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Touring Colleges with Rory

Rory in the rain at UMass Lowell

Rory in the rain at UMass Lowell

High schools are off this week so we had the chance to go touring colleges with grandson Rory. It was pouring all during the UMass-Lowell campus tour, but we were undaunted, and got to see the O’Leary Library, the bookstore, a dining hall, a classroom and lots of students very busily going about their business. We were also fortunate enough to speak to one of the faculty members who gave us lots of  good advice.

While we were in Lowell we stopped at Middlesex Community College and picked up various printed materials, but they weren’t giving tours this week.

Rory and The Major at UMass Amherst

Rory and The Major at UMass Amherst

Sometimes we go touring colleges for sentimental reasons. We stopped on the UMass Amherst campus where Henry and I got our degrees. They don’t have the programs Rory is most interested in, but we got to visit  with friends who are on staff and get all the local news. The campus has changed a lot – new buildings! – since we were students – even though we were rather elderly students. Comparatively speaking.

Dandelions at UMass

Dandelions at UMass

For me, I was glad to see that dandelions are blooming in the UMass Amherst valley. No dandelions in Heath yet.

Pink hyacinths on Bridge of Flowers

Pink hyacinths on Bridge of Flowers

And even happier to see that the hyacinths are beginning to bloom on the Bridge of Flowers. Just because we were touring colleges doesn’t mean we couldn’t look at flowers. It was breezy, but spring was in the air.

In the Pink at the Lyman Plant House, Smith College

In the Pink at Lyman Plant House

Banish the winter blues and get In the Pink at the Annual Bulb show at the Smith College Lyman Plant House. This annual show, always fabulous, is running from now until Sunday, March 16.

It is no surprise to me that the powers that be would choose In the Pink as the theme for this year’s show. I love pink, as anyone who strolls down the Rose Walk can attest.  But there is something spring-like about all shades of pink from the most delicate aqueous shell pink to vibrant pinks, all of which find their most perfect expression in flowers.

Walking into the Lyman Plant House rooms that are perfumed with the fragrance of an early spring, it is hard to imagine all the planning and work required on the part of the greenhouse staff. I once asked Rob Nicholson, Manager of the greenhouse what it took to open the Bulb Show on the assigned date. His reply was succinct, “Patience and careful monitoring of temperature.”  That almost sounds easy.

Of course, there is work to do in the greenhouse all year to keep this wide array of plants from the tropical jungle to the arid desert in good health. I asked if they had to use a lot of pesticides and things to keep the plants in good shape.

“Of course, we’d prefer never to use pesticides, but when a collection of rare and exotic plants is kept in an enclosed greenhouse it sets up a situation where the plants inevitably are infested since they are not in a complex ecosystem where there are checks and balances. When we need to use pesticides we tend to use very mild ones that break down very quickly as we have to be able to allow visitors in the next morning. Pesticides are rated with an REI (re-entry interval) that dictates how soon humans are allowed back into the space so we are limited to those with REIs of 4-12 hours. Then I try to use ‘biologicals’ which are geared to disrupt insect metabolism such as molting cycles, rather than the old style neurotoxin types. We also use insecticidal soaps . . . which suffocated the insect pest. I find the pesticide laws are pretty inconsistent as any consumer can go to any box store and buy materials more dangerous than what we use, and misuse them,” Nicholson said.

I asked if they used neonicotinoids, nicotine based chemicals that have become controversial and are in so many pesticides. He said “The neonics we used were systemic. Granular material is applied to the soil, dissolves and gets absorbed into the plants. They have a long term effect. They were very low toxicity to humans, easy to apply, and worked well to keep our mums clean of mealy bugs.”

However, he added, “There is a lot of concern about this class of pesticides contributing to collapse of beehives. The European Union banned them last year. . . .the pesticide gets into pollen, bees collect the pollen and bring it back to the hive and taint it. As our Chrysanthemum Show in November can attract a large number of bees if the weather conditions are right (and greenhouse vents are open) we felt we could no longer use these on flowering plants that could draw in outside bees.”

Nicholson expressed his concern about the importance of protecting bees which are so vital to our food system. “. . .our country needs to take a hard look at this class of pesticides, do the proper research and then act accordingly.”

Nicholson feels strongly that we all need to be informed consumers, buy as little of any pesticide as possible, and follow instructions to the letter. All pesticides should be stored under lock and key. “As a toddler I drank pesticide stored in a Planter’s Peanuts can in my neighbor’s garage. It almost killed me,” he said. Then he reiterated the necessity to educate ourselves about “a very complex subject and industry,” especially since there are so many pesticides available that are not dangerous to the bees or to our children.

