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More Christmas Gifts for the Gardener


Red pots at Shelburne Farm and Garden

I’m not saying gardeners are greedy, but it is true that it is easy to choose Christimas gifts for gardeners. When I wander through Shelburne Farm and Garden or Greenfield Farmers Coop I have all I can do hold myself in check. There are so many bright and sturdy items that will please and be useful to both novice and expert gardeners.

The Shelburne Farm and Garden Center has a wonderful collection of pots. So many of us are growing flowers and other plants in pots that a handsome pot is almost always a good choice. Two matching Christmas red pots, different sizes, really caught my eye, priced at $20 and $30.

The glove rack is a temptation. Gloves are always wearing out. MUD gloves are a particular favorite, some made with the wonderfully flexible nitrile, while others are heavier for jobs that require greater protection. Both types cost $10.

There are so many great gift choices from an array of bird baths, ceramic and metal, in the $70 t0 $90 range as well as a great collection of bird feeders and sacks of bird seed from $22 to $60. I was particularly struck by the  Bird Nester ($19), a wire cage filled with cottony fibers that is available for birds when they are building their nests. It made me think of Patricia Machlachlan’s tender children’s book, Sarah, Plain and Tall, where older sister Anna is cutting young Caleb’s hair, and sets out his curls for the birds to use in their nests.

On my way out of the store I couldn’t help picking up a few bulbs that were on sale and will be used for forcing. The Greenfield Farmers Coop also has bags of bulbs for sale right as you talk into the store. It might be too late to get bulbs in the ground, but there is plenty of time to force them. A great gift would be bulbs for forcing along with a bag of soil mix and a handsome pot. You could plant the bulbs yourself, or pass it on as a DIY project.

The Coop has a large array of tools. Good quality pruners like the Corona bypass pruner for $30 and the Corona needle nose thinning shears at $24 would make any gardener happy – though I hope that experienced gardeners long ago learned the benefits of quality tools and already have their own favorites. Although, if they had a second good tool they might be able to work with a companion.

I was particularly taken with the small, bright red, fixed tine shrub rake at $13. I have seen the Flower Brigade ladies using similar little rakes as they tended to their clean up chores on the Bridge of Flowers and saw how efficiently and gently they worked in the borders.

Tubtrugs at Farmers Cooperative in Greenfield

I loved the display of colorful Tubtrugs in sizes of three and a half to ten gallons. These light, strong flexible containers will hold a lot of weeds, or compost, or what you will, in the garden and around the house. I can imagine a wonderful gift of a bright Tubtrug filled with bags of Espoma fertilizer, seed starting mix, twine, Bag Balm and other small necessary and consumable garden items. Prices range from $9-$27 depending on size.

Compost makings are the result of every meal preparation. A bowl by the sink will serve, but not as handsomely as the lidded one, or one and a half gallon Compost Keepers ($27-$39), in stainless steel or ceramic.

As useful as these practical items are and as welcome as they will be, one could take a different tack to gift buying for the gardener. Luxury!

J.H. Sherburne has a new wing to her portraiture and frame shop in Shelburne Falls called Serious Whimsies for the Garden and Home. I do buy my own tools and consumables when necessary, but I never buy luxurious gifts for my garden like the stone rabbit and hedgehog sculptures for $80 and $30.  There is a wonderful big dancing angel planter for $90, but many more modestly priced planters like the stone bowl ($29) with a frog sitting on the edge. This could be planted with a bit of sedum or succulents for a really carefree bit of elegant whimsy.

Birch Bark Baskets at J H Sherburne’s Serious Whimsies

I also liked the birchbark baskets and containers that are perfect for holding holiday greens and decorations. The large flat basket ($30) would work as a handsome wreath substitute on the front door filled with greens. Smaller baskets, round and square, cost $9-$19. You can even buy silk flowers and greenery to fill them if you wish.

Siver jewelry at J H Sherburne’s Serious Whimsies

Of course, some of us might like to luxuriate in our gardens by wearing beautiful garden inspired jewelry. Sherburne has a small curated collection of delicate silver pins, a dragonfly ($50), a fern frond ($36) and a gold and silver sunflower bracelet ($100).

Though small, the shop is a treasure trove of whimsical delights. A fancy soap is shaped like a heavily frosted cupcake and the scented candles come in little milkbottles.

There are many ways to shop for gifts. Sometimes you know just what that special person in your life wants or needs. Sometimes you just want to surprise and delight which can take thought. Sometimes you have no clue. All these shops can provide you with a gift certificate – and gift certificates always make my eyes light up.

A final note – J H Sherburne is also noted for her portraiture including portraits of pets, or of pets with their owners.

