the plant to focus its energy first on yielding hundreds of sweet, tangy, and early glistening red cherry tomatoes, before maturing up to 4 ½ pounds of fine, thin-skinned, all-purpose white potatoes in the late season.”  Wow!

I never imagined such a thing as a TomTato, but you can be sure that I want to try it. That is the joy of gardening. All kinds of experiments, including the weird and wonderful, can be tried with very little investment.

Other vegetable catalogs will have new varieties. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is offering a new carrot, Nutri-red. These coral-red carrots “are best cooked to deepen the color and improve the texture.” It is not often that cooking deepens the color of carrots. Johnny says that the strong carrot flavor makes it excellent for stews.

Renee’s Garden Seeds also has a new carrot. This one, Purple Sun, is a rich purple color, but a sweet flavor. It will probably fade a bit when cooked, but it is also good eaten raw.

Renee has paid a lot of attention to gardeners who have limited space. One of her new window box tomatoes is Litt’l Bites Cherry that produces early cascades of fruit on plants just 20 inches wide and 12 inches tall.

Botanical Interests has its own new carrot, Atomic Red. “When you steam, roast, or stir-fry them, the contrast between the brilliant, deep red outer layer and orange core intensifies.”

Botanical Interests is also offering a number of seeds on seed tapes. For example there is a packet of three lettuces, Waldman’s Green, Little Gem Romaine and Tom Thumb butterhead, on three 6-foot seed tapes. These cost more, but if you don’t like working with tiny seeds this might work very happily for you.

Even the Seed Savers Exchange whose mission is preserving old varieties of vegetables and flowers has NEW offerings for 2015. I liked the Holmes’ Royal Red radishes. These were introduced in 1899 but are now very rare and will only be sold while the limited supplies last. This radish has a beautiful color, shape and delicious flavor. Shop quick for this one.

While it is not a flower bunny tails grass is a fun ornamental annual that Seed Savers is selling. This low growing grass with its soft beige seed heads is pretty in the garden and also useful in flower arrangements. Sometimes it will self seed, but it is not invasive.

Needless to say there are new flowers, too. The brilliantly colored osteospermum Blue Eyed Beauty is a showstopper. I became aware of the osteospermum family  because they are used generously on the Bridge of Flowers in a range of colors. They bloom all season long and are a great front of the border plant.

Akila Daisy White is an osteospermum in a very different mood. It is a serene white around a small pale yellow eye. You may not find seeds for these plants, but osteospermums are easy to find at garden centers.

The National Garden Bureau has named this the Year of the Coleus. The coleus has become more and more popular as people become more interested in foliage in the garden. Nowadays when you go to the garden center in the spring you will find a large array of these plants with colors ranging from lime green to deep burgundy red. Marquee Box Office Bronze is a new shade this spring, a deep rich bronze. Lime Sprite, another new introduction, has that lime green border around a burgundy heart. So many plants require sun, but coleus is happy to have shade.

Burpee Seed’s new nasturtium is a 100 year old variety renamed Phoenix. The unusual split petals are in shades of glowing red-orange. Like other nasturtiums they are edible and cheerful in the front of the border.

Another larger Burpee nasturtium, Summer Gown, is perfect for containers and hanging baskets with its busy growth and deep burgundy/purple blossoms that shade more blue over the course of the summer.

High Mowing Organic Seeds has a new mix of one of my favorite flowers – zinnias. County Fair Blend mix has warm tones of coral-peach, gold, and scarlet blossoms. They will produce more flowers as you cut them for bouquets. Disease resistant.  Zinnias make great cut flowers over a long season.

It’s fun to try something new every year. Something new in the garden is sure to bring new beauty or new flavor into your life.

Be ready for the unimagined.

Between the Rows   December 27, 2014