Recently there has been research that suggests acetamiprid and imidacloprid, the two most dangerous chemicals in the neonicotinoids, may cause damage to young children’s brain development. Because I have young children on my lawns from time to time I would never knowingly use products that contain neonicotinoids. That means I wouldn’t dare use common pesticides like Ortho Flower Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer or Knockout Ready to Use Grub Killer which are only two of the many products that contain acetamiprid or imidacloprid. Further information about which products contain these chemicals are on the Xerces Society website,

The purpose of the Xerces Society is to protect invertebrates like bees, butterflies and many other creatures including mussels and crabs. I take Rob Nicholson’s advice to do my research seriously. Education is key, for all of us, and the Xerces Society is one place to start. Of course, I believe that using pesticides on the lawn is totally unnecessary, and agree with Nicholson that there are many safer products to use on plants.

To feel In the Pink, (March 1-16) the Lyman Plant House is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The suggested donation is $2. You still have a week to get there.  Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke College is also hosting a spring bulb show for the next week, through March 16.  Hours 10am – 4 pm.

Between the Rows  March 1, 2014


Autumn Crocus and Other September Surprises

Autumn crocus

I was surprised to find these autumn crocus in bloom right out in front of the house next to the wisteria trunk. And under overgrown lemon balm. I keep promising to move them to a better spot, but invisible as  they are in July when that move should occur it never happens. Maybe next year.

Montauk daisy

Since I have not been out to weed or care for the garden in what seems like weeks, there were other surprises like the first bloom on this Montauk  daisy. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a friend in Connecticut and her Montague daisy wasn’t blooming either. Isn’t it late for this to just be starting?

Cotoneaster berries

Another surprise was the berries on this cotoneaster, name lost, that grows in a tangle with a more ground-hugging cotoneaster. This is what happens when you plant something with no idea how it will spread.

Blue Princess holly berries

Last year there were almost no holly berries, but look at this year. What a happy surprise.


The other happy surprise has been the survival of pale pink lisianthus. My photo doesn’t begin to do it justice. Lisianthus is not easy to start from seed, and I bought a six pack of tiny seedlings. It took a long time for them to get growing and definitely could have done better growing in a container. Maybe next year.

ADDENDA – I want to thank Julie, a close reader, who corrected me. I have MONTAUK daisies growing in my garden. I appreciate all such corrections and clarifications.


The Suddenness of Spring

The suddenness of spring caught me by surprise yesterday.  After two days of being kept inside by sometimes torrential rains, I went out and saw that the ajuga, escaped into the lawn years ago from an old flower bed, is in full and startling bloom. This area has not been mowed yet because I made the mistake of planting daffodils here and must wait until they have finished blooming and ripening.

Poeticus or pheasant’s eye daffs

Only a few daffodils are still in flower. Newly blooming are the poeticus daffodils which means the season will be over any minute.

Apple blossoms

The old apple trees in the field and by the Cottage are suddenly clouds of blossom, barely opened before being battered by the rain.


The Fairy rose, Alma Potscke aster, invisible alliums

I began weeding the area around The Fairy rose in the north Lawn Bed. I got most of the grass out from under the Fairy’s root and released the tiny fine alliums from groundcovering shepherd’s purse and carpetweed and other weeds yet to be identified. I also ripped out a good deal of silver artemesia that has become a weed.  I should have known better than to have planted it in a flower bed. It was not ideal to be working in such wet soil, but I can feel the grass growing beneath my feet, and the weeds  will quickly outpace the newly emerging plants. Spring is here.

Boule de Neige and Rangoon rhodies

Boule de Neige and Rangoon are the first to  rhodies to come into bloom. Other bushes have buds getting fatter by the minute.


Tiarella plants put in last summer and this spring as part of the lawn reduction project are blooming away and spreading out.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

Lilacs have been blooming for more than a week in the lower elevations, but finally mine have burst into bloom. I gathered up a bouquet of mixed lilacs and brought them inside, into the kitchen. Suddenly spring arrived in the garden, and I was able to bring a fragrant bit into the house. Hallelujah!


Bloom Day May 15, 2013

Waldensteinia, barren strawberry and daffodils

Last spring was early and hot and on Bloom Day there was a lot of bloom. Things are moving slowly this Bloom Day. This is an  area of my lawn reduction project. Waldsteinia has spread over the past three years and I’m underplanted with daffodils.