Portrait by J H Sherburne

Between the Rows     December 8, 2012

Hemi-demi-semi Christmas Tree on Wordless Wednesday

Our newly cut Christmas Tree

We usually cut our Christmas tree from our own land. We are famous for having Charlie Brown trees. This tree strikes me as a hemi-demi-semi tree.

Our Christmas tree in profile

The only tree we could find was this section of a tree that had been damaged by the ice storm several years ago. It only has branches on one side.

I think this year, for the first time in over 30 years, we’ll be shopping for our Christmas tree.

For more (almost) Wordlessness click here.

Last Chance for Celebratory Book Giveaway

Roses at the End of the Road

Today is your last chance to leave a comment here  by midnight tonight and participate in the my book giveaway. You could win a copy of Beautiful No Mow Yards AND my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I have enjoyed these past five years that has brought so many wonderful new people into my life. And useful and inspiring books like Beautiful No Mow Lawns from Timber Press.

I will choose a name randomly tomorrow morning and will announce the winner. Good luck!

Walking in the Woods Towards a Christmas Wreath

Storm damage in the woods

On Saturday my husband and I walked up what we call The Lane, the remnants of the old road that once led all the way to the next town of Rowe. We walked up the hill between two fields and into the woods.  We have done some logging in the woods, but when we walk there these days the extensive number of trees and limbs that have been toppled and broken are due to the big ice storm in December of 2008, then Hurricane Irene that did  devasting damage throughout the county in 2011 and the recent Sandy storm this past October. It is amazing to think that we have had these three severe storms in less than five years, when we had nothing like them in the previous 25 years.

We picked our way through the fallen branches to a large plantation of princess pine. We carefully clipped off a few dozen plants without disturbing the roots so  this planting could continue to grow.  We also collected branches from the white pine trees that have begun encroaching on our northern field, and a single very large red pine in the same field. We were collecting these branches to make Christmas wreaths. I was all inspired to make more Christmas wreaths after my lesson at Chapleys with the Greenfield Garden Club.

I made a final small harvest of greens from the Lawn Bed. The fountain juniper, Goldthread chamaecyparis,  and even the holly bush gave up a few of their branches for wreaths. I spent esterday afternoon on the piazza enjoying the mild weather while I wired the greens onto forms. I’m not done yet, but I think I’ve made a good start on my Christmas wreaths. Ornaments and ribbon to come.

Homemade Christmas wreaths and me


I Made This Christmas Wreath

My Christmas Wreath

One of the pleasures of belonging to the Greenfield Garden Club is the November meeting at Chapley Gardens where we have help and materials to make our own wreath.  This year I did pretty well. At least better than I did before.

weeds and hips in winter

Mother Nature decorates like this.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

My Container Garden of Succulents is Growing

Container garden of succulents

Seven weeks ago I gave myself an early Christmas present – a bowl in a classic shape (actually a sort of plastic flower pot) and four succulent plants. I had been inspired by reading Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin which I had reviewed in this column earlier in December. I am not terribly good at caring for houseplants except for the succulents: a jade tree, an enormous orchid cactus, and Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus I had kept going for years. I was ready to try my hand at planting an interesting container with a variety of succulents.

The term succulent encompasses a whole variety of plants, from those I was familiar with like crassula (jade tree), aloes, sedums, and echeverias as well as a few I knew by their common name like string of pearls ((Senecio rowleyanus) and hen and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum). Dozen of other varieties and hundreds of cultivars are available – but not locally in December.

I was able to find a small selection of succulents at the Hadley Garden Center and chose four that have very different forms. Design is not my forte. Debra Lee Baldwin can design ka pot decorated with vertical white lines that “repeat the ribbing” of the Parodia scopa while the pebbley topdressing  “mirrors the brown in the pot and in the (plant) buds,” but that level of design is beyond me. At last so far.

By choosing a burro’s tail sedum, an echeveria with ruffled foliage, a spiky variegated haworthia in dark green with white dots in horizontal stripes (very fancy botanical terminology there), and a taller spiky aloe with toothed edges, I thought I was at least getting a variety of form.

The container I chose has a water reservoir which I decided could also serve the purpose of a drain. Succulents do not like to be kept wet. I also bought a bag of cactus potting soil suitable for succulents.

When I unpotted my little succulents I was surprised to see how potbound the roots were. However, I have found that this does not bother the plant’s health or development. I partially filled my container with potting soil and then put in my four new plants filling in between them with more potting soil. Baldwin, and our local container design genius Gloria Pacosa, frequently make the point that a container should be really stuffed with plants. I wasn’t sure that these four were really stuffed, but they were all I had. I also kept thinking that they had room to send out little baby succulents.

Their propensity to multiply is one of the joys of succulents. They are not only easy to grow, many of them quickly produce babies. Anyone who has ever planted a hen and chicks knows this. Those babies can be allowed to form big clumps, or they can gently be teased away from the mother plant, and set in soil where they will promptly start their own family.

Baldwin often finishes off her container planting with what she calls a topdressing, a decorative final touch. She has used colored crushed glass, black gravel, and pink crushed rock. Gloria Pacosa likes to finish off her containers with moss that she has harvested and kept for the purpose. I spent part of my childhood living with my family on my uncle’s Vermont farm on the shore of Lake Champlain. Now when I visit cousins there I always take home a bag of the smooth gray stones from the lake’s edge. I decided to use some of the smallest of these gray stones as my top dressing.

I watered my container and set it in the sun. My gift to myself was completed and I was a happy woman.

I wrote about the project, illustrated with not very good photographs, on my commonweeder blog. A couple of days later I was surprised to get an email from Debra Lee Baldwin herself. I think writers troll the Internet regularly to see if their books are getting any mentions. She found the commonweeder and the story of my succulent container. She is a very polite person and said I did a fine arrangement. She especially liked the smooth little stones I used as a topdressing because they carried affectionate family memories.

Then she asked to buy my book, The Roses at the End of the Road, inscribe it and mail it to a good friend and former California neighbor who had moved to western Massachusetts. Well, her friend turned out to be my friend Maureen Moore, who I was planning to meet in Shelburne Falls that very day! I hand delivered the book and now I consider us a friendship circle of three.

My succulent container moved all around the house during the Christmas holidays, sometimes in barely heated rooms and sometimes in our main living space which can get very warm. It has been easy to keep it in the sun where succulents are the happiest.

When I prepared it for its photo session today I saw the burro’s tail sedum is showing signs of growth, but it will be a while before the tails drape gracefully over the edge of the bowl.  I’ll keep you posted about further developments.

I welcome your stories about succulents you have grown and how you have handled them. You can send snail mail to me at 43 Knott Road, Charlemont, MA 01339 (Heath has no mail delivery) or email me at commonweeder@gmail. I look forward to hearing from you.

Between the Rows  February 4, 2012

I posted about planting this container here.

Christmas Extended – For the Birds

Pine cones, peanut butter, birdseed and ribbon

Christmas celebrations end for us on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. The wise men have finally arrived, the last gifts have been given and the party is over. But maybe not quite. When I take the Christmas tree down, I put it outside and decorate it for the birds. The ornaments are simple, but tasty, peanut butter smeared into pine cones and then rolled in bird seed.  A tie can be ribbon, yarn or twine, no matter.

Suet for the birds

I use an mesh onion bag to hold a piece of suet. Birds really appreciate suet to help them keep warm, although temperatures yesterday were again over freezing.

Suet and pine cone bird feeders

I tie these ornaments on my Christmas tree which is propped up by the brush burn pile. So far I have only seen bluejays taking advantage, but maybe that’s because blue jays are about the only bird I can identify. Except for robins.


Look At My Loot

Seven Years Gold Compost

As Christmas drew near a  friend asked if I his Christmas gift had been delivered. I said no deliveries and then waited every day for my treat to arrive. I did get a Package Too Big notice from the Post Office and picked up this bag of compost that had a mailing label right on the bag. I assumed it was some sort of sample from the Seven Years Gold company, although it did seem an odd time of year to be sending compost samples to Massachusetts.  But when my friend arrived for dinner after Christmas he said he couldn’t wait any longer to tell me what was on its way to me – horse manure!  Seven Years Gold wasn’t a sample it was my friend who paid attention when I said one of the best gifts I had gotten for my first vegetable garden 40 years ago was a load of rotted horse manure. Friends like this are not easy to come by.

Christmas Books

Of course all my friends and family know I love books – and that high cooking and baking season lasts all winter. The stove helps keep the house warm. I was familiar with Nigel Slater (British) from his many inspiring and useful cookbooks, but Yotam Ottolenghi was new to me. Nigel Slater was prompted to write Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch this latest book by his new(ish) passion for gardening. Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, takes a vegetarian approach. I have already made his flavorful Mushroom and herb polenta. Delicious and easy.  Although I had never heard of Ginette Mathiot or her cookbooks that are considered  the Joy of Cooking of France, I am ready to delve into The Art of French Baking (The definitive guide to home baking by Frances favorite cook book author). I must say the recipes look very easy. We shall see.