Barren strawberry close up

Waldsteinia is a beautiful plant and it is just coming into bloom. It is not  any kind of strawberry plant.

Miniature daffodils

These miniature daffodils are some of the daffs growing amid the barren strawberry

Miniature white daffodil

Some daffodils are growing in the grass. I haven’t gotten the groundcover this far.

Flowery Mead

My lawn is not fine turf. I call it a flowery mead. Right now it is blooming with blue and white violets, and of course, dandelions.

Forget Me Nots

Many of the spring bloomers are small, like these Forget Me Nots.

Grape hyacinths

TI can see these pale grape hyacinths from the house. The familiar blue ones are growing in the grass by the miniature daffs.

Yellow epimedium

I am so  glad I gave epimediums a try. They are NOT too tender for Heath.


This primrose  did so well in a shady spot in back of the house I am planting more in this spot this year.


My forsythia is looking much better than usual, but that isn’t saying much.

Red orchid cactus

And my orchid cactus has gone wild!

I thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom day and giving us all a chance to see what is blooming across our great land today.

You will also see what is (mostly) Wordless this Wednesday.



Daffodils, Daffodils, Daffodils

A daffodil assortment under the lilac

All of a sudden this year I realize I have lots of daffodils, and lots of kind of daffodils.  I thought I could try to identify some using the Brent and Becky’s Bulbs catalog, where I bought many of the daffodils, but that system is not working. Some of my daffodils will not bloom until later in the month.


Do I know all the variety names? No.


Tiny Daffodils

Miniature daffodils

I can’t identify the ‘weed’ in my flowery mead of a lawn either.

Van Sion Daffodil

I can tell you that the Van Sion heritage daffodils were growing here at the end of the road when we moved here.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

May Day – The Garden Bloom Season is Beginning

Van Sion daffodils

The bloom season is just beginning here at the End of the Road. At an elevation of 1700 feet, it takes longer to arrive than in the valley. Even now bloom is slow as the night temperatures remain in the 30s and we have had no rain. This bloom season I am going to try and keep a running record of bloom on the first of the month as well as the  fifteenth of the month Bloom Day, and take good illustrative photos of the plants in the garden. Van Sion daffodils have been blooming for about two weeks. This is an  old fashioned and very early variety. The ‘wallpaper’ is of scillas that bloom down by the vegetable garden. Glory of the Snow, chionodoxa, is also blooming in the laswn. I have been surprised by these little bulbs. Not only do they multiply from the bulb, they also spread seed, in slightly more distant lawn and in the vegetable garden.


Coltfoot is growing on the Rose Bank, but also along the side of the dirt  roads, glowing in the spring sun, unhappered as yet by the large leaves that will follow as the flowers fade.

I hope I will have more to show by May 15th. To see what else is (almost) Wordless this Wednesday click here.


The Little Cyclamen That Could on March Bloom Day


White cyclamen with Guan Yin

This little white cyclamen on my bedroom windowsill has been blooming and blooming  for two months. At least. Our bedroom is very cool, down to 55 degrees at night so the cycalmen has been very happy here.  I really need a cold bedroom to sleep well. My husband tolerates it. I might turn the heat up during the day while I am working on the upstairs computer, otherwise I spend my of my day downstairs near the woodstove – where most of the housework lives. Not to mention my laptop. The cyclamen and Guan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compasion with all her magic tools, is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Easy to start off the day in a good frame of mind when I can carry these images with me all during the day.

Pink tulips

This pot of pink tulips is still blooming even though they were planted at exactly at the same time as my round pot of tulips which I wrote about recently here. I treated them just the same, but when the round pot began to bloom so much earlier I started keeping this pot in the sitting room which is cooler room than our main living space.

Pink tulip close-up

The tulips are just beautiful in the early morning sun.

Paper whites – dried

It would be fun to say that the paper whites from Brent and Becky are still in bloom, like the cyclamen, after two months, but alas, it is not so. Still, I haven’t gotten rid of these flowers just because they have dried so beautifully. I don’t remember ever having this experience with paper whites before.

Carol of May Dreams Gardens has been hosting Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for years. I love having the chance to what else is in bloom on the 15th of the month all across the land, and Bloom Day had given me a record of my own garden through the months and years. Thank you Carol!