Finally, there is a book for bedtime reading. Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation Across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers is not the anthology of selections I first thought. There are snippets from each of the authors mentioned from Thomas Jefferson and Gertrude Jekyll to humorists like Karel Capek and artists like Robert Dash, but Rogers gives us a sense of the life and personalities of each. I am savoring each section.

Now here is a question. Although not apparent from a photo, two of the cookbooks, Plenty and The Art of French Baking have padded covers. Is this a new trend? A new style in books? Does it make the books more wipe-able?  Any ideas?

Christmas Trees at Kringle Candle Company

This Christmas may be over, but all these gifts, including a candle from the Kringle Candle Company, will keep the memory alive for many years.

ADDENDUM – One way or another I have gotten comments and questions about horse manure – and I found interesting information and comparisons here.

Our Christmas Trees

Christmas tree 2011

Many family Christmas memories revolve around the Christmas tree. These stories rarely have to do with the magnificence of the tree. In fact, Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree may be our culture’s most famous Christmas tree, standing for the true meaning of the season.

We have many family stories about our Christmas trees beginning with our first Christmas in Greenfield in 1971.  I was a single mother of five children when I came to town. Our life had changed and so had many of the family routines and rituals.

As a gift, a new friend invited me and the children out to the Heath wilderness (as yet totally unknown to us) for a picturesque outing to cut down our own tree. There had been snow and frigid weather, but that afternoon was relatively warm and sunny, a perfect day for a holiday outing.  The boys had disappeared, but the three girls aged 7, 9, and 10, and I set off with our friend caroling and laughing.

We got to Heath and started trekking through the woods. Unfortunately, though our friend was kind, he didn’t know much about Christmas trees, or even about the woodlot he drove us to. We found nothing resembling our fantasy Christmas tree. Even worse, the sun had softened the snow crust and the going was hard.  Kathy, at 7, was floundering and falling in the deep snow. Everyone was getting colder and wetter as the sun hid itself.  I decided that the next tree we saw would be the perfect tree. No arguments allowed. We cut it down, dragged it out to the road, and lashed it to the car. The car heater conked out and we were exhausted. There were no carols or happy chatter on the way home.

Happily, Henry, the man I had recently met and  would eventually marry, met us at the door. While I got the girls into hot baths and their warm nighties, Henry set up the tree. The trunk was crooked and it took lots of  guy wiring to hold it stable. The sparse branches started to drop their needles almost immediately and my two sons just hooted in derision when they finally made their appearance.

I said the tree gave us lots of scope for ornaments. Unfortunately, somehow, in the move from Connecticut, all the Christmas ornaments disappeared, including all those my children had made in school over the years. There was no money for a treeful of ornaments, so we all sat around the table to make lots of big construction paper decorations, some of which still go on the tree every year.

That was our first Christmas tree with Henry. In 1975 we moved to New York City to live in his ancestral apartment. One year there we had a magical tree. A friend came in with presents and an angel he had made for the tree top. He gave it a casual toss across the room – and it landed gently, and perfectly, just where it should.

After four years in the city we moved to Heath.  The boys were out on their own so only the three girls made the move with us the day after Thanksgiving.

This time it was easy to cut down our own tree. It was growing right in front of the kitchen window, blocking the light and the view. It was big and beautiful and shapely. It was also a blue spruce, with stiff branches and the prickliest needles. It nearly killed us to get it cut down and into the house, fighting us every inch of the way.

From our elderly neighbor Mabel Vreeland we learned about snowbelts, and over time we planted a triple row of evergreens, tiny seedlings, purchased from the Conservation Service, along our road.  Our plan was to over -plant so that we could thin the snowbreak by taking out a Christmas tree every year. And that is what we have done. No longer do we trek through unfamiliar woods, but just down over our field. We don’t pay much attention to the snowbelt and sometimes the trees are small, sometimes tall, sometimes quite odd, but we can always say we planted them and grew them ourselves.

This year we have what I think of as a dancing tree. The trunk twists first one way and then the other. The branches go up on one side and down on the other.  If it were a Jules Feiffer cartoon character it would be dancing an ode to the solstice. There is lots of scope for ornaments.

No matter what the Christmas tree looks like – and when we spent a year in Beijing it was a potted osmanthus decorated with shiny ribbon and a handful of sequined ornaments – to me the evergreen tree (even the osmanthus) is the place where we gather with beloved family and friends to celebrate the generosity of the season.  And I don’t refer to all the shopping at the mall, but to the thought and kindnesses that we render each other throughout the season, the care we take of others when we make donations to the Food Bank or Warm the Children, and the prayers we utter for peace on earth, good will toward men.

Between the Rows   December 24, 2011

Christmas Cactus Right On Time

For more Wordlessness click here.