Talcott Greenhouse and the Spring Bulb Show, Mt. Holyoke College

Russell Billings at Talcott Greenhouse, Mt. Holyoke

While the rest of us have been shivering in our snowy landscapes, Russell Billings, Director of the Talcott Greenhouse at Mt. Holyoke College, has been busy cooling and slowly warming hundreds of bulbs and other blooming plants coaxing them to a perfect stage of bloom. On Saturday, March 2 the doors of the greenhouse will open to the public to present Primavera, this year’s bulb show featuring glorious tulips and daffodils as well as many plants of the Italian garden, herbs, camellias, oleander, lavender, and box. This year terra cotta Tuscan pots add an extra Italianate touch to the displays.

While we enjoyed a brief period of sun, Billings ushered me into the warm Talcott Greenhouse where the air was fresh and sweet. The room was brilliant with color, banks of cineraria and calceolaria, trays of pale schizanthus with delicate little flowers that I thought looked like tiny irises, as well as those familiar early bloomers, pansies and primroses.

Billings said the week before the show is busy with students and staff moving potted plants out of the working rooms of the greenhouse into the main show room where they will be arranged around a reflecting pool. The brick edged pool is surrounded by a miniature fantasy of fine turf which was grown in flats. “Sometimes we arrange moving water for the bulb show,” Billings said. “People love that, but it is different every year. We have never repeated a theme.”

While it gets very busy in the last weeks before the flower show, Billings said preparations actually begin the summer before. “There is always a theme, and then I order special plants that will work within that theme. We also start to design how to arrange those plants in the greenhouse,” he said.

Tulips in the Talcott Greenhouse

Billings took me into the carefully temperature-controlled cool greenhouse where the tulips and daffodils are just coming into bloom. Remembering the time mice ate tulip bulbs I was forcing in my basement, I asked if they ever had trouble with critters. He said he has had mice enlarge drainage holes in a pot to get to the bulbs, but a bigger problem is with chipmunks and squirrels who get into the greenhouse during the warmer weather.

All the plants are in beautiful condition, but Billings said they did have trouble with whitefly earlier. He does not like to use poisons in the greenhouse. “Horticultural oil takes care of most of the problems,” he said. When he does have to use something stronger he makes sure it is nothing that requires closing up the greenhouse for longer than four hours.

Billings took me on tour of the slightly steamy tropical and subtropical rooms of the beautiful glass house which was completed in 1899.  Here is the permanent collection, which includes orchids, cacti and succulents, ferns, begonias, bromeliads, and aquatic plants. The collection is used for study by the students in biology and ecology classes. “We also give a plant to every incoming freshman, usually a jade plant or aloe. I tell them to water only when the soil is dry. But some students are so conscientious that they water once a week or too generously and the plant dies. I’ve been tweaking the planting mix and I think I have something now that drains really quick and makes the students more successful.” He reiterated advice I have heard from other plants people. More houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

So what happens to the bulbs and other plants after the show closes down? Billings began his career at Mt. Holyoke over 30 years ago on the grounds crew so he is happy to move some of the plants to locations around campus. Others are sold and some are just given away. “People like the tulips  and can’t bear to see them tossed. They put them in their gardens at home, but they rarely survive so we just give those away. At least half of the daffodils will bloom again next year.”

The free Mt. Holyoke Spring Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 2 until Sunday, March 17. Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups should call 413-538-2116 ahead of time to make arrangements. The greenhouse is universally accessible.

The greenhouse is located right next to the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum which is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m and Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. A current exhibit, Albert Bierstadt and the Legacy of Concern, features Bierstadt’s luminous paintings of the American west. The greenhouse and the art museum will give you two different types of experience, but both about beauty of the natural world.

Flora at Lyman Plant House, Smith College

The Lyman Plant House at Smith College is also holding its annual Spring Bulb Show March 2 until March 17. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. In addition, an exhibit at the Church Exhibition Gallery titled From Petals to Paper: Poetic Inspiration from Flowers will be on view. This display of contemporary poetry inspired by the beauty of nature was created by Janan Scott ’13 and Liliana Farrel ’13, who have both been working in the Smith College Poetry Center for the past two years. The exhibits are free and universally accessible.

Between the Rows   March 2, 2013


Wednesday Morning – Outside and Inside

Yellow birch in the snow

Outside  snow is blowing across my hill.

Tulips in the greenhouse

Inside the greenhouses at Mt Holyoke and Smith College tulips are beginning to bloom. On March 2 the greenhouses welcome the public to the Annual Bulb Shows.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday morning click here.